Vengeful, p.37

Vengeful, page 37

 

Vengeful
 



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  Stell dug the gun into Victor’s back. “I’m not letting you get in the way.”

  “Is that so?” Victor scanned the crowd.

  “That is why I’m here,” continued Marcella. “To open your eyes.”

  Eli was almost to the dais as her hand drifted up, coming to rest on the statue’s bronze robes. “To show you what real power—”

  Victor chose a man at random, and twisted his nerves.

  A scream split the air, and for an instant Marcella’s voice was washed out, the crowd’s interest diverted. In that same instant, Victor rounded, slamming his elbow back into the side of Stell’s head.

  Stell’s gun went off, but Victor was already out of the bullet’s path, moving determinedly toward the platform, and Marcella, and Eli. At the sound of the firearm discharging, the tense crowd had shattered into panic. The guests surged away, a wave of bodies frantically pushing toward the exit. Only Victor and Eli still moved inward, toward the center of the room and the golden figure on her stand.

  Victor was almost there when another gunshot went off, the ground sparking as the bullet struck the marble a foot away. He looked up and saw Jonathan up on the balcony, recognized the EO’s intent just in time to see him line up a second shot.

  The bullet tore through Victor’s shoulder, the pain hot and white, blood welling instantly.

  He swore, reaching for Jonathan’s nerves before the man could fire a third time.

  Victor caught them, turned the dial, as he had in the art gallery, and just like in the art gallery, the blue-white light of Jonathan’s forcefield flared up, instantly shielding him. Victor felt his hold slipping, but this time he didn’t let go.

  Every object had a shatter point, a limitation to its tensile strength.

  Apply enough force, and it would break.

  XVIII

  THE LAST NIGHT

  THE OLD COURT HOUSE

  FOR five years, Victor Vale had lived in Eli’s head. First as a ghost, then as a phantom. But both, Eli realized now, had been critically flawed, a version of his rival that had been trapped in amber, unchanging—like him. The real Victor showed every one of the last five years, and then some, worn thin. He looked sick—just as Eli had suspected. No matter.

  He would make things right.

  But first—Marcella.

  She was stepping down from the statue, her face contorted not with fear but with fury as she headed straight for Eli. “Are you behind this interruption?”

  “Apologies,” he said, “I was just so eager to meet you.”

  “You’ll regret that,” Marcella sneered, stepping within range.

  Eli reached to grab her, but that blue-white light flashed up between them, forcing his hand away. Rebuffing him, but not her. Marcella stepped into the circle of his arms, and brought her fingers to his cheek.

  “You really should have run with the rest of them,” she said, hand flaring red.

  Pain lashed across Eli’s face, a wave of agony as his skin dissolved, exposing teeth, jaw. But even as the rot spread, he could feel it reversing, the muscle and skin healing. The amusement melted from Marcella’s eyes and mouth, replaced by surprise, shock.

  “Why would I run?” said Eli, his cheek knitting back together. “I’m here to kill you.”

  Marcella pulled back, suddenly uncertain.

  He had missed that—the expression on their faces before they died. The way the scales trembled and shook before they fell into balance. As if the EO knew—that they were wrong, that their lives—what they took for lives—were stolen. That it was time to let go.

  A gunshot went off nearby, and then another, and seconds later the air above flared blue and white, crackling with energy. Victor stood, head craned, and when Eli followed his gaze, he saw Jonathan at the heart of the storm. Victor spread his hands, and the air surged, the EO above swallowed from sight.

  The surprise on Marcella’s face cracked, showed fear.

  Eli had a theory. He decided to test it.

  With Jonathan preoccupied, Eli reached out and wrapped a hand around Marcella’s throat.

  There was no light around her this time, no forcefield shock, only soft white skin under his fingers.

  Marcella’s hands flew up, digging into Eli’s arms, the sleeves of his suit quickly crumbling. The skin beneath peeled back, then healed, then peeled away again.

  But Eli didn’t let go.

  Across the gallery, Stell and his soldiers were trying to clear the panicked crowd, while on the other side of the statue Victor continued to unleash his own power on Jonathan, as if the other EO were only a circuit, something to overload and interrupt.

  To think that, in a way, the two of them were working together again. Like old times—or like they could have been, perhaps.

  It was almost poetic, thought Eli, just before he saw an EON soldier appear behind Victor.

  “No!” shouted Eli.

  But either no one heard him, or they didn’t care. The soldier reached Victor and wrapped an arm around his throat, hauling him backward and breaking his focus.

  The blue-white light of Jonathan’s forcefield vanished, and then reappeared an instant later, this time protectively thrown around Marcella.

  There was a noise—like thunder—a violent crack—and then Eli was thrown backward. Pain tore through his back as he struck the nearest pillar, hitting several feet off the ground. But Eli didn’t fall. He looked down and saw one of the sconce’s metal limbs jutting from his chest.

  Eli gritted his teeth as he struggled to push himself forward, pry his body off the iron bar.

  Marcella started toward him, rubbing her throat.

  “You must be Eli Ever,” she said hoarsely. “The great EO executioner. I have to admit,” she said, putting her hand against his stomach, “I’m underwhelmed.”

  Marcella pushed Eli back down the bar, iron scraping his insides as his back hit the pillar.

  He let out a snarl.

  “You don’t seem to be healing,” said Marcella, holding up a stained palm. “Still planning to kill me?”

  “Yes,” hissed Eli, blood leaking between his teeth.

  Marcella clicked her tongue.

  “Men.”

  She dug her nails into his injured stomach. Pain flared through Eli as layers of skin and muscle peeled away, and organs shriveled, and he began to die.

  * * *

  ELI’S strangled scream cut through the marble hall as Victor was forced to the floor.

  “Can’t hurt what you can’t see,” said the EON soldier at his back, which wasn’t strictly true. Especially when they were foolish enough to have put their arm around his throat.

  The soldier cried out, as if his arm had been broken. No doubt it felt that way. As soon as the limb slackened around Victor’s throat, he swung up to his feet and turned on the soldier, felling the man with the short flick of a now-expert hand.

  The soldier slumped, unconscious, to the marble, and Victor turned his attention back to Eli, pinned against a metal fixture, a few feet off the ground.

  Shots echoed through the courthouse. Stell seemed to have figured out that Jonathan’s particular ability required a line of sight, and was now emptying his own gun at the EO up on the balcony above. Blue-white light flared, but then Stell’s gun clicked, the magazine already empty, and Jonathan retaliated, unleashing a hail of his own bullets, forcing both Victor and Stell to dive behind adjacent pillars.

  Victor was genuinely torn.

  If he took down Jonathan, Eli might be able to kill Marcella.

  If he didn’t, Marcella might actually kill Eli—a death Victor longed for.

  And one he still wanted for himself.

  In the end, Victor’s decision was made for him, not by Eli, or Marcella, but by June.

  June—who appeared before him, once again wearing Mitch, and put a gun to the big man’s head. “I asked nicely, but you didn’t listen.”

  June brought her finger to the trigger.

  “Kill Marcella,
she ordered, “or lose him.”

  Everything about June, from the steady hand, to the even gaze, told Victor that she would shoot Mitch, simply to make a point, let alone get what she wanted.

  “When this is over,” said Victor, “you and I are going to have words.”

  And with that, he rounded the pillar, already reaching for Jonathan’s nerves. The shield flared up anew, blue and white and defiant, and sweat beaded on Victor’s skin. He’d never unloaded this much charge into one person, and his own nerves crackled and hummed from the sheer effort, threatening to short out once and for all.

  But at last, the forcefield began to splinter.

  * * *

  ELI’S vision swam as Marcella’s hand clawed deeper.

  But he still saw the burst of light on the balcony behind her.

  Eli’s lips moved, as if in pleading, and when Marcella leaned closer, he slammed his head into hers as hard as he could. Without Jonathan’s protection, the blow landed, and Marcella staggered back, holding her cheek. She spun, and saw Jonathan’s own cracking shield. She started across the room toward Victor, leaving Eli pinned to the pillar.

  The wrought-iron bar still jutted from his front, though Marcella had half ruined it—along with his stomach. Eli slammed his fist down into the rusted metal, and it crumbled away.

  He got his foot up against the pillar behind him and pushed himself off the lower remains of the bar, dropping to the floor. Eli’s stomach was a ruin of blood and gore, but without the wrought iron driven through it, the wound was already healing. Organs closing, tissue knitting back into clean, smooth flesh.

  A deafening crack cut through the courthouse as Jonathan’s forcefield finally shattered. The EO toppled forward over the banister and fell, hitting the floor below with the dull thud of dead weight on stone.

  Victor swayed and then sank to one knee, gasping from the effort. He didn’t see Marcella moving toward him, her stride quickening as her hands began to glow.

  Eli reached her first, wrapping his arms around her shoulders, pinning her back against him.

  “Honestly,” she snarled, “take a hint.”

  Her power flared, fast, and hot, and Eli’s world went white with pain as she pitted her strength against his.

  Back in the lab, Haverty had measured Eli’s rate of recovery, the speed with which he healed, had marveled at the way it never slowed, like a battery that couldn’t run down. But none of Haverty’s tests had strained Eli’s body the way that Marcella’s power did now.

  She tipped her head back against his shoulder. “Are you having fun yet?”

  The air itself rippled with the strength of her will.

  Marcella’s power was no longer coming from her hands alone. It radiated around them both, warping the nearest table, sending hairline cracks across the thinning marble at their feet. It ate away his suit and her dress, melting, ruining, erasing everything, until they stood in a shallow pool of ash atop the weakening floor, Eli’s arms—caught in a constant transformation from skin, to muscle, to bone, and back—pressed against Marcella’s bare chest.

  “If you’re counting on my modesty,” said Eli. “You should know, I have very little left.”

  Eli pressed himself against her, head bowed in a strange, almost loving embrace as at last the steel collar around his throat rusted, fell away.

  Eli smiled through the agony, his final chains gone.

  The ground beneath them was wearing visibly now. Eli tightened his grip, his body screaming in protest. “I’ve killed fifty EOs,” he hissed, “and you’re nowhere near the strongest.”

  Marcella’s power wicked through the air. The bronze statue a dozen feet away began to rust, crumble. The pillars swayed, unsteady, and the whole building trembled, brittle, the marble beneath their feet wearing away, the same way Eli’s body did, layer by layer.

  The marble thinned like melting ice beneath them, first translucent, then transparent.

  “It appears,” said Marcella, “that we are evenly matched.”

  “No,” said Eli as the floor splintered, cracked. “You can still die.”

  Eli slammed his foot down into the fragile marble, and it shattered beneath them.

  * * *

  VICTOR was halfway to his feet, one hand clutching his wounded shoulder, when the floor gave way. He staggered backward, boots searching for solid ground as the force of the crash rippled through the building.

  Only once he was beyond the wave of destruction did Victor see the full scope of what had happened.

  It was like a blast turned inward, an implosion.

  One second Eli and Marcella were tangled together, engulfed in light at the center of the atrium, and the next they were gone, plunging like meteors through the marble floor. The force of the collapse set off a chain reaction. The walls shook. The pillars toppled. The glass dome cracked and shattered.

  The hole was vast, a drop of twenty, maybe thirty feet onto solid stone floor.

  There was no sign of June, but Victor saw Stell nearby, unconscious, one foot pinned beneath a broken pillar.

  The building stopped shaking. Victor stepped to the edge of the hole and looked down. Marcella lay stretched at the bottom of the chasm, her limbs draped over broken stone, her black hair loose and her head tilted at a wrong angle.

  Rubble shifted, and Eli staggered to his feet beside her, naked and bloody, his broken bones knitting themselves back together as he rose. He looked down at Marcella’s body, and crossed himself, and then he craned his head and looked up through the broken floor.

  His eyes met Victor’s, and for a second neither man moved.

  Run, thought Victor, and he could see the response in Eli’s coiled frame.

  Chase me.

  A rock came free near Eli’s bare foot, skittering down the pile of rubble, and both surged into motion.

  Eli spun, climbing over the wreckage, as Victor turned, searching for another way down. The nearest stairs had collapsed, the elevator was unresponsive. He finally found a stairwell, and took the steps two and three and four at a time, lunging down to the lower level, to the wreckage and the remains of Marcella Morgan.

  But by the time Victor got there, Eli was already gone.

  XIX

  THE LAST NIGHT

  THE OLD COURTHOUSE

  THE building was a ruin, the tangle of stone still shifting and settling, as Eli climbed out of the wreckage. Dust and glass rained down around him as he pried open a door, found a back stairwell intact, and climbed. The door at the top opened onto a parking garage. Sirens wailed nearby as he strode, naked, across the concrete toward the side street.

  It had been hard to walk away from Victor.

  There would be time for him again. But first, Eli needed to put distance between himself and the courthouse—and EON’s reach.

  “Excuse me, sir,” called a security guard, approaching, “you can’t—”

  Eli slammed his fist into the man’s jaw.

  The guard dropped like a stone, and Eli stripped him, tugging on the stolen uniform as he stepped around the arm of the parking barrier and out into the alley.

  It had been five years since Eli’s arrest, longer still since the last time he needed to disappear. Amazing how quickly the mind went down old paths. Eli felt calm, in control, his thoughts ticking off with soothing linearity.

  Now, he just needed to—

  Pain lanced his side.

  Eli winced, and looked down to see a dart jutting between his ribs. He pulled the dart free and held it up to the light, squinting at the dregs of an electric blue liquid in the vial. A strange shiver ran through him. A tightness in his chest.

  Footsteps sounded behind him, slow and steady, and Eli turned around, only to find a ghost.

  A monster.

  A devil in a white lab coat, deep-set eyes peering out from behind round glasses.

  Dr. Haverty.

  Eli’s mouth went dry. He flashed back to steel tables slick with blood, felt hands inside his open chest, b
ut despite the bile rising in his throat, Eli forced himself to hold his ground.

  “All our time together,” he said, tossing the dart away, “and you really thought something like that would work?”

  Haverty cocked his head, glasses shining. “Let’s find out.” The doctor swung the gun up, and fired a second dart into Eli’s chest.

  Eli looked down, expecting to see the neon liquid, but the contents of this vial were clear. He plucked out the dart.

  “I don’t sleep,” he said, tossing it away, “but I still dream. And I’ve so often dreamed of killing you.”

  He started toward Haverty, but halfway there his front knee buckled. Folded, as if it had gone to sleep. The world rocked sideways, and Eli collapsed to his hands and knees in the street, limbs suddenly sluggish, head spinning.

  This wasn’t right.

  None of this was right.

  He was on his back now, Dr. Haverty kneeling beside him, measuring his pulse. Eli tried to pull free, but his body didn’t listen.

  And then, for the first time in thirteen years, Eli Ever passed out.

  * * *

  VICTOR surged out up the stairs and out into the parking garage, the steel door crashing behind him. His shoulder was still bleeding, leaving a veritable breadcrumb trail on the concrete. On top of that, the humming had spread to his limbs, the tone pitching to a whine inside his head. He was running out of time.

  He scanned the garage—would Eli take a car, or set off on foot? There were no empty spaces, not here on the street level, and the odds of Eli wasting precious seconds on higher floors was slim.

  On foot, then.

  He started toward the exit, and saw the security guard slumped on the ground, his body propped up against the booth. He’d been stripped to shorts and socks. Victor stepped past him and out onto the side street.

  There were too many alleys, too many ways for Eli to go, and every time Victor chose wrong, it would only increase Eli’s lead.

  Something shimmered on the ground nearby, and Victor knelt to retrieve it. A tranquilizer dart.

 

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