BOOK 1 // TWENTY-SIX: Home Truths

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            The Darnell Facility was on lockdown. From the moment we stepped out of the lift, I could tell it was different here: long, open corridors become sealed doors at every turn. The walls were still stark white, and yet the top floor had lost the glare of downstairs. Beaming artificial lighting had been replaced by intermittent spotlights, the gaps between each one leaving room for our shadows.

I could hear my every breath, and though we seemed to be alone, I couldn't shake off the feeling that someone else could too.

"What is this place?" I dared to whisper.

Beside me, Jace glanced around. "I'm not sure," he said, "but if my dad's got anything to do with it, I don't think the answer is going to be pleasant."

The entrance stood before us: a set of white double doors, locked into place, accompanied by a security system on the wall. They had glass panels, which seemed like a blessing – until I took a step closer and noticed something odd. The glass was distorted, finished with some kind of glaze that reduced everything behind it to warped shapes. Here, it seemed, even windows wouldn't give away clues about what we'd find inside.

The security system was a keypad: tiny buttons dotted with letters, numbers and symbols. The square itself held endless possibilities; guessing a combination would be pointless. We had more chance of a convenient system glitch, one that'd open the doors with no question.

But there was something else. Something tiny, almost insignificant, easy to overlook. A thin slot running down the edge of the keyboard – just wide enough for an ID card.

Jace seemed to notice, too, because he soon reached inside his pocket.

I held my breath as he slid the card through the gap. I wasn't sure what I was expecting – the sudden wail of an alarm, maybe? There had to be something to stop us walking in. And yet when the keypad flashed green, a subsequent whirring alerted me to the fact the doors were opening, I realised that wasn't the case. In possession of Max Snowdon's ID, it seemed, we had all the power in the world.

"It can't be that easy," I dared to breathe. "Can it?"

"I'm not sure." Jace slid the card back inside his pocket, leading our first steps across the threshold. "Either way, I don't think we should relax yet."

The tension in the air was almost unbearable as we edged our way down the corridor. Silence only served to make things worse, when our shoes squeaked with every wrong movement and made us jump every time. There were no doors on our side, just one long winding path leading to one at the end. No wrong turns. No wrong decisions. Just our own steps, forming the space between us and what we needed to find.

We reached the door several seconds later, and I glanced over my shoulder as Jace moved to swipe through the second keypad. The coast was clear, or at least it looked that way. A beep turned my head back again, and I looked over to see him reaching for the handle on a door that had since clicked open.

He pushed it ajar, pausing for inspection. "This is it," he said. "The lab."

A sudden breeze rushed over me as the door opened properly; the temperature difference between the two rooms was startling. It felt like we were stepping outside again, though I could see full well the lab was enclosed by all four walls. The chill seemed to enclose us, icy tendrils squeezing air out of my lungs, and the closing door only served to remove our escape route.

Beside me, Jace shivered. "Why is it so cold in here?"

And yet with the same question running through my mind, I was unable to provide an answer. Instead, I took a few tentative steps further into the room. Each one was watched carefully; the floors may have looked clear, but I didn't trust them to stay that way. In such quiet, it felt like anything could jump out, and I wasn't sure we'd have anywhere to run.

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