“What?” I said it too loud, and earned another jab from the gun and one of the soldiers yelling in my ear, so close I could smell the sourness on his breath. He ripped the little box out of my hand, and I cringed as close to Stellan as I could.
“They got a tip, and then multiple tourists pointed you out,” he murmured. “They said they saw you setting a backpack down and running away. A short girl in a white robe, with dark hair pulled up on her head.”
“What?” I whispered again. That made no sense—then, suddenly, it did.
I had a sister who looked just like me, and who would know exactly what I was wearing today. “Lydia,” I whispered.
My head started to spin. Lydia had set us up. The Saxons had blamed the Order for their attacks for so long, and now they were shifting that blame to us. The Circle would think we’d brought them to the initiation to kill them. The whole world would think we were terrorists.
Lydia was here.
She wouldn’t be able to capture us in front of the Circle—the Saxons were persona non grata. But like this? She’d know where the military would take us. She’d be waiting. The Melechs were almost certainly in on it. And if they happened to fail in capturing us, the Circle would still think we’d tried to kill them, and the Saxons would be exonerated. It was the perfect plan.
Our hands were cuffed behind our backs, and we were thrown into the partially open back of a truck.
I glanced at the soldiers. The two guarding us looked younger than me. They couldn’t have known the truth of what was happening; they were just following orders. If we were going to escape, we had to do it before we were taken to anyone who was in on the Saxons’ plan.
But we couldn’t use Circle influence now. The best thing to do would be to look like tourists who had stumbled into a very unfortunate case of mistaken identity.
“Our friends are in there!” I tried. “They might be hurt—”
The gun in my face made me close my mouth.
The cut on my arm from the ceremony was still bleeding. It gave me an idea. I surreptitiously took some blood from it and wiped it under my nose. And then I nudged Stellan, hoped he understood the plan, and let my eyes roll back in my head.
An hour later, we were in a sterile, sparse room somewhere inside a military hospital.
I was a little shocked at the compassion of these soldiers, actually. I had hoped my stunt would cause some confusion and we might be able to escape, but even though they thought I’d set off a bomb laced with a biological weapon in their city—in one of the most volatile regions in the world—they had let me get medical attention.
There were no Circle members at this hospital, and no one seemed to know who we were. This wasn’t where we were meant to have ended up. We had to get out of here before the confusion cleared.
This room was nothing but three stone walls and a chain-link gate across the front, with a soldier on guard. I didn’t let myself look down the hall. The last time I’d been in a hospital was in a basement, on my way to the morgue to officially identify my mom’s body. I wondered whether the people who had died today would be brought here—
I shook myself. How were we going to get out of here? Assuming Jack and Elodie were okay, they had no way to find us.
They had to be okay.
I blinked that thought away, too. I hadn’t gotten through the last month by letting things like that in.
Next to me, Stellan stared straight ahead. His white robe was torn at the collar, his face streaked with dirt and sweat. I thought he’d been quiet while the doctor was checking me for head injuries so as to not draw extra attention to us, but now I noticed that his toes were tapping out a nervous beat on the concrete floor.
“Are you okay?” I whispered.
He gave half a nod at the far wall.
I listened to the restless tap tap tap of his foot and remembered him telling me about waking up in a hospital with most of his family dead and burns across his whole body.
A shudder went through me. My gaze slid out of our cell, down the hallway, and I felt the tenuous control I’d had on my thoughts since the bomb went off slipping.
That last hospital I’d been in had had the same anemic hospital light, the same speckled tile and dingy walls, the same sterile, cold smell like metal instruments and cleaning solution. I wondered if Stellan’s had, too. In mine, my mother’s usually smiling eyes had been lifeless, her hair matted with blood. They’d told me I could touch her, but I didn’t. I signed the forms to identify her. They asked me about funerals and autopsies, and I wanted to scream at them that they were vultures, that my mother had died just a few hours earlier. But those words—my mother died—couldn’t have been true, so I couldn’t say them. I don’t know, I said instead. Jack had asked me a couple more times in the past weeks, whenever the morgue called. I don’t know, I said, over and over. I’ll think about it later. I don’t know.
Stellan’s foot was still tapping. Now, so was mine.
The next time I had to identify a body—how had it become my life that I could say a phrase like that?—the next time, it could be Jack’s or Elodie’s.
Tap tap tap tap went our feet. Stop it, I told myself. We had to make a plan. We had to—Images flashed like a jerky movie reel in my brain: Jack glancing back as he and Elodie pushed Circle members out of the ceremony chamber. The dead girl, and her friend screaming her name. Elena!
When I started to lose control in the middle of the night, I got up and punched things. That wasn’t going to happen now. The only possible distraction in here was sitting right next to me, and he wasn’t doing so great himself.
One of my legs was cuffed to my rolling chair, but the other was free. I very quietly rolled my chair close enough to reach out and touch Stellan’s foot with mine.
He stiffened. “No one’s watching. We don’t have to pretend in here.”