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Authors: Gillian Shields

Tags: #Young Adult Fiction, #Fantasy, #General, #Girls & Women, #Juvenile Fiction, #Fantasy & Magic

Immortal

BOOK: Immortal
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Gillian Shields

Immortal

“For we all must die, and are as water spilt upon the ground….”
—2 Samuel, 14:14

Prologue

I

don’t believe in ghosts. I don’t believe in witchcraft either, or Ouija boards, levitation, tarot cards, astrology, curses, crystals, second sight, vampires—not any of the whole mumbo jumbo of the “other side.” Of course I don’t. I’m intelligent, sane, sensible Evie Johnson. Girls like me don’t get mixed up in all that crazy paranormal trash.

At least, that’s what I would have said before I arrived at Wyldcliffe Abbey School. But everything is different for me now. I have glimpsed
her
world, and I can never go back to being the girl I used to be.

Imagine a wild, lonely landscape where the moors rise in harsh folds of green and brown and purple. Sheep are dotted here and there on the hillsides, standing patiently in the bitter wind. A few trees have managed to grow, but they look bare and stunted. The moors encircle a bleak little village at the heart of the valley, like the walls of an ancient prison.

Welcome to Wyldcliffe.

This is the place that haunts my present, my past, and my future. That is, if I still have a future. If he will permit that. If he doesn’t destroy me first.

She is by my side, as my sister, but he is in my soul.

He is my enemy, my tormentor, my demon.

He is my beloved.

One

I

never wanted to go to boarding school. Hanging out with a crowd of rich kids in a swanky school was never on my wish list. I was content with my old life, in a keeping-myself-to-myself kind of way. Not happy, perhaps, but content. And then, one soft blue September day, my grandmother—Frankie—became seriously ill.

She had never been Gran to me, only dearest Frankie, my surrogate mom, my best friend. I had stupidly expected her to go on unchanged forever. But no one is immortal, not even the people we love. And now Frankie was sick and I was forced to pack my bags for Wyldcliffe Abbey School for Young Ladies. Life really gives you a kick sometimes.

I was doing my best to think of it as a challenge.

The journey to Wyldcliffe seemed to last hours as the train headed north. I was traveling alone. Dad had wanted to come with me, but I’d convinced him that I would be okay going by myself. I knew he wanted to spend every possible moment of his leave with Frankie at the nursing home before he had to go back to his army posting overseas. So I told him I was quite capable of sitting on a train for a few hours without ending up on a missing persons poster….
Honestly, Dad, I’m sixteen now, not a child anymore
…. It wasn’t that difficult to persuade him.

The truth was that I guessed it would be easier saying good-bye to him at home. The last thing I wanted was for those snobby Wyldcliffe girls to see me sniveling as my dad drove away. No, there was going to be no “poor Evie” this time. I’d had enough of that over Mom. People whispering about me in the street. The pitying looks behind my back. It wasn’t going to be like that again. I was going to show them that I didn’t need anyone. I was strong, as strong as the deep green ocean. No one at Wyldcliffe would ever see me cry.

I transferred to a sleepy local train just as it was beginning to get dark. We chugged through an unfamiliar landscape of sloping hills covered with bracken and heather. In the depths of my misery I felt a twinge of curiosity. When I was little, Frankie had told me stories about Wyldcliffe, which she had heard from her mother, stories about the wild moors and the lonely farms and the harsh northern skies. I had never seen the place, but now I was almost there. I put away my magazine and my headphones and peered out of the window into the dusk.

Half an hour later, the train pulled into a little station at the head of a deep, shadowed valley. As I heaved my bags into a beat-up old taxi, a gust of wind whipped up a spatter of rain. I said, “Wyldcliffe, please,” and we set off. I tried to make conversation with the bleary-eyed taxi driver, but he barely grunted in reply. We drove on in silence.

Between the clouds, I caught sight of the sun slipping behind the moors like a streak of blood. The leaden sky seemed to press down heavily on the land. I had lived all my life next to the open sea, and those dark hills made me feel strangely hemmed in. For all my brave talk, I suddenly felt very small and alone. How stupid I’d been not to let Dad come…. Then the car turned a corner, and the church tower and gray stone buildings of Wyldcliffe village finally came into sight.

The driver pulled up outside a tiny general store on the rain-blackened street. “Where to, then?” he growled.

“The Abbey,” I replied. “You know, Wyldcliffe Abbey School.”

He twisted his head around and glared at me. “I’ll not take you to that cursed place,” he spat. “You can get out and walk.”

“Oh, but—” I protested. “I don’t know where it is. And it’s raining.”

The man seemed to hesitate, but then he grunted again. “It’s not so far to walk. Knock on the door of Jones’s shop, if you like. He’ll drive you, but I won’t.”

He got out of the car and dropped my suitcases onto the wet pavement. I scrambled after him. “But where’s the school? Where do I go?”

“The Abbey is yonder,” he said, pointing reluctantly to the church. “No more than half a mile from the graveyard. Tell Dan Jones that’s where you’re headed.”

A second later his car roared out of the village, leaving me behind like an unwanted package. I couldn’t believe that he had just dumped me there in the pouring rain. I knocked furiously on the door of the little shop, where the sign read, D. JONES, WYLDCLIFFE STORE AND POST OFFICE. There was no answer. It was a late, wet Sunday evening, and the whole village seemed to be shut down for the night. I swore under my breath. There was no choice but to walk.

The sun had set, and the pale moon was struggling to break free from a rack of clouds. Tall black trees and slanting graves crowded the little church. As I walked past, I was startled by the sound of rooks screeching in the dusk.

I shook myself angrily. I wasn’t going to be spooked by a few birds and a crummy churchyard. It looked like some ridiculously cheap set in a cheesy horror movie. Looking around, I saw an old sign marked ABBEY. I set off down the lane, hauling my suitcases over the mud. By now my long red hair was dripping with rain, and my hands were white with cold, but I felt boiling hot inside, raging against the unfairness of everything: first Mom, then Frankie, and now this godforsaken boarding school, the insane cabdriver, and the stupid, stupid rain….

Lost in my bitter thoughts, I didn’t see the horse—or its rider—until it was too late.

There was a great flurry of hooves and gleaming flanks and the swirl of a long coat. I looked up and froze, unable to get out of the way of a black horse that was hurtling toward me. Then it reared and screamed and something struck the side of my head. I just remember falling…falling into darkness.

When I opened my eyes again, the rider had dismounted and was hunched over me. He was only a boy, a few years older than me, but he looked as though he had come from a different world, a storybook land of knights and elves and princes. His long dark hair framed a pale, sensitive face with high cheekbones and brilliant blue eyes, and he was staring at me so intently that I felt uncomfortable.

This was unreal. I wasn’t the kind of girl who crashed into good-looking guys. I scrambled shakily to my feet.

“I’m…sorry,” I stammered. “I didn’t see you.”

“You weren’t supposed to.”

He looked tired and tense, and the shadows under his eyes were like soft bruises on a tender plum.

“I’m sorry,” I repeated stupidly, waiting for him to apologize in return. But the boy simply stared at me.

“Did you stop my horse on purpose?”

“Did you ride into me on purpose?” I fumed back.

“There’s no harm done to you,” the boy replied. “But I cannot say as much for my horse.” The great beast was trembling and sweating, tossing its head and rolling its eyes as though it had seen a ghost.

“Oh, I am sorry,” I snapped. “Where I come from, humans are actually considered more important than horses.”

“The world is overrun with humans, like rats, but I have rarely found a horse that suits me so well.” His expression was as cold as a winter sea. He murmured to the shivering animal, his long fingers searching its mud-spattered sides. Then he looked up at me, a fraction less hostile. “Fortunately there’s no real damage.”

“Oh, great,” I said. “The horse is fine. Well, that’s a relief. I thought it might be bruised and covered in mud after being knocked down, oh, and late for its first day at a hideous boarding school, that’s all. But no, the horse is fine. Hallelujah!”

I scrambled furiously to collect the stuff that had spilled from my suitcases. Who did he think he was, this pretentious poser, with his long black hair and his long black coat? Some kind of romantic highwayman? Just some kind of jerk. I seethed, squashing everything back into the case as quickly as I could. A blue sweater lay in a puddle. I grabbed it, then yelped.

“Ouch!”

The sweater fell open to reveal my framed photo of Mom. She was beautiful in that picture, laughing into the camera on a long-lost summer’s day. I had wrapped the precious keepsake in the sweater during my hasty packing, to keep it safe. But the glass in the little frame had broken and sliced into the palm of my hand, and now a drop of my blood oozed over Mom’s face.

I rocked back on my heels. I just wanted to sit in the rain and howl. “Look what you’ve done!” I snapped angrily, trying to hold back my tears.

The boy threw his horse’s reins over a low branch in the lane, then deftly folded the sweater around the broken frame. He whispered a few swift words before thrusting the bundle back into my suitcase.

“The picture was dear to you,” the boy said abruptly. He looked at me in a strange, searching way, as though about to say something more. I caught my breath. He really was extraordinary, so pale and still and intense. “Don’t cry,” he said. “Please.”

“I’m not crying.” I gulped, standing up and sucking my hand where it bled. “I never cry.”

“I can see that,” he mocked. “But your cut should be covered, and it seems that I must do it for you.” He quickly twisted a white handkerchief into a bandage and tied it around my hand to stop the bleeding. A weird shiver ran through me as his hand brushed against mine. “There,” the boy said, looking at me more gently. “I have more than made up for any tangle with my horse by saving your life. I’ve just stopped you from bleeding to death.”

A hint of a smile flickered over his lean face. I noticed the curve of his lips, and the arch of his black eyebrows. He was still holding my hand in his, and I felt a tiny knot of attraction tugging under my rib cage.

“Don’t be ridiculous!” I answered, dropping my hand with an effort. “A little cut like that isn’t dangerous.”

“Do you really know what dangers might lurk in this lane?” The boy moved closer to me and studied me with unnaturally bright eyes. I felt his cool breath on my cheek. Then he reached out and touched a strand of my wet hair and whispered, “How do you know what is waiting in this valley for a girl from the wild sea?”

I trembled under his touch, not knowing what to say. How did he know that I came from the sea? Who was he? And could he—would he—do me any harm out here in this lonely place? Stepping away from him, I tensed up and started to rack my brains for everything I had ever learned about self-defense. The boy seemed to read my mind.

“Don’t worry; you’ll get home safely tonight.” He grinned and mounted his horse. “But we’ll meet again, I promise you!”

He galloped away in the direction of the village.
We’ll meet again.
I pushed the thought away into a secret place, unwilling to admit to myself that I hoped that he was right.

The pelting rain brought me back to my senses. I gathered up my things and carried on down the lane toward the Abbey. At last I reached some iron gates set in a stone wall. An old sign was fastened on one side of the gates. It read:

WYLDCLIFFE BE COOL OR YOU DIE.

For a second I gazed in horror, then laughed weakly. I read the sign again, filling in the gaps where the painted letters had flaked away.

WYLDCLIFFE ABBEY SCHOOL FOR YOUNG LADIES.

I had arrived at last.

Two

I

’ll never forget my first sight of the Abbey. I made my way down the drive, turned a corner, and my new home rose up in front of me—gaunt, gray Wyldcliffe in all its Gothic splendor.

It was a brooding, heavy, secretive place. Towers and battlements jutted up crazily to the sky, and rows of hooded windows stared out like blank, blind eyes. A lamp swung in the wind above the massive front door. It was as though I had blundered back into a bygone age. I stood there, overwhelmed, then a group of girls dashed around the corner of the building and up the front steps, running to get out of the rain. They broke the spell, and I hurried after them.

BOOK: Immortal
8.4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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