I spent the rest of the day holed up in my apartment, watching video feed of Jeremy and even Meredith, who visited him and Levi. Clay, Reed and Kayla spent an hour with me before they had to rush off to their classes. I’d asked questions about HART and their methods of operation, secretly brainstorming ways to stop the war with Myriad.
We gathered people from both realms and encouraged everyone to list their grievances so that changes could be made, preventing future clashes, Reed had said. But the powers that be always stepped in and stopped the proceedings.
He’d given me an idea, and I’d come up with steps one, two and three of what I’m sure will be a Ten-part plan.
Set a meeting with Elizabeth, allowing her to list her grievances with me. Win her over—and everyone else in the process. Convince Troikans that war with Myriad isn’t in our best interest.
You know, easy stuff.
Maybe I’ll host a Myriad Lovers Anonymous party.
T + M = TuisM
Tuism: the practice of putting the interests of another before one’s own.
When the letters T and M are replaced by their numerical equivalents—20 and 13—they equal 33
Thirty-three is the atomic number of arsenic, a poison, but it is also the age often associated with the Age of Perfection.
Thirty-three is the numerical equivalent of AMEN: 1 + 13 + 5 + 14 = 33.
I’m going to need help with my Tuism. What if I can convince Killian to form an alliance with me? We could—
What? Convince others to join our cause? Prove Troikans and Myriadians can lo—like each other?
I tug at my collar. No need to throw words like love around, right? Killian would probably freak.
Zero! I need to contact him, but I have no way to do so.
Meredith clears her throat, and I realize I’m standing in the doorway, staring into the distance. My cheeks heat as I motion her inside. She sweeps past me, the scent of orchids fluttering in her wake.
She’s wearing a formal white robe with black seams. The material conforms to her curves one moment but flows freely the next.
She holds up a bundle of metal links. “I brought you a dress.”
That is supposed to be a dress? “You’re kidding, right?”
“Usually, but never about fashion.” She manhandles me, removing my catsuit and fitting me into the links. A wide smile blossoms. “You are ravishing.”
“Thank you.” I excuse myself and go into my bedroom, where I strap a kitchen knife to my thigh.
While I crave peace, I can’t deny I have enemies. I have to be prepared for anything. A lesson I learned inside Prynne.
Curious about my “ravishing” appeal, I study my reflection. The top of the dress is made of small ovals, one laid over another to give the illusion of feathers. Those faux feathers form a deep V between my breasts before branching into multiple chains braided together and wrapped around my waist, the ends cascading to create an ankle-length skirt.
The entire ensemble should weigh a hundred pounds or more, but it’s as light as a cotton T-shirt. Even more astounding, I have full range of motion.
I wish Killian were here. He would look me over slowly and say, “Nice dress. Now take it off.” And I would laugh a throaty laugh to mask my shivers of need. I would ache to be in his arms.
I do ache.
Where is he at this precise moment? What’s he doing? Who is he with?
I dreamed about him again last night, and I’m still raw. I felt the soft brush of his lips a split second before he vanished like morning mist.
I can’t shake the feeling he needs me. That we need each other.
What if he’s in some kind of trouble? What if he’s trying to reach me, desperate for my help?
What if he’s trapped in the Kennels?
I shudder. The Kennels are Myriad’s number one choice for punishment. Cage is stacked upon cage, a different spirit locked inside each one. Men and women, boys and girls. Age doesn’t matter. Everyone is degraded, cramped and starved.
I cover my eyes, as if I can somehow block the horrific image.
I have to find a way to contact Killian.
Head high, I rejoin Meredith. “Will everyone be dressed like this?” Good. I sounded normal, breezy.
In lieu of an answer, she says, “Oh, honey bunny. You have to dress for the job you want, not the job you have.”
“Then I should wear a calculator.” If I’d had a longer Firstlife, I’d planned to get an accounting degree.
“Tsk-tsk. Your nerd is showing.”
“And your old lady is showing.”
We share a smile, but I notice the merriment doesn’t quite reach her eyes. Upon closer inspection, I notice the lines of tension bracketing her mouth.
Considering her reaction to yesterday’s message, something bad has happened behind the scenes.
“Tell me what’s wrong, Madame.” I use my most authoritative tone. “That’s an order from your exalted superior.”
Her tension lessens, and she snorts. “You want to know? Fine. You’re going to be briefed, anyway.”
“Myriad has been guarding a girl they’ve already signed as if she’s...well, as important as you. And she just might be. There are rumors she’s infected with...” She shudders as she leans in to whisper a single word, “Penumbra.”
I flip through mental files, find no reference. “What is—”
She slaps a hand over my mouth and shakes her head, her eyes wide as saucers.
All right, all right. I hold my hands up, all innocence. Top secret topic. Got it. “Why don’t we call it the Bra?”
Her hand falls away, a half smile teasing one side of her mouth. “The Bra is a highly contagious disease we’ve only ever dealt with in rumor-form. There has never been a breakout. Half our population believes it’s a scare tactic while the other half believes it’s a time bomb waiting to blow. Humans are, supposedly, the only ones susceptible, but the infected can develop the abilities of an Abrogate.”