Passion, p.21
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       Passion, p.21

         Part #3 of Fallen series by Lauren Kate
 
Page 21

 

  It was calling to her.

  She answered, reaching inside herself, drawing on that glow to guide the shadow up off the ground.

  The shard of darkness peeled itself off the white snow and took shape as it moved closer. It was deep black, colder than the snow falling all around her, and it swept toward Luce like a giant, dark sheet of paper. Her fingers were cracked and numb with cold as she expanded it into a larger, controlled shape. It emitted that familiar gust of foul-smelling wind from its core. The portal was wide and stable before Luce realized she was out of breath.

  Youre getting good at this, Bill said. There was a strange edge to his voice that Luce didnt waste time analyzing.

  She also didnt waste time feeling proud of herself--though somewhere she could recognize that if Miles or Shelby had been here, theyd have been doing cartwheels right now. It was by far the best summoning shed ever done on her own.

  But they werent here. Luce was on her own, so all she could do was move on to the next life, observe more of Lucinda and Daniel, drink it all in until something began to make sense. She felt around the clammy edges for a latch or a knob, just some way in. Finally, the Announcer creaked open.

  Luce took a deep breath. She looked back at Bill. Are you coming or what? Gravely, he hopped onto her shoulder and grabbed hold of her lapel like the reins on a horse, and the two of them stepped through.

  LHASA, TIBET ? APRIL 30, 1740

  Luce gasped for breath.

  Shed come out of the dark of the Announcer into a swirl of fast-moving fog. The air was thin and cold and every lungful stabbed at her chest. She couldnt seem to catch her breath. The fogs cool white vapor blew her hair back, rode along her open arms, soaked her garments with dew, and then was gone.

  Luce saw that she was standing at the edge of the highest cliff shed ever seen. She wobbled and staggered back, dizzy when she saw her feet dislodge a pebble. It rolled forward a few inches and over the edge, plummeting forever down.

  She gasped again, this time from fear of heights.

  Breathe, Bill coached her. More people pass out up here from panicking over not getting enough oxygen than from actually not getting enough oxygen.

  Luce inhaled carefully. That was slightly better. She lowered the dirty mink on her shoulders and enjoyed the sun on her face. But she still couldnt get used to the view.

  Stretching away from the cliff where she stood was a yawning valley spotted with what looked like farmland and flooded rice paddies. And to either side, rising into misty heights, were two towering mountains.

  Far ahead, carved right into one of the steep mountainsides, was a formidable palace. Majestically white and capped by deep-red roofs, its outer walls were festooned with more staircases than she could count. The palace looked like something out of an ancient fairy tale.

  What is this place? Are we in China? she asked.

  If we stood here long enough, we would be, Bill said. But right now, its Tibet, thanks to the Dalai Lama. Thats his pad over there. He pointed at the monster palace. Swanky, eh?

  But Luce wasnt following his finger. Shed heard a laugh from somewhere nearby and had turned to seek out its source.

  Her laugh. The soft, happy laugh she hadnt known was hers until shed met Daniel.

  She finally spotted two figures a few hundred yards away along the cliff. Shed have to clamber across some boulders to get closer, but it wouldnt be that difficult. She hunched in her muddy coat and started carefully picking her way through the snow, toward the sound.

  Whoa there. Bill grabbed her by the collar of the coat. Do you see any place for us to take cover?

  Luce looked around the bare landscape: all rocky drop-offs and open spaces. Nothing even to serve as shelter from the wind.

  Were above the tree line, pal. And youre small, but you aint invisible. Youre going to have to hang back here.

  But I cant see a thing--

  Coat pocket, Bill said. Youre welcome. She felt around in the pocket of the coat--the same coat shed been wearing at the funeral in Prussia--and pulled out a brand-new, very expensive-looking pair of opera glasses. She didnt bother asking Bill where or when hed got them, she just held them up to her eyes and twisted the focus.

  There.

  The two of them stood facing each other, several feet apart. Her past selfs black hair was knotted in a girlish bun, and her woven linen dress was the pink of an orchid. She looked young and innocent. She was smiling at Daniel, rocking back and forth on her feet like she was nervous, watching his every move with unbounded intensity. Daniels eyes had a teasing look in them; a bunch of round white peonies were in his arms and he was doling them out to her one by one, making her laugh harder each time.

  Watching closely through the opera glasses, Luce noticed that their fingers never touched. They kept a certain distance from each other. Why? It was almost startling.

  In the other lives shed spied upon, Luce had seen so much passion and hunger. But here, it was different. Luces body began to buzz, eager for just one moment of physical connection between them. If she couldnt touch Daniel, at least her old self could.

  But they were just standing there, now walking in circles. Never getting any closer to each other or any farther apart.

  Every once in a while, their laughter would carry over to Luce again.

  Well? Bill kept trying to squish his little face next to Luces so he could look through one of the lenses of the opera glasses. Whats the word?

  Theyre just talking. Theyre flirting kind of like theyre strangers, but at the same time they also seem to know each other really well. I dont get it.

  So theyre taking it slow. Whats wrong with that? Bill asked. Kids today, they just want things to go fast--boom boom BOOM.

  Nothings wrong with taking it slow, I just-- Luce broke off.

  Her past self fell to her knees. She began to rock back and forth, holding her head, then her heart. A horrified look crossed Daniels face. He looked so stiff in his white pants and tunic, like a statue of himself. He shook his head, looking at the sky, his lips mouthing the words No. No. No.

  The girls hazel eyes had gone wild and fiery, like something had possessed her. A high-pitched scream echoed out across the mountains. Daniel fell to the ground and buried his face in his hands. He reached out for her, but his hand hung in the air without ever connecting with her skin. His body crumpled and quaked, and when it mattered most, he looked away.

  Luce was the only one watching as the girl became, out of nowhere, a column of fire. So fast.

  The acrid smoke swirled over Daniel. His eyes were closed. His face glistened--wet with tears. He looked as miserable as he had looked every other time shed watched him watch her die. But this time, he also looked sick with shock. Something was different. Something was wrong.

  When Daniel had first told her about his punishment, hed said there had been some lives in which a single kiss had killed her. Worse, in which something short of a kiss had killed her. A single touch.

  They had not touched. Luce had been watching the whole time. Hed been so careful not to come near her. Did he think he could have her longer by holding back the warmth of his embrace? Did he think he could outwit the curse by holding her always just out of reach?

  He didnt even touch her, she murmured. Bummer, Bill said.

  Never touching her, not once the whole time they were in love. And now hed have to wait it all out again, not knowing whether anything would even be different next time. How could hope live in the face of that kind of defeat? Nothing about this made sense.

  If he didnt touch her, then what triggered her death? She turned to Bill, who tilted his head and looked up into the sky.

  Mountains, he said. Pretty!

  You know something, Luce said. What is it?

  He shrugged. I dont know anything, he said. Or nothing I can tell you.

  A horrible, desolate cry echoed across the valley. The sound of Daniels agony resounded an
d returned, multiplied, as though a hundred Daniels were crying out together. Luce brought the opera glasses back up to her face and saw him dash the flowers in his hands to the ground.

  I have to go to him! she said.

  Too late, Bill said. Here it comes.

  Daniel backed away from the cliff edge. Luces heart pounded for fear of what he was about to do. He certainly wasnt going to sleep. He got a running start, picking up inhuman speed by the time he reached the cliffs edge, and then launched himself into the air.

  Luce waited for his wings to unfurl. She waited for the soft thunder of their grand unfolding, opening wide and catching the air in awesome glory. Shed seen him take flight like this in the past, and every time, it struck her to her core: How desperately she loved him.

  But Daniels wings never shot out from his back. When he reached the edge of the cliff, he went over like any other boy.

  And he fell like any other boy, too.

  Luce screamed, a loud and long and terrified cry, until Bill clapped his dirty stone hand over her mouth. She threw him off, ran to the edge of the cliff, and crawled forward.

  Daniel was still falling. It was a long way down. She watched his body grow smaller and smaller.

  Hell extend his wings, wont he? she gasped. Hell realize that hes going to fall and fall until . . .

  She couldnt even say it.

  No, Bill said.

  But--

  Hell slam right into that ground a couple of thousand feet down, yes, Bill said. Hell break every bone in his body. But dont worry, he cant kill himself. He only wishes he could. He turned to her and sighed. Now do you believe his love?

  Yes, Luce whispered, because all she wanted to do at that moment was plunge off the cliff after him. That was how much she loved him back.

  But it wouldnt do any good.

  They were being so careful. Her voice was strained. We both saw what happened, Bill: nothing. She was so innocent. So how could she have died?

  Bill sputtered a laugh. You think you know everything about her just because you saw the last three minutes of her life from across a mountaintop?

  Youre the one who made me use binoculars . . . oh! She froze. Wait a minute! Something haunted her about the way her past selfs eyes had seemed to change, just for a moment, right at the end. And suddenly, Luce knew: What killed her this time wasnt something I could have witnessed, anyway. . . .

  Bill rolled his claws, waiting for her to finish the thought.

  It was happening inside her.

  He applauded slowly. I think you might be ready now.

  Ready for what?

  Remember what I mentioned to you in Helston? After you talked to Roland?

  You disagreed with him . . . about me getting close to my past selves?

  You still cant rewrite the story, Luce. You cant change the narratives. If you try to--

  I know, it distorts the future. I dont want to change the past. I just need to know what happens-- why I keep dying. I thought it was a kiss, or a touch, or something physical, but it seems more complicated than that.

  Bill yanked the shadow out from behind Luces feet like a bullfighter wielding a red cape. Its edges flickered with silver. Are you ready to put your soul where your mouth is? he asked. Are you ready to go three-D?

  Im ready. Luce punched open the Announcer and braced herself against the briny wind inside. Wait, she said, looking at Bill hovering at her side. Whats three-D?

  Wave of the future, kid, he said.

  Luce gave him a hard stare.

  Okay, theres an unsonorous technical term for it--cleaving--but to me, three-D sounds much more fun. Bill dove inside the dark tunnel and beckoned her with a crooked finger. Trust me, youll love it.

 
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