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       Fated, p.10

           Sarah Alderson
 
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  'Over a thousand.' Victor nodded.

  'Well, how did it begin?' Evie asked

  Victor reached over and took the book. 'Did you see this?' he asked, flipping to the back pages.

  'Yes,' she said, getting up and crouching down by his side so she could peer closer at the spidery scratches - black lines branching and dividing hundreds of times across the page. 'But I couldn't make head or tail of it,' Evie said.

  'This is your family tree, Evie,' Victor said. 'Look. Here . . .' He pointed to a dark smudge on the page and she leant in closer. 'There you are.'

  'I need a magnifying glass to read that,' she said.

  Victor went up and rummaged through the trunk lying open in the corner. He returned with a magnifying glass. Of course there was one in there. Why wouldn't there be?

  Her name leapt out at her from the page and she drew in a breath.

  Evie Rose Hunter b. 1994 d. -

  She stared at the tiny blank space after the dash and felt her heart do a kick.

  She forced herself to trace her finger upwards to her parents.

  Megan Alice Boissinot Hunter b.1970 d. 1996

  'She was French? Was my mother French?' Evie looked up, startled.

  'Yes.' Victor nodded.

  She felt her chin lift, her shoulders straighten. Somehow she felt chicer all of a sudden, empowered. French. That was pretty cool.

  James Henry Hunter b. 1969 d. 1996

  'And my dad? Where was he from?' she asked, half hoping it would be somewhere equally exotic or European.

  'He was born in America. The east coast. But the Hunter roots can be traced back over a thousand years. Look, see here,' he said, moving the magnifying glass in her hand to the top of the page.

  'Aylen,' she read out loud, the single name written there in fading ink. 'Born c. 997.' She looked up at Victor. 'Is that missing a 1?'

  'No. That's your great-great-great-times-fifty grandmother.'

  Evie stared at the name. 'Wow. So she's where it all began. Who was she?'

  'She was the wife of a Native American chief. Legend has it that one day she discovered him and their youngest child slaughtered, their bodies being fed on by an Unhuman. Some say it was a Thirster, others that it was a Shapeshifter in animal form.'

  Evie stared at Victor rapt. She was part Native American too. She could live with this.

  'She swore revenge and with her remaining sons began hunting down the Unhumans - demons as they called them then - living in the land at that time. She became a fierce leader, a warrior of her people. The Unhumans scattered over the continent, seeking shelter, looking for places to hide, and Aylen and her sons would hunt them down. They only started using the Hunter surname in the fifteenth century, though by then there were Hunters spread out as far as Europe.'

  'Hang on, hang on, why were the demons looking for shelter here in the first place? Why didn't they just go back to their own realms if they were being hunted? It's the same today - why are they still here? What's so good about this world?'

  'The other realms are not all like here. The Shadowlands, for example, are wastelands.'

  'The Shadowlands?'

  'Where the Shadow Warriors come from,' Victor explained.

  'Yeah, about them,' Evie said. 'I have no idea how I'm supposed to fight one of them.'

  'OK, we'll come to that,' Victor said, raising his hands to hold her back from the questioning. 'Let's just get through the history lesson first. We don't know why the Brotherhood was originally formed. Early histories say it was to suppress the Originals.'

  'They're the really old Thirsters, right?' asked Evie.

  Victor nodded. 'We think the other Unhumans all had to unite to fight the Originals and afterwards they formed a Brotherhood to protect the realms and try to take control of this one too. Did you read about the Sybll?' he asked.

  Evie nodded. She had read about the Sybll last night. A clairvoyant Unhuman. It had made her wonder why the Unhumans got all the powers and supersonic strength. What did the Hunters get? Faulty instincts and a love of fashion?

  'The Sybll are psychic,' Victor carried on. 'It means the Brotherhood sees us coming. Though their visions seem a little hazy at the best of times. So we are able to surprise them occasionally.'

  'They see the past and the future?'

  'Yes.'

  'So they must see us coming every time, then?'

  Victor's brow darkened. 'Yes and no. The Sybll only get flashes. They need contact with a person, to touch them or hold something that belongs to them, in order to see into that person's future. Some kind of connection. And they only see decisions as they get made so if you can change your approach at the last minute it confuses them. It's how we managed to destroy the last Brotherhood.'

  He flipped to the page with a picture of a Sybll. The picture showed a girl with long white hair. She seemed as human as any of Evie's classmates, except her face was longer and her eyes bigger, as round as saucers.

  'What do these mean?' Evie asked, pointing to the strike marks in the corner of the page. 'They're on every page.'

  'I was wondering whether you'd noticed those,' Victor murmured. 'Those, Evie, are the reckonings.'

  'The what?'

  'The reckonings record how many of each species we've killed.'

  Evie counted the strikes. 'Eight Sybll,' she pronounced.

  'Yes, over the years. Eight's not many. They're tricky to get close to.'

  Evie swallowed and looked at the girl on the page. She looked so young and - well, wide-eyed.

  'And these?' she said, flipping the page back onto the picture of the Scorpio demon. 'What does this mean?' She pointed to the number 23.

  Victor paused. 'That's the number of Hunters the Scorpio demons have taken.'

  Evie considered his choice of word. 'Taken? You mean killed?'

  Victor frowned, but nodded. 'Yes.'

  'And my parents? Where are they? What killed them?'

  Victor gently took the book from her hands and turned the pages. He handed it back to her and she looked down.

  'A Shadow Warrior? A Shadow Warrior killed them?'

  'Yes.'

  She looked at the number in the corner, saw that the paper was rough where it had been rubbed over and a new pencil mark made.

  'Thirty-three? They've killed thirty-three of us?' she said, in a shaking voice.

  'Yes.'

  And we've killed just one of them?'

  Victor nodded.

  She slammed the book shut. 'When do we start this training?'

  Victor took the book and laid it carefully on the counter. 'Tomorrow. Today we keep learning, for that's where the knowledge to fight them lies. In the past.'

  'Why are they so special? These Shadow Warriors?' she demanded.

  'They're silent and they're invisible.'

  'So how do I find one? And how do I kill one when I do? It must be possible. We got one, didn't we? How did we do that?'

  Victor smiled wryly. 'You need to learn to see them first.'

  Evie looked at him with interest. 'But how? You said they're invisible.'

  'In shadows it's almost impossible. Almost. But you have the ability to see them.'

  He was definitely overestimating her, but Evie kept quiet.

  'Tomorrow, when we train, you'll start to understand how to use that instinct of yours. We need to unlock it, so you can start to sense things better.'

  'Right,' Evie huffed. 'But what if I can't sense anything? What if I'm deficient, sense-wise?'

  Victor snorted with laughter.

  'Seriously,' Evie snapped. 'What if my instincts just aren't up to scratch?'

  On the periphery of her vision Evie saw a blur of movement and ducked as something whistled past her ear. She looked up from her crouching position. A dagger hilt was vibrating wildly where it was buried in the wall just behind her head. She turned back to Victor, her mouth agape, disbelief scrawled across her face.

  'Your instincts are just fine,' he said, before turning
his back on her.

  Quicker than thought, Evie crossed to the wall, yanked the still vibrating dagger out of it and chucked it hard and straight at Victor's head. As it left her hand she yelled, realising what she had done but too late to stop it. She watched in horror as the blade soared through the air.

  Victor reacted fast. He stepped lightly to the side and the knife flew right past him. But when he turned to face her, his fist was closed around the hilt and she could only stare at him in confusion, wondering how on earth he'd caught it and what he was going to do with it now.

  A spark seemed to have ignited his irises, making him look dangerous for the first time, but all he said with a light smile was, 'Touche.'

  12

  Evie walked in the door clutching the book and the dress in her arms, and the smell hit her first. Leather and dirt and peaches and dying summer days. Her stomach clenched at the memories that the warm smell of leather dredged up but the smile died on her lips when she remembered it couldn't be him because the only person who ever dragged the smell of horses and leather into the house had been dead for over a year.

  That's when she heard her mother's voice, all sunny and breathless, coming from the kitchen. She inched forwards, already knowing, and dreading, what she was about to find. And she was right. There was her mother fussing around Lucas, pouring him tea from the good china teapot and laying out freshly baked cookies on a plate in front of him like he was the President come to call and not their paying lodger. When did Evie - who wasn't a paying lodger - ever get fresh cookies and tea from a pot? Not even Mrs Lewington had ever got cookies.

  Lucas Gray had his back to her. Sweat had stuck his T-shirt to his back in patches and his dark hair was unkempt, as though he'd recently pulled off a hat and run a hand through it. When he reached for the tea Evie saw his arms were dirt-streaked, the muscles well worked, his hands strong and sure in their movements. She couldn't take her eyes off his hands - her mind going places it really shouldn't . . .

  He turned and caught her staring and she tossed her head to indicate indifference and stepped into the kitchen as though she'd just arrived and hadn't been thoroughly checking him out.

  She placed the dress and book on the table and, ignoring him and only nodding at her mother's hello, went over to the sink for a drink of water. She was buying time. She actually had no idea why she was still treating him like this. She only knew that she resented him for being in her kitchen at that moment. She resented the way her mother was fussing over him and she resented the way he smelt. She couldn't tell if she was still suspicious on top of being resentful - she was alive after all. He hadn't murdered her in her sleep last night.

  So if it wasn't suspicion that was needling her, then what was it? His coolness? His indifference to her indifference? The sense of him watching her, even when he wasn't even looking remotely in her direction? Like now, she was sure she could feel the weight of his gaze on the back of her neck but when she turned he was laughing at something her mother had said and pouring himself some more tea. He wasn't even facing in her direction. And there was the needling again - only now she wasn't sure if she was annoyed by the fact that he was laughing with her mother or by the fact that he hadn't been looking at her. She gave herself a mental slap.

  Then her mother interrupted her crazy mind chatter by letting out a cry. 'You paid how much for this?'

  She was holding up Evie's new blue dress.

  'Keep your hair on, Mum,' Evie said, putting her glass down. 'I didn't pay for it. It was a gift.'

  'A gift?' Her mother's voice rose a notch, coming out like a screech.

  Evie squirmed, knowing exactly what her mother was thinking. She should have anticipated this one and removed the price tag before she walked in the door.

  'Excess stock,' she said, 'and I'm supposed to be selling the clothes, so wearing them is actually a marketing strategy.'

  What was she talking about? She had no idea but her mother seemed to have fallen for it because now she had switched her attention to the hem length.

  'Well, I'm sure it will look lovely on you, dear.'

  Evie caught Lucas - she actually caught him - looking at her. And he didn't look away, he held her gaze and it was somehow unsettling. She shuffled from foot to foot, aware that she felt the same way when Victor was watching her - like she was an opponent in a wrestling ring and he was trying to figure out whether to bet on her or against her.

  Lucas's grey eyes seemed darker today - iron ore, she thought - the words popping inexplicably into her head. His expression was cool, detached. He seemed to warm up around her mother but with her he maintained an absolute aloofness. Well, she had tried to smash his head in with a baseball bat, so it was fair enough she supposed. And who was she to talk anyway? She was an expert at aloofness - she could offer him lessons in how to take it to the next level if he wanted.

  'I'm going to wear it tonight,' she said, retrieving the book and taking the dress from her mum.

  'Why? What's tonight?' her mother asked.

  'There's a party on at the swimming hole, the one down by Jay's Creek.'

  Evie left it at that but she could see two pink spots of pleasure start to glow on her mother's cheeks.

  This would be her first social foray in six months and she could see the effort it was taking for her mother to hold back from hugging her and telling her how glad she was to see her finally making an effort. At what? Evie thought - normality? That would be a wasted effort. There was no more normality.

  She backed away, heading for the door before her mother could say something embarrassing in front of a stranger. Too late. Her mother opened her mouth and Evie prepared herself for the fact that yet another person would soon know the intimacies of her life and the reasons for her lack of social life, but actually what her mother said was even worse than she had anticipated.

  'Why don't you take Lucas with you?' she asked.

  Evie had been caught off-guard and so had no lie prepared as to why she couldn't take him. And Lucas had been looking at her, suddenly alert, almost daring her, a smile on that overly perfect mouth of his which rendered her momentarily speechless. Her mother had taken her open-mouthed muteness for agreement and switched her attention to Lucas, telling him he had to go and what a wonderful opportunity it would be for him to make new friends, and then shot a conspiratorial glance over his shoulder at Evie - why hadn't she just winked while she was at it?

  Evie felt her face getting hotter and hotter and her anger starting to bubble up, because she didn't want Lucas coming along. She had enough to deal with navigating what would be the most awkward social scene of her life - friends she'd basically ignored for six months, acquaintances who only knew her as the dead girl's friend and an ex-boyfriend who the whole world knew had cheated on her, but from whom she needed to beg forgiveness.

  And here she was tapping her foot at the top of the stairs, waiting for Lucas to appear. Because what she really needed on top of having to do all of the above was to have to babysit too.

  'Are you waiting for me?'

  She looked around. She hadn't heard him. He had appeared out of nowhere, freshly showered, wearing a white shirt open at the neck, rolled up sleeves and clean blue jeans. She surveyed him with what she hoped was impassivity though her insides were definitely reacting actively. He was just too good-looking, goddamn it. Without a word, she headed down the stairs.

  He stepped aside to let her pass. Was that a frown she saw?

  She led him through the kitchen out onto the back porch. They headed across the orchard, Lucas following silently behind. All the time she was aware of him there, out of sight, stepping silently in her footsteps, eyes burning into her back.

  Once they reached the river and the path beaten through the grass alongside it, she stepped out of the way and let him go first. She felt uncomfortable letting him have the advantage. Was that another little frown she saw when he passed her?

  'It's about half a mile upriver from here,' she said to him. B
ut being behind him only made her even more uncomfortable. He moved so swiftly and so silently she could barely keep up, and she couldn't stop staring at his back, at the ridge of muscle running along his shoulders, the tan line on the back of his neck - but mainly, it had to be said, at his butt.

  At one point Lucas stood back to hold a branch out of the way for her and their eyes caught. He seemed to jerk back from her, looking away quickly. There was something about his expression . . . she couldn't work it out. She remembered what her father had once told her about peat fires, about the heat gathering underground and rippling out, the flames hidden from view. That's what Lucas made her think of. He seemed so aloof but there was something going on underneath it all, something burning under all that cool.

  Damn it, she thought, swiping at some long grass, why did she even care? She was over boys. Done with them entirely. And besides, she had a million things to deal with right now. If she even tried to list them she'd be here all night. Off the top of her head she was worried about her mother and she was distinctly worried about training tomorrow. And she was angry, too, she knew that. The numbness had melted completely away in the last day and a half. Now she was angry again. She was angry at Victor for destroying her reality and she was angry that she was the one expected to protect a world she actually hated. Did no one get the irony? Did they not see that maybe she didn't care what happened to the world? Except she did care what happened to her mother.

  And there Lucas was again, holding back another branch, doing it almost absently, not to charm her with chivalry.

  'I've got it,' she said, pushing past him once more. Better his eyes on her back than the other way around because he was a distraction and that, she realised, was really why she was so angry at him. It wasn't because she was suspicious of him, because there was no way he was an Unhuman. It was that he was too big a distraction, and she didn't need or want one of those right now. As far as she could tell nothing good ever came of falling for a boy.

  It was twilight by the time they made it to the spot by the swimming hole. The party was barely a gathering. There were less than a dozen people, nearly all of them from the year below her at school. Evie sighed inwardly and hovered on the edge of the pool for a moment, tempted to drop into the water and sink like a stone. She used to come here with Tom a lot last summer and that's exactly what they would do, strip off to their underwear and dive in, their hands finding each other in the murky depths.

 
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