Passion, p.11
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       Passion, p.11

         Part #3 of Fallen series by Lauren Kate
Page 11


  I had no idea you could do this, Luce whispered to herself.

  What? the hoarse voice said.

  Stop inside an Announcer, she said. She hadnt been talking to him and she still couldnt see him, and the fact that shed ended up stalled wherever she was with whoever he was--well, it was definitely cause for alarm. But still she couldnt help marveling at her surroundings. I didnt know a place like this existed. An in-between place.

  A phlegmy snort. You could fill a book with all the things you dont know, girl. In fact--I think someone may have already written it. But thats neither here nor there. A rattling cough. And I did mean peonies, by the way.

  Who are you? Luce sat up and leaned back against the wall. She hoped whoever the voice belonged to couldnt see her legs trembling.

  Who? Me? he asked. Im just . . . me. Im here a lot. Okay. . . . Doing what?

  Oh, you know, hanging out. He cleared his throat, and it sounded like someone gargling with rocks. I like it here. Nice and calm. Some of these Announcers can be such zoos. But not yours, Luce. Not yet, anyway.

  Im confused. More than confused, Luce was afraid. Should she even be talking to this stranger? How did he know her name?

  For the most part, Im just your average casual observer, but sometimes I keep an ear out for travelers. His voice came closer, causing Luce to shiver. Like yourself. See, Ive been around awhile, and sometimes travelers, they need a smidge of advice. You been up by the waterfall yet? Very scenic. A-plus, as far as waterfalls go.

  Luce shook her head. But you said--this is my Announcer? A message of my past. So why would you be--

  Well! Sor-reee! The voice grew louder, indignant. But may I just raise a question: If the channels to your past are so precious, whyd you leave your Announcers wide open for all the world to jump inside? Hmm? Why didnt you just lock them?

  I didnt, um . . . Luce had no idea shed left anything wide open. And no idea Announcers could even be locked.

  She heard a small whoomp, like clothes or shoes being thrown into a suitcase, but she still couldnt see a thing. I see Ive overstayed my welcome. I wont waste your time. The voice sounded suddenly choked up. And then more softly, from a distance: Goodbye.

  The voice vanished into the darkness. It was nearly silent inside the Announcer again. Just the soft cascade of the waterfall above. Just the desperate beat of Luces heart.

  For just a moment, she hadnt been alone. With that voice there, shed been nervous, alarmed, on edge . . . but she hadnt been alone.

  Wait! she called, pushing herself to her feet.

  Yes? The voice was right back at her side.

  I didnt mean to kick you out, she said. For some reason, she wasnt ready for the voice to just disappear. There was something about him. He knew her. He had called her by name. I just wanted to know who you were.

  Oh, hell, he said, a little giddy. You can call me . . . Bill.

  Bill, she repeated, squinting to see more than the dim cave walls around her. Are you invisible?

  Sometimes. Not always. Certainly dont have to be. Why? Youd prefer to see me?

  It might make things a little bit less weird.

  Doesnt that depend on what I look like?

  Well-- Luce started to say.

  So--his voice sounded as if he were smiling--what do you want me to look like?

  I dont know. Luce shifted her weight. Her left side was damp from the spray of the waterfall. Is it really up to me? What do you look like when youre just being yourself?

  I have a range. Youd probably want me to start with something cute. Am I right?

  I guess. . . .

  Okay, the voice muttered. "Huminah huminah huminah hummm. "

  What are you doing? Luce asked. Putting on my face.

  There was a flash of light. A blast that would have sent Luce tumbling backward if the wall hadnt been right behind her. The flash died down into a tiny ball of cool white light. By its illumination she could see the rough expanse of a gray stone floor beneath her feet. A stone wall stretched up behind her, water trickling down its face. And something more:

  There on the floor in front of her stood a small gargoyle.

  Ta-da! he said.

  He was about a foot tall, crouched low with his arms crossed and his elbows resting on his knees. His skin was the color of stone--he was stone--but when he waved at her, she could see he was limber enough to be made of flesh and muscle. He looked like the sort of statue youd find capping the roof of a Catholic church. His fingernails and toenails were long and pointed, like little claws. His ears were pointed, too--and pierced with small stone hoops. He had two little hornlike nubs protruding from the top of a forehead that was fleshy and wrinkled. His large lips were pursed in a grimace that made him look like a very old baby.

  So youre Bill?

  Thats right, he said. Im Bill.

  Bill was an odd-looking thing, but certainly not someone to be afraid of. Luce circled him and noticed the ridged vertebrae protruding from his spine. And the small pair of gray wings tucked behind his back so that the two tips were twined together.

  What do you think? he asked.

  Great, she said flatly. One look at any other pair of wings--even Bills--made her miss Daniel so much her stomach hurt.

  Bill stood up; it was strange to see the arms and legs that were made of stone move like muscle.

  You dont like the way I look. I can do better, he said, disappearing in another flash of light. Hold on.


  Daniel stood before her, cloaked in a shining aura of violet light. His unfurled wings were glorious and massive, beckoning her to step inside them. He held out a hand and she sucked in her breath. She knew something was strange about his being there, that shed been in the middle of doing something else--only she couldnt recall what or with whom. Her mind felt hazy, her memory obscured. But none of that mattered. Daniel was here. She wanted to cry with happiness. She stepped toward him and put her hand in his.

  There, he said softly. Now, thats the reaction I was after.

  What? Luce whispered, confused. Something was rising to the forefront of her mind, telling her to pull away. But Daniels eyes overrode that hesitation and she let herself be pulled in, forgetting everything but the taste of his lips.

  Kiss me. His voice was a raspy croak. Bills.

  Luce screamed and jumped back. Her mind felt jolted as if from a deep sleep. What had happened? How had she thought shed seen Daniel in--

  Bill. Hed tricked her. She jerked her hand away from his, or maybe he dropped hers during the flash when he changed into a large, warty toad. He croaked out two ribbits, then hopped over to the spring of water dripping down the cave wall. His tongue shot out into the stream. Luce was breathing hard and trying not to show how devastated she felt. Stop it, she said sharply. Just go back to the gargoyle. Please.

  As you wish.


  Bill was back, crouched low with his arms crossed over his knees. Still as stone.

  I thought youd come around, he said.

  Luce looked away, embarrassed that he had gotten a rise out of her, angry that he seemed to have enjoyed it.

  Now that thats all settled, he said, scurrying around so he was standing where she could see him again, what would you like to learn first?

  From you? Nothing. I have no idea what youre even doing here.

  Ive upset you, Bill said, snapping his stone fingers. Im sorry. I was just trying to learn your tastes. You know--likes: Daniel Grigori and cute little gargoyles. He listed on his fingers. Dislikes: frogs. I think Ive got it now. No more of that funny business from me. He spread his wings and flitted up to sit on her shoulder. He was heavy. Just the tricks of the trade, he whispered.

  I dont need any tricks.

  Come now. You dont even know how to lock an Announcer to keep out the bad guys. Dont you want to at least know that?

  Luce raised an eyebrow at him. Why would you help me?

  Youre not the first to skip around the past, you know, and everybody needs a guide. Lucky you, you chanced upon me. You could have gotten stuck with Virgil--

  Virgil? Luce asked, having a flashback to sophomore English. As in the guy who led Dante through the nine circles of Hell?

  Thats the one. Hes so by the book, its a snooze. Anyway, you and I arent sojourning through Hell right now, he explained with a shrug. Tourist season.

  Luce thought back to the moment shed seen Luschka burst into flames in Moscow, to the raw pain shed felt when Lucia had told her Daniel had disappeared from the hospital in Milan.

  Sometimes it feels like Hell, she said.

  Thats only because it took us this long to be introduced. Bill extended his stony little hand toward hers.

  Luce stalled. So what, um, side are you on?

  Bill whistled. Hasnt anyone told you its more complicated than that? That the boundaries between good and evil have been blurred by millennia of free will?

  I know all that, but--

  Look, if it makes you feel any better, have you ever heard of the Scale?

  Luce shook her head.

  Sorta like hall monitors within Announcers who make sure travelers get where theyre going. Members of the Scale are impartial, so theres no siding with Heaven or with Hell. Okay?

  Okay. Luce nodded. So youre in the Scale?

  Bill winked. Now, were almost there, so--

  Almost where?

  To the next life youre traveling to, the one that cast this shadow were in. Luce ran her hand through the water running down the wall. This shadow--this Announcer--is different.

  If it is, its only because thats what you want it to be. If you want a rest-stop?type cave inside an Announcer, it appears for you.

  I didnt want a rest stop.

  No, but you needed one. Announcers can pick up on that. Also, I was here helping out, wanting it on your behalf. The little gargoyle shrugged, and Luce heard a sound like boulders knocking against each other. The inside of an Announcer isnt anyplace at all. Its a neverwhere, the dark echo cast by something in the past. Each one is different, adapting to the needs of its travelers, so long as theyre inside.

  There was something wild about the idea of this echo of Luces past knowing what she wanted or needed better than she did. So how long do people stay inside? she asked. Days? Weeks?

  No time. Not the way youre thinking. Within Announcers, real time doesnt pass at all. But still, you dont want to hang around here too long. You could forget where youre going, get lost forever. Become a hoverer. And thats ugly business. These are portals, remember, not destinations.

  Luce rested her head against the damp stone wall. She didnt know what to make of Bill. This is your job. Serving as a guide to, uh, travelers like me?

  Sure, exactly. Bill snapped his fingers, the friction sending up a spark. You nailed it.

  Howd a gargoyle like you get stuck doing this?

  Excuse me, I take pride in my work.

  I mean, who hired you?

  Bill thought for a moment, his marble eyes rolling back and forth in their sockets. Think of it as a volunteer position. Im good at Announcer travel, is all. No reason not to spread my expertise around. He turned to her with his palm cupping his stony chin. When are we going to, anyway?

  When are we . . . ? Luce stared at him, confused.

  You have no idea, do you? He slapped his forehead. Youre telling me that you dove out of the present without any fundamental knowledge about stepping through? That how you end up when you end up is a complete mystery to you?

  How was I supposed to learn? Luce said. No one told me anything!

  Bill fluttered down from her shoulder and paced along the ledge. Youre right, youre right. Well just go back to basics. He stopped in front of Luce, tiny hands on his thick hips. So. Here we go: What is it that you want?

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