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       Fated, p.19

           Sarah Alderson
 
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  Shula's shoulders fell and she turned half away, not holding his gaze. 'I don't understand why she gets to be the one,' she said in a half-broken voice.

  Lucas frowned at her, not understanding. 'She's the child of two Hunters, Shula,' he said quietly. 'She's strong. She's--' He stopped. He wasn't going to tell Shula about the prophecy.

  Shula looked up at him, shook her head slowly, 'No, Lucas, I meant for you - why is she the one?'

  Lucas stared at her. 'I . . .' he finally ventured, faltered.

  Shula waited. Then, when it became clear Lucas wasn't going to say anything else, she straightened her back, tossed her hair over one shoulder, thrust her chest out and spoke. 'You can't choose her, Lucas. You can't betray the Brotherhood. You'd be breaking your oath,' she said, her voice regaining its normal level of venom. 'We'd kill you.'

  Lucas studied her hard, not knowing how to respond. 'I know,' he said slowly, his eyes holding hers.

  She grimaced at his answer. 'Do we mean nothing to you?'

  His hand went to his neck. He felt the weight of the cord holding the amulet. A sacred oath. But his oath to the Brotherhood meant nothing at this moment, compared to the one he'd made to himself to protect Evie. He let the amulet drop and looked back at Shula.

  'If I break my oath, you can kill me yourself, Shula,' he said.

  She narrowed her eyes and frowned at him, unsure of what he was saying - what he meant. 'Tristan wants to speak to you,' she said. 'Now.'

  Lucas started. 'Tristan? He's back?'

  Shula nodded.

  'What does he want?' Lucas asked.

  Shula turned abruptly away, avoiding his eye. 'I don't know,' she mumbled.

  27

  Evie tiptoed up the steps. She was shivering still, despite the sweater she'd pulled on which was sticking clammily to her arms and chest. Her legs were heavy, as though the weed still had a hold on her. Every step took maximum effort.

  She'd tramped back from the pond alone, stamping through the crushing dark, angry at Victor for his stupid games, for throwing the ring in the water and for thinking that she was capable of retrieving it - as if she was a human metal detector - and in sub-zero temperatures too. She was more than angry - she was furious with Victor for his deluded belief that she was the one. When tonight had yet again demonstrated that she wasn't - in fact, couldn't possibly be. Even Risper got that. How many more times did she have to drown or lose a piece of flesh before Victor got that through his thick skull?

  For a moment down there in the peace and quiet beneath the world, floating among the weeds, she'd wanted to let go, or she thought she had. And she had let go - hadn't she? And for a single moment there had been nothingness, just sheer blissful emptiness, a beautiful void opening around her and inside her into which she'd fallen before Lucas had reached into the darkness and pulled her out. She had felt his arms around her, his body hard and supple against hers - then she broke the surface and her eyes had flown open and the cold had struck her, hard as the flat of a knife, and the air had exploded into her lungs and she'd been gasping and floundering and kicking and there was no Lucas. There was nobody. He hadn't rescued her, hadn't dragged her to the surface. He was no more than a figment of her dying imagination. The last thing her brain could conjure, just as she'd conjured him in the cornfield.

  It was pathetic, really. Yet in a way she still believed he had saved her. Whatever figment he'd been in her mind had saved her, had made her kick her way free, had made her fight. And Victor? What had he done? Victor would have let her drown. Another wave of loathing rose up in her throat.

  She hesitated, shoulders raised, teeth chattering. The back door was slightly ajar. Had she left it like that? She tried to focus her numbed attention on her surroundings, tried to listen to whatever her instinct was saying. But if it was saying anything it was being drowned out by the sound of her teeth hammering together like ceramic plates and her breathing stuttering in her chest.

  She pushed the door open. Where was Lobo?

  It was OK. He was there in the kitchen, she spotted him lying under the table. She flicked on the light and crouched down.

  'Hey, Lobo, boy, what's up? Come out. What are you doing in the house?'

  He looked up sadly and whined at her. She scooted under the table and reached out to take hold of the dog, pulling her hand back quickly. His coat was soaked, clumps of white stuff sticking to the fur around his neck. What the hell? The fingers of her other hand found the matted fur around his collar, the place where it had been singed away.

  She fell backwards, scrambling out from under the table, spinning around the empty kitchen, noticing at once the muddy footprints across the floor. She went straight for the knife block and pulled out the cleaver, holding it between both hands.

  That girl, the one with the skin, the Mixen demon, she'd been here. She'd been in the house. Maybe she was still in the house. Evie took a deep breath and shut her eyes. Silence flooded in as if she was underwater again, compressing around her - only her heartbeat could be heard thumping in her ears.

  There was no Unhuman in the house. Not any longer.

  Her eyes flew open. Her mother.

  Lucas.

  She was up the stairs in seconds, following the footprints across the landing. She sprinted down the hallway and pulled up sharply outside her mother's bedroom, heart hammering, too terrified to open the door, too scared of what she might discover. She forced her hand to find the knob and turn it. Her breath stilled in her chest, images flashing through her mind of green outstretched hands.

  But her mother was there, sleeping heavily, fogged up on pills.

  Evie walked slowly down the corridor towards Lucas's room. His door was wide open, the bed unslept in, the wardrobe open.

  She shut the door gently and rested her forehead against the wood panels. Relief flowed through her, making her head feel light and dizzy. Then anger snapped her to. What had that Unhuman been doing here? Why had she hurt Lobo and then left? But not before dousing the dog in bicarbonate of soda? She opened her eyes. Why had the Hunters not picked up on her presence in the town? Victor had told her she was safe, that the Hunters were watching her back. But the Mixen had breezed on in here as though she'd been invited. Was this another one of Victor's games?

  It bothered her that Lucas wasn't home. It was past four in the morning. Where was he? She turned her back on his room and headed for the bathroom. She had started shivering again, her clothes moulded dankly to her body. She knew that if she didn't warm up her muscles would start to seize and if the Mixen did decide to come back she'd be about as useful in a fight as a statue.

  She ran downstairs first, collected Lobo and brought him back upstairs, pushing him into the bathroom ahead of her and locking the door.

  If the girl wasn't here now, if she hadn't stuck around, it was unlikely she was coming back, she reasoned to herself. She thought about calling Victor.

  No, she decided, she was damned if she was going to call Victor about it. She would just have to rely on her senses and on the fact that it was nearly morning - didn't they only come out at night anyway?

  She ran a bath with the hot tap on full and sank into it with a groan. Her skin started to thaw and steam. She rested her head back and shut her eyes.

  Lucas appeared. Always when she shut her eyes he was there, slate grey eyes searching hers, lips slightly parted, cheekbones razor sharp, eyelashes almost stroking them. She sighed. What was the brain but a massive instrument of torture? She'd better not let on to Victor or without a doubt he'd find a way to use it against her.

  She let the water go lukewarm before she eased herself out. She combed out her hair in front of the mirror and carefully examined herself for more injuries. Her skin was wrinkled from the bath and her eyes were hollow. She was rocking some attractive purple shadows under them but other than an extreme ache beneath her breastbone and a dizziness that came and went she seemed to be OK.

  The bed rose up to meet her and she fell into it, already
unconscious. Lobo jumped up and lay next to her, his body pressed against her side, shielding her from whatever might come through the door.

  28

  Lobo couldn't shield her from what was already inside her, though. From the minute Evie's eyes closed she was falling. Sinking. Rocketed down into an abyss of freezing black water. She groped desperately for the sides but there were none, she tried to kick up but her legs were bound, weed cocooning her, wrapping itself around her torso, winding its way around her arms and tightening in a loop around her neck. She could feel her lungs bursting, tried to gasp for breath and started choking. This time there was no peaceful floating, no sway and wave with the current lulling her into the void. No, this was pain - burning, iridescent pain, every single cell in her body bursting into flame at once.

  She couldn't tell if her eyes were open or shut but then Lucas was in front of her, parallel to her, falling with her, his hands on her shoulders. He wasn't trying to tug her up to the surface. He wasn't trying to untangle her and she couldn't understand. She tried to yell but her mouth was clamped shut.

  Lucas's fingers tightened their grip. Her eyes flew to his mouth, silently forming words. She struggled to make out what he was saying.

  Wake. Up. Wake. Up.

  She woke up screaming, shivering, sweat-slick. The sheets tangled around her legs, Lobo pawing her chest. She was shaking as she fought to sit up, to free her legs. She gulped down air - warm, sweet, musty dog-flavoured air - let it fill her lungs and wrapped her arms around Lobo.

  Her gut tightened suddenly as though someone was tuning a string inside her. Her shivering stopped as her muscles tensed completely. Her head turned to the window.

  Someone was outside. No. Not someone. Something. Something Unhuman. Before she could think, she was out of bed, pulling on a pair of jeans and tying her Converse. She grabbed a black T-shirt from the wardrobe and let herself out of the bedroom, locking Lobo in.

  She tiptoed down the stairs, then snuck through the kitchen like a burglar, selecting two knives from the draining board as she went.

  She was about to step out onto the back veranda when she changed her mind and crossed to the basement door. She unlocked it and headed down the steps into the damp space that used to be her dad's workshop. It was dusty and mildewy down here. Her father's hunting rifle hung above the door. She thought about pulling it down but it had been up there rusting for over a year and she had no idea where the bullets were even kept. She glanced down at the knives in her hand and chose the sharpest, putting the carving knife down on the side.

  The door out of the basement at the side of the house was more hidden than the back veranda, down a few concrete steps. It would afford her a better opportunity to sneak up on whoever was out there. If it was the green one she couldn't afford to be cornered. What was she talking about? If it was any of them she couldn't afford to be cornered. Should she be wearing a silver crucifix?

  No. Victor had said all that was rubbish. A Thirster was a Thirster and nothing was going to hurt it other than one of those UV lamps and a flame-thrower - which she didn't have on her. She spied a few bits of wood piled in the corner, the leg of a chair that her dad had chopped up for kindling. She pulled it out of the pile, broke it over her knee and stuck the most jagged half down the waist of her jeans. It would have to do. She didn't have any arrows. And Victor hadn't said anything about stakes. Surely a stake through the heart would do the job? She'd seen vampire movies.

  She crept up the stairs, feeling the pre-dawn air bite. Her heart rate was even - rapid, but she felt calm. Focused even, despite having been dragged screaming from a nightmare only minutes before. She allowed herself a moment to assess the situation, her back pressed into the wall.

  Where were they?

  There - over there. She could hear something straight ahead of her in the trees. A footstep. A swish.

  She wouldn't be needing the stake, then. It was him. The one with the tail. She could hear the scything of it through the leaves. What was his name? Caleb? He'd have to be quieter than that if he wanted to sneak up on her. She ran on three, diving towards the nearest tree and shrinking behind it.

  He had sensed her, she heard his footsteps. She ran, darting along the tree line, putting distance between them. She needed to outrun him, hide, then circle around. The knife was slipping between her hands. She stopped to wipe her palms down her jeans, took a deep breath and edged around the trunk of the tree.

  Silence.

  An owl hooted overhead.

  Leaves crunching. The squeak of leather. He was wearing that damned Matrix coat. His eyes were the weakness and he was slow too - both mentally and physically. She only needed to sneak up on him, blind him again and then - what? She looked down at the knife. Use it, she guessed.

  She wiped her hands again, noticed they were shaking.

  She needed to do this. He wasn't here to ask her on a date. He was here to finish the job. Maybe they were each taking it in turns. After Caleb, another one would come. They were probably point-scoring to see who could finally kill her.

  The thought needled her. She wasn't going to give them the satisfaction. But damn, she wished that Victor had maybe thought about installing a few UV floodlights around her house or equipping her with more weapons, maybe even a panic alarm. A kitchen knife against a two-metre-long razor-backed tail wasn't a great defence.

  He was getting nearer. The swish sounded frighteningly close. She peered around the trunk and saw him, about three paces to the left, weaving in and out of the trees, as though out for a midnight nature walk.

  She took a step out into the open. Then another. His back stayed turned, his serpentine tail whisking back and forth. His hearing obviously wasn't that great. She darted behind a tree just behind him. He spun around.

  Evie crouched down and wrapped her fingers around a peach. A good, hard, unripe one. She lobbed it into the undergrowth opposite her. The Unhuman spun again and Evie felt the wind split as his tail shaved the air in front of her. She flattened herself against the old tree bark and took the wooden stake from her jeans.

  One breath, two breaths. She was up, standing in the open, one arm thrown back, holding the stake. As he turned to her, his mouth twisting into a grimace, his tail arching back over his head ready to strike, she hurled the wooden chair leg at him. It hit him square in the face. His hand went up to deflect it, his tail lashed downwards blindly and Evie somersaulted out of its way.

  Just like being a cheerleader, Evie thought, only stakes instead of batons and knives instead of pompoms. She took the knife hilt in her fist, knelt in the soft earth and took aim.

  But in the second in which she hesitated before throwing it, the Scorpio's tail lashed out of nowhere, a blur in her side vision. She threw herself sideways, felt the sting and then the scream of flesh splitting, of blood spewing hotly down her arm.

  The tail whipped by again and she rolled, her face buried in leaves and dirt. She rolled once more and his tail slammed into the ground a centimetre away from her nose.

  With one last yell, Evie wrenched her arm from under her, rolled back towards the tail and plunged the stake down, spearing it to the ground.

  His screams broke the night sky. She didn't stop to watch him tug the stake from the ground. She was up and running, clutching her throbbing arm to her chest, feeling the blood soak warmly through her T-shirt, sticking it to her stomach.

  She stumbled down the concrete steps to the basement, hearing only her own pounding heart and the rushing sound of static in her ears. The door stood open. She tripped into the basement and slammed the door behind her, bolting it.

  Then she turned around. And let out a scream to wake the dead.

  Lucas stepped towards her, his face furious, his cheekbones and jaw sharply silhouetted in the kitchen light flooding down into the basement.

  'Are you OK?' he asked, his fingers digging into her shoulders.

  His face was in front of hers, his eyes searching hers. He glanced down and took hold of
her elbow and wrist, examining the gash left by the Scorpio.

  'What happened?' he asked, looking up.

  She shook her head. She couldn't speak. She couldn't tell him. She glanced over at the door. There was no sign of that thing with the tail but she needed to warn someone. Let Victor know. He would come and help her. Or maybe one of the others would already be on their way. Her head suddenly fogged up and she leant back against the work surface. Her arm was waterfalling blood. She stared at it in fascination, the long thin line, crimson against the white of her skin. It was incredible the way the blood just kept flowing.

  Then Lucas was pressing something against the wound, binding it tight, ordering her to hold it upright to stop the blood flow, and yanking her arm above her head so hard that she thought he was going to tear it out of the socket. Her eyes were pulling in and out of focus, his voice sounding distant and then booming. She tipped her head back and looked at him. What was he doing here? Where had he come from? And why was he wearing no clothes? Or no T-shirt, rather. He still had jeans on.

  Little dots started to dance in her vision. She glanced at her arm. Lucas had wrapped his T-shirt around her arm to stem the flow but the red of her blood was blotting through it. Her gaze returned to his chest. There was that amulet. The one she'd seen before somewhere. Under the water. No. In her dreams. No. She couldn't have seen it before. She'd never seen him with no shirt on before. She reached out a hand to touch the amulet. Was it real? Was Lucas real? Her fingers grazed his skin and he stepped back as though she'd tasered him.

  She looked up at him. The fog cleared away, the dots stopped dancing. 'You were there?' she asked.

  He frowned at her, then looked past her, over the top of her head. 'I'm here now,' he answered.

  But then he was gone, heading for the back door.

  She lurched forward, trying to bar his way. 'No! Don't go out there.'

  He turned back to her and she saw that his expression had altered, set hard in a mask of fury, his eyes liquid black and gleaming through it.

 
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