Passion, p.37
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       Passion, p.37

         Part #3 of Fallen series by Lauren Kate
 
Page 37

 

  The chariot jolted to a stop, and Luce was nearly flung off her seat. Outside, there was a thunderous pounding of horses hooves--which was strange because the kings chariot was standing still.

  Someone else was out there.

  Luce heard a clash of metal and a long, pained grunt. The chariot was jostled roughly. Something heavy thumped to the ground.

  There was more clashing, more grunting, a harsh cry, and another thump on the ground. Her hands trembling, Luce parted the leather curtains the tiniest bit and saw the droopy-eyed solder lying in a pool of blood on the ground beneath.

  The kings chariot had been ambushed.

  The curtains before her were thrust apart by one of the insurgents. The foreign fighter raised his sword.

  Luce couldnt help herself: She screamed.

  The sword faltered in the air--and then, the warmest feeling washed over Luce, flooding her veins, calming her nerves, and slowing the pounding of her heart.

  The fighter on the chariot was De.

  His leather helmet covered his black, shoulder-length hair, but it left his face wonderfully unobstructed. His violet eyes stood out against his clear olive skin. He looked baffled and hopeful at the same time. His sword was drawn, but he held it as if he sensed he shouldnt strike. Quickly, Luce lifted her helmet over her head and flung it onto the seat.

  Her dark hair cascaded down, her locks tumbling all the way to the bottom of her bronze breastplate. Her vision blurred as her eyes filled with tears.

  Lu Xin? De gathered her tightly into his arms. His nose grazed hers and she rested her cheek on his, feeling warm and safe. He seemed unable to stop smiling. She lifted her head and kissed the beautiful curve of his lips. He answered her kiss hungrily, and Luce soaked up every wonderful moment, feeling the weight of his body against hers, wishing there werent so much heavy armor between them.

  Youre the last person I expected to see, De said softly.

  I could say the same for you, she said. What are you doing here?

  When I joined forces with the Zhou rebels, I vowed to kill the king and get you back.

  The king is--Oh, none of that matters anymore, Luce whispered, kissing his cheeks and his eyelids, holding tight around his neck.

  Nothing matters, De said. Except that Im with you.

  Luce thought back to his luminous glow back in Chich?n Itz?. Seeing him in these other lives, in places and times that were so far from home--each one confirmed how much she loved him. The bond between them was unbreakable--it was clear from the way they looked at each other, the way they could read each others thoughts, the way one made the other feel whole.

  But how could she forget the curse they had been suffering through for eternity? And the quest she was on to break it? She had come too far to forget that there were obstacles still in the way of her truly being with Daniel.

  Every life had taught her something so far. Surely this life must hold its own key. If only she knew what to search for.

  We had word the king would arrive here to direct the troops down below, De said. The rebels had planned an ambush of the kings cavalry.

  Theyre on their way, Luce said, remembering Huangs instructions. Theyll be here any moment.

  Daniel nodded. And when they get here, the rebels will expect me to fight.

  Luce winced. Shed been with Daniel twice already when he was gearing up for battle, and both times it had led to something shed never wanted to see again. What should I do while youre--

  Im not going into battle, Lu Xin. What?

  This isnt our war. It never was. We can stay and fight other peoples battles or we can do as we have always done and choose each other over everything else. Do you understand what I mean?

  Yes, she whispered. Lu Xin did not know the deeper meaning of Des words, but Luce was nearly sure that she understood--that Daniel loved her, that she loved him, and that they were choosing to be together.

  They will not let us go easily. The rebels will kill me for deserting. He replaced her helmet on her head. You will have to fight your way out of this, too.

  What? she whispered. I cant fight. I can barely lift this thing--she gestured at the halberd. I cant--

  Yes, he said, imparting profound meaning with the single word. You can.

  The carriage filled with light. For a moment Luce thought that this was it, the moment when her world would ignite, when Lu Xin would die, when her soul would be exiled to the shadows.

  But that didnt happen. The glow shone out of Des chest. It was the glow of Daniels soul. It wasnt as strong or as radiant as it had been at the Mayan sacrifice, but it was just as breathtaking. It reminded Luce of the glow of her own soul when shed first seen Lu Xin. Maybe she was learning to truly see the world as it was. Maybe, at last, illusion was falling away.

  Okay, she said, stuffing her long hair back inside the helmet. Lets go.

  They parted the curtains and stood on the platform of the chariot. Before them, a rebel force of twenty men on horseback waited near a hills edge maybe fifty feet ahead of where the kings chariot had been overtaken. They were dressed in simple peasants clothing, brown trousers and coarse, filthy shirts. Their shields bore the sign of the rat, the symbol of the Zhou army. They were all looking to De for orders.

  From the valley below came the rumbling of hundreds of horses. Luce understood that the entire Shang army was down there, thirsty for blood. She could hear them chanting an old war song Lu Xin had known since she could speak.

  And somewhere behind them, Luce knew that Huang and the rest of the kings private soldiers were on their way to what they thought would be a rendezvous at the overlook. They were riding into a bloodbath, an ambush, and Luce and Daniel had to get away before they arrived.

  Follow my lead, De murmured. We will head for the hills to the west, as far from this battle as our horses can take us.

  He freed one of the horses from the chariot and guided it to Luce. The horse was stunning, black as coal, with a diamond-shaped white patch on its chest. De helped Luce into the saddle and held up the kings halberd in one hand and a crossbow in the other. Luce had never fired or even touched a crossbow in her life, and Lu Xin had only used one once, to scare a lynx away from her baby sisters crib. But the weapon felt light in Luces hands, and she knew that if it came down to it, she could fire it.

  De smiled at her choice and whistled for his horse. A beautiful brindle mare trotted over. He hopped onto its back.

  De! What are you doing? an alarmed voice called from the line of horses. You were to kill the king! Not mount him on one of our horses!

  Yes! Kill the king! a chorus of angry voices called.

  The king is dead! Luce shouted, silencing the soldiers. The feminine voice behind the helmet brought gasps from all of them. They stood frozen, uncertain whether to raise their weapons.

  De drew his horse close to Luces. He took her hands in his. They were warmer and stronger and more reassuring than anything shed ever felt.

  Whatever happens, I love you. Our love is worth everything to me.

  And to me, Luce whispered back.

  De let out a battle cry, and their horses took off at a breakneck pace. The crossbow nearly slipped out of Luces grasp as she lurched forward to clutch the reins.

  Then the rebel soldiers began to shout. Traitors!

  Lu Xin! Des voice rose above the shrillest cry, the heaviest horses hoof. "Go!" He raised his arm high, pointing toward the hills.

  Her horse galloped so fast it was hard to see anything clearly. The world whizzed by in one terrifying whoosh. A tangle of rebel soldiers fell in behind them, their horses hoofbeats as loud as an earthquake that went on forever.

  Until the rebel came at Daniel with his halberd, Luce had forgotten about the crossbow in her hands. Now she raised it effortlessly, still unsure how to use it, knowing only that she would slaughter anyone who tried to hurt Daniel.

  Now.

  She released her arrow.
To her shock, it stopped the rebel dead, knocking him off his horse. He collapsed in a cloud of dust. She gazed back in horror at the dead man with the arrow through his chest lying on the ground.

  Keep going! De called out.

  She swallowed hard, letting her horse guide her. Something was happening. She began to feel lighter in her saddle, as if gravity suddenly had less power over her, as if Des faith in her was propelling her through it all. She could do this. She could escape with him. She slipped another bolt onto the crossbow, fired, and fired again. She didnt aim at anyone except in self-defense, but there were so many soldiers coming at her that she was soon nearly out of arrows. Just two left.

  De! she cried.

  He was almost fully out of his saddle, using an ax to beat down hard on a Shang soldier. Des wings werent extended, but they might as well have been--he seemed lighter than air, yet deadly skillful. Daniel killed his foes so cleanly, their deaths were instantaneous, as close to painless as possible.

  De! she shouted, more loudly.

  At the sound of her voice, his head shot up. Luce leaned over her saddle to show him her nearly empty quiver. He tossed her a hooked sword.

  She caught it by the hilt. It felt strangely natural in her hand. Then she remembered--the fencing lesson shed taken at Shoreline. In her very first match, shed destroyed Lilith, a prissy, cruel classmate whod been fencing all her life.

  Certainly she could do it again.

  Just then, a warrior leaped from his horse onto hers. The sudden weight of him made her mount stumble and made Luce scream, but a moment later, his throat was slit and his body shoved to the ground and the blade of her sword shone with fresh blood.

  There was a warm flush across her chest. Her entire body buzzed. She charged ahead, spurring her horse to full speed, faster and faster until--

  The world went white.

  Then slammed into black.

  Finally it flared through a blaze of brilliant colors.

  She raised her hand to block the light, but it wasnt coming from outside her. Her horse still galloped beneath her. Her dagger was still gripped in her fist, still slashing right and left, into throats, into chests. Enemies still fell at her feet.

  But somehow Luce wasnt quite there anymore. A riot of visions assaulted her mind, visions that must have belonged to Lu Xin--and then some visions that couldnt possibly have belonged to Lu Xin.

  She saw Daniel hovering over her in his simple peasants clothes . . . but then, a moment later, he was bare-chested, with long blond hair . . . and suddenly he wore a knights helmet, whose visor he lifted to kiss her lips . . . but before he did, he shifted into his present self, the Daniel shed left in her parents backyard in Thunderbolt when she stepped through into time.

  This was the Daniel, she realized, shed been looking for all along. She reached for him, she called his name, but then he changed again. And again. She saw more Daniels than shed ever thought possible, each one more gorgeous than the last. They folded into each other like a vast accordion, each image of him tilting and altering in the light of the sky behind him. The cut of his nose, the line of his jawbone, the tone of his skin, the shape of his lips, all whirled in and out of focus, morphing all the time. Everything changed except his eyes.

  His violet eyes always stayed the same. They haunted her, hiding something terrible, something she didnt understand. Something she didnt want to understand.

  Fear?

  In the visions, the terror in Daniels eyes was so intense Luce actually wanted to look away from their beauty. What could someone as powerful as Daniel fear?

  There was only one thing: Luces dying.

  She was experiencing a montage of her death over and over and over again. This was what Daniels eyes looked like, throughout time, just before her life went up in flames. She had seen this fear in him before. She hated it because it always meant their time was over. She saw it now in every one of his faces. The fear flashed from infinite times and places. Suddenly, she knew there was more:

 
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