Afterlife Page 63

The scene in front of us was now some kind of meetinghouse or storeroom. Black Cross, I realized, seeing the weaponry mounted on the walls. 166 A man with his hair tied in a tail sat on a slightly raised platform, obviously in charge. He shook his head.. “Mrs. Bethany, as lamentable as your husband’s death is, it was not the work of any supernatural agency. Therefore it does not concern Black Cross.”

“The magistrate will not listen,” Mrs. Bethany said. “He believes it was the work of bandits and says lam a foolish woman, doubting two such ‘fine gentlemen.’ “She spat those two words, as if she thought they could poison her. “I could kill them myself, but they are gone to the Caribbean. His family’s money is lost, because of their deceit. At least give me the funds to travel there, to see justice done.”

The Black Cross leader looked at Mrs. Bethany pityingly — the same look, I realized, that Kate had worn when she refused to give back Lucas’s coffee can full of cash. “Our funds are used for our struggle, and every penny is needed. You know this as well as I. Your grief has brought you to the point of hysteria.”

Mrs. Bethany’s proud face never changed, but I saw something I’d never expected to see: her eyes filling with tears. Yet she spoke steadily. “After everything I have done, everything I have given, this is your answer.”

“What other answer could there be?”

She stepped back slightly, cocking her head in that familiar gesture of contemplation and contempt. Li.ke she’s seeing him for the first time, I thought.

Christopher said, “In that instant, her dedication to Black Cross turned to hate. We can always hate that which we loved, and with a fire as great as our love once was.”

The room vanished, replaced by the same forest pathway we had seen first. But the scene had changed to winter; the na**d tree branches glittered with ice, and the ground was thick with snow. Mrs. Bethany rode alone on horseback, sidesaddle, with a heavy cape of dark furs around her. Her eyes searched her surroundings despite the deepening shadows — it was dusk, the sky a piercing cobalt blue. Then she sat up a little straighter; she’d spotted something.

A vampire stepped from behind one of the larger trees, obviously uneasy. “Whatever trap you set, huntress, it’s a dangerous one for you. Your 167 help is too far away.”

“I set no trap,” Mrs. Bethany said. She dismounted from her horse and walked slowly toward him in the snow. “I bear no weapons.”

“Then I suppose you have come to die, huntress.”

It was a taunt, but Mrs. Bethany lifted her head. “Yes.”

The vampire appeared as shocked as I was. He didn’t say anything at first, didn’t rush at her or run away.

She held up her hands, gloved in dark green, to show that she had no weapons. A gust of wind ruffled her hair and sent down a shower of snow from the branches above, scattering white on her dark hair and cape. “I was bitten once. Did you know? Do they tell the story?”

“Many claim it,” the vampire said. “Many lie.”

“One tells the truth,” she said. A quick tug at the neck of her cape revealed an old scar upon her throat. “I was rescued, then. But I have always known that I am prepared. If a vampire were to bite me, and kill me, I would rise again, undead.”

The vampire took a step closer, disbelieving. “This is a trick.”

“No trick.”

“You hate our kind. Why would you become one of us?”

“I need to be free of human ties, human cares.” Mrs. Bethany’s expression faltered, but only for a moment. “I — I need to travel beyond the reach of my mortal means.”

That won her a burst of laughter from the vampire. “Mad. You’ve gone mad.” She said, “Change me and see.”

The vampire sprang at her, taking both of them down to the ground in one pounce. Mrs. Bethany didn’t resist and didn’t scream, not even when her blood spurted onto the white snow, steaming.

“Revenge,” Christopher said, “is a powerful motivator.”

The next place he showed me was obviously someplace a lot warmer. A palm frond brushed against the window and tropical flowers were piled high in vases. We seemed to be in an island villa, one that might have been very nice before it had been trashed. Furniture was upended, mirrors broken. Two dead bodies lay on the floor, and Mrs. Bethany stood in one corner, taking in the scene with some satisfaction. She wiped blood from her mouth with the back of her hand.

“She got them back,” I said. Despite the horror of the murder scene before us, I couldn’t help feeling like those guys had it coming.

Christopher nodded. “But at what cost? Her life. Perhaps more important, her mission. Her soul.”

“Where were you during all this?” I said. “Why didn’t you appear to her? If she’d known you were a ghost, that she could maybe talk to you — ”

“I could not yet appear to her.” The Caribbean scene with Mrs. Bethany faded, and we were once again in the land of lost things. Were we in the same location? Our surroundings had changed; instead of the city, we stood out in the open, in a desert too stark to be beautiful. Sunlight beat down hotly, and I noticed a scorpion scuttling across the ground. Christopher sat on a low, flat rock; his handsome profile was outlined against the dark stone, and for the ftrst time, I recognized him as the silhouette on Mrs. Bethany’s desk. “As you know, learning to use wraith powers takes some time — and far more time for most than it did for you. By the point when I could have appeared to my wife, she had learned to hate the wraiths as the natural enemy of the vampire. She had shown me, through her actions, that her hate was stronger than her love.”

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