BOOK 1 // TWENTY-THREE: Family Ties

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            We were running out of time.

With the number of available days dwindling, I had none left to waste – so I was back moving the following morning. I got to school ridiculously early, when the corridors were still empty and quiet footsteps seemed to echo from one end to another. If there were other people in the building, they were hiding away. Hiding away from the crazed blonde student, searching the school with a fine-tooth comb, maybe? Or perhaps just backed up in traffic, totally unaware of my desperation. Either way, there was no time to think about it. I only had one thing on my mind.

I had to find Jace.

It seemed like this was the way I spent all my waking hours nowadays: trying to locate the guy I pinned my hopes on, thinking once again he might be the brain that slotted all the pieces together. He had, of course, told me not to think like that. But in a situation like this, it was difficult to stop.

I lingered desperately around all the spots he might be. Even as the clock inched closer to first bell, and masses of students began to fill the surrounding corridors, I couldn't stop peering over the sea of heads in the hope of catching a glimpse of those thick-framed glasses. He had to be here somewhere.

Classes began, but I skipped history altogether in favour of more time spent roaming the halls. Passing students gave me odd looks, and I did briefly wonder if I was drawing more attention to myself than was wise. Things would be easier if I laid low. But when Jace continued with his consistent knack for eluding me, what other choice did I have?

Panic started to rise as noon rolled around. Lunch was fast approaching, and there'd still been no sign of him, despite all the time I'd spent hanging around the student council office door. That had been my safest bet, and what I thought was his spot of solitude in a bustling college. But hours had passed, and it seemed this was not what Jace was seeking today.

Trying the library was a decision spawned from dwindling options. I'd barely set foot in there myself, even though I was hardly still considered a new student. The college's collection of books had been stacked in one of the central ground floor rooms, with high ceilings reminiscent of the old architecture. Bookshelves were lined closely to form narrow aisles, most top shelves out of reach of even the tallest students. In its every aspect, the room had an unshakeable feel of not having enough space. It was a far cry from the spacious, book-filled haven of KHA, where it seemed possible to get lost for days among the shelves.

In the middle of class, the place was deserted. A librarian re-shelved books from a trolley in the corner, while a few other students milled around between aisles. Everything pointed toward staying silent, but this was difficult when ancient floorboards creaked deafeningly beneath my feet.

I wasn't expecting to find him here; it was more a precautionary check than anything else. And yet as I ducked down the aisle that housed a slightly sad selection of Modern Humanity books, I was in for a surprise.

My intake of breath ended up sounding more like a gasp, and I raised a hand to my mouth to stifle a noise that had already escaped. In the same moment, Jace's eyes met mine between the dusty shelves.

"You're here," I breathed, out of relief more than anything else. Then, "Why are you here?"

I then noticed the leather-bound book in his hand: Artificial Evolution in the Twenty-Third Century. The type of typical reference for any Modern Humanity Class. "I was... doing some research," he said, but under my gaze he reached up to slot the book back in its place. "I don't know. I thought I might be able to find something useful, some tiny detail that might help... I know it's dumb. I just wanted to feel like I was doing something."

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