Stargazer Page 49

“Don’t take this the wrong way, Balthazar,” Lucas said, “but was your sister always nuts?”

“Tactful as ever.” Balthazar knelt by the heap of broken glass. “Honestly, though, there was always something—different about Charity.

She isn’t insane, and she never was, but she was never contented, either.

Never moored to the earth. Once she got upset about something, or with someone, she’d never let it go. It was like she couldn’t think about anything else, not while whatever it was still bothered her. I was the only one who could ever talk to her when she got that way.”

“Whatever is going on with your sister these days, it’s more than her holding a little grudge,” Lucas said. “This place does not say ‘mental health’ to me. Plus, she’s hanging out with the wrong crowd, and that’s putting it mildly.”

I thought about all the strange changes I’d already sensed in myself and how unnerving they could be. How much more frightening would it be to fully change, to be suddenly ripped from life into lifelessness? And I’d been bracing for the change ever since I’d been born, and knew that probably I would be able to choose my time. Charity had been tied up in a stable, watching her brother being tortured, knowing that her parents had been murdered—that would be more than enough to make anyone angry or unstable forever after.

Is this the way it happens for most vampires? I shivered.

“I’m not asking you to excuse the people Charity’s spending time with.” Balthazar never looked up from the pile of broken glass.

“I bet you want me to let them off scot-free, though,” Lucas said.

“Don’t pretend you’re judge and jury. You’re only the executioner, and you decide guilt based on what we are, not what we do.”

“How is this about me instead of about Charity’s crazy-ass friends?”

At first I wanted to make them stop arguing, but then I realized it might be better for them to hash it out now. The sooner they were done with their bickering, the better. I ignored them and knelt by the side of the mattress. One of the stains on the dingy lace coverlet was in the shape of a hand.

“You don’t have a brother or sister, do you, Lucas? If you did, you might not be so dense about understanding this.”

“If I had a brother or sister who was hanging around with the Manson family, I think I’d be pissed off at them, not at the cops trying to catch them.”

“Still pretending you’re a cop?”

I put my hand over the bloodstain. When Charity and I had walked side by side, she had taken my arm. Despite her height, her hands were tinier than my own. This bloodstain was larger, so much so that my fingers looked like a child’s by comparison.

“She doesn’t stay here alone.” When I said that, Lucas and Balthazar stopped arguing and stared, almost as if they’d forgotten I was in the room. “Look at this. Somebody else has been here recently. Somebody a lot bigger. A man, probably.”

Balthazar didn’t seem convinced, but Lucas smiled. “Leave it to you to see it.”

Proud of myself, I eagerly looked around the room for some other proof of the second vampire, but nothing instantly came to mind. The bizarre collection of clutter was more unnerving now, though. Charity on her own was strange, but you’d think someone else—anyone else—

would be saner. That he might impose some order. Instead, he lived here in this decay.

Balthazar said, slowly, “Not alone.”

“Tell me, Balthazar, what bothers you more?” Lucas started going through the drawers, which seemed to be empty. “That baby sister has a sex life, or that her lover is apparently drinking blood?”

“Think about what I just said.” Balthazar rose to his feet. “If Charity brought anyone here, then she would’ve brought everyone here. Her entire gang. Her tribe.”

“The tribe?” I’d read oblique references to vampire tribes. I didn’t know much about them, but they didn’t sound good. I should have connected the gang with the idea of a tribe before now. “Like, they’re all here in town? Right now. And—and coming back here?” Lucas and Balthazar shared a look, and then Lucas grabbed my arm.

“You’re going back into Albion,” he said. “Balthazar and I can handle this.”

“What? No, I don’t want to leave you.”

“He’s right,” Balthazar said. “This is going to be more dangerous than I thought. You’re not a fighter, Bianca.”

“I’ve learned a lot.” I refused to budge when Lucas tugged at my arm.

Balthazar shook his head. “Fencing class doesn’t count.”

“Bianca, think,” Lucas said. “How often do me and Balthazar agree on anything?”

I hated it, but they were right. My powers wouldn’t compare to those of a full vampire. Lucas’s wouldn’t either, but he had been trained for fighting since he was old enough to walk. If this turned into a full-fledged battle with a group of vampires, I would be out of my depth.

That moment, I resolved to learn as much as I could, to become strong; I never wanted to be asked to leave for my own safety again.

But that was for the future. For now, all I could do was go.

“Do you want me to take the truck back into town?” At least, I thought sourly, I’ve learned how to drive. “Or I could wait down the road.”

“Town’s the only place safe,” Lucas said.

Balthazar nodded. “Lucas should take you back, then return. And we’d better hide the fact that we’re here.” He leaned down and blew out the candle. The room went dark.

That’s when we realized there was light outside the window.

“What—” I silenced myself instantly. Whatever it was holding the light outside (another candle? a flashlight?) didn’t need to hear me, too.

None of us moved, and I strained so hard to hear that I could feel all my muscles tensing. Lucas’s hand tightened around my forearm. He and Balthazar shared a look. Balthazar put one hand on the doorknob and visibly braced himself; in the dim light I could see both fear and hope in his face.

He opened the door. Instead of twenty crazed killers lunging at us, we were met only by a frigid blast of wind. Squinting into the dark, I saw Charity.

She wore mismatched boots and a long, threadbare coat of gray wool that had been patched and mended in dozens of places. Her fair hair hung loose, blowing in front of her face. In one hand, Charity held a flashlight; her hands were sheltered from the chill only by thin, finger-less gloves. “Balthazar?” she said in a small voice, more childlike than ever.

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