Passion, p.4
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       Passion, p.4

         Part #3 of Fallen series by Lauren Kate
 
Page 4

 

  This time, there was no barrier. Maybe because she was traveling alone, through an Announcer summoned of her own fierce will. But the way out was so easy. Almost too easy. The veil of blackness simply parted.

  A blast of cold tore into her, making her knees lock with the chill. Her ribs stiffened and her eyes teared in the sharp, sudden wind.

  Where was she?

  Luce already regretted her panicked jump through time. Yes, she needed an escape, and yes, she wanted to trace her past, to save her former selves from all the pain, to understand what kind of love shed had with Daniel all those other times. To feel it instead of being told about it. To understand--and then fix--whatever curse had been inflicted on Daniel and her.

  But not like this. Frozen, alone, and completely unprepared for wherever, whenever she was.

  She could see a snowy street in front of her, a steel-gray sky above white buildings. She could hear something rumbling in the distance. But she didnt want to think about what any of it meant.

  Wait, she whispered to the Announcer.

  The shadow drifted hazily a foot or so beyond her fingertips. She tried to grasp it, but the Announcer eluded her, flicking farther away. She leaped for it, and caught a tiny damp piece of it between her fingers-- But then, in an instant, the Announcer shattered into soft black fragments on the snow. They faded, then were gone.

  Great, she muttered. Now what?

  In the distance, the narrow road curved left to meet a shadowy intersection. The sidewalks were piled high with shoveled snow, which had been packed against two long banks of white stone buildings. They were striking, unlike anything Luce had ever seen, a few stories tall, with their entire fa?ades carved into rows of bright white arches and elaborate columns.

  All the windows were dark. Luce got the sense that the whole city might be dark. The only light came from a single gas streetlamp. If there was any moon, it was hidden by a thick blanket of cloud. Again something rumbled in the sky. Thunder?

  Luce hugged her arms around her chest. She was freezing.

  Luschka!

  A womans voice. Hoarse and raspy, like someone whod spent her whole life barking orders. But the voice was trembling, too.

  Luschka, you idiot. Where are you?

  She sounded closer now. Was she talking to Luce? There was something else about that voice, something strange that Luce couldnt quite put into words.

  When a figure came hobbling around the snowy street corner, Luce stared at the woman, trying to place her. She was very short and a little hunched over, maybe in her late sixties. Her bulky clothes seemed too big for her body. Her hair was tucked under a thick black scarf. When she saw Luce, her face scrunched into a complicated grimace.

  Where have you been?

  Luce looked around. She was the only other person on the street. The old woman was speaking to her.

  Right here, she heard herself say.

  In Russian.

  She clapped a hand over her mouth. So that was what had seemed so bizarre about the old womans voice: She was speaking a language Luce had never learned. And yet, not only did Luce understand every word, but she could speak it back.

  I could kill you, the woman said, breathing heavily as she rushed toward Luce and threw her arms around her.

  For such a frail-looking woman, her embrace was strong. The warmth of another body pressing into Luce after so much intense cold made her almost want to cry. She hugged back hard.

  Grandma? she whispered, her lips close to the womans ear, somehow knowing that was who the woman was.

  Of all the nights I get off work to find you gone, the woman said. Now youre skipping around in the middle of the street like a lunatic? Did you even go to work today? Where is your sister?

  There was the rumbling in the sky again. It sounded like a bad storm moving closer. Moving fast. Luce shivered and shook her head. She didnt know.

  Aha, the woman said. Not so carefree now. She squinted at Luce, then pushed her away to get a closer look. My God, what are you wearing?

  Luce fidgeted as her past lifes grandmother gaped at her jeans and ran her knobby fingers over the buttons of Luces flannel shirt. She grabbed Luces short, tangled ponytail. Sometimes I think you are as crazy as your father, may he rest in peace.

  I just-- Luces teeth were chattering. I didnt know it was going to be so cold.

  The woman spat on the snow to show her disapproval. She peeled off her overcoat. Take this before you catch your death. She bundled the coat roughly around Luce, whose fingers were half frozen as she struggled to button it. Then her grandmother untied the scarf from her neck and wrapped it around Luces head.

  A great boom in the sky startled both of them. Now Luce knew it wasnt thunder. What is that? she whispered.

  The old woman stared at her. The war, she muttered. Did you lose your wits along with your clothes? Come now. We must go.

  As they waded down the snowy street, over the rough cobbles and the tram tracks set into them, Luce realized that the city wasnt empty after all. Few cars were parked along the road, but occasionally, down the darkened side streets, she heard the whinnies of carriage horses waiting for orders, their frosty breaths clotting the air. Silhouetted bodies scampered across rooftops. Down an alley, a man in a torn overcoat helped three small children through the hatched doors of a basement.

  At the end of the narrow street, the road opened onto a broad, tree-lined avenue with a wide view of the city. The only cars parked here were military vehicles. They looked old-fashioned, almost absurd, like relics in a war museum: soft-top jeeps with giant fenders, bone-thin steering wheels, and the Soviet hammer and sickle painted onto the doors. But aside from Luce and her grandmother, there were no people on this street. Everything--except for the awful rumbling in the sky--was ghostly, eerily quiet.

  In the distance, she could see a river, and far across it, a great building. Even in the darkness, she could make out its elaborate tiered spires and ornate onion-shaped domes, which seemed familiar and mythic at the same time. It took a moment to sink in--and then fear shot through Luce.

  She was in Moscow.

  And the city was a war zone.

  Black smoke rose in the gray sky, marking the pockets of the city that had already been hit: to the left of the vast Kremlin, and just behind it, and again in the distance to the far right. There was no combat on the streets, no sign that enemy soldiers had crossed into the city yet on foot. But the flames licking the charred buildings, the incendiary smell of war everywhere, and the threat of more to come were somehow even worse.

  This was by far the most messed-up thing Luce had ever done in her life--probably in any of her lives. Her parents would kill her if they knew where she was. Daniel might never speak to her again.

  But then: What if they didnt even have the chance to be furious with her? She could die, right here in this war zone.

  Why had she done this?

  Because shed had to. It was hard to unearth that small hint of pride in the midst of her panic. But it must have been there somewhere.

  Shed stepped through. On her own. Into a distant place and a faraway time, into the past she needed to understand. This was what shed wanted. Shed been pushed around like a chess piece long enough.

  But what was she supposed to do now? She picked up her pace and held tight to her grandmothers hand. Strange, this woman had no real sense of what Luce was going through, no real idea of who she even was, and yet the tug of her dry grip was the only thing keeping Luce moving.

  Where are we going? Luce asked as her grandmother yanked her down another darkened street. The cobblestones tapered off and the road became unpaved and slippery. The snow had soaked through the canvas of Luces tennis shoes, and her toes were starting to burn with the cold.

  To collect your sister, Kristina. The old woman scowled. The one who works nights digging army trenches with her bare hands so you can get your beauty rest. Remember her?

&nb
sp; Where they stopped, there was no streetlamp to light the road. Luce blinked a few times to help her eyes adjust. They were standing in front of what looked like a very long ditch, right in the middle of the city.

  There must have been a hundred people there. All of them bundled up to their ears. Some were down on their knees, digging with shovels. Some were digging with their hands. Some stood as if frozen, watching the sky. A few soldiers carted off heavy loads of earth and rock in splintery wheelbarrows and farm carts to add to the rubble barricade at the end of the street. Their bodies were hidden under thick army-issue wool coats that billowed out around their knees, but beneath their steel hats, their faces were as gaunt as any of the civilians. Lucinda understood that they were all working together, the men in uniform and the women and children, turning their city into a fortress, doing anything they could, down to the very last minute, to keep the enemy tanks out.

  Kristina, her grandmother called, the same notes of panic-washed love in her voice as when shed been looking for Luce.

  A girl appeared at their side almost instantly. What took you so long?

  Tall and thin, with dark strands of hair escaping from under the porkpie hat on her head, Kristina was so beautiful, Luce had to swallow a lump in her throat. She recognized the girl as family right away.

  Seeing Kristina reminded Luce of Vera, another past lifes sister. Luce must have had a hundred sisters across time. A thousand. All of them would have gone through something similar. Sisters and brothers and parents and friends whom Luce must have loved, then lost. None of them had known what was coming. All of them had been left behind to grieve.

  Maybe there was a way to change that, to make it easier on the people whod loved her. Maybe that was part of what Luce could do in her past lives.

  The great boom of something exploding sounded across town. Close enough that the ground rocked under Luces feet and her right eardrum felt like it was splitting. On the corner, air-raid sirens started going off.

  Baba. Kristina took hold of her grandmothers arm. She was near tears. The Nazis--theyre here, arent they?

  The Germans. Luces first time stepping through time on her own and shed landed smack in World War II. Theyre attacking Moscow? Her voice wobbled. Tonight?

  We should have left town with the others, Kristina said bitterly. Now it is too late.

  And abandoned your mother and your father and your grandfather, too? Baba shook her head. Left them alone in their graves?

  Better we should join them in the cemetery? Kristina spat back. She reached for Luce, squeezing her arm. Did you know about the raid? You and your kulak friend? Is that why you didnt come to work this morning? You were with him, werent you?

  What did her sister think Luce could possibly have known? Who would she have been with?

  Who but Daniel?

  Of course. Luschka must be with him right now. And if her own family members were confusing that Luschka with Luce . . .

  Her chest constricted. How much time did she have left before she died? What if Luce could find Luschka before it happened?

  "Luschka. "

  Her sister and grandmother were staring at her.

  Whats wrong with her tonight? Kristina asked.

  "Lets go. " Baba scowled. You think the Moscovitches are going to hold open their basement forever?

  The long drone of a fighter planes propellers sounded over them in the sky. Close enough that when Luce looked up, the dark swastika painted on the underside of its wings was clear. It sent a shiver through her. Then another boom rocked the city, and the air grew caustic with dark smoke. Theyd hit something nearby. Two more massive explosions made the ground shudder beneath her feet.

 
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