The Burning Shadow (Origin, #2)

Unease surfaced as I stared at her. “What was taken?”

She reached into the desk drawer and pulled out that damn photo album, placing it down on the desk. She opened it to the blank pages. “When I was in here straightening up, I happened to open up the album. I hadn’t looked through it in a while, but I noticed it then. There were pictures of Jason’s daughter here. Other birthday pictures and a few candid ones.” Her fingers lingered on the blank pages. “Those were taken.”

Confused, I lifted my gaze to hers as my thoughts whirled. “It had to be Micah. He’d been…”

“He’d been what?”

He’d been in this house before, while I’d been sleeping. He’d scratched me—choked me. I’d thought it had been a nightmare until he’d admitted to me what he’d done. A shudder rolled through me. Mom didn’t know about that. Crossing my arms, I stared down at my bare feet. The purple nail polish had begun to chip on my big toe.

Micah hadn’t admitted to taking the photos, and he also claimed that he hadn’t killed Andy, one of my classmates, or that poor family in the city. He’d owned up to Colleen’s and Amanda’s deaths, and Luc and I had just assumed he’d been lying.

What if he wasn’t?

And why would he take pictures of the real Evie? He knew who I was from the beginning. He didn’t need picture proof. Knots twisted up my stomach as I lifted my gaze to hers. “What if it wasn’t Micah? Why would someone take them?”

The line of her mouth thinned until the upper lip was nearly gone. “I don’t know.”





2


“We will not be silenced! We will not live in fear!” April Collins’s voice carried from the front of the school Monday morning, the sound like rusted nails on my nerve endings. “No more Luxen! No more fear!”

My steps slowed as I squinted against the glare of the sun. April was lifting a bright pink poster, shaking it as the small group of classmates behind her continued to chant, “No more Luxen! No more fear!”

A teacher was trying to usher April and the others in through the front door, but the young woman wasn’t having much luck. She looked like she needed about two more large cups of coffee to deal with this.

It was way too early for this nonsense.

I should’ve stayed home like Mom had wanted, just to avoid seeing April riling up the students. Then again, I would’ve been bored out of my mind, and Mom would’ve stayed home. If I wanted to see my friends and if I wanted to see Luc, like I planned to later, that meant I had to go to school.

And apparently deal with April.

Good news was I hadn’t had any more dizzy spells even though I hadn’t gotten a whole lot of sleep the night before. First, I couldn’t stop thinking about the missing pictures even though it had to have been Micah who had taken them, and when I did finally fall asleep, a nightmare had woken me hours later.

I’d been back in the woods with Micah and Luc … he had been hurt badly and—

Cutting those thoughts off as a chill swept down my spine, I powered forward. April had taken to protesting outside, at the front entrance in the mornings and the parking lot after school let out, both places where she was bound to be seen by the registered Luxen who attended our school.

Looking around, I didn’t see Connor or any of the other Luxen, and I hoped that meant they’d made it into the school before April started. Most people were ignoring them. Only a few others stood around, watching. A girl I didn’t recognize, possibly a freshman or sophomore, was yelling back at them, but whatever she was saying was drowned out by April and her group’s chants.

My fists tightened as I picked up my pace, hurrying down the steps that led into the front of Centennial High. As I neared the group, April spun toward me, her long, blond hair reminding me of a tail as it whipped along with her. She lowered her stupid poster that literally had NO LUXEN written in large block letters with an actual glitter pen.

Shaking my head, I focused on the RAC drone hovering by the doors, scanning the eyes of the students to ensure that no unregistered Luxen were present. What the creators of the drone didn’t realize was that Luxen and Origins had figured out a way around them with the contacts they wore. Sometimes I wondered how long it would last, the safety the contacts afforded. The government would have to figure it out eventually, but then again, look at how long most of the Luxen had been here without a lot of the branches of the government or the general populace knowing they were here. Decades and decades, if not longer.

“Hey, Evie!” April called out. “Want to join us?”

Without even looking at her, I extended my right hand and my middle finger as I kept walking toward the glass doors.

“That’s not nice.” April fell into step beside me. “You shouldn’t treat friends like that, but I’ll forgive you. Because I’m nice like that.”

I stopped, facing her. Things were tense between us. April and I had never been all that close, but she was someone I’d once considered a friend even though she’d always been abrasive. “We’re not friends, April. Not anymore.”

Her brows lifted. “How are we not friends?”

“Are you serious right now?” I demanded.

The poster tapped off her thigh. “Do I look like I’m joking?”

“You look like a bigot who’s pulled her hair back a little too tightly,” I snapped, and her cheeks flushed pink. Maybe it was the almost dying thing this weekend, but I had absolutely no filter. “I’ve tried talking to you about the horrible stuff you’re saying and doing, but that was like talking to a brick wall. I don’t know what’s happened to you, April, who didn’t hug you enough as a child, but whatever it is, it’s no excuse for this crap.”

Her eyes narrowed. “And I don’t know how you can stand there and defend Luxen—”

“We’ve already had this conversation.” I cut her off before she could bring up my supposed father. “I’m not having it again, April.”

She gave a small shake of her head and then inhaled deeply through her nose. Determination pinched her features. “They can kill us, Evie. With a snap of their fingers, you and I both could be dead before we took our next breath. They’re dangerous.”

“They’re wearing Disablers,” I told her even though I knew that only registered Luxen wore them. “And while you’re right, they can be dangerous and they could kill us, so could any person around us. We’re just as dangerous, and yet you don’t see anyone out here protesting us.”

“Not the same thing,” she argued. “This is our planet—”

“Oh, come on, we don’t own this planet, April. It’s a freaking planet, with more than enough room for all the aliens in the world. The Luxen here have done nothing to you—”

“How do you know that? You don’t know what has or hasn’t been done to me,” she fired back, and my brows lifted. I doubted she’d been dragged through the woods recently. “Look, I get we have different opinions, but you don’t have to be rude to me just because we don’t agree on this. You just need to respect how I feel.”

“Respect how you feel?” I laughed dryly.

“Yeah, that’s what I said. Don’t know what’s so funny about that.”

“What’s so funny is that you’re wrong, April. This isn’t just about having different opinions and respecting that. I don’t like pizza. You think pizza is great. We can agree to disagree, but this is about right and wrong, and what you’re doing is wrong.” I took a step back from her, having no idea how she couldn’t understand what I was saying. April had always been difficult to deal with and often had opinions that made me want to throat punch her, but this? “I hope you see that someday.”

April’s chest rose with a deep breath. “You think I’m going to be on the wrong side of history, don’t you? That’s where you’re wrong, Evie.”



* * *



“Is it true?” Zoe demanded the moment she appeared by my locker, her tight, honey-colored curls pulled back in an impeccably neat bun I could never master.

Opening the door, I looked over at her. I had no idea what she was talking about. “Is what true?”

“What?” She stared at me. Cocking her arm back, she punched me on the arm. “Are you serious?”

“Ouch.” I rubbed at the spot. That wasn’t a light punch, but I was grateful for it, because things had been a little weird between Zoe and me this morning. Not bad or anything like that, but just like we both were walking on eggshells around each other. Not exactly a huge surprise there. I was still processing the fact that we hadn’t organically become friends or that not only was Zoe an Origin—like Luc—but that she had also known me when I’d been Nadia.

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