The Catalyst

**An exclusive extract from Hodder & Stoughton**
Rose Elmsworth has a secret. For eighteen years, the world has been divided into the magically Gifted and the non-magical Ashkind, but Rose's identity is far more dangerous. At fifteen, she has earned herself a place alongside her father in the Department, a brutal law-enforcement organisation run by the Gifted to control the Ashkind. But now an old enemy is threatening to start a catastrophic war, and Rose faces a challenging test of her loyalties. How much does she really know about her father's past? How far is the Department willing to go to keep the peace? And, if the time comes, will Rose choose to protect her secret, or the people she loves?

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1. Prologue


The first they knew of it was the crack in the sky.

It stretched across the sun, cutting swathes of light from the city streets – a great, black, jagged mouth, from the eastern horizon to the westernmost clouds. Through it came darkness, spilling shadows into the streetlights. It was only just twilight on the Meridian. In more easterly parts of the world, darker and deeper into night, it was as if a thousand stars had suddenly gone out.

In London, drowsily turning from the early touches of nightfall, a few seconds passed before it was felt. Streams of traffic slowed, clogging the arteries of the city. People got out of their cars; they were astonished, frightened, confused. The crack in the sky loomed above them, captured in a million grainy phone-shoots. London sparkled with camera flashes.

That was when the storm began.

Paul Folbright, assistant electrician in the Ichor labs, was one of the first on the balcony in their godforsaken corner of North London. He had been one of the opportunists: he’d managed to prise a promotion off Richard Ichor before the old man retired from the project, leaving it to his son. Andrew Ichor was a genius, certainly, and arrogant enough with it, especially for someone who didn’t even have a driving licence yet. A lot of people who worked with him, including Folbright, found him deeply creepy. He was always one step ahead of you in your own thought processes, and, partly because of this, he always got what he wanted – apart from, recently, project funding: the powers that be had been disappointed with the lack of results from the Veilbreak initiative. And disappointment wasn’t a money-spinner.

Andrew Ichor, however, had something big planned.

The whole department had been waiting for this day for four years. In those four years, there had been exactly seventeen failed launches. Of those launches, fourteen had taken place under Richard Ichor. Andrew was more careful, slower. That was what scared most of his colleagues. Andrew was dedicated to – you could even say obsessed with – the Veilbreak project. And when someone that clever was that focused on anything, as one of Folbright’s retired colleagues used to say, you were only biding your time until a lot of you-know-what hit the fan.

That evening, many of the staff in the Ichor labs had taken the day off. Among those who’d stayed, Folbright and his superior Davina Anthony were two of the few who could consider themselves high up in the food chain. This, they knew, was their last chance. If this launch went wrong, then they could kiss their careers goodbye. Folbright hadn’t slept in days.

It went wrong, all right, but not in the way anyone expected.

Andrew Ichor rushed onto the balcony, pushing people out of the way to get to the very edge. He leaned over, staring up at the sky, and then leaned back in shock, his eyes wide. Then he turned to his astonished and scared staff, and started to jump up and down like a child, punching the air.

‘I told you!’ he screamed; he was ecstatic, triumphant. ‘I told them I could do it!’

Behind him, out of nowhere, a hundred thousand lightning bolts suddenly stood, bright white, blind-white, against the soft purple of the thickening night. London reeled from the shock of it as buildings and trees exploded into flame, buses and cars were hit where they stood, and black scorch marks were etched into the landscape as if an angry five-year-old had slashed a pencil mark across a drawing. Almost immediately came the thunder – a hard, deafening wall of sound that rolled across the city, smashing windows and glasses, drowning out the screaming. Folbright was on his knees with his hands over his ears. Andrew Ichor had his hands pressed to his face, staring through his fingers at the sky and laughing with joy.

The noise receded. Invisible to the naked eye, but still very much there, a huge wave of energy had seeped through the dimensional break, disrupting the climate enough to create a cloudless storm.

And then.

Although no one in the Ichor labs knew it at the time, the energy generated by the break manifested as electricity. Every single electronic device around the world was immediately shorted out. Smartphones died in an explosion of sparks in people’s hands. The electrified rails on city metros were suddenly dead, sending transportation grinding to a messy halt. London, New York, Shanghai were plunged into sudden darkness. In it, the explosions of the Ichor labs’ computers were a blinding fireworks display.

Folbright stared, aghast, as four years of his life went up in flames.

Andrew Ichor wasn’t looking at the computers. He was staring down at London, darkened and dead but for the small patches of fire glittering here and there among the buildings. He was paler now; the laughter had slid off his face. He had one hand on the railing of the balcony to hold himself steady. His knuckles were white and the hand was shaking.

‘What the—’ he whispered.

There was silence, but for the sound of distant screaming. Then it came. It was as if the sky rippled, like a heat mirage, or the air over a fire. The still evening air twisted into a strong breeze, pulling papers off desks and sending them sweeping over the floor. People stood up shakily, looking around to see what was happing.

Then, with a shock like a gunshot, someone on the balcony started to scream.

Folbright whirled. Davina was on her knees with her hands over her ears, shrieking as if in agony. Everyone looked around for the threat, but there was nothing.

‘Get it off!’ she screamed. ‘Get it off me, get it out of my head!’

A couple of people took out their phones and tried to dial 999 on useless bits of plastic before remembering that was what they were, and that even if they had worked, the emergency services would be in little better shape than them.

‘Help me!’ Davina shrieked. ‘Help me, help—’

Her voice choked off and she doubled over. Behind her, someone else fell to their knees, coughing hard. People began to drop. A few screamed, like Davina had done.

Folbright looked desperately to Andrew, but he was merely standing, frozen in panic, watching as his department fell.

Then, suddenly, Davina opened her mouth.

She said nothing, but from her mouth shone a beam of bright light, as if she’d swallowed a torch. The light came from under her skin, her eyelids, from her nostrils, under her fingernails. It grew brighter and brighter, until she was a huddle of light, too bright to look at. One by one, each person who’d dropped began to shine as if they were burning from the inside. Folbright stumbled back, cringing, staring through his fingers, not daring to blink.

There was a pause where the survivors still stood, stunned and terrified, and then six people dropped at once. Visible, almost tangible blackness reached from them, swallowed them; they became hulks of shadow.

And then suddenly, everything stopped. The lights went out; the shadows receded. Folbright sighed shakily, not sure whether or not to be relieved. He knelt beside Davina.

‘Come on, Davina. It’s okay now, you’re fine. You can . . . can get . . .'

His voice, faint as it had been, trailed off. Davina gave one, last, trembling sigh, rolled over, and did not move again. Folbright stared at her.

‘No,’ he said. ‘No.’

People began to get to their feet around him. Some, however, remained lying on the floor like Davina, quite clearly dead. Those on their feet seemed unsteady, unsure of their motor functions. Their jaws hung open in confusion. Their eyes were an unnaturally bright, cold green, varying in strength and depth from person to person, and that was terrifying enough, but not what he was really afraid of. The few that had dropped with the darkness, standing now, had irises stained black. They seemed even less steady on their feet than the green-eyed ones; they stared blankly around, stumbling blindly, grasping at empty air. Everything about them seemed wrong, and, from the looks on their slack faces, they knew it.

Folbright took a step back.

One green-eyed woman, whom Folbright had worked with on the funding portfolio, stuck out her hand towards a stack of papers on her own desk. They exploded into the air as if they had been hit with a child’s toy vacuum gun.

‘What the hell?’ Andrew Ichor whispered. All around the room, objects were exploding into flame, flying, moving, without anyone going anywhere near them. Folbright stared at them.

But this isn’t real, he thought dimly. I mean, this can’t seriously be

It hit him from behind, grabbing his mind and locking his thoughts into place. For a second he forgot his own name and who he was and the world he lived in and reality dissolved into confusion and the image of a cold desert wasteland and the thought of the crack in a deep red, starless sky, and being sucked towards it and the enveloping, crushing darkness and a wind rushing him towards a tiny, shattering city and this man, shining with life . . .

But the Angels, he thought, and the thoughts were both alien and completely his own. The Angels. Where are they? Where am I? I have to fight—

But he was trapped inside a strange body in a world that was not his own and he was kneeling on the floor with his body burning and confused, flickering thoughts of a war inside his head. The memories mixed, jarred together, fixed into a single person with a single soul in a single body and he stood up.

He was Paul Taylor Folbright. He had an ex-wife and a girlfriend and a five-year-old son. He had a steady job and a midlife crisis. He was also a . . . a something from the world that Andrew Ichor had just opened up. He had a vague image of a battlefield, but nothing else any more.

Except the knowledge that he must fight.

Fight? He wasn’t a fighter. Who was he supposed to fight?

The memories were draining away from him.

Someone touched him on the shoulder. He tried to throw them off without moving, to move them back with his new black eyes, but nothing happened and their grip intensified and he moved with sudden strength and his fist made contact with something hard and someone cried out and the grip was gone.

He turned to Andrew Ichor. He could see them now. Tiny shreds of light and darkness plunged through the sky like meteorites, targeting people with unerring accuracy. Where they hit, the people were consumed with blinding light or shivering, curling darkness as the two souls fused. When all of the people were taken, the few otherworldly souls remaining hung in the air, frustrated.

Then, as one, they turned to Andrew, standing cold and terrified against the wall.

Behind him, London burned.

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