The scentless, clear liquid splatters on the wall in a uniform circle. The twelfth circle of liquid acid I’ve sprayed in this exact spot. We didn’t get to do it every day, as I wanted to, since they’ve been sending a patrol team of agents out the last few days. The wall appears completely unfazed by our efforts. We can only hope the solution I designed is actually doing what it’s supposed to do, as it’s too risky to test the area. If they notice anything wrong with the wall, they may post someone out here twenty-four seven.
For fourteen days, absolutely nothing special has happened. We haven’t busted into the complex and released Payton; we haven’t been able to do anything. This routine of ours is so anticlimactic, it alone is driving me further into my insanity. The only pastime I have is experimenting with the chemicals I apprehended from the castle, trying to design weapons with them.
This has snagged both Kadence’s and Cadmar’s interests, as well, giving us all something to focus on, besides the looming wall we haven’t gotten through, the constant thoughts of Payton and Reiley missing from our group. Kadence took on the task of keeping Reiley updated, and I sometimes see her smile, or even chuckle, when texting her. She just says it seems like Reiley is doing better, but if there’s the chance they’re both finding some amount of joy, then at least something good has come from Reiley going off with her mom.
A particular gas I’ve been working to conceal in a canister has me finding small amounts of purpose, of mental release. Without going out for fights every few nights—now that Cadmar brought enough money along to throw around—I have nowhere to hone my pent-up anger and frustration at the shit situation we’re in. At the fact that I haven’t seen my girlfriend in three weeks. The fact that her birthday is less than a month away and I may not get to celebrate it with her. I may never see her again if this fails.
The walkie-talkie crackling with static and incoherent noises from Cadmar at my hip pulls me from my thoughts of despair. “Move—” only the one word comes through from Cadmar’s end before it crackles again.
Kadence’s wide-eyed gaze snaps to mine. My heart races when I gesture for her to bring me her stuff. She rushes to me and I place our equipment in my pack, after making sure the spray bottles aren’t leaking. That would be a disaster in itself. After looking in both directions to verify the coast is clear, I grab her elbow and haul her across the street without saying a word.
“Shouldn’t we radio back?” she whispers, as if someone can hear us.
I glance over my shoulder. My heart stops at the sight of two agents rounding the corner at the far end of the wall behind us, then slams back into motion. The second the agents spot us they start running.
We round the corner down another deserted, dark road in the complete opposite direction we need to be going, but I rush on, keeping hold of her trembling arm. What? I glance sideways at her to see the fear in her eyes. She’s scared of the agents. I’ve never seen this girl afraid of anything. Those agents did a number on her at the castle, so much so that she’s terrified of them.
“We’re okay,” I assure her, even though I’m not sure. “They may not be following us,” I add, but don’t believe it.
“Of course, they are,” she contradicts, her voice trembling.
Our quickened footsteps and heaving breaths are the only sounds accompanying us on the abandoned sidewalk. Tall buildings and dark back roads we could probably hide down surround us, but I don’t want to risk us getting caught in a dead end. There are only two of them, but they could have called for backup when they saw us.
“Can you—me?” Cadmar’s voice crackles through the radio.
Before I can grab it from my belt to respond, a voice booms behind us, ricocheting off the buildings. “Stop right there!”
“Run, don’t look back!” I urge Kadence.
She doesn’t hesitate as we both quicken to a sprint, me keeping her arm in my grasp all the while. Adrenaline pumps through my veins, not out of fear but the thought of encountering some action, of getting to kill one of these monsters who probably know exactly where my girl is in that facility.
But that’s irrational. If this is going to work, we can’t be captured.
The footfalls behind us come closer and closer. We’ve almost reached the next block where we’ll be back on a busy road, which probably won’t make much of a difference, but we’ll do what we can. We have to try.
Kay pants harder and I slow my pace, wrapping an arm around her to take most of her weight when I remember she still has an injury. The radio crackles again, but I can’t even register if Cadmar says anything. When the crackling stops, I realize there’s no longer the sound of footsteps pursuing us.
Would they shoot us? My stomach clenches at the thought.
Right before we round the corner, something stings my neck. Kadence screams out when the first shock moves through her. This horrible, overwhelming pain is what she and Reiley experienced. I grit my teeth against it, not allowing it to send me to the ground. It takes all my concentration to keep my arm wrapped around her jerking body, taking all her weight.
My steps are labored and slow as I drag us while shock after shock moves through me. When I finally get around the corner, I use my last bit of strength to pinch the small piece of metal in my neck and rip it out. After tossing the miniature metal dart aside, I collapse to the ground, my elbows slamming on the cement as Kay’s twitching body falls next to me.
Building lights shine in front of us, only a few people walking on the sidewalk, a couple cars zooming by. My vision blurs, making it hard to focus on the car that squeals around the corner and screeches to a stop in front of us. I was expecting the agents to be dragging us away, but here’s the cavalry storming out of the car.
Cadmar towers over us, scooping Kadence up in his arms as if she weighs nothing. She’s no longer twitching, but she’s unconscious.
He meets my gaze. “Can you get to the car?”
I nod, even though I’m unsure my limbs still work. My muscles protest while I move from the ground to all fours, and finally to an upright position. Cadmar already has Kay in the car, my door open, and himself behind the wheel before I’m even to the passenger side. Once I’m in, he’s speeding away into the small bit of traffic on the road.
I’ve slowed my breathing, my muscles finally beginning to relax while he drives around the city. “Where are we going?” I ask, after fifteen minutes of what appears to be aimless wondering.
“I can’t have them following us back to the motel,” he tells me.
I swing around in my seat as if expecting a hot pursuit on our tail, but nothing’s there. Kadence is now curled in a ball with her head resting against the window. Everything in me wants to make sure she’s okay, but she needs her space for a lot more than just physical recovery.
When I turn back in my seat, Cadmar glances sideways at me, the dim light from the gauges casting shadows across his face. “That was too close.”
“What happened? Did you not spot them on the surveillance?”
“I did.” He focuses on the road, his hands twisting on the wheel. “I couldn’t get through on the radio after trying a few times. They did something to scramble the signal, which means they were expecting you. They’ve caught on, but whether they realize what you’re actually doing or they just think you’re snooping around is hard to say. That was still too close. I shouldn’t have risked you two going out after the patrols they’ve been sending out.”
“We have no other choice,” I shout, hands curling in my lap. “Risk or no risk, this is our only plan for getting her out. We can’t just give up.”
“We aren’t giving up,” he states, pulling into the lot of our motel.
We unload, Kadence refusing any help and going straight for the room. Cadmar and I follow behind her. After unloading my pack, I’m too strung out, unable to relax, unable to get past what just happened. I take up my favorite pacing area in the room while Kadence silently curls in a ball on her bed and Cadmar leans against the desk, arms crossed over his chest, watching Kay.
“You okay?” he asks her in an apprehensive tone.
She nods before meeting his gaze. “How did you get to us before they did?” she asks, tone barely above a whisper.
“I gave them a taste of their own medicine. Got them with a stun gun from behind.” His eyes sparkle with the delight of vengeance, making me wish I could get a taste of that, too. Torture a couple of these horrible people for the things they’ve done to all of us.
She nods again. I keep pacing, trying to come up with something brilliant to convince Cadmar to at least let me go out again. “With the chaos of everything in the last few weeks, you never did tell us how you escaped the database,” she says, her voice clear now. This has me stopping, glancing between the two. “We thought you were dead. How did you escape them?” There’s a hint of a challenge in her tone, but it seems she needs this answer as a distraction more than anything else.
Cadmar shifts his feet around but holds her gaze. “I made a deal with Scarlet after she was so kind to kill all the agents before they could kill me. I’m not sure why, but she didn’t seem too happy with allowing the other agents to kill me. We left the facility together and stopped at my place in Nevada, which is where I left her.”
We all know the next question. Kadence tugs on her braid, considering him before asking, “What sort of deal can be made with that woman?”
“For now, I’ve convinced her to let me take care of you girls after I get Payton out. She doesn’t have to worry about any of you anymore and can go about her life as she pleases. But… she wants me to stay in contact and find her when you’re all of legal age.”
“Of course, she does,” she deadpans.
My shoulders relax a millimeter at this news because it isn’t nearly as bad as I imagined, but Kadence continues scrutinizing him with disbelief in her gaze. Why would she believe him? In a life woven together by lies and deceit that have completely unraveled in the last couple months, how could you bring yourself to trust anyone?
While they do their stare-down, I resume my pacing. There has to be a way we can keep moving. The solution is doing its job; I could tell by the texture of the wall that the acid is getting through. There’s no way to tell how far it’s penetrated without digging it out, but we can’t have too much further to go.
“Stop pacing,” Cadmar snaps and I stop to glare at him. He’s lucky I haven’t punched a hole in the wall already. He holds his hands up. “Just calm down. There’s another way we can get her.”
“I would have to take a look in their system again, to make sure nothing changed,” Kadence supplies.
Something about this makes my stomach churn. “What are you talking about?” I demand, glancing between them, but they just stare at each other.
Kadence finally meets my gaze, as if they just decided she would be the one to give me the bad news. “When I initially hacked in at the database, we found that they have a very big mission planned for Payton… and the other teens they’re training.” She pauses, glancing at Cadmar, while my blood becomes ice in my veins.
“They plan to have her and this group of kids take out some very important political figures,” Cadmar adds, making everything in me seize up. Those sick bastards. I knew they wanted her for a reason, but strictly to do their dirty work? My hands fist at my sides when he goes on. “This may be the only time they let her out of that facility. We could intercept her before she carries out her assignment.”
I want to be pissed about this plan, because that puts Payton that much closer to taking another person’s life, but it could actually work. “How long until this ‘mission’?” I ask.
“Like I said,” Kay says, shifting on the bed, “I’ll have to look and see if they’ve changed it.”
We wait for a small eternity while she gets back into that part of their system. I keep up my pacing until she sucks in a sharp breath, stopping me in my tracks again.
“What is it?” Cadmar demands, standing from the chair he took up while she was working.
“They changed the date.” She swallows and clears her throat as my stomach fills with dread. “To April fifteenth.”
“Shit,” Cadmar spits.
Yelling multiple expletives, I slam my fist into the wall four times, the bloodied plaster cracking beneath it.