“Yes! You should encourage me to kick your butt.”
We share a laugh and enter the cathedral. The occupants range in age, anywhere from sixteen to twenty. Some smile at me while others frown. A few scowl.
I distract myself, studying the magnificent architecture. Above every doorway are triptychs—paintings divided into three separate panels. Along every wall are marble columns, intricate mosaics—again in patterns of three—and murals. Above the farthest is a magnificent frieze ceiling with three tiers.
When we turn a corner, an elaborate staircase looms ahead. Both guys and girls race up and down. Again I receive a mixed bag of reactions.
I try to ignore the guy with the darkest glower. When I hear Killian’s name whispered, I wonder if everyone’s anger has more to do with my affiliation with a Myriadian than my actions on the battlefield.
“So coeds live here. Do we train here, too?” I ask.
“Nope. You’re going crap yourself when you find out where we do train.”
I snort. “Should I go ahead and order adult diapers?”
“The sooner the better.”
I catch a glimpse of Victor, who is speaking with a pretty redhead. The two are wrapped up in each other and don’t notice me. Then my gaze catches on a familiar face. The girl from today’s battle. The dark-haired one who shot me with a dart when I dived in front of Killian.
She spots me, too, and stops in the middle of the staircase to glare at me.
I swallow a groan.
“That,” Clay says, “is Miss Elizabeth Winchester. She’s a bit of a wild card. Only speaks to a select group of people, but defends our weaker members with shocking ferocity.”
“She’s a trainee, right?” Meaning we’re on equal footing? Come on, throw me a bone.
Nope, no bones today. A trainee wouldn’t have gotten the green light to fight.
Clay confirms my suspicions, saying, “She’s a new graduate. She’ll be moving to a house soon. Until then, you might want to wear your armor. If looks could kill...”
I can’t recover from a bad first impression. I can only work harder, do more and prove I’m better, wiser, stronger than I was before.
Am I better, wiser and stronger, though? I’m a girl with both feet in Troika and pieces of a broken heart in Myriad with Killian.
“Don’t worry,” Clay says. “One day, everyone will get behind you.”
Yes. Let’s just hope they aren’t holding daggers in each hand.
Head high, I ascend the staircase.
When I reach Elizabeth, she grabs my arm and softly grates, “Watch out, Numbers. I owe you big-time, and I always pay my debts. Plus interest.”
chapter four (#u4ec5c551-db0a-522b-9758-918687dc1c8b)
“Pride will carry you when you’re weak.”
Clay shows me around my new apartment. He’s beaming, excited to explain the ins and outs, and I try to concentrate on him, I really do, but...
Elizabeth’s warning echoes inside my head. She called me Numbers. As if she knows me. Until today, we’ve never interacted. Someone who does know me must have told her about my obsession with numbers. Who? And what else was mentioned?
“Are any of my friends buddies with Elizabeth?” I ask, interrupting whatever tale Clay was spinning about a remote control.
He sighs and pats the top of my head. “As a suspected Conduit, you’ve been a topic of conversation among the masses for weeks. A lot of people know a lot about you. Messengers and Laborers—other than Archer—used to watch over you, protecting you, and when they returned to the realm, curious people asked questions.”
My hands fist so tightly, my nails cut into my palm. Those Messengers and Laborers had been in spirit form. They had seen me, but I hadn’t seen them. Now everyone I come across—strangers!—could know intimate details about my life. Embarrassing details.
Maybe I’ll hole up here and never leave.
“If you’ll show me the apartment again,” I grate, “I’ll pay attention this time.”
He laughs. “I knew I’d lost you. All right. Thus begins the tour, take two.”
He steers me to the front door and spreads his arms to indicate the small hallway leading to the living room. “This is your foyer.”
I follow him through the rooms, attuned to his every word. What I learn: my new home is a diminutive but extravagant space, fully furnished with many of the creature comforts I was denied while locked in Prynne, and one bedroom. There’s a cool hologram capable of following me anywhere, showcasing footage of newborns and new arrivals, promotional announcements, giveaways hosted by everyday average citizens, and Laborer interviews.
In those interviews, TLs talk about the humans they’ve most recently signed and any victories achieved in the Land of the Harvest. I wonder how many times I’ve been mentioned. A thought I do not allow myself to explore further. I’ll rage.
The holograms are incredibility lifelike; the people appear to be inside my apartment.
Does Killian live like this?
“Take a seat on the couch,” Clay says, his eyes twinkling.
Ooo-kay. As soon as I obey, a glowing book pops up in front of me, and I gasp.
“Go ahead.” Clay does his best impression of an evil queen slash drug dealer and mimes what he wants me to do. “Touch it. You know you want to...”
I reach up. When my fingertip meets the illumination, the page flips. I huff and jerk back.
He laughs with delight. “Read.”
I scan a page, and the numbers on my arm tingle. Actions matter. Always. You are at the helm of your Everlife just as you were for your Firstlife. Take responsibility for your decisions. Be kind. You never know the details of another person’s life. The pain they’ve suffered.
“Wait! This is the Book of the Law, isn’t it?” A manual about the Troikan way of life.
Excited, I read on. You are a treasure, a gift. There’s no one like you. There are people in the world only you can help. Don’t feel worthy? Just remember, no matter how far you’ve fallen, you can rise again. You can rise stronger. Your past weak link can be turned into tomorrow’s strength.
I’m trembling as I flip to the next page. We have an enemy, and only one enemy. The Prince of the Ravens. Fight him, for he seeks your destruction. Never surrender. You—we—are the Light of the world.
“All right, all right. That’s enough for now.” Clay helps me stand, and the book vanishes. “Your tour isn’t over.” But even as he speaks, he gives me a little push.
“Hey.” I fall back onto the couch, the book reappearing.