Afterlife Page 1

Author: Claudia Gray

Series: Evernight #4

Genres: Young Adult , Fantasy

Chapter One


Those were the first words anyone had spoken aloud in hours. Although I didn’t want to hear anything Balthazar had to say — about this or anything else — I knew he was right. Vampires could always feel the approaching dawn deep in their bones.

Could Lucas feel it, too?

We sat in the projection room of an abandoned theater, where the poster-covered walls still bore marks from last night’s battle. Vic, the only human in the room, dozed on Ranulf’s shoulder, his sandy hair mussed from sleep; Ranulf sat quietly, bloodstained ax across his lap as though he expected more danger at any second. His long, thin face and bowl haircut had never made him look more like a medieval saint. Balthazar stood in the far corner of the room, keeping his distance out of respect for my grief. Yet his height and his broad shoulders meant he took up more than his share of room.

I cradled Lucas’s head in my lap. Had I been alive, or a vampire, so many hours without moving would have made me stiff. As a ghost, though, freed of the demands of a physical body, I’d been able to hold him through the whole long night of his death. I brushed back my long red hair, trying not to notice that the ends had trailed in Lucas’s blood.

Charity had murdered him in front of my eyes, taking advantage of Lucas’s desire to protect me rather than himself. It was her latest and most horrible attempt to hurt me, driven by her hatred for anybody who mattered to Balthazar, her brother and sire. She’d violated a vampire taboo by biting someone another vampire had bitten first — who had, in effect, been prepared for the transformation from living to undead. Lucas was supposedly mine to turn, or no one’s. But Charity hadn’t cared about any taboos in a long time. She didn’t care about anyone or anything except her twisted relationship with Balthazar.

Wherever she was now, she was no doubt reveling in the fact that she’d broken my heart, and that she’d thrust Lucas into the very last place he would ever want to be.

I’d rather be dead, Lucas had always said. When I was alive and so much more innocent, I had dreamed of him becoming a vampire with me. But he had been raised by the hunters of Black Cross, who loathed the undead and pursued them with the passion of a cult. Turning into a vampire had always been his ultimate nightmare.

Now that nightmare had come true. “How long?” I said.

“Minutes.” Balthazar took one step forward, saw the expression on my face, and came no closer. “Vic should go.”

“What’s happening?” Vic’s voice was scratchy with sleep. He pushed himself upright, and his expression shifted from confusion to horror as he looked at Lucas’s body, bloody and pale on the floor. “Oh! — for a sec, I thought I’d just had a nightmare or something. But this — it’s real.”

Balthazar shook his head. “I’m sorry, Vic, but you need to leave.”

I realized what Balthazar meant. My parents, who had always wanted me to follow in their footsteps, had told me about the first hours of the transition. When Lucas rose as a vampire, he would want fresh blood — want it desperately, as much as he could get. In the first frenzy of awakening, his hunger could push every other thought out of his mind.

He’d be hungry enough to kill.

Vic didn’t know any of that.

“Come on, Balthazar. I’ve gone this far with you guys. I don’t want to leave Lucas now.”

“Balthazar is correct,” Ranulf said. “It is safer that you leave.”

“What do you mean, safer?”

“Vic, go,” I said. I hated to push him away, but if he didn’t understand what was going on here, he needed a dose of harsh reality. “If you want to survive, go.”

Vic’s face paled.

More gently, Balthazar added, “This is no place for the living. This belongs to the dead.”

Vic ran his hands through his shaggy hair, nodded once at Ranulf and walked out of the projection room. Probably he would head home, where he’d try to do something useful — clean house, maybe, or make food nobody else could eat. Human concerns seemed very distant at that moment.

Now that Vic had left, I could finally voice the thought that had been haunting me for hours. “Should we — ” My throat choked up, and I had to swallow hard. “Should we let this happen?”

“You mean that you believe we should destroy Lucas.” From anybody else, this would have sounded too harsh to bear; from Ranulf, it was simple, calm fact. “That we should prevent him from rising as a vampire, and accept this as his final death.”

“I don’t want to do that. I can’t begin to tell you how much I don’t want that,” I answered. Every word I spoke felt like blood being squeezed from my heart. “But I know it’s what Lucas would want.” Didn’t loving someone mean putting their wishes first, even with something as terrible as this?

Balthazar shook his head. “Don’t do it.”

“You sound very sure.” I tried to say it calmly. Still, I was so angry at Balthazar that I could hardly look at him; he’d brought Lucas into the battle against Charity, even though he knew Lucas was numb with grief and unable to fight at his best. It felt like Lucas’s death was as much his fault as Charity’s. “Are you just telling me what I want to hear?”

Balthazar frowned. “When have I ever done that? Bianca, listen to me. If you’d asked me the day before I became a vampire whether I’d want to rise as undead, I would have said no.”