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Chapter 30

We headed farther away from the main battle where the sounds were only muffled now. Quite a few blocks separated us from the heart of it . . . a perfect place for him to finally kill me, even though I had a notion he wasn’t planning on it. Yet.

Every once and while we would have to press up against a building and wait while soldiers—from both sides—passed by us. The battle seemed to be in chaos now, taking no form or shape, just shooting whenever you got the chance and whenever you crossed someone who wanted you dead.

I limped behind Dersa, followed by his little convoy of men, down a side street. He stopped before a mouth of an alleyway and turned to face me again. The cold air seemed to sting my skin as a bead of sweat rolled down the side of my face. I was running low on energy. I had a strange desire to put my head down on the dirty sidewalk and take a nap. My hand stung and my knee throbbed, both wanting medical attention.

Dersa stared at me, not moving or saying anything, and frankly, I was getting tired of his rare streak of patience—where he had none to begin with.

“So, you wanted to show me a sidewalk, huh?” I rolled my eyes. “How interesting.

He seemed to ignore my sarcastic statement, but stayed silent no longer. “Reese, you know what I want, more than anything. That’s not hard for you to figure out.”

“Well, what you want isn’t here,” I said, “and it’s going to stay that way.”

Dersa chuckled, afterwards taking a deep breath. “I was lucky to come across you so quickly. I was ready to go searching for you if need be, but it was fortunate we found each other.”

I snorted. “Maybe for you.”

“Yes, for me.” Dersa dropped his gaze and fished around in his pocket before producing a cigarette between his fingers. He slipped it in between his lips and bent his head, flicking the lighter to come alive. The flame wavered for a moment in the breeze, but it finally found its mark and he clicked it off. Dersa took a long, silent drag before blowing it out through his nose. He cracked his neck. I repeatedly wished I could crack his neck for him.

“Would you just get on with it already?” I said. “I just aged a year. What do you want to show me?”

He blew out more smoke and finally looked up at me. “Fine, you wanna know what I want? I want you to bring West, to me.”

I burst out laughing before he barely had the last word out. He was actually crazy! I really wondered what was going through his mind. Why he would even say such an idiotic thing? Though, seeing his serious face caused my laughter to be cut short. He looked like he wanted to punch me again so I stopped and composed myself.

“What makes you think I would do such a thing? Seriously?

He concentrated on his cigarette a bit longer before conjuring up a small smile upon his lips. There was something he wasn’t telling me and it made my heart beater faster. Then he said it.

“Well let me ask you this, Reese. Do you take your brother’s life seriously?” He was mocking my tone that I had given him, but that thought had already been erased.

The blood drained from my face—I could feel it, leaving my skin cold and clammy. I took a step forward and reached for my gun but large hands were already on my arms, holding me back and keeping me for reaching for my weapons. I tried lunging for him but they held me in place.

“What did you do to him!” I screamed, my voice cracking. He didn’t even flinch as I made another go at him, almost coming right up to his face. I couldn’t even think about Ethan being around this—lunatic, without wanting to vomit. Rage controlled me, and I couldn’t seem to shake it off. How could I?

Dersa calmly dropped his cigarette onto the sidewalk and didn’t bothered to smother it. He backed up a few steps and motioned his men to bring me forward. I almost wanted to resist, afraid of what I was going to see, but as I came to the mouth of the alley, I saw that there were more of his men down it, near the end, under a pale street lamp.

There were four of them, but two were holding a fifth person.

Smaller and lean, his blonde hair was matted to his head with sweat and blood, seeping from a cut somewhere under his mop of hair. His hands were tied behind him and the man standing directly over his shoulder held a gag in his mouth, rendering him silent, and the second man standing at his side was holding a steady knife to his pale throat.

I struggled against the men holding onto me again with every ounce of strength I could muster up. The anger boiling inside me was overwhelming. I could feel it controlling me. Making my blood feel like fire. My muscles strained so hard they seemed to want to burst from my skin.

I closed my eyes suddenly, not wanting to turn into that person who acted on rage. I couldn’t lose control now, not when Ethan needed me most.

So I pushed away those feelings that would cause me to do something I would regret. I just had to keep them away until Ethan was safe, then anything was optional.

“So, Reese.” I opened my eyes and Dersa was standing before me with a smug face. “You have a choice. You can either bring West to me, or I kill your brother.” He stated it so plainly, like either choice would make him happy. “Mia was so kind to give me a description of him before you killed her. Even after she’s gone, she still haunts you.”

My heart was in pain more than anything. More than my old knee wound, and more than my bleeding hand that was now hanging limply at my side. It was like a knife tearing down the middle of my heart, and I didn’t have a choice of what side to choose. To me there was no choice. It was like choosing between the sun and the air. Both were needed for me to survive.

The hands disappeared from my arms, but I stayed where I was, no longer fighting. If I did attack them, Ethan would be dead.

“Here’s your chance, Reese. Shoot me.” He spread his arms wide and smiled. My fingers itched to reach for my pistol, to make one smooth motion, not hesitating to take him away from my life forever. I looked over his shoulder again, and my heart broke into a million pieces. Ethan’s cheeks were smeared with his own tears and I couldn’t take my eyes off him. I wanted to run to him, to hold him in my arms again and tell him it was all going to be okay.

Dersa dropped his arms. “I didn’t think so,” he said.

“How long do I have?” I asked, not looking at him.

“Let’s just say, every hour past sunset, your brother will become more and more uncomfortable.”

I clenched my teeth but said nothing, not wanting to give away that I wasn’t planning on going along with his perfect plan. I had no idea what I was going to do, but I had to do something. Dersa had no right to treat people his way; like they were pawns in this gruesome game of his. But Dersa had made a big mistake.

His mistake was messing with me.

I turned away from him, giving Ethan a small, reassuring smile, then turned my back on them. As soon as I disappeared around the corner I went into a flat out run. My knee was no longer bothering me, probably taking the hint that I wasn’t putting up with anything tonight—or maybe I was so angry I couldn’t feel it anymore. I ran like I was running from all my problems, but the truth was I was running towards the only person I needed right now. Who I needed more than anything.

The streets were still silent. I was too far back from downtown to see anyone yet. But the thing was—I wanted to see someone. I’d been boiling for the last hour and I was ready to explode. I wanted to take it out on someone on the same side as that horrible creature. My adrenaline pumped along with my frustration and anger. It fueled me and I was no longer tired. It felt like the breeze was pushing me forward, down the unknown roads towards whatever waited for me at the end. I wondered where Seth was right now, and what they did to him when they had taken Ethan. I needed to find him, too.

The cold air blew past me as I sped down a narrow road with a few street lamps hanging from above. My hair was streaming behind me and my shotgun rested against my back, ready to be used when I called for it.

An intersection was coming up ahead of me, and I could make out the shapes of men in the dull light. They were United. They were firing upon people on the other side of the street, the shots ringing off the bare walls like inside of a tin can. They all had their backs turned away from me, not worrying about someone coming up behind them.

When I was two hundred yards away, and I didn’t slow. And not at one hundred yards either. Or fifty. Forty. There were seven of them—and just one of me. I pulled my shotgun over my shoulder as I ran on.

The first three were the easiest to take down. I came like a shadow. There was no time for them to register that there was someone behind them until they were already shot. After the first three were down—and just as I turned to face the next—the soldier grabbed my shotgun with his hand. I quickly brought my elbow to his face, hearing a sickening crack—wincing when I did—and watched him crumple to the ground.

The remaining soldiers finally understood they were under attack, and stopped firing across the street. Instead, they turned their attention on me, slight shock in their eyes for someone sneaking up behind him.

I swung my shotgun around onto my back and grabbed my pistol from its holster. My hand was extremely stiff but my fingers were still able to move. I pulled the trigger twice and two bodies dropped like broken sacks. The last man was already almost on top of me with his gun being raised, so I skirted to the side, quickly dodging his firing gun— almost feeling the rippling air breezing through my hair as the bullet sped past. I spun around and fired before he knew what happened.

My chest heaved as I stood there, surrounded by the men I just killed. I felt like a killer and it put a bad taste in my mouth. I was glad my stomach was empty, for if it wasn’t I would have hurled. I clipped my pistol back into its holster, rubbing my finger over the black handle, thinking of my dad again. It wasn’t right that he wasn’t here, that Ethan and I had to go through this without him. That we had to go through any of this.

There was movement across the street, behind the barriers. The US soldiers taking cover, were now standing and stared at me with wide eyes. Out of all of them, my eyes picked out Cruz near the middle. One side of his face was bloody but that didn’t hinder him from smiling.

He suddenly through up his arms and yelled, “What the heck, smalls?” He dropped them and shrugged. “You’re making me look bad.”

I couldn’t help but laugh at his craziness. Cruz hopped over the barrier and made his way across the street and I met him halfway. He give me a quick hug, not wanting to be to sentimental in front of the other men; it was such a guy thing to do. But I wasn’t going to tease him about it, I was just glad he was all right.

“I’ve been worried about you.” He nudged me in the shoulder. “When I woke up, it was already too late to go back for you.”

“I figured, it’s okay. Um—” I looked into his eyes but I couldn’t hold them for long. I was practically shaking with anticipation, but not the good kind.

“What’s wrong?”

I just wanted this horrible night to be over, and the worse part was that it felt like it was only beginning.

“They have Ethan.”

His cheerful face turned into something that would’ve usually made me shrink away.

“Is it the same man that gave you trouble before?”

I could only nod, and Cruz seemed to sense my hatred for him. He fingered his rifle. “Why would he keep him and let you walk away?” he asked.

“He wants West. But you know I can’t let him go. We just . . . have to think of something.” I was at a loss of what to do. I looked around and my hope was dwindling. How was I ever going to pull this off? Get Ethan back without giving up West? It seemed impossible. “Have you heard anything about Seth?”

“No, nothing. Look, let’s head south and maybe we’ll find one of them on the way. We’ll get him back, I promise.”

“Yeah, all right.” I nodded, thankful he had at least some sort of idea of what to do.

The five remaining US soldiers came into step behind us as we left the intersection and immersed ourselves into the dark streets again. We dropped back about a block from the main line and started south. It was still slow going with people rushing past us from all directions, and every now and then we would have to take cover from an incoming mortar. I just kept my eyes on Cruz’s back as we ran from street to street. An hour past like it was five minutes, and we still hadn’t come across either of them, but we were also getting closer to the center of the battle.

Before we were about to cross another street, everything then became quiet. Guns ceased to fire on both sides and Cruz glanced back to us with a bewildered expression.

“Why has it stopped?” I asked.

He shook his head. “I don’t know. The only reason I can think of is that the they’re trying to regroup before they try to overrun us.”

“Then why did we stop firing too?”

“Probably because we also need to regroup.” He gave me a sly smile before heading off again. I looked across the lines and feebly wished they would just leave us be.

But of course, that would be letting us off to easy.

And one thing I learned from the last few months . . . you have to fight for what you want.

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