Afterlife Page 24

Lucas’s face took on an expression I recognized, though I’d only seern it once before. I could never have forgotten it — the look of pure torment he’d worn at my bedside the night I died.

At that moment I realized that I couldn’t break him out of this memory. I couldn’t do anything in this dream except make it more frightening for Lucas. That meant I had to leave.

I closed myself away from sight. Away from him. When I could see again, I stood in his dark dorm room, at the foot of his bed. Lucas twisted beneath his sheets, then slumped, drifting from the nightmare to deeper, dreamless sleep.

At least it’s over, I told myself. Yet even in my ethereal form, I could feel physical pain; that had never happened before. Confused, I glanced at my burning, aching shoulder.

The lines of Erich’s scratches still showed upon my skin, and each one glimmered with droplets of silver blood.

Chapter Seven

I LEFT THE DORM ROOM, GOING THROUGH THE door and down the hallway as though I were mortal. More time must have passed than I’d realized, because nearly everyone was quiet, asleep or at least settled in for the night. Although I badly wanted to revisit Vic and Ranulf, in the feeble hope that they could cheer me up, I Wouldn’t wake them for my own selfish reasons.

Without them, I realized, there was literally nobody else in the world I could talk to, or even watch, without it causing pain.

How did we screw up so badly? I thought as I descended the long, winding stone stairs. Around me I could hear the crackling of ice. I was leaving evidence, but at this point I didn’t much care. The only thing we ever wanted was to be together, and to live honestly without all the lies. How did so many people get hurt?

For the first time, I realized how easy it would be to follow Maxie’s advice and let go of the mortal world completely. Effortless, mindless drifting within blue mist seemed really good to me right now. It would have been a relief to be free from sorrow and guilt, from responsibility for the people I’d left behind.

Was that true for the ghosts trapped at Evernight Academy now? Maybe trapped wasn’t the right word. This could be a sanctuary for them, too — a place where they didn’t have to remain in their old haunts and habitations, taunted by the lives they’d lost.

But Mrs. Bethany had attacked Maxie once, and was no friend to the wraiths. There was no way she’d built this place as a refuge for them. Tentatively, I stretched my consciousness, seeking the other wraiths who lived here. Can you hear me?

No response — but I could sense a shift in the air, like knowing that someone was watching. Then the visions began to flood my mind.

They were like vivid daydreams, almost hallucinations, except that I knew they didn’t come from within my own mind. The wraiths were forcing me to see them: Vampires, each of them at their most monstrous, as though students went around Evemight unwashed, bloody, and fanged. They were attacking human students in the hallways, in the classrooms. one brutal assault after another.

“None of that is real,” I said, hoping they could hear. “They mostly leave the human students alone, and when somebody screws up, Mrs.

Bethany’s all over them. The humans you followed here — they’re safe.”

The wraiths must not have believed me. Every image intensified, coming closer, and now they had sound (screaming) and smell (blood). Disgusted, I tried to turn away, but how can you turn away from something in your own head?

One of the vampires in the visions suddenly went blue and turned into ice. I watched, fascinated and horrified, as deep cracks appeared in his hardening flesh, fragmenting his cheeks, his lips, his whole head. He fell, a crash of bloody slush, and I knew that was what the wraiths hoped to do to the vampires.

What they wanted me to help them do. “I’m not helping you attack anyone!”

And like that, I was alone. Nothing vanished or went away, but I simply knew that I Wasn’t being paid attention to any longer.

What were the ghosts going to do? If I’d been terrified of them before, it was so much worse now. I’d learned some new powers, but nothing that could defend me or my loved ones against an attack like that. Could the wraiths hurt Lucas? Balthazar? My parents? If they tried anything, would I be able to help?

No, I thought, depression sinking deeper into me. There’s nothing I can do for any ofthem. I’m useless.

I’m dead.

I drifted through the great hall on the ground floor, which looked larger when it was empty of students. Although it was always a majestic space, it became more beautiful and austere when it stretched out vast and silent. The moonlight streamed through the many stained — glass windows, which stretched from floor to ceiling, but it was brightest through the one window of plain glass. The original stained glass had been destroyed by a member of Black Cross — Lucas’s long — ago predecessor here — making hiis escape. Lucas had damaged it himself once, maybe living up to the family tradition. I’d always wondered why Mrs. Bethany didn’t have it repaired so that it would look like the others.

Now, at last, I understood. She’d left it this way so she would always remember. So she would never be careless again.

This building was scarred. Lucas was scarred . And I, too, felt like I would never heal. I was trapped forever with my regrets and cut off from the living world. Lucas suffered the same way. The main difference was that he could end it for himself and probably would, if he weren’t sticking around for my sake.

At that moment, I felt like all I’d ever done was hurt everybody who’d tried to love me. I felt worthless. I wanted to give up.

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