Passion, p.5
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       Passion, p.5

         Part #3 of Fallen series by Lauren Kate
 
Page 5

 

  It was chaos on the street. The crowd at the trenches was disappearing, everyone scattering up a dozen narrow streets. Some hustled down the stairs of the metro station on the corner to wait out the bombs underground; others disappeared into dark doorways.

  A block away, Luce caught a glimpse of someone running: a girl, about her age, in a red hat and a long wool coat. She turned her head for just a second before she sprinted on. But it was long enough for Luce to know.

  There she was.

  Luschka.

  She wrestled free of Babas arm. Im sorry. I have to go.

  Luce took a deep breath and ran down the street, straight into the roiling smoke, toward the heaviest bombing.

  Are you crazy? Kristina yelled. But they didnt follow her. They would have had to be crazy themselves.

  Luces feet were numb as she tried to run through the calf-high snow on the sidewalk. When she reached the corner where shed seen her red-hatted past self dash by, she slowed. Then she sucked in her breath.

  A building that took up half of the city block directly in front of her had caved in. White stone was streaked with black ash. A fire churned deep inside the crater in the buildings side.

  The explosion had spat out heaps of unrecognizable debris from inside the building. The snow was streaked with red. Luce recoiled until she realized that the red streaks were not blood but shreds of red silk. It must have been a tailors shop. Several badly singed racks of clothes were scattered in the street. A mannequin lay on its side in a ditch. It was on fire. Luce had to cover her mouth with her grandmothers scarf to keep from choking on the fumes. Everywhere she stepped, shattered glass and stone cut into the snow.

  She should turn back, find the grandmother and sister who would help her get to shelter, but she couldnt. She had to find Luschka. Shed never been so close to one of her past selves before. Luschka might be able to help her understand why Luces own lifetime was different. Why Cam had shot a starshot into her reflection, thinking it was her, and told Daniel, It was a better end for her. A better end than what?

  She slowly turned around, trying to spot the flash of the red hat in the night.

  There.

  The girl was running downhill toward the river. Luce started running, too.

  They ran at precisely the same pace. When Luce ducked at the sound of an explosion, Luschka ducked, too--in a weird echo of Luces own movement. And when they reached the riverbank, and the city came into view, Luschka froze into the exact same rigid stance as Luce herself.

  Fifty yards in front of Luce, her mirror image began to sob.

  So much of Moscow was burning. So many homes were being leveled. Luce tried to fathom the other lives being destroyed across the city tonight, but they felt distant and unreachable, like something shed read about in a history book.

  The girl was on the move again. Running so fast Luce couldnt have caught her if shed wanted to. They ran around giant craters cut into the cobblestone road. They ran past burning buildings, crackling with the awful racket a fire makes when it spreads to a new target. They ran past smashed, overturned military trucks, blackened arms hanging out at the sides.

  Then Luschka hooked left down a street and Luce couldnt see her anymore.

  Adrenaline kicked in. Luce pressed forward, her feet pounding harder, faster on the snowy street. People only ran this fast when they were desperate. When something bigger than them spurred them on.

  Luschka could only be running toward one thing.

  Luschka--

  His voice.

  Where was he? For a moment, Luce forgot her past self, forgot the Russian girl whose life was in danger of ending at any moment, forgot that this Daniel wasnt her Daniel, but then--

  Of course he was.

  He never died. He had always been there. He was always hers and she was always his. All she wanted was to find his arms, to bury herself in their grasp. He would know what she should be doing; he would be able to help her. Why had she doubted him before?

  She ran, pulled in the direction of his voice. But she couldnt see Daniel anywhere. Nor Luschka. A block away from the river, Luce stopped short in a barren intersection.

  Her breath felt strangled in her frozen lungs. A cold, throbbing pain tunneled deep inside her ears, and the icy pinpricks stabbing her feet made standing still unbearable.

  But which way should she go?

  Before her was a vast and empty lot, filled with rubble and cordoned off from the street by scaffolding and an iron fence. But even in the darkness, Luce could tell that this was an older demolition, not something destroyed by a bomb in the air raids.

  It didnt look like much, just an ugly, abandoned sinkhole. She didnt know why she was still standing in front of it. Why shed stopped running after Daniels voice--

  Until she gripped the fence, blinked, and saw a flash of something brilliant.

  A church. A majestic white church filling this gaping hole. A huge triptych of marble arches on the front fa?ade. Five golden spires extending high into the sky. And inside: rows of waxed wooden pews as far as the eye could see. An altar at the top of a white flight of stairs. And all the walls and high arched ceilings covered with gorgeously ornate frescoes. Angels everywhere.

  The Church of Christ the Savior.

  How did Luce know that? Why would she feel with every fiber of her being that this nothingness had once been a formidable white church?

  Because she had been there moments before. She saw someone elses handprints in the ash on the metal: Luschka had stopped here, too, had gazed at the ruins of the church and felt something.

  Luce gripped the railing and blinked again and saw herself--or Luschka--as a girl.

  She was seated inside on one of the pews in a white lace dress. An organ played as people filed in before a service. The handsome man to her left must have been her father, and the woman next to him, her mother. There was the grandmother Luce had just met, and Kristina. Both of them looked younger, better fed. Luce remembered her grandmother saying that both her parents were dead. But here they looked so alive. They seemed to know everyone, greeting each family passing their pew. Luce studied her past self watching her father as he shook hands with a good-looking young blond man. The young man leaned down over the pew and smiled at her. He had the most beautiful violet eyes.

  She blinked again and the vision disappeared. The lot was once again little more than rubble. She was freezing. And alone. Another bomb went off across the river, and the shock of it dropped Luce to her knees. She covered her face with her hands--

  Until she heard someone softly crying. She lifted her head and squinted into the deeper darkness of the ruins, and she saw him.

  Daniel, she whispered. He looked just the same. Almost radiating light, even in the freezing darkness. The blond hair she never wanted to stop running her fingers through, the violet-gray eyes that seemed to have been made to lock with hers. That formidable face, the high cheekbones, those lips. Her heart pounded and she had to tighten her grip on the iron fence to keep from running to him.

  Because he wasnt alone.

  He was with Luschka. Consoling her, stroking her cheek and kissing her tears away. Their arms were wrapped around one another, their heads tipped forward in a never-ending kiss. They were so lost in their embrace they didnt seem to feel the street rolling and quaking with another explosion. They looked like all there was in the world was just the two of them.

  There was no space between their bodies. It was too dim to see where one of them ended and the other one began.

  Lucinda got to her feet and crept forward, moving from one pile of rubble in the dark to the next, just longing to be closer to him.

  I thought Id never find you, Luce heard her past self say.

  We will always find each other, Daniel answered, lifting her off the ground and squeezing her closer. Always.

  Hey, you two! A voice shouted from a doorway in a neighboring building. Are you coming?
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  Across the square from the empty lot, a small group of people were being herded into a solid stone building by a guy whose face Luce couldnt make out. That was where Luschka and Daniel were headed. It must have been their plan all along, to take shelter from the bombs together.

  Yes, Luschka called to the others. She looked at Daniel. Lets go with them. No. His voice was curt. Nervous. Luce knew that tone all too well.

  Well be safer off the street. Isnt this why we agreed to meet here?

  Daniel turned to look back behind them, his eyes sweeping right past the place where Luce was hiding. When the sky lit up with another round of golden-red explosions, Luschka screamed and buried her face in Daniels chest. So Luce was the only one who saw his expression.

  Something was weighing on him. Something greater than fear of the bombs.

  Oh no.

  Daniil! A boy near the building was still holding open the door to the shelter. Luschka! Daniil!

  Everyone else was already inside.

  That was when Daniil spun Luschka around, pulled her ear close to his lips. In her shadowy hiding place, Luce ached to know what he was whispering. If he was saying any of the things Daniel ever told her when she was upset or overwhelmed. She wanted to run to them, to pull Luschka away--but she couldnt. Something deep inside her would not budge.

  She fixed on Luschkas expression as if her whole life depended on it.

  Maybe it did.

  Luschka nodded as Daniil spoke, and her face changed from terrified to calm, almost peaceful. She closed her eyes. She nodded one more time. Then she tipped back her head, and a smile spread slowly across her lips.

  A smile?

  But why? How? It was almost like she knew what was about to happen.

  Daniil held her in his arms and dipped her low. He leaned in for another kiss, pressing his lips firmly against hers, running his hands through her hair, then down her sides, across every inch of her.

  It was so passionate that Luce blushed, so intimate she couldnt breathe, so gorgeous that she couldnt tear her eyes away. Not for a second.

  Not even when Luschka screamed.

  And burst into a column of searing white flame.

  The cyclone of flames was otherworldly, fluid and almost elegant in a ghastly way, like a long silk scarf twisting around her pale body. It engulfed Luschka, flowed out of her and all around her, lighting up the spectacle of her burning limbs flailing, and flailing--and then not flailing anymore. Daniil didnt let go, not when the fire singed his clothes, not when he had to support the full weight of her slack, unconscious body, not when the flames burned away her flesh with an ugly, acrid hiss, not when her skin began to char and blacken.

  Only when the blaze fizzled out--so fast, in the end, like the snuffing of a single candle--and there was nothing left to hold on to, nothing left but ashes, did Daniil drop his arms to his sides.

  In all of Luces wildest daydreams about going back and revisiting her past lives, shed never once imagined this: her own death. The reality was more horrible than her darkest nightmares could ever have concocted. She stood in the cold snow, paralyzed by the vision, her body bereft of the capacity to move.

  Daniil staggered back from the charred mass on the snow and began to weep. The tears streaming down his cheeks made clean tracks through the black soot that was all that was left of her. His face contorted. His hands shook. They looked bare and big and empty to Luce, as if--even though the thought made her oddly jealous--his hands belonged around Luschkas waist, in her hair, cupping her cheeks. What on earth did you do with your hands when the one thing they wanted to hold was suddenly, gruesomely gone? A whole girl, an entire life--gone.

 
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