"Go," Daniel said. "I'll find you as soon as I can. Just promise me you'll run from here, and that you won't look back."
Luce had so many questions. "I don't want to leave you."
Arriane stepped between them and gave Luce a final, rough shove toward the gates. "Sorry, Luce," she said. "Time to leave this fight to us. We're kind of professionals."
Luce felt Penn's hand slide into hers, and soon they were running. Pounding up toward the gates of the cemetery as quickly as she'd bounded down on her way to find Daniel. Back up the slippery mulch slide.
Back through the jagged live oak branches and the ramshackle stacks of broken headstones. They hurdled the stones and jogged up the slope, making for the distant ironwork arch of the gates. Hot wind blew her hair, and the swampy air still lay thick in her lungs. She couldn't find the moon to guide them, and the light in the cemetery's center was gone now. She didn't understand what was happening. At all. And she didn't like it at all that everyone else did.
A bolt of blackness struck the ground in front of her, cracking the earth and opening up a jagged gorge.
Luce and Penn skidded to a halt just in time. The gash was as wide as Luce was tall, as deep as ... well, she couldn't see down to the dark bottom. The edges of it sizzled and foamed.
Penn gasped. "Luce. I'm scared."
"Follow me, girls," Miss Sophia called.
She led them to the right, winding among the dark graves while blast after blast rang out behind them.
"Just the sounds of battle," she huffed, like some sort of strange tour guide. "That will go on for some while, I fear."
Luce winced at every crash, but she kept pushing forward until her calves were burning, until behind her, Penn let out a wail. Luce turned and saw her friend stumble, her eyes rolling back in her head.
"Penn!" Luce screamed, reaching out to catch her just before she fell. Tenderly, Luce lowered her to the ground and rolled her over. She almost wished she hadn't. Penn's shoulder had been sliced through by something black and jagged. It had bit into her skin, leaving a charred line of flesh that smelled like burning meat.
"Is it bad?" Penn whispered hoarsely. She blinked rapidly, clearly frustrated at being unable to lift her head up to see for herself.
"No," Luce lied, shaking her head. "Just a cut." She gulped, trying to swallow the nausea rising in her as she tugged Penn's frayed black sleeve together. "Am I hurting you?"
"I don't know," Penn wheezed. "I can't feel anything."
"Girls, what is the holdup?" Miss Sophia had doubled back.
Luce looked up at Miss Sophia, willing her not to say how bad Penn's injury looked.
She didn't. She gave Luce a swift nod, then stretched her arms beneath Penn and lifted her up like a parent carrying a child to bed. "I've got you," she said. "It won't be long now."
"Hey." Luce followed Miss Sophia, who carried Penn's weight like she was a bag of feathers. "How did you - "
"No questions, not until we're far away from all of this," Miss Sophia said.
Far away. Luce wanted nothing less than to be far away from Daniel. And then, after they'd crossed the threshold of the cemetery and were standing on the flat ground of the school commons, she couldn't help herself. She looked back. And instantly understood why Daniel had told her not to.
A twisting silver-gold pillar of fire burst forth from the dark center of the cemetery. It was as wide as the cemetery itself, a braid of light rising hundreds of feet up into the air and boiling away the clouds. The black shadows picked at the light, occasionally tearing tendrils free and carrying them off, shrieking, into the night. As the coiling strands shifted, now more silver, now more gold, a single chord of sound began to fill the air, full and unending, loud as a mighty waterfall. Low notes thundered in the night. High notes chimed to fill the space around them. It was the grandest, most perfectly balanced celestial harmony ever heard on earth. It was beautiful, and horrifying, and everything stank of sulfur.
Everyone for miles around must have believed the world was ending. Luce didn't know what to think.
Her heart seized up.
Daniel had told her not to look back because he knew the sight of it would make her want to go to him.
"Oh, no you don't," Miss Sophia said, grabbing Luce by the scruff of the neck and dragging her across campus. When they reached the gymnasium, Luce realized that Miss Sophia had been carrying Penn the whole time, using only one arm.
"What are you?" Luce asked as Miss Sophia pushed her through the double doors.
The librarian pulled a long key from the pocket of her beaded red cardigan and slipped it into a part of the brick wall at the front of the foyer that didn't even look like a door. An entrance to a long stairway opened silently, and Miss Sophia gestured for Luce to precede her up the stairs.
Penn's eyes were closed. She was either unconscious or in too much pain to keep them open. Either way, she was staying remarkably quiet.
"Where are we going?" Luce asked. "We need to get out of here. Where's your car?" She didn't want to scare Penn, but they needed to get to a doctor. Fast.
"Quiet, if you know what's good for you." Miss Sophia glanced at Penn's wound and sighed. "We're going to the only chamber in this place that hasn't been desecrated with athletic equipment. Where we can be alone."
By then, Penn had begun groaning in Miss Sophia's arms. The blood from her wound was a thick, dark stream on the marble floor.
Luce eyed the steep staircase. She couldn't even see its end. "I think for Penn's sake we should stay down here. We're going to need to get help pretty soon."
Miss Sophia sighed and laid Penn down on the stone, quickly popping back up to lock the front door they'd just come through. Luce fell to her knees in front of Penn. Her friend looked so small and fragile.
In the dim light coming from the delicate wrought iron chandelier overhead, Luce could at last see how badly she'd been injured.
Penn was the only friend Luce had at Sword & Cross she could really relate to, the only one she wasn't intimidated by. After Luce had seen what Arriane and Gabbe and Cam were capable of, few things made sense. But one did: Penn was the only kid at Sword & Cross like her.
Except Penn was stronger than Luce. Smarter and happier and more easygoing. She was the reason Luce had made it through these first few weeks of reform school at all. Without Penn, who knew where Luce would be?
"Oh, Penn." Luce sighed. "You're going to be okay. We're going to get you all fixed up."
Penn murmured something incomprehensible, which made Luce nervous. Luce turned back to Miss Sophia, who was closing all the windows in the foyer one by one.
"She's fading fast," Luce said. "We need to call a doctor."
"Yes, yes," Miss Sophia said, but something in her tone sounded preoccupied. She seemed consumed with closing up the building, as if the shadows from the cemetery were on their way here right now.
"Luce?" Penn whispered. "I'm scared."
"Don't be." Luce squeezed her hand. "You're so brave. This whole time you've been such a pillar of strength."
"Give me a break," Miss Sophia said from behind her, in a rough voice Luce had never heard her use. "She's a pillar of salt."
"What?" Luce asked, confused. "What does that mean?"
Miss Sophia's beady eyes had narrowed into thin black slits. Her face pinched into wrinkles and she bitterly shook her head. Then, very slowly, from the sleeve of her cardigan, she produced a long silver dagger. "The girl is only slowing us down."
Luce's eyes widened as she watched Miss Sophia raise the dagger over her head. Dazed, Penn didn't register what was happening, but Luce certainly did.
"No!" she screamed, reaching up to stop Miss Sophia's arm, to turn away the dagger. But Miss Sophia knew what she was doing and deftly blocked Luce's arm, pushing her aside with her free hand while she dragged the blade across Penn's throat.
Penn grunted and coughed, her breath turning ragged. Her eyes rolled backward in their sockets the way they did when she was thinking. Except she wasn't thinking, she was dying. At last her eyes met Luce's. Then they slowly dulled and Penn's breathing quieted.
"Messy but necessary," Miss Sophia said, wiping the blade clean on Penn's black sweater.
OUT OF SIGHT
At the top of the stairs was a flat brick wall. Dead ends of any kind had always made Luce claustrophobic, and this one was even worse because of the knife poised at her throat. She dared a glance back at the steep flight they'd climbed. From here, it looked like a very long and painful fall.
Miss Sophia was speaking in tongues again, muttering under her breath as she skillfully eased open another hidden door. She shoved Luce into a tiny chapel and locked the door behind them. It was freezing inside and smelled overwhelmingly of chalky dust. Luce struggled to breathe, to swallow the bilious saliva in her mouth.
Penn could not be dead. That whole thing could not just have happened. Miss Sophia could not be that evil.
Daniel had said to trust Miss Sophia. He'd said to go with her until he could come for Luce...
Miss Sophia paid Luce no attention, merely made her way around the room, lighting candle after candle, genuflecting at each one, and continuing to chant in a language Luce didn't know. The twinkling votives revealed that the chapel was clean and well maintained, which meant it must not have been too long since someone else had been up there. But surely Miss Sophia was the only one on campus who would have a key to the hidden door? Who else would even know this place existed?
The red tile ceiling was sloping and uneven. Broad, faded tapestries cloaked the walls, depicting images of creepy half-man, half-fish creatures battling on a roiling sea. There was a small white altar up at the front, and a few rows of simple wooden pews ranked along the gray stone floor. Luce looked around frantically for an exit, but there were no other doors and no windows.
Luce's legs were shaking with fury and fear. She was in agony over Penn, betrayed and lying alone at the foot of the stairs.
"Why are you doing this?" she asked, backing up against the arched chapel doors. "I trusted you."
"That's your own fault, dear," Miss Sophia said, roughly twisting Luce's arm. Then the dagger was back at her neck and she was being marched up the chapel's aisle. "Trust is a careless pursuit at best. At worst, it's a good way to get yourself killed."
Miss Sophia pushed Luce toward the altar. "Now be a dear and lie down, would you?"
Because the knife was still too close to her throat, Luce did as she was told. She felt a spot of coolness on her neck and reached up to touch it. When she took her fingers away, the tips were red with dots of blood where the knife had pricked her. Miss Sophia slapped her hand down.
"You think that's bad, you should see what you're missing outside," she said, making Luce shudder.
Daniel was outside.
The altar was a square white platform, a single slab of stone no bigger than Luce herself. She felt cold and desperately exposed atop it, imagining the pews filled up with shadowy churchgoers waiting for her torture to take place.
Looking straight up, she saw that there was a window in this cavernous chapel, a large stained-glass rosette like a skylight in the ceiling. It had a complicated geometric floral pattern, with red and purple roses against a navy-blue background. It would have been a whole lot prettier to Luce if it had offered a view of the outside.
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com