“He came down, right?” I asked, my voice high with panic. “He was with you guys at the back, wasn’t he?”
Oh my God.
Vida’s brows drew sharply together. Some dark thought flickered over her face.
“Vida!” I grabbed the front of her sweatshirt. “When was the last time you talked to him? When was the last time you saw him?”
“I don’t know!” she cried, pushing me off her. “I don’t, okay? It was so dark—”
I started at a run, pushing past Vida to get to the tunnel’s opening at the top of the embankment. Nico looked up at me, and I finally understood that he was waiting for Jude, not for Clancy.
“Ruby…” he began. “Where is he?”
“Stop,” Cole said, catching my elbow. I struggled against him, trying to twist away. Jude was down there. He was down there. And the last place I would ever leave Jude was alone in the dark.
“You were at the back, weren’t you?” he continued. “I sent one of the agents down to make sure we didn’t leave anyone behind. They said the whole structure must have caved in—”
“Shut up!” Liam said. He pulled me away from Cole. “Chubs and I will go, okay? I’m sure he just got separated from the group.”
“No way in hell I’m letting you back in there,” Cole said. “I will knock your ass out if you take one step closer to it.”
Liam ignored him.
“He could have twisted his ankle maybe or slipped and hit his head,” Chubs added, but he looked sick. “Maybe he’s just caught in the debris…”
“No!” I snarled. “He’s my—”
“Ruby, I know, okay?” Liam said. “But you and Cole and the others need to figure out how to get us out of here, and fast. Let us do this for you at least.”
“It’s on me,” I said. “I’m Leader.”
“You’re not my leader,” he said softly. “Remember? It’ll be faster if Chubs and I go. We’ll be back before you even know we’re gone. You and the others have to figure out how to get us out of here.”
I shook my head.
“Ruby, let them go,” Vida said, taking my arm. “Come on.”
Cole let out a sharp, angry grunt, shoving a glow stick against his brother’s chest. “You have an hour, no more. Then we’re leaving without you.”
Liam glanced at Chubs, tilting his head toward the waiting door.
THEY DID NOT COME BACK IN AN HOUR, or even two.
I tried to guess how long it had taken us to get through the tunnels the first time—it had only been, what, a half hour? Longer? At the time, it had only felt like forever.
Vida and I sat on either side of the opening, backs flush against the wall. She had her arms folded across her chest, her legs stretched out. Every few minutes her fingers pressed hard into either arm, and she began anxiously shaking her foot.
Cole and the others were arguing about splitting the group up for the third time. Most of the kids had crashed, no matter how hard they fought it. They curled up in the shade or leaned against one another’s backs. Every so often, a breeze would carry Jude’s whispered name up to us, spoken in the same breath as the kids who had been killed in the initial blast.
Eight of them, gone in an instant. Almost half our group.
I caught the sound of the footsteps first and pushed myself off the ground. Vida stayed exactly as she was, keeping whatever thought was skipping through her head to herself. I squinted into the darkness to find the source of the movement. I could count them by their dim, shadowed shapes as they moved up the ladder. One—two—
Liam was out first, stretching a hand toward me without a single word of explanation. I let him guide me back down the embankment, into the sunlight and away from the others. I looked over my shoulder just the once to see Chubs crouch down next to Vida.
“I know,” I heard her say, her voice gravelly. “Don’t bother.”
Liam brought my attention back to him, clearly struggling to tame his own emotions. So they hadn’t found him. Now I could try. I knew Jude better than they did—there must have been miles and miles of tunnels under the city, and I’d have an easier time guessing—
He turned my hand up and pressed something smooth into it. His eyes were such a fair blue, the irises the color of a new morning sky. When they drifted down, mine followed their path. Down his torn shirt, across the stained skin of his wrists, to the bent, twisted remains of a small silver compass.
And it was so strange how swift the numbness was to settle. How it smothered every word, every thought, until I forgot I needed to keep breathing. I felt my lips part at the same moment my chest seemed to collapse in on itself.
“No.” My fingers clenched around it, hiding it from sight, denying it was there. The glass face had completely shattered, the red needle was gone, and the force of whatever had crushed it had folded it almost in half. No. It was just that one word, but it was enough to spark a blaze of furious denial. “No!”
“We traced the path back,” Liam said, holding onto my hand like an anchor. “All the way back to the entry point. As far as we could get with the debris…and…”
“Don’t,” I begged. Don’t tell me this.
“I don’t—” His voice choked off. “I don’t know what happened. I almost didn’t see him at all, but there was…I could see his shoe. We found him, but there wasn’t anything we…Chubs couldn’t do anything. He was already gone and we couldn’t get him out. He was at the back; the explosion must have just caught him—”
I threw the compass at him, and when that didn’t rock him, when that didn’t hurt him, I threw my fist after it, pounding against his shoulder. He caught it with his other hand and pinned both of mine to his chest.
He’s lying. It wasn’t possible. I had seen him outside, looking up at the sky. I had heard him, seen him, felt him.
I felt myself rock forward, the instant before my knees went. Liam had a good enough grip on me to prevent me pitching forward, but he was exhausted, too, and it was amazing he was able to keep us upright at all.
“We have to go get him,” I said. “We can’t just… He can’t stay down there; he doesn’t like the dark; he can’t handle silence; he shouldn’t have to be alone—”