Abrogate—the highest rank of General in Myriad. My counterpart. I draw Light—or rather, I will—and Abrogates drain it.
“Which camp are you?” I ask.
“Time bomb. The Book of the Law predicts the worlds as we know them will one day end. What better way than this? But that’s another story for another time.”
Maintaining a neutral expression requires a massive effort. The worlds are going to end? This is the first I’ve heard of any upcoming disasters!
What makes you think the changes will be disastrous?
The disembodied voice I heard the day I died, springing from the back of my mind. This is the Grid. My link to the heart of Troika. I’m certain now.
Deep breath in, out. “If the worlds as we know them change, they could change for the better.” Like...peace could be achieved.
Her head cants to the side. “Very true. But because we’ve never dealt with this disease, we have no definite cure. However, we are certain Conduits are the key. If Pen—the Bra is total darkness, then the Light must chase it away.”
Cold fingers of dread creep down my spine. With Princess Mariée MIA, Troikan powers that be will look to me for Penumbra containment, won’t they? No wonder I’ll be debriefed.
I’m supposed to save us. Me. All by my lonesome.
I’m not ready.
I’ll never be ready. But I’m going to help, anyway.
“What causes a...Bra outbreak?” I ask. “Why can’t other Troikans wield the necessary amount of Light?”
“Have you heard of Torchlight?” When I shake my head no, she adds, “For us, Light is power. Our version of electricity. If a spirit is hit with too much electricity, his body shuts down. Torchlight is the spiritual equivalent.”
Stomach cramp. There’s so much I don’t know—so much I need to know if I’m going to survive. “This war,” I say with a sigh. “The realms have been fighting for centuries. Do people even remember why they’re fighting?”
“Of course. Right versus wrong. Values versus anarchy.” She nudges my shoulder, saying, “Speaking of fights. I heard about your run-in with Elizabeth.”
Recruit my grandmother to my peace plan—strike one. “She’s angry with me. And I get it. I do. But I don’t want to fight her. I don’t want to fight anyone. Why can’t we all just get along?”
“Easy. If we don’t fight for what’s right, we’ll be overpowered by what’s wrong.”
Okay. Strike two.
She checks a wristwatch she isn’t wearing and gives me a gentle shove toward the door. “Enough chatter. We should go.”
“Fine,” I grumble.
We exit my apartment. The hallway overflows with trainees just hanging out and talking. Most are wearing armor while a few are draped in robes. Everyone stops whatever they’re doing to bow...to Meredith?
Ooo-kay. Here, we are all equals in terms of love and respect, but this is a show of respect for her position as Leader. The fact that I’m with her—or maybe the threats Levi voiced last night have spread like wildfire—earns me a handful of smiles and even more waves. No one glares at me. A few girls gaze at my dress with longing.
We take two Gates to the Temple of Temples. There’s a crowd, but this one is much thinner, allowing me to note details previously missed. The courtyard teems with an abundance of roses in an array of colors. No petal is dry or withered, no leaf droops. The stems have no thorns.
The next chamber is the Waft of Incense, and I suddenly understand the reason for the name. A heavenly fragrance saturates the air. With every breath, I’m certain I’m inhaling pure life.
Fourteen men and women stand before the gold brick wall guarding the entrance. I scan each face, taking the measure of my peers, and scout out every possible exit.
Work now, relax later.
The fourteen represent a mix of nationalities and appear to be average Troikans, but they are the only ones wearing turquoise robes with short metal links sewn into the shoulders. Levi is among them.
Fourteen, a multiple of seven. A double portion. In numerology, it means deliverance from pain, problem and panic.
Long ago, when people married, they celebrated the wedding feast for fourteen days.
To the right of the fourteen, eight people form a line. Eight is the atomic number of oxygen. Meredith and I take a spot at the end, making us nine and ten. How appropriate.
“Spine straight, shoulders squared,” she says as we make our way forward. “You’re about to meet our mighty Generals.”
Nervousness pricks at me. Will I be rejected or welcomed?
When we reach the front, Meredith takes care of introductions. Just when I think I’ll never be able to remember their names, the Grid kicks in. Agape, Ying Wo, Tasanee, Bahari, Mykhail, John, Spike, Alejandro, Marcos, Jane, Chanel, Luciana, Shamus and of course, Levi. They hail from all over the globe, and they welcome me as they welcomed everyone, with genuine warmth and affection. I’m hugged, patted and teased about my obsession with numbers.
“You’re going to do good things here,” Alejandro tells me. I kinda sorta want to stare at him for the rest of eternity. He is beauty personified. Dark hair, dark eyes, dark skin. The poster boy for perfection.
“I hope so,” I say. I really do.
I’m practically floating as Meredith escorts me into the courtyard, where she introduces me to the eight who stood in line with me. The other newbies.
Eight—looks like the symbol for infinity. A stop sign has eight sides. With me, we are nine. According to yoga, a human body has nine doors—two eyes, two ears, the mouth, two nostrils, and the openings for...um, waste removal and the one for procreation. A cat has nine lives. Happiness is found on cloud nine.
The newbies are Raanan—the guy who’d accompanied Elizabeth to the manna restaurant—Fatima, Winifred, Nico, Rebel, Hoshi, Sawyer and Clementine. They, too, come from all over the globe. Thankfully the Grid allows us to understand each other, no matter the language we speak.
At six—and a half, foot stomp—Fatima is the youngest, killed in a house fire. At seventy-three, Nico is the oldest. I feel like such a creep for thinking this but...he’s hot.
To my delight, I’m not the only one with odd hair. Clementine has pink ringlets, Nico’s mass of curls are fire-engine red and Hoshi’s straight-as-a-pen locks are the color of plums, dark with purple undertones.
Everyone but Raanan offers an enthusiastic greeting; he remains mute, his expression contemplative. Despite him, I’m relieved by my easy camaraderie with the others, considering we are strangers. Strangers in a strange land flock together, I guess.
“By the way some of the others have been talking about you,” Fatima says with an innocent grin, “I expected you to have horns, fangs and a forked tail.”
“I know, right?” Rebel, who is fourteen, playfully elbows the little girl in the side. “I’m actually megadisappointed.”
Raanan frowns as Hoshi and Clementine jump up and clap.
“He’s here!” Clementine squeals. “Someone pinch me. No, don’t! If this is a dream, I don’t want to wake up.”
“I’ve been praying for another glimpse of him,” Hoshi admits.
I glance over my shoulder to discover...Victor Prince. He’s involved in a deep conversation with a girl I’ve never met, and he hasn’t yet noticed his admirers.
My good mood deflates like a balloon with a hole. Days have passed since Archer’s death. My sweet, lovable Archer.
I haven’t begun to heal.