Chapter Ninety

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Out of everything I heard today, this hit me the hardest.

It came from nowhere. The boy I'd met in the middle of the forest with bright eyes and a welcoming smile. The one who'd led the snow society. The one who I'd done my best to save multiple times, first from  poison, and then from a bullet wound.

And the entire time...he'd been trying to kill me.

He was the assassin who'd constantly been trying to get me out of the picture. The boy with the mask who'd taken me from the cabin and to Dr. Conway. Now, I realized why those eyes had been so familiar. The entire time, they'd belonged to someone that I secretly knew well.

As I thought, more and more events came back to me. How there conveniently ended up being guards up top the day that the two of us tried to escape. How Mace seemed to have constantly done his best to avoid suspicion, and succeeded.

This entire time, he was the spy. The one who led us all, was secretly our enemy.

I didn't know what to say to him.

"Everyone else,  do not resist, or I'll shoot!" he shouted at everyone surrounding us. The few people left of our group slowly began to back away from the people they were fighting. It was over. We were over. They would take me back inside and kill me, and everyone else around me just like I was expecting.

And that wasn't okay with me.

I couldn't go down like this, not after I'd gotten this far. Not when we were so close to that edge that would take us out of the Equator.

There was a gun on the ground in front of me, dropped by one of the guards during the fight. Mace was distracted from making sure that everyone else was still heeding his instructions. Not missing my opportunity, I reached down, grabbed the  gun, and brought it up to point at Mace's head, as quickly as possible. He didn't see it coming.

I wasn't sure, but I thought I could see hurt in his expression.

I didn't want to do this.

I couldn't do this.

But the gun was the only thing keeping them from killing me and all of my friends. Keeping Mace from doing so. I was finding it hard to realize that Mace genuinely wanted me dead.

And as much as I tried to hate him, I couldn't say I wanted the same for him.

That was the funny thing about trust - even when it was shattered, tiny shards of hope still existed. The idea that you can still tape all the pieces back together and create a working mechanism enters your mind and refuses to exit. And even though I had literal proof of the fact that Mace betrayed me, I still had some small hope, that he had a reason for doing so. It didn't matter that I knew now that he'd been through the procedure to make him officially one of them, I still couldn't resist the idea of him secretly being against them.

"Calestia...stop," he said, his irritation leaking into his voice. The guards who had begun to detain our group were frozen. The entire scene looked as though it were a painting, with everyone stuck in the same place, waiting for someone to shoot. The tension felt like a pressure, pushing hard on my shoulders, and trying to force me to break.

"Why should I?" I spat in response, my hand wavering as I continued to point the gun at him. I would never do it, and I'm pretty sure he could see that from the look in my eyes.

"Because no matter what you try to do...we'll find you. What you don't realize, is that this was a game you could never win. Not from the very beginning. The second you walked into that grocery store it was over," he said, darkly. I knew he meant something deeper than just the trackers. We could easily take those out if we managed to get away.

"What do you mean?" I felt frozen in that spot, waiting for him to continue, to shatter even more of my perceptions of reality.

"This was planned. Since Asten met you," Mace explained, before turning his head in Asten's direction and talking directly to him. "Your mom chipped you and your brother before you got on that plane. She knew something might happen. So when it crashed, we knew immediately where you and your brother were, even when you two got separated. It was just a matter of me conveniently meeting up with you in the wilderness to bring you back home to the Equator and Conway." He nodded his head in Dr. Conway's direction. "Convenient that while I was looking for you, I also found others. It was all a part of the mission. My goal was to bring as many teenagers to the Equator as possible. You all made that so much easier by automatically going with everything I said. So thank you for that. Not to mention, how easy it was too trick you into believing I was on your side. I set it up to make it seem like I wasn't the assassin, by making myself an accidental victim. You all fell for it. The best way to win trust is through sympathy."

Mace didn't even seem like Mace anymore. If it was true that everything he'd said and done was a lie, then I didn't know what or who to trust anymore. How did I know that Asten wasn't also in on this?

But another thought occurred to me.

"Why would you try killing me, then?" I asked.

Mace looked back at me, tightening his grip on the gun in hand. "That was also because of orders. You were problematic. You're too curious, too uncontrollable. We found out about your...little situation in your house, too. You're unstable, and can't be trusted in a group. Therefore, it was better to get rid of you quietly and pretend it was an accident rather than deal with you later on causing problems. Which, as is obvious, you did. But now, whether you'll continue causing problems depends on this. Go ahead and shoot me."

I froze up at his suggestion. He knew. He knew I couldn't do that. He was different, and probably wouldn't feel an ounce of regret from shooting me in the head, knowing how well he'd tricked me into believing he was someone I could actually befriend. That small hope that had blossomed died, and Mace become nothing else but just another one of them. Just another face of the enemy. I grit my teeth, steeling myself. This wasn't Mace anymore.

It was never Mace.

Mace never existed to me.

I heard a gun go off.

And then a scream.

But it wasn't from Mace.

It was Dr. Conway.

I turned my head towards the source of the gunshot, and found Asten standing there, his face so pale I thought he'd pass out right there. The gun fell from his hands, to the ground, as Dr. Conway fell to her knees, blood pouring out of a wound in her chest.

The tension broke, but in the worst possible way.

All of a sudden, things were happening. Guards rushed to Dr. Conway, seeming to forget about us, except for the few extras. One attempted to shoot me and it barely missed. Mace was too distracted to even try killing me, his gun had fallen away from its target. I still had my gun, but it was useless now in the sudden chaos that reigned as more guns went off. I saw a couple target Asten, but then I became utterly distracted by the sudden revving of an engine, coming from directly behind me.

I turned around and saw a truck almost identical to the one that had broken down. The same symbol was on the side, but this time, a different person stood in the open back of the truck. The truck moved in reverse towards us, and I saw some of the guards begin to shoot at it in fear of our getaway.

The problem was: all of us were too close to the truck for any of the guards to stop us.

One by one we ran towards the truck, piling in on top of the wooden floor boards. I saw Rose jump on, her face bloody but filled with delight at the sight of the boy at the back of the truck. They were definitely here to help us. I dropped the gun and ran towards the truck, just as Asten ran at it from an opposite angle. The two of us reached it at nearly the same time, in spite of the gunshots that kept ringing through the air after us. I heard one come close to my head, but that was as close as any of the bullets got. The truck was driving away as the guards desperately tried to shoot us down while running towards their own vehicles, but we both knew they wouldn't make it in time fast enough to stop us. There was a ramp off the platform we were on just a little to the right that I hadn't noticed before. The driver slammed on the gas and I lurched in the truck, forced to hold on to the bars so I wouldn't go flying out.

I stared out the back, watching as Mace slowly grew smaller with the distance.

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