The Raven Boys Page 1

Author: Maggie Stiefvater

Series: The Raven Cycle #1

Genres: Fantasy

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Prologue

Blue Sargent had forgotten how many times she’d been told that she would kill her true love.

Her family traded in predictions. These predictions tended, however, to run toward the nonspecific. Things like: Something terrible will happen to you today. It might involve the number six. Or: Money is coming. Open your hand for it. Or: You have a big decision and it will not make itself.

The people who came to the little, bright blue house at 300 Fox Way didn’t mind the imprecise nature of their fortunes. It became a game, a challenge, to realize the exact moment that the predictions came true. When a van carrying six people wheeled into a client’s car two hours after his psychic reading, he could nod with a sense of accomplishment and release. When a neighbor offered to buy another client’s old lawn mower if she was looking for a bit of extra cash, she could recall the promise of money coming and sell it with the sense that the transaction had been foretold. Or when a third client heard his wife say, This is a decision that has to be made, he could remember the same words being said by Maura Sargent over a spread of tarot cards and then leap decisively to action.

But the imprecise nature of the fortunes stole some of their power. The predictions could be dismissed as coincidences, hunches. They were a chuckle in the Walmart parking lot when you ran into an old friend as promised. A shiver when the number seventeen appeared on an electric bill. A realization that even if you had discovered the future, it really didn’t change how you lived in the present. They were truth, but they weren’t all of the truth.

"I should tell you," Maura always advised her new clients, "that this reading will be accurate, but not specific."

It was easier that way.

But this was not what Blue was told. Again and again, she had her fingers spread wide, her palm examined, her cards plucked from velvet-edged decks and spread across the fuzz of a family friend’s living room carpet. Thumbs were pressed to the mystical, invisible third eye that was said to lie between everyone’s eyebrows. Runes were cast and dreams interpreted, tea leaves scrutinized and séances conducted.

All the women came to the same conclusion, blunt and inexplicably specific. What they all agreed on, in many different clairvoyant languages, was this:

If Blue was to kiss her true love, he would die.

For a long time, this bothered Blue. The warning was specific, certainly, but in the way of a fairy tale. It didn’t say how her true love would die. It didn’t say how long after the kiss he would survive. Did it have to be a kiss on the lips? Would a chaste peck on the back of his palm prove as deadly?

Until she was eleven, Blue was convinced she would silently contract an infectious disease. One press of her lips to her hypothetical soulmate and he, too, would die in a consumptive battle untreatable by modern medicine. When she was thirteen, Blue decided that jealousy would kill him instead — an old boyfriend emerging at the moment of that first kiss, bearing a handgun and a heart full of hurt.

When she turned fifteen, Blue concluded that her mother’s tarot cards were just a pack of playing cards and that the dreams of her mother and the other clairvoyant women were fueled by mixed drinks rather than otherworldly insight, and so the prediction didn’t matter.

She knew better, though. The predictions that came out of 300 Fox Way were unspecific, but undeniably true. Her mother had dreamt Blue’s broken wrist on the first day of school. Her aunt Jimi predicted Maura’s tax return to within ten dollars. Her older cousin Orla always began to hum her favorite song a few minutes before it came on the radio.

No one in the house ever really doubted that Blue was destined to kill her true love with a kiss. It was a threat, however, that had been around for so long that it had lost its force. Picturing six-year-old Blue in love was such a far-off thing as to be imaginary.

And by sixteen, Blue had decided she would never fall in love, so it didn’t matter.

But that belief changed when her mother’s half sister Neeve came to their little town of Henrietta. Neeve had gotten famous for doing loudly what Blue’s mother did quietly. Maura’s readings were done in her front room, mostly for residents of Henrietta and the valley around it. Neeve, on the other hand, did her readings on television at five o’clock in the morning. She had a website featuring old soft-focus photographs of her staring unerringly at the viewer. Four books on the supernatural bore her name on the cover.

Blue had never met Neeve, so she knew more about her half aunt from a cursory web search than from personal experience. Blue wasn’t sure why Neeve was coming to visit, but she knew her imminent arrival spurred a legion of whispered conversations between Maura and her two best friends, Persephone and Calla — the sort of conversations that trailed off into sipping coffee and tapping pens on the table when Blue entered the room. But Blue wasn’t particularly concerned about Neeve’s arrival; what was one more woman in a house filled to the brim with them?

Neeve finally appeared on a spring evening when the already long shadows of the mountains to the west seemed even longer than usual. When Blue opened the door for her, she thought, for a moment, that Neeve was an unfamiliar old woman, but then her eyes grew used to the stretched crimson light coming through the trees, and she saw that Neeve was barely older than her mother, which was not very old at all.

Outside, in the distance, hounds were crying. Blue was familiar enough with their voices; each fall, the Aglionby Hunt Club rode out with horses and foxhounds nearly every weekend. Blue knew what their frantic howls meant at that moment: They were on the chase.

"You’re Maura’s daughter," Neeve said, and before Blue could answer, she added, "this is the year you’ll fall in love."

Chapter 1

It was freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrived.

Every year, Blue and her mother, Maura, had come to the same place, and every year it was chilly. But this year, without Maura here with her, it felt colder.

It was April 24, St. Mark’s Eve. For most people, St. Mark’s Day came and went without note. It wasn’t a school holiday. No presents were exchanged. There were no costumes or festivals. There were no St. Mark’s Day sales, no St. Mark’s Day cards in the store racks, no special television programs that aired only once a year. No one marked April 25 on their calendar. In fact, most of the living were unaware that St. Mark even had a day named in his honor.

But the dead remembered.

As Blue sat shivering on the stone wall, she reasoned that at least, at the very least, it wasn’t raining this year.

Every St. Mark’s Eve, this was where Maura and Blue drove: an isolated church so old that its name had been forgotten. The ruin was cupped in the densely wooded hills outside of Henrietta, still several miles from the mountains proper. Only the exterior walls remained; the roof and floors had long ago collapsed inside. What hadn’t rotted away was hidden under hungry vines and rancid-smelling saplings. The church was surrounded by a stone wall, broken only by a lych-gate just large enough for a coffin and its bearers. A stubborn path that seemed impervious to weeds led through to the old church door.

"Ah," hissed Neeve, plump but strangely elegant as she sat beside Blue on the wall. Blue was struck again, as she had been struck the first time she’d met Neeve, by her oddly lovely hands. Chubby wrists led to soft, child-like palms and slender fingers with oval nails.

"Ah," Neeve murmured again. "Tonight is a night."

She said it like this: "Tonight is a night," and when she did, Blue felt her skin creep a little. Blue had sat watch with her mother for the past ten St. Mark’s Eves, but tonight felt different.

Tonight was a night.

This year, for the first time, and for reasons Blue didn’t understand, Maura sent Neeve to do the church watch in her place. Her mother had asked Blue if she would go along as usual, but it wasn’t really a question. Blue had always gone; she would go this time. It was not as if she had made plans for St. Mark’s Eve. But she had to be asked. Maura had decided sometime before Blue’s birth that it was barbaric to order children about, and so Blue had grown up surrounded by imperative question marks.

Blue opened and closed her chilly fists. The top edges of her fingerless gloves were fraying; she’d done a bad job knitting them last year, but they had a certain trashy chic to them. If she hadn’t been so vain, Blue could’ve worn the boring but functional gloves she’d been given for Christmas. But she was vain, so instead she had her fraying fingerless gloves, infinitely cooler though also colder, and no one to see them but Neeve and the dead.

April days in Henrietta were quite often fair, tender things, coaxing sleeping trees to bud and love-mad ladybugs to beat against windowpanes. But not tonight. It felt like winter.

Blue glanced at her watch. A few minutes until eleven. The old legends recommended the church watch be kept at midnight, but the dead kept poor time, especially when there wasn’t a moon.

Unlike Blue, who didn’t tend toward patience, Neeve was a regal statue on the old church wall: hands folded, ankles crossed beneath a long wool skirt. Blue, huddled, shorter and thinner, was a restless, sightless gargoyle. It wasn’t a night for her ordinary eyes. It was a night for seers and psychics, witches and mediums.

In other words, the rest of her family.

Out of the silence, Neeve asked, "Do you hear anything?" Her eyes glittered in the black.

"No," Blue answered, because she didn’t. Then she wondered if Neeve had asked because Neeve did.

Neeve was looking at her with the same gaze that she wore in all of her photos on the website — the deliberately unnerving, otherworldly stare that lasted several more seconds than was comfortable. A few days after Neeve had arrived, Blue had been distressed enough to mention it to Maura. They had both been crammed into the single bathroom, Blue getting ready for school, Maura for work.

Blue, trying to clip all of the various bits of her dark hair back into a vestigial ponytail, had asked, "Does she have to stare like that?"

In the shower, her mother drew patterns in the steamed glass door. She had paused to laugh, a flash of her skin visible through the long intersecting lines she had drawn. "Oh, that’s just Neeve’s trademark."

Blue thought there were probably better things to be known for.

In the churchyard, Neeve said enigmatically, "There is a lot to hear."

The thing was, there wasn’t. In the summer, the foothills were alive with insects buzzing, mockingbirds whistling back and forth, ravens yelling at cars. But it was too cool, tonight, for anything to be awake yet.

"I don’t hear things like that," Blue said, a little surprised Neeve wasn’t already aware. In Blue’s intensely clairvoyant family, she was a fluke, an outsider to the vibrant conversation her mother and aunts and cousins held with a world hidden to most people. The only thing that was special about her was something that she herself couldn’t experience. "I hear as much of the conversation as the telephone. I just make things louder for everyone else."

Neeve still hadn’t looked away. "So that’s why Maura was so eager for you to come along. Does she have you at all her readings as well?"

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