Passion, p.30
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       Passion, p.30
 

         Part #3 of Fallen series by Lauren Kate
Page 30

 

  So he repeated what had happened to him nine hundred years before. He would make amends tonight by joining with--no, overriding his past.

  Cleaving.

  It was the only way.

  He rolled back his shoulders, unleashed his trembling wings into the darkness. He could feel them catch the wind at his back. An aurora of light painted the sky a hundred feet above him. It was bright enough to blind a mortal, bright enough to catch the attention of seven squabbling angels.

  Commotion from the other side of the boulder. Shouting and gasps and the beat of wings coming closer.

  Daniel propelled himself off the ground, flying fast and hard so that he soared over the boulder just as Cam came around behind it. They missed each other by a wingspan, but Daniel kept moving, swooped down upon his past self as fast as his love for Luce could take him.

  His past self drew back and held out his hands, warding Daniel off.

  All the angels knew the risks of cleaving. Once joined, it was nearly impossible to free oneself from ones past self, to separate two lives that had been cloven together. But Daniel knew hed been cloven in the past and had survived. So he had to do it.

  He was doing it to help Luce.

  He pressed his wings together and dove down at his past self, striking so hard he should have been crushed--if he hadnt been absorbed. He shuddered, and his past self shuddered, and Daniel clamped his eyes shut and gritted his teeth to withstand the strange, sharp sickness that flooded his body. He felt as if he were tumbling down a hill: reckless and unstoppable. No way back up until he hit the bottom.

  Then all at once, everything came to a stop.

  Daniel opened his eyes and could hear only his breathing. He felt tired but alert. The others were staring at him. He couldnt be sure whether they had any idea what had just happened. They all looked afraid to come near him, even to speak to him.

  He spread his wings and spun in a full circle, tilting his head toward the sky. I choose my love for Lucinda, he called to Heaven and Earth, to the angels all around him and the ones who werent there. To the soul of the one true thing he loved the most, wherever she was. I now reaffirm my choice: I choose Lucinda over everything. And I will until the end.

  Chapter Fifteen

  THE SACRIFICE

  CHICHN ITZ, MESOAMERICA 5 WAYEB

  The Announcer spat Luce into the swelter of a summer day. Beneath her feet, the ground was parched, all cracked earth and tawny, dried-up blades of grass. The sky was barren blue, not a single cloud to promise rain. Even the wind seemed thirsty.

  She stood in the center of a flat field bordered on three sides by a strange, high wall. From this distance, it looked a little like a mosaic made of giant beads. They were irregularly shaped, not spherical exactly, ranging in color from ivory to light brown. Here and there were tiny cracks between the beads, letting in light from the other side.

  Besides a half dozen vultures cawing as they swooped in listless circles, no one else was around. The wind blew hotly through her hair and smelled like . . . she couldnt place the smell, but it tasted metallic, almost rusty.

  The heavy gown she had been wearing since the ball at Versailles was soaked with sweat. It stank of smoke and ash and perspiration every time she breathed in. It had to go. She struggled to reach the laces and buttons. She could use a hand--even a tiny stone one.

  Where was Bill, anyway? He was always disappearing. Sometimes Luce got the feeling the gargoyle had an agenda of his own, and that she was being shuffled forward according to his schedule.

  She wrestled with the dress, tearing at the green lace around the collar, popping hooks as she walked. Thankfully, there was no one around to see. Finally she got down on her knees and shimmied free, pulling the skirts over her head.

  As she sat back on her heels in her thin cotton shift, it hit Luce how exhausted she was. How long had it been since shed slept? She stumbled toward the shade of the wall, her feet rustling through the brittle grass, thinking maybe she could lie down for a little while and close her eyes.

  Her eyelids fluttered, so sleepy.

  Then they shot open. And her skin began to crawl.

  Heads.

  Luce finally realized what the wall was made of. The bone-colored palisades--halfway innocent- looking from afar--were interlocking racks of impaled human heads.

  She stifled a scream. Suddenly she could place the odor being carried in the wind--it was the stench of rot and spilled blood, of putrefying flesh.

  Along the bottom of the palisades were sun-bleached, weathered skulls, whipped white and clean by the wind and the sun. Along the top, the skulls looked fresher. That is, they were still clearly peoples heads--thick manes of black hair, skin mostly intact. But the skulls in the middle were someplace between mortal and monster: The frayed skin was peeling back, leaving dried brown blood on bone. The faces were stretched tight with what might have been terror or rage.

  Luce staggered away, hoping for a breath of air that didnt stink of rot, but not finding it.

  Its not quite as gruesome as it looks.

  She whirled around, terrified. But it was only Bill.

  Where were you? Where are we?

  Its actually a great honor to get staked out like this, he said, marching right up to the next-to- lowest row. He looked one head in the eye. All these innocent little lambs go straight to Heaven. Just what the faithful desire.

  Why did you leave me here with these--

  Aw, come on. They wont bite. He eyed her sidelong. What have you done with your clothes?

  Luce shrugged. Its hot.

  He sighed lengthily, with a put-upon world-weariness. Now ask me where Ive been. And this time, try to keep the judgment out of your voice.

  Her mouth twitched. There was something sketchy about Bills occasional disappearances. But he was standing there now, with his little claws tucked neatly behind his back, giving her an innocent smile. She sighed. Where have you been?

  Shopping! Bill gleefully extended both his wings, revealing a light-brown wraparound skirt hanging off one wing tip and a short matching tunic hanging off the other. And the coup de gr?ce! he said, withdrawing from behind his back a chunky white necklace. Bone.

  She took the tunic and the skirt but waved off the necklace. Shed seen enough bone. No, thanks.

  Do you want to blend in? Then youve got to wear the goods.

  Swallowing her disgust, she slipped it over her head. The polished bone pieces had been strung along some kind of fiber. The necklace was long and heavy and, Luce had to admit, sort of pretty.

  And I think this--he gave her a painted metal band--goes in your hair.

  Where did you get all this stuff? she asked.

  Its yours. I mean, its not yours-Lucinda-Price, but it is yours in a larger cosmic sense. It belongs to the you that is part of this lifetime--Ix Cuat.

  Ix who?

  Ix Cuat. Your name in this life meant Little Snake. Bill watched her face change. It was a term of endearment in the Mayan culture. Sort of.

  The same way getting your head impaled on a stick was an honor?

  Bill rolled his stone eyes. Stop being so ethnocentric. That means thinking your own culture is superior to other cultures.

  I know what it means, she said, working the band into her dirty hair. But Im not being superior. I just dont think having my head stuck on one of these racks would be so great. There was a faint thrumming in the air, like faraway drumbeats.

  Thats exactly the sort of thing Ix Cuat would say! You always were a little bit backward!

  What do you mean?

  See, you--Ix Cuat--were born during the Wayeb, which are these five odd days at the end of the Mayan year that everyone gets real superstitious about because they dont fit into the calendar. Kind of like leap-year days. Its not exactly lucky to be born during Wayeb. So no one was shocked when you grew up to be an old maid.

  Old maid? Luce asked. I thought I never live past s
eventeen . . . more or less.

  Seventeen here in Chich?n Itz? is ancient, Bill said, floating from head to head, his wings humming as they fluttered. But its true, you never used to live much past seventeen or thereabouts. Its been kind of a mystery as to why in the lifetime of Lucinda Price youve managed to stick around so long.

  Daniel said it was because I wasnt baptized. Now Luce was sure she heard drums--and that they were drawing closer. But how can that matter? I mean, I bet Ix Ca-whatever was baptized--

  Bill flapped his hand dismissively. Baptism is just one word for a kind of sacrament or covenant, in which your soul is more or less claimed. Just about every faith has something similar. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, even the Mayan religion that is about to go marching past--he nodded toward the drumming, which was now so loud that Luce wondered if they should hide--they all feature sacraments of some kind in which one expresses ones devotion to ones god.

  So Im alive in my current life in Thunderbolt because my parents didnt have me baptized?

  No, Bill said, youre able to be killed in your current life in Thunderbolt because your parents didnt have you baptized. Youre alive in your current life because, well . . . no one really knows why.

  There must have been a reason. Maybe it was the loophole Daniel had spoken about in the hospital in Milan. But even he didnt seem to understand how Luce was able to travel through the Announcers. With every life she visited, Luce could feel herself getting closer to fitting the pieces of her past together . . . but she wasnt there yet.

  Wheres the village? she asked. Where are the people? Wheres Daniel? The drums grew so loud that she had to raise her voice.

  Oh, Bill said, theyre on the other side of the tzompantlis.

  The what?

  This wall of heads. Come on--youve got to see this!

  Through the open spaces in the racks of skulls, flashes of color danced. Bill herded Luce to the edge of the skull wall and gestured for her to look.

  Beyond the wall, a whole civilization paraded past. A long line of people danced and beat their feet against a broad packed-dirt road that wound through the bone-yard. They had silky black hair and skin the color of chestnuts. They ranged in age from three to old enough to defy guessing. All of them were vibrant and beautiful and strange. Their clothes were sparse, weathered animal hides that barely covered their flesh, showing off tattoos and painted faces. It was the most remarkable body art-- elaborate, colorful depictions of brightly feathered birds, suns, and geometric designs splayed across their backs and arms and chests.

  In the distance, there were buildings--an orderly grid of bleached-stone structures and a cluster of smaller buildings with flat thatched roofs. Beyond that, there was jungle, but the leaves of its trees looked withered and brittle.

  The crowd marched past, blind to Luce, caught up in the frenzy of their dance. Come on! Bill said, and shoved her out into the flow of people.

  What? she shouted. Go in there? With them?

  Itll be fun! Bill cackled, flying ahead. You know how to dance, dont you?

  Cautiously at first, she and the little gargoyle joined the parade as they passed through what looked like a marketplace--a long, narrow strip of land packed with wooden casks and bowls full of goods for sale: dimply black avocados, deep red stalks of maize, dried herbs bundled with twine, and many other things Luce didnt recognize. She turned her head this way and that to see as much as possible as she passed, but there was no way to stop. The surge of the crowd pushed her inexorably forward.

  The Mayans followed the road as it curved down onto a wide, shallow plain. The roar of their dance faded, and they gathered quietly, murmuring to one another. They numbered in the hundreds. At the repeated pressure of Bills sharp claws on her shoulders, Luce lowered herself to her knees like the rest of them and followed the crowds gaze upward.

 
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