- Text Font:
- Text Size:
- Line Height:
- Line Break Height:
“He looks at me like I’m the enemy, like I’m some kind of bomb about to go off.”
“He’s—” Kilorn stumbles, unsure of the words even as they leave his lips. “He’s not entirely wrong though, is he?”
I spin so fast the heel of my boot leaves black skid marks in the concrete. Would that I could leave a similar bruise on Kilorn’s stupid, sputtering face.
“Hey, c’mon,” he calls after me, closing the distance in a few quick steps. But I keep walking, and he keeps following. “Mare, stop. That came out wrong—”
“You are stupid, Kilorn Warren,” I tell him over my shoulder. The safety of Barracks 3 beckons, rising up ahead of me. “Stupid and blind and cruel.”
“Well, you’re no picnic either!” he thunders back, finally becoming the argumentative twit I know he is. When I don’t reply, nearly sprinting for the barracks door, his hand closes on my upper arm, stopping me cold.
I try to twist out of his grasp, but Kilorn knows all my tricks. He pulls, dragging me away from the door, and into the shaded alley between Barracks 3 and 4. “Let go of me,” I command, indignant. I hear a little bit of Mareena come back to life in the cold, royal tone of my voice.
“There it is,” he growls, pointing a finger in my face. “That. Her.”
With a mighty shove, I push him back, breaking his grip on me.
He sighs, exasperated, and runs a hand through his tawny hair. It sticks up on end. “You’ve been through a lot, I know that. We all know that. What you had to do to stay alive with them, all while helping us, finding out what you are, I don’t know how you came out on the other side. But it changed you.”
So perceptive, Kilorn.
“Just because Maven betrayed you doesn’t mean you have to stop trusting people altogether.” He drops his eyes, fiddling with his hands. “Especially me. I’m not just something for you to hide behind, I’m your friend, and I’m going to help you with whatever you need, however I can. Please, trust me.”
I wish I could.
“Kilorn, grow up” comes out instead, so sharp it makes him flinch. “You should’ve told me what they were planning. But you made me an accomplice, you made me watch when they marched him away at gunpoint, and now you tell me to trust you? When you’re in so deep with these people who are just waiting for an excuse to lock me up? How stupid do you think I am?”
Something stirs in his eyes, the vulnerability hidden inside the relaxed persona he tries so hard to maintain. This is the boy who cried beneath my house. The boy he was, resisting the call to fight and die. I tried to save him from that and, in turn, pushed him closer to danger, the Scarlet Guard, and doom.
“I see,” he says finally. He takes a few quick steps back, until the alley yawns between us. “It makes sense,” he adds, shrugging. “Why would you trust me? I’m just the fish boy. I’m nothing compared to you, right? Compared to Shade. And him—”
“Kilorn Warren.” I scold him like I would a child, like his mother did before she abandoned him. She would shriek when he skinned his knees or spoke out of turn. I don’t remember much else of her, but I remember her voice, and the withering, disappointed glares she saved for her only son. “You know that’s not true.”
The words come out hard, a low, visceral growl. He squares his shoulders, fists balled at his sides. “Prove it.”
To that, I have no answer. I have no idea what he wants from me. “I’m sorry,” I choke out, and this time I mean it. “I’m sorry for being—”
“Mare.” A warm hand on my arm stops my stumbling. He stands above me, close enough to smell. Thankfully the scent of blood is gone, replaced by salt. He’s been swimming.
“You don’t need to apologize for what they did to you,” he mumbles. “You never have to do that.”
“I—I don’t think you’re stupid.”
“That might be the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me.” He chuckles after a long moment. He pastes on a grin, ending the conversation. “I take it you’ve got a plan?”
“Yes. Are you going to help?”
Shrugging, he spreads his arms wide, gesturing at the rest of the base. “Not much else for the fish boy to do.”
I shove him again, drawing a genuine smile from him. But it doesn’t last.
Along with the key, Farley gave me detailed directions to Barracks 1. As on the mainland, the Scarlet Guard still favors their tunnels, and Cal’s prison is, of course, located underground.
Technically, underwater. The perfect prison for a burner like Cal. Built beneath the dock, hidden by the ocean, guarded by blue waves and the Colonel’s blue uniforms. It’s not only the island prison but also the armory, the Lakelander bunks, and the Colonel’s own headquarters. The main entrance is a tunnel leading from the beach hangars, but Farley assured me of another way. You might get wet, she warned with a wry smile. While the prospect of diving into the ocean unsettles me, even so close to the beach, Kilorn is annoyingly calm. In fact, he’s probably excited, happy to put his long years on the river to good use.
The protection of the ocean dulls the usually alert Guard, and even the Lakelanders soften as the day wears on. Soldiers focus more on the cargo loads and storage hangars rather than patrolling. The few who keep their posts, pacing the length of the concrete yard with guns against their shoulders, walk slowly, easily, often stopping to talk to each other.