Afterlife Page 44

And in waking. Lucas didn’t have the comfort of knowing that it was only a dream. I really had died. Being with him as a ghost couldn’t entirely heal that wound. By making him experience that moment over and over, Charity kept Lucas on the verge of losing it and turning into a killer.

“They’re his dreams, “she whispered into my ear. “I just make them worse. I make the fire burn hotter and the blood flow faster, so he can be even more afraid for you. Instead of drinking his blood, now I drink his pain.”

“I hate you.”

“His pain, and yours.”

I ran from her into the theater. It would ‘ve been faster to just think myself to Lucas’s side, but quickly I remembered that, in dream worlds, I 12o didn’t have ghostly powers. The old human limitations held me fast.

As I ran, I heard Lucas calling, “Hang on, Bianca! I’m coming!”

The scene in the theater horrified me. The movie screen itself was on fire, falling away from the wall in blackening strips that writhed and curled in the heat. Plastic cornices on the walls were melting into bubbling streaks. And in the seats, which had been empty on that night, were dead bodies, lying crumpled and bloody. Every one of their throats had been torn out.

They’re the victims of vampires, I realized. The ones Lucas has seen. The ones he’s scared he’ll create. Some of the corpses were on fire, too.

Disgusted and nauseated, I stumbled away from the corpses and fell !backward. As I hit the ground, I felt the sharp lash of fire across my calf. With a gasp I pushed myself up again to see a red, blistering weal just under my knee; a piece of still — smoldering wood on the ground must have burned me.

The danger was becoming more real. I had to get us out of here. “Lucas!” I shouted.

Once again, I heard my own voice — yet not mine — calling his name as well.

Pushing my way through the smoke, eyes itching and throat raw, I finally caught a glimpse of Lucas. He was at the very front of the theater, where part of the ceiling had collapsed into a jumble of metal and timbers. Beneath the timbers, face creased in pain, lay … me. Or Lucas’s dream version of me, anyway. My long red hair was splayed out on the floor, mirroring the blood pooling around my abdomen. The dream me was even more badly burned and blistered than I was. It was hard even to look at her.

“Lucas, no! I’m over here!” I came closer, willing him to hear me.

And he did, turning to see me. But his expression remained desperate, and he said only, “It’s okay, Bianca. I’m going to get you out.”

Still he hadn’t broken through the powerful spell of the dream, but now I understood why Lucas believed in his illusions so desperately: Charity made sure that he would. Determined to get through to him, I started forward, but a cold hand closed fast around my wrist.

“He has to learn that he can’t save you,” Charity said. Her blond curls were the color of the firelight. “And you have to learn that you can’t save 121 him, because he’s mine.”

A searing jolt of power arced through me, like electrocution times a thousand. I screamed harder than I’d known I could scream — and the pain stopped.

I opened my eyes to see that I was once again hovering in Lucas’s and Balthazar’s dorm room. Charity had flung me out of the dream.

“What the — ” Balthazar pushed himself upright just as Lucas’s eyes opened wide. I must have screamed in this world as well as in the dream. Lucas saw me and blinked hard. “Bianca?”

“I’m here!” I flung myself into his arms and hugged him tightly, willing myself to be as solid as possible. ‘Tm okay!”

“In the dream, you were — That didn’t happen to you, did it? You didrn ‘t have to go through that?”

“No,” I said, thinking only of the broken, burned version of me he had glimpsed. But as my leg brushed against the side of his bed, I winced, and Lucas looked down in concern. Silvery blood oozed through the pajama bottoms, revealing the long line of the burn against my calf.

“Bianca!” Lucas slid off the bed to look more closely. He peeled the pajamas upward, which stung — but made him wince harder. Of course; my wraith’s blood was burning him. He just didn’t care. Wisps of smoke drifted up from his singed fingers as he examined the wound. “This really happened. Things that happen in my dreams have the power to hurt you.”

“It’ll heal. It’s not anything major. Once I’ve faded out once, the worst will be over.” Although I tried to sound reassuring, my voice shook despite myself. The burn hurt worse than I’d thought I could hurt, after death.

Balthazar, rubbing his head sleepily, wandered over to our side of the room. His eyes widened as he saw my burn. “How did that happen?” I turned to him, fear instantly transmuted into anger. “Why didn’t you tell us about a vampire’s sire?”

“What are you talking about?” Taken aback by my shift in mood, Balthazar didn’t seem to know how to answer. “You both know what a sire is, right? I don’t see how you could not know.”

“I mean, the part about the sire coming into your dreams.” I rose from Lucas’s bed and stepped closer to Balthazar, close enough to make him m straighten up. My leg ached, but I ignored it. “Why didn’t you tell us that?”

Balthazar’s face fell, and he sagged backward as he realized what I was saying. “Damn it,” he swore. “Charity.” Lucas went pale. “Wait — in my dreams — Charity’s reaR”

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