Passion, p.40
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       Passion, p.40

         Part #3 of Fallen series by Lauren Kate
Page 40


  Bill led Luce quickly down the dark hallway, up a short flight of sandstone stairs, and across another hall lit by small tin lamps and lined with clay figures of hawks and hippopotamuses. A pair of guards turned into the hallway, but before they could see Luce, Bill pushed her through a doorway covered by a reed curtain.

  She found herself in a bedroom. Stone columns carved to look like bundled papyrus stems rose to a low ceiling. A wooden sedan chair inlaid with ebony sat by an open window opposite a narrow bed, which was carved of wood and painted with so much gold leaf that it gleamed.

  What do I do now? Luce pressed against the wall in case anyone walking by peered in. Where are we? This is the commanders chamber.

  Before Luce could piece together that Bill meant Daniel, a woman parted the reed curtain and stepped into the room.

  Luce shivered.

  Layla wore a white dress with the same narrow cut as the one Luce had on. Her hair was thick and straight and glossy. She had a white peony tucked behind one ear.

  With a heavy feeling of sadness, Luce watched Layla glide to the wooden vanity and pour fresh oil into the lamp from a canister she carried on a black resin tray. This was the last life Luce would visit, the body where she would part ways with her soul so that all of this could end.

  When Layla turned to refill the lamps beside the bed, she noticed Luce.

  Hello, she said in a soft, husky voice. Are you looking for someone? The kohl rimming her eyes looked much more natural than Ausets makeup.

  Yes, I am. Luce wasted no time. Just as she reached forward to grab the girls wrist, Layla looked past her toward the doorway, and her face stiffened with alarm. Who is that?

  Luce turned and saw only Bill. His eyes were wide.

  You can--she gaped at Layla--you can see him?

  No! Bill said. Shes talking about the footsteps she hears running down the corridor outside. Better hurry, Luce.

  Luce swiveled back and took her past selfs warm hand, knocking the canister of oil to the ground. Layla gasped and tried to jerk away, but then it happened.

  The feeling of the sinkhole opening in Luces stomach was almost familiar. The room swirled, and the only thing in focus was the girl standing before her. Her inky-black hair and gold-flecked eyes, the flush of love fresh on her cheeks. Foggily, Luce blinked, and Layla blinked, and on the other side of the blink--

  The ground settled. Luce looked down at her hands. Laylas hands. They were trembling.

  Bill was gone. But hed been right: There were footsteps in the hallway.

  She dipped to pick up the canister and turned away from the door to start pouring oil into the lamp. Best not to be seen by anyone who passed doing anything but her job.

  The footsteps behind her stopped. A warm brush of fingertips traveled up her arms as a firm chest pressed against her back. Daniel. She could sense his glow without even turning. She closed her eyes. His arms wrapped around her waist and his soft lips swept across her neck, stopping just below her ear.

  I found you, he whispered.

  She turned slowly in his arms. The sight of him took her breath away. He was still her Daniel, of course, but his skin was the color of rich hot chocolate, and his wavy black hair was cropped very short. He wore only a short linen loincloth, leather sandals, and a silver choker around his neck. His deep-set violet eyes swept over her, happy.

  He and Layla were deeply in love.

  She rested her cheek on his chest and counted the beats of his heart. Would this be the last time she did this, the last time he held her against his heart? She was about to do the right thing--the good thing for Daniel. But still it pained her to think about it. She loved him! If this journey had taught her anything, it was how much she truly loved Daniel Grigori. It hardly seemed fair that she was forced to make this decision. Yet here she was.

  In ancient Egypt.

  With Daniel. For the very last time. She was about to set him free.

  Her eyes blurred with tears as he kissed the part in the center of her hair.

  I wasnt sure wed have a chance to say goodbye, he said. I leave this afternoon for the war in Nubia.

  When Luce lifted her head, Daniel cupped her damp cheeks in his hands. Layla, Ill return before the harvest. Please dont cry. In no time youll be sneaking back into my bedchamber in the dark of night with platters of pomegranates just like always. I promise.

  Luce took a deep, shuddering breath. Goodbye.

  Goodbye for now. His face grew serious. Say it: Goodbye for now.

  She shook her head. Goodbye, my love. Goodbye.

  The reed curtain parted. Layla and Don broke from their embrace as a cluster of guards with their spears drawn barreled into the room. Kafele led them, his face dark with rage. Get the girl, he said, pointing at Luce.

  Whats going on? Daniel shouted as the guards surrounded Luce and reshackled her hands. I order you to stop. Unhand her.

  Sorry, Commander, Kafele said. Pharaohs orders. You should know by now--when Pharaohs daughter is not happy, Pharaoh is not happy.

  They marched Luce away as Daniel shouted, Ill come for you, Layla! Ill find you!

  Luce knew he would. Wasnt that how it always played out? They met, she got into trouble, and he showed up and saved the day--year in and year out across eternity, the angel swooping in at the last minute to rescue her. It was tiring to think about.

  But this time when he got there, she would have the starshot waiting. The thought sent a raw pain through her gut. A well of tears rose up inside her again, but she swallowed them. At least she had gotten to say goodbye.

  The guards ushered her down an endless series of hallways and outside into the blistering sun. They marched her down streets made of uneven slabs of rock, through a monumental arched gate, and past small sandstone houses and shimmering silty farmland on the way out of the city. They were dragging her toward an enormous golden hill.

  Only as they drew near did Luce realize it was a man-made structure. The necropolis, she realized at the same time that Laylas mind became jumbled with fear. Every Egyptian knew this was the tomb of the last pharaoh, Meni. No one except a few of the holiest priests--and the dead--dared approach the place where the royal bodies were interred. It was locked with spells and incantations, some to guide the dead in their journey toward the next life, and some to ward off any living being who dared approach. Even the guards dragging her there seemed to grow nervous as they approached.

  Soon they were entering a pyramid-shaped tomb made of baked mud bricks. All but two of the burliest guards remained outside the entrance. Kafele shoved Luce through a darkened doorway and down a darker flight of stairs. The other guard followed them, carrying a flaming torch to light their path.

  The torchlight flickered on the stone walls. They were painted with hieroglyphics, and now and then Laylas eyes caught bits of prayers to Tait, the goddess of weaving, asking for help to keep the pharaohs soul in one piece during his journey to the afterlife. Every few steps they passed false doors--deep stone recesses in the walls. Some of them, Luce realized, had once been entryways leading to the final resting places of members of the royal family. They were now sealed off with stone and gravel so that no mortal could pass.

  Their way grew cooler; it grew darker. The air became heavy with the faded must of death. When they neared the one open doorway at the end of the hallway, the guard with the torch would go no farther--I will not be cursed by the gods for this girls insolence--so Kafele did it himself. He wrestled aside the stone bolt that pinned the door, and a harsh, vinegary smell flooded out, poisoning the air.

  Think you have any hope of escape now? he asked, releasing her wrists from the shackles and shoving her inside.

  Yes, Luce whispered to herself as the heavy stone door shut behind her and the bolt thudded back into place. Only one.

  She was alone in utter darkness, and the cold clawed at her skin.

  Then something snapped--stone on stone, so re
cognizable--and a small golden light bloomed in the center of the room. It was cupped between the two stone hands of Bill.

  Hello, hello. He floated to the side of the room and poured the ball of fire out of his hands and into an opulently painted purple-and-green stone lamp. We meet again.

  As Luces eyes adjusted, the first thing she saw was the writing on the walls: They were painted with the same hieroglyphics as in the hallway, only this time they were prayers to the pharaoh--"Do not decay. Do not rot. Stride into the Imperishable Stars. " There were chests that wouldnt close because they overflowed with gold coins and sparkling orange gems. An enormous collection of obelisks spread out before her. At least ten embalmed dogs and cats seemed to eye her.

  The chamber was huge. She circled a set of bedroom furniture, complete with a vanity stacked with cosmetics. There was a votive palette with a two-headed serpent chiseled on its face. The interlocking necks formed a recess in the black stone, which held a circle of bright blue eye shadow.

  Bill watched Luce pick it up. Gotta look ones best in the afterlife.

  He was sitting atop the head of a startlingly lifelike sculpture of the former pharaoh. Laylas mind told Luce that this sculpture represented the pharaohs ka, his soul, and it would watch over the tomb-- the real pharaoh lay mummified behind it. Inside the limestone sarcophagus would be nested wooden coffins; inside the smallest one of them: the embalmed pharaoh.

  Watch out, Bill said. Luce hadnt even realized she was resting her hands on a small wooden chest. That contains the pharaohs entrails.

  Luce jerked away and slid the star shot out from her dress. When she picked it up, its shaft warmed her fingers. Is this really going to work?

  If you pay attention and do as I say, Bill said. Now, the soul resides directly in the center of your being. To reach it, you must draw the blade precisely down the middle of your chest, right at the critical moment, right when Daniel kisses you and you feel yourself start to cook. Then you, Lucinda Price, will be flung out of your past self, as usual, but your cursed soul will be trapped in Laylas body, where it will burn up and be gone.

  Im--Im afraid.

  Dont be. Its like having your appendix out. Youre better off without it. Bill looked at his empty gray wrist. By my watch, Don will be here any moment.

  Luce held the silver arrow so that its blade pointed at her breast. The swirling etched designs tingled under her fingers. Her hands quaked with nerves.

  Steady now. Bills earnest call sounded far away.

  Luce was trying to pay attention, but her heart was pounding in her ears. She had to do this. She had to. For Daniel. To free him from a punishment hed taken on only because of her.

  Youll have to do it a lot faster than that during the real thing or Daniel will surely stop you. One quick slit on your soul. You will feel something loosen, a breath of coldness, and then--bam!

  "Layla!" Don bounded into her sight. The door behind her was still bolted. Where had he come from?

  The starshot tumbled from her hands and clattered to the floor. She snatched it up and slipped it back inside her dress. Bill was gone. But Don was--Daniel was right where she wanted him to be.

  What are you doing here? Her voice broke with the force of having to act surprised to see him.

  He didnt seem to hear it. He rushed toward her and wrapped her in his arms. Saving your life.

  How did you get in?

  Dont worry about that. No mortal man, no slab of stone can obstruct a love as true as ours. I will always find you.

  In his bare, bronzed arms, it was Luces instinct to feel comforted. But she couldnt right then. Her heart felt ragged and cold. This easy happiness, these feelings of complete trust, every one of the lovely emotions Daniel had shown her how to feel in every life--they were torture to her now.

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