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       Fated, p.3

           Sarah Alderson
 
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  Evie looked at him, waiting for the punchline. 'Why?' she finally asked when he didn't give her one.

  'Because of who you are,' Victor answered calmly. As if that explained it.

  Evie blinked. 'Who I am?' She shook her head, still not understanding. 'Who am I? Why would anyone want to kill me? I'm nobody special. I'm . . .' She ran out of vocabulary to describe her nonentity-ness.

  Victor put his hand on her shoulder. 'Come, sit down, I'll explain.'

  Evie threw him off with a shrug, felt another layer of skin peel from her arm. She ignored it and strode to the phone on the wall. 'No. I'm calling the police. Are you insane? There are some crazy people out there trying to kill me.'

  'You're not calling the police.' Victor was suddenly in front of her, his hand on top of the receiver, holding it in place. Evie stared at his hand in disbelief. 'Besides, they're not coming back,' Victor said.

  'How do you know?' she asked, trying to squeeze the phone out from under his grip.

  Victor didn't budge. 'What are you going to tell them? A Scorpio demon and a Mixen just jumped you in the parking lot? Any distinguishing features? Yes, Officer, he was six feet tall, brown hair, red eyes, oh and by the way he has a long tail with a razor-sharp edge. The girl? Well, she was about five eleven, wearing a pink dress and had green skin. Oh and you should wear a hazard suit when approaching her because her skin's kind of poisonous.'

  Evie's hand dropped off the phone.

  'A Scorpio demon . . . ?' Evie repeated his words.

  'The one with the tail - that was a Scorpio demon. They have a different spectrum of vision - they're blind in this world without the sunglasses,' Victor said. 'The girl in the pink dress - the one who burnt your arm - she's a Mixen. She has a coating of acid on her skin. That's what burnt you.'

  'Acid?' Evie swallowed.

  He nodded.

  'And a tail? It was a tail?'

  Victor nodded again. More patiently this time.

  'Demons?'

  Victor shrugged. 'Well, that's one word for them. Though it's more common nowadays to call them Unhumans.'

  'Unhumans?'

  'Yes.' Victor nodded again.

  Evie bit her lip, her head trying to analyse the words, trying to decipher them. 'I need to sit down,' she finally said.

  She swayed and tripped her way into the diner and around the counter, until she made it to one of the booths in the back and collapsed.

  Victor came and sat opposite her. He placed a jar of bicarbonate of soda on the table in front of her and studied her for a full minute without saying a word. She ignored both him and the jar and the pain in her arm, even though she figured she now knew what being flayed alive felt like.

  'OK,' she said, finally looking up and focusing on Victor, who was sitting with his elbows resting on the table. 'I'm just trying to get my head around this - could you explain it to me in simple terms? What the hell are Unhumans?'

  Victor took a deep breath. 'Basically anyone who doesn't have human DNA - Mixen, Scorpio, Thirsters--'

  'Thirsters?' Evie cut in.

  Victor sighed loudly. 'You know them as Vampires.'

  'Vampires?' Evie smirked. Her head hit the leather cushion of the banquette behind her. 'Are you trying to tell me that that was Edward Cullen outside? Because, you know, I thought he was supposed to be hotter than that. And a whole lot more romantic'

  Victor didn't laugh. He didn't even smile. He waited until her false laugh died away and then carried on. 'They've worked hard to glamorise themselves these past few decades - to build a cult following in this world. They're really quite vain. In the Unhuman world they're called Thirsters. The boy in the Nix cap, the one who was about to drain you - he's a Thirster. His name is Joshua. There are supposedly older Thirsters, ones that have been around for centuries, who are known as the Originals. But no one has ever seen one.' He hesitated. 'Or at any rate, lived to tell about it.'

  Evie stared at him blankly. 'The Unhuman world?' she asked, shaking her head slowly. 'What are you talking about? This is not some Joss Whedon television show we're both starring in.' She became aware that she was on her feet. She had somehow pushed her way out of the booth and was now in front of Victor, yelling at him. 'Listen, you have to start making some sense. Please. Tell me something I can actually understand. And while you're at it, please explain who the hell you are and what you were doing out there in the first place!'

  Evie saw Victor's eyes widen and suddenly remembered she was holding his gun. She had picked it up from the shelf in the storeroom when he'd put it down to reach for that jar. She hesitated for a moment, then decided to keep it pointed at Victor's head.

  'Are you one of them? C'mon, start talking!'

  Victor chewed his lip, eyeing the gun with irritation, whether at himself for leaving his gun lying around or at her she didn't know or care.

  'Evie, give me the gun,' he said finally. 'You don't need to point it at me. I'm not the enemy.'

  She made no move to lower the gun. Instead she rolled back the safety catch and watched his eyes flicker from the end of the barrel to her face. He definitely looked annoyed with her now.

  'I don't want to have rescued you from the Brotherhood only to have you shoot me by accident,' he said.

  She heard the growl in her voice as she answered. 'Oh, believe me, it would not be by accident. If you don't start talking right now I'm going to show you just how excellent my aim actually is. So, for the last time, who the hell are you?'

  'I'm not one of them,' he said, his accent coming through thicker, his hands darting upwards in surrender. 'I'm fully human. My name is Victor, like I told you. I'm here to protect you.' He said the last bit with what sounded like more than a shred of regret. 'I'm a Hunter.'

  'What's a Hunter?' Evie asked, anger and impatience snapping in her voice.

  'Put the gun down and I'll tell you.'

  Evie looked at him sitting there in his suit and frothing red silk tie, with his hands raised to the ceiling, and weighed him up. He didn't look Unhuman. At least, he didn't look as freaky as the others had - if you discounted the clothing. And he'd saved her when she'd really needed saving. She glanced down. He didn't have a tail or fangs or look like the Incredible Hulk, either.

  Slowly she lowered the gun. Victor nodded at the seat opposite and she dropped into it. Her arm banged the table as she did so and she let out a cry.

  'Here, use this,' Victor said, pushing the jar containing the bicarb towards her. She frowned as he got up and crossed to the counter and filled a glass with some water. He returned to the table and poured some of the powder into the glass to make a paste. 'Come on, try it. It'll take the sting out.'

  She took the glass and, wincing in anticipation, poured it over her arm. At first it seemed to be making her skin sing with pain, but then the sting evaporated, taking most of the heat with it. She scraped off the gunk and was staring at the handprint-shaped burn on her arm when Victor started speaking again, quietly and quickly, as though he was worried she might jump up and fire the gun at him now that her arm was better and she could aim with two hands.

  'I'm a Hunter. Our job is to keep Unhumans out of this world. We've been doing this for a very, very long time.'

  'OK,' she said, 'I'm just going along with this for the sake of conversation.' She cleared her throat. 'So you're telling me you're like, what? Some kind of border control?'

  Victor leant forward. He seemed to be chewing on his response. 'If you want to think of it like that, then yes,' he said, sighing under his breath. 'We keep this world safe from . . . well, you've seen what we keep it safe from. The reason we're safe now, the reason they won't come back just yet, is because they'll know more Hunters will be on the way.'

  Evie frowned at him, waiting for further explanation.

  Victor shrugged. 'Safety in numbers.'

  'Where do they come from?' Evie asked, her voice shaking. 'These Unhumans? If they don't come from this world?'

  'They come from other realms. The
re's a gateway - in LA. It's the link between this realm and the other six realms.'

  Evie nodded slowly. 'Right,' she said, while surreptitiously scanning between the tables for what looked like the fastest route out of here. 'This is such bull,' she said at last. 'None of what you're telling me makes any sense. It's not real. It can't be.'

  Victor smiled then. 'This world,' he said, 'the world you grew up in, Evie, this is the one that's not real. You just need to see it from our perspective.'

  She opened her mouth ready to tell him where he could stick his perspective but he cut her off.

  'It exists, yes. People are born, they work, they get married, they have babies. If they're lucky they live to grow old, see the next generation grow up, and then they die. But they do all that without ever knowing what's really happening around them - in the darkness, in the shadows. In the parking lot of their local diner.'

  Evie felt herself suddenly go cold. She wrapped her arms around her body, hugging herself tight. Was he right? Was this all possible? Her head was screaming no, but everything else, her instinct or whatever it was, was telling her that it was the truth.

  'Humans love to fight. There are always wars in the human world,' Victor continued. 'Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, the Second World War, the Great War, the Crimea, the Crusades. And on and on. Wars that last a week or a year or even a decade. But the war between Humans and Unhumans has been going on for over a thousand years. Without pause and without reconciliation.'

  'Why? What are you all fighting about?' Her voice sounded surprisingly together, considering the rest of her was slowly collapsing inwards like a star silently extinguishing itself.

  'To keep our world safe,' he said. 'The Unhumans wish to possess all seven realms. Our world, the human world, is the seventh. The only realm they haven't been able to take control of.'

  He waited a beat and then continued. 'We've fought in secret all that time. It's a tiny war in terms of numbers. There are only a few of us who are Hunters in each generation - our numbers are shrinking. But the outcome of this war is far greater, far more important, than any war ever fought among humans.'

  He sat back in his seat, resting his gaze level with hers.

  Evie finally cleared her voice. 'OK, thanks for the alternative history lesson and the apocalyptic vision of the future, which I'm still not sure that I'm buying, but you still haven't explained why they want me. What did I do?'

  'You didn't do anything. It's what you might do. One day.'

  Evie looked at him, confused. 'What might I do?'

  He paused, pressing his lips together. 'You're a Hunter,' he said finally, 'and their job is to wipe out all Hunters.'

  Evie bit her lip. Then stood up. 'So I'm a Hunter?'

  Victor looked at her. 'Yes.'

  'Don't I get a say in this?' she demanded. 'I don't want to be a Hunter. I just want to be a waitress,' she saw his sceptical look and hastened to finish her sentence, 'for now, anyway. Then I'm going to New York to study and I'm never coming back here as long as I live. I don't want to know about the world you're telling me about and I certainly don't want a career hunting down any of the psychos who came after me tonight. I do not have a death wish.'

  Victor waited until she'd finished, his expression unmoved. 'I'm sorry, Evie,' he said. He didn't sound very sorry. 'You don't get to choose. None of us do. You're a Hunter. That's just how it is.'

  'You can't tell me who I am.'

  Victor hesitated. His voice dropped. 'But it's who you are. Your real name is Evie Hunter. It's the name your parents gave you. Your real parents, that is.'

  Evie's mouth dropped open. Then, finally finding her voice, she said, 'My parents? You knew my parents?'

  'I knew them, yes. We placed you with Monica and Ed Tremain when you were eighteen months old. They adopted you having no idea who you were.'

  It was as if her heart rocketed through the atmosphere and then came crashing back to earth in a million little pieces. She'd never thought she'd know anything about her real parents. She'd just been abandoned as far as she knew and then adopted when she was tiny. But now she had a name. But why had Victor said he knew them? Why had he used the past tense?

  'They died when you were about a year old,' Victor said, seeing the question rise on her lips.

  It took the wind out of her.

  'I was about twenty, I suppose,' he carried on. 'We - the other Hunters - tried to look after you for a while, but it didn't work. You can't fight Unhumans and make play dates at the same time. We found you a safe place to grow up. A normal home, with normal parents. Somewhere we thought they wouldn't find you.'

  Evie was sitting again. She didn't remember sitting. How had she made her legs move? They were dead. Nothing else had registered after that.

  'How did they die?' she whispered.

  Victor held her gaze. 'The Brotherhood, of course. The Brotherhood killed them.'

  4

  Lucas was watching Caleb's tail swish back and forth and weighing up whether he was quick enough to sneak up on him, take his damn tail and wrap it around his neck, when Grace let out an audible sigh in his direction.

  'You are quick enough but you'll still end up over there on the ground with one hand sliced open,' she said.

  Lucas stared at her carefully and considered his options. He wasn't sure he wanted to risk spilling his blood with a Thirster in the room. He was half human so his blood might not be as appealing as a full Shadow Warrior's, but he didn't want to risk it. He knew the oath they'd all sworn might not stand up under such temptation. He crossed his arms over his chest and went back to leaning against the wall, his eyes on the clock.

  'So, Grace, you manage to do your psychic routine here, now, but you can't haul it out of the bag when we're sneaking up on a Hunter?'

  Lucas turned his head to look in the direction of the speaker. Shula was standing in front of Grace with her hands on her hips, letting everyone know, in her usual subtle way, exactly what she was feeling.

  'I got shot because of you.'

  'Hey, what about me?' Joshua's thin voice piped up. 'I got fried - look.' He held out his arm, which looked like it had been blended on high speed, and waved it in her face.

  Shula ignored him. She'd showered the coffee grinds out of her hair and her arm was bandaged, but from the way she was waving it about, it didn't seem to be troubling her too much. Mixen always did heal well, Lucas thought with a frown. It was only then that he noticed the outfit she was wearing. She'd changed out of her pink dress and into a red silk dressing gown, which had slipped down over one shoulder - deliberately, Lucas hazarded a guess. In this light her skin was a gleaming brown, not green, and her black hair hung wet and carefully dishevelled down her back.

  Shula was standing over Grace, like a vulture circling her prey. Lucas would have been worried for anyone else, but not for Grace. No one ever worried about Grace.

  'I wasn't expecting any other Hunters to show,' Grace answered with a yawn. 'I thought she was alone.'

  'You have one easy job to do and that's all,' Shula yelled. 'You don't have to get your hands dirty, you just have to sit there and warn us what's about to happen and you can't even manage to do that right.'

  Shula had a point, though Lucas didn't understand why she was bothering to bring it up with Grace. Why try and argue anything with a psychic? They always won.

  'Let's see how psychic you really are,' Shula yelled. 'Did you foresee this?'

  Lucas watched her level an elegant roundhouse kick straight at Grace's head.

  Grace slid like a whisper out of her chair and Shula's leg flew right by her, grazing the air before slamming with a crunch into Joshua's face.

  'Ahhhhhh,' he screamed. 'You dumb--'

  'Oh, I'm sorry,' Shula said, putting a hand to her mouth, her eyes widening in mock horror, 'did I hurt you?' She was smirking as she said it. 'I thought you Thirsters were supposed to be practically indestructible?' She paused, looking him up and down. 'Though clearly not flame-resistant.'


  Lucas eyed Joshua, whose skin still resembled plastic grilled over an open flame. His shirt had melted to parts of his back and arm, and, where he'd torn it loose in the car, red strips of flesh had come away. It looked like someone had upended a tray of pulverised meat where his shoulder and bicep should have been.

  'You got a problem with the way I look, Shula?' Joshua shot back. 'Because that would be kind of like the pot calling the kettle green, wouldn't it?'

  Shula strode past him. Lucas could see the rage bubbling beneath the surface of her skin.

  'I just need some blood and I'll be fine,' he called to her back. 'Ain't nothing going to help you look any better though.'

  Shula spun around. 'Remind me again why I saved your skinny white ass?' she yelled. 'If it hadn't been for me you'd be southern fried white trash by now, being licked off the pavement by dogs.'

  There was a giggle from the other side of the room. It was Neena. Her hand shot up to stifle her laughter but it was already too late. Joshua was right there, in her face, his crackling lip curled back over yellowing fangs. Lucas could see Neena's heart hammering beneath her shirt, could feel her fear like a vibration in the air. The shimmer around her intensified and Lucas wondered if she'd shift into a lion or a bear and try to take Joshua's head off, but she kept a disappointing amount of control. The shimmer faded. Neena stayed as she was.

  'You know, Shapeshifter blood's the best damn blood there is.' Joshua spat the words into her face. 'Can't get me enough of that . . .' He smacked his lips hard.

  'Shut up. As if you've ever,' Neena hissed back, her form solidifying.

  Joshua's eyes were glowing. 'You wanna bet?' he laughed. 'You wanna know how it tastes?' His face was shoved into Neena's.

  Lucas merged with the shadows. He moved fast, positioning himself just behind Neena's shoulder, ready to pull her backwards if he needed to, ready to slam his fist into Joshua's face. None of them were that good yet at sensing him when he was invisible, not if they weren't concentrating at any rate.

 
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