Afterlife Page 89

Despite the fact that she was on the verge of burning to death, Mrs. Bethany was — smiling. I realized then that Christopher had been wrong: her love for him really had been stronger than her hate. But they’d both found out too late.

Maxie had been freed before Mrs. Bethany could transform herself. Mrs. Bethany had enough time, maybe — to sacrifice Christopher and live again. She had to know that. But she wouldn’t do it. “We can get out of here,” she gasped, reaching through smoldering woodwork despite the risk to herself. I realized she was trying to retrieve the trap that held him. “We’ll be together, I promise you.”

I heard Christopher’s voice, hardly a whisper amid the crackling of the flames, “My dearest Charlotte.”

Then a surge of sparks drove me back, and I gaped as the roof of the carriage house crumbled. Nothing remained but glowing embers, and flame, and smoke. Sure death for any vampire, or any wraith. The Bethanys were gone, forever.

Shaken, I turned to see the battle — or what had been the battle. The vampires fighting my friends had been subdued, either by Dana and Raquel as reinforcements or by surrender when they saw that their leader, and the resurrection magic she alone knew, had perished. I could see my mother helping my father to his feet, Raquel and Patrice herding the enemy vampires farther away from the rest of us, and most of the others gathered around a fallen figure in the snow — Around Lucas.

Chapter Twenty — two

I FLASHED MYSELF TO THE SMALL GROUP OF people huddled around Lucas’s fallen form. He lay motionless and bloodied on the snow, his chest and forehead sliced deeply by a weapon. Dana cradled his head in her hands, and Balthazar ran one finger along the edge of the chest wound and winced. Vic and Maxie, still holding on to each other, stood nearby, while Ranulf clutched his ax to his chest as if he were a child with a security blanket. Lucas appeared to be totally unconscious.

“What’s going on?” I knelt beside Lucas. “He’s wounded?”

“Badly,” Balthazar said. But in his voice I heard real dread.

I said, “As awful as it is, as much as I know he’s hurting .. . he’ll be okay.” Nobody spoke. “Won’t he?”

Balthazar turned to me, expressionless. “The other vampire had laced his weapon with holy water. It’s a dangerous tactic for us, but — ”

I held up a hand; I couldn’t bear to hear what came next, and besides, I already knew. Black Cross training had covered the technique, and it had been whispered by Erich in Lucas’s own dream — claiming that stakes soaked in holy water could paralyze and torture a vampire forever.

That it was like burning them alive, just from the inside out.

They’d never claimed to know for sure. Maybe it wasn’t so. But Lucas wasn’t moving. He was trapped deep in that terrible, unending fire.

I took his hand in mine; it was colder than usual, deeply chilled by the snow around us. His fingers were heavy, unresisting. “Lucas?” I whispered, but I knew he couldn’t hear.

The only release from his torment would be to behead him. To lose him forever. In the hours after Charity’s attack, I’d been faced with the decision of whether or not to kill Lucas; now I had to face it again. But I couldn’t. I just couldn’t.

I squeezed his hand tighter. Dana, who had begun to sob, reached up with one hand to wipe her cheeks. Lucas’s head, free from its cradle, lolled to one side. Blood from the cut on his forehead had oozed down to his throat, pooling just beneath his Adam’s apple. It reminded me of how he had 232 looked the first time I bit him.

Vampire’s blood, I thought. During the ritual, it had attracted me powerfully. As powerfully as if the blood were life itself. Then everything came to me at once: How drinking Lucas’s blood had been part of what maintained my life as a vampire, how I had felt more alive then than at any other time.

How wraiths joined with vampires to create vampire children like me, because wraiths and vampires were the two halves of life, able together to kindle a flame.

How Mrs. Bethany’s ritual of resurrection had been designed to break me down and bring me into a vampire, to merge us into one. How wraith blood was poisonous to vampires, but their blood was life to us.

How Lucas and I had become a part of each other from the very first time I gave in to my desire and bit into his throat. I was Lucas, and he was me.

And I knew what to do.

“Move back,” I said. Everyone sort of stared, but they did what I asked, shuffling backward from Lucas’s sprawled body. Dana laid his head down gently before rising to her feet, where Raquel hugged her tightly from behind. Ranulf had bowed his head, and Vic, holding Maxie’s hand, sniffled like he was on the verge of tears. My parents stood slightly apart from the rest, but I could see that the concern in their faces for Lucas was real. A few others had gathered, too — just a handful of students, both vampire and human, unsure what to think. Skye stumbled toward us, dazed and weak from her ordeal but unwilling to leave Lucas if he was in trouble. When she swayed on her feet, Balthazar quickly rose to steady her against his shoulder.

The snow around Lucas was stained crimson with his blood. New flakes had begun to fall. A sharp, cold wind gusted past us, ruffling his hair. I held my hand out to Maxie; after a moment’s confusion, she understood and handed me my jet brooch, so that I could be wholly solid once more. I needed that now. The sharp edges of the flower’s carved petals cut into my palm.

I thought of how much I loved him, how badly I wanted him to be a part of me. I dreamed of the richness of his blood, and how it had made me feel alive. I remembered being a vampire — and felt my fangs emerge once more, sharp against my lips and tongue. My vampire self remained a part 233 of me, despite my death.

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