Chapter Thirty-Two

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I could have prepared myself for just about anything, but not the sight of my father, filthy and bruised, cowering in the corner like an animal. Amid the thick stench of rot in the room, I could smell the sourness of human sweat clashing with the foulness of human waste.

This wasn't a mausoleum. It was a prison cell.

And Noah had been here all this time.

"Have to keep quiet," he whispered, throwing up his hands to shield his eyes from the light. His face was gaunt, half-hidden behind a scraggle of developing beard. The look in his eyes was...animal, desperate...fractured. "Noise is bad, keep quiet, keep quiet."

Clara muttered something that I didn't hear.

Carefully I approached Noah. He cringed, hunching into himself as if trying to present as small a target as possible. His clothes were torn to rags, and through those rags I glimpsed how much weight he'd lost.

"Noah," I said, keeping my voice soft and even. "It's me, Kiara."

Tears welled up in his eyes. "My girl," he whispered. "She looked like her mother. She...I should have been better to her..."

Why was he talking about me in the past tense? Couldn't he see me standing in front of him?

"Kiara," said Clara in a strange, tense voice.

I took my eyes off Noah for a split-second, and my heart stopped all over again as I saw what I'd missed earlier. I'd been so focused on Noah that I hadn't noticed the body propped against the wall on my right side.

A body that I knew only too well.

Pain clenched my heart with claws of steel. "Ava," I whispered.

Decay hadn't properly set in yet, but her face had that awful waxy pallor of the dead and her throat was a blood-blackened ruin. She looked like a broken doll, slumped against the wall like that.

Noah started crawling towards her, but stopped when the outside light fell on his face. He recoiled from it, making frightened animalistic noises. "Ava," he moaned. "She won't wake up. Why won't she wake up?" He shook his head, thumping it back on the stone wall behind him. "Kiara, Kiara, Kiara."

"I'm here, Noah," I said, tearing my eyes from my mother's body. "I'm right here."

He lifted his eyes to the sound of my voice, but there was no recognition in his face, not a single flicker that he saw me and not some stranger.

"Should've saved her," he whispered. "Too slow, too old...stupid." He pounded the heel of his hand against his forehead.

"Don't." I moved to stop him hurting himself but he scrabbled backwards, huddling into his corner.

"Couldn't," he whispered, clutching his face with both hands. "Couldn't, couldn't, couldn't."

"Kiara, there's another body over here," Ethan reported.

Clara swung the torch in his direction and I followed the beam of light. In another corner of the mausoleum, hidden up until now by thick shadows, a smaller body was curled on the floor.

"Who's that?" Clara asked, vocalising the question swirling through my own head.

"Look at her face," Ethan said.

I edged closer, Clara moving alongside me, the beam from the torch dancing over the body. I grimaced. The poor girl's face had been beaten to near pulp, blood and bruises forming a patchwork mess. Yet despite all that, there was something vaguely familiar about her, the nagging feeling that I'd seen her somewhere before.

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