Chapter Forty-Three

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When my eyes opened again, the air was cooler.

A slight breeze fell upon my skin, from somewhere that I couldn't see. It sent goosebumps down my arms and legs.

I tried moving an inch. Nothing gave.

I was strapped down. I could feel the rough leather digging into my skin. It was tied so tight that even the smallest movement made it feel like my circulation was being cut off.

The edge of a face appeared above me. I couldn't see who it was, but I struggled against the straps a bit more in fear.

Then, a soft hand was placed against my bicep. "Honey...like I said, calm down...nothing's happening to you."

I stopped my struggle as I recognized the familiar voice. It was that woman. What had she said her name was? She was the one who'd told me...she told me that I was...

In the Equator.

My breath caught.

I stared at the metal wall as I tried to breathe normally. It looked completely normal, nothing out of the ordinary. I felt the straps on my arms, legs, and forehead loosen as the woman next to me released them. "I'm sorry about all of this...," she muttered, like they were simply an everyday annoyance. She struggled to pull all of them away and shove them to the floor. "It was a necessary precaution in case you attacked me the moment you woke up."

I sat up on the bed and pushed a strand of hair out of my eyes. I was light-headed and desperate to get out of the room. It felt like a trap, despite what the woman was saying. I couldn't keep calm because all I could think about was being shot with a tranquilizer dart. Twice.

"What do you want from me?" I asked her. I found myself glaring.

"Someone will inform you of everything in a couple minutes...let's just get you up and to the meeting area," the woman said, ignoring my glare. She smiled at me like I wasn't five seconds away from attacking her. "My name's Jasmine, by the way."

She walked to the metal door, gesturing for me to follow her. I got off the bed and went along with whatever was happening. Usually, I wouldn't be so obedient in a situation such as this one, but a part of me was extremely curious. Maybe she wasn't lying.

Maybe this was the Equator...

And if so, what did that mean for all of us? Were we finally safe?

I stopped myself from getting my hopes up. Hope was a dangerous thing; it convinced you that everything would be okay before breaking your heart. I'd learned over time to stop trusting hope.

We walked down a hall and took a right into an identical one. Here, everything felt bland. The black designs were replaced by plain metal walls. Rather than just gray, the paneling varied between dark bronze and silver as we walked. Finally, Jasmine paused at a door that looked a lot like the one I'd just come out from.

"I'm pretty sure they're all waiting for you in there...," she said, as her hand gripped the handle. "Please, do not attack any of my colleagues, I promise, it will not end well for you." The threat was laced with possibility – I knew she'd hold her end if it came to it.

She opened the door to a metal room with six people standing in it. Two of them were guards, holding guns and standing on opposite sides of the room, while the other four were familiar faces that I couldn't be happier to see.

"Calestia," January said ecstatically before running over and hugging me. I wrapped my arms around her tightly, squeezing my eyes shut. Just seeing her made the tension in my shoulders disappear...if I wasn't alone...

"You're going to suffocate her," Jadyn commented as January let go and Jadyn gave me a quick hug before facing me with a grim smile.

"What's going on? Is everyone okay?" I asked, feeling my excitement fading. Asten and Mace, the other two in the room, looked just as lost as I did. I met Asten's gaze and he seemed to know what I was thinking. Could these people be trusted?

He shook his head slightly as if to answer that question.

Loud footsteps echoed in from the hallway. Seconds later, a man stepped in the room. He had an auburn buzz cut. His skin was tan with many scars slashing across his biceps and collarbone. I didn't want to know where he'd gotten them.

"Welcome. Glad you all could make it," the man said, his voice an authoritative monotone. He crossed his muscular arms, making him look even more like a stereotypical military general. The only difference between him and one was how slim he was, even with his gigantic muscles.

I was going to point out that we didn't choose to come, but he continued talking. "My name's Agent Mika. You all were scavenged from the Wild by our own, and because we did you that favor, you now owe us one."

Asten raised his eyebrows and cut Agent Mika off. "The Wild?" he questioned, a skeptical look in his eyes. I'd heard the term used before by Jasmine.

"The Wild is what the Equator likes to call everything that's uncivilized territory. Meaning everywhere except the Equator. But don't worry, you'll learn a lot more about this in training." He stared at us, making sure we all understood. I doubted any of us did.

"But what matters most is the fact that you're a part of our team now. The five of you are now a unit. Unit X."

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