(11-5) There is always one more task

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"You hate secrets? That is pretty absurd, coming from you," Samuel said bitterly.

But even as he spoke, it occurred to Samuel that this particular secret that he was now inadvertently protecting, was probably the exact same motivation that had recruited an entire group of rejects into coming here.

"Sir," he added.

Coldstone is likely made near the cargo trains further below. Moving it is, after all, extremely dangerous

"Right," Samuel said, as he turned to the stairs. The light faded a little as the model airship drew closer, hovering a few dozen feet to Samuel's left in the air. "Keep an eye out for me, and if you see someone, cast light at them."

The airship blinked at him once, which Samuel took to mean Captain Raeth had agreed.

Samuel started down the stairs carefully, gun pointed towards the next flight as it came into view. His tread was nearly silent, and his hands were disturbingly still.

He went down two flights of stairs before he heard screams. Up ahead, he could see flashes of light from an open doorway. He followed swiftly, gun at the ready, and approached just as a figure stepped through the door.

She looked like little more than a teenager. A young girl, thin, short, speckled with acne, and a haze of shimmering flame so hot Samuel could feel it even from where he stood.

"Stop!" Samuel bellowed.

The girl turned and looked at him, with an expression that ripped at Samuel's courage. Her smile a blend of mania and euphoria, her eyes alight with joy, and brilliant orange flame danced between her fingers.

"You ain't gonna die easy," the girl said and took a step forward. "And that Salamander isn't even going to slow me down."

"Pass the next doorway, and we find out," Samuel replied, and he stepped forward. "Who are you, and why are you here?"

"Silas said they were doing something to my people," the girl replied. "I still can't believe how right he was."

"You don't seem to be grieving much," Samuel said.

A careful taunt. The mania in her eyes terrified him, but after Tessa last night, Samuel didn't trust himself fully with identifying a reject's mental state.

"I'll burn the people hurting them. What's so wrong about that?" the girl asked.

No remorse. No grief. Not even anger. None of that made any sense for someone who had accompanied Silas Miller in his lovestruck anger. He knew wielding the flame would drive those who used it to madness, but Samuel had never understood it before. He thought he had when they had cornered Silas in Nursery Tower. He thought he had seen the signs in Tessa last night.

But seeing this girl, Samuel understood.

The flame consumes the mind. This girl had consumed her capacity to care, to hate, to grieve. Her power had devoured her compassion, her resolve. What he saw now was the shadow of her reasons for accompanying Silas, still being devoured by the desire to burn.

And understanding, Samuel pulled the trigger.

The girl twisted on her feet, spinning halfway around, and crumpled as if she had forgotten how to stand.

Samuel pulled the latch and ignoring the searing pain on his fingertips, pulled out the spent shell and tossed it aside. He set a new cartridge in the rifle, closed the barrel, and advanced on the girl's fallen form.

Samuel crouched next to her, and with one hand still pointing his weapon at her head, knelt down to check for a pulse.

He wasn't surprised to find the girl was already cold to the touch.

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