Never Fade Page 75

“Goddamn,” he said, “you are annoying. Win, and maybe I’ll think about it.”

I took a few steps back, closing my eyes. How hard would she have to hit me to knock me out with one blow?

“Bring him in!” Seeing our reactions, Knox laughed. “What? You actually thought you’d fight each other? God, that’s hilarious.”

Vida spun back toward me to the demolished opening of the building. I didn’t; I knew by the look on her face that whatever it was, it was bad.

There was a whisper from above, quickly stifled as new sounds replaced it. A groan, the long, low purr of something heavy being dragged against the ground.

A line of sweat slipped down my back at the grunts of effort, the throaty scream, the jangle of what could only be chains.

The mind is a strange thing, mine stranger than most. It’s selective about what it remembers and even pickier about which memories remain as clear and cutting as a shard of glass. Those were the ones that stayed with you, that a single sound or smell could drag out. I had forgotten so much about my life before the soldiers had picked me up, but I would be damned if I ever managed to banish one single black memory from camp.

There was no forgetting the sorting, the test I almost failed.

There was no forgetting the look on Sam’s face as I wiped myself clear from her memory.

There was no forgetting the gleam of black guns in the summer sun or the snow falling softly on the electric fence.

There was no forgetting the long line of dangerous ones chained together, their faces hidden beneath leather muzzles.

“What the… What the actual f**k?” Vida breathed, her hand reaching out to yank me toward her, behind her.

There he was, pale as a new morning sky, dressed in the tattered remains of camo pants and a shirt that hung off his sunken chest. On first glance, I thought he must have been my age, but it was impossible to tell. He looked shrunken and soft now, but the way his pants were being held up by what looked like a plastic bag threaded through the belt loops made me think he had once been much bigger.

Knox had made sure to wrap him up real pretty in a series of robes and chains. There was a bandanna over his mouth, clenched between yellow teeth, and all I could think was, I wish they had covered his eyes instead.

Rimmed with crust and lined with bruises, his eyes pierced through the shadows between us, black and bottomless. He was looking at us, straight through us, into us.

I knew what Olivia had been calling out to me now. I could hear her voice ringing high and clear in my mind.

Red. Red, Ruby, Red.


THERE ARE NIGHTMARES, and then there are nightmares.

The Red lowered his face, a thick curtain of long, dark bangs falling over his brows. But still, it didn’t hide his eyes. They watched us through the gaps between his tangled curls. His body gave a sharp jerk, like his muscles were seizing up, and he blinked to ride the spasm out. When his eyes opened again, they were wider, glassy—but another jerk tightened his body, and the hint of humanity was gone.

“Ladies, may I introduce you to Twitch.” Knox looked like he was enjoying our stunned expressions. “I picked him up in Nashville after he bolted from the PSF holding his leash. He was stumbling around, jerking like some tweaker. He’s come a long way since I started training him.” Knox waved a hand toward a kid who, with a look of undeniable terror on his face, walked up and began to cut through the Red’s ropes with a knife.

“I think you guys are gonna get along real damn nice,” Knox called. “Have fun.”

I don’t know that I’ve ever seen two teenage boys run faster than they did once the last metal chain was in a puddle around Twitch’s feet. He took one step forward, walking through the wall of flames the trash cans provided. A ripple went through the glowing circle, dimming just for an instant, then flaring up to a blinding white.

“That ass-sucking mofo,” Vida muttered. She turned to look at me. “He actually sicced a firebomber on us.”

Twitch made good on his name. His head cocked to the right, then jerked to the left in a way that looked painful. In the moments—those precious half seconds—between movements, the only noticeable change was the flash of something like confusion in his eyes.

Knox put his fingers in his mouth and whistled. Then there was no more thinking.

Vida and I dove away from each other as the first kick of fire jumped from the flaming garbage cans to the ground between us. I hit the ground and rolled, trying to put out the smoldering edges of my right pant leg. The burn on my palm felt like it was about to burst open with a blast of fire on its own.

The air above my head grew hot—hotter—then deadly, eating the oxygen and forcing me to roll again. The fire in the barrel I had crashed into flooded over the edge of the metal can and came pouring toward me. It raced along the cement toward us.

The Red lifted a hand in front of him and snapped his fingers. A burst of flame appeared between his curved fingers, and he lobbed it my way like a ball.

Get up, get up, get up, my mind screamed. The sweat on my palms slid against the loose rubble. I pushed myself up and looked for Vida.

She was running, her arms pumping at her sides, charging for the Red’s center.

“No!” I cried. The fires from the garbage cans rose up again, crossing the circle to connect in a series of bridges. Vida hissed in pain as a whip of fire branched out and caught her across the shoulder blades.

For an instant, I really thought Vida was going to charge straight through the lines of fire in front of her; there were only two between her and the Red, but they were there, burning, golden red, lighting her skin to a warm, earthy brown.

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