Stargazer Page 57

“They’re trying to kill me,” Charity said. “My brother helps them.

How would you feel, if you were me?”

Balthazar shook his head. “Lucas promised me they’d stop hunting you if I found you instead.”

“So you only meant to be a good big brother? To drag me off kicking and screaming to Evernight again?”

“Charity. Please.” Balthazar’s voice was only a rasp. “It’s been thirty-five years since we’ve been together.”

“Since we lived together, maybe. But I’ve seen you around long before this, long before Albion. I’ve been paying attention.” Charity hugged herself. “I want the hunter’s weapons.” Lucas’s jaw set. “Oh, hell, no.”

“Lucas,” I whispered. “Come on. She doesn’t trust you.”

“I don’t trust her either!”

“We’ll all get rid of any weapons we have,” Balthazar said, trying to be reasonable.

“You’re vampires,” Lucas said. “You guys are your own weapons.”

Charity held out her hands. “Then keep all your weapons but one.

Give me just one. That large knife you held on me in the hospital, maybe. I’d feel safe then.”

“I wouldn’t,” Lucas said.

“I’ll be okay,” I promised him. Charity looked so young and so cold; she was shaking as she stood there, her little hands outstretched and begging. “Lucas, please.”

Lucas gave me the dirtiest look I’d ever seen, but he reached into his coat and pulled out his broad knife. Instead of handing it to Charity, he let the blade clatter onto the pavement. He and Charity kept their eyes locked as she knelt to retrieve it, and he put one hand to his belt, where I knew he kept a stake.

Maybe we should’ve turned to Courtney before any of this, but we all knew that a stake through the heart doesn’t really kill a vampire—at least, not permanently. Withdraw the stake, and the vampire revives, none the worse for wear. Already I was thinking that eventually we’d have to pull the stake out of Courtney and deal with the fact that she’d be even angrier when she regained consciousness.

Lucas said, “We good?”

“Yeah.” Charity gave him a very strange smile. “We are. At least for tonight, hunter, you’re safe from me.”

For some reason, Lucas took this as a sign that he was now the best person to get through to her. “You need to listen to your brother. I don’t run Black Cross, not by a long shot. If you want to be safe from the hunt, you better play by his rules.”

“I’ve learned the rules to play by,” Charity said. “And you’re the ones who ought to worry about being safe.”

“What have you done, Charity?” Balthazar took her arms in his hands—not like he was about to hug her, but instead as though he were going to shake her. “Answer me.”

“I’ve made new friends. They’ve taught me the way. You should come with us, Balthazar. You’d be so much happier looking toward the future instead of remaining trapped in the past.”

“What are you talking about?” I demanded.

Charity wrested herself free from her brother. “I mean that there’s only one real way to be a vampire, and it doesn’t involve longing for things you don’t have or spending time with people you knew when you were alive or ironing your Evernight Academy uniform every morning.

It means wanting what you’ve got. Taking what you can take. Embrac-ing what you have become.”

“Killing,” Lucas said. “You mean, the only real way to be a vampire is by killing.”

Charity smiled at him as she knelt beside Courtney’s limp body.

“You’d know all about killing, wouldn’t you?”

Lucas shook his head. “What I do isn’t the same thing.”

“Really? Let’s see what your weapons are good for.” Charity gave Lucas’s broad knife a twirl, then brought it down with unbelievable force across Courtney’s neck, beheading her.

Beheading kills a vampire forever.

Courtney’s body stiffened. Her skin instantly turned gray and dried, shriveling around her bones as her flesh withered. Her detached head lolled from side to side. The corner of Courtney’s face that I could see wasn’t a face anymore, just something papery and earth-colored stretched over a skull. When vampires die, their bodies decay to the point they would’ve reached since that first death. The oldest ones turn to dust. Courtney had been dead only twenty-five years, so there was still a lot left of her. Too much.

I gasped. Balthazar turned his head away. Charity smiled up at Lucas. “That’s one taken care of for you, hunter. Now your secret is safe, Balthazar. Never say I don’t love you.”

Immediately she turned from us and ran, vanishing almost instantly into the underbrush. Balthazar took two halting steps after her before he stopped.

Charity killed Courtney. Charity killed. I watched her do it. I’d thought she was so helpless, so frightened, so weak—could I have been completely wrong? I remembered Lucas’s distrust of Charity, and my insistence upon protecting her, and shame welled up in me as strongly as horror. How much of this was my fault?

For a few moments, none of us could speak. Finally, I said, “What are we going to do?”

“What?” Balthazar was still staring in the direction Charity had disappeared.

“About the body, she means.” Lucas grimaced as he took a closer look. “The neighbors come out in the morning and find this, they’re gonna freak out. Run tests. The fact that it’s a twenty-five-year-old corpse will only make them ask more questions.” Could they match Courtney’s DNA? Her dental records? I felt a wave of pure horror at the thought of that nice family down the block learning that Courtney’s body had been found, decayed and dumped on their own street during a birthday party. That was about the worst thing I could imagine.

“We have to get her out of here,” I said. “We should bury her somewhere.”

“Digging in frozen ground is tough,” Lucas said. “Better to burn her.”

He didn’t say it meanly—just, like, that was reality. But Lucas didn’t have a vampire’s horror of fire, and he couldn’t know how gruesome it sounded to me, burning someone instead of burying them properly.

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