BOOK 1 // TWENTY-FIVE: Trespassers

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            It was weird – but my footsteps seemed to have more purpose when they fell alongside Jace's.

There was something about his presence, steady and unwavering, that came as a comfort in a situation so uncertain. Things didn't feel quite so hopeless when he was here. But maybe it wasn't personal. Maybe, when the mountain we had to climb towered so intimidatingly before us, I was willing to cling onto anything without a lot of thought.

At the very least, he knew his way around campus better than I did, though there wasn't time to wonder why. We doubled back on his route down the corridor, heading in the direction of the stage rather than the lobby. According to Jace, there was a back exit there we could slip out of, and it'd be much easier to go unnoticed.

Just an assumption, of course. Guarantees were a luxury we'd long been unable to afford.

The temperature outside seemed to have plummeted, though logically it couldn't have changed much since the journey here. I shivered as the air hit the bare skin on my legs and arms. Why had I thought it a good idea to wear a dress? It had been part of the disguise, something I'd never normally wear – but in the icy grip of winter I couldn't help regretting it.

"You okay?" My expression had obviously given something away, because Jace noticed in his momentary glance back.

"Yeah," I said, the word emerging as a white cloud before my face. "I'm fine. Just cold."

For a second, he looked like he might've been about to say something else, but decided against it at the last minute. Instead, he made sure the door clicked quietly into place behind us, and turned to face the darkened campus.

The University of New London had always had a strange atmosphere about it: a sense of calm and order that infiltrated every space. It was unlike any other university in the city, and certainly Old Stratford. The halls of my new college were bustling from nine to five, never taking a breather. Students late for class would push past anyone in their way, teachers found time to mark between constant flows of visitors to their offices, the canteen queue remained a consistent winding length. Its order was maintained by only basic rules, and the remaining space left room to breathe. Part of the attraction of UNL was its promise of zero distraction, no single unnecessary obstacle in the path to success, a campus filled with like-minded individuals. It was no wonder the stakes were so high back at the academy.

Despite the slightly eerie atmosphere during the day, it was nothing compared to what Jace and I were faced with. The darkened grounds were totally silent, save for the faint whistling of wind and our footsteps on concrete. Most of the buildings were dark, too, but not empty: in each one there were a couple of windows that remained illuminated, a strange spot of brightness amongst the black. There was no telling what went on inside, but even so, I got the strange sense I didn't want to know.

The silence made it feel wrong to speak out loud, but we couldn't put it off forever. I glanced over at Jace. "Do you know where we need to go?"

He nodded. "The Smith-Glover building. Biological technology."

I had to be grateful he could lead the way. There was no way I could've picked out which towering building we needed to be heading for without a campus map – though I couldn't have read one in such darkness anyway. Navigation here needed something better. So I tailed Jace closely as he set off from the lecture building, eyes cast straight ahead, unwilling to stray.

Never before had I paid much attention to the Smith-Glover building. It had always been about where they taught Modern Humanity – both because it was the location of Mum's office, and also because I couldn't imagine studying anything else. Of course, there had been kids at the academy streamlined for biology. They were on a one-track programme, destined to be the BioPlus scientists of the future, and make a lot of money in the process. I'd never taken much notice before; it wasn't for me. Now I was forced to.

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