She’d known there would be whispers about her. Rumors. They weren’t inherently bad. In fact, some of them were practically propagandistic. As she moved through the halls between classes, she cocked her head, catching the loudest ones.
“I heard she burned her last school down.”
“I heard she’s been to jail.”
“I heard she drinks blood like a Malchai.”
“Did you know she axed a student?”
And then, as she stepped into her next class, she heard it.
“I heard her mother went crazy.”
Kate’s steps slowed.
“Yeah,” continued the girl, loud enough for her to hear. “She went crazy, tried to drive them off a bridge.” Kate set her bag down on a desk, and ruffled through it absently, turning her good ear toward the girl. “I heard Harker sent her away because he couldn’t stand to look at her. She reminded him of his dead wife.”
“Charlotte,” whispered another girl. “Shut up.”
Yes, Charlotte, thought Kate. Shut up.
But Charlotte didn’t. “Maybe he sent her away because she was crazy, too.”
Not crazy, Kate wanted to say. No, he thought she was young, thought she was weak like her mother. But he was wrong.
She dug her nails savagely into her palms, and took her seat, eyes on the board. She sat like that all through class, head high, but she wasn’t listening, wasn’t taking notes. She didn’t hear a word the teacher said, didn’t care. She sat still and waited for the bell to ring, and when it did, she followed Charlotte out, and down the hall. Whatever class she had next wasn’t as important as this.
When the girl detoured into the nearest bathroom, Kate followed, throwing the bolt behind her.
Charlotte, pretty in such a boring way, was standing at the sink, retouching her makeup. Kate came up beside her, and began rinsing the crescents of blood from her palms. Then she tucked her hair behind her ear, showing the scar that traced her face from temple to jaw. The other girl looked up, found Kate’s gaze in the mirror, and had the audacity to smirk. “Can I help you?”
“What’s your name?” asked Kate.
The girl raised a bleached brow, and dried her hands.
“Charlotte,” she said, already turning to go.
“No,” said Kate slowly. “Your full name.”
Charlotte stopped, suspicious. “Charlotte Chapel.”
Kate gave a small, silent laugh.
“What’s so funny?” snapped the girl.
Kate shrugged. “I burned down a chapel once.”
Charlotte’s face crinkled with disgust. “Freak,” she muttered, walking away.
She didn’t make it very far.
In an instant, Kate had her up against the wall, five metal-tipped fingers wrapped around her throat. With her free hand, Kate drew the lighter from her pocket. She pressed a notch on the side, and a silver switchblade slid out with a muted snick.
Charlotte’s eyes went wide. “You’re even crazier than I thought,” she gasped.
For a moment, Kate thought about hurting her. Seriously hurting her. Not because it would serve some purpose, just because it would feel really, really good. But getting expelled would negate everything she’d done to get here.
He’ll ship you out of Verity. One way. For good.
“When the headmaster hears about this—”
“He won’t,” said Kate, resting the knife against Charlotte’s cheek. “Because you’re not going to tell him.” She said it in the same way she said everything: with a quiet, even voice.
She’d seen a documentary once, on cult leaders, and the traits that made them so effective. One of the most important features was a commanding presence. Too many people thought that meant being loud, but in truth, it meant someone who didn’t need to be loud. Someone who could command an audience without ever raising their voice. Kate’s father was like that. She’d studied him, in the slivers of time they’d had together, and Callum Harker never shouted.
So neither did Kate.
She loosened her fingers on Charlotte’s throat, just a little, and brought the knife to the medallion hanging against the girl’s uniform shirt, tapping the engraved V casually with her blade. “I want you to remember something, Charlotte Chapel.” She leaned in. “That pendant may protect you from the monsters, but it won’t protect you from me.”
The bell rang, and Kate pulled back, flashing her best smile. The knife disappeared into the lighter and her hand fell away from the girl’s throat. “Run along now,” she said icily. “You wouldn’t want to be late.”
Charlotte clutched her bruised throat and scrambled out of the bathroom.
Kate didn’t follow. She went to the sink, washed her hands again, and smoothed her hair. For an instant, she met her reflection’s gaze, and saw another version of herself behind the stormy blue, one who belonged to a different life, a softer world. But that Kate had no place here.
She took a long breath, rolled her neck, and went to class, confident she’d made a solid first impression.
Excerpted from the book THIS SAVAGE SONG by Victoria Schwab. Copyright © 2016 by Victoria Schwab. Reprinted with permission of Greenwillow Books / an imprint of HarperCollins.