Afterlife Page 40

The Plotters — that was what I called them — repeated, Help us.

Or what? Would they attack the people I loved like this? Or would they come after me? What could a ghost do to another ghost? I had no idea, 11o but terrible possibilities unfolded in my mind, becoming part of the gruesome destruction of Mrs. Bethany.

Her mouth was open, her jaw unhinging, but the desperate scream in my mind was my own — Then a shaft of light seemed to penetrate my dream. Mrs. Bethany vanished, and the “constellations” disappeared as though it were dawn.

When I could see again, I realized that Maxie was standing with me in the great hall. Her white nightgown floated slightly on some unseen breeze, so that she seemed to be part of the fog outside. “You saved me,” I said.

“I pushed them back. That’s as much as I can do.” She cocked an eyebrow, like it was weird that she had to save me from anything. “You’re the girl with the superpowers, if you ‘d just realize it already.”

What else could a ghost do to another ghost? That sharp new fear controlled me as powerfully as the Plotters had a moment before. I stabilized myself as best I could, becoming more solid. “Are those Christopher’s . . . henchmen? Or henchghosts? Or whatever?”

“Christopher doesn’t have anything to do with them,” Maxie said. “They’d be better off if he did. They’re too tied to the human world to come to terms with the fact that they’re wraiths.”

“They hate Evernight,” I said. “They hate Mrs. Bethany. Why don’t they just leave?”

Maxie folded her arms. “You keep thinking all of us can do the things you can do. We can’t. Most wraiths can’t move around the way you can, or even the way I can. They followed their human anchors here because of the strength of that bond; every instinct they have tells them not to abandon it. And because they’re so screwed up now, they can’t think past instinct. They can’t think, period. They’re just emotions, going in every direction.”

“What’s wrong with them?”

“This is how we end, if we’re not careful.”

Cautiously, I said, “You mean, we end up … crazy?”

“Unhinged. Unstable. It comes from being in the human world but not of it.” She gave me a pointed look that suggested I was headed in that direction.

“You’ve spent time with Vic since he was a child,” I said. Vic was her biggest vulnerability; I wasn’t above using that.

She smiled softly when I said his name. “You can watch them. You can even — you can love.” Her voice broke on the last word. “But you can’t live. The damage comes from pretending that you can.”

“I’m not pretending,” I insisted.

“Aren’t you?”

“Bianca, if you would just come talk to Christopher — ”

Fear swept through me again, and I shook my head. “Don’t.”

Maxie’s usual sarcastic demeanor had faded into genuine pleading. “Bianca, You’re important to the wraiths. Don’t you see that? The stuff you can do that the rest ·of us can’t — it’s not just so much smoke and fog. It means something. You mean something.” My curiosity began to get the better of my fear, but just when I wanted to ask her more, she grew desperate, almost scarily so, and said, “We need you.”

“You’re not the only ones who need me.” I swept out of the great hall, afraid she was going to chase me. But she let me go.

“You’re sure you want to learn how to do this?” Patrice folded her arms, studying me as severely as Mrs. Bethany had during midterms.

The real answer was that no, I wasn’t sure. This was, in its way, as scary as training with Black Cross had been — it never felt good, learning how to attack creatures like myself.

The only way to make myself free was to give myself power. And that meant learning how to strike back against the wraiths, if necessary.

“Let’s begin,” I said.

Patrice pulled out her compact. “To catch a wraith,” she said, “you first have to detect that a wraith is there.”

“Done and done.” When Patrice glared at me for interrupting, I said, “I’ve kind of got an edge there, okay?”

“I see your point. Now, watch.” She opened the mirror slowly, with exaggerated movements, like a preschool teacher. I would have laughed if the situation had been any less serious and the setting had been any less spooky. Outside, heavy cold rain had been falling steadily the whole day, draining the sky of any color besides gray. Although Patrice had turned on both of the lamps in her dorm room, they weren’t able to counteract the gloom outside. One of the lights danced on the open mirror, sending a little spot of brightness darting around the stones surrounding us. “You need 112 to open the mirror after you’ve sensed ilie presence of the wraith, but before you’ve actually confronted it. This isn ‘t like Mrs. Bethany’s traps — a wraith can resist a mirror, if she knows ilie attack is coming.”

My amusement got the better of the moment. When I started grinning, Patrice cocked her head in confusion. I said, “I’m sorry. It’s just so weird hearing you talk about attacking people.”

“Excuse me?”

“You know, aren’t you worried about breaking a nail or something?”

Patrice looked annoyed, until she realized I was only teasing. She raised one eyebrow. “Did you see me worrying about iliat while I kicked some Black Cross butt?”

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