Afterlife Page 88

“What can we do? Your wife — I know you love her, but we can’t let her do this!” Beyond my fear for Maxie, I was also terrified for Lucas, as well as for Balthazar, my parents, Vic — everyone I’d left back at Evernight. She had fighters around her who knew she was their only chance to live again. The battle going on now would be desperate. and for some. fatal.

“No, we cannot.” Christopher squared his shoulders. “We shall return to the world below, together.”

“Can you get Maxie out of the trap?” I asked, though I felt sure it must be impossible. “There is one way,” he said, surprising me. “Only one way.”

He vanished. Apparently explanations would have to wait. I thought of my brooch, the beautiful black flower from my dreams, and tried to fold myself into the heart of it.

[ took form — then fell bodily into the snow, Lucas toppling beside me. Blood marred his face, streaking his skin and making his green eyes seem unearthly. He glanced at me only for a moment before raising his crossbow just in time to deflect an ax. One of Mrs. Bethany’s loyalists was swinging at him, repeatedly, and from the looks of things, he’d landed a few blows.

My brooch had tumbled out when Lucas fell, apparently; it lay on the ground, stark against the snow. I grabbed it, grateful for the ability to do so, and put it in my pocket. Now embodied, I tried to take in the scene.

A battle raged around me. My vampire friends were locked in combat with other vampires loyal to Mrs. Bethany. Across the grounds, Evernight Academy was melting — or, at least, the ice that had encased it was vanishing. Half — frozen students were already stumbling back inside for shelter and to get away from the fighting. I couldn’t find Vic, and nobody seemed to have breached Mrs. Bethany’s carriage house.

The roaring of an engine pierced the night. and I turned to see a pair of headlights fast approaching the school. With a rush of relief and hope, I recognized the van. I ran through the snow, crying out, “Raquel! Dana!”

They skidded to a stop. Dana leaped from the vehicle and took in the scene. “I told you guys not to start the party without us.”

“They’re all vampires,” Raquel said, clutching her stake. “Which ones do we go after?”

“If they’re attacking a vampire you know, take them out! Tell Dana who’s who!” I looked for a weapon for myself and grabbed a small hand ax.

“Raquel!” Vic ran toward the truck. He must have been in the woods — probably looking for something to use to smash into Mrs. Bethany’s house. “Give me something! Anything!”

[ left them behind, running through the snow, determined to help Lucas and the others. AsI saw how well armed Mrs. Bethany’s crew seemed to be, I reached up and pulled off my brooch. My body remained solid.

The closest people to me were my father and the tallest vampire in school, a guy almost as broad as he was high. He was pounding my dad with one hand; the other held a knife certainly big enough for a beheading. Dad had already gone down on one knee, unable to defend himself. I shouted, “Hey!”

The vampire turned. With a lazy grin, he swung the knife toward me —  — as I dropped the brooch and became vapory. The knife went directly through me, and I felt nothing. The ax I’d been carrying kept swinging through the air at the same speed, undeflected, to bury itself in the guy’s back.

He fell to the ground, obviously not permanently taken out but dazed and in pain. Quickly I grabbed my brooch again and took Dad’s hand.

“Come on! We have to get in there!”

“We have to get out of here,” Dad protested.

I shook my head. “This fight doesn’t end until Mrs. Bethany’s stopped, and we won’t be out of danger until the fight ends.”

Mrs. Bethany’s cottage was only a few steps away. But Vic beat me to it, and when I saw what he was carrying, my eyes went wide. I never thought they’d give him the flamethrower.

Vic pointed the weapon at one wall — and a plume of fire set the place ablaze. I realized, Vic doesn’t know that fire could kill Maxie forever.

I ran toward the cottage, unsure what to do or how to help. Then I saw a faint outline of a figure against the snow — Maxie, drifting in a daze away from the flames.

“Maxie!” I shouted. Vic reached her at the same moment I did, and I pressed my brooch into her hand. Although she hardly had any substance, she was able to hang on to it; the magic within the jet solidified her and seemed to give her some strength. “Are you okay?” Vice smoothed her golden brown hair away from her forehead.

She shook her head no. “Christopher,” she managed to say.

“What about him?” I said. “Did he get you out?”

“Yes, but he — ” Maxie stared back at the fire consuming the carriage house. “He took my place.” Suddenly undone by grief and exhaustion, Maxie slumped against Vic’s shoulder; he let the flamethrower drop and held her tightly.

I left them alone and rushed toward the blaze. Though I knew it was dangerous to be so near fire or a trap, I couldn ‘ t let Christopher perish if there was any way to save him.

But as I remembered his sad expression as we prepared to come here, I knew immediately that there Wasn’t. Christopher had done this knowing he would be lost forever. He had sacrificed himself for Maxie.

I peered into the very heart of the flames. There, I could see Mrs. Bethany, her long hair tumbling down loose around her shoulders. Soot stained her face, and she looked very young. “Christopher!” she cried out. She must have seen him, in the instant that he had taken Maxie’s place. “Christopher, I’m here, I’m here!”

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