Stargazer Page 46

“Yeah, I’m good.”

I sat on the edge of my bed, so we were a few feet apart. Now I could focus. “You were having a tough time after Riverton,” I said. “Have you made more progress than you’ve told me?”

“No—when I find Charity, I’ll tell you immediately. The sooner we can call off Black Cross, the better.” He leaned back against the window frame. The gargoyle was visible as a shadow behind him, like a devil on his shoulder. “But I’m learning to accept that it’s not going to happen overnight. I’ve been without her for thirty-five years; I can make it a couple months more.”

“You make it sound like you’re the one who needs her, instead of the other way around.”

Balthazar considered that for a few moments. “I guess I always need someone to take care of.”

That came close to dangerous ground. Quickly I changed the subject to something I’d been weighing whether or not to discuss with him for some time. “If I share a confidence that somebody else has told me—

something really personal, really private—because I honestly think you might know something helpful, will you promise to keep the secret? And never, ever let on that you know?”

“Of course.” He sighed heavily. “Is this about Lucas?”

“No. It’s about Raquel.” There, on Christmas Eve, whispering so that my parents couldn’t possibly overhear a word, I told Balthazar what Raquel had revealed about the wraith that had terrorized her for so long.

He wasn’t as shocked as I had been. “What did you think the wraiths were, Bianca? Cute and friendly, like Casper the ghost and his pals?” Then he frowned. “Are there still Casper cartoons?”

“They had a movie,” I said absently. “But isn’t that—I mean, that ghost isn’t just turning things blue or making ice appear. It’s a—well, it’s a rapist.”

“Even human mythology is familiar with the incubi, Bianca. Some female wraiths sexually attack sleeping men; they’re called succubi.

Wraiths don’t have bodies, so they come up with every way they can to violate the bodies of others. Possession, sexual assault, hauntings—all part of the same pattern.”

I shuddered. “It’s just so scary. There are so many ghosts in the world—I mean, there have to be millions, Balthazar. If they’re all capable of that—”

“Wait a second. There aren’t millions of wraiths. They’re fairly rare.

Rarer than vampires, that’s for certain.”

“That’s not possible. Almost all the human kids here grew up in haunted houses.”

“What? You’re kidding.”

“Vic figured it out. Ghosts in almost all their homes. For that to be true, there would have to be hundreds and thousands of haunted houses…” My voice trailed off as I realized that wasn’t the only possibility.

Either there were tons of haunted houses in the world, so that any group of people my age might have grown up in them—or it was just a coincidence that so many of them had ended up here—or this was the answer Lucas and I had been seeking all along. This was the reason Mrs.

Bethany allowed human students to come to Evernight Academy. Not just any human students could attend; only the ones connected to the wraiths got through the doors.

“Mrs. Bethany’s looking for wraiths,” I whispered.


I explained to Balthazar as best I could, my words tumbling over each other in my excitement. “This has to be it. Once the students come here, she has a link to the homes and families that lasts for years. If she needed to get into any of these students’ houses, she could probably do it.”

“I agree that this can’t be random,” Balthazar said. Slowly, he started to grin. “This isn’t a coincidence. But why would Mrs. Bethany be looking for wraiths? They hate us; we hate them. Normally they give us a wide berth and we return the favor.”

“Not these days. Something’s changed. The old truce isn’t in place anymore.” I shivered and tucked my legs against my chest, hugging myself on the foot of my bed. “They’re after us. Wraiths are targeting either this school or vampires generally. Mrs. Bethany must have known this was coming, so she let the humans in to—to track the ghosts down or get access to them, maybe.”

He drummed his fingers on the windowsill. “You’re onto something.

Think about it, Bianca—for centuries no ghost dares to enter Evernight, and then tons show up as soon as human students appear?”

“Tons?” I thought about the girl I’d seen early in the year, then the frost man I’d seen in the north tower, and finally whatever it was that had disrupted the Autumn Ball—it didn’t seem to have a physical form.

“Yeah, more than one. But it wasn’t immediate. It took a year for the hauntings to start.”

“Given that the incidents started small, the hauntings could have begun last year. We wouldn’t necessarily have known.” I’d finally made the breakthrough. At last I understood. The wraiths had come to Evernight, and whatever we’d seen so far was only the beginning.

“Oh, honey, I love it.” Mom slid her new bracelet onto her wrist, then kissed my father on the cheek. Given that he’d been shopping for her for more than three hundred Christmases now, I thought he was doing pretty well to still be able to find things that pleased her. Or maybe that was the trick of their long partnership, the fact that they still took pleasure in virtually any gift, gesture, or word.

Dad ruffled my hair. “We’ll save the rest of your presents for you to unwrap when Balthazar gets here, but open just one, all right?” I obediently took a gift bag, which turned out to hold a tear-shaped pendant on an antique, green-copper chain. “It’s pretty,” I said as I tested its weight in my hands. “What is it?”

“Obsidian,” Mom said. “Put it on, so we can see.” They beamed at me as I hung it around my neck. I thought obsidian was sort of an odd choice, but the black sheen of the stone really was beautiful.

What was this day like for Lucas? I couldn’t imagine Kate or Eduardo telling Lucas stories about Santa when he was a child, or that Black Cross stayed in place long enough for him ever to have a Christmas tree.

I imagined him as the little boy he must have been, with sandy hair and big eyes, wishing for toys but never getting them. And he would never have complained. Right now, maybe, he was sleeping in a cot in some other miserable parking garage, without any presents or candy or holiday music. The picture in my mind looked bleak, and I remembered again what he’d once told me about not having any kind of normal life.

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