Passion, p.20
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       Passion, p.20

         Part #3 of Fallen series by Lauren Kate
 
Page 20

 

  Come on, she said, gritting her teeth.

  At last, the Announcer freed itself, zipping off the tree and through the air, floating directly in front of her.

  Easy now, Bill said, hovering above the branch. Desperation and Announcer-travel do not mix well. Like pickles and chocolate.

  Luce stared at him.

  I mean: Dont get so desperate that you lose sight of what you want.

  I want to get out of here, Luce said, but she couldnt coax the shadow into a stable shape, no matter how hard she tried. She wasnt looking at the lovers on the beach, but nonetheless she could feel the darkness gathering in the sky over the beach. It wasnt rain clouds. Help me, Bill?

  He sighed, reaching for the dark mass in the air, and drew it toward him. This is your shadow, you realize. Im manipulating it, but its your Announcer and your past.

  Luce nodded.

  Which means you have no idea where its taking you, and I have no liability.

  She nodded again. Okay, then. He rubbed at a part of the Announcer until it went darker; then he caught the dark spot with a claw and yanked on it. It worked like a sort of doorknob. The stink of mildew flooded out, making Luce cough.

  Yeah, I smell it, too, Bill said. This is an old one. He gestured her forward. Ladies first.

  PRUSSIA ? JANUARY 7, 1758

  A snowflake kissed Luces nose.

  Then another, and another, and more, until a storm of flurries filled the air and the whole world turned white and cold. She exhaled a long cloud of breath into the frost.

  Somehow, shed known they would end up here, even though she wasnt exactly sure where here was. All she knew was that the afternoon skies were dark with a furious storm, and wet snow was seeping through her black leather boots, biting at her toes and chilling her to the bone.

  She was walking into her own funeral.

  Shed felt it in the instant passing through this last Announcer. An oncoming coldness, unforgiving as a sheet of ice. She found herself at the gates of a cemetery, everything blanketed by snow. Behind her was a tree-lined road, the bare branches clawing at the pewter sky. Before her was a low rise of snow-shrouded earth, tombstones and crosses jutting out of the white like jagged, dirty teeth.

  A few feet behind her, someone whistled. You sure youre ready for this? Bill. He sounded out of breath, like hed just caught up with her.

  Yes. Her lips were chattering. She didnt turn around until Bill swooped down near her shoulders.

  Here, he said, holding out a dark mink coat. Thought you might be cold.

  Where did you--

  I yoinked it off a broad coming home from the market back there. Dont worry, she had enough natural padding already.

  Bill!

  Hey, you needed it! He shrugged. Wear it in good health.

  He draped the thick coat over Luces shoulders, and she pulled it closer. It was unbelievably soft and warm. A wave of gratitude rushed over her; she reached up and took his claw, not even caring that it was sticky and cold.

  Okay, Bill said, squeezing her hand. For a moment, Luce felt an odd warmth in her fingertips. But then it was gone, and Bills stone fingers were stone cold. He took a deep, nervous breath. Um. Uh. Prussia, mid-eighteenth century. You live in a small village on the banks of the river Handel. Very nice. He cleared his throat and hacked up a large wad of phlegm before he went on. I should say, er, that you lived. Youve actually, just--well--

  Bill? She craned her neck to look at him sitting hunched forward on her shoulder. Its okay, she said softly. You dont have to explain. Let me just, you know, feel it.

  Thats probably best.

  As Luce walked quietly through the cemetery gates, Bill hung back. He sat cross-legged on top of a lichen-swathed shrine, picking at the grit under his claws. Luce lowered her shawl over her head to obscure more of her face. Up ahead were mourners, black-clad and somber, pressed so tightly together for warmth that they looked like a single mass of grief. Except for one person who stood behind the group and off to one side. He hung his bare blond head.

  No one spoke to or even looked at Daniel. Luce couldnt tell whether he was bothered by being left out or whether he preferred it.

  By the time she reached the back of the small crowd, the burial was drawing to a close. A name was carved into a flat gray tombstone: Lucinda M?ller. A boy, no older than twelve, with dark hair and pale skin and tears streaming down his face, helped his father--her father from this other life?--shovel the first mound of dirt over the grave.

  These men must have been related to her past self. They must have loved her. There were women and children crying behind them; Lucinda M?ller must have meant something to them as well. Maybe shed meant everything to them.

  But Luce Price didnt know these people. She felt callous and strange to realize that they meant nothing to her, even as she saw the pain mar their faces. Daniel was the only one here who really mattered to her, the one she wanted to run to, the one she had to hold herself back from.

  He wasnt crying. He wasnt even staring at the grave like everyone else. His hands were clasped in front of him and he was looking far away--not at the sky, but far into the distance. His eyes were violet one moment, gray the next.

  When the family members had cast a few shovelfuls of dirt over the casket and the plot had been scattered with flowers, the funeral-goers split apart and walked shakily back to the main road. It was over.

  Only Daniel remained. As immobile as the dead.

  Luce hung back, too, dodging behind a squat mausoleum a few plots away, watching to see what he would do.

  It was dusk. They had the graveyard to themselves. Daniel lowered himself to his knees next to Lucindas grave. Snow thrummed down on the cemetery, coating Luces shoulders, fat flakes getting tangled in her eyelashes, wetting the tip of her nose. She edged around the corner of the mausoleum, her entire body tensed.

  Would he lose it? Would he claw at the frozen dirt and pound on the gravestone and bawl until there were no more tears he could shed? He couldnt feel as calm as he looked. It was impossible, a front. But Daniel barely looked at the grave. He lay down on his side in the snow and closed his eyes.

  Luce stared. He was so still and gorgeous. With his eyelids closed, he looked at absolute peace. She was half in love, half confused, and stayed that way for several minutes--until she was so frozen, she had to rub her arms and stamp her feet to warm up.

  What is he doing? she finally whispered.

  Bill appeared behind her and flitted around her shoulders. Looks like hes sleeping.

  But why? I didnt even know angels needed to sleep--

  Need isnt the right word. They can sleep if they feel like it. Daniel always sleeps for days after you die. Bill tossed his head, seeming to recall something unpleasant. Okay, not always. Most of the time. Must be pretty taxing, to lose the one thing you love. Can you blame him?

  S-sort of, Luce stammered. Im the one who bursts into flames.

  And hes the one whos left alone. The age-old question: Which is worse? But he doesnt even look sad. He looked bored the entire funeral. If it were me, Id . . . Id . . .

  Youd what?

  Luce moved toward the grave and stopped short at the loose earth where her plot began. A coffin lay beneath this.

  Her coffin.

  The thought sent shivers up her spine. She sank to her knees and put her palms down in the dirt. It was damp and dark and freezing cold. She buried her hands inside it, feeling frostbitten almost instantly and not caring, welcoming the burn. Shed wanted Daniel to do this, to feel for her body in the earth. To go mad with wanting her back--alive and in his arms.

  But he was just sleeping, so dead asleep that he didnt even sense her kneeling right beside him. She wanted to touch him, to wake him, but she didnt even know what shed say when he opened his eyes.

  Instead, she pawed at the muddy earth, until the flowers laid so neatly on it were scattered and broken, until the beautiful min
k coat was soiled and her arms and face were covered in mud. She dug and dug and tossed the earth aside, reaching deeper for her dead self. She ached for some connection.

  At last her fingers hit something hard: the wooden lid of the coffin. She closed her eyes and waited for the kind of flash shed felt in Moscow, the bolt of memories that had flooded through her when shed touched the abandoned church gate and felt Luschkas life.

  Nothing.

  Just emptiness. Loneliness. A howling white wind.

  And Daniel, asleep and unreachable.

  She sat back on her heels and sobbed. She didnt know a thing about the girl who had died. She felt she never would.

  Yoo-hoo, Bill said quietly from her shoulder. Youre not in there, you know?

  What?

  Think about it. Youre not in there. Youre a fleck of ash by now if youre anything. You didnt have a body to bury, Luce.

  Because of the fire. Oh. But then why . . . ? she asked, then stopped herself. My family wanted this.

  Theyre strict Lutherans. Bill nodded. Every M?ller for a hundred years has a tombstone in this cemetery. So your past self does, too. Theres just nothing under it. Or not quite nothing. Your favorite dress. A childhood doll. Your copy of the Bible. That sort of thing.

  Luce swallowed. No wonder she felt so empty inside. So Daniel--thats why he wasnt looking at the grave.

  Hes the only one who accepts that your soul is someplace else. He stayed because this is the closest place he can go to hold on to your memory. Bill swooped down so close to Daniel that the buzz of his stony wings rustled Daniels hair. Luce almost pushed Bill away. Hell try to sleep until your soul is settled somewhere else. Until youve found your next incarnation.

  How long does that take?

  Sometimes seconds, sometimes years. But he wont sleep for years. As much as hed probably like to.

  Daniels movement on the ground made Luce jump. He stirred in his blanket of snow. An agonized groan escaped his lips.

  Whats happening? Luce said, dropping to her knees and reaching for him.

  Dont wake him! Bill said quickly. His sleep is riddled with nightmares, but its better for him than being awake. Until your soul is settled in a new life, Daniels whole existence is a kind of torture.

  Luce was torn between wanting to ease Daniels pain and trying to understand that waking him up might only worsen it.

  Like I said, on occasion, he sort of has insomnia . . . and thats when it gets really interesting. But you wouldnt want to see that. Nah.

  I would, she said, sitting up. What happens?

  Bills fleshy cheeks twitched, as if hed been caught at something. Well, uh, a lot of times, the other fallen angels are around, he said, not meeting her eyes. They get in and they, you know, try to console him.

  I saw them in Moscow. But thats not what youre talking about. Theres something youre not telling me. What happens when--

  You dont want to see those lives, Luce. Its a side of him--

  Its a side of him that loves me, isnt it? Even if its dark or bad or disturbing, I need to see it. Otherwise I still wont understand what he goes through.

  Bill sighed. Youre looking at me like you need my permission. Your past belongs to you.

  Luce was already on her feet. She glanced around the cemetery until her eyes fell on a small shadow stretching out from the back of her tombstone. There. Thats the one. Luce was startled by her certainty. That had never happened before.

  At first glance this shadow had looked like any of the other shadows she had clumsily summoned in the woods at Shoreline. But this time, Luce could see something in the shadow itself. It wasnt an image depicting any specific destination, but instead a strange silver glow that suggested that this Announcer would take her where her soul needed to go next.

 
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