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An Imprint of Penguin Group (USA) LLC
because I miss you.
A division of Penguin Young Readers Group
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) LLC
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Copyright © 2014 Aprilynne Pike
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
My pulse throbs in my temples—a frantic rhythm that matches the pounding of my feet. I feel ridiculous stooping to something as primitive—as human—as running away, but I can’t beat them in my natural way.
I should be able to. My sudden increase in strength terrifies even me. But that’s the problem; I’m too afraid to unleash it. Afraid of what I might do. The people I might hurt. It’s too much all at once.
It’s not right. So I run.
But I’m not really a runner. Not the long-distance kind for sure. They’re gaining on me. It was inevitable. It’s not like I really thought I could get away; I just needed a few minutes to think. So I took off.
What are they going to do? Shoot me in the back? They need me alive and we all know it.
With my lungs aching, I gasp to a stop and they surround me, all of us breathing hard. I’m not completely sure where I am. An overpass. No, one of those pedestrian bridges over a freeway. Cars zoom beneath me, the sound of roaring engines echoing in my ears as vibrations shake the cement under my feet. The people around me have drawn their guns. Obviously they don’t care about creating a scene. They’ll kill any witnesses without a second thought.
But I care.
I care, damn it!
I grasp at the gritty edge of the cement railing. As I lean back the rushing wind from cars and trucks bursts up, tossing my hair and ruffling my shirt. A semi passes beneath the already swaying walkway. The driver must have seen us because he lets loose the long bellow of his horn as though in warning, and I wonder if he’s calling the cops even now.
Not that it matters. It’s too late.
“It’s over,” the closest man says, edging even nearer. “Come with us. We don’t want to hurt you.”
It’s a lie. We both know it.
My eyes scan their faces. Each and every one is a person I would once have called a friend. Not recently. Certainly not for a dozen lifetimes. But once.
I scrape my palms on the hot, crumbly concrete, using the pain to focus my mind. There’s no barrier. I could jump. But they’d save me. They’re already too close.
The answer hits me, and my breath catches in terror.
“Sonya, you’re being ridiculous.” Marianna’s voice—belittling as always—strengthens my determination, even though my bones feel like water. I would rather die than let her have me. Than let her figure out how to become like me.
Because if that ever happened, gods help the entire world.
For the thousandth time I consider killing her. Killing them. But the delay would be momentary at best. There are dozens of them.
And only one of me.
Fortunately, there are also more than six billion people to hide among.
I close my eyes and a ripple of apprehension goes through the handful of operatives pointing weapons at me. I might have three seconds before they do something stupid. I picture my heart, beating so steadily, if way too fast. A sob catches in my throat, but I push it away.
And turn my heart to stone.
The agony in my chest tries to force a scream from my lips, but it’s too late. It takes only a moment, maybe two, before I know I’ve done it.
I’ve killed myself.
And I taste victory on my tongue as everything goes black.
I sit up with a muffled scream, my hands clutching my chest. Air is honey-sweet on my tongue as I suck in breaths—gripping my arm with my nails to feel the pain. To assure myself that I’m alive.
Three nights in a row it’s been like this. Dreams of Sonya. Sonya running from what I can only assume are Reduciates: Earthbound bad guys. Sonya afraid of her own powers—afraid to protect herself.
And, of course, Sonya taking her own life. But in the dreams I’m not looking down at her. I’m not an observer. In the dreams I am her.
Am myself, I guess. In my past life. My most recent life.
But unlike true memories, this dream shifts every time it comes to me, the way I end my life changing with each passing night. I’ve pulled the trigger of a gun pressed to my head, thrown myself in front of a speeding semi.
But turning my heart to literal stone? This one was the worst. I don’t know if that’s how it happened. If any of them are how it happened. I don’t understand why my mind is making me see her death over and over—and why I can’t remember how it all actually went down.
Or better yet, why.
Well, I know why, technically. The secret. The one from way back in Rebecca’s time—the girl I was in the early nineteenth century. The one I told no one, not even my partner, Quinn. I was silenced at the end of that life, silenced myself at the end of my life as Sonya. But I don’t know what that secret is.
And I have a feeling the dreams won’t end until I figure it out.
I should remember. I’m an Earthbound—a cursed goddess who lives life after life, seeking my perfect love. I should remember all my lives. But something about the injuries I received in a plane crash last year have made everything . . . difficult.
My body is covered with sweat, and it’s not all from the harrowing dream. The Phoenix heat is sweltering even in the dusky hours of dawn, and the air conditioning is . . . less reliable than the hotel manager insinuated. I drag myself from sticky sheets to twist the tap on the sink that’s inches from the foot of the tiny single bed.
The water dribbling from the tap is lukewarm at best, but I’m in no position to be picky.
The spring heat is too intense, topping 110 for several days even before I arrived. The temperature broke records every day last week. I wonder if it’s part of the weather phenomenon my former guardian Mark was sure the virus was somehow causing. It seems like it must be. Everything in the world is crazy right now. The virus is spreading so quickly no one can get a truly accurate death count. Five thousand yesterday, one news channel said. Ten, claimed another.
Either way, it’s out of control, and nature apparently isn’t immune.
I don’t know how the hell I can possibly stop this, but Mark and his wife, Sammi, were certain I held the key, if I could just resurge with Logan—the boy Quinn is in this life. I have to trust that. It’s all I’ve got.
As I splash myself I consider again the braid of twine that Sammi gave me. The one Sonya made. Sammi kept it from when she encountered Sonya eighteen years ago. Sammi and her father were Curatoriates. They’re supposed to be the good guys—the opposite of the Reduciates. I’m not convinced it’s that simple. Neither was Rebecca. I have a feeling Sonya wasn’t either.
I could find out. The little braid is still in my faded red backpack where Sammi put it last week. It’ll give me my memories back. The memories that Sonya had.
But considering the way the last awakening went, I’m not completely sure I’d survive a second round. Not without someone to help me. And I can’t take any risks until I resurge with Logan.
Or we’ll both be dead forever and the rest of the world will die with us.
That is the single truth that keeps me here. Trying.
I’m desperate. That is also a truth. More true than anything else in my life today. Besides, what I really need is to figure out how to wake Logan up before the Reduciates who are after me kill us both. And Sonya’s memories won’t help with that since she never found him during her life.
I turn on the leaky showerhead and duck into the tiny stall, sluicing away sweat as though I could somehow cleanse myself of the awful dream. Of this awful week. Everything is falling to pieces. I lean my head against the tiled wall and review the last few dismal days as water beats down on my back.
It started out so well a mere three days ago. After sleeping the whole night in a real bed for the first time in almost two weeks—not to mention getting my first shower in eight days—I woke up on Sunday morning ready to take on anything. I was in Phoenix, I’d located Logan, and I knew he was the one. The rest would be easy, I was certain. I didn’t care that the hotel towels didn’t look quite clean, or that the clerk had vastly under-reported how loud the train just outside my back window would be.
That first night I didn’t even care about the lack of reliable AC. I had a home base that didn’t require ID. And more importantly—thanks to getting his number on Saturday—I had a date with Logan. Quinn. Whatever anyone in my head wanted to call him, I had a date with the love of my life. The love of my many, many lives.
And it went fabulously. We talked, we laughed, the sun glinted off his golden hair, short now and a lighter blond thanks to bleaching from the desert sun. At one point he even reached out and touched the end of my nose. It was perfect.
At that moment it was easy to forget the entire reason I was in Phoenix: because I’m being hunted by the Reduciata. Because we’re being hunted, really.
If they can kill us before we resurge—before we both remember our past lives and regain our powers—we’ll be gone permanently.
But none of that mattered as I sat there bantering with Logan. I knew, was sure I was only minutes away from reaching my goal. The Reduciata was way in the back of my head. As far as I was concerned, I’d practically won already.
Then it fell apart. I fell apart.
I’d told him I was a history buff, and right before dessert was served I pulled out what I said was a rare antique. A journal.
This was the moment.
I’d realized that morning that I’d been stupid to think the necklace could bring his memories back. The necklace that initially brought my memories back. Some of my memories, anyway.
Of course, I thought it was Quinn who made the necklace. . . .
Anyway, that didn’t matter—the journal, full of his handwriting, would give me back my destined lover. My Earthbound counterpart. The god to my goddess. I pulled it out, opened it, and wondered if he would recognize his own writing. Then I slid it across the table.
He laid his hands on the pages and . . . nothing.
I tried to smile. To act like everything was okay. But I could almost feel the shards of the world clattering down around me. On top of me.
In the previous weeks I’d run for my life, seen people die, had my entire view of reality revamped, and been betrayed deeper than I ever thought possible.
All to get me here to this boy. For him to remember me. To love me. And then for us to somehow save a world that’s dying more and more quickly every day from a mysterious virus I have no idea how to fix.
I couldn’t stay there at the restaurant with him. It was too hard. I threw down enough money to cover the bill, mumbled an apology, and took off without waiting for my sundae.
About ten feet from the table I stopped. I couldn’t help it; I looked back.
And he was just staring at me. He called my name—a question, almost—but I ignored him. And even if he had run after me—thrown the doors open, tried to look for me—he wouldn’t have found me. Because in that shadowed space between the two sets of doors, I changed.
Changed into my mother.
I do it every time I’m in public. Use my powers as an Earthbound to wear her face the way I desperately did on the bus in Portsmouth. I pretend it keeps me safe.
There’s a chance it does.
I walked back to my hotel and—of course—the door had been kicked open. I didn’t know if a Reduciate assassin was to blame or simply the fact that my hotel was so crappy, but it wasn’t worth risking my life to stay to find out. In a fear-fueled panic I grabbed my stuff and got the hell out of there.
Five minutes later, with nothing but the belongings in my backpack and an already aching leg—it still hasn’t fully healed from the plane crash that took everything from me—I moved to another cheap hotel. A less-than-pristine establishment that didn’t ask questions when I laid an antique gold coin on the dingy counter, one of many from a collection Quinn and I had stored two hundred years ago. It was a win for both parties; they got to feel like they were ripping me off, and I got a bed and shower that didn’t cost me anything I considered important.
The next day the bedbug welts showed up. Large, painfully itching bumps all over my arms and legs that make me look like I have a disease. Or, at the very least, cleanliness issues.
I hate them. And there is no lotion that takes that burning itch away.
If I’d been smart—no, not smart exactly, but slower and less desperate—I would have stopped at a store somewhere. Gotten a pretty, long-sleeved shirt to cover my scabby arms. After all, I have money. Plenty of money. I’ve been selling a little gold at slimy pawnshops in every city where the Greyhound gave us a break. Hoarding it. Just in case.
But I wasn’t smart and I wasn’t slow.
I was in love instead.
So I went to Logan’s house early Monday morning, walked to school with him. Followed him all the way to the front doors. Stuck to him like glue, hoping something—something!—would click in his head. I suspect it wasn’t any one thing that made him drop his eyes and lie to me when I asked if he had plans for dinner—it was everything all mixed together. The welts, the rumpled clothes, the stalker-ish behavior, the desperation emanating from me in waves.
I waited for him after school, but he must have seen me and gone another way. I should have camped out at his house instead. All I had to show for my two hours was a nasty sunburn.
Some goddess I’m turning out to be.
I’m ten minutes into my tepid shower—which actually feels pretty good on my reddened shoulders—when I realize I have one more item. One more shot at getting Logan to believe me. I shove my soggy head around the shower curtain to glance at the tiny clock. 7:04 A.M. Still time.
I get at least most of the suds out of my hair before half tripping out of the bathtub and drying off as fast as I can. Yesterday he left the house at 7:35. I can still make it. My hair is a mess, but it can’t look much worse than it did the last time he saw me, so it’ll have to suffice.
I grab a gold coin and clutch it in both hands, taking a moment to close my eyes and release my hopes into the universe. Just let this work! You’d think an Earthbound—a literal goddess—would be able to handle something as easy as restoring memories to her eternal partner. But none of my abilities can help with this.
My leg is throbbing as I approach his house, and I can’t stop my heart from racing when Logan bursts out of his front door. He looks around warily—I guess I really got to him—but he doesn’t notice me duck behind the bushes. I follow him from across the street and touch the heavy silver necklace for confidence. The one that brought me back my memories but failed to bring back Logan’s.
The one he made for me two hundred years ago. He just doesn’t know it.
I jog quietly up behind him before saying, “Logan?”
He whirls around, and I get a glimpse of real fear painted on his face before stubborn anger takes over.
“I have something to show you,” I announce before he can speak.
“Listen, Tavia,” Logan says, rubbing at his neck in what Rebecca-in-my-head instantly recognizes as his nervous twitch. “I don’t really understand why you keep bringing me stuff. It’s . . . it’s kind of weirding me out.”
“Will you at least look at it?” I beg. I have no pride left. Not anymore. None of my attempts have had any effect whatsoever, and everything I’ve sacrificed—everything others have died for—will mean nothing if I don’t succeed.
Logan studies me for a long time, and I try to keep my face relaxed. “Fine,” Logan finally replies after what feels like ages. “Whatever.”
I hold out my hand and pray—to whom, I don’t know; the God I was raised on, the other Earthbounds, whoever made the Earthbounds; I don’t care anymore—that this will work. The coin falls from my palm into his with a barely audible smacking sound.
He lifts the gold circle close to his face—but not too close—and studies it. Then he sighs and hands it back to me. In a show of what I can only imagine is pity, he curls my fingers around the coin and then his hand around mine. “Tavia, I know someone must have told you this is gold, but you’ve got to stop believing everyone so easily. I—” He hesitates, and my heart sinks. I can sense the impending rejection. “I think you’re a really nice person. And pretty,” he blurts out and then looks like he surprised himself with those words. “But I can’t help you.”
He’s talking again before I can latch onto the word pretty too hard. “I’m just a kid, and I think you seriously need some professional help.”
My hands are so weak from disappointment that I can barely hang on to the coin. It would be my luck that when we split up supplies, I took the bag of gold coins I made as Rebecca, and Benson got the bag that Quinn made. Or maybe I made them all—I’m a little fuzzy on the details.
I swallow hard at the thought of Benson—the boy I thought I was in love with . . . until he betrayed me—but push it away just as I have innumerable times in the last week. It hurts too much to dwell on. To wonder where the Reduciates are keeping him. If he’s being treated humanely. If . . . if . . .
I can’t. Logan. Focus on Logan.
“You don’t understand, Logan.” I can hear the crazy-laced desperation in my voice, but I can’t stop. I don’t know what else to do. If I don’t pull out something impressive I’m going to lose him.
“They’re coming after you,” I whisper, trying to sound so serious—and so sane. “They almost killed me last week and they’re after both of us now and I have got to find some way to make you remember and I’ve tried everything and—” I force myself to stop; I’m just babbling. I plead with my eyes for him to believe me.
“Who’s coming after me?” Logan asks after a second, indulging me as one would a very young child telling an obvious lie.
“The . . .” I almost tell him everything—that it’s the Reduciata who are on his trail. That they are going to kill him. Probably in a matter of days, if not sooner. Possibly the Curatoria too, considering Mark and Sammi were hiding me from them. But I know that the specifics will only make me sound even more like I have a couple of screws loose.
His face is a rumpled mess of emotions. Despite my failed attempts at subtlety, he obviously thinks I’m out of my mind.
But there’s something else—that pull that made him ask if he knew me the first day we met. That attraction that makes him want to forget all logic and throw himself at something completely unexplainable.
I understand. I felt that way toward him.
We stand there, steeping in the silence, and for just a moment it looks like he’ll believe me. Or at least that he’ll listen. But good sense takes over, and he sets his lips in a hard, straight line. “Tavia, I—”
“I’ll show you,” I interrupt, my hair starting to fall across my eyes in damp strands as sweat rolls down my temples. Even at seven thirty in the morning the heat is so intense I know it can’t be natural. “Watch.” I glance in both directions and then open my hands to reveal a pencil.
I probably should have come up with something more original.
Logan just rolls his eyes and starts to push past me.
“Wait!” I gesture vaguely at the yard to my left and conjure a table and two chairs into existence. Show him what I can do: create something from nothing. He doesn’t know it’ll disappear in five minutes.
It’s not just any dining set. It’s the hand-carved oak set we shared as Quinn and Rebecca two hundred years ago. Maybe . . . maybe seeing it will do something. Spark some memory. Maybe not enough for a full re-awakening, but enough that he’ll take me seriously.
I turn back. “They’re after us because we’re special,” I say with solid conviction, keeping my voice even. “You can do this too, you just don’t remember. And you have to remember. At least try!” I wave again, and the table fills with “our” dishes. A rug that used to sit in front of the fireplace. His favorite coat draped over the chair. I’m ready to recreate the entire house if I have to.
Each time I make a new item appear, I glance back to check his reaction—to see if I’m stimulating any memories.
But he just looks confused.
Anger does not come naturally to him—never has. I’m not sure who that thought comes from in my tangled web of memories—which one of my predecessors felt compelled to share this tidbit of information—but I know it’s true. Whatever I’ve done—whatever he thinks of me—this has pushed him over the edge.
“Stop!” he hisses very quietly, but with a harshness that swings me around to face him.
“Please,” I whisper, and somehow I know it’s the last word I’m going to get in.
“No,” he says. “Take your hidden cameras and practical jokes somewhere else. I’m done.”
But he puts his hands on my shoulders—firmly, not roughly—and moves me out of his way. “Don’t follow me anymore.”
I’m gasping for breath as sobs of failure slam into me, overwhelming me like ocean breakers. I can’t . . . I can’t just—
An unseen force slaps my back and throws me against Logan as the world ripples beneath my feet. The motion tosses us to the sidewalk, splaying us both on the ground. My elbow stings, and blood drips from a cut across Logan’s eyebrows. I’m staring disbelievingly at the vibrant red when a burst of sound reaches us, deafening me even as I scream at the top of my lungs. Logan’s face contorts into a mask of horror, and I whip my head around to follow his line of sight.
All I see are flames.
Flames where Logan’s house used to sit.
We both scramble up and run toward it, our mutual desperation to see what’s happened so intense that I hardly feel the sharp pain jolting up my leg.
His house is gone.
A smoking pile of charred rubble sits in its place. Orange flames dance over its remains, staining the sky. If I didn’t already know, I couldn’t have guessed what sort of structure had previously stood there—everything has collapsed. The flames burn so hot that even from several hundred feet away the waves of heat feel like they might blister my skin.
This is a fire meant to kill.
Meant to kill Logan.
And I know who set it.
“We have to get out of here now,” I say, whirling and grabbing Logan’s arm, trying to drag him with me.
I might as well be trying to shove a boulder. He stares, dumbstruck, at the horrifying destruction.
A column of thick, murky smoke is already rising high. It’s going to attract the attention of everyone for miles around. Reduciata handiwork for sure—subtle is not in their vocabulary. If I have any shot of hiding the fact that Logan survived, I have to get him out of here. “Logan, please!”
I don’t hear the sound of tires screeching as a car pulls up beside us, but I smell the acrid scent of rubber a second before something comes down over my head, blocking my sight. I fight and tear against the suffocating material, but a sharp jab stings my arms, burns for a second, then blackness.
I’m not sure how much time elapses before I haze into consciousness. My head aches and my throat is painfully dry as pinpricks of light worm through my lashes. I throw my arm over my face—my eyes are so sensitive; I must have been out for a while—and struggle to remember where I am.
And how I got here.
The explosion, Logan’s house, the bag over my head.
The stinging pain in my arm.
Logan! Where is he? My head whips around, making me dizzy even as I fight to focus. There’s something on the floor—a dark lump in the corner, and as soon as I realize what—who—it is I fling myself over to it, to him.
“Logan. Logan!” I roll him over, my head spinning, and he emits a low groan but doesn’t open his eyes. I curl my body protectively around him and throw my hands up to create something—anything—to protect us from whatever the Reduciata, or whoever, has in store. But a new bout of sharp pain thrusts through my arm, and again the world swirls in front of me.
I collapse onto the floor, and my cheek falls against chilly tile.
My eyelids close.
The next time I float back to reality I keep my eyes clamped shut and take a few minutes to think. I acted too quickly last time. That doesn’t help anyone. No sudden movements—that’s step one.
Slowly, I lift my eyelids just enough to peer through my lashes at my surroundings. I’m in a stark white room, and I can see a huge mirror on one side that throws my reflection back at me. A two-way mirror, no doubt.
I sniff and smell what I swear is fresh paint. Everything is so neat and new as to be almost sterile. The smooth white walls, squeaky-clean white tiled floor, even the grout between the tiles is scrubbed to a pristine cream color. Like they poured a huge bottle of bleach over this place before dumping us in here. I shudder, wondering just what they had to scrub away.
I’m lying on my side, curled against Logan, and the warmth from his body makes me feel a tiny bit better. Yes, we’re obviously in some kind of prison, I guess, but at least I’m not alone. He’s still unconscious. Last time I awoke I at least got him to groan, but now he doesn’t respond to my touch at all. I wonder if at the same time they injected me they also got him with . . . whatever was in the needle. I glance down at my arm, where I can see two red dots. They make me want to scream in anger, but I’ve got to keep my cool. I focus on Logan instead.
I pull his limp torso halfway upright across my lap and cradle his large frame against my chest. I tell myself it’s because I don’t want him to get too cold lying on the freezing tile floor, but the truth is, after three days of him not letting me get near, I just want to hold him. This is the first time I’ve really gotten a chance to look at him this close. His skin is so tan against the honey color of his hair. I run my fingers through the short strands, remembering when they were long. Remembering Rebecca remembering. I scrunch my eyebrows together at that. Close enough.
He has a smattering of freckles along his hairline and across his cheeks that didn’t used to be there. Probably from living in the desert. There’s dried blood from the cut over his eye. I prod it gingerly, but it doesn’t seem too deep. My arms tremble as I attempt to check him for further injuries. I’m not sure where we are or how much longer they’re going to let us live, but at least we’re together.
As long as we’re together, there’s hope. Logan is my hope.
An icy spike of fear makes its way through my intense relief, and I force myself to peer around with what I hope is a degree of subtlety. Not that there’s much to observe. The room is bare and small, and the only possible escape is beyond that mirror I can’t see through.
Glancing at my reflection, I curl my shoulders, trying to look both harmless, which isn’t too hard given my pathetic appearance—bad hair, bedbug welts, no makeup, a big red mark across my cheek—and ignorant. The latter is, of course, more challenging. What I want to do is scream and yell and demand they let us go, but I have a feeling I’ll have better luck if I try to act submissive. That tranquilizer is nasty stuff. And I have no intention of staying a prisoner for long. Not after everything I’ve done. We’ve done. I just need to bide my time for a little while. First things first, I have to get Logan awake. There is no way on earth I’m leaving him.
While I’m waiting for Logan to open his eyes, I feel out the situation. “Hello?” I call quietly. My throat is so parched that only a hiss of a whisper comes out.
A bottle of water appears on the floor in front of me. Appears. It doesn’t get pushed through a little door or anything. Just pops into existence. Now I know for sure that there are Earthbounds involved. But whether they’re Reduciata—as I suspect—Curatoria, or something else entirely, I can’t be sure.
I reach for the bottle tentatively and consider the risks. They’ll want me to talk—so this water probably isn’t poisoned.
I could make my own, but it’ll only disappear a few minutes later; and besides, I have a feeling that would bring about unhappy consequences.
I unscrew the cap and intend to sip—hoping to maintain some semblance of decorum despite my desperate thirst—but as soon as the cold water touches my cotton-dry tongue I’m gulping, and in seconds the whole thing is gone. Trying to cover my embarrassment, I resume my hunched posture of submission and screw the lid back on with as much dignity as I can muster. Then I set the empty bottle in front of me.
It vanishes only to be replaced by a new one.
This time I manage to drink the first few sips more slowly, considering this a test to make sure that this water is safe to ingest. It’s too late for caution regarding the last one, but I’m not taking chances anymore. I begin counting to three hundred, deciding that if I make it through a full five minutes without croaking, then the water most likely hasn’t been tampered with.
By the time I reach the 290s, I’m satisfied that the water isn’t poisoned and start actively trying to rouse Logan. This bottle is for him.
“Logan?” I lift his eyelids, first one and then the other. I poke and pinch his arm, shake him back and forth, and pat his cheeks sharply, just shy of a slap. Finally he starts to groan again. I keep prodding, not willing to lose this progress. He rolls to the side and starts to raise himself up to a sitting position, his eyes eerily out of focus.
“Here,” I say, proffering the nearly full water bottle. Even in his fuzzy haze he takes it and gulps it down about as quickly as I did. He shakes his head and rubs at his face as I set the water bottle down. “More,” he murmurs, his lips chalky-white.
Looking up at what I still believe to be two-way glass, I echo Logan’s request with my eyes and am rewarded with a cold bottle a few seconds later. Now that we’re three bottles in, I hand the newest one directly over to Logan without testing it. I’m going to have to trust whoever is behind that mirror one more time. After all, if they wanted us dead they would have done it already. Right?
But I think of Logan’s house, and doubt curls in my stomach.
Maybe it is the Curatoria after all. Don’t the Reduciata just want to murder us? Sadly, the thought that we might be in the custody of the not-as-bad guys doesn’t make me feel much better.
Logan is halfway through his second water when his eyes gain focus and zero in on me. “You!” he exclaims. Liquid spews from his mouth as he tosses the bottle down and crab walks backward away from me. His arms crumple beneath him, but he keeps scooting until his back is up against the corner, as far from me as the suddenly claustrophobic room will allow. “You stay away from me!” he shouts.
“You did this!” he yells. “You made—you made all of this happen. Stay the hell away from me!”
“My house,” he’s almost talking to himself now, struggling to get to his feet. But his strength isn’t back yet, and he leans against the wall, staggering to the side when he attempts to stand. He covers his face with one hand and lets out an inhuman sound halfway between a bark and a sob. “My family.” He’s nearly hyperventilating, and one arm splays against the wall as though grounding himself against everything.
“They’re dead, aren’t they?” He sounds like a little boy. But all I can do is give him the honest answer I know in my gut is true. I nod.
His breath is labored, the sound filling my ears. “Oh no. I can’t—they didn’t . . . Did I do something wrong?”
“You didn’t do anything,” I blurt. “It’s not your fault.”
My voice finds its way through his devastation, and his eyes narrow. “You’re right,” his says, his lips curling into a terrible grimace. “It’s your fault. Why couldn’t you leave me alone!”
“I was trying to save you,” I reply, my voice barely more than a whisper as I wilt beneath his accusations. My heart bleeds at his revulsion.
“Save me? The only reason I’m here is because of you.” He limps but manages to get across the room to the mirror, having clearly also identified it as the place where our captors are hidden. He pounds on it with both fists so hard I’m sure it’s going to shatter beneath his rage. “Please, get me away from her!”
“Logan, stop!” I shout, tears running down my face. I couldn’t stop them if I wanted to.
He’s right. I brought attention to him and in so doing I got his family killed.
I would hate me too.
There’s nothing I can do but crouch there on the cold, tiled floor, the strength drained from my body. It’s been eight months since my parents died, but watching Logan pound on the mirror, my mind flies back to the moment I realized our plane was crashing. Tears stream down my face in a torrent that splashes on the tile and joins the puddle of water that still drips out of Logan’s discarded bottle. For an instant it almost seems like the entire pool could have been formed from my tears.
It feels like hours before Logan relents. Finally, he crumbles into a heap on the floor, his face pressed to his arms, his forehead dotted with sweat.
I can only imagine what the people watching us are thinking.
Are they amused? Satisfied? Is this what they wanted? To watch us be so helpless? So at each other’s throats?
We’ve got to be in the hands of the Reduciata. Surely the Curatoria wouldn’t kill Logan’s family.
But I can’t muster up a great deal of confidence to back that up.
My head aches from crying, and my eyes feel like cotton balls. But none of that compares to how my heart feels. Broken, shattered. No, something else. Empty.
After a while I feel my eyelids droop, and I fall into an exhausted, desperate sleep. Logan must as well because when I open my eyes again he’s calm. He’s back in his corner, far away from me, but his eyes are dark and glittering when they meet mine. He’s been waiting for me to wake up.
“Who are you?” he asks, his voice a little hoarse. Whether from screaming or disuse after sleeping I’m not sure. “And don’t lie this time.”
“I never lied,” I say, massaging my aching leg and trying to clear my foggy head. “I’m Tavia, like I said.”
“The whole truth.”
I look him in the eyes. What can I say to make him trust me? “I’m your eternal lover. We’ve been together since the beginning of time—in every lifetime that we could find one another.”
He lets out a harsh, mocking laugh. “Right. I should have known better than to even ask.”
“Then you tell me why you feel like you know me,” I say, my voice low. I’ve decided to focus on Logan and Logan alone, not the fact that we’re trapped or that we’re probably being watched by creeps who get their jollies from making us suffer; just Logan and getting through this conversation with him.
“Some people just seem familiar,” he says, brushing off my words. But I can tell, from the tiny creases between his eyebrows, that it bothers him. He doesn’t want to believe. He’s desperate not to believe.
“You saw me make that furniture,” I say, even as I wonder why I thought to make something so trivial.
He shakes his head. “A trick. Something to distract me while people were blowing up my house,” he says, the words a savage growl.
Okay, he’s right, that coincidence is not a happy one.
“Where did the water go?” I ask, and though a slight shake in my voice betrays me, I’m fighting not to let him know how much his mistrust is affecting me.
“The water bottle that spilled on the floor.”
He looks away. “They came and cleaned it up while we were asleep,” he says with total dismissal.
“Are you thirsty now?”
His eyes only dart toward me for a moment, but I can tell the answer is yes. I’m parched myself. And hungry. And I have to pee. But that’ll have to wait.
I take a chance and look directly at the glass, then hold up two fingers like I might to order coffee at a diner. If I have to depend upon my kidnappers, at least I can be sarcastic about it.
Within seconds two water bottles pop into existence on the floor. One within my reach and one within his. His jaw is shaking, and I wonder if I’ve just shoved him over that delicate precipice into insanity.
“I can’t . . . I can’t. No.” He turns away from the water and curls his face against his knees, his whole body shuddering. I don’t know if he’s crying or trying to keep his mind from cracking.
But clearly I’m not going to get any help from him until he figures out who he is. And that likely won’t happen unless I can get him out of here. Not that I don’t empathize. I was pretty much a wreck when all this stuff started happening to me too.
But the timing is . . . less than ideal.
I stand and walk the perimeter of the room, giving Logan as wide a berth as I can. My fingers stray up to Rebecca’s necklace and I fiddle with it as I consider the situation. I think about what happened when Logan pounded on the glass—how the surface rang with vibrations but never cracked. The material must be something stronger than glass. What can I create that could break it? And how could I do so without anyone noticing?
I take deep breaths, trying to keep my thoughts hidden. My shoulders slump as though in defeat but in my mind I see a heavy sledge hammer. In an instant my knuckles are white on a splintery wooden handle, and with a loud grunt I swing the newly formed hammer at the mirror. Shards of glass rain down like snow and my heart races for three beats, four, enjoying the sensation of success.
It doesn’t last. A burning that feels like knives assaults my arm.
I can’t move.
Every muscle in my body rebels and clenches tight, My tendons ache and twitch, and it’s only when the sensation releases me that I look down at my arm and realize that I’ve been tased.
I fight for consciousness, my body already overwhelmed from whatever tranquilizer they gave me earlier and today’s lack of food.
Or has it been two days without food? I don’t even know.
My knees give out, and I sprawl to the floor. My fuzzy brain grasps for daylight, and I manage to push back the darkness gathering at the edges of my vision. I will not succumb again. I suck in air, focusing on my breath until I’m certain I’m not going to lose it.
I glance about me.
It’s as if my entire attempt never happened. The mirror is as it had been—whole and unbroken—the shards of glass I distinctly remember peppering my skin are gone. Even my bottle of water is sitting full and upright, just how it was when it first appeared.
“I suggest you don’t try that again.” A bored voice booms in from an unseen speaker, frightening me as much as anything. I know that voice. I just can’t put my finger on it. “As you can see, you can be instantaneously subdued if you try anything.”
I nod shortly—since it’s clear they can see me—anger trickling through my body as a weary absence of energy replaces the fierce tension of the electricity from the Taser. No using my powers. In any way, shape, or form. Got it.
I glare at the mirror, knowing that even though all I can see is my own scowling face—a red mark across my cheek—there must be people on the other side watching me. The familiar voice, for one. I stare at the mirror, willing my expression to travel through the thick glass the way my vision can’t, and all of a sudden the surface almost seems to turn transparent. At first I think it’s my imagination, but then something clicks and the lights on our side dim, and I know it’s not my tired body playing tricks on me; I can actually see through.
A man in a dark suit is standing at what appears to be a long counter. His hands are planted on the surface, and he’s leaning forward in a manner so menacing it can’t possibly be accidental.
I would have recognized him in an instant, even without his signature shades.
Sunglasses Guy. The guy who followed me for two weeks in Portsmouth. Who shot at me, and terrified me, and dragged Benson away on that terrible night.
And just over his shoulders, painted on a gray wall so obvious I can’t miss it, is a black symbol, at least four feet high. An ankh, with one side of the loop curled up like a shepherd’s crook.
The symbol of the Reduciata.
I mean, I guess I knew. But seeing those two things in a juxtaposed tableau like that—utter proof that I’m in the jaws of the enemy—makes me understand how helpless my situation truly is. I’m certain of one thing though: when I leave this place it will either be through my own powers—and not a small amount of luck—or I’ll be dead.
Three other faces join Sunglasses Guy, and they study me the way I would a strange bug or mold in the fridge. Like I’m inferior, something there only because they allow it to be.
Which, admittedly, might be true.
The anger inside me changes to a simmering rage as they observe me with amusement, as if I’m some kind of joke. I’m already planning an—admittedly childish—revenge when a beep starts to sound.
“That’s the sign that your heart rate is rising,” a woman says, leaning down to speak into a small mounted microphone. “If you don’t want us to sedate you again, you’re going to have to calm down.”
I take three seconds to hate them with every fiber of my being before I close my eyes and count to ten, taking long, deep breaths as I do. After about a minute the beeping stops.
I haven’t given up. I’ve just reached a dead end in this maze, and the first step to finding another route is to pretend to abandon the search entirely.
I raise my eyes; the woman is sitting in front of the microphone with a pen in hand.
“Your name?” she asks.
What am I supposed to say? I know they know who I am. I consider giving a fake name anyway. Maybe they’re not 100 percent sure.
“Don’t kid yourself,” the woman says. The smile that curls across her face makes vicious butterflies take flight in my stomach. “We already know the answers to all the questions we’re going to ask. We’re just testing you. Seeing if you’re going to be honest with us.” An interested gleam flashes in the woman’s eyes. “And I hope you’ll play nice.” I’m not sure how, but she manages to be even more terrifying than Sunglasses Guy. “Name?” she repeats, leaning forward.
“Tavia,” I finally say. I guess I have nothing to lose. If I answer, maybe they’ll give me some degree of freedom. If I don’t . . . well, the rest of my life might not be very long one way or another. It’s probably worth the risk. “Michaels,” I add, just to prove I really am trying.
“Sum Terrobligatus; declarare fidem.”
My eyes widen, and I stare at her. Those are the same words I shouted at Elizabeth two weeks ago—has it really been two weeks since I demanded answers from my former therapist? It feels like forever.
But this woman isn’t screaming; she isn’t out of control the way I was. She’s calm; her voice is soft. Sinister.
And I know what the words mean this time. Sum Terrobligatus: I am an Earthbound. Simple concept; you give information before you demand it back. Declarare fidem: Declare your loyalty, Reduciata or Curatoria.
I remain silent. How can the woman claim to know the answers to all the questions they’re going to ask when this is one that even I don’t know? She breathes in slowly, and just as she opens her mouth to say something—probably to repeat herself—I say, “I don’t have one.”
A single blink is the only response I get.
“And I don’t intend to have one either,” I continue, forcing back the urge to cross my arms over my chest. I don’t need to look petulant right at this moment. “I’ve had bad experiences with both brotherhoods, and I don’t want to be a part of either.”
“Are you hungry?”
The question catches me off-guard. It seems silly that they would even care. I look up at the woman, and for a moment I think she’s staring off into space, but then I realize her gaze is focused over my shoulder.
He’s looking up at her with a strange expression that I vaguely recognize as hope, and it sickens me. That the Reduciates behind a plane of glass can inspire any sort of positive emotion in him while I instill nothing but fear makes me equal parts angry and sad.
He tries to speak, clears his throat when he fails, and starts again. “Maybe.” There’s a rebellious lilt to his voice, and I allow myself a slow blink of relief. I certainly haven’t won him over, but at least they haven’t either.
“Are you the ones who destroyed my house?” He sounds tentative, even weak, but I can hear him getting to his feet behind me. He’s not broken. Thank goodness.
“I’m afraid it was necessary.”
“My family?” He’s trying so hard to be strong—to be brave. I don’t dare look back at him at the risk that seeing me would make him change his mind. Or snap his last thread.
“I’m afraid it was necessary,” she repeats.
Now I glance back. I can’t help myself. His jaw is clenched so hard I can see the muscles standing out like marbles beneath his skin. His eyes glimmer—just a sheen—as they tell him what he already knew. And in that moment, I see a glimpse of Rebecca’s Quinn—my Quinn. Quinn, who was so strong and could handle anything. He’s in there. I know it!
“Why was it necessary?” I say, when I sense he’s not ready to speak. Part of me is curious how the Reduciata will attempt to justify their actions. A larger part knows that if I can’t get Logan to remember—the chances of which are basically nonexistent in here—I’ll need to make sure that it’s me he sides with.
“To keep everything clean. The authorities will assume you died with them.” She addresses Logan brusquely, as though she weren’t speaking of the murder of four people, two of them Logan’s siblings, just children. “They’ll be looking for an arsonist, for sure, but not a missing person.”
“You killed four people to cover up a kidnapping?” he says, throwing the words at her as though they were a weapon. I wish they were.
“We killed 255 people to get to Tavia.”
Logan turns to look at me in shock and horror. I suck in a breath and hold very still as a wave of mourning washes over me. My parents were two of those 255. “Is that true?” he asks.
All my work. Undone. But I nod. I have to.
“None of that matters now.” The woman’s amplified voice cuts through me.
“How can you say it doesn’t matter?” Logan says hoarsely.
“Because once you remember, they won’t matter.”
I crinkle my brows. I don’t understand why remembering should change any of this, but I dismiss it as a vain attempt to pacify us. “So what now?” I ask. I want to rise gracefully to my feet, but I’m too weak. My hands slip on the smooth white walls as I drag myself up, but I manage to stand and plant my fists on my hips.
“Now you both need to eat.”
A veritable picnic appears—complete with a red-checkered blanket, which I don’t find amusing in the least—on the floor between us.
Logan snorts even as his eyes glitter. “Like we’d eat anything you gave us.”
At that, she laughs. She could have hidden it—not turned on the intercom—but she wants us to hear the easy, carefree sound. “Please, we could have added poison to your water and you didn’t mind drinking that, did you? We won’t kill you. You’re too important. Well, she is. But she needs you. So we need you too.” I close my eyes, frustration and mortification making me feel beyond weary. She would confirm that this really is all my fault. The Reduciates want my stupid secret. I hate myself for not knowing what it is.
“Why you?” Logan asks, barely over a whisper. He’s looking straight at me, but the hellish woman answers anyway.
“Maybe you should have listened to everything Tavia has been trying to tell you for the last few days.” Then there’s an audible click, and the microphone is off. The window is a mirror again.
And Logan and I again have the illusion of being alone.
He eyes the food. His face is pale, but I doubt it’s from hunger. Still, he’s going to need energy.
Hating my own frail human needs, I lower myself shakily to the blanket and begin sorting through the pile of food.
“Are you sure they won’t poison us?” Logan asks from far above me.
“Not until they’ve gotten whatever the hell it is they need from us,” I grumble. I say us, but we both know I mean me.
My stomach protests as I lay the food out slowly. Who knows how long they’ll wait before feeding us again? We might need to ration.
Of course, they could just make the leftovers disappear. I don’t know what to do. I’m so hungry, I’m sure that it’s got to have been a full two days since we were brought here. At least. I briefly wonder how many more people have died of the virus while these Reduciates have been toying with us, but I tamp that thought down and file it away. It’s not something I can do anything about right now.
Logan drops down to join me on the blanket when I hold out a piece of cheese, though he still looks nervous. “What do they want?” he asks, his voice so quiet I practically have to read his lips to understand him.
“I’m not sure,” I reply in that same hushed tone. “It’s . . . a little hard to explain. There’s some kind of secret that I know—except that I don’t. I used to—ugh!” I rub at my temples, the aftereffects of the tranquilizers making my entire skull ache and buzz like someone’s playing the timpani inside it. I take a few calming breaths and try to will the pain away.
“What kind of secret?” he asks, his eyes darting to the again-opaque glass.
I shake my head no, hoping that we still have enough of a connection that he’ll understand that I’m telling him that they’re listening no matter how quietly we talk. “It doesn’t matter,” I say in a whisper, even though that effort feels pointless. “The thing I need you to understand is that if we’re going to survive this, we have to be a team. I need to be able to depend on you.”
He looks wary, and I know I’m pushing him to his mortal limit. But like me, there’s a hidden core of strength in there. The strength of an Earthbound. Of a god. And I’m counting on it.
“They will do anything—kill anyone—to get to this secret that I have. . . .” I hesitate, not wanting them to know I don’t know what the secret is. “The key to that secret is you,” I finally settle on. Nebulous, but enough. “So as long as we work together, we can keep each other safe.”
“How am I the key?”
I can’t answer that. Not even cryptically. “I’ll tell you when I can,” I say, my voice raspy around the near lie.
The food is gone quickly and I’m feeling better—even a little overfull. I have to wonder why they fed us at all. Food is the fuel for my powers—if I were them, I’d have starved me.
But I’m certainly not going to question my advantages.
I rise and resume stalking the perimeter of the room, feeling much like a tiger in a zoo. What can I make to get us out of here? I lay my hand against the wall and wonder if I know enough about bombs to make one. Excitement zings through me as I add, make one inside the wall, to my thought. I try to remember the chemistry class last year in Michigan when my teacher taught us how to make gunpowder. Sulfur, charcoal, saltpeter. A metal casing. A fuse. I can do this!
I’m so wrapped up in the thoughts whizzing through my head that I hardly notice when a beeping begins to sound, then speeds up. Logan is calling my name, but as the beeping gets louder, faster, two sharp pains prick the skin on my arm and my knees buckle as I sink into unconsciousness.
I smell him before I open my eyes. It’s Quinn’s smell. Unique. My head is lying against something soft and warm; it must be him. Without conscious thought, Rebecca’s arms reach out, pull him close. She buries her face in that perfect smell that means safety and love and home.
A groan escapes my mouth as I nuzzle against Quinn’s warm, soft shirt and the yielding skin beneath. My hand is searching for a way to get under his clothing when a sharp “Tavia!” pulls me all the way out of unconsciousness.
I open my eyes and see his face—Logan’s face. Worry and disgust color his features.
I yank myself up and away from him, fire filling my cheeks. “Sorry,” I mutter, though my skin burns where I pressed against him—tingling with want and need and other emotions I should not be feeling in a Reduciata prison.
“What happened?” My voice is hoarse. Again. I wonder just how much of that tranquilizer stuff I’ve had. How bad the aftereffects are going to be this time.
“I’m not sure what you were planning.” We both jump as a voice comes over the loudspeaker. It sounds like Sunglasses Guy. I spin toward the mirror, but it’s still just a mirror. They’re not interested in letting us see them this time. “But it was something exciting enough to raise your heart rate.”
I remember the beeping that got faster and faster right before they shot me. Damn it!
“We’re not stupid,” the guy continues calmly. “You’re not getting out until we let you. Until we’ve gotten what we want.” A low chuckle. “And I guess at that point we’ll probably just kill you.”
My jaw is shaking with fury, and I roll my shoulders to attempt to calm down before the stupid beeping starts again. As I move, the left joint sends out a sharp stab of pain. “Ow,” I say in surprise and look down at my arm. The shirt I’m wearing has short sleeves, and when I push it up, I see that my entire shoulder is reddened and starting to turn purple.
“You fell against the wall pretty hard when they took you out,” Logan explains sheepishly. “I managed to get to you before you hit your head, but I wasn’t fast enough to stop that.” He points at the darkening bruise.
A tingly feeling zips up my spine, and I barely manage to hide the sappy grin that threatens to reveal itself. He helped me. He tried. “Thanks.” I clear my throat and look away, trying not to show him how pleased I am. It’s not the time.
“So what now?” Logan asks. It’s something just less than a whisper. He practically breathes the words.
I glance at the mirror, but it looks no different than before I got knocked out. Again. I incline my head at Logan and start scooting backward until I’m leaning against the wall. He joins me and I curl closer so my lips are right next to his ear. “Do you trust me?”
His nod is just enough of a motion for me to feel it.
“Rub my back, softly. Help me stay calm.” Then, before he can argue, I shift so my legs lay across his lap and I let my head rest against his shoulder, my face turned toward him so it can’t be seen. I breathe in the scent of his shirt—fabric softener, a light aura of sweat, the clean kind that smells earthy—and close my eyes when his arms drape over me, his fingers gingerly kneading along my spine. I’m surprised at his soft touch, but in my head, Rebecca clearly isn’t. I let myself listen to her and slump against Logan, breathing steadily.
My heartbeat speeds again at his nearness, but I’m counting on that. They’re watching, analyzing, but now they’ll think this is my baseline. I try to lose myself in the hypnotic massage, pretending it’s my mom, or even Sammi. Anyone but Logan. Once I’ve detached the feeling of those soothing hands from their owner, I start to let myself think of science again. Of my teacher Mr. Peterson lecturing in his boring fashion. Even explosives were tedious when he was trying to explain them.
I hold the image of his crisp shirt and tie in my mind, recalling the nasal sound of Mr. Peterson’s voice as he dryly listed off ingredients. Sulfur, charcoal, saltpeter. Sulfur, charcoal, saltpeter. Over and over in my head until it doesn’t feel exciting anymore. I let out a heavy breath like I’m really enjoying this backrub and stare out from beneath my eyelids. I glare at the wall and then, as I let the air out like I’m breathing through a straw, I create a metal casing. Inside the wall.
I don’t see anything.
That was the risky part.
The ingredients of gunpowder float along in my consciousness, and I remember mixing a small amount in class. I double, triple, quadruple that in my head and—again, as I breathe out—I fill the metal canister.
I’m so close, adrenaline tingles in my fingers. I toss my head back and pull closer to Logan, turning the simple backrub into something sensual—I need to hide my increased excitement. Logan’s body clenches up beneath me, but he doesn’t fight as I pull him close and rest my lips against his neck. I can sense the Reduciates watching my every move and nearly gag at the thought of actually being romantic in front of them.
Like. I. Would.
But apparently they don’t know me that well because they don’t do anything to stop me. I’m all the way on Logan’s lap now, and I can feel sweat start to trickle down his back as he grows more and more uncomfortable with the intimacy I’m forcing on him. But we’re almost done. I pull his head down, close to my chest—not sure just what that is going to look like. Then, as I set my head down on his back, my arms wrapped around him—covering him, protecting him—I create a spark.
Debris shatters out of the wall, ricocheting off the other walls and pelting Logan and me. “Come on!” I say, staggering to my feet as I try to pull him with me. “Run!”
I clench my fingers around his and dive into the smoke, hoping there’s actually a hole all the way through the wall. I can’t see—I can barely hear after the blast—but I keep moving forward, one hand stretched out in front of me, the other hanging on to Logan for dear life.
I bounce off something warm and squishy enough that it must have been a person, but I keep running. I pivot to my left and run toward light. What I think is light. I trip over something and go sprawling, but because I refuse to let go of Logan, he follows my trajectory and lands on top of me, pushing the air from my lungs. I landed badly on my wrist, but I can’t let that stop me. I don’t need my arms to run.
Pushing the pain away, I yank Logan to his feet. I’m desperately thinking of what I can make to help us escape when something hard hits me across the stomach and I double over, gasping for breath yet again. Arms wrap around me, and I try to scream but I have no air yet, and I fight against my own muscles as my lungs burn. Finally I get out an enraged shriek that’s way higher pitched than I intended it to be.
I slam into a wall, and the back of my head clangs against something. A sob of fiery pain escapes my mouth and blackness invades my periphery as my cries reverberate in my aching head. My knees have no chance, and I collapse onto the floor, my whole body quaking in fear and agony.
A blurry face invades my fading sight, but I can’t even raise my hand to block the view of Sunglasses Guy, two inches from my nose.
“Sit,” he says, and I dimly feel a fleck of spit from the T at the end of the harsh word. “Stay.”
He rises to his feet and he looks even taller from where I lie crumpled on the floor. As he walks away I fight to stay conscious, but the pain is overwhelming and it’s a relief when I slip away.
I have no idea how long it is before I wake, but the pain is even sharper than last time. My ears are ringing—probably from the noise of the bomb exploding—and my entire body is sore and achy. I try to take stock while cradling my head in my hands. Throbbing, puffy lip; I probably bit it. My shoulder is still tender. But the worst is my wrist—it’s swollen twice its normal size and purple bruises are starting to form. I move it and cringe. It’s either broken or very badly sprained. I’m stiff from sleeping—well, lying unconscious on the ground—but that particular discomfort is so minor in comparison that it barely registers.
I push up onto my knees with my one good arm and peer blearily around. I don’t care what I look like to them. Not this time.
I’ve been relocated into a much, much smaller room. The walls are the same glaring white, same bleachy tiled floor, but probably half the size. Worse, the tiny box is lined with an even smaller cage of bars. That’s what I must have hit when I was literally thrown in here. There’s another two-way mirror, but it’s on the other side of the bars, where I can’t even attempt to reach it.
My mind is having trouble thinking clearly, but I know I’m missing something. Something is wrong. Something big. I close my eyes and rub hard at them before I remember.
He’s not here.
I have a feeling I’ve just been put in Reduciata solitary confinement.
The hum of the air conditioning unit kicking on pulls me from my stupor. Ah, new tactic then. They’re going to keep me cold, stiff, and devoid of energy.
Sunglasses Guy did warn me they weren’t stupid.
The Reduciates seem to want me alive, but the state I’m in is apparently unimportant.
I push myself off the hard floor and start pacing to keep myself warm. I’m guessing it’s been about an hour since they separated me from Logan. I rub at my temples, willing the throbbing to go away. The stark halogen lights hurt my eyes and make it hard to think. But thinking’s all I’ve got at the moment. I reflect on what I’ve figured out thus far.
They want something—something in my head. A secret.
The memories of whatever the secret is come from Rebecca. She knew. And if my dreams can be believed, Sonya knew too. But for some reason it remains locked inside my brain, dancing away like shadows from a flickering candle whenever I think about it. How do the Reduciates think they’re going to get it out of me when I can’t get it out of myself?
I had assumed they were trying to get Logan and me to resurge—even Mark had said that was the key. But why? I’m certain Logan doesn’t know. That it was too dangerous to tell him. I’m sure of that. But since they’ve separated us apparently our re-awakening is no longer a priority for them.
Here’s the thing, though: it is a priority for me. I’m officially done playing their games. I’m not going to get less tired or hungry as time progresses.
It’s now or never.
For the first time, I wish I were a Destroyer. I could simply make the prison around me disappear.
My mind latches on to that idea. It seems like I should be able to do something like that. I consider how I change my face into my mother’s when I’m in public. I mean, her nose was longer than mine, so I guess you could argue that I’m creating cartilage there? But my eyes change color too.
Maybe it’s simply a matter of creating one thing that replaces what was there previously.
Could I replace a wall with created air? Is it all about the way you think about it?
I certainly have nothing to lose by trying. And everything to gain.
I pull in as much oxygen as my lungs can hold and clench my eyes shut as I push the air out. When I open my eyes, the walls on three sides of me are gone.
That’s Step One.
I nearly faint with relief when I leap to my feet and see Logan sitting on the ground a mere ten feet away, staring at where the walls used to be. At a glance I see he’s in the same room we were both in an hour ago. Two? Yesterday? I have no freaking clue.
I expect the sting of tranquilizer to hit me at any moment, but I still feel nothing as I scramble to Logan. I guess I’m just harder to hit when I’m moving.
So I better keep doing that.
“Come on!” I grab his arms and yank him to his feet. “Don’t you dare let go of my hand,” I say, ignoring the throbbing pain in my leg and shoulder. Without waiting for a response, I start to run.
Get Logan: Step Two.
The voice startles me into absolute stillness. It almost sounded like—
I can hear noise—shuffling, shouting, something that certainly could be a weapon—behind me, and I race forward, clenching my teeth as I drag Logan along. I create a dense cloud of smoke behind me, checking off Step Three in my head as I do so. My hands shake, but I’m already committed to Step Four as a fully loaded handgun fills my palm, making my injured wrist sear in pain. I grit my teeth against the agony and create more smoke behind me, trying not to cough as it tickles my throat.
The smoke is for the people behind me; the gun is for the people in front of me.
Time for Step Five. I pick a hallway and start running, replacing every obstruction in my path with harmless puffs of air.
My plan works for twenty seconds.
The hallway dead-ends.
I replace the wall with air, and the innards of a large building are revealed. More replacing, more layers peel away. I can see light. One more layer vanishes and sun pierces through, and I have to throw my arm—still holding the gun—over my eyes to block the blinding rays.
But I keep running.
And hit a solid wall of cinderblock.
My elbow burns, and I can feel blood trickling. I make the wall go away again, but it returns in an instant. I wonder if I should make more walls disappear, but I’m risking this unknown structure collapsing in on me as it is.
I don’t have a Step Six.
Whirling, I realize the Reduciates are so close even smoke isn’t going to work. Logan has staggered to his knees, but I clamp my arms around his chest to keep him with me.
It’s going to have to be the gun.
I hold it out in front of me and brace my shoulders against the wall, pointing it wildly at the shadowy figures surrounding us, my eyes darting too fast to make out any features in the smoky air.
Can I do it? Can I pull the trigger? For myself?
I scrunch my eyes shut and start to flex my finger, but the wall behind my back suddenly disintegrates and something snakes around my neck, catching me before I can fall and cutting off half my air. The chilled edge of something metal touches my temple.
So much for my gun.
The circle around me stills, their eyes wide, and for a moment I remember the identical scene in my dream about Sonya.
“Hold on to that boy,” the voice whispers to me, and though I certainly didn’t need anyone to tell me that, I do, gripping Logan so tightly I swear I can feel the bones in my wrist scraping against each other from the pressure.
Then, to the others, in a loud, scratchy voice, “One move—a single Earthbound trick—and her brains splatter the wall.”
He drags me backward, and I pull Logan, my wrist screaming in pain. A mere foot or two and the wall reappears—hiding the Reduciates from sight but not thick enough to completely muffle their cries of outrage.
“Help!” the man calls as his arm falls from my neck and he reaches for Logan.
“No!” I scream, not willing to let him go.
“Hurry,” the man says to the black-clad masked figures that surround both Logan and me. They shuffle us toward a loud noise that I finally take note of. A helicopter! There’s a small feather and flame emblem near the nose of the helicopter. Curatoria. Is that good news or bad news? I’m paralyzed by indecision, but the helicopter blades spin so fast the wind threatens to knock me over until a person I can’t see pushes me forward, toward the ramp, despite my resistance.
The same one they’re dragging Logan up.
I give up my struggle. At least I’ll be with Logan. If we’ve gone from one dangerous situation to another, I’ll have to decide what to do about that later. For now, I reach out my hand for Logan, and with my fingers gripping his, I follow them up the ramp.
Inside the helicopter is chaos, and I’m shoved down into a seat that—though cushiony—jars my shoulder and thumps the back of my head. A small groan sounds in my ears.
Then there’s a woman in my face, her cheeks red and flushed, probably from the mask now pushed up on her forehead.
“I’m sorry,” she says. “It’s just a precaution.”
Something covers my face, and I gasp in a surprised breath of something strong and sweet. I think briefly to hold my breath, but whatever I’ve inhaled has already made my head fuzzy and my eyes roll strangely as I continue to breathe, my eyelids going heavy. I get one last look of Logan sprawled over two seats, surrounded by people in black clothing. I’m not sure whether I imagined the feeling of the helicopter leaving the ground, but sleep is too tempting, and I let my eyes close.
“You’re safe now,” a low voice whispers, just before I fall asleep. “Both of you, you’re safe.”
I try to open my mouth, but my jaw feels like a heavy steel trap and I can’t even mumble, “I don’t believe you.”
“You can wake up now,” a calm voice says. “We’re out of danger.”
A warm cloth rubs softly across my face, moistening my eyelids and making me feel clean and refreshed. I’m ready to smile until I remember what just happened. My eyes fly open and I try to jerk to a sitting position, but there’s a heavy strap across my chest that holds me in place.
“Stop, please.” The same voice. Soft hands on my shoulder. “Let me unhook you. You were only restrained to keep you from rolling while you were asleep.”
Asleep. She says it like I just dozed off. But I hold still while she unbuckles the strap and helps me to sit up. She then props up the bed behind me so I can recline.
“He’s right there. Look. He’s fine.” I see him almost near enough to touch, on a tiny stretcher that looks just like mine. I slowly register the noise around me, the rhythmic pulsing that fills the tiny, cramped space. We’re still in the helicopter.
“I’m Audra,” the voice says, pulling my eyes back to her.
I startle at the sight. She’s . . . she’s a girl. Younger than me. Maybe fifteen.
“And this is Glenn and Christina. We’re doctors with the Curatoria.”
Doctors. Curatoria. I don’t know what to think. I notice now that they’re wearing light-colored scrubs, and I vaguely remember seeing the feather and flame. Doctors. Curatoria. What have I done?
I’m still considering whether we may have jumped from the frying pan into the proverbial fire when I glance again at Audra. “Doctor?” I say, the question popping from my lips in a scratchy croak.
She catches the look of skepticism I can’t hide and laughs. “Yes, I’m a doctor,” she says. “And yes, I’m fifteen. I actually have been a doctor for several lifetimes now and was lucky enough to have my memories restored almost three years ago.”
An Earthbound then. “That’s amazing,” I say, still staring at her and trying to comprehend that this girl—younger than I am—could already have the knowledge and maturity of a long-practicing physician.
“We can talk later. They wanted you patched up by the time we reach Curatoria headquarters.”
“How long will that take?” I ask. They’re all crowded close around me because of the tiny space, and the rhythmic beat of the helicopter blades makes everything feel a little ominous.
Maybe it’s just because I’m in the air again for the first time since the plane crash.
Oh gods, don’t think about that.
Audra peeks at her watch. “Oh, uh, probably within the next fifteen minutes or so.” She looks up at the other two doctors for confirmation, and they give her a tight-lipped nod. “Your partner’s not yet awake, so we’ll start with you.”
“He hasn’t remembered,” I warn. “The name ‘Curatoria’ won’t mean anything to him. He’ll be panicked and terrified.” I don’t know why I’m telling them that. Because I’m afraid he’ll freak out? Because I don’t want them to throw a whole bunch of new information at him before the two of us have had a chance to talk? Maybe some of both.
Audra gives me a wan smile. “At least he’s here. We’ll find a spark for him. Now, where are you hurt? We didn’t want to invade your privacy without your consent by doing a full-body examination.” She gingerly lifts my swollen wrist that is now one huge purple bruise. “This looks pretty bad though.”
“Is it broken?” I ask.
“Let’s see.” She smears my wrist with jelly and slides some kind of plastic piece of machinery over it. The other two doctors—a middle-aged woman and a man sporting gray hair and thick glasses—set their fingers on the side of my wrist. They all look at a screen flashing weird black and white images.
“This shouldn’t hurt,” the man says. “But it will feel strange.”
I brace myself—after surviving major brain surgery, I’ve learned never to trust doctors when they say it won’t hurt—but he’s right. I suck in a breath as I feel like everything in my wrist is collapsing in on itself. Then, like a gear slipping into place, everything returns to normal.
Like normal normal. All the pain is gone.
“What did you do?” I ask as they release my arm. I flex it back and forth. The bruising isn’t totally gone, but almost—merely a few smudges of purple here and there. The swelling, meanwhile, has disappeared completely. “It feels better than it did before I injured it.”
“That was the intention,” Audra replies, a hint of fifteen-year-old smugness coming through.
The woman called Christina tilts her head at her colleague. “It was broken,” she explains matter-of-factly. “Though not badly. We—well, Glenn—removed the damaged cells, the inflammation, the blood that leaked from your veins and made the bruises, and then I replaced the bones cells with new.”
“You can do that?” I say with wonder.
“Oh yes,” she says. “We used to have to cut into you to do it, but with our EB scanner—”
“Earthbound scanner,” Audra interrupts with a smirk. “Although we’ll make up something else when we release it to the public. Like the CAT scan. I’ll give you one guess at what the C originally stood for, and it rhymes with Muratoria.”
“Thank you for that,” Christina says dryly. “Anyway, with this scanner we can see what needs to be done and make the switch without doing anything invasive.”
“It’s basically a combination ultrasound and X-ray, with some MRI functions,” Audra says.
And is apparently small enough to take on a freaking helicopter.
Audra gives me another once-over. “What else?” she asks, as though she hadn’t just told me about a completely revolutionary piece of medical equipment.
I spend the next few minutes in awe as my injuries are quite literally erased.
“What about your leg?” Audra asks as I’m fingering my lip made whole again.
“My leg is fine.” I’m half distracted as I swing my shoulder around, stretching it. I’d gotten so used to the ache I almost forgot what it was like not to have it.
“I was told you were limping quite badly when they rescued you.”
“Oh.” I understand. “That . . . that’s an old injury.”
“No reason we can’t fix it,” she says. She glances over at Logan and shares a silent message with the person watching over him. “Your partner is just starting to stir. We have a few more minutes.”
“I guess,” I say, not certain why I’m so nervous.
I’m wearing jeans, but the fabric across my thigh disappears with a glance from Glenn. More jelly and then Audra is sliding the probe over my leg and peering at the screen.
“Titanium plates,” Glenn says. “Those’ll have to go.”
“And extensive scar tissue in the muscles here and here,” Audra says, pointing. “No wonder it’s not healing well.”
I close my eyes. I don’t want to watch.
The same weird feelings take over my thigh, but this time it is a little uncomfortable. “Sorry,” Glenn says. I must have grimaced. “Christina will fix it in a moment.”
No titles, not calling each other “Dr. So-and-So.” As though we are all equals here. “We’re finished,” Christina says softly, rubbing goop off her hands.
I look down, and it’s like the plane wreck never happened. The staple marks are gone; the skin on my thigh is smooth and new and . . . looks rather exfoliated to boot.
“Good?” Christina asks.
I nod dumbly, and right before my eyes the missing piece of my jeans reappears as though it had never vanished. I’m not sure why this all makes me so uncomfortable. I mean, it’s a good thing, but it’s like they erased not only my scar but an entire section of my life. I force myself not to touch the scar on my head. I’ve had enough supernatural medicine for today.
“Let’s get you up,” Audra says. “No reason for you to be in bed any longer.”
I swing my legs to the side and gingerly get to my feet, holding on to a strap connected to the low ceiling for balance in the tiny square of space between my and Logan’s little beds. They hand me a large pouch of juice, and as they fold the travel-sized stretcher away I test my weight on my right leg and almost laugh in glee.
Not a twinge or jolt. Nothing. Not even when the chopper hits a brief patch of turbulence.
I can’t remember the last time I could walk without at least a throb of discomfort.
“Get off me!”
I’m shaken from my wonderment by Logan’s voice.
“It’s okay!” I take two steps—still in awe that there’s no pain when I do so—and lay my hands on his chest, pushing my face into his line of sight. “It’s okay,” I repeat, softer now as his focus hones in on me. He stops struggling, and as soon as he does the guy watching him unfastens the chest strap, just like they did with me. Logan’s hand immediately clamps onto mine, and he continues to hold my fingers in a death grip as the very basics of the situation are explained to him. I can’t help but be pleased by that—even if it’s only during the panic of this moment, he’s clinging to me instead of pushing me away.
The doctors question and then examine him, but all he has is the cut over his eye from the explosion at his house, and Audra doesn’t even need her ultrasound for Glenn and Christina to put that right.
When they touch him, Logan tightens his already iron grip on my hand, only loosening it when Christina backs away. “Pretty amazing, right?” I ask. He looks over at me with wide eyes, and I give him a little nod and squeeze his hand with numb, tingly fingers. I know he’s feeling the same cessation of pain that I did.
We’re both given a bag of dried fruit and more juice, and it’s all so welcome that I almost feel normal again. We’re shooed out of the way to a padded bench along the back of the chopper, and Logan and I sit together, thighs touching. I’m closing my eyes in silent gratitude that I’ve managed to at least get him to tolerate me, when I feel the warmth of his fingers creep across my hand, hesitate, and then twine through mine.
I don’t dare look. Like I might break the spell. I’ve proved something to him and I don’t want to question it. Certainly don’t want him to question it. I just squeeze lightly and pretend there’s nothing out of the ordinary about two people who couldn’t coexist in the same room a couple days ago holding hands.
As I munch on my fruit, a shadow crosses the floor, and Audra hurries to confer with a man who has just emerged from the cockpit. A moment later she returns with a little smile and says, “We’re going in now. You guys should see this.”
Confused, I scoot over to the window and bring Logan with me. We sit, hand in hand, peering out through the glass at . . . nothing.
Endless dunes of desert sand stretch as far as I can see, with a bright orange sunset starting to paint its way across the horizon.
Except . . .
Yes, there’s a glimmer. I can barely make it out at first, but as the chopper gets closer I realize it’s a silvery triangle. Just like I saw in Portsmouth.
And yet this one is nothing like those triangles. It shines so brightly it almost hurts my eyes.
It’s got to be at least a hundred yards on each side. An enormous triangle glinting in the sand. I know I must have a look of pure shock on my face when Audra giggles and says, “Oh, that’s nothing.”
Seconds later, a huge circle inside the triangle splits like pie slices and begins to pull back, revealing a cavernous space with a cement floor. On the perimeter I count six other helicopters parked and at least a dozen figures scurrying around beneath us.
I can’t come up with words as we lower into the shadowy space, landing with a bump on the ground, the whine of the chopper blades immediately quieting.
As soon as the helicopter has touched down there’s an entirely new low rumbling, and only when the light starts to dim do I realize that it’s the opening above us closing. My chest is tight as the panels come together and block out all the sunlight, but when I look back at the space we’ve landed in, I see it’s well lit. We haven’t been plunged into darkness.
A great boom sounds as the gates above us close completely, and then the doors on both sides of the helicopter open and people are there ready to help us out. Logan is still clinging to one of my hands, but with the other he reaches out and pulls on Audra’s sleeve.
“Audra?” Logan asks, and I can hear the fear in his voice. “Where are we?”
“Oh,” she says with a light smile, as though this detail was entirely unimportant. “I guess you wouldn’t know. This is the headquarters of the Curatoria.”
Terror and relief both run through me so strongly I have trouble even breathing. The headquarters of the Curatoria. A place that has taken on a level of intrigue so high, it’s hard to believe it exists at all.
I reach up to touch my silver necklace for courage and feel a warm hand cover my shoulder. Logan’s. He lowers his head close to my ear and whispers, “Whatever this is, I’m here. I mean, I don’t feel very useful right now, but if you need me, you just say so.”
I can’t speak as I stare at him. Does he . . . remember? Or have I actually won his trust?
But he looks as worried as I feel, and I know he would understand his true usefulness if he had remembered.
And wouldn’t I know if he had? If we had resurged? I’m still baffled about what I would have to do to make that happen, but the first step is definitely keeping Logan with me.
He gives me a very small smile and slips his hand into mine as we follow the team of doctors down a ramp and out of the helicopter, leaving the rest of the crew behind. I take a moment to covertly glance around at the huge but dim space, surrounded by the other helicopters I saw from the air, all quiet and still along the perimeter of what looks like an enormous landing pad. The area is hexagonal, and a bunch of bright lines are painted on the floor. Tools line two of the six sides, and the next wall over is covered by some kind of radar-looking thing, with ropes and other supplies mounted on the fourth.
A huge feather and flame symbol is painted across the entire fifth wall, and my stomach twists at the similarity to the Reduciata symbol in the prison we were just in.
We’re not exactly prisoners here—at least I don’t think so. They’re letting us walk together without our hands tied or any weapons pointed at us, but still, I don’t feel free.
In the center of the sixth side is a set of gray double doors that look thick and soundproof. A woman in the lead—not one from the helicopter, a new one who was waiting for us when we landed—stops and turns, her eyes seeking me out. “When we walk through those doors you will enter the headquarters of the Curatoria. It’s a privilege we never allow Earthbounds who have not sworn themselves to our cause.” I’m about to tell her that I have no intention of swearing anything to anyone when she continues, “But you two will be an exception.” She eyes us both carefully, her attention lingering on me. It’s clear that she’s not a fan of this idea. “While you’re here,” she adds, “we ask that you remain entirely peaceful, that you don’t interfere with our work, and”—she hesitates—“that you have no communication with the outside world whatsoever.”
Like I have anyone to communicate with. My parents, Sammi, Mark, Elizabeth—all dead.
Benson . . . good as dead.
And Logan, but he’s here with me now. I feel a shiver of pleasure ripple down my spine at that thought and squeeze his hand.
I fix my gaze on the stern-looking woman and ask, “Why?”
“For our safety. It’s not something we ask of our sworn members. But we have extra restrictions on you.”
“Why let me in at all then?”
“Because Daniel wants to see you.”
Every cell in my body freezes at the name.
Daniel: the leader of the Curatoria. He’s here.
Not merely here, expecting me.
I don’t know whether I just became exponentially safer or more at risk. But I’m pretty sure it’s one or the other.
I shoot Logan what I hope is a meaningful glance, but he obviously doesn’t understand any of this. Regardless, we’re led into a space that feels more . . . domestic, for lack of a better word. Once the doors close behind us, the noise of the helicopter engine, the slowing blades, the crew shouting instructions to each other are all gone. I hadn’t realized until now how loud they were. Now, even the noise of our footsteps is muffled by thick, soft carpet that feels absolutely luxurious on my tired feet.
I take a few quick steps to follow the still-nameless woman as she heads down a dimly lit, long hallway that reminds me of one from a hotel, albeit a nicer hotel than the type I’ve been staying at lately. Doors line each side, and pretty little tables abut the walls, which themselves are covered in pleasant—if generic—pastel paintings. I glance back and see that everyone else has peeled off and disappeared, and part of me wishes Audra were still here. Although I only just met her, she seemed to genuinely care about our well-being.
The woman before us evidently does not, however. “It won’t be today that you meet him, of course,” she says without turning to face us, and I have to strain my ears to hear. “He wants you to rest. To sleep. We reported the condition you were held under for the last three days—”
“Three days?” Apparently, I spent more time unconscious than I’d thought. “What day is it now?”
“Thursday,” she responds automatically, not missing a beat. “As I was saying, Daniel insisted you be fed and rested before he meets with you.” The tone of her voice tells me just how ridiculous she finds all of this. “Now, we’ll house you here—where all of our Earthbounds-in-Residence live—and you can simply pick up the phone if you need anything.” She pauses, then sneers, “Daniel has ordered us to be at your service.”
“Really?” Logan pipes up. “Why would he—”
“This is you,” she says, cutting him off. She raps sharply on a door with a silver number seven on it and then hands us each a key. “We have duplicates,” she warns, and I wonder just where the hell she thinks we might go. What we might do in this classy, but nonetheless clearly fortified, underground fortress. One of us powerless, the other with abilities that last for five minutes. Maybe we could rip those sconces from the wall and stage an incredible escape. Right.
I mumble a quiet thank you, not wanting to get even more on this woman’s bad side. Logan says nothing, just pockets his key and squeezes my hand.
“Daniel left you a gift on the table,” she says as she pushes the door open, which swings silently on well-oiled hinges. “He says you’ll know what to do with it.”
Curiouser and curiouser, I think wryly. But I’m anxious to get out of this woman’s sight and be able to talk to Logan without overly attentive eavesdroppers. “We’ll be fine,” I say aloud.
“Food,” Logan blurts, then looks at me apologetically. “I’m starving.”
The truth is I am too, so I can hardly blame him. The dried fruit only went so far in making up for three days with only one meal.
“I’ll have something sent up.” She looks Logan up and down and adds, “Something substantial,” in a tone that makes me want to smack her.
Whatever. As soon as she’s through the doorway I close it behind her, just inches shy of knocking her over. “Finally,” I say, my back to the door.
We’re in a very large room that seems to be part kitchenette, part bedroom. Like a studio apartment, really, with a sitting room around the corner on one side and what looks like a doorway to the bathroom on the left.
Logan is standing a few feet from an elegantly made king-size bed, and he runs his fingers through his hair awkwardly. Trusting me, even holding my hand, is one thing; being shoved into a bedroom with only one bed after being told to “get some rest” is another.
I look away, giving him a few seconds to get his bearings, scoping out the room instead. The hallway was elegant and nice, but this room is a completely different kind of elegance. It’s sparse and a bit artsy, with silver and black trim on pretty much everything. In place of paintings, black and white photos of buildings and cityscapes dot the walls. Here and there a touch of maroon breaks up the color palette: a throw on the back of a plushy chair, a vase that stands empty on a high shelf, one pillow in a pile of several on the bed.
I remember the woman’s cryptic comment about a gift from Daniel and look around for the table—seems like it would be easy to find, but it turns out that it’s a semicircular, bar-height table that’s mounted below a mirror, and so I miss it at first glance, thinking that it’s just part of the decor.
Still trying to avoid awkwardness with Logan, I walk over and pick up the cardboard tube sitting atop it. “No note,” I muse. But whatever. I pop the top off the tube and start to shake it out, but as soon as I realize what’s inside I yank my fingers back like they’ve been burned.
It’s from the dugout back in Camden that Quinn took me to. The painting that messed me up so badly. My breathing is sharp and noisy and Logan is walking toward me, but I hold up a hand to stop him and force myself to calm down.
This canvas was in Benson’s backpack the night I found out what he was. Why does the Curatoria have it?
“What is it?” Logan asks tentatively.
“It’s just a painting,” I respond absentmindedly. I’m too caught up in the sight before me to attempt to act like less of a total weirdo.
“If it’s just a painting, then why did it make you jump out of your skin?”
He’s right. It did make me jump out of my skin. But that was nothing compared to what happened the last time I touched it.
I’ll never forget the sensation. It was like I was a radio set to the wrong frequency.
“Tavia?” Logan says.
I look up at him with what I’m sure is a nearly manic expression. If it was the wrong frequency for me, then there’s only one person who it could be right for.
And in a bright flash of light, I remember. I remember! Quinn and I knew our artifacts were too obvious. Him a jewelry maker, me an artist. Of course a necklace and a painting would be obvious creations, with obvious owners. So we reversed them. I created a replica of a necklace he made me; he created a copy of a painting of our home. That way someone looking to destroy all of Rebecca’s memories would miss one. Then we packed them away in the dugout.
That’s why the necklace worked on me and not him.
I didn’t paint this painting; Quinn created it.
My whole body trembles now as I realize what a treasure I’m holding in my hands. “Logan,” my voice is too quiet and too high-pitched all at the same time. “You should see this.”
His eyes are hooded, fearful, and I realize that in a world that has literally turned upside down on him in the last three days, anything might happen. Any paranoid fear might become a reality.
“It’s a good thing,” I say quickly, hating that expression of terror cast in my direction. “Just . . . here, take it.”
I hold out the painting and he obliges. The second his fingers come in contact with the canvas, everything changes.
His hands tighten around it, crushing the edge of the painting, and he takes two stumbling steps backward until his shoulders meet the door. His eyes widen and then focus on me.
“Tavia,” he murmurs. And it’s clear, he knows me.
He takes one step—not even a proper step, half a step—and his hand rises as though of its own accord. I’m still, stunned into paralysis even as my lungs force air in and out with a gasping, hissing sound, and adrenaline fills my veins in a rush that deafens me.
His fingertips brush my face so gently, as though I’ll break into a million pieces if he presses too hard. His eyes scan me, taking in every detail, until I feel like I’ve been stripped naked in front of him.
And I don’t mind.
Logan stands like a man transformed, even though his appearance hasn’t technically changed. His shoulders are straighter, his eyes more knowing. That face—suddenly it understands unspeakable wonders of the universe that normal humans simply can’t comprehend.
Then the world hits Play and his lips are on mine, his hands clutching, until I feel every part of him pressed against me. Hands, chest, hips, lips, teeth. With a growl he pushes my back against the wall and grabs at my hips, pulling me to him like he needs me closer now. “Becca,” he breathes in my ear, whispering my old name like a sacred memory before attacking my mouth again.
My brain is full of the chorus of women in my other lives singing with joy. Their strange music fills me, making every inch of my body tingle and glow. I know tomorrow I’ll have bruises from Logan’s rough, desperate handling, but I don’t care. I want it—all of it.
“I’m so sorry,” he whispers between kisses that trail down my neck, over my shoulder. He lifts my fingers to his mouth and kisses every fingertip, then rubs his face against my palms. “For everything I said. The way I treated you. I didn’t know,” he says, his voice gravelly now as his hands grip the waistband of my jeans.
I groan as his hands can’t resist and slip under the back of my shirt, his fingers skimming bare skin. Everything I ever wanted with anyone explodes into this one moment. “It’s okay,” I manage, as I lean against him, his mouth back on my neck. He rolls his hips against me. It’s like an ocean wave we can’t stop, crashing into us, sweeping us away with it.
We walk unsteadily backward—in the direction I hazily remember the bed sitting—we’re grasping at each other as our worlds collide in the most blissful crash I could ever imagine.
Logan lifts me, wraps my legs around his waist, and carries me the last few feet. He tosses me on the bed and kneels over me, reaching for the buttons on my jeans. Impatient with his fruitless fumbling, he tears his T-shirt up and over his head, and my whole body shakes at the sight of the familiar yet brand-new bare skin of his chest. He reaches for the bottom of my blouse, and as I raise my arms it suddenly seems to me that everything, every terrible, awful thing that has happened in the last month, was worth it.
The next few minutes are a blur of desperation as we learn each other all over again. It has that brilliant excitement of newness wrapped in the comfort of the commonplace. We say nothing as our bodies speak their own language; and even though I feel like I should savor this moment—take time to renew our friendship, our love—I can’t.
I look up into his leaf-green eyes above me, my hand clenching at his shoulders, and for the first time since the plane wreck, I feel free. I let go of everything. Of every fear and doubt, of tension and pain.
And in that moment I let my entire body fill with pure, unadulterated joy.
I’m so wrapped up in Logan I scarcely notice when the lights flicker and then die, plunging us into total darkness.
For a moment there’s silence, and then we both start to laugh. “Did we do that?” I ask, finally getting some control.
“I didn’t do it. Did you do it?”
“Bad timing, I guess.”
“Or extremely good timing,” Logan says, his lips brushing my neck.
A moment later there’s the glow of a candle that wasn’t there before.
“You made that!” I say with a gasp.
He raises one eyebrow, the expression somehow sultry in the dim light. “Of course I did,” he says, pressing a kiss against my brow. “I still want to look at you,” he says, a hint of a growl in his throat. “And kiss you, and touch you, and hold you.” I pull his face back down to mine, and it’s like the weird power outage never happened.
It’s only hours later, when exhaustion overtakes us both, that we slow down. Logan helps me into his discarded T-shirt and kisses my forehead one more time before blowing out the candle. Then he pulls me against him and breathes a long sigh, the kind that sounds like it’s been waiting two centuries to be released.
“We found each other,” I marvel, and even now I hardly believe it.
“You found me,” Logan whispers, kissing my forehead. “Fate needed a little help.”
It’s mere seconds before I hear Logan’s breathing slow, and he falls asleep, his arm draped over me. I’m near sleep myself, but I take a moment to revel in the last few hours in this silent, dark room. Every part of my body feels tender and new, like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis for the first time. New, and perfect.
As perfect as I will ever be.
• • •
He’s looking at me when I wake up, and for half a second I wonder why his eyes aren’t blue.
Guilt stabs my chest as the memory of last night comes flooding back. I push visions of sky-blue eyes aside and smile at Logan.
My lover. My diligo.
“Good morning, I think. Lights finally came back on,” he whispers in his rough morning voice.
A voice I last heard over two hundred years ago. My mouth curls up at the thought.
“What?” he asks, running the tip of his nose up my cheek and making me feel very awake indeed.
“I haven’t seen you in a long time.”
He tosses his head back and laughs, and I realize I miss his long hair. It’s not a big deal. Hair grows. I, of all people, know that. He kisses me soundly and then leans on one elbow and looks down at me, my head still buried in the pillows. “So, Tavia? That’s a funny name.”
A giggle busts out in more of a snort. “My mom came up with it,” I say, a tiny pang making its way into my heart. “No one ever says it right.”
His eyes soften and he kisses me again, and we waste another half hour or so kissing and rolling about on the bed before Logan’s eyes grow serious. “We should probably talk,” he says.
I nod and sober up. I guess the honeymoon is over.
For a little while anyway.
Logan pulls the sheet off me, and I fight the urge to grab it back. Or at least cover the fact that all I’m wearing is underwear and his shirt. But he’s not looking at me that way. His eyes are serious—maybe even sad—as he pushes his T-shirt up around my ribs and looks at the scars from my surgeries. The huge staple-marked scar on my thigh is gone—compliments of the Curatoria med team—but there are plenty others to see. My trach scar, several small marks where ribs broke the skin, the remains of a lesion across my hips from the seat belt on the plane, that sort of thing. Enough that even in the darkness last night, he would have felt them.
“What happened to you?” he whispers, his voice so full of sympathy and anguish it makes tears of joy come to my eyes.
Joy that I found the person who feels this way about me. That we’re together now and can be forever.
I swallow hard and then take his hand and move it to my head. I angle my neck and sweep my hair away and let him see that scar too. Feel it. Other than doctors, nurses, people I had to let feel it, no one else has ever touched my scar.
He doesn’t count anymore.
“Tavia,” he says, touching the scar very softly. He doesn’t say anything else, but after a few seconds he drops his hand and looks at me. Waiting.
It takes a long time, but I tell him everything that has happened in the last eight months: the plane wreck, the slow manifestation of my powers, Sammi and Mark, the Reduciates, Marie, the virus. Especially the virus since we couldn’t really talk about it in the prison.
I don’t mention Benson.
I should. But I can’t. He’s too raw a wound, and I don’t want Logan to know about him at all.