Afterlife Page 23

“Black Cross,” Erich spat.

“Vampire,” Lucas said, with a hatred so deep it seemed to reverberate within his bones.

They lunged at each other, predator and hunter. I cried out as they tumbled to the floor, Erich’s hands closing around Lucas’s throat.

This isn’t real, I told myself, but that Wasn’t exactly true. No doubt this was Lucas’s memory of his final fight with Erich. I’d never doubted that Lucas had done what he had to do, but I’d never realized how dangerous it had been for him. How frightened he must have been, for the nightmares to keep coming back.

As Lucas and Erich grappled, Raquel’s tawny leather bracelet fell to tthe floor. It must have been in Erich’s pocket. Lucas shoved Erich away, hard, and gasped, “Taking trophies? Marking your prey?”

“Raquel’s going to be mine,” Erich said. His fangs were out, misshaping his smile. “I’d have had her weeks ago if your stupid girlfriend hadn’t gotten in the way.”

“Then I’m doing this just in time.” Lucas kicked one of rickety towers of old boxes, sending it toppling down onto Erich. But Erich, like any monster in a dream, suddenly seemed to be standing somewhere else and attacked Lucas from another dir·ection altogether.

“Did you know your girlfriend’s one of us, too?” Erich taunted, as he got his hands around Lucas’s throat. “Or are you stupid enough not to notice You’re screwing a vampire?”

“Leave Bianca — out of this!” Lucas choked, pushing Erich away.

Erich just grinned. “I’m not leaving her out of it. Everything I do to you up here? She’s going to get double. Before I’m done, you’ll be dead, and she’ll be worse than dead. So much worse.”

That made Lucas lose it; his fighting focus shook as he gave in to anger. “I will never let you hurt her.” He stabbed at Erich, a wild punch; Erich dodged it with the unearthly power of the nightmare.

It’s a dream, I reminded myself forcefully. You can appear to Lucas in his dreams. just break into this and change it. Take this dream back for the two of you.

“Lucas?” I called, daring to step closer to the fight. It Wasn’t as though Erich could hurt me. “Lucas, it’s Bianca. Look at me. just look at me!”

“I think he’s busy,” Charity said.

I turned to see her perched on another tower of boxes, wearing a cobwebby gray dress, her hair in a rat’s nest of tangles. She might have been one of the gargoyles — the most monstrous one. Charity grinned at me, eyes glinting in the night like a eat’s.

Of course Lucas dreamed about her, too. She’d killed him. But how many monsters would I have to banish from Lucas’s dreams just to win a few hours for us?

“Lucas!” I shouted. I threw myself toward the fray, sliding bet\veen Lucas and Erich. “Look at me!”

“Bianca?” Lucas looked horrified. “What are you doing here?”

Erich’s hands seized me from behind, strong as steel. “Hey, Lucas — want to watch your girlfriend suffer?”

“No!” Lucas grabbed me, pulling me back. The struggle felt totally real.

“Lucas, he can’t kill me,” I said as I tried to twist out of Erich’s grip. His fingers felt like claws digging into my flesh; it was difficult to remind myself that this wasn’t real. “He can’t hurt you either. It’s a dream. Don’t you remember?”

He couldn’t hear me. Panic had gripped him — his fear for my life far greater than it had ever been for his. “Bianca, hang on!”

Lucas kept trying to swing at Erich with his stake, but Erich dragged me that way and this, using my body to block them. “You’re going to be the one to kill her, hunter,” Erich sneered. “You’ll cremate her to stop the pain. You know those old stories they told you in Black Cross? About the worst torture you can work on a vampire? Soak the stake in holy water, stab them deep so the holy water sinks into their blood — and then they’re paralyzed forever. Can’t wake up, can’t move. They just lie there feeling like they’re burning alive for all eternity.”

“I never did that,” Lucas panted. “Not even to scum like you. You, I’m just gonna kill.”

“I’m going to try it.” Erich spoke into the side of my face; I could feel his cool undead breath against my neck. “I’m going to do it to Bianca. She’ll be like Sleeping Beauty, but you’ll know she’s not sleeping. You’ll know she’s burning forever. Nobody else will be able to hear her screaming, but I bet you will.”

“You won’t get the chance,” Lucas swore, but I could see his fear mounting. When he risked his own life, he could stay calm; when it came to me, he lost it.

Finally I lunged forward, pulling myself free of Erich’s grasp. Sharp lines of pain lashed my shoulder — Erich’s fingernails, I thought — but I didn’t care as I fell to the floor. Lucas flung himself at Erich, sending them both toppling down. The battle was furious now, blood from open cuts spattering onto the stone wall.

My silver, shining blood oozed between my fingertips. It glistened on the floor, mingling with Lucas’s red blood in a way that seemed beautiful, almost mesmerizing.

Snap out of it! I told myself. I was in shock.

“Oh, this is fun,” Charity laughed from her place atop the boxes. She clapped her hands like a little girl who’s just seen her birthday cake. “Save her, Lucas! Save her while you still can! Or .. . maybe you can ‘ t?”

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