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IN THE DEAD OF NIGHT I SAT ON A BRIDGE SPANNING the Seine, watching a bouquet of crushed white lilies float toward the spotlit Eiffel Tower. I strained to listen for the words I thought I’d just heard. The words of a dead boy—of my boyfriend’s ghost. I could have sworn he spoke to me a second ago. Which was impossible.
But there they were again—his words appearing once more in my mind, the two syllables cutting me as sharply as a whip crack.
My heart hammered. “Vincent? Is that really you?” I asked with a trembling voice.
Kate, can you hear me?
“Vincent, you’re volant. Violette hasn’t destroyed you!” I leapt to my feet and spun around, searching anxiously for a glimpse of him, though I knew there would be nothing to see. I stood alone on the Pont des Arts. The surface of the water rippled and moved beneath me like the back of a great, dark serpent—the twinkling lights on the riverbanks reflected in its writhing smoothness. I shivered and pulled my coat tighter around myself.
No. She hasn’t destroyed my corpse . . . yet.
“Oh my God, Vincent, I was sure she had done it.” I wiped a tear from my cheek before a flood of others followed. Just moments earlier, I had given up all hope of ever hearing from him again. I had been positive that he was gone forever, his body burned by his enemy. But here he was. I didn’t understand. I choked back tears.
Kate. Breathe, Vincent insisted.
I exhaled slowly. “I can’t believe you’re here, talking to me. Where are you? Where did she take your body?”
I’m lying dormant in Violette’s castle in the Loire Valley. I only became conscious a few minutes ago. As soon as I figured out what she was doing, I came to you. Vincent’s words sounded bleak. Hopeless.
My hands shook as I whipped my phone out of my pocket. “Tell me exactly where you are. I’m calling Ambrose—he’ll get a group together and we’ll be right there.”
It’s too late for a rescue, Kate. Violette has been waiting for my mind to awake, and now that I’m volant, she will burn my body. When I left, some of her henchmen were stoking a fire while she performed some kind of ancient ritual she claimed would bind my spirit to her once I’m reduced to ashes. I only have a few minutes, and I want to spend them with you.
“It’s never too late,” I insisted. “We could try to stop whatever it is that Violette’s doing. I’m sure your kindred could come up with some kind of distraction. We have to try.” Why was Vincent giving up so easily?
Kate. Stop, he pleaded. Please don’t waste the little time I have trying to call Ambrose when there is no way that you can reach me in time. There is no way, believe me.
The force in his voice made me hesitate, but I kept staring at my phone as a lump formed in my throat. If I couldn’t do anything, it meant that all was lost. My initial shock was being overtaken by an icy shawl of realization: The boy I loved was minutes away from being burned on a pyre. “No!” I cried, willing the horror to go away.
Vincent was silent, allowing the truth to sink in. I was losing my love—forever. If Vincent’s body was destroyed, I would never touch him again. Never feel his mouth against mine. Never hold him in my arms.
But he won’t be completely gone. Will he? I had to make sure. My voice came out in a strangled croak. “At least you’re volant, right? If Violette had burned you before your mind awoke, you would be gone forever—body and spirit.”
I wish she had. Vincent’s words were bitter. She said she needed my spirit present in order to perform the power transfer. A few seconds passed before I heard his voice again. I think I’d rather be nonexistent than help Violette become powerful enough to destroy my kindred.
I didn’t agree. Vincent still existed, even if his body didn’t. The boy I loved so desperately hadn’t completely disappeared. That’s something, I thought, feeling a glimmer of hope. And then I remembered, I will never see him. Or feel his skin against mine as we touch hands. Lips. Never again. And the hope disappeared.
Fury fought despair inside me. “Why did it have to be you?” I asked. “Why are you the one with the power she’s ready to kill for?”
If it wasn’t me, it would be someone else.
“I wish it were someone else,” I said selfishly. “I want you to live.” But I knew Vincent wouldn’t agree. His whole existence was about sacrificing himself for others. He would give himself in a heartbeat to save one of his kindred.
I looked out over the rippling water and imagined Vincent materializing before me. The soft black of his hair. The sapphire flash of his dark eyes. His tall, solid frame. Vincent’s phantom hung suspended over the waves for a moment, glimmering transparently in the moonlight, before dissolving back into my mind’s eye.
I don’t want to watch her burn my body.
There was fear in his voice. Vincent had experienced many violent deaths, but this end was final. I wanted to take his hand. I wanted to touch him. Comfort him. But all I had were words. “Then don’t go back. Stay here with me until the end.” I tried to sound brave, but I was trembling.
“I love you.” I spoke the words, while silently urging myself not to cry. The last thing Vincent needed right now was to see me mourn him.
You are my life, Kate. I have been fighting my destiny to be with you, and after all that struggle I find myself powerless; I can’t stop Violette.
I didn’t respond. Because if I did, I would scream. My heart felt like it was being wrenched from my chest as Vincent was being separated from me for eternity. The boy who I had given so much to love—who I had gone against my sense of self-preservation to be with—was being taken away from me by a megalomaniac adolescent, and there wasn’t a thing anyone could do about it. I couldn’t hold it back: I began crying again. But not from sadness. My tears were tears of impotent fury.
Will you pass a message on to Jean-Baptiste and the others for me?
“Of course,” I gasped, trying to speak around the boulder of hatred lodged in my throat.
Remind them that since I didn’t offer myself voluntarily to Violette, she will not receive my full power. That’s the only ray of hope I can see.
Apologize to JB for me. For my disbelief, he continued. I wish I had figured out what all of this meant while I still had a chance.
“Yes. I’ll tell them.” My breath made little puffs of cloud in the frigid air. I rubbed my hands briskly on my arms. Leaping down off the end of the bridge, I strode swiftly in the direction of La Maison, knowing that Vincent’s spirit would accompany me. Even if it was too late to save him, I had to tell the others what was going on.
Kate, I want you to know that I awoke the first time I saw you.
I had managed to pull myself together in order to carry out the monumental task of putting one foot in front of the other, but a declaration of love from the boy I was about to lose was too much for me. Tears blurred my vision as he continued.
Something inside me that had been still and silent since my first death all of a sudden sparked and began to live again. I knew there was something different about you, and I had to find out what it was.
“When was the first time you saw me?” I asked, trying to distract myself—to keep myself from breaking down right then and there on the riverbank. “Are you talking about the Café Sainte-Lucie?”
No. He laughed. I had seen you around our neighborhood—long before the café. We kept crossing paths for weeks before you actually noticed me. And I couldn’t help wondering who you were and why you were so tortured—so mournful. I kept hoping your sister or your grandparents would say your name. We just called you the sad girl.
“Who is ‘we’?” I asked, my pace slowing.
Ambrose, Jules, and me.
“Then they must have recognized me that first day in the café,” I said, surprised by this new perspective on our story.
His silence was an affirmation. You’ve intrigued me from the very beginning. And you still do. You’re different. I wanted to spend the rest of your life discovering who you were. But now . . . His words dissolved and then reappeared with renewed determination.
Kate, I promise I will find a way to get away from Violette and come back to you. Even if it’s too late for us, I want you to know I will always be near. I’ll always be watching out for you.
Stunned, I froze mid-step. “What do you mean, ‘too late for us’?” I asked, feeling like I had been punched in the gut.
Kate, in a few minutes my body will no longer exist. From now on, the only thing I can do for you is try to keep you safe. A human and a revenant—that was a difficult enough challenge. But a human and a ghost? Mon amour, I would never wish that for . . .
And that was it. Those were the last words Vincent spoke to me before he was gone, leaving me alone on a riverbank with nothing but the whistling of the winter wind.
AS I RAN, IT SEEMED THAT THE RIVER WAS RISING up above its banks and invisible waves were lapping at my ankles. Within seconds I felt as if I were moving underwater, battling a powerful current as I fought to propel myself toward La Maison.
Finally I was typing in the digicode and flying through the gate. My stomach twisted with nausea as I threw the door open and looked wildly around.
Gaspard and Arthur were coming down the staircase peering at the pages of a large book held between them. They stopped when they saw me. Shoving the book at Arthur, the older revenant rushed down the steps and took me by the shoulders. “What is it, Kate?” he asked.
“Vincent,” I gasped, fighting to catch my breath. “He came to me. But now he’s gone.”
“Gone where?” he urged.
“Burned,” I blurted. “He awoke, came to me volant, and said Violette was about to burn him. And then his voice just disappeared.”
Gaspard looped my arm through his, grasping my hand securely. “Get everyone together,” he commanded. Arthur was off like a shot, calling together the few dozen Parisian kindred who had gathered at La Maison to wait for news of Vincent’s whereabouts.
Gaspard led me through the sitting room and into the great hall. “Your hands are like ice, my dear,” he said, seating me in front of the crackling fire and draping a woolen throw around my shoulders.
Even with the radiant heat and warm blanket, I couldn’t stop shaking. The flames made me think of another blaze that was burning a few hours south of us. Flames that had taken Vincent away from me—permanently.
I heard footsteps rushing up behind me and found myself enveloped in a couple hundred pounds of muscle. “Katie-Lou, are you okay?” Ambrose asked, his voice harsh with protectiveness. Leaning away, he searched my face. I shook my head numbly and he wrapped me back in his arms.
I stayed mummified against him for the next few minutes while everyone assembled. Jean-Baptiste perched on a wooden stool before the fire, Gaspard stood by his side, and Arthur positioned himself in front of me on the rug. The rest of the revenants fanned out around us, all eyes focused on me. They fell silent as I cleared my throat to keep my voice from trembling.
I told them that Nicolas had followed me to the Pont des Arts to deliver Violette’s message: She had taken Vincent’s body to her castle in the Loire and would destroy it when she “saw fit.” And he had informed me of the reason the numa trusted Violette in the first place: She had convinced their chief, Lucien, that she held the secret to capturing the Champion’s power and promised to use it against the bardia.
After giving them the message Vincent asked me to relay, I concluded: “And that was all. His voice just cut off like that, in the middle of talking.” Let them believe his message to his kindred were his last words, I thought. His true last words were too personal—not to mention painful—to share.
There was a second of horrified silence before the room erupted. Ambrose dropped me from his bear hug, rose to his feet, and added his voice to the others. “Well, what are we waiting for, people? Let’s go storm the castle!”
Jean-Baptiste shook his head gravely, raising his voice to be heard above the crowd. “It’s too late.” His voice quieted the noisy crowd as effectively as a spoon against a wineglass. “Vincent will be ashes by the time we arrive, his spirit bound to Violette.”
“What does that even mean, being bound?” Ambrose asked, nestling back next to me. As usual, everyone turned to Gaspard for an explanation.
Now that the commotion had died down, he was back to his tic-y nervous self. He fidgeted with his shirt collar and raised a trembling finger, his wild hair forming an inky halo around his head.
“A wandering soul—a revenant soul that has no remaining body—is a rare enough thing,” he began. “When our enemies succeed in killing us, they destroy our body immediately, and our soul disappears with it. They would have no reason to wait until we are volant to destroy us—trapping us as wandering souls—except perhaps in a case of vengeance against a particular revenant.
“But a wandering soul being bound to its captor is so rare that I can think of no examples from recent history. Which is understandable considering the extreme personal sacrifice a numa must make to successfully perform a binding.” Gaspard grimaced.
“Extreme personal sacrifice?” I asked, something catching in my throat. His revolted expression was creeping me out.
He was silent for a few unnerving seconds, choosing his words, and said, “They must incinerate a part of themselves with the body of the one they are binding.”
“What do you mean? Like their hair or fingernails?” My nose wrinkled in disgust.
“No, it must be flesh and bone,” Gaspard said.