Chapter 1

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The Healers' Tent.

Third Corps, Vayelle.

I turned eighteen six days after we arrived in Third Corps, a small rebel camp to the south of the Suri Gap. I had expected to feel relieved. I'd survived—by Erydian standards, I was now legally an adult. Now I could buy land, own a business. If I were a regular girl, and not marked, I might have seen this age as a door. It should have felt like the world was opening up to me fully. But, honestly, eighteen felt a lot like seventeen had.

The number attached to my existence didn't seem to matter very much away. I was so many other things now—a goddess-touched girl, a rebel spy, a traitor, a daughter, a murderer, a liar, a sister, a friend, an heir to the Erydian throne.

Eighteen seemed trivial compared to all of those things.

Still, I felt the weight of the number.

I'd never imagined I'd live to be eighteen. Even when I'd been trying to run away from the Culling, I'd always assumed that I'd die before I got the chance to be a legal adult. Then I'd joined the fight for the throne and it had seemed like surviving the trials and making it to this milestone was impossible.

And yet there I was, eighteen and hidden away inside a tent in the middle of a rebel base. As if my very existence was a crime. As if I'd chosen to be marked. As if I wanted to be different from everyone else.

My mother was across the Demarti Mountains from me. I wondered if she knew about what I'd done—what Ambrose had done. She wouldn't go into the market to see any of the broadcasts. Instead, she would hear about my betrayal through the words of others.

One of her patients would mention the recent rebel attack on the palace, how the prince had killed the queen. They would tell her a goddess-touched girl had turned spy for the enemy. My mama would hold her breath and ask what the girl's name was—and maybe, just maybe, they wouldn't know. But eventually, someone would know who that girl was.

Monroe Benson, they would say.

The goddess-touched girl blessed with the gift of fire.

And then she would know the truth.

Mama wouldn't be surprised. After all, my entire life had revolved around avoiding the Culling. Even when I was there, fighting to be queen against nine other girls, I'd looked for ways to get out. I hadn't wanted that crown, not at the cost of my life. She might be disappointed in the road I'd chosen, but she wouldn't be surprised. Mama would understand.

All I'd wanted was my life.

Ambrose had offered me a way out and I'd taken it—despite the hurt I would cause and the damage my choices would do to the people I'd grown to care about. Even though the prince had stabbed the queen himself, I felt like I'd forced him to do it.

I felt responsible for so many of our current problems.

I hadn't seen Cohen since he'd boarded the transport to Vayelle. He'd kissed me and given me back the rabbit head necklace that had marked me as a rebel spy. It was the symbol of the Culled. And even though I didn't know what my place in this resistance was, I still wore it.

I didn't even know if I was actually a part of the Culled.

Our arrival at the rebel base was a well-kept secret. Which I thought was pretty damn impressive, since we were in a camp full of traitors and spies. But it was true. Only the most important officials and the rebels who had been on the palace raid knew we'd survived the attack.

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