“The next one won’t be as bad. Come on.”
I straighten my shirt and watch the men get ready while trying to catch my breath.
Did I really just do that?
“Why do we have to do this? Why can’t we walk on the streets?” I ask the question because my nerves are tattered threads after the jump, and now they expect me to do it again.
My legs feel too numb to move.
“Trackers. They know you come through the gate on the seventh day of the seventh month. They’ll come looking for you. It’s what they’re trained to do. There’s no reward if they don’t deliver.”
“Deliver what?” I ask, but Chance is already running again.
“They need to deliver every single one of the crusaders,” Ethan says.
Shock shudders through me as I begin to realize nothing is like I’ve been told since birth. First rebels and now trackers?
My voice is strained as I ask, “So it wasn’t the deviants who killed the other crusaders?”
“No. The trackers work for the emissaries,” Ethan replies, and for the first time, anger tightens his features.
For the umpteenth time, I’m stunned out of my mind.
What kind of world have I been sent to where a deviant has to keep me from being killed by people who call themselves rebels and trackers?
Is anything I’ve been taught the truth or just a bunch of lies?
The second jump goes better, I don’t miss the building entirely, but Chance still has to help me up. I also manage not to grab hold of him like the terrified coward I am.
By the fourth jump, I think I’m getting the hang of how I should stretch my body and hold my arms. The landing part, not so much. My hands are chafed, and I’m sure my right knee is bleeding from banging it into the rooftop with the last jump.
Although the men say nothing, and I’ve been taught it’s wrong, I feel proud of myself. It’s a vice, but I can’t help it. I’ve managed to do things I never even thought were humanly possible.
“We have to jump into that building,” Chance says, pointing downward and slightly to the right.
My pride disappears when I see the hole he’s gesturing at. It’s big, but even when I turn my head sideways, I can’t see a way for me to make the jump.
I’m going to splat against the wall.
Worried, I scan the building for another way.
I could jump to the rooftop and climb down.
“I know I won’t make the jump,” I say, my voice no longer sounding terrified but determined. “I’m going to jump to the roof and climb down.”
Wow. Last night I was staring at my glofish, and now I’m jumping across gaps between buildings. It all feels so surreal.
We go in the same order, Chance, then Aaron. Aaron almost doesn’t make it, and I hold my breath as Chance grabs his shirt and yanks him forward. Ethan takes a deep breath and sprints. I hold mine until he lands and rolls into the hole.
This time, there’s no one on the roof to catch or help me.
I walk back, farther than the previous times to get a better start. For a second, I close my eyes and inhale deeply before exhaling slowly.
It can’t be worse than the first jump. You can do it.
I sprint and launch myself off of the roof. My heart beats the seconds until I slam down hard on the other rooftop, landing on my shoulder. I roll onto my front and push myself up as a wide smile spreads over my face.
Holy crap, I did it!
An exhilarating feeling rushes through my body, setting every nerve-ending alive.
I did it on my own.
Knowing the men are waiting for me, I move to the roof's edge and look down. It’s really high, and my sight warps. For a moment, it feels as if the building is swaying, and it makes my insides feel all wobbly.
“Jai,” Chance calls me back to my present predicament. “Lower yourself.”
The distance is too far for me to hang over the side of the building and swing my body into the hole.
“Jai,” he says in a much softer tone.
I see Chance hanging out of the gap in the wall like he did when he was on the ladder, only holding on by his right arm.
What does one have to do to become so courageous and strong?
“Just lower yourself. Trust me. I’ll catch you.”
Chance has kept me alive this far in our journey.
I lie down on my stomach and maneuver myself, inch by inch, over the edge until I’m holding on by my elbows. My weight is pulling me down, and the bones of my elbows dig into the concrete. My feet desperately search for a foothold, but the building doesn’t have any.
My shirt has inched up, and the bricks are cold against the bare skin of my stomach.