Despite Nick's order for us not to, we lost it.

Alby hated the idea- that much I could tell by his facial expression alone. Gally tipped back his chair so far it almost fell over. Minho jumped out of his, spreading his arms out so he almost hit Zart. Clark was red in the face instantly; his freckles weren't visible at all beneath the vibrant color of his cheeks. I stayed seated with my heart falling into my stomach.

But one voice sounded above all the others, and that voice was David's.

"What about Link?"

Instantly, everyone went completely still and silent. The poor boy was shaking from where he stood, fists clenched at his sides. His awkwardly thin body was trembling from head to toe. His dark skin was shining with sweat, black hair in a complete mess upon his head. There were tears blurring his brown eyes.

"Link went on one of your escape missions and died for it," he continued in a voice raw with emotion. "What's to say someone won't die in this one, too?"

The expression on Nick's face was both patient and frazzled at the same time. He briefly closed his eyes before opening them and running a hand down his face. When he opened his mouth, everyone knew he was going to start making a speech again, so we all sat back to let him talk.

"Listen, guys," he began, "I understand your hesitance. Link died the last time I came up with one of these ideas- he died because I was too stupid to remember safety regulations. That won't happen again. I won't let it happen again, which is why I'm going by myself.

"We've been trapped in this place for two shucking years. We've spent said years under careful surveillance for shuck-knows-why by the Creators, who have let all of these things happen to us. Who have sat back and relaxed in their chairs while we suffer, die, and become torn apart. I'm willing to risk my own life if it means getting you guys out of here. I care about you slintheads so shucking much. You're my family, ya hear? You're my family."

He was getting slightly choked up- that much I could see by the way he looked down and wiped beneath his eyes. I felt a tug at my heartstrings. Nick was like an older brother to me. He was my family, too.

"Nick," Alby began in a surprisingly mellow voice, "if you die..."

"If I die, I die," Nick stated matter-of-factly. "Ain't no way around it. If I get hurt, I get hurt; If I fall down the hole, I fall down the hole. It's life. Gotta accept it."

"But - I - don't - want - to!" Clark exclaimed, his voice increasing in volume with every word. He scooted his chair closer to Nick, the effort it took causing him to break up his speech like that. "I don't want anyone else to die. I don't want anyone else to get hurt!"

"Gathering dismissed," Nick called out instead. "I'm trying the Box tomorrow morning."

Clark's mouth twisted in a scowl before he shot out of his chair and stormed out of the room.

--

The Keeper of the Raisers was nowhere to be seen the next day. Even as most of the Glade was crowded around the Box to watch our leader descend into it, his shock of red hair didn't stand out in the mass of people. Nick had told most of the people to go back to their jobs. Obviously they hadn't listened, intrigued with the possible escape route.

Biting my nails had never been a habit of mine, but I found myself unable to stop as I stood in the very front along with the other Keepers. Nerves were churning in my stomach and crashing around dangerously. It made me worried I would be sick.

Nick held a piece of ivy securely in his hands, his face slightly pale as he stared down at the empty Box hole. His feet teetered in the edge. A slow breath puffed out his cheeks; he shook out his nerves and wiped his hands on his pants to rid them of the sweat.

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