It's okay. I'm-' 'Fine?' Joseph chimed in. 'Obviously not. You need to be checked out by a doctor.' 'I am a doctor.' I rolled my eyes at him, but that didn't deter him from his train of thought. 'Not that kind of doctor.' 'What is 'that kind of doctor' going to say when they see my shimmering pink blood, Joseph?' I changed my voice to mimic one of a concerned doctor. 'I'm sorry ma'am, you appear to be suffering from a mild case of Pretty Pretty Princess syndrome. Have you ingested any magical woodland faeries recently?
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I had this guy's file pulled this morning, along with the rest of your neighbors. His name is Desperado.' Pause. A few seconds passed. He was waiting for my reaction. 'Did you say Desperado?' I couldn't stop the snort of laughter that bubbled to the surface. 'Yeah, ' the Director confirmed. 'He changed his name when he turned eighteen. It was Melvin.' I was still laughing. ''Cause Desperado is so much better than Melvin.
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Joseph, you're out of clean towels.' Lucia poked her head into the living room, the rest of her hidden behind the wall. Her red hair dripped water onto my wooden floors. 'She's in the buff.' Jenna guffawed. Gabriella rolled her eyes, beaming. I rose. 'Go back to the bathroom. I'll bring you a towel, ' I ordered Lucia. She disappeared down the hall. 'You have naked angels running around your house, ' Jenna continued through her laughter. Gabby laughed louder.
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I tapped around on my new Miracle Phone-a gift from Joseph-as I listened to the discussion about our next move. I wasn't trying to be rude, but I'd recently become addicted to this one game on my Miracle Phone. Really, I was listening. I could multitask like no other. Trust me, there's an app for that.
I unlocked the deadbolt and flung the door open, stepping back for Gabby to see exactly who it was. 'Hello, Sara, ' I greeted. A bubble of laughter escaped Gabby before she could contain it. 'Yes, hello ex-girlfriend Sara. And might I add: law-breaker? Who let you out of your cage? Don't you know Joseph has a restraining order against you?
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Jules lips quivered, and I feared she was about to cry. Then she asked, 'He bit off more than he could chew, didn't he?' She made a motion as if she was biting into a tough piece of steak. Gabriella's lips sealed shut as she tried to hide her grin, though she failed at it when Andrew asked, 'Was he eating?' He turned desperately to Gabriella, confused. Jules wasn't about to cry, she was trying not to laugh! She giggled then, the sound tinkling and odd in the outlandish setting. Andrew straightened and shook his head at Gabriella. 'Did you see him eat?
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The woman turns away; one wing blackens like an onyx gem while the other glows white like a bright spotlight. She flies into the sky, leaving the crowd staring in astonishment. Angels fly away in two directions. Half make a black storm of moving, twisting shapes. The other half forms a white-as-snow moving cloud. The ranks are divided.
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There's nothing to be scared of, right Akhol?' He said nothing as he stepped toward the rushing water that rolled around a big rock and was swallowed whole by impenetrable darkness. 'Right?' Andrew repeated, his voice swallowed by the sound of rushing water. Akhol didn't respond again. He tapped a foot above the water before he stepped in and disappeared beneath the surface in one fluid motion.
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Her thoughts pulsated through him, frantic, desperate, pleading for him to stay behind. 'I won't-can't, ' he murmured. 'If you're going, so am I.' She exhaled a laborious sigh and flung her arms around his neck; her warm breath fanned over his skin as she tightened her grip. 'If you die, Andrew, I'll track you across multiple dimensions just to say I warned you, ' she cautioned, voice tender.
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The Ferryman will transport us across the moat, ' Chris informed. 'Yeah. This seems legit, ' Gabriella quipped as Chris helped her onto the boat. Andrew followed behind. 'Are you sure this isn't a trick?' Egnatious asked. Again, uncertainty filtered into Chris's blue eyes, but he nodded anyway. 'This is the only way.
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Where are you taking me?' Andrew demanded, whirling on the Ferryman. His muscles tensed, hands curling in and out of fists. 'To my master.' The voice was ghostly, whispers of black ash and death, words cold and detached. He had an idea who that was but asked anyway: 'And who is your master?' No answer came. Andrew's insatiable rage rose up and swallowed his grief like a yawning ocean mouth, the darkest depths surging to the surface to form a mighty tidal wave. He closed the distance and seized the Ferryman's gaunt wrist. There was no substance, no life beneath the cloak. The Ferryman slowly turned his hooded head, and Andrew found himself looking into the black hole of a self-contained night. The olfactory of decay was a punch in the face. Andrew released the Ferryman's wrist and hastily stepped back, rocking the boat as he put distance between him and the unnatural wind spilling from the gaping orifice. Andrew shivered, the tiny hairs on his neck saluting. The cloaked head faced forward again, and the wind died away.
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An ear-splitting screech pierced the silence, followed by another, striking his ears like metal against a hollow bell. The woosh woosh of wind being displaced brought Andrew's attention skyward, and a glacial gust of paralyzing terror raced up his spine. The creature opened its mouth, and a blazing shaft of fire bellowed from above. Andrew barely had enough time to back beneath an awning for protection. Egnatious and Sebastian dove to the side while Firen sidestepped her impending doom, raising the katana in challenge. The screeching returned, except now the howls were coming from every direction. Firen's chest heaved. 'Did you see that?' she asked, her stormy eyes glinting with rapture and daring as she held her katana out, preparing for the next attack. 'Did I see the dragon?' Sebastian asked, hysteria dangerously rising to the surface. He stood and brushed himself off. 'Yes, I bloody well did see that enormous, scaly, fire-breathing dragon.
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Burn wounds always elicited pain more terrible than anything else he had ever endured. He didn't relish the idea of forcing himself to suffer through such agony. But it was necessary. Earth depended on them taking possession of the key. 'It's the only way out, ' Andrew reminded him. 'I understand that, but-' 'The trials we have faced thus far have been minimal, ' Andrew said, cutting off Sebastian's retort. 'What we seek is the key to the universe. You didn't expect it to be easy, did you?
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What are you doing?' Egnatious asked, eyebrows furrowed as he watched Gabriella do a flip. Firen mimicked Gabriella and turned to Egnatious. 'Fun times. Go with it.' She didn't even crack a smile, though her body language said she was laughing on the inside. Instead of following their act, Egnatious simply dove for an outcrop just as it began moving away. He nearly lost his balance, but Firen caught his flailing arms. 'Are you having a seizure or something?' she jested, displaying a rare vein of humor. Egnatious sent her a queasy glare.
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He strained his ears, and the darkness felt heavier than before. Oppressive. 'We're hungry.' That came from behind him. 'They smell tasty, ' a voice to his left hissed. 'I don't like this, ' Andrew said, feeling like the world around them was spinning with voices, taunting, echoing them. 'I don't like this, ' a voice parroted. 'I don't like this. I don't like this. I don't like this.
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Mmm.' Sebastian moaned. 'It's so delicious.' He laughed then. 'It's not the Poisonous Desert; it's the Oreo Desert.' He scooped up handfuls of dirt and stones and funneled it into his mouth. He licked his palms, his teeth grinding against rock. 'Did the plant scramble his brains?' Firen asked, her lips twitching just a smidgen. 'The plant's poison makes you delusional, ' Gabriella informed as Egnatious and Firen yanked Sebastian to his feet. 'He'll probably be a bit Looneyville for a while.
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I think I found your vampire, ' Andrew said, except this time he wasn't so amused. However, Gabriella was, her smile huge as she laughed, the sound a trill in the densely packed cold air. 'You think this is funny?' The words came out surly, but Andrew couldn't stop his lips from twitching over her amusement. 'I thought they'd be bigger, ' she said, stifling another round of giggles. 'Are you okay?' 'Just a flesh wound.
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Gabby, ' Jenna cried. 'It's so horrible. I can't believe this happened.' 'Jenna, ' I said in a soothing voice, 'I'm alive and okay. No worries.' She sniffled into the phone. 'No, it's not that.' I waited a beat. 'What?' 'The bridesmaid dresses are all wrong!' she wailed. 'Wait a second, ' I said. 'You aren't upset over my being dead for four days?' 'I knew you'd be fine, ' she explained, brushing off the subject. 'But these dresses? I don't know what to do. They're the wrong color, and they're hideous!' She went into a hysterical fit of tears.
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So if I asked you to wear my skirt and juggle my high heels, you would?' I joked. I could only see Andrew's face in profile, but a grin overtook his earlier grim expression, and he laughed. 'I draw the line at wearing women's clothing.' 'Are you sure?' I whispered seductively, nibbling on his earlobe. 'That's cheating, ' he said, his breath hitching. I kissed down his neck. 'If all else fails, I'll never rule out using my womanly wiles.' 'I refuse to be used as a pawn by my devious lover, ' he countered, grinning. I abruptly pulled away from him. 'Ah, well, it never hurts to try.
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Firen didn't waste any time setting up the meeting with Egnatious. The following day she was in such a rush to tell me about it that she burst into my room without knocking and found Andrew and me in an intimate and compromising position reminiscent of the game Twister. Also, I cannot confirm or deny if there was food involved. Let's just say I toppled over in embarrassment, taking Andrew down with me in a great heap. Firen didn't fare any better, as she nearly knocked herself out when she ran into the doorframe in an attempt to escape. We were both scarred for life, especially after Firen apologized for walking in on our 'naked fun time, ' which was apparently what Joseph called it. There were some things people should never know, and that was one of them.
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When the nurse leaves, Doctor Rose mouths, 'Act like you're in pain.' Then she mimics a painful expression in case Summer doesn't understand. On the contrary, Summer's an expert at interpreting body language and reading lips. It's all thanks to her observant nature while enslaved on the Cosmos. Who else could tell that Peter's discomfort is due to him wearing the same pair of underwear for a week straight? Ah, yes, she always knew when day six and seven approached. She watched the crew member with much amusement as he waddled, pulled wedgies, and scratched his bum relentlessly. Not that anyone else cared to know that little nugget of information.
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It hurts, ' Summer cries, head shaking back and forth. 'Please, make it stop.' Sweat beads on her forehead. 'What hurts?' Cameron asks. 'My eyes.' Summer's eyes open. Everyone gasps. They're no longer blue; they appear bionic, like a circuit board's inside her eyes. Panicked now, Summer reaches for her face. 'What is it? What's wrong?
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Her gaze travels back to the lie twisted in a tempest of mud and blood. She witnesses the culmination of her recklessness through a curved lens. Absorbed in life uncoiling, unaware of the world beyond this ridge. His light hair, darkened by rain. His stiff shoulders, full of pain. The vision poisoned with truth. With rust-stained hues.
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Landon drops the bloody knife and stares at Summer like he doesn't even know her anymore. The truth is, she'll never be the girl she was seven months ago. Too much has happened. Too much has changed. 'Why'd you do that?' Summer cries. 'To save you, ' he says. But there's nothing left to save.
If this is my final moment, ' she says, 'then I can die happy.' 'Is that why you're saying all this? Because you think we're going to die?' 'I don't know, ' she admits. 'Dammit, Summer.' He clings to her waist, grip desperate, eyes heavy with torment. 'You're saying everything I want to hear, but I don't know if I can trust it.
She feels him scoot closer, the heat of him radiating off his chest and absorbing into her skin. His legs straddle her from behind, and he places delicate kisses along her shoulder, her back, the very center of her spine. Each time is like an electric current surging through her, soul stirring and lovely.
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Struggling transforms her captor into a Chinese finger trap. She's suffocating. Sucking in air without relief. Her lungs expand. Contract. Expand. They fill with lies and broken promises. With despair and lost hope. Each inhale is empty. Invisible hands reach into her body and constrict around her windpipe. She watches her friends collapse like supernovae, their cognizance disappearing into a black hole. A black hole she's quickly cascading into. The dark consumes, bleeds into her vision. She blinks. Catches icy blue eyes peeking out from the shadows.
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A glacial chill rushes through Gage. He whips around just in time to see arms clutch Summer around the middle and drag her into the dark. Panic seizes him, and he takes off after her, regardless of the chaos brewing behind him. Her cry of surprise echoes all around them, drilling into his bones.
When I see your scars, do I want to erase them? Absolutely. But not your physical scars. The real ones, beneath the surface. The ones that compel you to stay silent or force you to cringe. Those are the scars I want to obliterate.' His finger circles the dip of a burn mark on her forearm. 'This is a battle trophy and nothing to be ashamed of. Every one of your scars makes you more beautiful to me.
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I thought it was just him, ' she says, ignoring him. 'But then I found out I had the same effect, which means the Society did something to my head too.' Gage's eyes close, horror washing over him. 'You really do love him.' 'Yes. No. I don't know.' Her cries start up again, piercing his heart. 'Gage, help me.' 'I love you, ' he says, holding her closer. 'That's real.
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He smiles at her before ever opening his eyes. The innocence in his face ensnares. Wraps her heart in a cocoon. They did this to him. The Society. Constructed that smile with malicious expectations. Now she must rip it off his face. Because she doesn't deserve his love. Or Gage's. This madness coils around her throat, darkening every inch of her soul.
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Every Forsaken in a mile radius can probably hear you. You're just asking for trouble if you two don't stop whipping out the measuring stick.' 'It's his fault, ' Avery snaps, pointing at Julian. 'Shut up, ya wanker.' They start in on each other again. They yell as if they both have megaphones to their mouths, standing inches apart. Each vulgar insult is more illogical than the last.
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Her mum is leaning against the wall, arms crossed, when Summer exits. 'Gage left from here a few minutes ago, ' she says, tone neutral. 'His hair was ruffled.' She gestures with her hand above her head. The haze Gage left Summer in vanishes. She frowns. Her mum sighs and steps forward. Smooths her daughter's hair. 'If he hurts you, ' she says in a mild tone, 'I'll kill him.
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Refusing to listen to him any longer, Julian backs up. 'Whenever you realize working together is in Summer's best interest, come find me, Boy Scout. Until then, I'll just pretend you don't exist.' Then he walks away. Gage glares at Julian's retreating form. His hand scrapes through his hair as he fumes. A guttural roar of rage crawls up his throat, and he kicks the sand. Damn him and his stupid logic. He's right. And Gage knows he's right. But that doesn't mean he has to like it.
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He's focused on something-or someone-over her shoulder. The harmonious warbling of the rainforest morphs into organized disarray, as if a primitive maestro has thrown conducting to the wind and let Mother Nature take over. Birds trill a warning as the breeze rustles the plant life. Wings flutter overhead. A crescendo of stridulation changes tempo, the insects seemingly performing a sonata as the rhythm shifts yet again. 'What-who is it?' Summer asks in a strained whisper. His gaze lands on her, his brows furrowing. 'The Forsaken.
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As he plods behind Cameron and Summer, he can't help but stare at Summer's exposed, glistening skin. His thoughts aren't depraved or even mildly in the splasher. In fact, he focuses on the marks of cruelty crisscrossing her back, stomach, and shoulders. He trudges along, drenched, feet swollen, constantly searching for even a hint of a breeze, all while being forced to stare at the alarming network of burns traversing Summer's delicate skin. This latticework of hate reveals a brutal truth-one he can scarcely comprehend. Yes, he's glimpsed and felt her scars before, but this is the first time he's really, truly seen the severity and extent of her life as a slave. With each step, he must digest the monstrosities of her past, leaving him utterly devastated.
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I'm not your boyfriend!' I snapped, trying to gently move her hands away from my body. 'How can you say that?' Sara asked in horror. 'It's shockingly effortless, ' I replied. 'My vocal chords vibrate, and my mouth and tongue articulate. I can even do it without thinking.' I had to remind myself to stay calm, and sarcasm was the best way to do that. 'When are you going to give me a key to your house so I don't have to knock like some guest?' Sara asked, coming at me again. I backed away. 'How about never? Is never good for you?' Sara, undeterred, said, 'You're the reason I go to therapy on Fridays.' 'The plot thickens!' Gabby exclaimed for comedic relief.
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Underwater, bubbles erupted before my eyes as a swift hand snatched my arm and pulled me to the surface. I gasped for air, coughing and gagging at the amount of water I sucked into my lungs by pure shock. What was up with me and breathing in water? I needed to grow some gills or something.
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Gage is waiting on the makeshift bed when she enters the room she's been sleeping in. The small lantern in the corner barely lights his features. His shoulders are hunched, his hands clasped together before him, and when he looks up, his face is downcast. There are a number of reasons why he would look this way, but the worst possible thing comes to mind first. Someone is dead.
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The aftermath of bearing shackles is an exquisite devastation, fraught with the ravages of survival. Even though one is no longer held captive-be that from a person, a government, or one's inner self-the scars are deeply engraved into one's psyche, and there's no remedy for the soul. Many have the misconception that freedom equals happiness forever and ever. That's a wicked delusion.
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Terror builds inside him. The reality that tonight will be his last leaves a sour taste in his mouth. The Tainted will eat him, or on a more terrifying note-if that's even possible-maybe turn him into one of them. He'd rather die. But first, he'll take as many of those bastards out as he can. He throws his pack into the throng and jerks the blade from his belt. With a thudding heart, he slices through them. Blood arcs over him, onto him.
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Slowly, he lifts the flashlight. Her shorts are torn and frayed, her shirt ripped from chest to naval, exposing her black bra and dirty stomach. And then he raises the light so it reflects off her face, off the crimson tears streaming from the girl's eyes. Her boney hands fly up to protect her face, and her head tilts sharply as she hisses.
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He holds her for an eternity. Time cascades into the void of the past. She inhales his scent. Full of man and strength and yearning. And she wonders why she ever doubted their relationship. Why she let Julian's soothing touch coax her into loving him too. Gage is everything. Gage is hers.
A growing heat, like a million blazing suns all focused on me, lit my insides. It felt like I was being cooked in the Gabriella Roast Cooker, me spinning around-and-around to heat my flesh evenly. For some reason I was having trouble comprehending the sudden change in my revolving world as I swelled with a horrible, billowing fire.
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