Chapter One

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Each rocky step sends a jagged heat up my heels. I grimace. How many others have fled through this tunnel, seeking freedom, their bare feet bleeding because their shoes were taken? How many others who recently discovered they had powers, before almost being turned into monsters?

Real monsters, with strange eyes, pointed ears, and unbelievable powers.

Those powers aren't a delusion or a hallucination, though I wish they were. Then I'd be back home, teasing my little sister while swimming laps around her. Doing homework I hated. Getting chided for not paying enough attention in class.

Almost anything would be better than what's happened to me over the past few days. But there's no mistaking I'm here, struggling to put one aching foot in front of the other. At least we're almost out of the darkness. The cave's entrance looms closer with each tired step, the sunlight glaring from outside of the tunnel. Light reflects off the damp sandstone walls. I barely sense the dampness with my power, but it's there, faint. I'm pretty sure the mist from the Special Forces grenades muted my senses.

I suck in my breath, hold it, and then slowly let it back out.

Why didn't the Community tell us about the beasts? About powers?

I still can't believe we have powers.

I don't think Erin can, either. She stays close, a little behind me, as if I'm protecting her from whatever's ahead. I wish the entrance was closer.

Everything I thought I knew... a lie.

Was there ever a plague to begin with? Theophrenia... did it ever exist? My sister, Nathalie, is still in the Community. If she takes the Health Scan, will they send her to the same facility?

My heart skips a beat. Panic mounts in my throat. I can't let her be sent there. Those monsters...

I shake my head fiercely, as if it will shake away the terrible memories the way I might shake extra water from my hair after getting out of a pool.

If only forgetting those memories was that simple.

Even now, the pinch of the collars they stuck on us to block our powers—at least until Luuk broke them—sends another spidering flurry of nerves down my back. How did this happen?

Erin slips her hand around my wrist and gives it a quick squeeze before withdrawing into herself again. A lump forms in my throat. It's like Erin knows I need reassurance that we're going to get out of here alive.

Not all of us did.

Behind us, Nia's large, muscular presence is meager protection. Sure, she has enhanced strength, but how will that help us stand against Special Forces? Her powers didn't help Anitra.

The crack of the gunshot is lodged in my mind. The stain of blood where the bullet struck. Everything from the past few hours.

I should focus on what's happening now.

Next to our guide, Luuk's gait is stilted, never mind he's the only one wearing armor. He helped us escape. He's also the one who knew Anitra longest.

Maybe he's trying not to think of her, either.

Finally, we reach the entrance. Our guide holds out his arms, presenting a valley. Red mountains guard one side of the valley, capped with snow, and hazy with a late, burning summer heat. A winding, treacherous trail of dirt and rock weaves through green vegetation down to a settlement surrounded by a tall, chain-link fence. Rolls of barbed wire top the fence.

I bristle. Is this a military encampment? There are plain, straightforward buildings near the front, though swaths of green land spill out from behind the miniature town. A few of the distant fields are unusually red and purple.

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