Chapter two

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I

AM A VOLUNTARY PRISONER WHO knows every crack, every grain of dirt upon the floor, and exactly how many steps it takes my slim legs from one side of the confines of the room to the other. I can't leave until the storms are over. The risk of anyone seeing me is great. But, running out of time, because Dyllian is sure my silver armlet is a honing device.

It is day three and I haven't slept. It doesn't seem to bother me for some reason. Looking around, I have rearranged the entire bunker, washed my filthy clothes, and theirs. Moved the two beds, and even tried to build a third out of the stack of wood piled up in the corner, only to be reprimanded due to resources being scarce around these parts. Wherever these part may be.

'Spring is upon us' Dyllian keeps reminding us. With it, it brings summer and the scouting season. Aecker spends most of his days gathering extra water, wood, and food for their third roommate―me. I can't find it in me to tell him that I am not staying. The more times he sneaks bundles in for me, the worse I feel.

For three days, I have seen him get home from scavenging with extra food for me. We share a meal, he gives up his bed falls asleep quickly, while I lie awake staring at the roof, trying to dig up my memories. Before I know it, he is up again and out the door to guard the east wall's perimeter. I pretend to sleep. I don't know how to help―I feel like a user, a taker and completely inadequate.

His brother, Dyllian, does not speak to me, only gives me these disturbing looks. He knows that when the storms are over, I have to leave. But he, too, feels conflicted; he can see his brother's delight in having me around. He knows it's unfair that I should be sent away because of a stigma, with no actual proof. He doesn't have to say it. I can see it in his eyes when he sees Aecker and me together.

Yesterday, Dyllian came home early. We tried to cut the bracelet off. He thinks I am something called a Tracker, and that my armlet will inform the others of where I am; compromise their entire base, which will lead to the death of thousands of innocents in the underground city of Cupola. But the damn thing is really stuck, almost as if it has grown into my skin. It is a part of me, my past. My hidden identity.

Early morning has come, and I am up and cleaning again. The sound of the bristles sweeping over the concrete floor is soothing; the feel of the broom in my hand, humbling. It feels useful somehow to watch the broom kick up dirt and sweep it away. I sweep and sweep, until I am sweating. It feels good to feel the cramp, the pull of my muscles in my arms and sides. It reminds me that I am alive, that I am some part human. It becomes a game, the harder I pull, the tighter the cramp in my sides. Then I get carried away and break the damn pole in half. As I lean over to pick up the metal piece that holds the brush to the pole, I notice a gap in the wall. The left side is jutting out a tiny bit. A secret door?

"I've brought something to keep you busy while the Gatherers get ready for the Scouts."

I jump up and spin as Aecker's voice kills the silence.

"I see you have been sweeping again," he says with a smile from the door, staring down at the two halves of the wooden pole in my hands.

"Sorry." I shrug, embarrassed.

He is carrying a huge, black backpack on his back. Placing his dust mask on the table, he strips the sifter, and throws the filter bag in the burn shoot. Immediately, the blue flames light up the room, painting the walls in a hue of indigo, then glittering white as the flames die out. My fingers find the soft skin of my bottom lip, pinching softly. I've come to know this as a nervous trait of mine. The longer I stay, the more he grows attached, and the harder it feels to tear myself away from him. Aecker unzips the bag and hands me an object. For a moment, I keep my eyes on the backpack.

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