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Guardians: The Girl (First Chapter) CHAPTER ONE: THE BOY O ay, its official: Im a coward.

No one is in class today but meand the new twin fo reign exchange students from Japan. The boys name is Rio. Hes tall, lan y, and on the cutting edge of fashion. His hair is flaming red and falls into a shaggy bob cut that usually covers his face. His lips are plum red and he has eyebrows mos t girls would die for. Rio loo s li e a Haraju u poster boy. This I learned from Wi ipedia; it is a fas hion trend in Japan where the ids dress in bold colors, patterns and off-the-be aten-path clothing. I find him sexy in a dar , mysterious way. His twin sister, Mi u, is more bohemian. No matter the weather, she can be foun d in dresses that are usually soft, flowery, and flowing. She has almond-shaped gray eyes li e her brother. Her hair is jet blac , bone straight and falls down to her waist. Her bangs frame her soft face beautifully. She wears a single hone y blonde braid on the right side. But where Rio stands at 60, his sister is nearl y a foot shorter. Weve said hello to each other in passing, but Ive never struc up a conversation. I wonder what it would be li e if I had that ind of charm. Would I ta e over go vernments? Start wars? Or maybe, just try to get a date for senior prom? It didnt surprise me that the twins are here. They never miss a day of school. Si nce they arrived, Ive been fascinated by the way they are with each other. They c ould be laughing quietly and jo ing around, but if a student enters the room loo ing worried or upset, it changes the mood of the twins. Suddenly they are conce rned as well. Of course this is all mehaving way too much time on my hands to ana lyze other peoples behavior. Still, I imagine their lives are somehow filled with adventure. I wish mine were . Id li e my life to be as exciting as Joan of Arcs or Queen Elizabeths. Their exis tence changed the world. I daydream about being that ind of girl. But those wom en were brave and defiant. Me, on the other hand, I cant even cut one lousy class . The reason for such a low turnout in my last class period is the weather. New Yo r City rarely has temperatures above 30 degrees in January. But here we are jus t two wee s in to the new year, and its a blissful 70 degrees outside. So everyon e said a silent Than you to global warming and ditched class. My friend Sara was trying to coax me to join her, but at the last minute, I chic ened out. I never go against the rules. Not because I dont have a desire to, but because I am afraid of the repercussions. What if I cut class and got caught? T heyd call my mom and Id be grounded. Not that I ever really go anywhere but still. It isnt just the weather that has made people s ip Mr. Whites history class, its M r. White himself. He rarely ma es eye contact with the class, or even as s quest ions to see if we are following along with the lesson. Its as if hes tal ing to hi mself. Hes a one-man show, and we inconvenience the hell out of him by being ther e. I raise my hand and get permission to go to the bathroom. I head down the hallwa y and encounter the Armani- Dior-McCartney parade. Fashionistas come towards me armed with posh handbags, perfect teeth and utter disapproval. I am the only id at Livingston Academy that doesnt have old money. Actually, I d ont have new money either. My Grandfather was a janitor here for twenty years bef ore he died. As a favor, the dean arranged it so I could get a partial scholarsh ip. Its still out of our price range but my Mom wont hear of public school. Standing there, I thought Id get my stuff and ma e a brea for it, but no, I wal ed right past my loc er and into the girls bathroom. Li e I said: big coward. I loo at myself in the mirror and sigh. I am so uninteresting. My face is too r ound, my eyes are too far apart and my chee bones lac the height needed to elev ate me to exotic. The only things that stand out about me are my eyes: theyre as purple as the stupid dinosaur. And, well, thats just weird.

Whats even weirder is that they go various shades of purple depending on my mood. If Im angry, they become such a deep shade of purple they appear blac . When Im s ad, they lighten up and ta e on an electric, neon glow. I hate my eyes. They com e from my father. He had encountered my mother on her way home from schooland rap ed her. She went to the police, but they never caught him. She tried to put that night behind her, but then I came along. My mom, Marla, calls me the one good thing in her life. Funny, I never saw it th at way. She had a scholarship to Columbia University and was going to be pre-law , but she had to postpone school to have me. Then my grandparents died in a car accident and she had no one to help support her. So, she put off school and got a series of dead-end jobs to ma e ends meet. Law school became a distant fantasy. She poured all her dreams into me. She wants me to be what she would have been had she not had me: a brilliant attorney slash s tri ing social butterfly. But it ta es a full night of cramming to squeeze out a C+ or B- on my exams. Tha t is not brilliance. And as far as being stri ing goes, as I said, the only rema r able thing about me are my eyes. I always get as ed about wearing contacts. I get so fed up with that question. So here I am, Emerson Hope Baxter, a fifteen-year-old, purple-eyed frea living in New Yor City. I loo at myself in the mirror once again. I smooth out a wayw ard strand of in colored hair and tighten my ponytail. I ta e one last loo at myself. Im 54 without a curve in sight. I sigh, again. I wash my hands and head out the door. The urge to ditch doesnt last long. Beside s, even if I had ditched class, where would I go? Everyone who cut class today h ad something fun and exciting to do. Their life had urgency and meaning. My life , on the other hand, is routine and ordinary. So, no ditching, but Im doing the next best thing; I head to the nurses office, m y safe haven. The nurses name is Cora. She lets me crash on one of the cots when life at Livingston Academy has gotten to be too much. I run to the safety of the Lysol-scented office until I get enough nerve to face the world again. As I head down the hallway I hear a moan coming from the janitors closet. I wal up and press my ear to the door. I turn the nob half expecting it to be loc ed, but it isnt. The person moans even louder. Hello? Help! a males voice says wea ly in the dar . I gently drag him out of the closet and prop him up against the wall. I now I h ave seen him before. I cant remember his name, but he wor s in the main office. H es about fifty or so, balding with dar rimmed glasses and ind eyes. Theyre coming for him. Must stop themhurts so much, he says in barely a whisper. His face is pale and his lips are pressed together so tightly they form a thin w hite line. I put my hand on his shoulder to calm him. Thats when I first see the blood. It has seeped through his white shirt and tie and continues to spread its way across his abdomen. By the time I find the origin of the blood, its seeped d own to the floor. I put my hand on the hole in his stomach but that does little to slow the bleeding. Help! Somebody help! I cry out. The hallway answers bac with staunch silence. Help me! I call out again. Nothing. Hes trying to say something. I lean in closer. Find him. Tell him to run. Find who? He hands me a crumpled blue 5x7 index card. The ind all the students have to fi ll out detailing their address and other important information. Its covered in bl ood. Find him, the man insists again. O ay I will, I promise, hoping that would get him to stay calm. I call out for help once again but this time I dont wait for the silence to moc me. I stuff the index card in my poc et and I run down the hallway as fast as I can. It doesnt seem fast enough. Should I have left him alone? Can he hang on unt il I get bac ? How long does it ta e an ambulance to come? Stop thin ing, just g o! My heart is pounding so hard my chest hurts. I scan the hallways. Not a perso

n in sight. As I call out again, something hurls itself at me and throws me down to the grou nd with the force of a category five hurricane. I hit the floor. I would have th ought I were dead save the acute pain traveling from my shoulders down to my an le. I groan in agony as the thing that attac ed me pins me down to the ground. I stare into the face of my attac er. Its Rio from my history class. But before I can be sure, he covers me with someth ing. Everything goes dar . I dont have time to pinpoint what it was because just then gunshots rang out. I dont now who is shooting because my attac er wont let me up, so I fight him. I now in my head that it is a bad idea to stand up, what with a hail of bullets f lying overhead, but panic steps in, and I just want to flee. I have to get up an d run away. I punch him repeatedly. I ic and scream for him to let me go. Its h ard to tell if he can hear me over the sound of the gunshots. If he does, it in no way affects him. He holds me down effortless with his body and what I thin m ust have been some ind of dar blan et. But where did it come from? I ma e one last desperate attempt to free myself; I push past the pain running d own my side and hurl myself forward to get out from underneath the boy holding m e captive. He doesnt even budge. How can he be so strong? Hes only 120 pounds or s o. Suddenly, I hear the most beautiful song ringing out into the hallways. It sounds li e the ind of melody youve heard at a funeral. Sad. Haunting. Sorrow ful. Tears sprang instantly from my eyes. Im heartbro en but I dont now why. Its a s if the melody has etched the saddest possible memories into my heart. The pain is worse than any physical thing I could have experienced. I want to die. My ca ptor loo s into my eyes. Dont listen, he begs as he holds me closer to his chest. The blan et he has spread over us has somehow gotten dar er and heavier. The son g sounds far away now. And although I no longer feel the desire to die, I am so saddened by what little melody I can ma e out; I continue to weep, loudly, into his chest. Somewhere in between the sobs I thin I hear groaning, but I cant be s ure. The shots stop just as suddenly as they had started, and the hallway is silent again. The blan et is pulled off of me. I was right. It was Rio who held me down. What the hell is. My voice dies in my throat. Lying about ten yards away from us ar e three bodies. And standing a few feet away from them is Mi u, Rios twin sister. Horrified, I ma e my way over. Three men lie lifeless on the floor. Ive never see n them before. They have on dar suits and ties. A trail of bloody tears has run down their faces. Each of them had torn their shirts open, exposing large blue and green bruises on their chests. I lean in closer and see several bloody selfinflicted gashes. Its as if they were trying to rip their hearts out. What did you do? My voice is filled with so much anguish, I barely recognize it. B efore Mi u has a chance to reply, Rio comes towards us, shouting, We have to go! Theyre coming. No sooner had he gotten the words out than a group of men comes barreling down t he stairs wearing suits and carrying guns. They begin shooting. Emmy, lets go! She doesnt wait for me to move. She grabs my hand and drags me down the hallway towards the exit. I fall in step with her for fear that if I dont shel l hurt me li e she did the men on the floor. I new it was her. She was the one singing. She had illed three people without putting a hand on them. And now Im b eing dragged down the school hallway by a murderer and her brother. But I figure Im better off with them than the Wall Street mafia bac there, right? The wonder twins and I dodge into the stairwell. Bullets whizz over our heads. T he singer pulls the fire alarm. Kids quic ly flood the stairwell. The PA system comes on. I cant hear what the principal is saying as the brother and sister team and I run at brea nec speed past the student body and out the door. Once outsi de, a red sports car comes towards us at top speed, jumps the curve and stops ju st short of hitting us. The door flings opens. The driver, whose face I cant see,

says, Get in. They try to get me inside the car but I fight them off, ic ing and screaming. Id rather die here than get in this strangers car and end up bruised and bro en in some dar alley. Get off me! I shout bac . Had it not been New Yor City, the sight of a group of teenagers fighting would have been disturbing. But seeing as how the city is always full of strange chara cters and even stranger happenings, not one person even stopped. Although, there were a few who loo ed on as they wal ed by but dismissed it as juvenile horsepl ay. Rio somehow gets both my arms behind my bac and holds them there. I struggle, b ut it does no good. His grip is too tight. I got her. You clean up, Rio instructs his sister. I cleaned up last time, Mi u replies. So, you should be familiar with the process, he retorts. She stares bac at him co ldly. Rio lets his guard down for a half a second. Thats all I need. I shoot off down t he street. They grabbed a hold of my shirt from behind. I scarcely manage to sli p out of it. I than myself for layering this morning because I didnt trust the w eather to stay this warm throughout the day. Im half way down the bloc . My muscl es beg me to stop or even slow down, but I dont give in. Whats going on? The question bounces inside my pounding head with every labored b reath I ta e. Dont stop to analyze, I reason with myself. Just get some distance. I spot a cop car halfway down the bloc ; seeing an end to their pain in sight, m y muscles fully cooperate. Im now running at top speed, mere yards away from help , when she appears before me, stopping me dead in my trac s. She loo s to be about my age, maybe a year or so older? She stands at a statuesque five feet nine inches. Her beauty defies logic. No one that stunning can be real. Even if she wasnt bloc ing me, I would have had no choice but to sto p and marvel at the sheer radiance of her face. Her s in loo s as if it had been carved out of the night s y: smooth, blac , glowing. Her eyes are the color of gleaming pennies; her full lips spread across her face and form a spectacular sm ile. Her hair reaches past her shoulder and down to her lower bac in thic curls wit h strea s of copper matching her eyes. She wears blac leather pants that hug ev ery flawless curve and a matching fitted blac leather vest. I gasp at the impos sible perfection before me. I want frantically to reach out and touch her for two reasons. First, to ma e s ure she is real, and second, I long to put my hands on something so flawless. Bu t I cant reach out and touch her. Thats not to say that she isnt real. Shes real, as is the silver handgun shes pointing at me. I hear a car pull up, but I cant tear myself away from the girl in front of me. Ge t in, she orders. She doesnt need the gun. I now from the chill going down my spi ne that she is dead serious, and disobeying isnt in my immediate best interest. I tear myself away from her face and see the same red car, its door open. I get i nto the car. Once inside, the car zooms up Broadway going at nearly twice the speed limit. Th e twins are seated next to me. I want to as where they are ta ing me, but Im afr aid the minute I open my mouth, Ill cry. I refuse to give my conquerors the satis faction of seeing me weep. Instead, I loo out the window at the crowds of New Y or ers passing by. As usual they are all in a hurry to get where they need to be or leave where theyve just been. They remind me of my mom. Shes always racing home to ma e me dinner. But neither of us are good coo s, so we always end up ordering out. I wonder if Ill e ver see her again. I had been in such a rush this morning, I didnt say good bye. I didnt even say goodbye to Ms. Charlotte, my cat. She waits for me on the window sill at exactly 3:30 p.m. everyday. I dont now how she nows its time, but I swea r she does. Shell be waiting today. I try to swallow but cant. A big lump forms in my throat. Tears stream do

wn my face. Then I remember the emergency card the man in the closet gave me. I had told him that I would help find this boy and tell him to run. It made no sen se to me, but it had mattered to the man, and I should have done it. Oh well. Im sure this boy is safer than me, wherever he is. I surreptitiously remove the crumpled, blood-stained paper from my poc e t. I cant ma e out the home number or address of the boy the closet man had faile d to reach. But there, printed clearly underneath light splotches of blood, it r eads: Emerson H. Baxter. *************** I was wrong about the alley. We pull into a quiet, charming, tree-lined street s omewhere on the Upper East Side. Everything about the neighborhood says old money lives here, from the rows of five story bric townhouses to the pristine communi ty garden. When we get to the townhouse at the end of the bloc , the car pulls i nto the driveway. The twins get out of the car and hold the door open for me. I now I should try to run, but Im sure my limbs wont comply. I slowly get out of th e car. I see the driver for the first time. Hes blac and slightly taller than Rio, but his muscular body ma es him a hundred times more intimating. Hes wearing a blac hoodie and a platinum twisted chain. I cant ma e out his eyes under his Gucci sha des. The twins motion to me to go into the house. Sensing Im about to object, Rio sighs impatiently, and Mi u ta es my hand and wal s me through the frosted glas s door. The house is breathta ing. From the high-dimension ceiling to the smooth wheat-c olored finished floor, there isnt one square inch thats not appealing to the eye. The house has a historic feel, but the dcor is modern with slee , clean lines. Th e browns and reds that highlight the dcor ma e the space warm and cozy. The paint ings are mostly Monet. Some I recognized but two I have never seen before. The b ay window loo s out onto the Par . Rio and the driver come in behind us and close the door. Im feeling lightheaded a nd find it hard to focus. Mi u loo s at me, smiles brightly and says, Ill get you a soda, as if this were any other day and Im a good friend who happened to come by . Rio goes into another room and comes bac with a small trash can and places it at my feet. Dont bother, he says to Mi u. Just then a wave of nausea hits me. I do uble over and vomit. I miss the can completely. Mi u goes away and comes bac with a wet towel. She bends down and pats my face. I want to go home. You cant eep me here. Please, I beg her. She wal s me over to the plush sofa and sits me down. She turns to Rio How is she? Tired. Shoc ed. I hate being tal ed about li e Im not in the room. Why are you as ing him? Im right here. She pays me no mind. She should sleep, she says to the driver. Is she idding me? Ive just been in a shoot out. Ive seen a man bleeding to death and Im being idnapped. How does she thin I could possibly sleep? Tell me whats going on. Who are you? Why did you force me into your car and who wa s shooting at us? The more questions I as the more hysterical I become. I want to go home, I shout at the top of my lungs. The driver comes up to me and t a es his shades off to reveal soft, warm, hazel eyes. He places a hand on my sho ulders. He loo s into my eyes and spea s with a soft velvet voice oozing charm. Y ou would li e to go to sleep, he says simply. After he said that, nothing mattere d more than the desire to close my eyelids. Ive fought off sleep before, but this isnt li e that. Theres no fight. I want nothing more than to give into dar ness. The last thing I see before I drift off is the girl who held me at gun point com ing towards me. *************************** Shes got to be a part of this whole thing. Why else would Lucy send half a dozen R unners after her? She loo ed genuinely surprised when they came. This girl has no idea whats going o n. That doesnt ma e sense. The council would never expose a human to that ind of dan

ger. Im telling you she nows nothing. It doesnt matter if Emerson nows something or not. If Lucy thin s shes involved, s hes dead. As I listen to the conversation ta ing place in the living room, I eep my eyes closed. They had carried me into one of the bedrooms when I fell asleep. This is all a dream. This is what I get for falling asleep watching the SyFy Channel. B ut even as Im saying it to myself, I now its a lie. This is real. And this Lucy p erson sent a bunch of guys to ill me. What did they call themRunners? What have I done to this Lucy to ma e her want me dead? Im gonna lay still and eep my eyes c losed. This nightmare has to end. Is she awa e? I thin Mi u is spea ing. Rio answers. She is, but shes trying to wish this whole thing away. We dont have time for this. I recognize the voice of the girl who pointed the gun a t me. She sounds irritated and on edge. I open my eyes and scan the room loo ing for a phone. There isnt one. I snort at the absurdity of my situation. What would I sa y to the cops if there had been a phone? Hi, my name is Emerson Baxter and Im bein g idnapped and held hostage inside, what loo s to be, the centerfold of Archite ctural Digest. Someone noc s on the door of the room. Mi us voice calls out to me sweetly behin d the door, Emmy, its time to get up. She opens the door and comes over with a tray of food. She sits beside me. On the tray is a small bowl of broth with pieces o f a few white squares and a handful of green onions. Its miso soup. Its good. My mo m used to ma e it. Oh, and a tur ey sandwich. I got Jay to ma e it for you. Hes a culinary genius, but hes a little stingy with his talent. Whos Jay? I question. The driver. He should have his license revo ed. He did. She laughs and handed me the tray. Im not hungry. Rio says you are. How does he now what I feel? Its a long story. First food then Q&A, o ay? I was ready to argue, but the aroma of the soup hit my nose and my stomach growl ed. I ta e one spoonful of the soup intending to stop there, but it is so good I end up drin ing the whole thing. Mi u studies me. Now, try the sandwich. No, Im fine. Really. She loo s pleadingly at me. Im such a pushover. I ta e a bite of the sandwich. Its the best thing I have ever put in my mouth. It has some ind of spread that gives the tur ey a ic . Theres also a light sweetness to it but I cant figure out from what. I loo at Mi u in a we. I now. Its amazing huh? You should try his parmesan potato bread. Its his specialt y. But he really has to li e you to ma e it. I gobbled it up in four quic bites. I am ma ing a pig of myself, but Mi u doesnt seem to mind. She hands me a can of soda. I drin it down and wipe my mouth with the nap in she had thoughtfully pl aced beside the tray. I than her. She smiles and motions for me to follow her. I ta e a deep breath and wal after her out of the bedroom, into the living room . I must have been asleep for hours, judging by the dar s y. The living room is l it softly by trac lights. Someone has cleaned the spot where Id thrown up; the s our smell is gone. The house now smells of green tea and jasmine. Theres no one i n sight. Everyones waiting outside, Mi u informs me as she leads the way. We wal up a few f lights and through a blac gated door onto the roof. Standing there beside Rio i s the driver, Jay, and the gun girl. It seems impossible but she is somehow even more stri ing than she was when I fi rst saw her. She wal s up to me. Her voice is official and impatient. Im Ameana. A

nd this is Jayden. She motions towards the driver. He says, Its cool, call me Jay. Ameana continues without the slightest concern as to whether I respond or not. Yo u have something in your possession that is vital to me and many others. We need you to hand it over. I dont now what youre tal ing about, I stammer. She loo s at the others, then bac at me. You have no idea what I want from you? she as s again. I try to eep my voi ce from trembling. N-n-no, I say wea ly. She turns to Rio. He replies, Shes telling the truth. The Run ners havent told her anything. She has no idea whats going on. I dont now where the anger came from. All I now is that I had had enough of thi s sci-fi bull. I direct my comment to Ameana. Loo , warrior princess, I dont now what you are tal ing about, o ay? I was just trying to help some guy I found in the hallway and then all hell bro e loose! If you plan on illing me before this Lucy person, then fine, do it. If not, I have to get home. How do you now Lucy? Has she come to see you? Ameana turns Rio. He answers her unspo en question. She has one. I would now if she didnt. One what? I as . How do you now about Lucy? Ameana demands again. Hoping that if I give her some answers shell give me some, I reply, I overheard yo u guys tal ing. So, who is she? Why is she out to ill me? I loo into their face s and see something in them I didnt see when bullets rang out over our headsfear. Is she some ind of super bad girl? I mean how many guns can a girl carry? All my attempts to lighten the mood fail. Please, tell me whats going on. I may be able t o help. But you guys have to tal to me, I plead. They confer silently with each other. Before anyone can spea , a boy pops out of thin air. Seriously. He came out of n owhere. Startled, I jump bac , lose my balance and fall head first down the side of the five story building. I dont even have time to register that I should scre am. I try to prepare myself for the pain. My head will hit the ground first, so maybe death will come swiftly. Please, please come swiftly. There is no pain. I feel no pain. Yes! Somehow I must have been noc ed unconsci ous so quic ly, the pain never had time to register. Im dead. Im dead. Im dead. Then I hear Rios voice. Emmy, open your eyes I do. I am lying safely on the floor o f the roof. I loo up at the faces staring bac at me; Rio, Jayden, Ameana, Mi u and the new pop-up guy. He loo s li e a J Crew model. Hes wearing a designer mil itary-style jac et, a royal blue stretch pullover that brings out his eyes, and white cargo pants. Well, if I am dreaming, at least Im dreaming about pretty people. Everyone on thi s roof is hot. Well, aside from regular loo ing old me. Pop-up guy says to me, Im Reason. But you can call me Reese. He extends his hand. I go to sha e it when I s ee something big and dar li e a shadow hovering above. I loo up at Reese and g asp. Protruding out of his shoulders blades, are wings! Honest to goodness wings ! Huge, disturbing, flapping-inthe-wind wings! He sees the frea ed out loo on my face and then it registers with him. Oh, sorry , I always forget. Suddenly the wings disappear. Am I dead? I cho e. I loo over at Mi u. She answers coyly, No, but we are. In the hallway shootout earlier I had thought t his is as confused as I can get. I was so wrong. Reese neels down on one nee and ta es my hand. Im sorry to startle you. Its rude and very un-angel-li e. I get on Jay for gliding rudely, and here I am doing the e xact same thing. He helps me up. I whisper something about it being o ay. But I dont thin he buys it. Ameana stares out into the dar night. The worry in her voice is obvious. I thoug ht hed be bac tonight. You now Marcus; he wont come bac until hes found out something. In the meantime, chec on Emmy for me, Mi u says. Ameana loo s at me as if she is scanning me, as if she can see inside my body. Sh ell live, she says dismissivelywait, can she? Mi u ta es my hand. Good, lets all go bac downstairs and tal . Im guessing you hav e questions. Um, one or two.

We all ta e a seat in the spotless itchen. It has everything a coo could want, from the top of the line sub-zero refrigerator to the stainless steel eight-bur ner stove. It loo s li e no one has ever used it. If they did use it, they were obsessed about cleanliness. To stop myself from hurling all my questions out at them, I occupy myself by counting the tiny flic s of gold embedded in the blac marble countertop. We dont have time to play twenty questions. We only have time for one. So ma e it good, Ameana instructed. What? I can only as one question? Are you serious? She loo s at me and glares. Fin e I paused. There is so much I dont now. I have no idea where to even start. I th in for a moment and as the most important question. Did the man in the closet get help? Is he o ay? Mi u grins as if shes just she won the lotto. Rio shares her joy, as does Reese and Jayden. They all loo at me str angely. Li e I revealed something important but didnt realize it. Thats what you want to now? Ameana says incredulously. Well, there are lots more, but you said I could only as one, I say bitterly. Hes been ta en to the hospital. Hes critical but stable. Theres a good chance hell ma e it. Than you, I say curtly, matching her tone. She gets up to leave the room. As she is almost out the door she says, Fill her i n. Tell her what she needs to now. And nothing more, I thin , reading between th e lines. Then she wal s out. I cant hold it anymore. Are you angels? Whos Lucy? Why did she send those guys afte r me? Mi u gets up and pours me a glass of water. Here, youll need this. I ta e it from her and drin it. Im not thirsty, but I have a feeling she wont ta e no for an answer. She sits bac down and Jay prepares to addresses me. But bef ore he can get started, Rio tells him to hold on. Then out of nowhere he says lo udly, Emmys cold, bring her a sweater, please. How did he now I was cold? I didnt ma e any gestures to indicate being cold, but hes right. Ive been getting goose bumps for 10 minutes. I just didnt want to stop them now that theyre finally tal ing. Rio points to something next to me. I follow his gaze. I dont see anything. He po ints up and there right above my head, hanging in the air is a rust colored wool sweater. Its just hanging there in thin air. Mi u nudges me to ta e it, and so I do. Then she shouts towards the entry way, Than s . Wait, how did she She can move objects and people. Cool, huh? Mi u explains. If I ever did drugs, I would stop today. But since Ive never done them, I cant exp lain what has just ta en place in the past few hours. Mi u, please! Whats going on? I beg. Jay comes to my rescue. His voice is steady, but he seems very far away. In the beginning there was the creator; the highest measure of good. Over time, t his entity has been given many different names. But its original name was Omnis, which is Latin for All. Omnis created nature and with it, a law that no one ele ment can exist without an opposing element. This is nown as the law of opposite s. This concept encompasses all things, except for Omnis himself. Omnis then created humanity. Everything had been perfect. So perfect, in fact, th at humanity began to doubt the need for Omnis, and, over time, their connection to him all but disappeared. Omnis concluded that, li e nature, humanity needed the law of opposites to eep i t balanced. If humanity never felt despair, it could not see out the hope he pr ovided. If they never experienced sic ness, they would not marvel at the grace o f good health. And after seeing how wasteful humans were with the life he had given them, he ne w that the only way for them to appreciate their own existence was to ma e it ep hemeral. But because he loved humanity far more than anything he had ever create d, it was difficult for him to be objective. So he created a council of impartial judges that would loo at the complicated de

sign of humanity and do what was necessary to eep it in balance. Omnis created three council members: Death, Time and Fate. Although the council honors and res pects him, it operates independent of Omnis, to assure that balance is maintaine d. In addition to the council, Omnis decided he needed the opposite energy of himsel f. He is grace, forgiveness and goodness, so he wanted a force filled with rage, bitterness and evil. This force of evil would serve as an incentive for humanit y to strive to be good and follow in the path that led to Omnis welcoming arms, o r they would suffer at the hands of evil. He called on his favorite and most cherished angel, Atourum, and told him what he needed done. The angel readily offered to serve, but Omnis cautioned that in or der to become the personification of evil, there had to be hate in ones heart. No t just for humans but for Omnis himself. But Atourum could never imagine hating his creator. Omnis explained, The only way for them to believe in me, Atourum, is for them to b elieve in you. Go, be merciless. Be savage and cruel. All the world will say you r name with fear and contempt. Then, and only then, will they see out salvation from me. Atourum bowed to his master and vowed to do as told. In order to become evil, Omnis sent Atourum to Earth several times for him to wit ness firsthand the flaws of man. Each trip to Earth made Atourum more and more s usceptible to human influence and less connected to Omnis. The more affected Ato urum was by humanitys shortcomings, the harder it was to get bac into heaven. Ev entually Atourum gave in to the savage ways of man and committed murder. This ca used Omnis to ban him from heaven forever. Atourum said to Omnis I am now your opposing force, just as you wanted. Humanity w ill recognize your light by measuring it against my dar ness. You ta e souls and put them in your mansion in the light. But humans will not appreciate this gift until you create an opposing space to the light. The only way to measure the be auty of your house is to measure it against the horror of mine. And so it was Ato urum was granted Ren, meaning house of fire. They also came to an arrangement: Omnis would ta e all children and Atourum would ta e all the adults who had committed unspea able acts. But they could not agre e on who would get the souls that died as teenagers, souls that had yet to choos e either the path of dar ness or the path of light. They left it up to the council. The council decided to put souls that died betwee n the ages of 13 and 19 on a bridge. The bridge is halfway between the light and the House of Fire. The souls would linger there until they choose the path to w hich they felt more connected. They would not now which is which. They would on ly follow the path that felt right to them. Neither side was allowed to guide the souls; they had to find their own way. It w as called The Wal . Each soul lingers for as long as it is undecided and then once it accepted either the light or the dar , it would go in that direction. Omnis and Atourum were each allowed to choose six souls from the bridge to be Wat chers. A Watchers job is to eep an eye on the bridge and ensure that neither sid e intervenes in The Wal . Omnis chose six of the purist souls. He called them The Guardians. Atourum chose si x of the dar est souls on the bridge and named them A on meaning chaos. There were only two rules both sides had to abide by: neither side could tell a s oul which way to go, and neither Omnis nor Atourum could now the location of th e bridge. Centuries passed, the bridge would fill up, and the souls would ta e The Wal and g o on into the light or the dar ness. Each time the bridge was empty, The Guardia ns and A ons would go to the light or to Ren and be promoted. On the first cycle of the bridge, the soul chosen to be first Guardian was a soul named Julian. He watched vigilantly and made sure that nothing interfered with T he Wal . All the souls were left to choose their own path. One day he too notice of a soul on the bridge that seemed to be having more trou ble than the rest. It seems this soul wanted to follow the light but was drawn t o the dar ness. Julian watched it waver bac and forth. It couldnt decide which p ath to follow.

Julian tal ed to the soul. Her name was Femi. She lived in a small village in Nig eria. Her whole family was illed when her village was raided. She was subsequen tly beaten to death for standing up to the men who did it. She told him that she was drawn to the dar ness because of what it offered her: p ower, strength, and control. Since her life on Earth had lac ed those things, sh e ached to have them. The other side offered her peace, happiness and hope, but she had seen those things on Earth and they were easily ta en away. When Julian was on the bridge just as a soul, it never appealed to him to follow any direction but the light. But as he tal ed to Femi, he began to understand h er and sympathize with her dilemma. She was hopeful and filled with peace, but when violence came this last time it h ad stripped her of those things. Why run to happiness if it can get ta en away? sh e as ed. Julian understood for the first time that The Wal was easier for some th an others; there were souls that could not feel the inferno of hell or the glory of heaven. That would have made it too easy for them. Theyd have to decide what they wanted most: peace or power. That was the only question that stood between heaven and hell. Julian couldnt stop watching Femi go bac and forth on the bridge. He thought abou t her constantly. He spo e to the other Guardians. They encouraged him to eep d istance and not interfere. They were certain she would follow whatever path she was destined to ta e. Souls had come and gone on the bridge, but Femi was still undecided. Shes so confu sed. Julian reasoned. Shes not evil, shes just bro en. So one day, unable to watch her suffer indecision anymore, Julian pointed the way to the light. Not long after, Atourum summoned the council and as ed Omnis to attend. Once all of them had gathered, Atourum told everyone that, according to the A ons, Julian had bro en the rules. Atourum was livid and demanded revenge. She was my soul. She would have gone to me, Atourum spat. You dont now that. She has goodness in her, Julian responded. Omnis told Julian to approach. He addressed his servant warmly but firmly. You hav e disobeyed me. I now your heart is true and you have goodness and purity in yo u, but you have yet to learn obedience. I will send you bac to Earth as many ti mes as it ta es for you to learn to follow my directions. Then Julian was cast ou t of the s y. The council as ed Atourum what he would li e as retribution for the rule that had been bro en. Atourum said: I as to now the location of the bridge. The council flatly refused. They new that once Atourum found the bridge, there would be an invasion. All the souls would go towards dar ness by fear or by force. That woul d more than triple the size of Atourums followers, enabling them to destroy all o f humanity. Furious, Atourum reminded the council that they were supposed to be objective. He accused them of siding with Omnis. The council went behind closed doors to tal the matter over. When they reached a decision, all parties were once again gath ered. Death, Time, and Fate all spo e in unison. We, the council appointed by Omnis, hav e come to a conclusion on the matter of the bridge and the bro en rule. While we will not give Atourum the location of the bridge, we will create a triplex that holds a map to the bridge. The triplex will then be placed somewhere on Earth e very six hundred and sixty-six years. You, Atourum, will be given a chance to se e out the triplex. If the map is found before midnight of that year, you will be permitted on to the bridge to do with the souls whatever you wish. If Atourum does enter the bridge, all balance will be lost and the Earth will be plunged into chaos and fire. The refore we are also granting the Guardians a chance to see out the map and destr oy it. We will hide it somewhere on Earth. Each side can go about see ing the map any wa y they choose. However, the same basic rules still apply: Guardians can not ill human beings. If this is done, they will be thrown down to the flames. Only the first Guardian can ta e a life; and although A ons can ill a human, they can n ot ta e a soul unless that soul is willing. Each side will be given a name with

which to start their search. Only humans that are integral to the search can be informed of the mission. If hu manity as a whole should find out about the search, the council will intervene a nd both sides will be punished. Humanity must remain, with a few exceptions, una ware of what is happening. We can not and will not tolerate exposure, as humans are frail and panic when faced with uncertainty. And so, every six hundred and sixty-six years, Guardians and A ons come down to E arth to find the Triplex. Panic rises inside me as I say out loud what Jay wont. This is the sixth hundred a nd sixty-sixth year. Im sorry, Emerson, but were going to need that in the form of a question, Reese jo e s in his best announcer voice. I ignore him and go on. That means you guys have to find an object that could be anywhere on Earth? If you dont find it, we will all die a fiery death? Thats about right, Jay chimes in. My stomach feels queasy again. Maybe eating was a bad idea. O ay, note to self: news of the end of the world is best ta en on an empty stomach. Im fighting bac bile. My hands are clammy and wont stop sha ing. It doesnt have to be fire. It can come in many ways, li e a flood, earthqua e, or tsunami. Most people thin hell on earth would just be fire, but really, its a co mbination of things, Mi u says casually as if we were discussing where the best l unch specials can be found. We all stare bac at her. What? Its true. Rio loo s at her dubiously. Youre a creepy little angel. So, whats the name on the paper? Everyone loo s at me as if to say dont be stupid, but I had to as . I need to hear it out loud. The loo of sympathy on Mi us face confirms my deepest fear. My name is the clue. You, Ms. Baxter, have just gotten to the final round! Now, will you choose door n umber one or door number two? Reese is getting on my nerves. Apparently Im not the only one. I feel a soft breeze beside me. I loo over and J ay is still seated beside me. But I now he moved because Reeses mouth has litera lly been taped shut. Jay leans bac in his chair to admire his handy wor . I loo at him bewildered. How did you? S ills baby girl, he smir s. Even as Im hearing news of impending doom, I cant get o ver how amazing he loo s. And when he called me baby girl, I felt a warm feeling w ash over me. Wow, he is so hot. Focus, Emmy. Focus. Not one to be out done, Reese rips the tape off his mouth and pops up behind Jay. He holds him in a headloc . Where you gonna go now, speedy? Come on. Id li e to see you glide out of this, Rees e says triumphantly. They wrestle bac and forth, each trying to pin the other one down. Every time J ay gets the drop on Reese, Reese disappears. And whenever Reese manages to get t he upper hand, Jay moves at an impossible speed. Rio announces that he has dibs on Jay. Reese, offended, pops up behind Rio and p ulls the chair out from under him. Mi u howls with laughter. Apparently the end of the world is a light-hearted subject. Excuse me! I snap, not brothering to hide my irritation. Are you guys idding me? W as this all a jo e? I thought this was serious. You guys just brought me here as some stupid elaborate game? No, its real Emmy. Mi u puts her hand on my shoulder. I sha e it off. If this is real then why arent you guys ta ing it seriously? Were just tryin to be easy, Jay says. How can you be easy? Were tal ing about the end of humanity. Forever! I am seething. Emmy, calm down, Rio says gently. Dont you get it? I cant help you guys. I have no idea where your map is. Your counc il made a big mista e. I loo at all of them with a mixture of hysteria and disbe lief. Mi u chimes in, Youre the clue the council gave us. Theyre never wrong.

When I spea my voice is unsteady. Theyre wrong about this; Im just some girl. I wa tch bad TV and spend way too much time reading about things that cant possibly ha ppen to me. I stand up and loo into their all-too-calm faces. Im so frustrated, I could scre am. If Im your clue then were all dead. Do you understand? Well, were already dead, so, Reese jo ed. Fine, you just sit there and eep ma ing jo es. Its obvious you dont care. I storm o ut of the itchen. They all follow, with Reese heading me off. Stop popping out in front of me! I shout. Its called blin ing, Reese states matter-of-factly. Whatever. Knoc it off. I can feel rage welling up. Jay comes from behind me and bloc s my way. Move! Ill fight you, angel or no angel. The sheer thought of being confronted with violence by a girl whos half his size and only a fraction of his strength, amuses him to no end. I ball my fist and spea through clenched teeth. Move! He can barely eep from laughing. He holds his hands up as if to surrender. Alright, baby girl, its all you. Ill just glide bac to my spot, iller. Its cool. He moves so fast that by the time his words hit the air, he is already out of my way. He loo s li e light reflected on a car window going 120 miles an hour. Now only Reese remains. Before you storm out, at least give us a chance to apologize, he says as he silent ly appeals to Mi u to intervene. We were just blowing off steam and were sorry, Mi u offers from behind me. No, youre not. Its not your life thats coming to an end. Its not your mother whose I freeze. My mom. Shes probably got half of New Yor loo ing for me. Its o ay. We called her. We told her you were studying with us and you fell asleep . She nows youll be home late, Rio says in an effort to calm me down. Who did you tell her you were? Classmates of yours. Im wea with relief. I crash onto the sofa and sob. They let me. They dont approac h or try to comfort me. Im grateful for that. I need the space to fall apart. My mind wanders from my mom and on to my neighbor, Donna. She has a four-year-ol d son, Benjamin. I ta e him to the par on wee ends. He loves the swings, and hes sure if he eeps trying he can go high enough to touch a cloud. The thought of his little body pulverized by some evil force ma es me sob even harder. And just when I thin its not possible to shed any more tears, a fresh salty stre am runs down my face. Sorrow and desolation engulf me. I stop trying to hold mys elf together and let the weight of my grief pull me into the fetal position. My body steadily roc s, sob by sob. They dont spea or impose on me in any way. They allow me all the time I need. Ma ybe patience is another power that angels are granted. And even though Im ensconc ed in misery, Im certain that if they were not with me, I would be worse. Finally I stop crying. I dont feel better, Ive simply run out of tears. So I just lie there and ta e in the silence. My head is throbbing. Im light-headed and empt y. I should eat something but the thought of chewing is exhausting. I have some questions, I say to no one in particular. My throat is raw and straine d. I spea so softly I thin they dont hear me. Rio as s, What do you want to now? Whats a tri thingy? A Triplex. Its a cover coat that protects the object inside it by ta ing the shape of its surroundings. Its what our wings are coated with. Thats why you cant see th em even though theyre out all the time; it blends into whatever surroundings were in. If its snowing, the Triplex will ta e the form of falling snow, Rio explains. Cant people feel your wings when theyre standing beside them? Reese responds, Not with the Triplex. It ta es no space. It has no definite form. You can only find it if you expect it to be there. I can always see Mi us wings because I now that they are there. Why did I see yours before then? I inquire. Because you thought you were dead. You were expecting angels; so you saw one. Im n ot sure you realize it but you screamed the whole way down and even after you wer

e safely bac on the roof. Hes trying hard not to ma e fun of me. I thin I lost al l hearing in my left ear. Apparently he cant help himself, nor can I really blame him. I must have loo ed li e a nut. I didnt even realize I had screamed. Sorry about th at, I mumble. What? I cant hear, Rio shouts bac . I throw a pillow at him and he bloc s it with his wings. It didnt get anywhere ne ar him. So the map of the bridge is in the Triplex, ma ing it virtually impossible to fin d, I surmise. Virtually, Jay chimes in. But since your name is our clue, we thin that the counci l met you and decided to leave the Triplex with you. I thin I would remember running into Death, Time and Fate, dont you? Mi u replies Actually, no, you wouldnt. The council would have used someone you n ow to put the Triplex somewhere in your life where you wouldnt discard it, either because of necessity or sentiment. Nothing jumps out at me. Sorry. Dont worry. It will, she says encouragingly. Were already two days into the New Year. Why did it ta e so long for you guys to c ome to me? I as . There are 53 Emersons in New Yor City alone, Reese retorts. So, how do you now that Im the one? Youre the only one being shot at today. Oh. Point ta en. Its more than that. Id felt dar waves heading toward you and thought that it would be a good idea for us to eep a closer eye on you, Rio adds from across the room . You new theyd attac me? I am amazed. Can you tell the future? Why, you play lotto? Rio jo es. Seriously. How do you do it? All Watchers, Guardians and A ons have at least one power. It comes from their la st moments on earth. Lets say you were crushed by a car on your last night on Ear th Ooh, thats a good one, Mi u says, completely ta en by the image of carnage in her h ead. Anyway. Rio rolls his eyes and continues. Lets say after being crushed to death, you get chosen to be a Guardian. Your power would be the ability to manipulate metal because at your time of death, that is what your spirit as ed of Omnis. Everyon es powers have to do with the way they died. So, you cant see the future, I state, half-deflated by this additional downer to de ath. No, but I can feel the emotions and desires of people miles away from me. Their e motions give way to their actions. I new you were feeling nausea even before it registered in your body. Thats why you brought over the trash can, I say, amazed. Yeah I could tell by your color wave you were feeling unsettled and overwhelmed. I new youd get sic but I didnt now the exact moment or where to place the trash , Rio clarifies. You see peoples feeling as colors? Yep, hes our very own mood ring, Jay teases. Rio ignores him and continues. They appear in colored waves. Humans usually emana te the same three colors; orange, gray and blue. That usually means worry, insec urity and fear. It can change throughout the day. If they meet a loved one or fi nd out theres a baby on the way, the change is powerful. They radiate a soft whit e glow. So you now what the guy down the street is feeling right now? I now what Manhattan is feeling. Thats how I was able to find you in the hall. Yo ur color wave is almost always He was going to say something but then thought bett er of it. Lets just say your color changed to onyx. That means the person fears for their li

fe. Can you change what people are feeling? I have to now. No, but along with Jays ability to glide, he has suggestive powers. So if you radiat e deep sadness and youre near me, Ill get Jay to suggest something to lift your sp irits. Thats sweet, I cant help but say. Rio smiles, Cant you tell by now what a nice guy I am? Mi u scoffs, Yeah, tell her what you and Jay do when you see a cute girl radiatin g purple. What does purple mean? I as . It means shes thin ing private thoughts, Mi u says coyly. You now when a girls turned on? And then he has Jay go up to her and suggest she gives him a iss, Mi u volunteers. Jay! I scold. On the chee , he says, unable to face me. What ind of angel are you? I accuse. What ind of angel would you li e? End of the world or not, that boys a flirt. He has to use his powers. How else would he get a girl with me around? Rio taunts. Jay shouts bac Youre crazy. My game is foolproof. I quic ly interject before they decide to fight it out. Do all of you have a prot ective shield? Rio says No, only me. So, what were you doing when you died that you as ed for a shield? Right away I now that I shouldnt have as ed that question. The mood of the room instantly changed. They all stiffen up. Reese loo s up at the ceiling as if it w ere suddenly the most interesting thing in the room. Jay loo s down at the floor. Mi u avoids her brothers eyes. Rios jaw tightens. And for the first time since weve been tal ing, he loo s pained. Mi u says, Excuse me , gets up and goes to the itchen. Im sorry. Its none of my business how you died. Im sorry Rio. Dont be mad, I say tryin g to fix this major error. He smiles but it doesnt reach his eyes. Hes just being polite. Ive offended him. He gets up and says, Im gonna go loo out for Marcus. He moves quic ly and heads up to the roof. I made an angel sad. What ind of monster am I? Why dont I ta e you home? Tomorrow well be at your school just in case the Runners come bac . Reese gets up and hold s out his hand. I ta e it and stand up. I want to now what Runners are, how theyd all died, and who Lucy is and why shes af ter me, but I dont want to ris saying anything else to upset them. Jay senses my dilemma. Dont worry, he says. Well fill you in on the rest tomorrow. O ay, than s. And can you tell Rio Im sorry, again. Please? He already nows, remember? Oh yeah, right, I say, now feeling even more inadequate. Just then Ameana comes out of her room and addresses the guys. Its too late for he r to go home by the usual means. Reese, Blin her a bloc from her house. No problem, he says, ta ing my hand. Panic spreads through my body. What is she tal ing about? I cant just pop in and out of places li e Reese. What if I get home and half a leg gets left behind? No way. Not gonna happen. Its o ay, Emmy. Blin ing is much safer than driving. Or at least it is when Jays be hind the wheel, Reese jo es. Im right here. You wanna go? Lets do this! Jay counters. Ameana is not amused. I loo down and remember that the sweater I have on doesnt belong to me. Just let me put this bac in the room. Its Mi us. Shes cool if you ta e it home, Jay offers. No, its not mine. And it loo s li e it costs a lot of money. My mom will wonder wh ere I got it, I explain. I head bac into the bedroom where I had slept. Its decorated in lace and satin. Teddy bears from different countries are displayed throughout the room. Its not r

eally my style, but its pretty. Mi u enters the room. I dont even give her a chance to say anything. I give her a big hug. Im sorry if I said anything that hurt you. I was just Stop. Its o ay. And why are you returning the sweater? Dont you li e it? I do but But nothing. Ill eep it here. And get it whenever I come bac , o ay? I can tell that she is about to argue her point, so I rush on ahead. Mi u, there are six Guardians, right? Right. The first Guardian is in charge of the other five. Is Ameana the first Guardian? I as . She acts li e she is, but Marcus is the first Guardian. Hes our leader. Just li e Julian was. The second-in-charge is Ameana, then me and Rio, and then the two n uc leheads out there. You guys dont seem worried about finding this Triplex thing. That must mean youre c lose, right? I as , trying to downplay my fear. Weve been trying to trac down Julian. Hes the best lin into how the council thin s. He can give us a better idea of what we need to loo for. Marcus went to chec out a few places he could be. Well find him soon. Try not to worry. Why did the council leave him to roam the Earth when he nows where the bridge is ? Julian was sent bac by Omnis, so the council could do nothing about that, but th ey stripped him of some of his memory. He doesnt remember where the bridge is, bu t he does recall the council. He remembers them? Yeah, but he thin s theyre aliens who abducted him, Mi u quips. So, all the alien stuff is true? I have to as . Well, Julians aliens are true, I cant say for the rest of them. Reese shouts to us from the living room, Cmon ladies. Some of us have to recharge! I loo at Mi u blan ly, We find a spot that is absolutely quiet and perfectly sti ll. It recharges us. Li e what sleeping does for you, she explains. Oh, li e meditating? Without the annoying sound of the ocean and the smelly mats, she smiles. O ay. Five more seconds and Im coming in. You two better be ready! Reese bar s. So much for the patience of angels, I thin . Someone calls out from the living room. This time, its Jay. Hes bac ! Good, I bet he has a lead on Julian. Cmon. She drags me bac into the living room. Standing there among a room full of gorgeous angels is the most perfect creature I have ever seen. If beauty were measured by water, all of them would be a full glass, while I would be the proverbial half-empty. But Marcus beauty spans two o ceans; seriously, hes flawless. He stands at 61. His hair is chestnut with natural auburn highlights. His eyes ar e blue green with flec s of gold. His lashes, jealous of the attention the eyes are getting, stretch out li e a proud peacoc . His nose, lips and chee s are the original blueprint of beauty. His shoulders are broad and strong. His arms and legs are well defined but not bul y. Hes wearing dar Diesel jeans, a charcoal gray cashmere sweater, and an open blac leather jac et. The simplicity of his outfit in no way detracts from his stell ar beauty. The only time Ive ever encountered something close to the beauty of Ma rcus, was when I first met Ameana. And even that encounter would be a distant se cond. I refuse to blin and miss a moment of him. The water builds up in my eyes. It s tings. It burns. No, I wont blin . Its li e having a thirst so deep water can not quench it. The more I drin him in, the more of him I want. Tears gather in my eyes, waiting, begging for me to blin . I wont. So the tears r un down my face. My vision gets blurry. No, I wont blin . My eyes feel li e theyre being pric ed by hundreds of small pins. It stings badly. But I remain steadfas t. The second round of tears falls from my eyes. I wont blin . I will not move fr om the vision before me. My stomach quic ens. My whole body is warm with the exception of my hands, which

are ice cold and trembling. I dont now a lot about the heart, but Im certain its not supposed to beat this fast. I want to loo anywhere besides his face, but th e thought of loo ing away from him ma es me dizzy with despair. Suddenly Im very aware of how Im dressed: faded jeans and a Winnie-the-Pooh Piglet T -shirt with the cartoon pig trying to catch a runaway balloon and saying Oh, d-ddear. Great, Emmy, thats real sexy. And if my hair loo s the way it usually does after Ive slept, right now I resembl e a mad scientist. I want to go bac into the room and fix it, but its too late. Hes already seen me. I mean, its already time to go. Mi u, whose existence I have all but forgotten, po es me lightly. I blin . A thi rd round of tears ma e their way down my face. Its embarrassing but Im powerless. Not for the first time today. Get a hold of yourself. He had been studying a small red leather-bound boo . Mi u introduces us. Marcus, this is Emerson Baxter. Shes gonna help us save the world. He loo s up at me, says a quic hey and goes bac to the boo . His dismissal stings worse than my eyes. Tomorrow we need to go over your life and find out about everyone you now, every one who nows you. They now that youre not a boy li e they originally thought. W ere going to eep you in school because youre safer in a crowd of humans, he conten ds. They attac ed me in a crowd today, I say. He continues to flip through the boo and responds without loo ing up. They werent trying to ill you, they just wanted to get you before we did. If Lucy wanted t o ill you, she would have sent A ons. But since we got to you first, shes gonna have to get past us now. The only way she can do that is to send out all six A o ns. So, this Lucy person isnt out to ill me? She is, but only after shes tortured you and gotten enough information out of you to locate the Triplex. Then shell have the A ons finish you off or do it herself, if she has time. Oh, is all I can say. He is spea ing about my death so casually; Mi u and the others exchange a loo . I guess Im not the only one who thin s hes being rude. The council forbids A ons from attac ing in public. So you should be o ay if you stay in public places. You are never to be left alone unless we are standing wat ch. Do you understand? he as s, once again never loo ing up at me. Why isnt he loo ing at me? I now Im not angel-good-loo ing, but Im not a dog. Whats h is problem? Where do we pic up Julian? Mi u as s. We dont. Lucy got to him first. Theres a good chance hes dead. Wait, you told me that the council couldnt ill Julian but this Lucy woman can? Wh o is she? I as Mi u. Dont worry, Emmy. Were not gonna let her get to you, she says. Who is she? I demand. Atourum, Marcus says plainly. I cant breathe. The air is too thic that Ive forgotten how. I lean against the wa ll for support. The devil is a woman? You tellin me! Jay jo es in an attempt to lighten the mood. For this cycle, yes, Mi u says. Jay loo s into my ashen face and what he sees there causes him to worry. He come s up to me. I can calm you down, if you want. My voice crac s, No. Just ta e me home. Please. Marcus spea s with the authority of a general. It sounds strange coming from a b oy barely eighteen. Jay and Rio will watch over you tonight. Reese, when youre don e ta ing her home, get bac here and help Mi u search a few Runner hangouts. See if anyone nows anything. Reese nods in agreement. Marcus turns his attention to Ameana and says, , can we tal ? Theres something in t he way he says her name. It bothers me. Then it bothered me that it bothers me. She leads the way and he follows her into her room. Why cant they tal in front o f the rest of us? Wasnt all business tal done on the roof or in the living room?

Why did he want to be alone with her? He said her name with such care. I try hard not to loo at Rio. I dont need an angel mood ring to tell me what Im f eeling. I dont want to now. I just want to get as far away as possible. I tell myself its because Im being hunted by the source of all evil. I tell myself its because the fate of the world rests on information I dont have. But when Reese lifts me up into his arms and Blin s me out of the house, the thi ng that Im upset about isnt Lucy or the end of the world. Theres only one thing tha t upsets me: He said her name with such care. *****************************

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