Afterlife Page 71

Silence. They stood there, regarding each other as though they were strangers. Mrs. Bethany looked — sad. Crushed. At last she said quietly, “I had hoped you would be a part of this.”

“I had hopes,” Lucas said. “But I’d never be a part of this.’ He ran for the door and out onto the grounds.

How could I have doubted him, even for a second? Lucas had stood by me. He had kept my secret. In the face of the ultimate temptation, he had walked away without any doubts. Amid my astonishment and horror, I also knew a deep, powerful joy. I raced after him, a breeze high above the grounds, shaking down red and gold leaves from the trees so that they scattered behind me.

Lucas ran into the forest, and at first I thought he must be going after Samuel, though I couldn’t imagine what we could do to help him. Instead, as 186 soon as the trees concealed him from the school — in a small glade that I recognized as the place we’d first met — he collapsed to the ground, on his hands and knees. His breaths came raggedly, and I realized he was on the verge of tears.

I took form slowly, giving him time to tell me to go, if he wanted to be alone. But he fumbled in his pocket, grabbing my brooch, and handed it to me. As soon as I felt the jet, my body became entirely solid, and Lucas clutched me to him with all his strength.

“There’s a way out,” he gasped. “There’s a way out, and I can never take it.”

I held him tighter. Why hadn’ t I realized how much worse this would be for him? He’d been promised a release from an existence he considered worse than any jail — and it was true; every one of Mrs. Bethany’s promises was true. It was the doorway out, and he would never walk through it.

Then I considered that. A small, scared feeling quivered inside me, but I didn’t let it take me over.

I held Lucas as he buried his face in the curve of my shoulder, his whole body shaking with suppressed emotion. Until I was sure, I couldn’ t speak.

Finally I said, “We could do it.”

Lucas shifted back, enough to see my face. “Do what?”

“The ritual. What Mrs. Bethany did.” I steadied myself. “I could bring you back to life.”

“No. You’d be giving up whatever life or existence you have left, and then you ‘d be gone forever.”

“You offered to do the same for me,” I said. “Remember?”

“And you were brave enough to die in my place.” Lucas brushed his thumbs across my cheeks and cradled my face in his hands. “I’m not gonna give you anything less.”

I hugged him again, and he sank against me like he was exhausted. Mrs. Bethany would never hold power over him again, I knew, and yet his burden was heavier than ever. It would never get any easier. Neither of us would ever die, or ever live again.

Chapter Eighteen

LATER THAT NIGHT, UP IN THE RECORDS ROOM, we told the others what we’d seen. So, instead of just Lucas and I being in total shock, each of us sat around mutely for about an hour. Mrs. Bethany’s feat — returning a vampire to life — defied every physical and supernatural law any of us had ever known, and yet there was no denying what we’d witnessed.

Balthazar repeated, for about the eighth time, “It’s still so … unreal to me. That there’s a way back to being alive.”

“Doesn’t tempt me,” Patrice sniffed, as though she hadn’t spent the first ten minutes after our revelation repeating “Oh, my God,” over and over. “I found out the hard way — once someone’s dead, in whatever way they happen to be dead, it’s best to leave things as they are.” She suddenly seemed to be highly interested in her rings. but I knew she was remembering her long — lost love, Amos, whom she had brought back as a ghost. Although Patrice was too private to ever share the full details, it was clear the results had been tragic.

Vic nodded. “Raising the dead brings up serious monkey’s paw issues, definitely. What do you think, Ranulf?”

Ranulf, by far the calmest of the vampires in light of this news, shook his head. “I was alive for seventeen years,” he said. “I have been a vampire for approximately thirteen hundred years. This is truer to my nature, now.”

“I’d do it,” Balthazar said. His eyes met mine apologetically. “If it didn’t involve killing a sentient being, that is. If it were anything else — I mean, anytllinrl’d go back in a second.”

“So we know what she’s after now,” Lucas said. His eyes had an unearthly focus; he was strategizing, I realized, as a way of distracting himself from pain. “And we know we want to stop her. So we need to find the traps. Clear this place out and make it safe for Bianca, not to mention any other wraiths Mrs. Bethany hasn’t already snared.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Balthazar said. He had taken the only real chair in the room, while Vic and Patrice took the beanbags. Ranulf and Lucas were both sitting on old crates, and I was levitating about halfway to the ceiling. “Do we just want to divide the grounds up into sections, go through 188 them when we can?”

Lucas shook his head. “I want to make one massive sweep. She’s probably laying new traps all the time, but if we could get this place cleared out for a little while, it might make it easier to track what she does from here 0111 out.”

“When are we supposed to do that?” Patrice said. “Someone’s going to notice.” Lucas began, “Late at night, maybe — ”

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