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And she at last heard what he had said when they were looking at the shadows: that she had done nothing wrong. That there was no reason to feel guilty. Could it be true? Was she innocent of Trevor's death, of Todd's, as she'd always believed? The moment she asked herself, she knew that Daniel had told her the truth. And she felt like she was waking from a long bad dream. She no longer felt like the girl with the shorn hair and the baggy black clothes, no longer the eternal screw-up, afraid of the putrid cemetery, and stuck in reform school for good reason.

"Daniel," she said, gently pushing his shoulders back so she could look at him. "Why didn't you tell me sooner that you were an angel? Why all that talk about being damned?" Daniel eyed her nervously.

"I'm not mad." She reassured him. "Only wondering."

"I couldn't tell you," he said, "It's all wrapped up together. Until now, I didn't even know that you could discover it on your own. If I told you too quickly or at the wrong time, you'd be gone again and I would have to wait. I've already had to wait so long."

"How long?" Luce asked.

"Not so long that I've forgotten that you're worth everything. Every sacrifice. Every pain." Daniel closed his eyes for a moment. Then he looked over at Penn and Miss Sophia.

Penn was seated with her back against a mossy black tombstone. Her knees were curled up to her chin and she was chewing avidly on her fingernails. Miss Sophia had her hands on her hips. She looked like she had something to say.

Daniel stepped back, and Luce felt a rush of cool air waft between them. "I'm still afraid that any minute you could - "

"Daniel - " Miss Sophia called reprovingly.

He waved her off. "Our being together, it's not as simple as you're going to want it to be."

"Of course not," Luce said. "I mean, you're an angel, but now that I know it - "

"Lucinda Price." This time it was Luce who was the object of Miss Sophia's anger. "What he has to tell you, you do not want to know," she warned. "And Daniel, you have no right. It will kill her - "

Luce shook her head, confused by Miss Sophia's request. "I think I could survive a little truth."

"It is not a little truth," Miss Sophia said, stepping forward to position herself between them. "And you will not survive it. As you have not survived it in the thousands of years since the Fall."

"Daniel, what is she talking about?" Luce reached around Miss Sophia for his wrist, but the librarian fended her off. "I can handle it," Luce said, feeling a dry pit of nerves in her stomach. "I don't want any more secrets. I love him."

It was the first time she had ever said the words aloud to anyone. Her only regret was that she'd directed the most important three words she knew at Miss Sophia instead of at Daniel. She turned to him. His eyes were shining. "I do," she said. "I love you."

Clap.

Clap. Clap.

Clap. Clap. Clap. Clap.

Slow, loud applause sounded from behind them in the trees. Daniel broke away and turned toward the woods, his posture stiffening, as Luce felt the old fear flood in, felt herself rooted by terror about what he was seeing in the shadows, frightened of what he saw before she did.

"Oh, bravo. Bravo! Really, I am touched to my very soul - and not much touches me there these days, sad to say."

Cam stepped into the clearing. His eyes were rimmed with a thick, shimmering gold shadow, and it shone on his face in the moonlight, making him look like a wildcat.

"That is so incredibly sweet," he said. "And he just loves you, too - don't you, lover boy? Don't you, Daniel?"

"Cam," Daniel warned. "Do not do this."

"Do what?" Cam asked, raising his left arm in the air. He snapped his fingers once and a small flame, the size of a lit match, ignited in the air over his hand. "You mean that?"

The echo of his finger snap seemed to linger, to reflect off the tombs in the cemetery, to grow louder and multiply as it bounced back and forth. At first Luce thought the sound was more applause, as if a demonic auditorium full of darkness were clapping derisively at Luce and Daniel's love, the way Cam had done.

But then she remembered the thundering wingbeats she'd heard earlier. She held her breath as the sound took the form of those thousand bits of flitting darkness. The swarm of locust-shaped shadows that had vanished into the forest reared up overhead once again.

Their drumming was so loud, Luce had to cover her ears. On the ground, Penn was crouched with her head between her knees. But Daniel and Miss Sophia stoically watched the sky as the cacophony grew and changed. It began to sound more like very loud sprinklers going off ... or like the hiss of a thousand snakes.

"Or this?" Cam asked, shrugging as the hideous, formless darkness settled around him.

The insects each began to grow and unfold, becoming larger than any insect could ever be, dripping like glue and growing into black segmented bodies. Then, as if they were learning how to use their shadow limbs as they formed, they slowly hoisted themselves onto their numerous legs and came forward, like mantises grown to human height. Cam welcomed them as they swarmed around him. Soon they had formed a massive army of embodied night behind Cam.

"I'm sorry," he said, smacking his forehead with his palm. "Did you tell me not to do that?"

"Daniel," Luce whispered. "What's happening?"

"Why did you call an end to the truce?" he called to Cam.

"Oh. Well. You know what they say about desperate times." Cam sneered. "And watching you plaster her body with those perfectly angelic kisses of yours ... it made me feel so desperate."

"Shut up, Cam!" Luce shouted, hating that she'd ever let him touch her.

"In good time." Cam's eyes rolled over to her. "Oh yes, we're going to brawl, baby. Over you. Again."

He stroked his chin and narrowed his green eyes. "Bigger this time, I think. A few more casualties. Deal with it."

Daniel gathered Luce in his arms. "Tell me why, Cam. You owe me that much."

"You know why," Cam boomed, pointing at Luce. "She's still here. Won't be for long, though."

He put his hands on his hips, and a series of dense black shadows, now shaped like endless fat serpents, slithered up along his body, encircling his arms like bracelets. He petted the largest one's head dotingly.

"And this time, when your love blows into that tragic little puff of ash, it's going to be for good. See, everything's different this time." Cam beamed, and Luce thought she felt Daniel quake for just a second.

"Oh, except one thing is the same - and I do have a soft spot for your predictability, Grigori." Cam took a step forward. His shadow-legions inched up accordingly, making Luce and Daniel, and Penn and Miss Sophia, inch back. "You're afraid," he said, pointing dramatically at Daniel. "And I'm not."

"That's because you have nothing to lose," Daniel spat. "I would never trade places with you."

"Hmmm," Cam said, tapping his chin. "We'll see about that." He looked around, grinning. "Must I spell it out for you? Yes. I hear you may have something bigger to lose this time. Something that's going to make annihilating her so much more enjoyable."

"What are you talking about?" Daniel asked.

To Luce's left, Miss Sophia opened her mouth and let out a howling string of feral noises. She waved her hands wildly over her head in a jerking dancelike motion, her eyes almost transparent, as if she were in some sort of trance. Her lips twitched, and Luce realized with a shock that she was speaking in tongues.

Daniel took Miss Sophia's arm and shook her, "No, you are absolutely right: It doesn't make sense," he whispered, and Luce realized he could understand Miss Sophia's strange language.

"You know what she's saying?" Luce asked.

"Allow us to translate," a familiar voice shouted from the roof of the mausoleum. Arriane. Next to her was Gabbe. Both seemed to be lit from behind and were enshrouded in a strange silver glow. They hopped down from the crypt, landing next to Luce without a sound.

"Cam's right, Daniel," Gabbe said quickly. "Something's different this time ... something about Luce. The cycle could be broken - and not the way we want it to. I mean ... it could end."

"Someone tell me what you're talking about," Luce said, butting in. "What's different? Broken how?

What's at stake with this whole battle, anyway?"

Daniel, Arriane, and Gabbe all stared at her for a moment as if trying to place her, as if they knew her from somewhere but she'd changed so completely in an instant that they no longer recognized her face.

Finally Arriane spoke up. "At stake?" She rubbed at the scar on her neck. "If they win - it's Hell on earth.

The end of the world as anyone knows it."

The black shapes screeched around Cam, wrestling with and chewing on each other, in some sort of sick, devilish warm-up.

"And if we win?" Luce struggled to get out the words.

Gabbe swallowed, then said gravely, "We don't know yet."

Suddenly Daniel stumbled back, away from Luce, and pointed at her. "Sh-she hasn't been ...," he stammered, covering his mouth, "The kiss," he said finally, stepping forward to grip Luce's arm. "The book. That's why you can - "

"Get to part B, Daniel," Arriane prompted. "Think fast. Patience is a virtue, and you know how Cam feels about those."

Daniel squeezed Luce's hand. "You have to go. You have to get out of here."

"What? Why?"

She looked at Arriane and Gabbe for help, then shrank away from them as a host of silver twinkles began to flow over the roof of the mausoleum. Like an endless stream of fireflies released from an enormous mason jar. They rained down on Arriane and Gabbe, making their eyes shine. It reminded Luce of fireworks - and of one Fourth of July, when the light had been just right and she'd looked into her mother's irises and seen the fireworks' reflection, a booming silvery flash of light, as if her mother's eyes were a mirror.

Only, these twinkles didn't peter into smoke like fireworks. When they hit the cemetery grass, they bloomed into graceful, shimmery iridescent beings. They weren't exactly human shapes, but they were vaguely recognizable. Gorgeous, glowing rays of light. Creatures so ravishing that Luce knew instantly they were an army of angelic power, equal in size and number to the great black force behind Cam. This was what true beauty and goodness looked like - a spectral, luminescent gathering of beings so pure it hurt to look directly at them, like the most glorious eclipse, or maybe Heaven itself. She should have felt comforted, standing on the side that had to prevail in this fight. But she was starting to feel sick.

Daniel pressed the back of his hand to her cheek. "She's feverish."

Gabbe patted Luce on the arm and beamed. "It's okay, sugar," she said, guiding Daniel's hand away. Her drawl was somehow reassuring. "We'll take it from here. But you have to go." She glanced over her shoulder at the horde of blackness behind Cam. "Now."

Daniel pulled Luce to him for one last embrace.

"I'll take her," Miss Sophia called loudly. The book was still tucked under her arm. "I know a safe place."

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