BOOK 1 // TWENTY-ONE: Confession

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 Never before had ten days gone by so quickly. Each one trickled through my fingers like running water – and the more I tried to cling onto the hours, the minutes, the seconds, the faster they'd slip away. Nights were even worse. Lying there in the dark was a recipe for self-torture, telling myself I should be out there doing something, even though I didn't have the faintest idea what.

I needed to speak to Jace. That much was obvious; I could barely process all we'd uncovered the day of the rally, and if anybody could help, it was him. At first, my plan had been to corner him the first day back at school, but a couple of hours into Monday morning and I realised it wouldn't be that simple. I peeked into the door of every classroom he was meant to be in, pleading with the voice in my head to catch a glimpse of the back of his hair. And yet I never did. Three days in, and I had to accept that my luck had run out.

But what else could I do? Catching his face on the TV screen a few times was the closest we'd got in days, and even then I'd been distracted by the nasty-looking gash slashed across the side of his face. I had to do something. The consequences of sitting back and letting things unravel didn't bear thinking about.

There was something I couldn't get out of my mind. I thought going for a walk might clear my head. Way past midnight. The echo of Jace's confession was on a constant internal replay, even though I could recall every other word of the conversation. With the youngest Snowdon, it was famously hard to dig deep, but this was the one thing I did have. The thread of possibility that, cloaked in the darkness of the early hours, he might be wandering the streets.

It was a real long shot. I knew that much, but in such desperate times, it had to be worth something. It wasn't like I spent those hours sleeping anyway.

So I started sneaking out. I channelled my inner Nova, and as the final hours of Wednesday crossed into the next day, I pulled myself onto the rooftop above her room and tried not to shiver in the frost. There was the risk of being caught, of course, but I had to hope the Astrid-shaped pillows under my duvet would fool my parents in the dark.

Like it mattered anyway, in the grand scheme of things. If I didn't try, we were facing far worse consequences than a week's house arrest.

I knew where he lived. The Snowdons' extra publicity had been useful for one thing, at least, and the press had plastered their apartment block all over the TV. It was right over in the west, on a street as upmarket as its name – Silver Terrace – suggested. Towering apartments reached for the sky all around me, but theirs stood out amongst all the others. By no means a remnant of the old city, a shard of glass rose from the ground, the walls reflecting moonlight like a glittering statue. I couldn't get in unaided – but there was little point anyway, unless I wanted to roam the halls and knock right on Max Snowdon's front door. Instead, I took to lurking down a nearby alley, edging close enough to the street so I could maintain a view of the door, but also duck away at a moment's notice.

The bitter cold was brutal. I learnt my lesson that first night, out there for hours – long enough for my hands to turn blue and sting like needles. From then on, I started wrapping up, layering everything I could find in my wardrobe in the hope it might keep the wind out. It worked to some degree, but the hours of exposure had ways of getting in anyway. My bones had to be freezing from the inside out, but as long as I kept my eyes on the Snowdons' front door, it felt like I was doing something.

Three days in, however, and panic started to settle over the cold. Daylight hours weren't much easier: Nova's birthday was approaching, and tensions at home were at an all-time high. This was the third since she'd vanished, but all signs pointed toward it being as difficult as the previous two. Though Mum and Dad did their best to pretend Nova didn't exist most of the time, their ignorance failed to gloss completely over the date on the calendar.

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