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ASH

It was a day like all the others, dark as pitch and cold as ice, most definitely not a day to die. So when I came face to face with the Knightmare, I froze, all my training taking a flying leap out the proverbial window. You didn’t get Knightmare’s on this side of the Horizon. In fact, it’d been over a year since anyone had seen one at all.

The Knightmare stared at me with its slanted glowing eyes, steam pluming from its perpetually flared nostrils and then it opened its mouth and screamed.

I remembered how to run.

I ran on instinct, moving through the underground tunnels from memory alone. I could hear it behind me, its hooves thundering against the cracked concrete, its rumbling breath pressing against my ears.

It shouldn’t be here, couldn’t be here, and yet it was.

I realised that if I ran back to Shelter then I’d be leading it straight home, so I took a left instead of a right at the next intersection. I ran, losing myself in the burning of my lungs and the screaming of my muscles. It was only a matter of time before it got me, only a matter of minutes, because I was losing momentum. I couldn’t keep up this pace much longer.

My eyes stung, my throat grew tight. Man, I was pissed! Nineteen years I’d survived this hell hole, nineteen, and I was going to get taken out by a Knightmare? No way was I going out like that! Besides, if I croaked, then that thing would be left roaming the tunnels. My people would be in danger. I had no idea how it’d managed to get across the Horizon without being spotted by the Eye. I’d have to report this to Blake, get him to look into the security. The small bitey critters that scuttled across were one thing, those were inevitable. Those we could handle, but this was bad, real bad.

Up ahead, the fallen and rusted body of a huge contraption from the time before came into view. I gave a final burst of speed and leapt up onto its metallic body. The Knightmare reared back. One thing about Knightmares, they’re not big on climbing.

It paced, back and forth, its eyes glistening in the dark. I crouched, tips of my fingers grazing cool metal, and watched it—waiting.

That’s it, just get bored and piss off you ugly-

“Mansfield?” A shrill whistle. “Where are you, boy?”

What the hell? There was someone down here.

The sound of slow, leisurely footsteps echoed through the darkness.

The Knightmare turned his head to look back up the tunnel.

Shit! Who could be so stupid as to be out here alone?

You are you twat!

Point.

“Oi! Don’t come any closer. There’s a Knightmare here. Run!”

The footsteps faltered.

He was probably from the slums, maybe using the tunnels to scavenge like I was. Fuck, I remembered those days, but it was dangerous, too dangerous for someone untrained. I waited, straining to hear the sounds of retreat, yet there was nothing but silence.

Had I imagined the voice?

The Knightmare turned away from me.

No, definitely not my imagination. Those things could smell a human a mile off. Stupid bloody man, boy, whoever it was.

“Bloody run, you idiot! There’s no point hiding! It can bleedin’ smell ya!”

A low chuckle filtered through the air, accompanied by the sound of footsteps.

They were growing closer.

Well there was no helping some people.

A shape became visible. A man, tall, broad and slim, wreathed in darkness. My eyes, accustomed to the gloom of the tunnels, could make out only the whites of his eyes surrounding cerulean blue.

“Well there you are, Mansfield.” The Knightmare whinnied and trotted over to the man, offering his huge head to be petted.

What the crap?

The man tilted his head to look up at me. “Dangerous being out here all alone, little human.” He said the last word as if it were a dirty one.

Mansfield emitted a pleading rumble.

“Mansfield’s hungry.” The man cocked his head and stared at me for a very long time, so long in fact that I began to wonder if he’d turned to stone or fallen asleep on his feet with his eyes open. “I don’t think she’ll make a very palatable meal, boy. All skin and bones that one. Come, we’ll find you something more . . . substantial.”

A chill crawled up my spine. Only one of them could control a Knightmare. A Shadowlander.

He flashed me his even white teeth. “You’re safe for now, human. Crawl off to your hideout and forget this ever happened.”

And just like that they were gone.

I exhaled sharply and stared at the spot where they had just stood. Something had stood. Something . . .

What the hell was I doing on top of this rusty contraption?

Climbing down gingerly, I wiped my dirty palms on my trousers and headed home.

 

I crawled through the hidden passageway that led back into Shelter. I reached the grate that opened up into Corridor 4 and waited, listening. There wasn’t usually anyone about at this time, but you never knew. After long minutes of absolute silence, I knocked aside the grate and slid out into the corridor, landing lightly on my feet.

Moving the grate back into place, I pushed in the rusty screws to make them look like they were snug in their holes.

Straightening my shirt and brushing off my trousers, I made my way back to my quarters.

 

If I’d thought I’d gotten off scot-free for my little escapade, then I was sadly mistaken.

Clay sat on my bed, his face dark with anger.

Shit.

“What the hell, Ash? What. The. Hell?”

Crap! Time to do some damage control.

I plastered a contrite expression on my face, ready to do the pleading thing, but he held up his hand.

“Don’t even go there. You’re not sorry. I know it, you know it, and the whole fucking world knows it. What I want to know is why? You got what you wanted. You’re a Reaper, so why take these unnecessary risks?”

I felt the first spark of anger. “Why? Because someone has to! The bi-monthly reaps aren’t cutting it. Everyone knows it. Someone has to take the risk. Remember the penicillin, the iodine, the—”

“Yes! I remember. You found some important stuff but—”

“And I didn’t go over the Horizon to do it. I’m not bleedin’ suicidal. I was careful. Nothing saw me and I didn’t see any of . . . them.” Some memory skittered under the surface of my mind, but was gone too quick to catch.

Clay rubbed his face with his hand, his shoulders rising and falling in a heart-felt sigh, and I felt the guilt heavy on my chest. I was his burden. His little sister, the one he’d sworn to protect. I didn’t make it easy.

Older than me by five minutes, Clay had seamlessly stepped into our parents’ shoes after they died five years ago. We’d been barely fourteen at the time. Clay had taken their deaths as an inevitability. He’d said goodbye, buried them and then turned his attention to taking care of me. Sod that! I’d been pissed off and incensed by the unfairness of it because, as far as I was concerned, they’d chosen to die. Food and shelter had been less than a mile away; all they’d had to do was claim it. All they’d had to do was volunteer for the academy, become Reapers, and we would have been clothed and fed and sheltered. But they’d been afraid, weak, and they’d died. Yes, I’d been angry. So angry that I’d done the one thing that they’d never wanted either Clay or I to do. I’d signed up to be a Reaper.

Reaper status meant food. It meant lodging. It meant safety. It had come too late for my parents, but I was determined not to lose Clay to their skewed convictions. Clay couldn’t bring himself to break the vow we’d made to them though; thank goodness Shelter needed able-bodied men to train in all the tech side of things. Clay always had an affinity for building shit, so here we were five years later—Clay a head Technician and me a seasoned Reaper. The tech we had here was primitive, but he managed to keep the lights on and the heat running and that’s all we could ask for.

“Ashling?”

“Huh?”

“Go to bed.” He stood and moved toward the door.

He was disappointed in me. I hated it. I couldn’t leave things like this between us. As he brushed past, I turned into him, wrapping my arms around his waist. He tensed and then relaxed. His arms wrapped around me and he squeezed me tight.

“Please, Ash, just follow protocol, ‘kay?”

I nodded against his chest and, yes, I really meant to keep my promise. I always do . . . until next time.

He released me and ruffled my hair.

“Say night to Blake.” I smiled up at him coquettishly.

He blushed. “Will do.”

It was sweet the way those two were still so gaga over each other. They’d been dating for just over a year now and they acted like a married couple. Clay had even moved into Blake’s quarters and yet he still blushed when I mentioned Blake’s name.

Sweet.

He pecked me on the forehead and then left me to it.

A yawn ripped through me and I stretched and threw myself onto my rumpled bed. My quarters were small and boxy, but they were mine. Pictures from old magazines I’d found on my scavenging trips decorated the walls; cars and paradise settings, gardens and sunsets, and lovers holding hands. These were memories that I’d never have. They lulled me to sleep and sometimes I’d find myself on a beach somewhere, waves lapping at my toes, or maybe in a beautiful garden, the scent of roses sweet and strong in my nose. I didn’t know if what I dreamt held any similarities to how it used to be. How could I? I’ve never smelled a rose, or walked on the beach, but the dreams kept my spirits alive and sometimes he joined me—the man who didn’t speak.

The first time it happened I was frightened. I mean, some strange bloke walks into my dream and just hangs out? It was creepy, but I soon started to feel okay with it. In fact, he’d become a kind of friend now . . . I think.

My eyelids were starting to get heavy and I closed them, exhaling long and deep, and let sleep take me.

CLAY

Clay crawled into bed carefully. He didn’t want to wake Blake. The guy had just pulled a double shift in the Eye, and there was no slacking off when you were in charge there. Blake was two years his senior and the love of his life. Yeah, he berated Ash for her decision to become a Reaper, but if she hadn’t made that decision then Clay would never have met Blake. He was happy, as happy as anyone could be in this fucked up world.

Once upon a time there’d been sunshine and clouds and green and blue and swings and ice cream. Now they lived off what they could scavenge from the altered world topside, and what they could grow under UV lamps. The human population was a fifth of what it had once been. Cut off from each other, they lived day to day in organised pockets of civilisation, underground like vermin while the invaders ruled topside. Radio contact had been established ten years ago, but there had been no contact for the past five years. No one wanted to say it but everyone thought it—the other pockets were gone. Yeah, his world was messed up.

He hated it and yet he loved it, because he had Blake to share it with.

“How is she?” Blake asked.

Clay smiled into the dark. Since he’d moved in two months ago, not a night had gone by that Blake hadn’t waited up for him. Maintenance meant that, all in all, Clay had pretty regular hours. Blake’s role wasn’t so kind. The Eye was their last line of defence, and the first line of offense. It allowed them to watch over the Reapers when they went over the Horizon. Everything had to be perfect, and that responsibility rested fully on Blake’s shoulders. The Eye was Blake’s father’s creation, and since he had succumbed to a degenerative disease a year ago, it had become Blake’s.

The bed shifted as Blake rolled to face him. “You okay, babe?”

Clay rolled onto his side to face Blake. Their noses were so close he could have leaned in and brushed them together. Blake’s dark hair fell across his forehead and Clay reached out to smooth it back. Unlike Blake, Clay liked to keep his golden locks shorn short so it created soft fuzz on his head. Blake said it brought out Clay’s jade eyes.

“Clay?”

Clay smiled. “I’m okay and Ash is fine. Stubborn, but fine.”

Blake chuckled. “Takes after her big brother, then.”

“Hey! I’m not stubborn.”

Blake brushed noses with him. “Yes you are, but I love you for it.” He reached up and caressed Clay’s jaw. “I saw the sun today.”

“You did?”

“Yeah. The clouds shifted and it lanced through . . . just for a moment, but it was . . . beautiful.”

“I wish I’d seen it.”

“Me too.” He yawned and Clay felt terrible for making him wait up.

“Get some sleep, babe.” Clay pulled the covers up over them both a little more.

“Sleep? Really?”

He could hear the wicked grin in Blake’s voice. It sent a pulse of arousal through him and, like usual, his throat was suddenly dry.

Blake leaned in and captured his lips in a soft kiss.

There wouldn’t be any sleeping for a long time.

ASH

I was hurtling down the winding corridors towards the Eye when I was knocked into the wall by a whirlwind coming down an intersecting corridor to my left.

“Dammit, Ryder!”

Ryder smirked and hauled me to my feet. “You’ll live, tough cookie like you.”

“Shut up.” But I couldn’t help smiling because he was so damn cute when he flashed those dimples of his.

He winked and my heart did that weird squeeze thing. Man, I’d had a crush on this bloke ever since I’d moved into Shelter, but to Ryder I was just the girl who could scrap like a man. I guess I didn’t do myself any favours with my uniform of vests and trousers, and long hair perpetually scraped back in a ponytail, but that’s me. I liked to be comfortable. Besides, I wanted someone to fancy me for me, although I couldn’t help but fantasise about Ryder looking at me one day and being like, “Wow, you are seriously gorgeous!”

Ryder was already stalking off toward the Eye and I had to jog to catch up. “So, what do you think we’ll find today?”

He shrugged. “More useless crap that’ll be recycled into more useless crap.”

I rolled my eyes. “Seriously, Ryder, we need to hit the chemists and supermarkets.”

“There’s nothing left, you know that. Those fucking Shadowlanders cleaned them out. Not sure what they want with the medicines, probably just hoarding it until we all die.” There’s real bitterness in his tone. Like most of us, he’s lost someone special. His brother died of a basic infection which could have been cured with antibiotics. We’d run out, so that was that. Here, in the slums, if you got sick, you most likely died. Simple.

We made the rest of the journey in silence. Shelter is an underground bunker, built for an apocalypse and it’s served us well, but resources are limited and only those with skills, able to contribute to the survival of the human race get entry. The human population in our pocket since the invasion almost twenty years ago, as far as we know it, is around two-thousand, five-hundred of whom live in Shelter. The rest lived outside in the slums, or there are those desperate enough to have crossed the Horizon into the Shadowlands. I’ve no idea what happened to those poor souls, and I don’t want to know. We stick to the cusp of the Shadowlands, never venturing too far in. They have our houses, our hospitals, our rivers, and our bridges; they have it all. We exist in a pocket of our reality, untouched and surrounded by the Horizon. I wish there was some way of re-establishing contact with the other pockets, of knowing that there are still others out there and that one day we will somehow unite and take back our world.

I like to dream.

We were almost at the Eye when I heard the chanting.

“Fuck!” Ryder clenched and pressed himself back against the wall.

I did the same.

The chanting grew louder and then they appeared around the bend. Twelve hooded figures, their robes of the deepest crimson, threadbare in places but thick enough to withstand a few hundred washes.

They were led by Mother Barbara. She inclined her head in our direction as she passed, but didn’t falter in her chanting. The others followed, their eyes on the ground, hoods up to obscure their faces.

We waited until they vanished around the corner and then Ryder pushed off the wall.

“Seriously!”

“Ryder!” I was shocked by his increasingly hostile attitude toward the The Order of the Mother. She did, after all, save humanity by bringing us to this pocket of reality, rescuing us from the Shadowlanders hungry for our flesh. Not Barbara, herself, but the real Mother; the robed figure that had appeared in the midst of the chaos and led those of us who would heed her to safety. Well, that’s what the stories said, of course, and there are plenty alive who can attest to its truth.

Barbara, however, was special because the Mother had spoken to her, giving her the Word. It’s the Word which rules us now. It’s the Word we live by.

“Fucking bollocks if you ask me,” Ryder muttered.

We passed the dining hall and walked up to the doors leading that opened to the steps that led to the Eye.

I didn’t need to ask what he was on about. I knew he thought the Word was crap made up by the Mother to keep us locked in our little pocket of reality. Ryder believed that the Mother was one of them, and we were just cattle that have been rounded up for later consumption. Sometimes I wondered if he was right, if we were all gullible fools waiting to be picked off at the Shadowlander’s leisure.

We climbed the metal staircase leading to the Eye. A short platform ended in a door and we pushed through to find the others waiting.

Bernadette rolled her eyes and tapped her wrist. She wasn’t wearing a watch, but she was the Anchor, the time keeper, so I guess it counted. She was already suited up and ready to go. A head taller than Ryder and pure muscle, Bernadette was a force to be reckoned with.

Fred and George were buckling on their harnesses and I quickly joined Ryder in grabbing mine and doing the same. I made sure the buckles were super-tight. We hadn’t lost a Reaper yet and I wasn’t about to be the first. I pulled out the ear piece tucked into the pocket and slipped it on. It contained a short wave radio that allowed the team to stay in contact when we were over the Horizon. It didn’t help with communication to the Eye; when we were out there we were alone.

“You’re good to go,” Blake said from his position at the Eye.

Screen upon screen of grainy footage from above lay before him. He scanned it all expertly, spotting trouble spots, threats . . . them.

He looked tired. I wanted to give him a hug, but here, in the Eye, he was the boss. I could see the Horizon on more than one of those screens, shimmering and glorious, the only bright spot in this otherwise grey world.

My body ached for it and I shivered in anticipation of the crossing.

Ryder shoved my gun into my hand. “It’s charged.”

“Thanks.” I slipped it into the harness at my waist and hoped I didn’t have to use it. Ryder handed me a backpack.

“What, are you her bitch now?” Fred said.

Ryder shot him a lethal glare.

Fred was a dick, plain and simple, but he was a damn good Reaper, which was the only reason I hadn’t knocked out his teeth yet. Although . . . did he really need his teeth to reap?

I opened up my backpack to check on Baby. She was tucked up snugly in her holster. I’d found her on my first trip into the Cusp, and Clay had customised her to act like a long range stun gun. I hadn’t used her yet, I was saving her for a special occasion.

“All set, let’s move out,” George said. Forever the peacemaker, the voice of reason, and a truly stand-up guy. I could imagine that being etched on his gravestone, not that we had those anymore. Cremation was easier, cleaner. Less chance of disease that way.

We entered the hatch that led up to the surface and began to climb. Fred first, then George, Ryder, me, then Bernadette made up the rear. The whirr of the lock disengaging was followed by a gust of air so sweet that it made my head spin.

It was their air, contaminating ours, seductive and alluring. I shook my head and took Ryder’s hand as he hauled me out of the hatch. My boots touched earth and I allowed myself a moment to take it in—the greys, browns, and blacks—the heavy dark sky and the shimmering veil less than a mile ahead of us.

We set off.

“East quarter, people,” George said. “Been a while since we tapped it. Could have missed something.”

“Hardly!” Fred said. “We’ve picked the shit outta the Cusp. We need to go further.”

He was right; we all knew it, and no one argued.

Bernadette was the first to break the thoughtful silence. “I spoke to Finn about it. He agrees.”

My eyes widened in surprise. Finn was one of the senior members of the council. He was older than us all by about ten years and totally aloof and unapproachable.

“You spoke to Finn? How? When?”

Bernadette snorted. “With my mouth, and just after we finished fucking for the third time.”

Wow! What the hell could I say to that?

Ryder chuckled. “You got balls, Bernadette, I give you that.”

Bernadette slanted a sly look in his direction. “Guys are predictable, and we needed someone on the council to listen. Now we got that ear, we should see some action. Looks like Blake’s been keeping secrets too. Finn had no idea about the rise in critter activity.”

I shuddered. Yep, those suckers were disgusting, all shapes and sizes with only one thing in common; being insect- like. As if summoned by my thought, skitters filled the air to my left.

“Aw, shit,” Ryder said.

We pulled out our batons and flicked the switch to light them up. Something dark flew at my head and I brought my baton up to thwack it, but Ryder got there first, shooting me a cheeky grin over his shoulder.

My hero.

Bernadette cursed colourfully as she stomped on something over and over. “Why. Won’t. You. Die!”

Fred laughed and joined her, zapping the critter with his baton. The thing shuddered and lay still.

Twelve legs; that was a first.

Fred was waving his baton in Bernadette’s face and annunciating. “Use your baton, that’s what it’s for.”

Stupid idiot, he’d obviously forgotten who he was speaking to.

Bernadette grabbed him by the neck and lifted him up into the air.

Fred’s eyes went saucer-wide. Yep, he remembered now.

“I was saving the charge, you twat,” she said and then dropped him on the critter.

Fred squealed and Ryder cracked up.

I scanned the earth around us, cracked and dead and empty. No critters, just broken buildings, rusted vehicles, and memories of a lost time.

“Come on, we got work to do.”

 

We were up close and personal with the Horizon. It rose up into the sky like a wall of static. In the early days we’d tried to send planes over the top, but none had returned. There’d been speculation; was it a force field of some kind, some sort of alien technology? Was it a portal to another dimension? So many theories and no time to figure it out because then they had swept in, killing, raping, taking. What was left of the government had fallen and it became each man for himself.

I didn’t remember any of this, I was just a baby, but dad told the story so many times throughout our childhood that sometimes I felt like I’d been there, like I did see it happen. He told us about the Mother, sweeping in and leading so many away. He’d told us how mum and he hid from her, afraid that it was a trick. The Mother was one of them, why would she help us? He told us how they had left then, the ones that looked like us, and how what was left of humanity waited for them to return, but they never had. Instead, we were left here to rot, to starve, to fight amongst ourselves for the last scrap of food. By the time mum and dad realised that there was a Shelter, the only way to gain admittance was to enlist as a Reaper. Neither was willing to let the other take the risk, and so we lived like animals.

“Ashling!” Bernadette tapped the port on her suit.

I tore my eyes away from the barrier that kept us prisoner in our own world and unzipped the pocket at the side of my harness. I grabbed the line tucked inside and pulled. I passed her the end and she screwed my line into the port on her suit and then nodded.

It was a primitive set up. Just ropes really, attached to someone who would stay behind as an Anchor. Bernadette was the obvious choice—the girl was pure muscle and topped Ryder by half an inch. No one questioned it, because we all wanted to live, and we knew Bernadette would haul us back. She had help—the winch. It was a mechanical contraption that could haul a Reaper back at super speed. All Bernadette needed to do was attach the rope to the machine and hit a button, and all a Reaper needed to do to make her do it was give her the distress signal.

“Comms on,” George said and we all complied by flipping the switch on our ear pieces.

Bernadette held up her wrist. “Thirty minutes, people. That’s all you get. I tug, you come. Got it?”

“Got it!” We all said in unison.

Ryder joined me in front of the Horizon. “You ready scamp?”

I nodded. “Always.”

We stepped through.

 

The first time I’d gone through the Horizon, I’d expected it to feel gloopy, thick, and viscous. I’d screwed up my eyes and pressed my lips together, afraid it would somehow get inside me. But it was nothing like that. Walking through the Horizon was like walking through air. It was like stepping from one point to another, and yet the air on the other side felt heavier, denser. It was as if the laws of gravity were different here. Walking required more effort and thirty minutes wouldn’t be enough. We all knew it, just like we knew that any longer and we risked detection by the Shadowlanders.

The sky here was the same, gloomy, grey, and low. A thin grey mist hung in the air, but it was the buildings that always amazed me. Twisted and bent, standing at impossible angles, they defied the laws of physics. Not that I knew any physics but I’d heard Ryder use the phrase once or twice and he’d kinda of explained it to me and I’d nodded and looked like I understood.

This part of the city would have been Shoreditch, as I’d seen the old maps. I knew what should be here. I’d seen pictures in old tourist brochures collected from gift shops in the place once called Trafalgar Square. This was a new London. It was their London now.

We still didn’t know what they were. I’d never seen one myself, but from what the Order of the Mother described, they looked humanoid, except they had other characteristics, animalistic and insectile, reptilian and amphibian. They were terrible and horrific and bestial, all except the Mother, who’d taken pity on our plight and saved us.

“Stop daydreaming, Ash, and let’s get to it.”

We began to trudge. My boots seemed to stick to the ground as gravity held us down. The sky was darker here, the clouds low overhead. It made me feel claustrophobic.

“You okay, scamp?”

“I’m fine.” But I so wasn’t. I could feel the sweat breaking out across my brow—the nape of my neck was soaked.

Stupid phobia, stupid issue.

I lived underground, you couldn’t get more closed in that that, yet here I was in an open space afraid of clouds pressing down on me.

I suspected Ryder knew, but he did a damn good job of not making an issue of it. I loved him for that.

Loved.

Shit, I mean, I liked him for it. Liked him a lot!

“I’m taking west, you go east,” Ryder said.

It didn’t matter. The ground could shift at any moment and I could end up in the south and he could end up north or, as had happened once, we could end up side by side. Yeah, that had been weird. The ropes kept us tethered, though. The ropes were essential.

He held up his fist. I bumped it with mine and we stepped away from each other, turned and walked away. I’d gone two feet when my earpiece crackled.

“Keep to time, scamp,” Ryder said.

I nodded, then realised he couldn’t see it, and said, “I know.” See, it was his protectiveness that made me think that there could be more, but he went through women like dirty socks and had recently begun recycling them—small population and all.

I was thinking to distract myself from my surroundings. For some reason I always yearned to cross the Horizon, to enter the Shadowlands, but when I was here I yearned to be elsewhere. I was so messed up.

A building loomed out of the mist, tall, at least four stories. It leaned to the side as if it was thinking about laying down and taking a nap.

“Well, here we go.”

I approached and stepped through the black gaping doorway into what once must have been a reception area. The walls had deep cracks running through them—the whole building looked like it was about to come down.

The grey was like a sickness crawling over everything, infecting it like mold. I contemplated making a hasty exit, but something caught my eye—a flash of brightness in the monochrome environment. To the left of the large front desk was a waiting area with comfy chairs, a low table, and a pile of colourful magazines untouched by the crawling shadow, as if somehow immune to the darkness. I loved magazines and these looked to be in great condition. I slung my backpack off my shoulders and scooped up a couple before putting them in. I eyed up the pile. I really wanted to take them all, but I needed to save room in my pack for more important things. I sighed and turned away.

An archway to the right of the front desk led to a stairwell. One look told me I wouldn’t be exploring any higher. The stairwell had been turned upside down, twisted and cracked. There was a lift but it was useless without power.

I stepped back into the reception area and took the arch to the left of the waiting room into a long corridor lined with doors.

Time to do some scouring.

A thorough, but quick, examination of the downstairs rooms told me this used to be some kind of clinic. There were charts on the wall showcasing images of the human body and its inner workings. I found a first aid kit in one of the drawers and some syringes, but anything else that may have been of use was gone.

My earpiece crackled.

“Exit time, people!” Bernadette’s voice cracked with static.

Great! My heart plummeted. I hadn’t found anything of real use.

“Scamp, you there?” Ryder’s voice was tight and clear as a bell.

My veins filled with ice. I knew that tone. He was in trouble.

“Ryder? You okay?”

“Yeah, just making sure you got Bernadette’s message. I’ll see you on the other side.”

My ear piece went silent.

I stood there for a long beat, my heart racing. Something wasn’t right. He’d sounded off.

My earpiece crackled again, and I was on the move even before I heard Bernadette’s impatient voice on the other side.

Finding my way out was easy. I just followed my rope and I was at Horizon in no time. My rope swung in midair, vanishing into the shimmering veil. There was only one other rope still out. My stomach knotted.

I tapped my comm. “Hey, anyone there? Ryder?”

“Ash? Where the fuck are you guys?” Bernadette said.

“I’m here Bernadette, just coming through. Is Ryder with you?”

“Negative. Thought he was with you. We’re all here, good to go.”

Something was wrong. “Have you spoken to him?”

“He checked in about- What the fuck!”

I gasped as the other rope, Ryder’s rope, went crazy, bobbing and swinging from side to side and then going taut.

Bernadette cursed through the comm


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Amos Cassidy is the pen name for Richard Amos and Debbie Cassidy. You can find Cassidy hard at work in her fortress of solitude which has eaten up the majority of her garden. Amos is still trying to get the invisibility gizmo he got off a friendly alien in exchange for a pair of earphones to work. Funnily enough, he hasn't been seen around much lately. Frequent doses of sugary snacks, coupled with regular injections of caffeine, aid the production of their unique brand of cross genre tales.

Q. What draws you to this genre?
A.
We love creating fantastical worlds, drawing from obscure mythologies and setting them in urban environments—most of which have been altered in some way. As readers we are huge fans of the genre and any new spin on it is always exciting.
Q. What books are you reading now?
A.
Right now, Cassidy is reading The Midnight Sea by Kat Ross. Amos is reading Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb. Yep, high and epic fantasy is the flavor of the month.
Q. Why do you write?
A.
Writing is the foundation that holds us up. You could call it a compulsion. There's a huge queue of characters and stories waiting to have their moment in the spotlight, and we have to honor them. Plus it's the most fun thing in the universe to do!

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