Rapture – Lauren Kate

First there was silence— In the space between Heaven and the Fall, deep in the unknowable distance, there was a moment when the glorious hum of Heaven disappeared and was replaced by a silence so profound that Daniel’s soul strained to make out any noise. Then came the feeling of falling—a drop even his wings couldn’t prevent, as if the Throne had attached moons to them. They hardly beat, and when they did, it made no impact on his fall. 1  Where was he going? There was nothing before him and nothing behind. Nothing up and nothing down. Only thick darkness, and the blurry outline of what was left of Daniel’s soul. In the absence of sound, his imagination took over. It filled his head with something beyond sound, something inescapable: the haunting words of Lucinda’s curse. She will die . She will never pass out of adolescence—will die again and again and again at precisely the moment when she remembers your choice. You will never truly be together. It was Lucifer’s foul imprecation, his embittered ad-dendum to the Throne’s sentence passed in the Heavenly Meadow. Now death was coming for his love.

Could Daniel stop it? Would he even recognize it? For what did an angel know of death? Daniel had witnessed it come peacefully to some of the new mortal breed called human, but death did not concern angels. Death and adolescence: the two absolutes in Lucifer’s Curse. Neither meant a thing to Daniel. All he knew was that being separated from Lucinda was not a punishment he could endure. They had to be together. “Lucinda!” he shouted. His soul should have warmed at the very thought of her, but there was only aching absence, an abundance of what was not. He should have been able to sense his brethren 2 3/12/12 2:22 PM around him—all those who’d chosen wrongly or too late; who’d made no choice at all and been cast out for their indecision. He knew that he wasn’t truly alone; so many of them had plummeted when the cloudsoil beneath them opened up onto the void. But he could neither see nor sense anyone else. Before this moment, he had never been alone. Now he felt like the last angel in all the worlds.

Don’t think like that. You’ll lose yourself. He tried to hold on . Lucinda, the Roll Call, Lucinda, the choice . but as he fell, it grew harder to remember. What, for instance, were the last words he’d heard spoken by the Throne— The Gates of Heaven . The Gates of Heaven are . He could not remember what came next, could only dimly recall how the great light had flickered, and the harshest cold had swept over the Meadow, and the trees in the Orchard had tumbled into one another, causing waves of furious disturbance that were felt throughout the cosmos, tsunamis of cloudsoil that blinded the angels and crushed their glory. There had been something else, something just before the obliteration of the Meadow, something like a— Twinning. A bold bright angel had soared up during the Roll Call—said he was Daniel come back from the future.

3 3/12/12 2:22 PM There was a sadness in his eyes that had looked so . old. Had this angel—this version of Daniel’s soul— suffered deeply? Had Lucinda? A vast rage rose in Daniel. He would find Lucifer, the angel who lived at the dead end of all ideas. Daniel did not fear the traitor who had been the Morning Star. Wherever, whenever they reached the end of this oblivion, Daniel would take his revenge. But first he would find Lucinda, for without her, nothing mattered. Without her love, nothing was possible. Theirs was a love that made it inconceivable to choose Lucifer or the Throne. The only side he could ever choose was hers.

So now Daniel would pay for that choice, but he did not yet understand the shape his punishment would take. Only that she was gone from the place she belonged: at his side. The pain of separation from his soul mate coursed through Daniel suddenly, sharp and brutal. He moaned wordlessly, his mind clouded over, and suddenly, fright-eningly, he couldn’t remember why. He tumbled onward, down through denser black-ness. He could no longer see or feel or recall how he had ended up here, nowhere, hurtling through nothingness—toward where? For how long? His memory sputtered and faded. It was harder and 4 3/12/12 2:22 PM harder to recall those words spoken by the angel in the white meadow who had looked so much like . Who had the angel resembled? And what had he said that was so important? Daniel did not know, did not know anything anymore. Only that he was tumbling through an endless void. He was filled with an urge to find something .

someone. An urge to feel whole again . But there was only darkness inside darkness— Silence drowning out his thoughts— A nothing that was everything. Daniel fell. 5 ONE THE BOOK OF WATCHERS “Good morning.” A warm hand brushed Luce’s face and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. Rolling onto her side, she yawned and opened her eyes. She had been sleeping deeply, dreaming about Daniel. “Oh,” she gasped, feeling her cheek. There he was.

Daniel was sitting next to her. He wore a black sweater and the same red scarf that had been knotted 7 around his neck the first time she’d seen him at Sword & Cross. He looked better than a dream. His weight made the edge of the cot sag a little and Luce drew up her legs to snuggle closer to him. “You’re not a dream,” she said. Daniel’s eyes were blearier than she was used to, but they still glowed the brightest violet as they gazed at her face, studying her features as if seeing her anew. He leaned down and pressed his lips to hers. Luce folded into him, wrapping her arms around the back of his neck, happy to kiss him back. She didn’t care about her unbrushed teeth, about her bed head. She didn’t care about anything other than his kiss.

They were together now and neither of them could stop grinning. Then it all came rushing back: Razor claws and dull red eyes. Choking stench of death and rot. Darkness everywhere, so complete in its doom it made light and love and everything good in the world feel tired and broken and dead. That Lucifer had once been something else to her— Bill, the ornery stone gargoyle she’d mistaken for a friend, was actually Lucifer himself—seemed impossible. She’d let him get too close, and now, because she had not done as he wished—choosing not to kill her soul in ancient Egypt—he had decided to wipe the slate clean. To bend time and erase everything since the Fall. 8 Every life, every love, every moment that every mortal and angelic soul had ever experienced would be balled up and discarded at Lucifer’s reckless whim, like the universe was a board game and he was a whining child giving up when he began to lose. But what he wanted to win, Luce had no idea. Her skin felt hot as she remembered his wrath.

He’d wanted her to see it, to tremble in his hand when he took her back to the time of the Fall. He’d wanted to show her it was personal for him. Then he’d thrown her aside, casting an Announcer like a net to capture all the angels who’d fallen from Heaven. Just as Daniel caught her in that starry noplace, Lucifer blinked out of existence and incited the Fall to begin again. He was there now with the falling angels, including the past version of himself. Like the rest of them, Lucifer would fall in powerless isolation—with his brethren but apart, together but alone. Millennia ago, it had taken the angels nine mortal days to fall from Heaven down to Earth. Since Lucifer’s second Fall would follow the same trajectory, Luce, Daniel, and the others had just nine days to stop him. If they didn’t, once Lucifer and his Announcer full of angels fell to Earth, there would be a hiccup in time that would reverberate backward all the way to the original Fall, and everything would start anew. As though the 9 seven thousand years between then and now had never happened.

As though Luce hadn’t at last begun to understand the curse, to understand where she fit into all this, to learn who she was and what she could be. The history and the future of the world were in jeopardy—unless Luce, seven angels, and two Nephilim could stop Lucifer. They had nine days and no idea where to start. Luce had been so tired the night before that she didn’t remember lying down on this cot, drawing this thin blue blanket around her shoulders. There were cobwebs in the rafters of the small cabin, a folding table strewn with half-drunk mugs of hot chocolate that Gabbe had made for everyone the previous night. But it all seemed like a dream to Luce. Her flight down from the Announcer to this tiny island off Tybee, this safe zone for the angels, had been obscured by blinding fatigue. She’d fallen asleep while the others had still been talking, letting Daniel’s voice lull her into a dream. Now the cabin was quiet, and in the window behind Daniel’s silhouette, the sky was the gray of almost sunrise. She reached up to touch his cheek.

He turned his head and kissed the inside of her palm. Luce squeezed her eyes to stop from crying. Why, after all they’d been through, did Luce and Daniel have to beat the devil before they were free to love? 10 “Daniel.” Roland’s voice came from the doorway of the cabin. His hands were tucked inside his peacoat pockets, and a gray wool ski cap crowned his dreads. He gave Luce a weary smile. “It’s time.” “Time for what?” Luce propped herself up on her elbows. “We’re leaving? Already? I wanted to say goodbye to my parents. They’re probably panicked.

” “I thought I’d take you by their house now,” Daniel said, “to say goodbye.” “But how am I going to explain disappearing after Thanksgiving dinner?” She remembered Daniel’s words from the night before: Though it felt like they’d been inside the Announcers for an eternity, in real time only a few hours had passed. Still, to Harry and Doreen Price, a few hours of a missing daughter was eternity. Daniel and Roland shared a glance. “We took care of it,” Roland said, handing Daniel a set of car keys. “You took care of it how?” Luce asked. “My dad once called the police when I was a half an hour late from school—” “Don’t worry, kid,” Roland said. “We’ve got you covered. You just need to make a quick costume change.” He pointed toward a backpack on the rocking chair by the door.

“Gabbe brought over your things.” “Um, thanks,” she said, confused. Where was Gabbe? 11 Where were the rest of them? The cabin had been packed the night before, positively cozy with the glow of angel wings and the smell of hot chocolate and cinnamon. The memory of that coziness, coupled with the promise of saying goodbye to her parents without knowing where she was going, made this morning feel empty. The wood floor was rough against her bare feet. Looking down, she realized she was still wearing the narrow white shift dress she’d had on in Egypt, in the last life she had visited through the Announcers. Bill had made her wear it. No, not Bill. Lucifer. He’d leered approvingly as she tucked the starshot into her waistband, contemplating the advice he’d given her on how to kill her soul.

Never, never, never. Luce had too much to live for. Inside the old green backpack she used to take to summer camp, Luce found her favorite pair of pajamas— the red-and-white-striped flannel set—neatly folded, with the matching white slippers underneath. “But it’s morning,” Luce said. “What do I need pajamas for?” Again Daniel and Roland shared a glance, and this time, they were trying not to laugh. “Just trust us,” Roland said. After she was dressed, Luce followed Daniel out of the cabin, letting his broad shoulders buffet the wind as they walked down the pebbly shore to the water. The tiny island off of Tybee was about a mile from 12 the Savannah coastline. Across that stretch of sea, Roland had promised that a car was waiting. Daniel’s wings were concealed, but he must have sensed her eyeing the place where they unfurled from his shoulders.

“When everything is in order, we’ll fly wherever we have to go to stop Lucifer. Until then it’s better to stay low to the ground.” “Okay,” Luce said. “Race you to the other side?” Her breath frosted the air. “You know I’d beat you.” “True.” He slipped an arm around her waist, warm-ing her. “Maybe we’d better take the boat, then. Protect my famous pride.” She watched him unmoor a small metal rowboat from a boat slip.

The soft light on the water made her think back to the day they’d raced across the secret lake at Sword & Cross. His skin had glistened as they had pulled themselves up to the flat rock in the center to catch their breath, then had lain on the sun-warmed stone, letting the day’s heat dry their bodies. She’d barely known Daniel then—she hadn’t known he was an angel—and already she’d been dangerously in love with him. “We used to swim together in my lifetime in Tahiti, didn’t we?” she asked, surprised to remember another time she’d seen Daniel’s hair glisten with water. Daniel stared at her and she knew how much it meant 13 to him finally to be able to share some of his memories of their past. He looked so moved that Luce thought he might cry. Instead he kissed her forehead tenderly and said, “You beat me all those times, too, Lulu.” They didn’t talk much as Daniel rowed. It was enough for Luce just to watch the way his muscles strained and flexed each time he dragged back, hearing the oars dip into and out of the cold water, breathing in the brine of the ocean. The sun was rising over her shoulders, warm-ing the back of her neck, but as they approached the mainland, she saw something that sent a shiver down her spine.

She recognized the white 1993 Taurus immediately. “What’s wrong?” Daniel noticed Luce’s posture stiffen as the rowboat touched the shore. “Oh. That.” He sounded unconcerned as he hopped out of the boat and held out a hand to Luce. The ground was mulchy and rich-smelling. It reminded Luce of her childhood, running through Georgia forests in the fall, luxuriating in the anticipation of mischief and adventure. “It’s not what you think,” Daniel said. “When Sophia fled Sword & Cross, after”—Luce waited, wincing, hoping Daniel wouldn’t say after she murdered Penn—“after we found out who she really was, the angels confiscated her car.” His face hardened.

“She owes us that much, and more.” 14 Luce thought of Penn’s white face, the life draining from it. “Where is Sophia now?” Daniel shook his head. “I don’t know. Unfortunately, we’ll probably soon find out. I have a feeling she’ll worm her way into our plans.” He drew the keys from his pocket, inserted one into the passenger door. “But that’s not what you should be worried about right now.” Luce looked at him as she sank onto the gray cloth seat. “So what should I be worried about right now?” Daniel turned the key, and the car shuddered slowly to life.

The last time she’d sat in this seat, she’d been worried about being alone with him. It was the first night they’d ever kissed—as far as she’d known then, anyway. Luce was stabbing the seat belt into its buckle when she felt Daniel’s fingers over hers. “Remember,” he said softly, reaching over to buckle her seat belt, letting his hands linger over hers. “There’s a trick.” He kissed her cheek, then put the car in reverse and peeled out of the wet woods onto a narrow two-lane blacktop. They were the only ones on the road. “Daniel?” Luce asked again. “What else should I be worried about?” He glanced at Luce’s pajamas. “How good are you at playing sick?” 15 The white Taurus idled in the alley behind her parents’ house as Luce crept past the three azalea trees beside her bedroom window.

In the summer, there would be tomato vines creeping out of the black soil, but in winter, the side yard looked barren and dreary and not very much like home. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d stood out here. She’d sneaked out of three different boarding schools before, but never out of her own parents’ house. Now she was sneaking in and she didn’t know how her window worked. Luce looked around at her sleepy neighborhood, at the morning paper sitting in its dewy plastic bag at the edge of her parents’ lawn, at the old, netless basketball hoop in the Johnsons’ driveway across the street. Nothing had changed since she’d been gone. Nothing had changed except Luce. If Bill succeeded, would this neighborhood vanish, too? She gave one last wave to Daniel, watching from the car, took a deep breath, and used her thumbs to pry the lower panel from the cracking blue paint of the sill. It slid right up. Someone inside had already popped out the screen.

Luce paused, stunned as the white muslin curtains parted and the half-blond, half-black head of her onetime enemy Molly Zane filled the open space. “’Sup, Meatloaf.” Luce bristled at the nickname she’d earned on her first day of Sword & Cross. This was what Daniel and 16 Roland meant when they said they’d taken care of things at home? “What are you doing here, Molly?” “Come on. I won’t bite.” Molly extended a hand. Her nails were chipped emerald green. She sank her hand into Molly’s, ducked, and sidled, one leg at a time, through the window. Her bedroom looked small and outdated, like a time capsule of some long-ago Luce. There was the framed poster of the Eiffel Tower on the back of her door.

There was her bulletin board of swim team ribbons from Thunder bolt Elementary. And there, under the green-and-yellow Hawaiian-print duvet, was her best friend, Callie. Callie scrambled from under the covers, dashed around the bed, and flung herself into Luce’s arms. “They kept telling me you were going to be okay, but in that lying, we’re-also-completely-terrifiedwe’re-just-not-going-to-explain-a-word-to-you kind of way. Do you even realize how thoroughly spooky that was? It was like you physically dropped off the face of the Earth—” Luce hugged her back tightly. As far as Callie knew, Luce had been gone only since the night before. “Okay, you two,” Molly growled, pulling Luce away from Callie, “you can OMG your faces off later. I didn’t lie in your bed in that cheap polyester wig all night en-17 acting Luce-with-stomach-flu so you guys could blow our cover now.” She rolled her eyes. “Amateurs.

” “Hold on. You did what?” Luce asked. “After you . disappeared,” Callie said breathlessly, “we knew we could never explain it to your parents. I mean, I could barely fathom it after seeing it with my own eyes. When Gabbe fixed up the backyard, I told your parents you felt sick and had gone to bed, and Molly pretended to be you and—” “Lucky I found this in your closet.” Molly twirled a short wavy black wig around one finger. “Halloween remnant?” “Wonder Woman.” Luce winced, regretting her middle school Halloween costume, and not for the first time. “Well, it worked.

” It was strange to see Molly—who’d once sided with Lucifer—helping her. But even Molly, like Cam and Roland, didn’t want to fall again. So here they were, a team, strange bedfellows. “You covered for me? I don’t know what to say. Thank you.” “Whatever.” Molly jerked her head at Callie, anything to deflect Luce’s gratitude. “She was the real silver-tongued devil. Thank her.” She stuck one leg out the open window and turned to call back, “Think you guys can handle it from here? I have a Waffle House summit meeting to attend.

” 18 Luce gave Molly the thumbs-up and flopped down on her bed. “Oh, Luce,” Callie whispered. “When you left, your whole backyard was covered in this gray dust. And that blond girl, Gabbe, swept her hand once and made it disappear. Then we said you were sick, that everyone else had gone home, and we just started doing the dishes with your parents. And at first I thought that Molly girl was a little bit terrible, but she’s actually kind of cool.” Her eyes narrowed. “But where did you go? What happened to you? You really scared me, Luce.” “I don’t even know where to start,” Luce said. There was a knock, followed by the familiar creak of her bedroom door opening.

Luce’s mother stood in the hallway, her sleep-wild hair tamed by a yellow banana clip, her face bare of makeup and pretty. She was holding a wicker tray with two glasses of orange juice, two plates of buttered toast, and a box of Alka-Seltzer. “Looks like someone’s feeling better.” Luce waited for her mom to put the tray down on the nightstand; then she wrapped her arms around her mother’s waist and buried her face in her pink terry cloth bathrobe. Tears stung her eyes. She sniffed. “My little girl,” her mom said, feeling Luce’s forehead and cheeks to check for fever. Even though she hadn’t used that soft sweet voice on Luce in ages, it felt so good to hear. 19 “I love you, Mom.” “Don’t tell me she’s too sick for Black Friday.

” Luce’s father appeared in the doorway, holding a green plastic watering can. He was smiling, but behind his rimless glasses, Mr. Price’s eyes looked concerned. “I am feeling better,” Luce said. “But—” “Oh, Harry,” Luce’s mom said. “You know we only had her for the day. She has to be back at school.” She turned to Luce. “Daniel called a little while ago, honey. He said he can pick you up and take you back to Sword & Cross.

I said that of course your father and I would be happy to, but—” “No,” Luce said quickly, remembering the plan Daniel had detailed in the car. “Even if I can’t go, you guys should still do your Black Friday shopping. It’s a Price family tradition.” They agreed that Luce would ride with Daniel and her parents would take Callie to the airport. While the girls ate, Luce’s parents sat on the edge of the bed and talked about Thanksgiving (“Gabbe polished all the china—what an angel”). By the time they moved on to the Black Friday deals they were on the hunt for (“All your father ever wants is tools”), Luce realized that she hadn’t said anything except for inane conversation fillers like “Uh-huh” and “Oh really?” When her parents finally stood up to take their plates into the kitchen, and Callie started to pack, Luce went into the bathroom and shut the door. 20 She was alone for the first time in what seemed like a million ages. She sat down on the vanity stool and looked in the mirror. She was herself, but different. Sure, Lucinda Price looked back at her.

But also . There were Layla in the fullness of her lips, Lulu in the thick waves of her hair, Lu Xin in the intensity of her hazel eyes, Lucia in the twinkle in her eyes. She was not alone. Maybe she never would be alone again. There, in the mirror, was every incarnation of Lucinda staring back at her and wondering, What is to become of us? What about our history, and our love? She took a shower and put on clean jeans, her black riding boots, and a long white sweater. She sat down on Callie’s suitcase while her friend struggled to zip it up. The silence between them was brutal. “You’re my best friend, Callie,” Luce finally said. “I’m going through something I don’t understand. But that thing isn’t you.

I’m sorry I don’t know how to be more specific, but I’ve missed you. So much.” Callie’s shoulders tensed. “You used to tell me everything.” But the look that passed between them suggested both girls knew that wasn’t possible anymore. A car door slammed out front. Through the open blinds Luce watched Daniel make his way up her parents’ path. And even though it had been less than an hour since he had dropped her off, Luce felt her heart pick up and her cheeks flush at the 21 sight of him. He walked slowly, as if he were floating, his red scarf trailing behind him in the wind. Even Callie stared.

Luce’s parents gathered in the foyer with them. She hugged each one of them for a long time—Dad first, then Mom, then Callie, who squeezed her hard and whispered quickly, “What I saw last night— you, stepping into that . that shadow—was beautiful. I just want you to know that.” Luce felt her eyes burn again. She squeezed Callie back and whispered, “Thank you.” Then she walked down the path and into Daniel’s arms and whatever came along with them. “There you are, you lovebirds you, doin’ that thing that lovebirds do,” Arriane sang, bobbing her head out from behind a long bookcase. She was sitting cross-legged on a wooden library chair, juggling a few Hacky Sacks. She wore overalls, combat boots, and her dark hair plaited into tiny pigtails.

Luce was not overjoyed to be back at the Sword & Cross Library. It had been renovated since the fire that had destroyed it, but it still smelled like something big and ugly had burned there. The faculty had explained away the fire as a freak accident, but someone had been killed—Todd, a quiet student who Luce had barely known until the night he died—and Luce knew there 22

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