Afterlife Page 4

Lucas nodded. His hand tightened around mine, so hard it nearly hurt. Lucas didn’t seem to have any way to judge his new strength — and this despite the fact that he already had enhanced power from having been bitten. He worked his jaw, as if practicing biting down, over and over.

If he needed me to be the steady one, I would be. Of course I was better at being dead, I decided; I’d had a whole day’s practice. It had taken me a few hours to get the hang of being noncorporeal. So no wonder it would take him a while to deal with becoming a vampire.

We left the projection room and walked out through the abandoned theater. The scene in the lobby wasn’t pretty: Beheaded vampires lay crumpled on the floor, and I tried not to look at any of the abandoned heads. Vampires didn’t bleed much after death — no heartbeat to pump out the blood — but I noticed Lucas looking hungrily at the few droplets on the floor.

“I know You’re hungry,” I said, trying to comfort him.

“You don’t know. You can’t know. There’s nothing like this.” Lucas’s grimace revealed his fangs. Just the sight of blood had brought them out again. When I had been alive, part vampire, I had experienced the desperate yearning for blood, but I suspected Lucas was right: The craving he felt now had intensified beyond anything I’d ever known.

We walked outside to see Balthazar, alone, leaning on his car in the otherwise empty parking lot. His shadow stretched out, long and broad, in the beam of the nearby streetlamp. Balthazar spoke to me first. “Vic was hanging around out front. The only way Ranulf could get him to leave was to go along.”

“Okay,” I said as we reached him. “Let’s just get out of here. I never want to see this place again.”

Balthazar didn’t move; he and Lucas just stared at each other. For years, they’d loathed one another; only in the aftermath of my death had they been able to work together. Now, though, what I saw between them was total understanding.

“I’m sorry.” Lucas’s voice was rough. “Some of the stuff I said to you — about choices, being a vampire, and everything like that — Jesus. I get it now.”

“I wish you didn’t. I wish you’d never had to understand.” Balthazar closed his eyes for a second, maybe remembering his own transformation centuries ago. “Come on. We’ll get you something to drink.”

With a pang, I realized that Lucas and Balthazar understood each other now on a level that I would never fully grasp. For some reason, it felt like a loss. Or maybe in that moment, with Lucas seemingly so far from me in spirit, everything felt like a loss.

Balthazar drove us back toward the nicer neighborhood in Philadelphia where Vic lived. Lucas and l sat together in the backseat, his hand gripping mine tightly, his gaze focused in the distance beyond the windshield. Sometimes he frowned and closed his eyes like a person in the throes of a migraine; his feet moved restlessly against the floorboards, as though he were pushing back, or attempting to push through. He didn’t want to be here, to be contained — everything around him now was just one more thing between him and the blood he needed. I knew better than to try to get him to talk. After he’d had something to drink, then he would be okay. He had to be.

Balthazar broke the wretched silence by turning on the radio, classic jazz, the kind of thing my dad used to listen to around the house. As Billie Holiday crooned about foolish things, I wondered what my parents would say now, and whether there was any advice they could have given us. We’d parted badly before I ran off with Lucas at the beginning of the summer; at the moment, I missed them so much it hurt. What would they think of everything that had happened in the past couple of days?

I glanced at Lucas — the pale cool stillness of his flesh, the way that death had brightened his eyes and carved out his cheekbones — and thought bleakly, Well, they always wanted me to end up with a nice vampire boy.

The car turned onto the road where Vic lived, an upscale area with broad yards separating the palatial homes. As every house had a four — car garage, we rarely saw other cars out on the street, but there were three right in front of Vic’s house. Not the usual kinds of Mercedes or Jaguars that drove around here either — these were beat — up trucks and station wagons. Something about this began to feel familiar.

Then I realized nearly a dozen people were standing in the street and in Vic’s yard. When I glimpsed a stake in one man’s hands, I realized at least that some of them were armed.

“Is this Charity’s tribe?” Balthazar said. “Is she still after Lucas?”

I remembered the e-mails Lucas had sent out just before my death, when he’d been so desperate that he’d asked anyone and everyone for help, even people we had every reason to expect to turn against us. His messages had been answered.

“It’s not Charity,” I whispered. “It’s Black Cross.”

Chapter Two

“BLACK CROSS,” BALTHAZAR REPEATED. IF I HADN’T been there when Black Cross captured Balthazar — and tortured him — I might have thought he was being very calm about the fact that a band of vampire hunters had showed up. Instead, I could see the hints of fear and anger submerged in his gaze. His fists tightened around the steering wheel. “We should get out of here.”

“We can’t just leave Vic and Ranulf!” I said.

Then Lucas leaned forward and whispered, “Mom?”

I saw her, too: Kate, a Black Cross cell leader and Lucas’s mother. Her honey gold hair, so like her son’s, shone beneath the streetlamp’s light; shadows etched the firm muscles of her arms and the stake she wore at her belt. When Black Cross had learned of my true nature and cast us out of their cell, they’d kept her away. I’d always believed this was because of Kate’s fierce love for her son, which was often hidden beneath her discipline and duty but was undeniable. Was it strong enough to sustain them now?

Prev Next
Free Novels Read Online | Read Wuxia Novel | Read Xianxia Novel