Passion, страница 12часть #3 серии Fallen
I want . . . to be with Daniel, she said slowly. There was more, but she wasnt sure how to explain it.
Huh! Bill looked even more dubious than his heavy brow, stone lips, and hooked nose made him look naturally. The hole in your argument there, Counselor, is that Daniel was already right there beside you when you skipped out of your own time. Was he not?
Luce slid down the wall and sat, feeling another strong rush of regret. I had to leave. He wouldnt tell me anything about our past, so I had to go find out for myself.
She expected Bill to argue with her more, but he simply said, So, youre telling me youre on a quest.
Luce felt a faint smile cross her lips. A quest. She liked the sound of that. So you do want something. See? Bill clapped. Okay, first thing you ought to know is that the Announcers are summoned to you based upon whats going on in here. He thumped his stony fist against his chest. Theyre kind of like little sharks, drawn by your deepest desires.
Right. Luce remembered the shadows at Shoreline, how it was almost as though the specific Announcers had chosen her and not the other way around.
So when you step through, the Announcers that seem to quiver before you, begging you to pick them up? They funnel you to the place your soul longs to be.
So the girl I was in Moscow, and in Milan--and all the other lives I glimpsed before I knew how to step through--I wanted to visit them?
Precisely, Bill said. You just didnt know it. The Announcers knew it for you. Youll get better at this, too. Soon you should begin to feel yourself sharing their knowledge. As strange as it may feel, theyre a part of you.
Each one of those cold, dark shadows, a part of her? It made sudden, unexpected sense. It explained how even from the beginning, even when it scared her, Luce hadnt been able to stop herself from stepping through them. Even when Roland warned her they were dangerous. Even when Daniel gaped at her like shed committed some horrible crime. The Announcers always felt like a door opening. Was it possible that they really were?
Her past, once so unknowable, was out there, and all she had to do was step through into the right doorways? She could see who shed been, what had drawn Daniel to her, why their love had been damned, how it had grown and changed over time. And, most importantly, what they could be in the future.
Were already well on our way somewhere, Bill said, but now that you know what you and your Announcers are capable of, the next time you go stepping through, you need to think about what you want. And dont think place or time, think overall quest.
Okay. Luce was working to tidy the jumble of emotions inside her into words that might make any sense out loud.
Why not try it out now? Bill said. Just for practice. Might give us a heads-up about what were going to walk into. Think about what it is youre after.
Understanding, she said slowly.
Good, Bill said. What else?
A nervous energy was coursing through her, as if she was on the brink of something important. I want to find out why Daniel and I were cursed. And I want to break that curse. I want to stop love from killing me so that we can finally be together--for real.
Whoa, whoa, whoa. Bill started waving his hands like a man stranded on the side of a dark road. Lets not get crazy. This is a very long-standing damnation youre up against here. You and Daniel, its like . . . I dont know, you cant just snap your pretty little fingers and break out of that. You gotta start small.
Right, Luce said. Okay. Then I should start by getting to know one of my past selves. Get up close and see her relationship with Daniel unfold. See if she feels the same things I feel.
Bill was nodding, a wacky smile spreading across his full lips. He led her to the edge of the ledge. I think youre ready. Lets go.
Lets go? The gargoyle was coming with her? Out of the Announcer and into another past? Yes, Luce could use some company, but she barely knew this guy.
Youre wondering why you should trust me, arent you? Bill asked.
I get it, he said, hovering in the air in front of her. Im an acquired taste. Especially compared to the company youre used to keeping. Im certainly no angel. He snorted. But I can help make this journey worth your while. We can make a deal, if you want. You get sick of me--just say so. Ill be on my way. He held out his long clawed hand.
Luce shuddered. Bills hand was crusty with rocky cysts and scabs of lichen, like a ruined statue. The last thing she wanted to do was take it in her own hand. But if she didnt, if she sent him on his way right now . . .
She might be better off with him than without him.
She glanced down at her feet. The short wet ledge beneath them ended where she was standing, dropped off into nothing. Between her shoes, something caught her eye, a shimmer in the rock that made her blink. The ground was shifting . . . softening . . . swaying under her feet.
Luce looked behind her. The slab of rock was crumbling, all the way to the wall of the cave. She stumbled, teetering at the edge. The ledge jerked beneath her--harder--as the particles that held the rock together began to break apart. The ledge disappeared around her, faster and faster, until fresh air brushed the backs of her heels and she jumped--
And sank her right hand into Bills extended claw. They shook in the air.
How do we get out of here? she cried, grasping tight to him now for fear of falling into the abyss she couldnt see.
Follow your heart. Bill was beaming, calm. It wont mislead you.
Luce closed her eyes and thought of Daniel. A feeling of weightlessness overcame her, and she caught her breath. When she opened her eyes, she was somehow soaring through static-filled darkness. The stone cave shifted and pulled in on itself into a small golden orb of light that shrank and was gone.
Luce glanced over, and Bill was right there with her.
What was the first thing I ever told you? he asked.
Luce recalled how his voice had seemed to reach all the way inside her.
You said to slow down. That Id never learn anything zipping around my past so quickly.
It was exactly what I wanted to do, I just didnt know I wanted it.
Maybe thats why you found me when you did, Bill shouted over the wind, his gray wings bristling as they sped along. And maybe thats why weve ended up . . . right . . . here.
The wind stopped. The static crackling smoothed to silence.
Luces feet slammed onto the ground, a sensation like flying off a swing set and landing on a grassy lawn. She was out of the Announcer and somewhere else. The air was warm and a little humid. The light around her feet told her it was dusk.
They were sunk deep in a field of thick, soft, brilliant green grass, as high as her calves. Here and there the grass was dotted with tiny bright-red fruit--wild strawberries. Ahead, a thin row of silver birch trees marked the edge of the manicured lawn of an estate. Some distance beyond that stood an enormous house. From here she could make out a white stone flight of stairs that led to the back entrance of the large, Tudor-style mansion. An acre of pruned yellow rosebushes bordered the lawns north side, and a miniature hedge maze filled the area near the iron gate on the east. In the center lay a bountiful vegetable garden, beans climbing high along their poles. A pebble trail cut the yard in half and led to a large whitewashed gazebo.
Goose bumps rose on Luces arms. This was the place. She had a visceral sense that she had been here before. This was no ordinary d?j? vu. She was staring at a place that had meant something to her and Daniel. She half expected to see the two of them there right now, wrapped in each others arms.
But the gazebo was empty, filled only with the orange light of the setting sun.
Someone whistled, making her jump.
Shed forgotten he was with her. He hovered in the air so that their heads were on the same level. Outside the Announcer, he was somewhat more repulsive than hed seemed at first. In the light, his flesh was dry and scaly, and he smel
Sure beats a war zone, he said, eyeing the grounds.
How did you know where I was before?
Im . . . Bill. He shrugged. I know things.
Okay, then, where are we now?
Helston, England--he pointed a claw tip toward his head and closed his eyes--in what youd call 1854. Then he clasped his stone claws together in front of his chest like a gnomey sort of schoolboy reciting a history report. A sleepy southern town in the county of Cornwall, granted charter by King John himself. Corns a few feet tall, so Id say its probably midsummer. Pity we missed the month of May-- they have a Flora Day festival here like you wouldnt believe. Or maybe you would! Your past self was the belle of the ball the last two years in a row. Her fathers very rich, see. Got in at the ground level of the copper trade--
Sounds terrific. Luce cut him off and started tramping across the grass. Im going in there. I want to talk to her.
Hold up. Bill flew past her, then looped back, fluttering a few inches in front of her face. Now, this? This wont do at all.
He waved a finger in a circle, and Luce realized he was talking about her clothes. She was still in the Italian nurses uniform shed worn during the First World War.
He grabbed the hem of her long white skirt and lifted it to her ankles. What do you have on under there? Are those Converse? Youve gotta be kidding me with those. He clucked his tongue. How you ever survived those other lifetimes without me . . .
I got along fine, thank you.
Youll need to do more than get along if you want to spend some time here. Bill flew back up to eye level with Luce, then zipped around her three times. When she turned to look for him, he was gone.
But then, a second later, she heard his voice--though it sounded as if it was coming from a great distance. Yes! Brilliant, Bill!
A gray dot appeared in the air near the house, growing larger, then larger, until Bills stone wrinkles became clear. He was flying toward her now, and carrying a dark bundle in his arms. When he reached her, he simply plucked at her side, and the baggy white nurses uniform split down its seam and slid right off her body. Luce flung her arms around her bare body modestly, but it seemed like only a second later that a series of petticoats was being tugged over her head.
Bill scrambled around her like a rabid seamstress, binding her waist into a tight corset, until sharp boning poked her skin in all sorts of uncomfortable places. There was so much taffeta in her petticoats that even standing still in a bit of a breeze, she rustled.
She thought she looked pretty good for the era--until she recognized the white apron tied around her waist, over her long black dress. Her hand went to her hair and yanked off a white servants headpiece.
Im a maid? she asked.
Yes, Einstein, youre a maid.
Luce knew it was dumb, but she felt a little disappointed. The estate was so grand and the gardens so lovely and she knew she was on a quest and all that, but couldnt she have just strolled around the grounds here like a real Victorian lady?
I thought you said my family was rich.
Your past selfs family was rich. Filthy rich. Youll see when you meet her. She goes by Lucinda and thinks your nickname is an absolute abomination, by the way. Bill pinched his nose and lifted it high in the air, giving a pretty laughable imitation of a snob. Shes rich, yes, but you, my dear, are a time- traveling intruder who knows not the ways of this high society. So unless you want to stick out like a Manchester seamstress and get shown the door before you even get to have a chat with Lucinda, you need to go undercover. Youre a scullery maid. Serving girl. Chamber-pot changer. Its really up to you. Dont worry, Ill stay out of your way. I can disappear in the blink of an eye.