Chapter 31

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Click.

No one moves. We wait, anticipating the low rumble of a hundred kegs of gunpowder igniting beneath our feet.

We wait, but nothing happens.

Click.

Click. Click.

The Madam yanks repeatedly on the detonator's trigger, uttering a stream of curses under her breath before turning it over and fiddling with the controls. I watch her struggle, my ears perked for an altogether different sound.

"Stupid, useless bloody thing." She mutters, looking up and catching the expression on my face. "You find this funny, do you?"

"Not funny," I respond, "Just deeply satisfying."

Her brows lower. She is opening her mouth when a sudden blast sounds from outside.

"What in the...?" Stalking to the window, she places a hand on the glass and squints into the distance. The Enforcers shift nervously around me as I watch the Madam carefully, tensed while I wait to see what she does next. The blood that courses through my veins is red and hot as the Burn but I force myself to remain still, my mind and body buzzing with unspent adrenaline.

The Madam curses again and storms back to the desk, casting the detonator aside in favour of a radio.

"Bring me that rebel." She eyes me suspiciously as she barks orders into the device. "The little weasely one. Have you located one-oh-one, seven-four-three yet?"

'No, Madam." Is the crackly reply.

Geoff. I feel a rush of triumph knowing that the surly old Enforcer is still out there, somewhere.

"Keep looking. If I don't have every single traitor head in the next hour then I'll be taking yours as a substitute." She slams the radio back down on the desk and shouts an accusation at me. "If there's something you wish to tell me I suggest you spit it out now. You are running extremely short on time."

"I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise."

She blinks, shock showing for the barest instant before her hook hand digs into the desk's wooden surface. I am saved by the chamber door being flung open. The long shadows of two Enforcers dragging someone between them stretches across the floor and over the Madam's statue. When the unfortunate wretch is hauled up staircase I barely feel a jolt at learning who it is.

Simon sputters and chokes, visibly quaking in the Enforcer's iron grip. Instead of disappointment I feel only pity at seeing Tawny's bookish companion dwarfed by the steel-plated army, his glasses chipped and a bruise forming on his cheek.

"Please," Simon stammers, his gaze darting back and forth fearfully between us. "I don't understand. You said that if I brought you the Runner that Tawny and I could go free."

"Did I?" The gouge left in the wood of the desk is the only indication of the Madam's annoyance. "Must have slipped my mind."

"I've already told you everything I know!"

Another explosion sounds, this time from the opposite side of the dome. More shuffling from the Enforcers as the atmosphere inside the chamber grows increasingly restless. The Madam thrives in the unease, straightening and stalking toward her hapless prisoner.

Simon shrinks back, his knobbly knees knocking together. I once more test the bonds pinning my hands behind me, glancing subtly around the room.

"Did you plant those explosives anywhere else?" The Madam's voice is low but carries to the furthest corners of the chamber. "Outside my walls, perhaps?"

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