This Savage Song Page 1



The night Kate Harker decided to burn down the school chapel, she wasn’t angry or drunk. She was desperate.

Burning down the church was really a last resort; she’d already broken a girl’s nose, smoked in the dormitories, cheated on her first exam, and verbally harassed three of the nuns. But no matter what she did, St. Agnes Academy kept forgiving her. That was the problem with Catholic schools. They saw her as someone to be saved.

But Kate didn’t need salvation; she simply needed out.

It was almost midnight when her shoes hit the grass below the dorm window. The witching hour, people used to call it, that dark time when restless spirits reached for freedom. Restless spirits, and teenage girls trapped in boarding schools too far from home.

She made her way down the manicured stone path that ran from the dormitories to the Chapel of the Cross, a bag slung over her shoulder, bottles inside clinking together like spurs in rhythm with her steps. The bottles had all fit, save for one, a vintage wine from Sister Merilee’s private store that hung from her fingertips.

Bells began to chime the hour, soft and low, but they were coming from the larger Chapel of the Saints on the other side of campus. That one was never fully unattended—Mother Alice, the school’s head-mistress-nun-whatever, slept in a room off the chapel, and even if Kate had wanted to burn down that particular building, she wasn’t stupid enough to add murder to arson. Not when the price for violence was so steep.

The doors to the smaller chapel were kept locked at night, but Kate had pocketed a key earlier that day while enduring one of Sister Merilee’s lectures on finding grace. She let herself in and set the bag down just inside the door. The chapel was darker than she’d ever seen it, the blue stained glass registering black in the moonlight. A dozen pews separated her from the altar, and for a moment she almost felt bad about setting fire to the quaint little place. But it wasn’t the school’s only chapel—it wasn’t even the nicest—and if the nuns at St. Agnes had preached about anything, it was the importance of sacrifice.

Kate had burned through two boarding schools (metaphorically speaking) in her first year of exile, another one in her second, hoping that would be it. But her father was determined (she had to get it from someone) and kept digging up more options. The fourth, a reform school for troubled teens, had stuck it out for almost a year before giving up the ghost. The fifth, an all-boys academy willing to make an exception in exchange for a healthy endowment, lasted only a few short months, but her father must have had this hellish convent of a prep school on speed dial, a place already reserved, because she’d been packed off without so much as a detour back to V-City.

Six schools in five years.

But this was it. It had to be.

Kate crouched on the wooden floor, unzipped the bag, and got to work.

The night was too quiet in the wake of the bells, the chapel eerily still, and she started humming a hymn as she unpacked the duffel: two bottles of jack and almost a full fifth of vodka, both salvaged from a box of confiscated goods, along with three bottles of house red, a decades-old whiskey from Mother Alice’s cabinet, and Sister Merilee’s vintage. She lined the contents up on the back pew before crossing to the prayer candles. Beside the three tiers of shallow glass bowls sat a dish of matches, the old-fashioned kind with long wooden stems.

Still humming, Kate returned to the liquor cabinet on the pew and unscrewed and uncorked the various bottles, anointing the seats, row after row, trying to make the contents last. She saved Mother Alice’s whiskey for the wooden podium at the front. A Bible sat open on top, and in a moment of superstition, Kate spared the book, lobbing it out the open front door and onto the grass. When she stepped back inside, the damp, sweet smell of alcohol assaulted her senses. She coughed and spit the acrid taste from her mouth.

At the far end of the chapel, a massive crucifix hung above the altar, and even in the darkened hall, she could feel the statue’s gaze on her as she lifted the match.

Forgive me father for I have sinned, she thought, striking it against the doorframe.

“Nothing personal,” she added aloud as the match flared to life, sudden and bright. For a long moment Kate watched it burn, fire creeping toward her fingers. And then, just before it got too close, she dropped the match onto the seat of the nearest pew. It caught instantly and spread with an audible whoosh, the fire consuming only the alcohol at first, then taking hold of the wood beneath. In moments, the pews were going up, and then the floor, and at last the altar. The fire grew, and grew, and grew, from a flame the size of her nail to a blaze with a life of its own, and Kate stood, mesmerized, watching it dance and climb and consume inch after inch until the heat and the smoke finally forced her out into the cool night.

Run, said a voice in her head—soft, urgent, instinctual—as the chapel burned.

She resisted the urge and instead sank onto a bench a safe distance from the fire, trailing her shoes back and forth through the late summer grass.

If she squinted, she could see the light of the nearest subcity on the horizon: Des Moines. An old-fashioned name, a relic from the time before the reconstruction. There were half a dozen of them, scattered around Verity’s periphery—but none had more than a million people, their populations locked in, locked down, and none of them held a candle to the capital. That was the idea. No one wanted to attract the monsters. Or Callum Harker.

She drew out her lighter—a beautiful silver thing Mother Alice had confiscated the first week—and turned it over and over in her hands to keep them steady. When that failed, she drew a cigarette from her shirt pocket—another bounty from the confiscation box—and lit it, watching the small blue flame dance before the massive orange blaze.

She took a drag and closed her eyes.

Where are you, Kate? she asked herself.

It was a game she sometimes played, ever since she learned about the theory of infinite parallels, the idea that a person’s path through life wasn’t really a line, but a tree, every decision a divergent branch, resulting in a divergent you. She liked the idea that there were a hundred different Kates, living a hundred different lives.

Maybe in one of them, there were no monsters.

Maybe her family was still whole.

Maybe she and her mother had never left home.

Maybe they’d never come back.

Maybe, maybe, maybe—and if there were a hundred lives, a hundred Kates, then she was only one of them, and that one was exactly who she was supposed to be. And in the end, it was easier to do what she had to if she could believe that somewhere else, another version of her got to make another choice. Got to live a better—or at least simpler—life. Maybe she was even sparing them. Allowing another Kate to stay sane and safe.