Stargazer Page 28

“No werewolves. No witches. Mummies are only in museums—at least, as far as I know. There are other forces out there, but I’m not sure they have names or faces. Maybe not bodies. They’re darker, deeper than that.” Balthazar paused and frowned. “Wait, you said you saw something last night that scared you.”

“A ghost. A wraith, I guess,” I said, trying out the word I’d heard my parents use only a handful of times.

“That’s not possible. There wouldn’t be wraiths at Evernight Academy.”

“Why not? It’s creepy enough.”

“The way the school is built keeps them out. There are metals and minerals that naturally repel wraiths—the ones in human blood, like iron and copper, work best—and those are laid into every stone of the foundation.” He brushed a fingertip along my hairline, a caress so intimate that it made my cheeks flush. Balthazar could apparently concentrate on our conversation and feign romance at the same time. “Besides, wraiths are afraid of us, at least, as afraid as we are of them. I’ve heard of them making trouble for vampires, hauntings and things like that—but it’s rare. Wraiths usually can’t get away from vampires fast enough.”

“Why are wraiths afraid of us? I see why we scare humans—but vampires can’t drink the blood of ghosts. Ghosts don’t even have blood, do they?”

“They do when they manifest in corporeal form, but mostly they exist as vapors, frost, cold spaces—an image or shadow, maybe, but no more.”

The word frost brought back last night’s apparition so powerfully that I shivered. Balthazar hugged me closer, as if sheltering me from the autumn breeze. It did help a little. “Okay, if wraiths are afraid of vampires, they’d probably steer clear of this school. And you say the stones and metals in the building should keep them out. But if that’s so, then explain what I saw last night.”

I went through it all: the crackling sound of ice, the unearthly green-blue glow, the frost man’s face and his final, shattered-glass warning. Balthazar stared at me, eyes wide, any thought of romantic playacting apparently forgotten. When I finished, he stared at me for a few moments before he was able to say, “That could only be a wraith.”

“Told you.”

“It’s the most dramatic manifestation I’ve ever heard of, though. By far. And what could that mean, ‘Stop’? Stop what?”

“Your guess is as good as mine. Hey, is there a difference between wraiths and ghosts? Like, are wraiths superbad ghosts or something?”

“No. Two different names for the same thing.” He put one hand on my arm. “We have to tell Mrs. Bethany.”

“What? We can’t!” I clutched at his sweater, and the Evernight crest—two ravens on either side of a sword—wrinkled beneath my fingers, before I realized how it would look to anyone watching. Quickly I flattened my hands against his chest, the way a girlfriend might. “Balthazar, if we tell her, she’s going to ask what I was doing up in the records room.”

“What were you doing up there?”

“Trying to figure out why she allows humans at Evernight in the first place.”

Balthazar considered that question, then pushed it aside to deal with the matter at hand. “We could pretend we were going to meet up. That you saw this vision right before I got there.”

“I guess that would work,” I admitted. “Lucas and I used to—Well, we went there together once.”

Balthazar’s dark eyes narrowed slightly at the mention of Lucas’s name, and I knew he could sense my reaction to the memory of the hours Lucas and I had spent in that room. Warmth coursed through me as I recalled kissing Lucas, lying in his arms and biting down and drinking deeply of the blood he freely gave me. Did it really show on my face? Whatever it was, it made Balthazar’s voice rough as he said, “Good. That makes the story more believable. I’ll tell her—you don’t have to be there. I’ll say you’re too embarrassed to come to her yourself.”

“This much is true.”

“Afterward she’ll be on the lookout for the wraith, and she’ll probably pass word along to your parents about us. Two birds, one stone.”

“I guess that works.” Exhausted, I leaned against Balthazar’s shoulder again. “I didn’t sleep at all after that. I feel like I’m about to drop.”

“I wouldn’t have been able to sleep either.” He stroked my arm. “Why don’t you take a nap?”

“Calculus doesn’t start for another hour, but—I don’t want to go back to my room.”

I expected him to ask why, but instead Balthazar patted his leg, offering to serve as a pillow. At first I was uneasy as I lowered myself onto the ground and rested my cheek against his thigh, but his hand on my shoulder steadied me, and I was too tired to fight sleep for long. It was the first time in hours I’d felt safe.

During the next few days, word of my new “romance” spread throughout the school. Balthazar and I met up after our classes and hung out together to study in the library—all of which we’d done before, but add some hand-holding and apparently it looked just like a blazing-hot love affair. I could tell that most people were wondering what a mature, sexy guy like Balthazar was doing with the redheaded astronomy geek, but they didn’t seem to doubt the relationship was real. Courtney even started trying to put me down in classes again, which was too ridiculous to be very annoying.

I wondered if Raquel knew about it, but I couldn’t really ask. We were speaking, but since that night I saw the wraith, she wanted to be around me as little as possible. When I was in the room, she made an excuse to leave it, and when I tried to start conversation, she’d just say “yes” or “no” or “fine” until I finally gave up. It was funny, but I hadn’t realized how much time Raquel had spent skulking around in our room until this—too much, really. I knew she wasn’t okay, and something about what I’d said had made matters even worse, but there didn’t seem to be any way to reach out to her.

The one person I’d been most worried about turned out not to be a problem at all. One evening, when I went into the great hall, I saw the usual collection of people talking, loafing, and hanging out. Among them, sitting at one of the tables nearest the door, were Ranulf and Vic, who sat on opposite sides of a chessboard. Vic looked as serious as I’d ever seen him, even though he wore a Hawaiian shirt. He moved his knight, smacking it down on a new square with a thunk. “Do you feel the hurt? Oh, yeah, I think you do.”

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