Afterlife Page 30

“Bianca?”

“Patrice?”

Chapter Nine

“BIANCA?” PATRICE LOOKED AS ASTONISHED AS I felt. Her face seemed to fill the whole sky, or ceiling, or whatever else I saw above me in this black, formless place. “You’re — You’ve become a wraith?”

“Patrice, I don’t have time to discuss this right now!”

“We have lots of time, seeing how we’re both dead,” Patrice snapped, her expression clouding over. The old animosity between vampires and wraiths seemed to be at work. “Eternity, in fact. Start with how you died.”

“Black Cross is here in Riverton, and if you don’t let me out this second, they’re going to kill Lucas and any other vampire they find, probably including you!”

The strange tar — pit drag on my movements released me so quickly that I felt like I went flying. Light seemed to explode all around — but it was only the streetlamps of downtown Riverton, in contrast to the darkness that had enclosed me. As I made sense of the world again, I realized that I was just in front of Patrice, who in turn stood in an alleyway just off the main strip. She held in her hand a small makeup mirror, which was crusted with frost. I must have been visible, but only just — as I reached out one hand, I saw only the faintest gray outline of fingers and palm. Nobody would see me if they didn’t know to look.

Patrice knew. She blinked once, then shook off her astonishment. “Where are they?” she said. “Tell me quickly.”

“The theater. The diner. I don’t know where else. Lucas is headed toward the coffee shop; we have to get to him before they do.”

She took off across the street, running as hard as if it were her existence on the line instead of Lucas’s. I followed her, but slowly. Being trapped had taken something out of me — l needed time to get my strength back, time Lucas didn’t have.

Patrice got to the coffee shop while I was still two dozen feet away. She didn’t so much open the door as burst through it, violently enough that most of the customers looked up to see what the commotion was. One of those was Lucas, who had been sitting in one of the green velvet armchairs with his head in his hands. As he stared at Patrice, she held out her hand to him, clearly urging him to leave.

That was the moment my view was blocked by the hunters.

Kate. Eliza. Milos. Ten or fifteen more that I didn’t know, but each of them with the brawn of Black Cross troops. Somebody had given the word that Lucas was in town, and told them his location. Patrice and I had been too late.

Oh, no, I thought. Please, no.

“Weapons,” Kate said. The word fell as heavy and unyielding as iron. She’d come here to kill her son, and the weight of it deadened her eyes. As the hunters shouldered their crossbows, Lucas rose and walked toward Patrice, ready to go — and saw his mother. He saw the attack about to happen, and there was nothing he could do about it.

That meant it was up to me.

I stretched myself thin, into one long horizontal line, and imagined myself like the sharp edge of a sword — then plunged forward.

“Fire!” Kate cried, just as I swept through the hunters. It must have hit them like a slimmer, swifter stroke of ice, because they all shouted and most of them fired blindly, their arrow — stakes slamming into the pavement or nearby walls. But at least one got through, because the coffee — shop window shattered in a spray of glass. People inside started screaming, and I could see passersby on the street begin to freak out.

Lucas! I couldn’t see him. Though I desperately wanted to find out whether he was okay, I knew I had to end this before anybody else got hurt.

My strength remained shaky, but I had to do whatever I could.

Already the hunters were regathering. Although a few of them had doubled over in pain from my blow, they were straightening up, readying themselves for another assault. My first thought was to possess Kate again and order them to stop. Could I do that? If desperation was the key, as I’d suspected before, then yes, I could do it. But as I rushed toward her, I felt something pushing me back, until I came to a halt.

What the — ? Then I saw, shining on her fingers, half a dozen copper rings. Copper, like any other mineral found in the human body, repelled wraiths. Black Cross only knew a little about wraiths, so far as I’d been able to find out, but apparently Kate had discovered enough to pmtect herself from possession. I could strike at her, but I could never again take over her body.

I’d just have to take them out one by one, then.

I plunged toward the hunter closest to me. To punch him with that fist of ice, I would have to take form, and I knew that was probably a bad idea; not only would it give me away to tons more Evernight students, but it also would give Black Cross somewhere to aim. They’d probably looked up ways to harm or demolish wraiths since our last encounter.

Instead, I whirled around him, a breeze becoming a gale, willing myself to be colder and colder. As my speed increased, I could see icicles beginning to form at the ends of his hair and beard. His skin went bluish, and he cried out in pain.

Enough. I let him go, hearing him fall in an apparent stupor, and rushed toward another hunter. Dimly I could sense the rest of the fight around me: Patrice had taken on Kate, matching her blow for blow with a ferocity I’d never realized she possessed. Lucas was in the thick of things, too; he roared with rage as he tackled Milos to the ground. My emotions were torn between being glad Lucas was okay, and terrified that this would be it the time he would take a human life, the sin for which he could never forgive himself.

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