Authors: Melissa Wright
“It doesn’t mean she will die at the hands of the Division. It says she will die
“‘As the prophet is revealed, so die the others.’”
Emily’s face went pale. She’d heard the words before, she knew I was right. She was sick, and I could only imagine her thoughts centered on what was about to happen, what it was probably too late to stop. What she could have prevented if she’d believed her mother, if she’d acted on her gut, if she’d only done one thing differently. And then I wondered if they were her worries or my own.
“I should have listened to you,” I said. “I should have known.”
She swallowed hard, and then moved to open the door so we could find Brianna.
We stepped into the hallway to find Brianna and Brendan running toward us.
“The hall,” Brendan called, and I knew what he meant, turning with Emily to reach the safe room they’d dubbed the hall before it was too late.
She didn’t question me, only ran alongside until the thin red line of flashers lit up the corridor. Her hand squeezed tight in mine and I glanced at her, not surprised by the ‘it’s too late’ expression. I tightened my grip on her and pressed against the wall to check the corner to the next hall. I felt Brendan and Brianna behind us, but could hear no others when we crossed to the entrance and punched in the code. In a matter of seconds, we’d made it to this place, and already I’d heard the first shots from the floor below.
“There,” Brendan said, pushing us across the room to a dark-paneled wall. He ripped the painting from its hook and threw it aside, revealing another keypad, another passcode. “Inside,” he demanded as soon as the panel started shifting.
We were in a smaller chamber lit only by security lights, a narrow passage to the left and a narrow passage straight ahead, both of which must have been built between the walls of the other rooms.
“We have to split up,” Brianna said as she shoved a parcel into Emily’s hands. “They’re coming for us.” She indicated herself and Brendan and I realized what she’d said was true. They would be after Brianna. Not Emily.
Brendan stepped forward. “The north passage takes you down to the edge of the yard. I’ve got armed men there, we can all go—”
“No,” Brianna said. “You and I will go that way. Aern will take Emily through the other passage, by the sheds.”
Brendan’s eyes went tight. She knew too much.
“This is the only way,” Brianna said to no one but Emily, and her hand rested over her sister’s as she spoke.
“Wait,” I said, shouldering them apart, but not entirely sure why.
“Go,” Brianna whispered to me. “Wesley will be waiting for you.” The certainty in her gaze might have convinced me eventually, but the dull echo of gunfire through the reinforced walls did the trick quick enough.
Emily pressed the black twill-wrapped package against her chest and gave Brianna one last look.
“I had Brendan get them for you,” Brianna said. “Use them prudently.” She placed her hands over Emily’s where they clutched the package and pushed.
“Wait,” Emily said, “there’s something I have to tell you. I forgot.” Her eyes flicked to Brendan, back to Brianna and I somehow knew what she was referring to. I remembered the moments before I’d seen her mark, when she’d been curled over her stomach. She’d had a revelation, what was it, what had she been saying…
“It’s all right,” Brianna said.
“No,” Emily insisted. “No more secrets. It was her, Brianna, he took her and she—”
“I know.” The room went still as Brianna confessed. Emily’s mouth opened, but no words came.
Brianna sighed. “I’m sorry, Emily. I know. I’ve known all along.”
The pain that twisted Emily’s features was cutting. “Then…” She stopped, stumbling for words. “But…” And then, almost desperate, “
Brianna’s eyes held Emily’s when she answered. “Because I am a prophet. I was born with our mother’s gifts.”
A long, unspoken message passed between the sisters. They stood before each other, a mirror’s reflection by all appearances, alike in body and blood, but they couldn’t have been more different.
“It’s coming,” Brianna whispered. Emily took a deep breath and nodded.
And then a blast sounded in the room outside the chamber and Brendan yelled, “Go!” before pulling Brianna down the north passage. Suddenly, Emily and I were running in the opposite direction. The passage was narrow, my shoulders brushed the wall as I ran. I could hear Emily behind me, feet padding lightly on the bare floor. There were stairs, and then a hard right turn, a low corridor, and then a left, and we were standing in a small alcove beneath a single overhead hatch door.
I looked back at Emily to be certain she was ready. She was bending over, strapping something to her leg. When she straightened, I saw what Brianna had given her, as the last of a set remained at the ready in her hand.
Knives. Brianna’s gift had been, from what I gathered, at least three handcrafted fighting knives. I winced when the realization came, when Brianna’s words registered with her warning. Her prophecy.
Emily nodded, as if she’d missed my reaction and was merely answering my inquiry on whether she was ready. But before either of us could start the climb, the hatch shifted, and we ducked away, though there was no place to hide in the tiny recess. Fortunately, it was Wesley’s copper hair that popped into view.
“Finally,” he gasped. “What took you guys so long?”
“Are you clear?” I asked.
He nodded. “Yeah, but the grounds are crawling with Morgan’s men, you’ve got to hurry.”
He reached an arm down and I lifted Emily by the waist to him, my hand grazing the strap for the third knife that rested behind her back. She kicked off the top rung of the ladder and disappeared through the opening. It only took a moment before I was climbing out behind her.
“We’ve got to go now,” Wesley explained as we all crouched beneath one of the shed’s windows. “Brianna said it would only get worse the longer we waited.”
My eyes narrowed on him.
He shook his head. “It’s not like that, Aern. She has a gift.”
Emily stiffened beside me.
“She helped me,” Wesley said, “because she needed me to help you.”
“What can you do?” Emily asked. “Because if Brianna said run, and we’re not running, then you’d better have something damned fancy hiding up your sleeves.”
I was taken aback by her response, but Wesley only reacted. “Right.” He shoved a crate aside on the back wall. “There’s an opening here, run due south, I’ll cover you until you reach the trees.”
I stared at him.
“Go,” he said. “For the chosen. For all of us.”
Emily spared me a brief glance before shoving through the door at a full run.
The lawn was crowded with running, fighting, screaming men. Commonblood, Council, Division. Everywhere. We were less than two yards from the shed when the report from Wesley’s rifle echoed off the woods. He would pick off any who targeted us, and in the mayhem, that seemed to be all of them.
Emily flinched at each crack of rifle, each boom of .45, but she didn’t slow. We were six yards from the trees now. Five. A large man in black got too close before I could decipher which side he was on and I shouldered into him low and hard, and then spun away before I lost sight of Emily. He fell to the grass behind us as a bullet ripped through his shoulder. Three yards. Two. Emily ducked aside as bark splintered off the tree she headed toward, and gunfire erupted again, peppering both our escape and our attacker. Metal ricocheted off the trees, landing a sharp fragment into the meat of my shoulder, and I threw an arm over her as we adjusted course. But they weren’t targeting her.
A round clipped my thigh, but adrenaline kept me going. They were trying to slow me down, incapacitate me. Morgan must have given the order I wasn’t to be killed. Not yet. I pushed Emily forward as I struggled to overcome the hitch in my stride. They were gaining ground. There were too many of them.
Emily grabbed my shirt and yanked me into the trees with her, and I realized I’d been lagging. She dodged left around a tall oak and then right to pass another. My shoulder brushed the second tree and I stumbled before we reached the underbrush.
“Aern,” she hissed, grabbing at me again. Shots fired from in front of us now, and she hunched forward as she pulled me right and through a patch of saplings.
The trees were crawling with men. Morgan’s men. There was no question this time who was winning, who was after us.
“There,” I said, disturbed by the distant quality of my own voice.
She followed my direction, heading toward a grove of fir trees. The snap and shuffle of the forest floor behind us made it clear there were not just trained men after us. They could make a mistake. They could fire on Emily to stop me. They could take out the chosen.
“Aern!” Emily screamed as I fell behind her. We’d been running, and I realized belatedly that I’d not loosened my grip on her when I’d gone down, that I’d taken her with me. “What is wrong with you?” she gasped. She rolled me to my side, her hands frantically hovering over me, searching for a gunshot wound.
I could feel the blood soaking my leg, but she didn’t pause there, instead staring open-mouthed at the thin sliver of metal protruding from the front curve of my shoulder. I forced my gaze to follow hers, but my neck didn’t seem to be connected properly.
Emily clenched her teeth and winced as she wrenched the metal from deep within the muscle. When she held it in front of my face, I could see the small feathered tip of a poisonous dart. By the time my brain processed what was happening, my body had begun clearing the toxins from my system. But it wasn’t fast enough.
Emily flinched as another shot landed too close beside us.
“Go,” I said. “There’s a hatch beneath the trees. Hide there. Run.”
“What?” she hissed. “Aern—”
“Go, Emily. They don’t know.” The feeling returned to my arms then, though my fingers still tingled, and I pressed myself up. They were closing in, taking their time. They thought they had us pinned down. Thought we had no place to go.
“They’re shooting at you,” she said.
“I know.” I worked my neck, testing my recovery. “Me. Not you.”
She understood, but she couldn’t seem to leave, despite the soldiers amassing in the forest around us.
I stood then, pulling her up to stand close before me. A strange, burning numbness prickled my legs. I still couldn’t feel the gunshot wound in my thigh. “I’ll run with you to the third maple tree.” She listened to my instructions, her eyes never straying from mine, never allowing anyone watching to guess the route I was laying out. “… there is a built-in keypad on the wall, the others will find you by morning…”
She let me finish before she spoke again, barely above a whisper. “But—”
I stopped her and she swallowed hard. She thought I was sacrificing myself for her, she thought they would gun me down the moment they had a clear shot, that I would die on the forest floor beneath us.
“They won’t do it, Emily. Morgan has given them orders. I’m to be captured.”
It wasn’t a lie. They wouldn’t kill me here. They would take me in, because he would want the honor.
She stared up at me, not entirely convinced.
“I swear to you, Emily, I will not die here.”
I pushed down the guilt at misleading her. She had to stay safe. She was the chosen. She had to live.
“Put your hands over your heads,” a voice called from the other side of a clearing. “Turn slowly toward the sound of my voice.”
Emily’s eyes glistened, but she never looked away from me.
A wave of dizziness made my head spin. I had to convince her, she had to go. “You first,” I said. “I’ll be right behind you until the third maple. It’s the only way, Emily. The only way.”
I’d used Brianna’s words, and it seemed to strengthen her resolve, or at least remind her of the importance of staying alive. Remind her of the prophecy. After a long moment, her expression changed, and she gave the slightest nod.
The frontline moved closer. We stared into one another’s eyes, strengthening our courage.
“Okay,” she breathed. “Okay.”
The pain in her words did something to me, and I was suddenly reaching for her. My hands braced her there as I pressed my forehead to hers and held her. Just long enough for a silent promise. I would come back to her.
to come back to her.
It hadn’t been my intention to actually get shot. I’d planned to distract the gunmen, to give Emily a chance to make it to safety, then to fall as soon as she’d cleared the outer branches of the copse of fir trees and let them think they had me. But Morgan’s order must have been a little looser than I’d estimated, because as soon as we’d started to run, they opened fire.