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Uprising (Children of the Gods #2)

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JESSICA THERRIEN

FBI Anti-Piracy Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of a copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to five years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.

 

Advertencia Antipirateria del FBI: La reproducción o distribución no autorizada de una obra protegida por derechos de autor es ilegal. La infracción criminal de los derechos de autor, incluyendo la infracción sin lucro monetario, es investigada por el FBI y es castigable con pena de hasta cinco años en prisión federal y una multa de $250,000.

 

Children of the Gods: Uprising

Second Edition

Copyright © 2015 Jessica Therrien

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever, including Internet usage, without written permission from the author.

 

This story is a work of fiction. References to real people, events, establishments, organizations, or locales are intended only to provide a sense of authenticity and are used fictitiously. All other characters, and all incidents and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real.

 

Cover design by Carrie Butler

 

 

ISBN-13:978-0-9963788-1-9

 

 

 

 

To Holly & Shelly,

writing wouldn’t be as fun without you.

 

And

 

To Ron & Mary Jane Therrien,

thank you for everything.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PROLOGUE

 

MAC LED US TO a cabin in the thickest part of the woods. It wasn’t old, but it had been lived in, and I wondered how many other visitors had taken refuge there. The kitchen stovetop was stained from overuse, and the futon that sat against the wall sagged in the center where people had slept. As I looked around I breathed in the earthy scent of the forest that had seeped in from outdoors. Aside from the common area, which was both the kitchen and living room in one, there was only a bathroom and a single bedroom.

“Sorry if I gave you two a scare back there,” Mac said, collapsing heavily into a seat at the multi-purpose table in the center of the room. “Can never be too sure these days.” He leaned back in the wooden chair, his brawny body testing its strength.

I raised my eyebrows at his casual brush-off. Oh, sorry for shoving my loaded shotgun in your face. Maybe it was smart though. Having me heal proved I was who I was—the last healer. Still, poisoning a deer was a little dramatic.

“Well, someone could have at least warned us you’d be armed and dangerous,” William said, his voice cutting through the quiet cabin. He took my hand and led me to the futon.

“It’s best you just assume that from here on out,” Mac laughed back at him. I didn’t find it as funny. It wasn’t that he frightened me, or that I felt too uncomfortable in this strange place, I just had too many thoughts in my head to process those insignificant feelings. I still hadn’t gotten my bearings. So much had happened in the last twenty-four hours or more. I wasn’t sure how long it had been.

“You guys must be hungry,” Mac said, breaking the silence.

Starving, I thought. When had I last eaten? My body had moved past hunger pains and was simply ignoring my need for food, at least until it was mentioned.

“I think my stomach is eating itself.” William cracked a smile for the first time since the gun incident.

Mac stood up, his heavy weight dragging the chair loudly across the old wood floor. He was built like he was made for the military, like he could pick a guy up by his throat or bust a door down with a swift kick. It was strange seeing such a burly man in a dainty kitchen, but he seemed to feel well enough at home. He pulled two plates from the fridge, which he had already prepared for us.

“I’m not the best cook, but it should do the job.”

I didn’t care if it was mashed celery. I would have eaten anything.

“The zucchinis grow out back, and the meat is quail,” he said tentatively, his guttural voice not matching his kind words. “Sorry it’s cold. I could heat the beans up on the stove if you want.”

I moved a little too quickly to the table. “It’s fine, thanks,” I said with gratitude. I could see he wasn’t a cruel man, just protective. After all, he did have the power of safety in his blood. Could you blame the guy for being a little overly cautious?

He picked up his shotgun and examined it, making sure it was loaded. As if someone could have stolen the shells without him knowing. William and I watched with curiosity as we inhaled our meal, every cold, delicious bite.

“Anything else you need?” he asked as we finished, plates nearly licked clean. “We have to talk about what’s going to happen here.”

“I could use a shower,” I answered honestly. I wanted time to think. I wasn’t ready for more.

“Sure,” he said, placing his gun to the right of the door. “You guys will have the room, so I put your clothes in the dresser in there. Towels are under the sink.”

“Okay thanks,” I answered, wondering how my clothes had ended up here in the first place.

The solitude was nice, so I didn’t bother to be quick. I caught a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror and smiled at how unkempt I looked. Tired, chestnut eyes stared back at me. My dark brown hair was greasy and tangled, and my clothes were dirty from trekking through the woods. I looked like a ragdoll that had been dragged around the playground by a five-year-old.

I gazed back into my reflection, trying to convince myself that everything was all right, that I had no reason to worry. But was it true? I stripped down and stepped in the shower, letting the steaming water wash away layers of salt and sweat as I ran through the facts, every stepping stone in the path that had led me here.

It wasn’t that long ago that I’d considered myself alone. The only one cursed with long life while those around me died. Then, only two others shared my secret, my burden—Anna and her daughter. They were more than friends; they were family, despite the fact that they weren’t Descendants. Things were so different now, like that reality was a lifetime ago. I’d dreamt that there were others, hoped it in the deepest parts of me, but I never imagined it would be so complicated. The world of Descendants, my people, with their supernatural abilities and secret lives, The Council, the laws, the prophecy, none of it had turned out how I’d hoped. Things were backwards, uncivil, and unfair in this new world. I shouldn’t have had to risk my life to heal my best friend, but it had come to that. If it weren’t for Kara, who’d once considered me an enemy, maybe I would be dead. I shook that thought from my head. It didn’t matter.

All that mattered was that Anna and Chloe would be okay. Their safety was at the forefront of my mind. Kara had taken care of them, and they’d be here soon. Thanks to William, Ryder was gone. I could let go of that worry, but there were still things unsettled. There was Iosif. The memory of his scream made my stomach turn, and I hoped he would be all right. Obviously The Council believed we were dead, so what more could they use him for? And what had come of William’s family? Were they questioned? Tortured? Did the Council members get involved? I would have to ask Mac if he knew anything.

As for the prophecy, apparently everything had gone as predicted, despite the fact that I was kept in the dark about the true way it would play out. What was it Iosif had said? You survived because you were meant to—to fulfill the prophecy. Your sacrifice set things in motion. Now it’s only a matter of time. But what did that mean, that I was supposed to start a war against The Council? Free the Descendants from their oppressive reign? Even as I thought the words, I didn’t believe them. How was I supposed to do that? Especially stuck here with most everyone thinking I was dead.

Only one thing comforted me as I mulled over everything: There was nothing I could do about any of it. Not right now at least. If I thought of it any other way, it all might come toppling in on me like an imploding building. Today, all I could do was talk to Mac. He was the only resource I had. I just hoped he knew what was supposed to happen next, and that I would be up for it.

I changed into my favorite old Levis and a long sleeve black shirt. When I opened the bedroom door, I caught them sitting at the table, talking with their heads close together like I wasn’t supposed to hear their conversation. It seemed odd, but Mac addressed me like it was nothing.

“Better?” he asked, his strong brown eyes too cheery for his rough face.

“Much,” I responded casually, but I knew better than to believe they weren’t keeping something from me.

“Did you see this?” William asked, trying to steer the subject.

He held out a hand-carved blow dart gun, the one Mac had used to poison the deer.

“Yeah, I’ve seen it.”

“Up close?” he continued. “Mac made it himself.” He thrust it toward me, and I took it.

It was handcrafted, with intricate designs and beveled edges despite its long, narrow shape. The finger grip was made of dried reeds woven into a tightly knit pattern, and it had a sight for aiming that was so thin and precise it must have taken ages to carve. Although it was an amazing work of art, I cringed as I held it. It was lethal. A weapon, meant to kill.

“It’s beautiful,” I said, trying to be polite.

“Glad you like it,” Mac answered with a wide grin. “I made it for you.”

I was confused.

“Why?” I reacted without thinking. Nearly ninety years of avoiding interaction with strangers didn’t exactly make me the best in social situations. I should have just said thank you, but he didn’t seem to take my question personally. Instead he considered it carefully, glancing at William in between thoughts.

“It will protect you,” William spoke for him. He had that desperate look he always got when he wanted me to see things his way, a mix between pleading and insistence.

“We’re in a safe haven,” I reminded him, handing back the weapon. “I don’t think I’ll need it.”

“You will,” Mac added, staring hard at me. “I’ll start training you tomorrow.”

My eyes moved back and forth between them, trying to pick up on what it was they were getting at. I didn’t like where things were going, and I wasn’t sure why they were pushing it on me. Without responding, I headed back for the bedroom.

“Wait.” William sighed. “There’s someone outside for you.”

If it had been anybody else, I may not have picked up on it, but I could read him so easily now, the crease in his brow, the pulse of his cheek muscle as he clenched his teeth—something had happened.

“Who is it?” I asked, trying to get more out of them before I faced what was out there, but they both remained tight lipped, unable to answer.

I listened for a hint of sound, but everything was so quiet here, eerily quiet. I eyed the dart gun and tucked my wet hair behind my ears. Without much of a choice, I walked almost unwillingly toward the front door, looking back at William for strength.

It was still light outside, brighter than I’d expected. Judging by how exhausted I felt, I thought it should be night. I had lost all sense of time. The thick trees blew lightly in the breeze, rattling their dry leaves like nature’s wind chime as I stepped out into the forest.

“Elyse,” a voice called from behind me, and I spun around with a gasp.

“Oracle,” I mumbled with surprise.

She laughed, the corners of her soft eyes wrinkling as she smiled. It made me uneasy the way she looked at me, like she had known me my whole life.

“It’s Florence, actually.”

Her loose linen clothing matched the color of the surrounding trees, like she was a part of the forest, and her hair tied up into an elegant bun had slipped slightly, letting pieces fall against her face. She looked too normal to have such brilliant power.

“Hello,” I managed, my timid voice wary as I waited to hear the reason for her visit.

“Will you walk with me?”

I nodded and began picking my cuticles as I took up beside her, mimicking her slow, graceful steps.

“You’ve had to give up a lot,” she began, her voice low and calm. “I understand how hard it’s been for you.”

She looked over at me as we walked, but I couldn’t look back. I was afraid to meet her eyes. Though they were kind, they’d seen things I knew I wasn’t ready to face.

“It’s not going to get easier, Elyse,” she said, her tone dipping with remorse. “The road ahead will be difficult. Not everyone will survive.”

My eyes reacted on their own, searching for any uncertainty in her expression. There was none.

“I’m here to tell you that you have a choice. You can always decide to take a different path.” She clasped her hands behind her back. “But you won’t. You are good. Selfless. That’s why you are who you are. You will lead them. Not because you have no other choice, but because it is right.”

I wondered how she could be so sure. If she asked me right now if I knew what to do, if I knew what was right, I wouldn’t have an answer. She had such confidence in me, everyone did, but they were wrong.

“Elyse,” she said, stopping abruptly. “The war has started, and they have made the first move.”

Her face was so intense it scared me, her motherly eyes afraid to give me bad news.

“They found Anna and Chloe—” she began.

I stepped away from her. “No,” I said, not wanting to hear the rest.

“Elyse,” she continued. “Kara tried her best, but Christoph took them.”

The words felt heavy, like gravity pulling me down.

“Are they dead?” As I asked the question, my voice shook, and everything started to break into pieces. I couldn’t look at her. I couldn’t breathe.

“No,” she answered, her hand settling on my shoulder, “not yet, but they will be if you don’t go after them.”

“How?” I asked, my heart desperate. “How am I supposed to do that?” The fear shook me from the inside, making me frantic and reckless. “If you just tell me how, tell me what to do, I’ll do it. I’ll go now if I need to, if you tell me where they are—”

“Listen,” she said louder than I expected. It grabbed my attention. “This is what they want. They don’t believe you’re dead, and they’re trying to lure you out of hiding. They’re waiting for you, and they want you to come panicked and unprepared. Elyse?” She waited for me to look up. “You must not go until the last night of February.”

“Three months? That’s so long.” I shook my head. “It’s too long. I can’t.”

“If you go before then, you will fail, and they will die. Do you understand?”

I nodded and bit my bottom lip. “But where do I go? How am I supposed to save them? I can’t do it on my own.”

“You can.”

My shaking hands clenched into tight, steady fists. “I need more than that. Give me something to go on,” I pleaded on the verge of anger.

“I can only say so much without altering the future, Elyse.” She leaned forward to kiss my cheek, but I hardly noticed. “I must go before I say more. I won’t see you again after this. Good luck,” she said, before turning to leave. I watched her walk away, too stunned to move.

“Wait,” I called after her. “Where are they?”

“Where you’ll expect them to be,” she yelled without looking back.

“Where is that?” I shouted.

When she didn’t respond I took off after her, running as fast as I could, but I was too late. She disappeared beyond the boundaries of the safe haven, through an invisible wall I knew I wouldn’t be allowed to cross.

I leaned back against a nearby tree, too devastated and angry to move on. It all seemed clear to me as I stood alone in the forest. There was only one path ahead of me. I could choose to walk away, but I wouldn’t. She was right. They were all right. Maybe this would be my war.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 1

 

I DIDN’T KNOW WHERE I was. The parking lot was empty, and it was getting dark so I knew I should probably leave. I had a nervous feeling in my stomach. An old white Toyota was parked in the farthest spot, the only car in sight. I figured it must be mine, so I dug in my pockets and found the key.

Inside, a package rested on the seat, a sleek plastic box in a paper sack, and I remembered what I was supposed to do. I had to deliver it. 243 Park Lane. Somehow, I knew how to get there. It wasn’t far, a few blocks from here.

The little house was quiet, no lights on, no cars parked in the driveway. Nobody home. The whole street looked that way, like it had been abandoned. I decided to go in anyway. I didn’t want to wait out here alone.

The white fence creaked as I entered. I took slow, soft steps, not wanting anyone to hear me, and though no one was home, I was afraid. The front door was open, and the crunch of the grassy doormat beneath my feet seemed too loud. Again, the nervousness pulsed quickly under my skin. The house looked empty, but as soon as I entered, I knew it was because they were hiding. They were in the back room, waiting for me to return from where I had been.

I tiptoed quietly as I walked down the hall, not wanting them to know I was home. When I reached the door, I was startled by someone on my right, but it was just my reflection. Something wasn’t right, though. I recognized the face in the gold-framed mirror hanging on the wall, but it wasn’t mine. It was someone I knew, someone I was angry with. Then it hit me—Kara.

I looked down, confused, and realized I had opened the package I had carried with me inside. The contents of the sleek plastic box was in my hand, and my heart jumped when I saw what it was—a gun, heavy and threatening. I wanted to drop it and run, but I had no control over this body. It was Kara’s. It moved forward without my consent, readied the gun without my wanting it to.

As I opened the door to the back room, I saw their faces. Anna and Chloe, scared and shocked. My hand was pointing the gun at them.

“Kara?” Anna pleaded, but I felt my finger tighten around the trigger.

“NO!” I screamed as the shots fired.

 

***

 

“Hey, you’re okay,” said a low comforting voice, still tired with sleep. “Come on, wake up. It’s a dream.”

My mind struggled to comprehend. Trying to fight the anguish, my eyes pinched closed clinging to the darkness. What if I opened them and it was real?

“Wake up, Ellie,” William said again. He pulled me closer, his hands warming against the skin of my waist. The heat that grew under his palms was familiar. It told us we were meant for each other, and the sensation lifted me out of the dream. He buried his face into the back of my neck, kissing the skin on my shoulder with gentle lips, and my eyes opened, taking in the room still dark with night.

“Thanks,” I said, recovering. I was drenched in sweat, my lashes wet with tears.

He propped himself up on his elbow, leaning over to kiss my cheek, and his golden hair fell forward tickling my jaw. “Which one was it?” he asked.

My chest still ached with worry. “The one with the gun, and in the end I’m Kara.”

He collapsed back onto the bed and pulled me into his chest. “That’s the worst one.”

I stared at the pitch-black window, as if it alone was keeping out the dreams. At any moment I was sure it would shatter, letting all my worry in to suffocate me.

It had been a few weeks since I had heard the news about Anna and Chloe being captured, but the nightmares kept on. I still hadn’t forgiven myself, and I didn’t know if I ever would. There was no guarantee I could save them, and if they died it would destroy me. If I hadn’t tried to cure Anna, if I had just let them be, at least Chloe would still have had a chance. In the end, it was really their sacrifice that fulfilled the prophecy and began the war, not mine. They were the ones suffering, Christoph’s prisoners to torture at his leisure and discard at his will. My heart hurt when I thought of it.

“Since we’re all awake now,” I heard Mac grumble from the living room couch where he slept. “Might as well get in some target practice.”

“Mac, it’s four o’clock in the morning,” William protested.

“I don’t care if it’s a quarter to a kick in your ass. Get up, you two.”

I rolled my eyes and grabbed my dart gun off the dresser. “All right. All right.” I nudged William, whose face was still buried in the pillow.

“Maybe if I play dead he’ll let me sleep in,” he said with a muffled voice.

I laughed. “Either that or he’ll pull you out by your toes.”

It was still dark when William and I stepped outside.

“Four o’clock in the morning is as good a time as any to train. Battle can occur anytime, anywhere, and with anyone. I want you prepared for every scenario,” Mac said as we walked between the trees.

I didn’t mind. I liked the cool early morning, when the sun was still asleep. It always felt like I had stumbled upon the world’s secret, when the earth came alive thinking nobody was watching.

I had only just started to get used to the dart gun, the feel of the grass reed finger-grip as I steadied the weapon, the amount of force needed to propel the dart a long distance, the way the holster strap fit around my thigh.

I had been reluctant at first, unsure it would be worth the effort, but Mac was a good teacher, and he explained much more than how to use the gun.

“The thing is, Elyse,” he’d said, “it’s a war. That means if you don’t come for them, they’ll come for you. And when they do, if you don’t have a way to protect yourself, then we’re all outta luck.”

I didn’t see myself as a violent person, but what he said made sense. I had an ability at my disposal, one that could save my life and save others, but only if I learned how to use it. On one side, my blood was a deadly toxin, and on the other, its cure. But it was useless as a defense unless I had a way to transport it to my enemies. The darts would serve that purpose.

“Now that you’ve got the basics down—” he started, but I cut him off.

“I wouldn’t say that.” I felt like I hardly knew what I was doing, like I was lucky I didn’t suck the dart down my throat every time.

There was a lot more involved than I had expected, so much to think about before I made a move. How much force did I need behind my breath, did I consider the balance of my feet and steady the grip of my hands, what was the weight of the dart I was using, had I taken notice of the direction of the wind, was I close enough to my target to shoot? So many factors played a part. The heavier the dart, the shorter it would go, but only the heavier ones stayed on course. The lighter darts went farther, but they tended to curve in the direction of the wind.

“Well, I think we need to take it to the next level. You need to feel comfortable with how your blood works with the darts, on more than just animals, and eventually we’ll need to practice using enough to ensure the kill.”

The kill. My hands felt shaky at the thought of it. Would it ever come to that? I had to consider the idea that it was very possible. The force we were up against, The Council, was capable of unspeakable things. Anna and Chloe were seeing that first hand.

I tried to feel empowered by my anger, to remember that I was fighting for my friends and that we were all fighting for a cause much greater, but I couldn’t deny the fear. If I were ever forced to kill, I’d have to find the will somewhere down in the darkest part of my soul. Maybe I could do it, for them.

“I don’t know, Mac,” I said, shying away from the thought. “I need a lot more training before I’m ready for that.”

“No you don’t,” he said as though it were a simple fact. “What do you have in your bag?”

I pulled out the largest dart in the satchel on my hip. “Aside from the standard? A few hollows.”

“Nasty little buggers, aren’t they?” He took it from me and looked it over, then handed it back with a nod. “Harder to carve than the standard, too. They’ll snap like a dried spaghetti noodle if you aren’t careful hollowing out the center.”

It wasn’t enough that I had to learn how to use the gun. Mac made me carve out every dart I used. I’d gotten much better at it, simply because a bad dart wouldn’t fly, and I couldn’t really train when a part of the weapon didn’t function. That first week of training, I sat at the kitchen table for eight hours a day taking out my aggression on the tiny sticks until I had piles of them, until they were perfect.

“The good thing about the hollow is you can fill it with a hefty amount of toxin that will release into the skin on impact,” he continued.

“So that’s her kill shot?” William asked. He looked at me, studying my confidence, making sure I knew what I had to do if I ever needed to defend myself.

“Yep,” Mac answered.

I stared at the slender wooden needle with a sick feeling. I imagined what it would be like to slide that dart into the gun, knowing it would be the end for whoever happened to be my target. I silently hoped to myself that I would never see the spotted black feather fly through the air, as sure to kill as a bullet to the heart.

Mac adjusted the shotgun on his shoulder. “What else?”

“I made some of these last night,” I said, holding up a shorter solid version with light brown feathers.

“Tell me what it does,” he added, testing me.

“This one is absorbent,” I answered, examining the etchings my knife had made. “The wood will suck up moisture and slow release into the target.”

“Right.” Mac nodded. “That’s the one I used on the doe.”

I remembered the animal he had used to test me vividly. Her black eyes were full of fear as I bent down to heal her. It was the only way Mac could be sure it was me taking refuge in his safe haven, and not an intruder. Things had changed so much since then.

“And you,” Mac said to William. “I’m glad you brought your arrows kid, but you won’t be shooting this morning.” He chuckled to himself like he knew something we didn’t. Then mid-laugh his faced turned serious, and he stopped abruptly. His arms shot out in front of William and I, pushing us behind him. I’d never seen him get so quiet.

William stepped closer to me, becoming more alert. He removed the bow from his back and loaded an arrow.

“What is it?” I whispered.

Mac looked at me like I was the crazy one. “Don’t talk to someone in situations like that, Ellie.”

“Situations like what?”

“You don’t talk, you look,” Mac grumbled, pointing from his eyes to the space in front of him. Without more explanation he continued walking ahead, waving us forward. “And what do you say when you meet someone you ain’t sure of?”

“Once harm has been done, even a fool understands it,” I repeated. It was something they’d used in the last war, a simple phrase that separated the good from the bad.

Mac looked at William. “And what should they answer?”

“The outcome of the war is in our hands; the outcome of words is in The Council.”

“Good.”

William scanned the trees ahead. “So, what was out there?”

Mac shrugged and smiled his crazy-man smile as he looked back at us. “Nothing to worry about.”

I rolled my eyes and jogged a little to keep up.

“So, tell me again why I’m not training to use a semi-automatic or a sniper rifle?” William asked with a smirk. His eyes found me, and we shared a knowing smile. “A bow and arrow seems pretty weak in comparison.” He adjusted the strap on his quiver and returned the weapon to his back.

William knew very well why Mac had him training to use a bow. He’d been having him hunt and bring home dinner every night for a reason, but it was still fun to rile him up over the subject.

“If you don’t know that by now, I’m gonna to slap you upside your head,” Mac muttered.

William and I waited, knowing he would continue unprovoked.

“Sure you could use a shotgun, but that won’t teach you accuracy. You could use a long-range weapon but that won’t teach you stealth. The bow will train you in ways a gun never will. You get over confident with a gun, forget to stay low because you think you can take on whatever you encounter. We’ll work with guns later. Right now we need to focus on how to make the most of your abilities.”

He had been leading us into the woods as he ranted, but stopped to look William in the eyes, as he made his final point.

“Your ability is powerful, but it does nobody any good unless you can get in close, unseen. You can’t affect people from a long way off, and what good will you be if you get yourself killed walking into an enemy camp like a bull in a china shop? Sure, a gun is a better weapon, but for us, better weapons don’t mean you’ll win the fight. During the first war I lost some good friends to a Descendant of Chronos. Doesn’t really matter what kind of weapon you have if you get caught by somebody who can stop time.”

“All right. All right,” William answered with a laugh. “I’ll listen. What are we doing first?”

“Like I said, Elyse needs to learn to use her blood with the darts.” Mac turned to me with a menacing grin that had me worried he was about to get even.

“But I already have. I’ve practiced on hundreds of deer.” I didn’t understand why he was anxious for me to paralyze more animals. It was kind of cruel.

His overly excited eyes moved back and forth between William and I, holding the suspense. “Well, today William will be the target.”

“What? No way,” William and I protested together.

He had to be joking. If he really thought I was going to try and gun down the one I loved with sharp needlepoint darts, he had another thing coming.

“Are you going to take this seriously or not?” he roared.

“I’m not doing it,” I said, firmly standing my ground.

He bent down to my level, unaffected by my strong voice, and stared into me.

“If you don’t do it, I will,” he threatened, “and I won’t use the little splinter of a dart you’ll use.”

“What the hell, Mac,” William said with outrage.

Mac changed his focus to William. “You have a thirty second head start. If Elyse finds you in the next thirty minutes, she gets a hammer dart to the thigh, so if you don’t want her to get nailed with this, you better stay out of sight.”

I could see how this would motivate William to hide. He wouldn’t want to see me impaled with the massive spike Mac held in his hand. It was the length of a pencil and at least twice as thick.

“I might as well sit down right here and wait for the thirty minutes to be over. Why would I want to find him if I’m just going to get a dart in the leg if I do?”

“Well, if you don’t find William in that same time, he’s getting the hammer dart to the thigh.”

There it was, the condition that would have me hunting down my lover like a wild boar. In order to save him from the pain, I’d have to find him and take it myself. After what happened with Anna, it wasn’t a hard decision, and he knew I wouldn’t let him win.

“Who’s it going to be?”

A sick grin curled into Mac’s cheeks with such a disturbing sense of pleasure, it was hard not to believe he’d follow through with his threat. William and I looked at each other, both knowing neither of us was going to forfeit, to let the other take the dart willingly.

“You’re crazy, Mac,” William said as he ran off into the forest away from me.

I tensed to run, but Mac stopped me with his thick hand.

“He gets thirty seconds.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 2

 

“ALL RIGHT,” MAC SAID with booming enthusiasm. “He’s all yours.”

I threw back a nasty look before charging into the thick mass of trees. I ran until Mac was completely out of view, scanning the area with each step. William had gone in this direction, but I had no idea if he had changed course. He could be anywhere.

I tried to pull myself together. I only had thirty minutes to find him. I stood perfectly still, listening for any sign of movement, a rustle of leaves, a snapping twig, the crunch of heavy feet as they tip-toed over dried foliage—there was nothing.

I walked with quick, quiet steps in one direction, then the other. My eyes flickered from tree to tree, up in the branches and far into the distance, hoping to spot some sign of him.

After what felt like twenty minutes, I leaned my back against a nearby trunk and sat completely hopeless on the ground. The sun was starting to rise, and faint light was brightening the forest. Maybe if I just waited quietly he would expose himself.

That’s when I saw it, a small freshly broken branch dangling and swaying in the breeze. I pressed myself up, looking around for another sign of him, but tree trunks and shadows in the distance only played tricks on my eyes. I smiled as I approached, realizing there were tracks. A vague impression I could only assume were his footprints led me hopping through the woods like a fox following a trail.

As I pursued the tracks, I started to notice something was off. They were small, too small to be either Mac’s or William’s, and I had never been to this part of the woods before.

I froze when I sensed the presence of someone other than myself up ahead. There, behind that tree. My heart hammered, and everything I had learned over the past weeks kicked in as I reached for the dart gun. I pulled out a thin but sturdy dart from the satchel strapped to my hip, thin because I was being cautious. I didn’t know who was out there. I pressed the two gold buttons on my bracelet, which was wrapped snuggly around my left wrist, and felt the blades slice into my skin. I was used to it now, and didn’t flinch. As the blood began to flow, I dipped the dart in the small hole at the bottom of the gold ring. It would be just enough to debilitate the person, to slow their reaction time down and hinder their muscle movements.

I crouched, hiding behind a cluster of brush as I loaded the blood-dipped dart slowly, careful not to make noise. I readied my grip, took a few silent deep breaths to prepare my lungs, and stood up to shoot. I was hoping it was William, even though deep down I knew I’d meet someone else’s gaze. The eyes that found me were more familiar than I’d expected.

Kara’s expression was nervous, but prepared. She could see every thought I was having and knew I had a dart ready and meant for her. I didn’t know if she was armed, but if she was, it was only a matter of who would act first. My face hardened as I looked at her, but neither of us spoke. She didn’t try to communicate with her mind as she tended to do. Instead we stared, predator and prey, into each other.

Even with my gun still aimed and ready, tears began to well up against my lower lids like unsteady dams ready to burst. I held them in, and her face dropped as she read my thoughts. She knew I blamed her for the loss of Anna and Chloe. How could she have betrayed me like that? Without thinking I took a breath, deep and full, aimed the gun, and shot the dart into the fleshy part of her shoulder. Maybe I had it in me after all. Maybe I could be a killer.

She cried out a quick, painful moan and crumpled to the ground. I’d never shot anyone before. Her wild black curls covered her face, so I couldn’t see if she was conscious. I watched her, waiting for her to move.

Another cry echoed through the forest with such unrelenting agony that I shivered at the sound. It was William. It must have already been thirty minutes, and I had failed to find him. I sighed with frustration as I glanced back at Kara’s limp body on the ground. If it wasn’t for her, I might have. My heart gave a lurch as I took off in his direction, leaving Kara behind to fend for herself.

I didn’t have room in my mind to think about her, to bother with how she had gotten into our safe haven. What if she had brought The Council? What if William’s screams were not from the hammer dart but from something far worse? I sprinted with all my might to him, switching the bracelet to my right wrist, the healing side. If he needed it, I would be ready.

I found him moaning on the forest floor, holding his thigh where the dart protruded from his leg.

“Is everything okay?” I asked Mac, using my hands to brace myself against my thighs.

“Well, not exactly,” William answered with a wince. “I have a hammer dart in my leg.”

My dry throat ached as I caught my breath. “So The Council’s not here?”

“Did you poison yourself somehow?” Mac laughed. “No. The Council’s not here.”

I looked around, still worried, but lowered myself to the ground beside William. “I can’t believe you did it,” I said, glaring at Mac.

He shrugged like it was nothing. “Said I would.”

“Will someone please do something?” William pleaded.

“I’m sorry,” I apologized as Mac pulled out the thick wooden dart. William’s cry of pain made me clench my teeth with regret. “It’s my fault. I’m so sorry.”

I pressed the two gold buttons on my bracelet willingly. The blood dripped steady and quick into the wound as William sighed with relief. I caught myself glancing into the woods as the skin on his leg healed up. Kara was still out there.

“I can’t believe you, Mac,” he muttered as he rubbed his thigh, the new flesh pink and tender.

I was distracted and didn’t realize William had a hold of my left hand until he spoke.

“Why didn’t you use my blood to heal yourself?” he asked, suddenly worried about my blood loss. His blood was my cure as much as mine was his.

“I forgot,” I answered, looking down at the two cuts resembling a snakebite on my wrist. “It’s nothing, though. I’ll be okay.”

Without asking he took a knife from his pocket and slid it across his thumb. “William, it’s fine. One cut from the bracelet won’t affect me—”

“Wait,” he interrupted. “Why did you need blood from the left side? You weren’t anywhere near me.”

“I was about to ask the same thing.” I raised my eyebrows at Mac, remembering that nobody was supposed to be able to get in here. It was his safe haven. If Kara was here, he had let her in. “Mac let somebody in. I shot her in the forest.”

“Who?” William asked, sealing up my wounds.

I ran my fingers across my newly flushed skin. “Kara,” I answered with resentment.

Mac’s face twisted in shock. “You shot her?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Did you kill her?” His voice raised with worry.

“Why do you care?” I shot back. First he let her in, and now suddenly she meant something to him? “I thought you wanted me to start shooting people anyway.”

“You killed her?” William gasped.

“No,” I answered. “Of course not.”

You only thought about it. Kara’s voice was in my head.

I whirled around, expecting her right behind me, but she was concealed in the trees a short distance out.

“What?” William asked.

“She’s there,” I said, pointing to her through the trees.

Mac followed the direction of my finger, looking eagerly for the girl I’d taken down.

“Kara, come on out here,” Mac called. “If she tries to shoot you, I’ll give her the hammer dart she deserves.”

I gave Mac a look that said go ahead and try, but he only smiled at the threat. I didn’t know why he was being so nice to her.

We all walked in silence back to the cabin. Kara stayed up front, under the protection of Mac, who shot warning glances back at me every few minutes. Although her gaze stayed forward, I was sure she was sorting through my thoughts. I tried to keep a clear head, but she still had access to my memories. It was infuriating that there was no privacy around her, not even in my own mind. I thought perhaps she would respond to my anger by forcing her own opinions into my head, but she stayed quiet.

“What are we going to do with her?” I asked when we were inside.

Her?” Mac answered. “What are we going to do with you? I invited her in, Elyse. She’s not an intruder. She’s our guest. You’re acting like a lunatic.”

Coming from Mac that was saying something, given the man would be considered insane by most people’s standards.

“Fine,” I said under my breath as I retreated to the couch.

William followed, at a complete loss for words. It was smart for him to stay quiet. My emotions were razor sharp and unstable.

As the morning began to light up the room, I could see Kara more clearly. She looked worn and ragged, like she hadn’t slept or eaten in a while. The sight of her made me wonder what she’d been through, and for the first time since I’d shot her I could feel the slightest bit of sympathy and regret form in my chest.

“Elyse,” she spoke aloud, probably taking advantage of my moment of weakness. “Will you let me show you?”

“Show me what?”

“Show you what happened,” she said, her face pleading. “I know it won’t change anything, but at least you’ll know.”

I wanted so badly to blame her. It was easier for my enemy to be one person, a simpler opponent to defeat than the massive powers of The Council, but I knew better. Even if she had betrayed me, it wasn’t her that I had to face. She was just their pawn.

“All right,” I said, straightening up as she approached. Her offer was too tempting. I couldn’t resist knowing the details of the nightmare that had been haunting me.

She pressed her palms against the sides of my head. Much like Kara could access the thoughts and memories of others, anyone could access her mind as well, as long as she let them in. I found my way through her memories much easier than the last time. Unfamiliar images streamed past me, faces I’d never seen, places I’d never been, but Anna and Chloe were somewhere. I just had to find them. That simple thought drew them out.

The memory I was looking for was clear and began with her coming home from a job. It was an easy one, just a lookout gig, but the guy never showed. She was carrying groceries I knew could only be for Anna and Chloe, two new toothbrushes and an assortment of non-perishables.

There was a spring in her step, or mine as it seemed. It was a strange perspective living out her memory, seeing what she saw, feeling what she felt. She was happy to be doing what she could to make up for the atrocities The Council forced her to partake in. But as her eyes found the front door of her apartment, I felt her skin prickle with fear. It was open. I picked up on the sick feeling in her stomach as she pushed it in, expecting what I still refused to believe—that Christoph had found them.

The place seemed empty at first, but even if Anna and Chloe were there, she knew they wouldn’t be up and about. They were hidden below the floor in a secret room she had discovered a few months after moving in. It was a good place to keep them safe until Dr. Nickel contacted her about joining Elyse and William.

Suddenly there were voices, and Kara stopped. They were coming from the back patio. Be calm, she thought. It was probably a Hunter sent to validate her story, their casual way of checking up on things. She knew how to deal with Hunters. They were ruthless and intimidating, but they were also stupid and easy to manipulate. How else could The Council use them for clean up jobs? As she peeked around the corner to get a glimpse of the intruders, her heart sank with such a hopeless sense of dread and panic that I couldn’t help but react.

What? I yelled. What is it? But her memory answered for her—Christoph.

She should have known he’d come to question her. Just as she caught sight of him, he turned his watchful eyes, catching her in the doorway.

He reminded me of a sleazy businessman, corrupted by power and greed, as he stood up to straighten his suit jacket and tie. I wondered how many people he had fooled with his sophisticated style and expensive taste. His hair, a gray that was once blond in his prime, was short and nicely styled, but he couldn’t disguise the evil in his face. His features were sharp. The point of his nose, his protruding cheek bones, the tips of his eyebrows, all unnaturally symetrical. He had thin, tight lips and perfectly white porcelain veneers that made his smile deceitfully charming.

The way he carried himself was intimidating. Kara stood her ground, but with every step he took forward, I felt the urge to step back. His eyes were a cold, pale blue. They were empty, like he didn’t have a soul, and they narrowed in on Kara as if his stare alone could strip her of her life. I could only imagine how much death those eyes had seen, how many times they had widened with excitement at the sight of human suffering.

As he opened the sliding glass door, the two individuals that accompanied him came into view, and with a rush of fear, Kara knew it was over. The man with him was Dimitri, and he was only used for one thing—punishment, or at least the threat of punishment. He could make any living thing age until its death, taking years away from a person’s life, or killing them entirely. He didn’t have the look of a killer; his eyes were gray and indifferent, almost bored. He was short and athletic, younger than Christoph, but still had shades of silver laced through his head of brown hair. The woman was Amber. Kara only knew of her by description—tall, thin, blonde, and beautiful. Since The Council used both Kara and her for essentially the same purpose, they had never worked together. She was used to extract information by deciphering the truth of a person’s words. In an interrogation, there was no use in lying.

“Hello, Kara,” Christoph greeted her with a smile. His voice was surprisingly smooth, almost too kind.

“Christoph.” She nodded briefly, returning his greeting.

“No doubt you know of Dimitri and Amber,” he added. He had eyes like a snake, ready to strike.

“Of course,” she answered with a polite smile, but despite their etiquette, I could feel the tension in the atmosphere and in the quick pulse of Kara’s heart. “Please, make yourselves at home.”

The four of them took their seats in silence, Amber choosing to sit beside Kara on the love seat, while Christoph and Dimitri chose the couch directly across from them.

“Let’s not play coy, Kara,” Christoph said pointedly. The tone in his voice sent a chill down Kara’s spine, and I shivered from the feeling. “You know why we’re here.”

“Do I?” she answered calmly, though her fear was so immense it was almost painful. The question was the best response she could think of. It wasn’t a lie, and it wouldn’t give away the fact that she knew exactly why they were there.

Christoph glanced at Amber, clearly noticing how Kara had evaded his question.

“You are quite clever,” he laughed, but the sound was menacing, not joyful. He leaned forward before he continued. “Where is Elyse?”

My heart stopped dead in my chest as he spoke my name, but Kara’s slowed with relief.

“I don’t know,” she answered honestly. Only Dr. Nickel knew of our location, and he hadn’t entrusted it to Kara.

Amber gave a subtle nod, letting him know her words were true, and he continued.

“So she is alive?” he pursued the topic with a disturbing grin.

“I have no way of knowing that for sure.” Amber nodded again, but Christoph didn’t need her to tell him that Kara was avoiding straight answers.

“Do-not-mess-with-me,” he hissed each word slowly and clearly with black anger in his eyes. “Are you hiding something from us, Kara? Yes or no?”

“What could I be hiding?”

He shook his head in disapproval. “Dimitri, take away 100 years the next time she does not give me a yes or no.” He tilted his head and came back to Kara. “Would you like to try again?”

This time it was Kara’s heart that throbbed frantically. “Please don’t,” she begged. “It won’t help you find her.”

Christoph smiled with indifference as he gave Dimitri a slight nod. “Do it.”

“Please,” she cried, but Dimitri obeyed, locking his gaze on her.

I felt it, as she began to weaken, and her skin began to itch as it aged.

“Wait,” she screamed frantically, her body nearly paralyzed with shock.

Christoph held up a hand, and Dimitri looked away, ending the torture.

The panic began to grow in me as her thoughts became clear in my head. She was afraid, and she had no other choice. It was her life or theirs. I felt the tickle of her tears as they slid down her cheeks, the pain in her chest when she knew she couldn’t win, and the guilt that spread through her like an unwelcome disease as she answered with a heart-sinking: “I’ll tell you.”

“The human she healed and her daughter. They’re in the basement,” she confessed, overwrought with distress. “Under the bedroom floor.”

No, I cried out into the empty space of the memory, but nobody heard, and Christoph’s pleased expression made me sick with anger.

Kara refused to look, but I heard the latch lift and the hinges of the hatch door open. There was no hope. As they were pulled out of their hiding place and into Kara’s line of sight, I broke down. Anna’s worried eyes looked deep into Kara’s, past her and into me, like that silent plea for help was meant for nobody else. Chloe’s face, flushed and swollen from crying, never looked away from her mother. Dimitri escorted them quickly by, and although I wanted to call out, grab them, hold them, save them, something, Kara’s body paid no attention to my mental commands. She stood helplessly by and watched as they were taken.

“Thank you,” Christoph said with absolution as he turned to leave, “for doing what is right for our people.”

“Yes, sir,” she said through silent tears, but I felt the hatred she had for him.

His last words were a futile plea for understanding. “I only need their child,” he confided. “Once she bears it for me, Elyse will be free to go. Without the next generation oracle, we have no chance.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 3

 

HIS RESOUNDING LAST STATEMENT blindsided me, and I pulled out of the memory with force as he closed the door behind him. I’d known I was flagged untouchable for being the new mother. I just never realized it was because he wanted the child. I should have been expecting it. Of course he didn’t want me dead. He needed me. My insides clenched up with worry for a child William and I had yet to conceive.

I almost forgot the three of them were sitting wide-eyed, waiting for my reaction.

“So?” Mac asked, but I had no words for him. My mind wouldn’t move away from what I had just learned.

“Elyse?” William urged, setting a gentle hand on my arm. The warmth in his touch brought me back momentarily, but I couldn’t look him in the eye. This time the heat from our skin didn’t give me comfort. Not when it promised William and I would bear a child Christoph wanted. Instead I addressed Mac directly.

“Christoph and Dimitri were there. They were going to age her until she gave them up.” Though I would have given my life for Anna and Chloe, I couldn’t expect someone else to do the same. “She had no choice.”

“I want to help you get them back,” Kara said. “Whatever you have planned, I want in.”

“Are you okay with that, Elyse?” William asked, still wary of Kara’s presence.

“Yeah,” I answered, unable to ignore the feelings I had experienced through her memory. As much as I’d denied it, the oracle was right. Kara had done her best. It wasn’t her fault.

“All right!” Mac declared, slapping his heavy hands together. “I’m going to start breakfast now that I know you aren’t going to go for her jugular.”

How long have you known that, Kara? I asked. That he wanted our baby?

Not long, she returned the thought. I didn’t know until he told me.

“You okay, Ellie?” William asked, interrupting my busy mind.

“Yeah,” I lied, keeping my eyes on Kara.

He must be keeping the idea to himself. I haven’t heard anyone thinking about it.

Why would he tell you?

I don’t know. I guess he assumed I already knew.

“What’s going on?” William asked, picking up on the unspoken communication between us. Our eyes finally met, but I couldn’t bring myself to tell him. He had reacted so harshly about the prophecy, I didn’t want to worry him more than he already was.

It doesn’t really matter anyway, I thought to her. There is no oracle baby.

Not yet, Kara added.

“Sure,” William said with high eyebrows, “don’t mind me. Just continue on with your silent conversation like I’m not here.”

“I’m sorry—” I started, but Mac jumped in.

“Girls, I need a wood run. Pile’s getting low.”

I thought William would protest, eager to get more information from us, but Mac gave him a look that kept him quiet. I felt bad about leaving him out, but I needed more details, and I needed to come to terms with the facts. I would pull myself together, then confide in him what I knew.

“No problem, Mac,” I said, jumping to my feet. I picked up the canvas wood hauling sack by the door and stepped out into the cold. The cool morning air was refreshing as we walked in silence away from the house.

“So, he wants the baby,” I let out, once we were some distance away. I still couldn’t believe it. My brow wrinkled in thought. “It doesn’t matter. It’s not going to happen, Kara. There won’t be a baby. I mean, we haven’t…you know…”

“So.”

“So,” I said, ripping a loose branch from a dead tree trunk a little too aggressively, “babies don’t just happen, and I’m going to make sure it doesn’t.”

She laughed unconvinced. “Yeah, because I’m sure that will stop fate, no problem.”

“Why does he want her anyway? It’ll be years before she’ll be able to tell the future.”

“Her?” Kara answered with a smirk.

“Oh, you know what I mean. It, okay? Maybe he just wants the baby so he can kill it?”

We found a nearby fallen tree and began scavenging small logs and twigs.

“I don’t think so,” she answered skeptically.

“You’re supposed to know these things,” I spat, still feeling the need to blame her for Anna and Chloe. I sighed when I heard myself. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. It is my fault you’re in this situation. I should have hidden them better. I just thought—”

“It’s fine,” I interrupted. “We have a plan. We’ll get them back.”

“About that,” Kara said, loading an armful of logs into the bag. “We have to be careful. Things are more complicated than they seem.”

Our eyes connected and I got quiet, waiting for her.

“I think that’s why they were flagged. Think about it. There must have been a reason. Maybe it was so he could use them as bait when the time was right. He’s smart, Elyse. Don’t underestimate him. He knows you’re alive. I’m sure he’s expecting you.”

I took a seat next to her on top of the fallen trunk. “Even if he is expecting me,” I said, finally sure of at least one thing, “the oracle gave me instructions. If we follow them, it’ll work.”

“I hope that’s true.”

We sat in silence for a while taking it all in.

“What happened after they took Anna and Chloe?”

She didn’t say anything at first, but slid off the log with her back turned, distancing herself from me. “You mean how did they punish me?” Her shoulders shrugged before she answered. “They threatened my family, like always, and gave me extraction assignments.” She turned, trying to keep her expression unaffected like these were the simple facts. Nothing to take personally. “The ones no one wants.”

My eyebrows lowered. “Like what?”

Her gaze dropped, and I saw through her hard and distant demeanor. “Children.” The word was soft and colored with shame. Our eyes connected briefly, mine horrified, hers desperate for forgiveness. “But I couldn’t do it, Elyse, not anymore,” she said quickly, needing to be absolved. “I ran out. I knew they’d find me, but I didn’t care. I was tired of being their slave, and I knew I deserved to die anyway after giving the two of them up to Christoph, after everything I’ve done in my life.”

“No, Kara…”

“They didn’t find me though,” she kept on. “The oracle did. She said I had been on the wrong side, but she would help me find the right one, where I was supposed to be.”

“Did you look into her mind?” I asked with quiet hopefulness.

“There was too much. Fear. War. Death. I just didn’t know what was real and what was prophecy. I didn’t see anything that could help us.”

“It’s okay.” I looked away. “So, it’s pretty bad out there?”

Her lips tightened. “It’s tense.”

“But William’s family is okay, right? And our friends?”

“They’re fine,” she answered, tucking her short thick curls behind her ear, “but you should know…”

“What?” I demanded.

“Iosif.” She shook her head. “He didn’t…they killed him, Elyse.”

“Oh,” I whispered, swallowing down the ache in my throat.

“Sorry.” She was trying to be sensitive, but Iosif ’s death didn’t hurt her as it did me. It was my fault that he was killed.

I felt sick. “We should probably go back.”

“You go,” she said with a subtle smile. “I have a feeling I should stay here for a while.”

“Stay here?” I didn’t want to explain things to William on my own. I couldn’t be the one to tell him about Iosif. “No, come on. Let’s go.”

She rolled her eyes. “Don’t be pushy, Elyse. Just trust me. We’ll both be happy you did.”

I gave up easily, realizing there was a reason she was being resistant. I just had no idea why. When I got back to the cabin, something seemed off. There was no sound of Mac’s booming voice, or anyone’s voice for that matter. Things were too quiet.

It was hard to believe we weren’t safe in the haven, and with Mac around, I couldn’t think of a more secure place we could be, but my hand still clutched my dart gun.

I twisted the handle slowly, trying not to make a sound, but the place was so small, it was almost impossible for it not to be obvious I was entering. I flung the door open, in case I needed to act fast, but William’s hearty laughter settled my adrenalin rush.

He sat wide-eyed and amused at the table, which was set with two plates, wildflowers in a vase, and steaming hot breakfast.

“Somebody’s a little paranoid.”

I smiled, embarrassed. “Well, in my defense, the most powerful Descendants in the world are hunting me as we speak.” I closed the door behind me.

“Touché,” he conceded. “Anyway…Surprise!”

“What for?” I asked, stepping toward the empty seat.

“We missed your birthday. It was a month ago.”

I had forgotten, completely. There were just too many things on my mind these days.

“Yeah,” I answered with surprise. “I guess we did. How old am I again?”

“In human terms or ours?” he played along.

I shrugged. “Easy. A girl always goes for the lesser number. Eighteen sounds so much better than ninety.”

“Eighteen it is,” he said, coming around to push in my chair. “So, for the birthday girl we have pan-fried potatoes, quail eggs, and oranges.”

“You did all of this?”

“Mac helped,” he said, giving him credit. “We both thought you could use a little normal in your life.” He sat down across from me. “We all could.”

He was homesick, and I didn’t blame him. If I had a home and a family like he did, I would miss it too. But he was my home, and seclusion was what I was used to. I felt perfectly content living this way.

“Not that quail eggs are normal.” He laughed. “But close enough.”

“It looks amazing. Thank you,” I said, digging in.

I watched him from across the table, feeling lucky to have him. Whatever the circumstances, as long as he was with me, I knew everything would be all right.

“Just for the record, you’re my normal,” I added.

No matter how crazy or bad things were going to get, we could always come back to our secret world of each other, even if the universe of others was crumbling around us.

He combed his fingers through his blond hair, the muscles in his square jaw flexing as he chewed. “Are you going to tell me what else you saw in that memory?”

I picked up the small vase of purple and yellow flowers, taking in their earthy sent.

“Not right now.”

“That bad huh?” he asked, cutting into an orange. “I just wish I knew what was going on out there.”

“Kara said it was tense.”

He looked up. “What does that mean? Is everyone safe?”

“Not everyone,” I said with regret.

William’s eyes became grave as he braced himself for the worst. “Who?”

“Iosif,” I answered. “They killed him. Because of me.”

The guilt felt like rocks in the pit of my stomach. All of this was because of me.

“It’s not your fault,” William said as he came around the table. “You can’t blame yourself for everything that happens.” My eyes were down in shame, stubborn tears beginning to fall despite my attempt to hold them back. He wiped them with his thumbs as he held my face in his hands. “None of this is your fault. You didn’t choose this, Ellie.”

He moved his face closer to mine so I would look up. When I did, his lips lured me in. His kiss was home, my relief from everything. It was soft and gentle at first, but soon the rush lifted me to my feet. It was easy to get lost in the moment, with the romantic breakfast and the privacy. My fingers found the buttons of his shirt, forgetting everything else.

“Bedroom,” he said against my mouth.

His lips moved to my neck sending a chill over my shoulders as he picked me up, wrapping my legs around his body. I wanted the distraction, needed his firm arms to hold me, and he gave in too. He closed the door behind us, leaving our breakfast half-eaten on the other side, and sat me down on the bed. His fingers tickled my sides as he lifted my shirt over my head. Our lips met again, the only sound our heavy breath as he slid in next to me, pulling me closer. When his hand grazed my stomach and settled on the button of my jeans I pulled away, heart beating.

“Wait,” I breathed, sitting up and turning away from him.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, surprised by my resistance. “Am I going too fast?”

“No.” I looked back at him. “It’s not that.”

He pressed himself up to sit next to me, and slid his warm fingers in between mine. “What is it?” “I have to tell you something.”

“Okay.” He tightened his hold on my hand.

“In the memory, Christoph said something.” I swallowed hard, wishing I didn’t have to tell him. It wasn’t that I didn’t love him. I knew more than anything that I wanted to be with only him, forever, and this might have been the moment we would have completely opened up to one another. Now that I knew what Christoph was planning, we couldn’t risk it. “This isn’t just about me starting a war, William. They want something from us. Christoph wants our baby.”

“What baby?” he laughed. “There is no baby.”

“Exactly,” I said. “And we have to keep it that way. There’s no way I’m going to let him have my child. I’m not going to ever let that happen, even if it means…taking every precaution.” The roomed hummed with silence. “We just shouldn’t tempt ourselves.”

“And you heard him say that?” he asked.

I nodded. “Yeah.”

A sense of hopelessness clouded the moment. Even after all we had overcome to be together, Christoph still managed to weasel his way into our world. I didn’t want to live by his terms. I wanted freedom. I could feel it in what I had found with William, a chance to love and be loved, to live a full life like everyone else, but even that had been tainted by The Council.

William looked off into the distance, his stony expression a mixture of surprise and disgust. “Well, you’re right. We’ll just make sure it doesn’t happen.” Even through the grim atmosphere, his subtle smiled shined through. “I’m assuming protection isn’t really effective if the baby is…pre-destined.”

I laughed. “Probably not.”

He picked my shirt off of the floor and slid it over my head.

“Thanks,” I said as I pulled it on the rest of the way.

We stared into each other, the forbidden making things all the more tempting. “To be honest,” he said brushing my hair back, “there are other reasons we should wait. I mean, other than making an oracle baby, which probably isn’t the best idea.”

“Definitely not the best idea,” I agreed, leaning into his shoulder.

“I don’t see why we can’t keep things innocent, though,” he said, moving in for a kiss. It was too easy to agree. His lips were persuasive as they moved softly over mine.

“Okay,” I whispered with our mouths touching.

My hands found the buttons of his shirt once again, but this time I clasped them shut, one by one, as he kissed the parts of my neck that were still bare. “You know I love you, right?” he asked.

I smiled. “Even though I’m plagued with prophecy?”

He laughed as we headed back into the living room to finish our breakfast.

“You know what? On second thought, the whole prophecy thing’s kind of a hassle. I’m not sure this is going to work out.”

When we reached the table I threw my arms around his neck. “Yeah. We’re no good together anyway,” I played along.

His warm fingers grazed the skin on my hips as he pulled me closer, but before our lips met, the front door flew open with such force I heard wood splinter. Suddenly I was pinned between the wall and William. His protective stance blocked the door from view, making him a human shield against me. Even so, my hand grasped the loaded dart gun ready to defend him at all costs. But none of it was necessary.

“Dad?”

Hearing the shock in William’s voice, I ducked under his arm. Dr. Nickel’s face was strained with worry.

“They’re coming,” he said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 4

 

I DIDN’T NEED TO ask who. I knew The Council would be looking for me as long as I was alive, but that fact had never scared us off before, not with the safe haven to protect us.

“They can’t get in. They won’t be able to find us,” I said. “Right?”

“Christoph is with them,” Mac added as he appeared in the open doorway with Kara. “My ability means nothing to him, kid. He can turn it off like a light switch.”

“How close are they?” William asked, clasping his hand around mine.

“Close enough,” his dad answered. “We need to leave.”

We left everything but the weapons. Clothes, food, toothpaste. There wasn’t time for things that weren’t essential to escape. The five of us went on foot in a direction that was meaningless to me. I had never seen what was outside the edges of the safe haven, not since I’d been here.

When Mac stopped abruptly after our fifteen-minute trek into the woods, we all froze at once, bodies poised and ready to attack, eyes searching for threats.

“We’re here,” Mac announced. “What should we expect, Marcus?”

I had never heard Dr. Nickel called by his first name, and it made me realize he wasn’t as untouchable as I had imagined. Just because he was here, didn’t mean we were safe.

“I don’t know,” he answered. “Maybe an army, maybe nothing. Depends on where they are.”

“Everyone best get down on the ground just in case,” Mac decided with a nod. “Weapons ready.”

As I lay belly down in the dirt, I noticed Dr. Nickel pull a gun from his belt, and my stomach gave a heave.

“When I remove the haven walls, there will be a van. Everyone get in back. If anything goes wrong…” Mac paused, uncomfortable at the thought. “It’s been nice knowin’ ya.”

After Mac’s last words, our surroundings began to change. Everything outside the protective walls of the haven came into view like a heavy fog was lifted by the wind. As the haze cleared, I could make out a few small-town houses and a single dirt road that ran along the edge of the forest. There were no streetlights or any sign of a highway nearby, but the van was there.

“Should be clear,” Kara announced after searching the area for subconscious thoughts. “I can’t hear anyone but us.”

“Move,” Mac commanded, and we all scrambled to our feet.

Within seconds somebody was there, but only briefly, disappearing so fast I couldn’t get a good look. For a moment, I thought I was seeing things, but I wasn’t the only one stopped dead in my tracks.

I looked at William, confused. “What was—”

“Go,” Kara yelled, her voice shattering the silence. “Run!”

We were too late. A circle of fire entrapped us. The flames leapt high above our heads encapsulating us in heat. Beyond its borders three figures came closer, but I couldn’t keep my eyes open long enough to see who. Dr. Nickel, capable of mimicking abilities, fought fire with fire. But even as he pushed the flames away from us, the heat stung my face and the smoke burnt my lungs. I reached for my dart gun, ready to fight my way out of the raging flames. As I lifted it to my mouth, an unnatural feeling of heavy sadness weighed me down, and I lowered the weapon. I tried to ignore the oncoming waves of grief, but they had me.

“Don’t let it get to you,” William said, reaching for my face. “The sadness. It’s just an ability. It’s not real.” But in my mind we’d already lost. I’d already lost William. Anna. Chloe. Everyone.

I buried my face into William’s chest, but he failed to hold me the way he should. I could see in his eyes that he was giving up, too, sinking deeper into the hopelessness with me as the fire hissed and cracked around us. I wanted it to take me, to end the crippling ache of sorrow that had pulled me to my knees.

We were already dead. Why fight it?

My eyes lifted at the sight of someone new amongst the flickering flames. He wrapped Kara’s limp arm around his neck and shuffled toward us. I didn’t care who he was, why he was here to die with us. I was hypnotized by the flames and didn’t bother to watch him, but when I felt a hand on my shoulder the world disappeared.

I was blinded by white, everything around me erased. Whatever had a hold of me knocked the air from my chest, and the pressure of the white space pushed in from all directions. Maybe this was finally it. Maybe this was death.

 

***

 

I wasn’t the only one who woke confused. William gasped, and my eyes opened to darkness.

“William?”

“Are you all right?” His warm fingers grazed my arms and shoulders, searching me for injuries. “What happened?”

“You got me,” Mac answered, sitting up. His heavy boots clanked against a metal floor.

There was hardly any light, so I had trouble making out our surroundings. Once my eyes adjusted, leaving behind the blinding white, I realized we must be in the back of the van. In the blackness of the cab, with no windows and a cave-like feel, I assumed we were prisoners.

“Where do you think they’ll take us?” I asked.

“There’s nobody out there,” I heard Kara say, though I could barely see her sitting in the corner.

“Dad?” William asked, realizing his father hadn’t spoken.

“He’s not here,” Kara answered. “He chose to stay back and fight.”

I heard William take a deep breath next to me.

“He’ll be all right. He knows what he’s doing,” I comforted.

He stayed silent at first. “If it wasn’t my dad, how’d we get here? What was that, the white?”

“It was one of Christoph’s messengers. Apparently he helped us escape. I guess I’m not the only one rebelling against The Council,” Kara answered. She opened the rear hatch, letting sunlight spill into the cab.

“All right, well, we need to keep moving,” Mac said, sliding out the door and closing it behind him.

“Did you guys feel it too? The sadness?” I asked, remembering the ache in my chest. It still lingered.

Neither one of them answered, so I took that as a yes. I heard the engine start as the three of us sat in silence, and when the van started forward my body bounced and shook with each bump on the uneven road.

“I’m sorry, okay?” Kara said aloud. “There. Does that make you happy?”

William sighed. “Come on, Kara.”

“What are you sorry for?” I asked.

“William thinks they followed me to the haven. That it was my fault they found us.”

“Well, they showed up right after you,” he added.

He was probably right. It was an unlikely coincidence. I closed my eyes, immediately regretting the thought. I wished she couldn’t hear what I was thinking.

“Don’t worry. I’m used to it,” she said under her breath.

If it was her fault they found us, I knew it wasn’t intentional. I’d been inside her head, felt her guilt at the loss of Anna and Chloe. She was with us now. I was sure of it.

“Even if they did follow you, Kara, they were supposed to. Everything happens for a reason. I’ve learned that by now.”

I couldn’t see her through the dark, but I could feel her looking at me. I really am sorry, she said with genuine regret. I never should have come.

I’m glad you did, I answered, surprised by the thought.

Whenever I expected the van to roll to a stop, it kept on. There wasn’t much else to do but sleep. I rested my head on William’s shoulder and tried to forget the flames as we huddled together in the deepest corner of the cab. Kara kept her distance, staying close to the back hatch. In time, we all drifted off, glad to be alive.

When I woke up, William was still asleep next to me, but we were alone. The back door of the van was left open letting the early morning light in. We’d driven through the night.

I nudged William, eager to get out. “Hey, we’re here.”

He sat up, his grown out hair sticking up in places, and I laughed as he squinted away from the light.

“What?” he asked.

“Rough night?”

He smiled. “Get me out of this van.”

We shuffled out of the back, and my heart stopped when I realized where we were. William walked on unaffected, but I couldn’t move.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, turning back to me.

I couldn’t believe it. Of all the places, how could they choose this one? I didn’t like the feelings it stirred up in me, and I didn’t want everyone rifling around here either. This place was a part of me that I didn’t want to share.

“Why here?”

“Why not here?” William answered without understanding.

A buried ache I’d learned to keep hidden over the years suddenly throbbed in my chest. “This is my parents’ house.”

 

***

 

I let William go in on his own. I wasn’t ready to face the inside of the house just yet. Instead I kicked past the sagebrush down to the creek where I used to play as a kid, giving myself a moment to think. There was so much to process. Rescuing Anna and Chloe was always at the forefront of my mind, but now there was the news about Iosif, Christoph’s new plans, the attack, and knowing that The Council was actively hunting us down. They were close. Too close. Not to mention after all of that, being here forced me to relive moments with my parents before their death, each memory adding to the burden that already weighed so much.

They let me be for a while, but William was sent to drag me home before I was ready. Moments of peace were a luxury in war, one I’d have to live without.

“Are you okay?” he asked as he approached.

“No,” I answered truthfully, chucking a handful of pebbles into the water.

He took my arms without asking and wrapped them around his waist. “Me either.”

“Throwing rocks helps.” I laughed, trying to lighten the mood. At least we had each other. I pressed my cheek into his chest, letting the soft sound of his heart settle my own. “They got to us so easily.”

“I know.” He ran his fingers through my hair. “But my dad’s here. He says they’ve lost us. We should be safe.”

“That’s good,” I said, feeling relieved for William. “Did he say how he knew they were coming?”

“He had Descendants in place, watching the area.”

“Maybe one of them was followed. It might not have been Kara.”

He pulled away just enough to look me in the eyes. “You’re sure she’s on our side?”

I nodded. “Did you ask your dad about everyone? How are your mom and sister?”

“He said they’re all being watched. There have been some disappearances, but nobody you know.”

Being watched. I worried for them. If there were already disappearances, if The Council was tightening their grip, his family would be in more danger than anyone else. Why weren’t they being hidden?

“Can I ask you something?” I pulled my arms from around his waist and folded them across my chest. I felt guilty for even thinking it. “Why was your dad never punished after he started the last war? He never went into hiding, never had to run. How is it he was even allowed to teach at the Institute? And now…he shows up, and suddenly we’re attacked—”

“Wait,” William interrupted. His eyebrows pulled together. “You’re right. My dad’s probably here to kill us.”

I rolled my eyes. He wasn’t taking me seriously. “Okay, so what? I’m just crazy.”

“No,” he laughed. “Come on. I’m just teasing you. You’re being smart. It’s good to be cautious, but I know my dad’s one of the good guys.”

“Then explain why he wasn’t killed for starting a war, and why his family isn’t being protected or hidden when The Council is out hunting us.”

He reached forward and took both of my hands. “My family is different,” he answered, folding and unfolding his fingers in the grooves of mine. “My dad’s part of The Council and my…” He let his words trail off. “My sister is his heir.” Something about that fact made him sad, but he continued. “He’s protected in a way that most aren’t. If a Council member is killed, the rest of them lose their powers and the next generation inherits them.”

He let go of my hands and walked to the edge of the creek without looking back. His palm settled on the back of his neck the way it always did when something was bothering him.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“My sister…she shouldn’t be the one to carry that burden.” He was quiet for a moment, watching the water, but when I put a hand to his arm he looked up, and I could tell he didn’t want to talk about it. “Christoph didn’t want to lose his power,” he continued, “so they ended it with a truce. I think he’s always been afraid my dad would take his own life just to spite him, so he’s left him alone. My dad would never kill himself, though. He wouldn’t want to leave Edith with Council responsibilities so young, but Christoph doesn’t know that. Besides, my dad has a lot of Descendants on his side. Descendants who listen to him. If he disappeared or was killed, it wouldn’t go over well. And I’m sure my mother and sister are protected. My dad wouldn’t leave them alone if they weren’t safe.”

“So, your sister doesn’t have your dad’s ability yet?”

“Well, she does, it’s in her bloodline, but it hasn’t manifested. She won’t be able to mimic powers until he or one of the other Council members dies.”

I picked a flat rock off the ground and skipped it across the pooling part of the creek.

“Do you think Christoph has children?”

“I’m sure they all do,” he answered, finding his own rock. “It’s sort of an unspoken law. If there are no heirs, then there is no Council. Nobody’s seen them, though.” He smiled as the water splashed four times. “Beat ya.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, looking back at him. “I didn’t mean to accuse…”

“It’s okay. I forget sometimes that you don’t know everything most Descendants know.” He put his arm around me and kissed my cheek. “It’s not your fault you were forced to live as a hermit.”

I laughed, grateful for his light-heartedness and shoved him with my shoulder. “Well, who’s the hermit now?”

“Yeah, I guess it’s contagious.” I could feel him smile without seeing it as he leaned his head into mine. “They want to go over the plan,” he said, trying to coax me into going home. He knew it would work. Even with everything going on around us, there was one thing that kept me stable, focused. I was determined to get Anna and Chloe back.

Dr. Nickel, Mac, and Kara all looked up as William and I entered through the back door. I avoided Dr. Nickel’s eyes, hoping he wasn’t mimicking Kara’s ability to look inside my mind. The three of them were seated at my family’s kitchen table, and it was obvious they had been waiting.

I looked around, catching sight of the old iron stove that relied on a wood burning fire to heat its surface, the cutting board counter top that had large bin-sized drawers once filled to the brim with fluffy white flour and heaps of sugar. On my left, the hand carved sofa that my dad crafted in his shop still sat against the wall, the cushions rotted and disintegrating. Cobwebs clung to corners and layers of dirt and dust caked the old wood floor. My chest went hollow at the sight of it.

“Is someone going to tell me why we are here?” I asked, gripping the back of an empty table chair.

I expected Mac to answer, since my question was directed at him, but Kara spoke up instead.

“I told him to come here,” she admitted. “I know you don’t like it, but your parents knew Chilcoot was a good place to hide. The Council was never able to find you when you lived here.”

As hard as it was to be in my old house, she did have a point. Maybe we would be safe here. I felt safe.

“I guess you’re right,” I accepted, pulling the chair out to sit with them. I pushed the ache away again, trying not to let the sight of my father’s hand carved furniture affect me. “Did you find anything else of use while you were digging around in my memories?”

Kara and I smiled at each other. Me forgiving, her apologetic.

“So, what’s the plan?” she asked.

“Don’t look at me,” I said. “Mac’s in charge.”

They all stared at each other like they knew something I didn’t.

“I hate to break it to you, kiddo, but this is your call.”

My call?” I asked. Since when did I know anything about how to rescue people, especially from The Council? Sure, this whole mission was to help my friends, but Mac had been orchestrating this from the beginning. Now suddenly I was in charge?

“I don’t remember my name being in no prophecy,” Mac added.

My eyes shifted from face to face, getting a sense that they were all in agreement. “But I don’t know anything about The Council,” I said, pushing my chair away and rising to my feet. “I don’t even know where they live.” My voice was too high. Panicked. Frustrated.

“They live in Beverly Hills,” Dr. Nickel answered.

His response surprised me. Beverly Hills? The name alone was intimidating, and it didn’t help that they were all looking at me, expecting me to come up with the whole thing. I wasn’t qualified. I had no idea where to start.

“I need a minute,” I said, heading for my parents’ bedroom.

I shut the door behind me, and wiped my clammy hands on my jeans. My parents’ room was exactly how I’d left it, only now it was a ghost’s room. All the color deadened by dust and decay. I went to the wooden chair in front of my mother’s vanity and stared at the gray image of myself in the dust-covered mirror. We had been so focused on training I hadn’t even thought about a plan, simply because it never occurred to me that I’d have to come up with one. But this was my problem, not anybody else’s. In fact, none of them were required to take any part in Anna and Chloe’s rescue. This was my responsibility, and I needed to get it together. I combed my fingers through my hair, brushing it out of my face, and took a deep breath.

“Okay,” I said, coming out of my parents’ room with newfound confidence. I’d avoided their room for so many years, and now I wondered why. My parents had been gone for decades, but maybe it was them who gave me the strength. “I don’t think we should use numbers or force.”

Mac laughed. “Good, because we don’t have numbers.”

“Stealth is the way to go. I want to get in and out of the house quickly and quietly if possible.”

“So, the house in Beverly Hills, are we sure that is our target?” Mac asked.

I had only assumed. It seemed the most logical. If Anna and Chloe really were bait, why not lead me right to them? We only had one shot, one night that the oracle had said would work. My only reassurance was that if we did go on that night, we would succeed in rescuing them, which meant wherever we ended up would have to be the right place.

“It has to be,” I decided, moving to sit back in my seat across from William. “It was the first thing I thought of, and the oracle said, ‘they’ll be where you’ll expect them to be.’ I remember that.”

“They’ve kept others there in the past. It’s as good a theory as any,” Kara added.

“If that’s the case, the place will be heavily guarded. I think I should go in first, ahead of you,” William said decidedly.

“No,” I reacted on impulse. I didn’t like the idea of him being the front line. What if he got hurt or worse? “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

We stared at each other.

“Elyse, that’s what Mac has been training me for, to get in unseen so I can clear the way for you. You know it should be me.”

I didn’t want to admit it, but he was right. He could use his ability to persuade those he encountered in our favor. Everything in me was fighting it, but I knew he was the key to slipping past security.

“Mac has to go with you,” I added.

William glanced briefly at his uncle. “Yeah. I’m sure I’ll have no problem sneaking a six foot three man-beast past everyone.”

“Hey. Who taught you all the tricks?” Mac defended himself.

I ignored them, determined to keep focused. “Dr. Nickel, if it’s okay, I think I’d like you to stay behind. I’m sure everything will go smoothly, but if it doesn’t, I’ll need someone to take my place.” Mac had taught me to be prepared for every scenario, even if I was sure of the outcome.

“I’m sure that isn’t—”

“Dad,” William interrupted, his eyes drifting toward me. “She calls the shots.”

Dr. Nickel stayed quiet.

“I want to keep this small,” I continued. “Besides, we need you home, keeping an eye on everyone.”

“All right,” he nodded.

“Kara, you and I will follow behind William and Mac,” I continued. “How well do you know the place?”

“Better than most,” she answered. “I’ll follow their thoughts once we get in close. I’m sure I can get us to where we need to be. I’ve seen most of the hidden passageways in the minds of others who work there. I know more than Christoph realizes.”

“If I’m not going to be involved, the less I know the better,” Dr. Nickel interrupted as he pushed his chair back and stood to leave. He looked at William for a long moment. “Be safe, son.” Then he addressed the rest of us. “Good luck.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 5

 

THE NEXT MORNING I woke before everyone else. I hadn’t slept well in my parents’ room. The house made me tense, but thankfully the creek settled my nerves. I sat on the cold dirt as the sky grew brighter. The water at my feet trickled past stone making music with the mockingbirds as they sang proudly for the dawn. Four weeks until the end of February. I breathed in the cold sweet smell of nature and closed my eyes. It seemed like an eternity and nothing at the same time. At least here I could escape, pretend like war wasn’t somewhere in my future.

“But it is,” Kara said, sitting down beside me.

“I know,” I answered, staring into the creek. “Can’t I just pretend like it’s not?”

“No.” She looked at me, and I looked back. “You run, Elyse. You always want to run. How do you expect to beat Christoph or win a war when you’re always trying to look the other way?”

“I don’t expect to beat him,” I answered honestly.

She ignored me and kept on. “You have to be ready for anything, anytime. Your mind should always be thinking of your next move, not acting like there isn’t one.”

“My mind doesn’t work like that. I’m not…I don’t know what to do first, let alone what I’m supposed to do next.”

“First, you should know your enemy,” she said, throwing a pebble into the rippling water at our feet, “what makes him tick. Christoph is very closed off. Not many people know much about him. I can’t get inside his head, but I’ve been inside others, Council aides who’ve seen things.” She offered her hand to me. “You could start there.”

I stared down at her palm. It wouldn’t hurt to know more about the man I was supposed to destroy. I nodded my head and turned to face her as she pressed her fingers to my temple. This might be the most valuable weapon she had against him—a secret.

The memory was distant, and I could tell as I looked through a young girl’s eyes that it didn’t belong to her. The details were washed and muted, the sensations dull and forgotten with age, but I watched secretly from another room as a young Christoph spoke to his father.

“You’ll come to understand in time, Christoph.” The man’s stare was intimidating. He looked almost ghostly with his thick white sideburns and cheeks that sunk into shadows on his long face. “I used to be naïve as you are, but I’ve seen things. They’re not a race worth saving.”

The boy’s blond hair was combed to the side and fell forward slightly as he bowed his head. “Yes, sir. I only thought…”

“They’re all the same, son.” His voice was cold and unyielding as he busied himself with papers behind an oak desk. “I had to watch my mother burn at the stake for being taken as a witch. They’ll never accept us. Look at them now. My mother was killed in 1692. It’s nearly 170 years later, and they’re still persecuting others because they’re different. Their own kind, no less. Enslaving them because of the color of their skin.”

“Nettie is one of us,” the boy whispered. He stood some distance away, seemingly afraid to come closer.

“You know I’ve tried to help her. The railroad has aided many of our kind. She knows I’m a shepherd. I can’t make her leave if she is not willing.”

“But it’s your job to find them, Father.” His voice spiked as he stepped forward, the bravery shining through his still innocent blue eyes. His face was sad but hopeful, with a sweet naivety that I knew he’d lose with age. “Why can’t you make her go?”

“It’s her choice. She chooses to stay. For you.”

The memory shifted in time, but not by much. I peered through different eyes, an older man as he watched Christoph run from afar.

“Nettie!” he screamed. His feet beat the dirt as he ran into town. His frantic face glistened with tears. The man hurt for him. I hurt for him.

In the town square, people were gathered around making a commotion over something. Men and women towered over him as he forced himself through the mob of angry protests and jeering voices. The man only stood and watched in horror. He was a Descendant. It could easily have been him in place of this poor girl.

“She’s a monster!”

“Kill her!”

The gunshots fired before Christoph had made it through the crowd, and as he finally reached the front, he saw her chained and wounded.

“I love you, Nettie,” he spoke through the riotous mob. His words were lost to yells and cheers, but the man heard.

“I love you too,” she mouthed as her eyes closed.

Images blurred and yet again the boy sat facing his father, the same desk sitting between them. For a while they said nothing. Christoph’s hair was tousled, his cheeks red from tears, but his eyes had changed. They were heavier, full of shame and anger as he stared across the room.

***

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Uprising (Children of the Gods #2)

Jessica Therrien follows up her bestselling novel OPPRESSION with UPRISING, the second book in the Children of the Gods series. OPPRESSION, translated and sold around the world, was one of the best selling YA novels of 2016. UPRISING continues the story of Elyse, William and the Descendants. Elyse has been in hiding for most of her life. Only now she’s hiding with William, and she knows who she’s hiding from. The Council wants a child Elyse and William have yet to conceive, a child who will be the next oracle, and who will provide the final piece to a plan Christoph has been organizing for years. Charged with leading the rebellion against Christoph and his Council, Elyse feels well out of her depth. But she has good friends and strong allies who are willing to fight with her to the end, regardless of how far they have to go, and how many lives will be lost in the process. They have one goal: to live freely and openly with the rest of humanity, out from under The Council’s oppressive rule. The stakes could not be higher for Elyse and the Descendants longing for freedom. They'll have to learn to fight if they want to stand up against The Council, and to find allies in a world ruled by their enemies. The hardest part of waging a war is knowing who to trust. Elyse knows their uprising will change the world. She doesn’t realize it will change her, too.

  • ISBN: 9780996378840
  • Author: Jessica Therrien
  • Published: 2016-10-23 19:35:18
  • Words: 91477
Uprising (Children of the Gods #2) Uprising (Children of the Gods #2)