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       Fated, p.5

           Sarah Alderson
 
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  Tristan's sword dropped a few inches as he studied Lucas carefully. Lucas didn't make a move, though he could have used the opportunity to disarm Tristan with a low blow to the elbow. Instead he stood there, waiting, not breathing.

  'Now's not the time for revenge, Lucas,' Tristan finally said. 'That will come later. The girl first. She's the priority.'

  Lucas's own sword fell to his side. 'Let me go back,' he said quickly. 'Not for revenge. That's not what I'm talking about. I can wait for that. I don't just want Victor. I want them all.'

  Tristan tipped his head to one side as though to listen better. 'What are you proposing?'

  'What if one of us could get close to a Hunter?'

  'You mean close as in forming a relationship with one?'

  Lucas nodded. 'Yes. What if I could work my way close to her? To this girl, Evie.'

  Tristan shook his head, then strode past him back towards the sword sheath he'd discarded on the floor. He bent to pick it up and carefully slid his sword into it. Finally he turned. 'You're getting better. Still, you could have disarmed me but you chose not to. Your weakness is your humanity, Lucas.'

  Lucas frowned, thrown by the sudden change in the conversation. Had Tristan not heard his suggestion? But before he could ask again, Tristan spoke. 'Lucas,' he said, with something of a sigh, 'your power is unusual, you're almost as fast as your father and, despite the fact that you're diluted with human, it doesn't seem to have impaired your ability to disappear - but you're still young. You haven't been able to develop your powers of perception or judgement yet.'

  Lucas tried to wipe the scowl off his face, to keep it free of shadows. Who was Tristan to tell him about judgement or perception? He could judge and perceive just fine, better than any of the others. And since when was humanity a weakness?

  Lucas took a step towards Tristan, his sword still clutched in his hand. 'Listen,' he said, 'the Elders are worried. We can't fight the Hunters right now. They almost destroyed us and, let's face it, we're not putting up much of a fight at the moment. The Brotherhood isn't exactly what it was. You're right - we're young and inexperienced but we're all you've got.' He paused, trying to rein in the eagerness in his voice. 'But what if you change the pattern of attack? The Brotherhood keeps fighting the same way. For a thousand years, our attack methods haven't changed. And we keep getting beaten as a result. But what if we could use the girl as a way to learn about them? Find out how they train Hunters - what they know about us. We could find a way to beat them.'

  Lucas watched and waited for Tristan's response, his heart beating fast, a buzzing energy racing around his body that he finally recognised as excitement. He couldn't figure out what the excitement was about though - whether it was the thought of getting away from this place and the others with their petty fights and lethal body parts; or away from Tristan's incessant lessons and training schedule; or of getting close to a Hunter without the others nearby to mess things up.

  What would it be like to sense revenge like a scent on the breeze and know that it was right there - obtainable - just in front of him?

  'It's an interesting idea,' Tristan eventually said.

  'I'm half human. I'm the only one who can get past the Hunters without them sensing me,' Lucas said, trying to read Tristan's expression. 'You've never had that before in the Brotherhood. Maybe it's not the curse the others think it is. Maybe it's actually your way in. It's worth a shot, isn't it?'

  Tristan's mouth tightened in thought. Lucas tried to keep his face blank - to act like he didn't really care whether Tristan said yes or no, when really inside he was poised on the answer as though it was a sword he was about to fall forward onto.

  'OK.' Tristan finally nodded. 'You have one month.'

  He didn't say what would happen after that month but it was clear, hanging there in the air. After one month Evie would be dead. She was dead either way, though - despite what Tristan had said to the others about not going back for her, the Brotherhood would want to get her before she was fully trained. Whether she was surrounded by Hunters or not.

  'OK. I'll leave tonight,' Lucas said, wanting to get going before Tristan changed his mind or decided to talk to the Elders about it. He marvelled at how easy it had been to convince him.

  'Lucas?'

  He stopped with his hand on the door.

  'Victor is not stupid,' Tristan said. 'Don't get caught.'

  'He doesn't know who I am,' Lucas replied. 'Besides, I'm good at blending in.' He turned once more to leave.

  'One more thing, Lucas,' Tristan called after him. 'Don't make this personal.'

  Lucas met Tristan's stare head on. Around the edges of Tristan's brown contact lenses he could make out the yellow of his actual eyes. Lucas nodded at the man in the suit, the only survivor of his father's generation of the Brotherhood, and then closed the door.

  6

  It was the phone that woke her, not fangs. There was no one standing over her in a black leather coat, with a razor-sharp tail poised to slash her to pieces, no girl in a too-tight pink minidress lunging for her - but nonetheless Evie found herself sitting bolt upright in bed, with a baseball bat clutched in her hands, ready to swing. It took a few seconds for her brain to process that the room was empty and for her heart to stop hammering against her ribs. She fell backwards on top of the bedcovers, letting the bat slide through her fingers and clunk to the floor.

  Evie rolled her head to the side and stared at her surroundings. Nothing seemed to have changed. The room was as it always was, stacked under the eaves of the Victorian clapboard house, the sloping ceiling above the bed making it look as if she was sleeping in a tent. A pink tent, which she couldn't be bothered to redecorate, scattered with the hurricane debris of her life, which she couldn't be bothered to clear up, because she had no intention of sticking around.

  Dolls she'd thrown on top of the wardrobe years ago were trying to free-dive to the floor, school books were stacked on the desk among a sea of paper. Clothes were alternatively toppling off a chair and slung over the door of her wardrobe. On the night table was a picture of her dad, propped next to a teddy bear clutching a heart, into which she'd stuck pins.

  Nothing appeared different. Evie slid her hand under the pillow, checking if it was there. It was. She took a breath, felt it swell her lungs.

  So it was real. Last night had happened. Nothing was the same then, despite appearances. Everything was different. Slowly she drew the photograph out from under the pillow. Her eyes stayed stuck to the ceiling. She wasn't yet ready to look at it.

  Eventually she swivelled her head to the clock on her bedside table. It said 7.03 a.m. She didn't remember sleeping. She was still in her jeans and T-shirt from last night - she hadn't even bothered to kick off her Converse. She hadn't planned on sleeping. After Victor had spent an age convincing her that the Hunters had her back and wouldn't let any Unhumans near her, he'd still insisted on following her home, which had totally undermined his efforts to make her feel safe. Yet this morning, in this room full of childhood pinks, lying on top of a patchwork quilt, with buttery sunshine easing through the blind, it was impossible to feel in danger, either.

  'Unhumans.' Evie whispered the word.

  It sounded just as ridiculous in daylight.

  She lifted her arm and studied the burn on it. With her finger she traced the shape of a splayed hand.

  A human hadn't done that. What had Victor called the girl again? A Mixen? Evie closed her eyes and tried to recall what the others were called. The one with the tail, and the vampires. Thirsters? How was she supposed to fight these people? She wasn't Blade. But Victor seemed convinced she was a Hunter. That she was meant to fight them. And did she have any choice in the matter anyway?

  That's when she brought the photograph up to her face. She had studied it for over an hour last night until her eyes had started to pixelate it. There she was as a baby - truthfully, it could have been a picture of any baby. But this baby did have dark hair and navy blue eyes and the same shall
ow dimple in her left cheek that Evie had when she bothered to smile. Once she'd established the likelihood that it was indeed her in the picture she'd started studying the other two people. These were her parents, Victor had told her. Her birth parents. James and Megan Hunter. She whispered the names aloud, feeling a rush that was followed by a cut that drained it away. She'd never had much interest in finding the parents who'd abandoned her, so she didn't know why it was hitting her so hard. The last year had been so full of loss she was on first name terms with all its parts - boiling anger followed by hissing sadness and eventually an ice-cold numbness that was infinitely preferable to either of the first two.

  She could feel herself being pulled backwards out of the ice, could sense anger starting to defrost her, and she fought against it. She fought against it hard.

  She swiped the back of her arm against her eyes.

  It was her mother's face she was so fascinated by. Her mother was holding her tight in her arms and smiling so hard at the camera that at first Evie had focused only on the smile - but when she finally looked closer she saw her mother's eyes - blue like Evie's own - were sad, haunted even. The three of them were outdoors somewhere cold - they were all bundled up, Evie looking like a squashed duvet with a face. Her father was dark-haired and good-looking. That felt weird to say. She revised it in her head to handsome, charismatic, perhaps. He was staring upwards, not directly at the camera. His eyes were on the person taking the picture. Where had they been? What had they both been thinking? Why did her mother look so sad?

  Evie turned the photograph over and began studying the words scrawled on the back, searching for some hidden meaning that she might have missed last night.

  'Evie,' she read, her fingers tracing the words, trying to find some connection with them, with the ink that had come from the pen that her mum had once held.

  'Evie,' she read to herself as though repeating a prayer. 'We love you more than you will ever know. You are our Evie - always remember what you mean, to us. We are sorry we couldn't be there to watch you grow and keep you safe. We hope one day you will understand why and will forgive us. Above all, we hope that you make the choices we couldn't. We will love you always, Mum and Dad x.'

  They hadn't abandoned her. They had loved her. They had always loved her. Evie was squinting at the words when she heard a scratching at the door. She looked up at the dog that had appeared in the crack.

  'Lobo, come here, boy,' Evie called.

  The husky edged the door open with his paw and leapt onto the bed beside her. Evie wrapped her arms around him and buried her head in the white patch of fur on his neck.

  'Hey, Lobo,' she whispered.

  He nudged her away and licked her face in reply, growling low.

  'I had the craziest night,' she said, by way of explanation, wondering how a dog could read her better than most people.

  'Sweetheart?'

  Evie started, ramming the photo under the pillow and looking up as her mum poked her head around the door.

  'Oh, you're up already,' she said, seeing Evie was dressed. 'You got in late last night, I didn't think you'd be awake yet. Joe's not working you too hard, is he? I'm going to have words with him.'

  Evie looked at her mum, who had started picking up the clothes littering the room.

  'No. No, he's good. I was just, um, hanging out, doing stuff.' She jumped off the bed and took the clothes out of her mum's hands, bundled them up and threw them into the cupboard.

  Her mum let out a shriek. 'What on earth happened to your arm?' she said, reaching out to take hold of it.

  'Nothing, nothing, it's fine,' Evie said, stepping backwards and hiding her arm behind her back. 'I just spilt some coffee. It's fine, honestly. Doesn't hurt.'

  Evie's mum frowned at her and Evie noticed how much more lined her mother's face was these days. She'd always been a lot older than Evie's friends' parents but now she looked old enough to be her grandmother.

  She smiled weakly. 'It's fine, Mum, honest.'

  Her mum sighed as though she couldn't be bothered to argue. 'OK, listen, Mrs Lewington just took a call from her sister, the one that lives in Michigan. She's taken a turn and is in hospital, she's not sure exactly what's happened because they were less than clear on the telephone but anyway, the long and the short of it is, she's packing her bags and leaving and I've no idea how long she's going to be gone and . . .'

  Her mum was talking in a rush, her eyes dropped to the carpet. Evie stepped forward and put a hand on her arm to still her. She wanted to tell her that it was fine, that it would be OK, that they'd manage without their lodger, but her mum had bustled off to the bedside and when Evie turned she found her straightening up with the baseball bat in her hand.

  She held it up to Evie with a quizzical look. Evie snatched it from her and shoved it behind the door, ignoring the look.

  'Mum, it's OK, I got a new job. That'll help. Until the life insurance pays up.'

  She knew her mum would never take any money from her but the fact was they needed it and now she had a new job earning thirty-five dollars an hour. She checked herself. Did the job actually exist? Had it ever? Had Victor been lying to get her onside?

  'What do you mean, a new job?' Her mother shook her head. 'You've got two already.'

  Evie shrugged. 'I got a third.'

  'Evie! What about school?' Her mum's lips were pursed.

  'It's only till school starts up again. Then I'll cut my shifts back. Don't worry, I'll still help out at the store. This is just really good money.'

  Her mum was still frowning. Here it came. 'What's the job? I didn't know anyone was hiring.'

  Evie walked to the dresser so her mum wouldn't see her face. 'There's a new store opening in town,' she said, burrowing through the drawers, 'where Cardman's used to be. A clothing boutique.'

  'A boutique?'

  'Yeah.' Evie cleared her throat. 'It's kind of high end. I doubt it'll make any money but it pays well.' She really hoped Victor wasn't lying to her.

  'Well, OK . . .' Her mum sounded annoyed at not having heard the news sooner. 'I'll maybe pop on by at lunchtime to have a look-see.'

  Of course she would. Evie smiled at her. 'I gotta get ready,' Evie said, 'but, Mum, don't worry, it'll be OK.'

  Her mum nodded, her eyes flittering over the room. 'Yes, yes, I'm sure you're right.' She crossed to the door. 'Oh, by the way, I almost forgot, Tom came by last night looking for you. He said the diner was dark. He couldn't find you.'

  Evie froze. 'I was round the back, putting out the trash.' Her heart struggled to find its footing. What if Tom had walked around the back looking for her? What if he had walked into the middle of it all? He could have been killed.

  'Did you two sort things out?' her mum asked.

  Evie looked up sharply. 'Sort things out?' she growled.

  Her mother ducked out of the room. 'Well, I think you should just hear him out. And you don't know for a fact he was drunk. The police certainly didn't think so. I'm just saying. You know how I stand on this.'

  Yeah, Evie knew how she and the whole world stood on this. The world just didn't seem to care how she stood on it. It was all she could do not to slam the door after her mother had left. Instead, she flopped onto the bed and buried her face in Lobo's fur.

  She sat straight back up again. 'You stink, boy. Come on, let's go for a walk.'

  7

  Evie was late so she drove, parking her dad's old Ford pickup outside the store that used to be Cardman's Bookshop. The boards had been taken down and a new sign in lavish purple script already hung over the door. It said simply, Lassonde.

  Evie doubted anyone in town would know how to say it right. Not that she expected many customers. She could see Victor through the glass front sitting on a stool by the cash register, surrounded by boxes and with a coffee cup in one hand. He was staring out of the window, chewing on his lip, but he smiled as soon as he saw her, sprang off the stool and crossed to the door to let her in.

  'You're here,'
he said, ushering her inside.

  'Yes, why?' asked Evie, taking in the rails along both sides, empty except for a few canary yellow dresses and two red velvet chairs, each wide enough to host a dinner party in, that had been placed facing each other across a low table in the centre of the shop. 'Did you think I wouldn't show or were you worried I got eaten in the night?'

  Victor put his coffee cup down and indicated the velvet chairs in the centre of the room. 'You were safe. I told you already they won't come back.'

  He turned his back on her but she could have sworn he finished the sentence with the word tonight.

  She flopped onto one of the chairs, tilting her head to look past the plastic limbs of the mannequins stationed in the window out onto the street. Old Mrs Frampton walked past, her mouth falling open in astonishment at the naked mannequins and the sheer decadence of the velvet couches within. She must think this is a brothel, Evie realised with a slight smile, wondering what that would make her in Mrs Frampton's small-town imagination.

  Oh well, it wasn't like she wasn't used to being gossiped about.

  'You keep saying I'm safe,' Evie said, turning back to Victor, 'but how do I know you're not just telling me that so I don't freak out?'

  Victor turned around with a china cup poised in his hand and offered it to her. She noticed the pot of fresh steaming coffee on the counter by the till and looked back at Victor.

  'Freshly ground Costa Rican decaff,' he said.

  She took the cup with a raised eyebrow. What was the point of decaff?

  Victor was wearing fresh clothes - dark suit trousers and a checked cotton shirt - no tie or frothy cravat thing. What time had he got here this morning? she wondered. Where was he even sleeping? She turned her head and glanced towards the back of the store. There was a door which she assumed led through to a storeroom, and a fitting room to the side with a black velvet drape and a gold-framed floor-length mirror in which she saw herself staring back, eyes like saucers ringed with black shadows, hair damp from the shower and scraped up into a messy ponytail while still wet.

 
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