His taste tantalizes me, and I melt into him—
The dream shifts, Killian vanishing. A scream of frustration bubbles in my throat. Noooo! I want to be with Killian. I want to experience his kiss, enjoy his sweetness and bask in the beauty of his strength.
How do I return to him?
I spin, searching for a way out of this...orchard? Zero! I’m standing in the orchard I passed on the way to the cathedral. Something terrible has happened here. The leaves are withered, the fruit rotten, worms slithering from holes.
A crowd of people surrounds me, penning me in, everyone reaching for me, pulling at my clothing.
“Why didn’t you help me?” someone cries.
“You could have saved me,” another wails, “but you left me to my torment.”
“You were supposed to sign my sister. You sent her to Myriad instead.”
I jerk upright. I’m panting, damp with sweat despite the cooling wafts of air from my mattress. The overhead light kicks on automatically, illuminating an unfamiliar bedroom. My bedroom. My new bedroom. I’m trembling, my blood molten.
They can mean only one of two things: something or nothing. How long was I out?
With a heavy exhalation, I fall onto my pillows. If I close my eyes, will I return to Killian? Will he kiss me? I hug the blanket to my chest.
Again I jerk upright. A picture of Meredith and Clay flashes over my bedroom wall; the two appear to be standing in the hallway outside the apartment. She’s wearing an adorable pink catsuit with bows and ruffles, her golden hair fastened in a ponytail, and he’s wearing solid black.
“I know you’re in there,” she calls.
Oh, yes. They are standing in my hallway.
I throw my legs over the side of the bed and make my way through the apartment. As I walk, bulbs flip on to guide my path.
With a yawn, I open the door. Meredith and Clay march inside.
She looks me up and down and tsk-tsks. “You’ve been here two days and you haven’t changed out of your human clothes?”
What? “Two days? Does time pass more quickly here?”
“Time doesn’t change until you enter the Rest.” Clay nudges Meredith with his elbow. “Told you she’d still be sleeping.”
“Well. You’re up now, aren’t you, my dear,” she says. “And what perfect timing. I arranged for someone to cover my shift so I could show you around the realm.”
“Wait. Back up. Time passes differently in the Rest?” I bounce on my heels. “Faster or slower?” In Archer’s mind, how long has he been gone?
“One day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day.”
Ugh. Her answers are as cryptic as Levi’s.
“I’m more than happy to wait while you shower and change.” Her nose wrinkles. “Please.”
“Fine.” Eager to see the rest of Troika, I brush my teeth and hurry through a shower.
“To save you the trouble of second-guessing yourself about what to wear, I placed an outfit on your bed,” Meredith calls. “And a little manna.”
When I emerge, I see a black catsuit, like Clay’s. While living in Prynne, I only ever wore a pee-in-the-snow yellow jumpsuit, so this is a major improvement.
I eat the wafer of manna, delighted by the sweetness and accompanying jolt of energy, and don the skintight ensemble. Then I join my guests.
“Hot,” Clay says with a thumbs-up.
“Meow.” Meredith pretends to rake claws through the air.
My cheeks heat as they lead me out of the building. Along the way, every kid I pass glares at me. No more smiles or waves. I’m not gonna lie; it stings.
My companions fail to notice my subpar welcome, and I remain mute on the subject. I don’t want the offenders in trouble, especially for anger they’re entitled to feel. Besides, nothing Meredith or Clay says will change the minds of my haters.
But come on! I can’t be the sole offender. Has no one else ever dated a Myriadian? What about spending time with family? A parent whose child signed with the other side? A husband and wife split by the war?
“In Troika,” Meredith says, “there are seven major cities. The Garden of Exchange, the Baths of Restoration, the Temple of Temples, the Capital of New, where your apartment is based, the Museum of Wisdom, the House of Secrets and the Tower of Might.”
We enter a tube—or Gate—and after traveling at the speed of Light, emerge in...
“The House of Secrets,” she says with a proud grin.
We’re standing on a teeming sidewalk. A circular sidewalk about the size of a football field. Along the outer edge stands one skyscraper after another. In the center, almost like an island, is a massive oval of glistening mist...or maybe melted glass? Surrounding the mist-glass is a jagged, unpolished frame made of diamonds; the upper and lower points extend outward, creating an eyelash effect.
I grew up with wealthy parents, but nothing they owned compares to this. Nothing found in the Land of the Harvest compares.
Among the masses, no one is wearing a catsuit. Everyone is draped in a plain white robe. My memory...or maybe the Grid...supplies the reason. This is a business district, and different-colored robes are reserved for different tasks and ceremonies.
Tension is tangible, hustle and bustle obviously mandatory. Both men and women rush in and out of different buildings, though only a handful approach the center island. No one is smiling or laughing. Only a rare few appear at ease, as if they know something the others do not.
“The Eye,” Clay says, pointing to the mist-glass.
Meredith nods. “The Eye sees into the Land of the Harvest. Through it, Headhunters are able to monitor humans and compile dossiers for Leaders. Leaders then draft a recruitment game plan and figure out the best Laborer for every individual.”
I’m torn between three emotions. Awe—knowledge is power, and these people wield theirs like a sword. A resurgence of anger. How many times was I spied on? And envy. Does the Eye peer into Myriad? The Rest? What about Many Ends? If I could catch a glimpse of Killian and Archer and study a future battleground...
My heart skips a beat. I’m a hypocrite. As bad as the people who spied on me. “Can the Eye—”
“No,” she interrupts.
“You don’t even know—”
“Don’t I?” She arches a brow. “You aren’t the first newbie I’ve shown around, and you all ask the same things.”