Afterlife Page 76

Those people are safe, I promised. If you want to move on, you know that I can help you.

I expected surprise, happiness, maybe a rush to depart. Instead I felt only a deeper wave of fear. Honestly, I wasn’t much less frightened myself, and I didn’t yet know how — or if — I could perform the wonders Christopher claimed. So how could I make them any promises?

Yet I felt that, if they would follow me, I had to try. If I was able to usher several of the wraiths away from Evernight Academy in one swoop, that would be as effective at stopping Mrs. Bethany as anything else we could do.

But a hard rush of refusal hit me, like a hard — breaking wave on the shore in winter. And then a rising tumult of energy. aimed downward, in points like a hundred arrows — What’s happening?I thought. I looked wildly at the crowd; Balthazar and Patrice were off hunting traps, but everyone else I cared for was down there dancing. There was no time even for a warning.

The energy streaked toward the floor like thunderbolts, and I expected a rain of ice or snow. Maybe ghostly apparitions. I didn’t expect every single human in the crowd to instantly collapse, unconscious.

The orchestra’s music snarled into something unrecognizable as instruments stopped, one by one, and the vampires began to react. A few of them were obnoxious enough to laugh, but most of them were worried — either about humans they cared for, or because something obviously dangerous was happening. Lucas knelt on the floor, two fingers at Skye’s neck to check for a pulse. Ranulf held Cristina in his arms, though she was completely limp, her head flopping backward. Vic lay facedown, his arms and legs splayed awkwardly like an abandoned rag doll.

And then he moved — or. I should say. his body moved. Because I knew from the first moment that whatever was rising wasn’t Vic.

I realized: I Wasn’t the only wraith with the power to possess humans.

The other humans began coming to as well, but their eyes were clouded — a milky greenish color all over, with no pupil or iris. Yet none of them were blind. Their movements were slow and awkward, as though they had not moved in a very long time. Lucas drew back as Skye, or something that looked like Skye, stared malevolently at him from her place on the floor.

Vic squared his shoulders as he pulled himself fully upright. If I hadn’t already sensed that Maxie Wasn’t among the attackers, I would have known that she wasn’t the one possessing him just from the expression on his face. It was so unlike Vic, so strange for him, that it took me a while to recognize the emotion I saw — cruelty.

He shouted, “Mrs. Bethany!”

It wasn’t Vic’s voice. It was a hoarse rasp that made me instantly think of someone whose throat had been cut. I wished desperately for a mirror to free him — but would the traps work if a wraith was possessing a human being? Remembering how securely armored I had felt when I’d possessed Kate, I suspected not.

Mrs. Bethany stepped forward. She didn’t look scared. Just mildly interested. Her long, starched dress of lace was stark white.

“Free our kind,” Vic said. The crazy raspy voice seemed to make the entire room shiver. “Free us. Or we shall strike, and your kind will perish.” Smoothly she replied, “If you force me to exorcise you from your anchors, they will suffer terribly. Some might die.”

The mask of cruelty on Vic’s face didn’t waver. “You have been warned.”

Then, suddenly, as if the marionette strings had been cut, all the humans collapsed again — but this time, only for a second. Within moments, they were up, rubbing their heads if they’d fallen, confused about what had just happened. Nobody seemed to remember exactly, which was probably a mercy for everyone involved.

I tried to take hope. We were collecting most of the traps tonight. Once we figured out how to act safely, we’d be able to free the wraiths ourselv·es. Given time, I could probably convince many of them to leave this realm with me, if they could no longer remain safe here.

And yet I sensed that something terrible had already been put into motion — something we might not be able to stop.

Chapter Nineteen

“I CAN’T BELIEVE I WENT ALL EVIL.” VIC SAT ON the steps of the gazebo, where we’d gathered after the chaos had died down. Although it wasn’t yet midnight, the Autumn Ball was definitely over. “Did I shoot ftre out of my eyes or something cool like that?”

“No, you were just scary as hell.” Lucas leaned against the gazebo railing. He’d loosened the tie of his evening suit and undone his collar, a view I wished I had time to appreciate more. Skye, like most of the human students and plenty of the vampires, had long since retreated to their rooms for the full — scale freakout that evidently followed a mass possession. “They just wouldn’t listen to you, Bianca?”

“They listened, but they were afraid.” I sat on the railing next to him, all but solid; nobody outside our group was around to see. “Whatever they’re planning, it’s coming soon. If we don’ t free the wraiths quickly, I’m scared they’ll start hurting people — humans, vampires, everybody.”

Patrice, who hadn’t witnessed the possessions and, as such, was thinking more clearly than most of us, began analyzing our position. “We were able to sweep most of the areas we wanted to. A total of forty — seven traps are in the records room. It stands to reason that we didn’t find every single one of the traps, but we must have the majority of them by now. So if we’re able to do that, it should change the wraiths’ minds, right? Or at least give them some reason to hope, and show them that we’re on their side.”

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