The assailant was almost entirely drained of life when the young man stepped toward him and hissed, "When you get up there to Saint Peter, before he sends you to Hell, tell him Mark Winter sent you." And just like that, the man's head twisted in a way it shouldn't be able to, and a loud snap resounded in the air. I felt a sharp pain in my own neck and then all the tension released. Mark Winter's hands fell to his sides, and Clarence slumped to the ground. He was dead.
Mark Winter took a few steps back, scrubbed his face with his hands, roughed up his hair, and walked deeper into the woods he had come out of. I was just about to start breathing again when I saw him pause and turn back to the heap on the ground. With a wave of his hand, the body burst into flames. When he was satisfied, another wave put the fire out. Then he stepped backward and dissolved into the blackness.
What the hell had just happened? It was clear Mark Winter was not a human. I had only spent three years among humans, but I knew there was no way a human could do that.
If it weren't impossible, I would have sworn Mark Winter was a Survivor.
My mind was in turmoil as I raced back up the Trace. Once I was back inside the car, I clenched my fists and screamed at the top of my lungs. I slammed my fist down on the center console and the trim cracked. I instantly regretted it. I had a soft spot for-and a real attachment to-nice cars, specifically my own. I started the engine, slammed it into gear, and hit the road, speeding uncontrollably back out of the Trace, barely keeping my wide tires on the narrow pavement. I had to get it together.
I was angry that I had seen this. My family had spent over three centuries insisting that, in this world, there were humans and there was our family of Survivors, and that was it. They didn't believe in all matter of supernatural creatures, and they refused to acknowledge even the possibility that there were others like us. Our onliness was at the heart of our beliefs. But what I had seen Mark Winter do tonight made it clear that they were wrong. Or they were lying.
And what was more, Mark Winter was violent. In the 319 years since they were exiled from Salem, no Survivor had ever turned on a human or on one another. But Mark Winter had gone to a deserted stretch of road outside a small town in Tennessee in the middle of the night to hunt down a human. He may have been justified, having killed evil and to save an innocent life, but we had never been destructive in any way, so I perceived him as a threat.
And he was so much more powerful than any of us! Not only was he one of us, he was better at it than we were. There were people in my family who could do the things that he could do, but each of them could only do one. All of us were fast, all of us had superhuman strength, and all of us-except for me-had exactly one power. But Mark Winter had several completely separate powers. And where did his talents come from? Each Survivor had a power that roughly related back to one of the fourteen elders. Of course, my situation was a little fuzzier. My family had whispered that my talents were underdeveloped, and this made them pity me. But I never minded that my powers weren't kinetic or active ones, that I couldn't throw a brother or sister across a field or freeze things in midair. My strengths related to knowing people, to knowing the world around me, and I much preferred that.
It was just one more way that I was unlike them. And so, of course, it would be me who had seen this. I was the only one who had ever left my family, and now I was the only one who knew that there were Mark Winters out there, that there were more like us. Didn't they need to know that? What if Mark Winter's violence was not limited to vigilante justice but included, instead, all matters of hunting and attack? What if he found my family? What if he knew something that I did not about how we could be killed? What if he belonged to a larger family like I did? What if they were all violent? What if they massacred my family?
I screamed inside my car again. I suddenly understood I had to warn them. And to warn them, I would have to go to back.
But I couldn't go back! It took me 141 years to leave the first time. I couldn't get stuck back there again! They might not even let me back inside the city walls. And, more than likely, they wouldn't listen to me.
I had to slow down when I got to an area with other cars. It was hard to do, though. I had trouble controlling my mind and body when I got this upset. I peeled my fingers off the steering wheel so I didn't break straight through it.
When I pulled back into the Hutton around 5 AM, my forehead was so tense it felt like I had a headache. A headache! We weren't supposed to feel pain! This was ridiculous.
I climbed out of the car, and Sean looked at me warily. "Are you okay, Ms. Matthau?" he asked.
I nodded, my palm to my forehead. "I'm fine," I said, dismissing him. He looked very concerned. I must have looked as bad as I felt.
In the lobby, I ran into Veronica and the morning chef. "Ms. Matthau?" she asked, peeling away from her conversation with the chef, though he followed her. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine," I said again, having to concentrate on walking at a human pace to the elevator.
"You don't look okay," she said. Nervous that she had overstepped her bounds, she added, "Ma'am."
"Really fine," I repeated, waiting impatiently for the elevator to arrive.
"Maybe you need some sleep," she said.
"I would love that, believe me," I said under my breath.
"Perhaps we could send you up some breakfast? Maybe you'd feel better if you ate," the chef suggested.
I shook my head. "I'm really okay. I'm going to lie down," I said. Finally, the elevator doors opened. The chef whispered to Veronica that he'd send me a tray in a few hours. I admired them for trying to take care of me, and I wistfully longed that my troubles and rough nights could be soothed by sleep and a good meal like other people's.
Back in my room, I didn't know what to do. I paced back and forth across the suite, trying to piece together what I had seen, and tried to think of a way I could avoid telling my family about Mark Winter. What if he was not a threat? What if he was just a quiet young guy-albeit an extraordinary one-who traveled alone like I did? Would that be so bad?
But he wasn't like me. He was more powerful, and it terrified me. His face when he killed that man, his movements, his lack of hesitation-it made me think that Mark Winter was a monster.
I was going out of my mind. I took a shower to relieve my muscles and to clean off the dirt from hiding in the brush and climbing the trees. I closed my eyes and let the water fall over me. I convinced myself that I could pretend that nothing had happened.
So that's what I did. When I got out of the shower, I got dressed and sat at my computer. I spent almost all my alone time researching. The Internet was my single favorite thing about the human world. I loved the immediacy of it, the expanse of it. There were so few questions I couldn't answer with my computer at my fingertips. After a few months, I got pretty skilled at circumventing the unpleasant and offensive material that so often appeared at random. I remember being worried the first time I had realized that even very young humans used the Internet. I thought of all the horrific things I had seen inadvertently, and I wondered if children had seen the same things by accident. It rubbed me the wrong way that a culture would put offensive things out for all to see when they knew innocent eyes might happen upon them. I considered that carelessness, that irreverence for innocence, a telling characteristic about humans. I had scribbled this on the list I was keeping in my Moleskine journal.
My research was centered on one thing: mythological creatures. I had been shocked to learn that almost every culture on the planet had legends about creatures that haunted or graced their kind at one point or another in their history. Many of the creatures in cultures around the world were close to human form, and a lot of them had similar traits that my kind had: apparent invincibility, super speed, heightened senses, and immortality, to name a few. I took an interest.
I had started researching mythology as soon as I started living among humans. I had a background in it, already having become so familiar with Hesiod's works from ancient Greece. I was trying to uncover where these creatures came from, and, morbidly, how they could be destroyed. We would need to know how to stop one of our kind, even if it meant destroying them. And, I hated to admit, on a personal level, I wanted to know that there was a way to end this-my pain, my existence-if I ever wanted to. I hadn't lied when I told Cole Hardwick that, more than anything, I wanted mortality.
I had left off my research on a creature called the Abarimon. I was unsure what culture the legend belonged to, having found conflicting information. I knew only that the Abarimons were thought to live in isolation in the Himalayas. They sounded more like my family than any of the others I had read about. They were very similar to humans (though they had backward feet and we did not), but they were too strong for humans to hunt, and they had super speed. I hadn't yet discovered their origins or how they could be killed. My only clue was the belief that the air in the valleys where they lived was so special that any other air would be like poison to their lungs. Apparently, it was a defense mechanism, a way to protect their kind by not letting any of them ever leave the valley. This frustrated me. They sounded a lot like my family.
I combed through literally thousands of Web pages about these and similar creatures, but I didn't find any more information, so I added Abarimons to my list and moved on.
I combed through historical mythology sites for hours, looking for a new lead. But I was getting nowhere. It had been my experience that primary sources were the most descriptive, and there was no better way to get information than by talking to the people who believed the myths themselves. In the last three years, I had set foot on six continents looking for answers to my questions. I was hungry for knowledge, and desperately trying to get it any place I could. Now I was looking for a new creature to pursue. I had returned from my most recent trip-to Australia, to speak with several Aboriginal tribes-about a month ago. I hadn't planned another trip because I was taking a break for Corrina's wedding, and I planned to spend time with Todd. But that was quashed the day after I returned when we ate lunch at that stupid pizza joint I'd never go to again.
Todd was the last place I wanted my mind to go. I had officially lost my concentration now. I checked my Twitter page-yes, I had Twitter. It was a strangely satisfying human thing I had picked up on. Corrina had complained that she never knew where I was, so I added a Twitter application to my iPhone and every time I set foot in a new country, I'd tweet about it, much to Corrina's delight. I saw that Corrina had been my most recent update. @Corrinarina: Excited to FINALLY be Mrs. Felix Williams!!!! I decided not to say anything. I mean, what would I say? @SadiesTravels: Watched a guy kill some psycho tonight. Wonder if he's a superhuman freak like I am...
I snapped my laptop shut. The quiet of the room was startling.
Then there was a knock on the door, even more startling because I hadn't sensed anything. I assumed it was Veronica or someone from the restaurant with breakfast, so I opened the door without even looking through the peephole.
So when I found myself face-to-face with Mark Winter, I was, to say the least, taken aback.
I blinked several times to make sure he was really there. I still couldn't sense anything from him. He was completely still. His shoulders were hunched and he was leaning toward me. His eyes were angry.
And he was wearing the same leather motorcycle jacket I'd seen him wearing hours before, which stood out because it was so out of place for June in Tennessee. I wondered if he, too, hadn't slept since his midnight murder.
I'm not sure how long we stood there in silence before I decided he should come inside. I finally turned sideways and gestured for him to pass. It was at least ten solid seconds before he took a step into the foyer-trying to decide if he wanted to come in, I assumed. When he passed me, I noticed his movements were fluid-more like mine than a human's, only even more graceful. He crossed the room and looked out the windows at the city.
I waited for him to sit or speak or just do something, but he was silent and stood aloof in the corner. Admittedly, his posture had relaxed.
"How did you..." I began, but just then he faced me, his stare enough to kill the words in my throat.
"You saw it all, didn't you?" he asked.
"If you're referring to you saving that girl's life, then yes," I said, deciding not to vilify him.
"You aren't scared of me? Aren't terrified that I followed you and waited to get you alone?" he asked. It seemed he was trying to intimidate me.
I laughed, stifling this. "Why would I be scared? What are you going to do to me?" I asked. He looked perplexed.
"You saw what I did to that man. You know what I could do to you, how I could snap your neck and end your life by just imagining it. That doesn't scare you, Sadie?" He said my name in a hiss, another scare tactic. He was being so dramatic! It wasn't surprising he knew my name considering what else he could do.
Two could play that game. "No, Mark, it doesn't," I said to provoke him. And snap my neck? Really? Did my spine even have a purpose? Would it even break? And what if it did? I'd already decided that the worst-case scenario was that he would actually hurt me in some way, which would only bring me closer to my goal.
He narrowed his eyes and cocked his head to one side. Then he took several careful steps toward me. I didn't react. He put his hand out, as he had before he hurt the man, and he closed the distance between us. He stopped when his hand was inches from my chest, and looked into my eyes. I stayed still and kept my expression neutral. Blind without my powers, I couldn't tell what he was doing.
He very gently placed his hand against my sternum. His skin was colder than mine. He held it there for several seconds, and then his eyes widened. I assumed the absence of a heartbeat startled him.
"What are you?" he asked. I could hear the panic in his voice.
"I was hoping to ask you the same question," I said.
He backed up. "You aren't human. Of course! That's how I missed you last night. I couldn't even tell you were there until it was too late."
"And you aren't human either," I said. "Clearly."
"You're a tracker, aren't you?" he asked. I had been called this before, but I was not sure it was the most accurate term.
"I follow my senses where they lead me," I said.
His face was angry again. "Well don't track me," he hissed again. He stepped toward me quickly, his mouth almost grazing my ear. "If you value the lives of the ones you've left behind, you won't," he said. I shivered. Now my eyes widened. Was he speaking about my family?
And with that, he left, the door closed behind him.
My head was spinning. I guessed that, since he found me, he was a tracker, too. That meant that his powers were more extensive than I had even seen. He could start fires, control people's bodies from a distance, and he could track. And something he was doing kept me completely out of his mind and blocked his feelings.
But above all, he had just threatened my family, so now I didn't have a choice. I had to warn the other Survivors. I had to go back.
YOU ARE READING
"It's unlike any paranormal book I've read--very smart, very fresh, and very addictive, and very still in my mind." –And Anything Bookish In 1692, when witch trials gripped the community of Salem, Massachusetts, twenty-six children were accused as w...