Passion, p.7
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       Passion, p.7

         Part #3 of Fallen series by Lauren Kate
Page 7


  Wordlessly they settled on a third-story ledge near Patriarchs Pond, on the roof across from Luces window, where they used to watch her sleep. The memory would be fresher in Daniils mind, but the faint recollection of Luce lying dreaming under the covers still sent a warm rush across Daniels wings.

  Both were somber. In the bombed-out city, it was sad and ironic that her building had been spared when she hadnt. They stood in silence in the cold night, both carefully tucking back their wings so that they wouldnt accidentally touch.

  How are things for her in the future?

  Daniel sighed. The good news is that something is different in this lifetime. Somehow the curse has been . . . altered.

  How? Daniil looked up, and the hope that shone bright in his eyes darkened. You mean to say, in her current lifetime she has not yet made a covenant?

  We think not. Thats part of it. It seems a loophole has opened up and allowed her to live beyond her usual time--

  But its so dangerous. Daniil spoke quickly, frantically, spewing out the same discourse that had been running through Daniels mind ever since the last night at Sword & Cross, when hed realized that this time was different: She could die and not come back. That could be the end. Every single thing is on the line now.

  "I know. "

  Daniil stopped, composed himself. Im sorry. Of course you know. But . . . the question is, does she understand why this life is different?

  Daniel looked at his empty hands. One of the Elders of Zhsmaelim got to her, interrogated her before Luce knew anything about her past. Lucinda recognizes that everyone is focused on the fact that she has not been baptized . . . but there is so much she doesnt know.

  Daniil stepped to the edge of the roof and gazed at her dark window. Then whats the bad news?

  I fear there is also much that I dont know. I cannot predict the consequences of her fleeing backward into time if I dont find her, and stop her, before its too late.

  Down on the street, a siren blared. The air raid was over. Soon the Russians would be out combing the city, looking for survivors.

  Daniel sifted through the shreds of his memory. She was going further back--but to which lifetime? He turned to look hard at his earlier self. You recall it, too, dont you?

  That . . . she is going back?

  Yes. But how far back? They spoke simultaneously, staring at the dark street.

  And where will she stop? Daniel said abruptly, backing away from the edge. He closed his eyes, took a breath. Luce is different now. Shes-- He could almost smell her. Clean, pure light, like sunshine. Something fundamental has shifted. We finally have a real chance. And I--I have never been more elated . . . nor more sick with terror. He opened his eyes and was surprised to see Daniil nod.



  What are you waiting for? Daniil asked with a smile. Go get her.

  And with that, Daniel teased open a shadow along the roof ledge--an Announcer--and stepped inside.

  Chapter Three


  MILAN, ITALY MAY 25, 1918

  Luce staggered out of the Announcer to the sound of explosions. She ducked and covered her ears.

  Violent bursts rocked the ground. One heavy boom after another, each more spectacular and paralyzing than the one before, until the sound and the tremors reverberated so that there seemed to be no break in the assault. No way to escape the din, and no end.

  Luce stumbled in the earsplitting darkness, curling into herself, trying to shield her body. The blasts thrummed in her chest, spat dirt into her eyes and mouth.

  All this before shed even had a chance to see where shed ended up. With each bright explosion, she caught glimpses of rolling fields, crisscrossed with culverts and tumbledown fences. But then the flash would vanish and shed be blind again.

  Bombs. They were still going off.

  Something was wrong. Luce had meant to step through time, to get away from Moscow and the war. But she must have ended up right back where shed started. Roland had warned her about this-- about the dangers of Announcer travel. But shed been too stubborn to listen.

  In the pitch-dark, Luce tripped over something and landed hard, facedown in the dirt.

  Someone grunted. Someone Luce had landed on top of.

  She gasped and squirmed away, feeling a sharp stab in her hip from where shed fallen. But when she saw the man lying on the ground, she forgot her own pain.

  He was young, about her age. Small, with delicate features and timid brown eyes. His face was pale. His breath came in shallow gasps. The hand cupped over his stomach was caked with black grime. And beneath that hand, his fatigues were soaked with dark red blood.

  Luce couldnt look away from the wound. Im not supposed to be here, she whispered to herself.

  The boys lips trembled. His bloody hand shook when he made the sign of the cross over his chest. Oh, Ive died, he said, staring at her wide-eyed. You are an angel. Ive died and gone to--Am I in Heaven?

  He reached for her, his hand quaking. She wanted to scream or vomit, but all she could do was cover his hands and press them back over the gaping hole in his gut. Another boom rattled the ground and the boy lying on it. Fresh blood seeped through the web of Luces fingers.

  I am Giovanni, he whispered, closing his eyes. Please. Help me. Please.

  Only then did Luce realize she wasnt in Moscow anymore. The ground below her was warmer. Not snow-covered, but a grassy plain that was torn up in places, exposing rich black soil. The air was dry and dusty. This boy had spoken to her in Italian, and just as she had in Moscow, she understood.

  Her eyes had adjusted. She could see searchlights in the distance, roaming over purple-hued hills. And beyond the hills, an evening sky was flecked with bright white stars. Luce turned away. She couldnt see stars without thinking of Daniel, and she couldnt think about Daniel right now. Not with her hands pressed into this boys belly, not with him about to die.

  At least he hadnt died yet.

  He only thought he had.

  She couldnt blame him. After hed been hit, hed probably gone into shock. And then maybe hed seen her come through the Announcer, a black tunnel appearing out of thin air. He must have been terrified.

  Youre going to be fine, she said, using the perfect Italian shed always wanted to learn. It felt astonishingly natural on her tongue. Her voice, too, came out softer and smoother than she expected; it made her wonder what shed been like in this lifetime.

  A barrage of deafening shots made her jump. Gunfire. Endless, in quick succession, bright zipping tracers arcing through the sky, burning lines of white into her vision, followed by a lot of shouting in Italian. Then the thump of footsteps in the dirt. Coming closer.

  Were retreating, the boy mumbled. Thats not good.

  Luce looked toward the sound of soldiers running in their direction and noticed for the first time that she and the injured soldier were not alone. At least ten other men lay wounded around them, moaning and trembling and bleeding into the black earth. Their clothes were singed and shredded from the land mine that must have taken them by surprise. The rich stink of rot and sweat and blood sat heavy in the air, coating everything. It was so horrific--Luce had to bite down on her lip to keep from screaming.

  A man in an officers uniform ran past her, then stopped. Whats she doing here? This is a war zone, not a place for nurses. Youll be no help to us dead, girl. At least make yourself useful. We need the casualties loaded up.

  He stormed off before Luce could respond. Below her, the boys eyes were beginning to droop and his whole body was shaking. She looked around desperately for help.

  About a half mile away was a narrow dirt road with two ancient-looking trucks and two small, squat ambulances parked at its side.

  Ill be right back, Luce told the boy, pressing his hands more firmly against his stomach to control the bleeding. He whimpered when she pulled away.

  She ran toward the trucks, stumbling over he
r feet when another shell came down behind her, making the earth buck.

  A cluster of women in white uniforms stood gathered around the back of one of the trucks. Nurses. They would know what to do, how to help. But when Luce got close enough to see their faces, her heart sank. They were girls. Some of them couldnt have been older than fourteen. Their uniforms looked like costumes.

  She scanned their faces, looking for herself in one of them. There must have been a reason why shed stepped into this Hell. But no one looked familiar. It was hard to fathom the girls calm, clear expressions. Not one of them showed the terror that Luce knew was clear on her own face. Maybe they had already seen enough of the war to grow used to what it did.

  Water. An older womans voice came from inside the truck. Bandages. Gauze.

  She was distributing supplies to the girls, who loaded up, then set to work putting together a makeshift clinic on the side of the road. A row of injured men had already been moved behind the truck for treatment. More were on the way. Luce joined the line for supplies. It was dark and no one said a word to her. She could feel it now--the stress of the young nurses. They must have been trained to keep a poised, calm fa?ade for the soldiers, but when the girl in front of Luce reached up to take her ration of supplies, her hands were shaking.

  Around them, soldiers moved quickly in pairs, carrying the wounded under the arms and by the feet. Some of the men being carried mumbled questions about the battle, asking how badly theyd been hit. Then there were the ones more seriously injured, whose lips could form no questions because they were too busy biting off screams, who had to be hoisted by the waist because one or both of their legs had been blown off by a land mine.

  Water. A jug landed in Luces arms. Bandages. Gauze. The head nurse dumped the ration of supplies mechanically, ready to move on to the next girl, but then she didnt. She fixed her gaze on Luce. Her eyes traveled downward, and Luce realized she was still wearing the heavy wool coat from Luschkas grandmother in Moscow. Which was a good thing, because underneath the coat were her jeans and button-down shirt from her current life.

  Uniform, the woman finally said in the same monotone, tossing down a white dress and a nurses cap like the other girls were wearing.

  Luce nodded gratefully, then ducked behind a truck to change. It was a billowing white gown that reached her ankles and smelled strongly of bleach. She tried to wipe the soldiers blood off her hands, using the wool coat, then tossed it behind a tree. But by the time shed buttoned the nurses uniform, rolled up the sleeves, and tied the belt around her waist, it was completely covered with rusty red streaks.

  She grabbed the supplies and ran back across the road. The scene before her was gruesome. The officer hadnt been lying. There were at least a hundred men who needed help. She looked at the bandages in her arms and wondered what it was she should be doing.

  Nurse! a man called out. He was sliding a stretcher into the back of an ambulance. Nurse! This one needs a nurse.

  Luce realized that he was talking to her. Oh, she said faintly. Me? She peered into the ambulance. It was cramped and dark inside. A space that looked like it had been made for two people now held six. The wounded soldiers were laid out on stretchers slid into three-tiered slings on either side. There was no place for Luce except on the floor.

  Someone was shoving her to the side: a man, sliding another stretcher onto the small empty space on the floor. The soldier laid out on it was unconscious, his black hair plastered across his face. Go on, the soldier said to Luce. Its leaving now.

  When she didnt move, he pointed to a wooden stool affixed to the inside of the ambulances back door with a crisscrossed rope. He bent down and made a stirrup with his hands to help Luce up onto the stool. Another shell shook the ground, and Luce couldnt hold back the scream that escaped her lips.

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