I take hold of his shoulder and step into the first loop, then the second. He hunches down and adjusts the straps around my thighs and then my waist. My stomach flitters because of the close proximity as he moves around me to fasten the harness.
I hear three clicks, then watch as he walks to the stand. “How will the rope stop me from falling if it reaches the ground?”
He holds up one finger, saying nothing, then presses a button, and my body lurches upward. The rope starts to twirl, and I take hold of it as I hang a few feet from the ground.
Chance comes back, and within seconds he climbs onto the grid, without a rope or harness. I watch him scale until he is at eye level with me. He reaches out and grabs hold of my rope, pulling me closer to him.
“It’s one thing to fall off the scaffolds. They aren’t as high,” he says. “Just follow my lead.”
For a moment, his eyes hold mine, and I can’t help but remember the night before.
His features soften, then he murmurs, “Don’t look at me like that when we’re training.”
“Like you need me to fuck you.”
His hand moves to my lower back, nudging me forward, and I find grooves and holes for my fingers and toes.
Needing reassurance, I ask, “So last night wasn’t a one-time thing?” I glance at him. “Did you mean everything you said?”
Chance climbs up until I have to tilt my head to look at him.
“Yes, I sure as fuck meant it.” He frowns at me. “You better not have second thoughts.”
I shake my head. “I just wanted to make sure.”
He climbs higher. “Get your ass up here.”
We climb in silence, and halfway to the top, I glance at Chance. He looks at home on the grid, unlike me. My fingers are red from clinging and pulling.
“Why are we training for war?” I ask, hoping to get some answers to all my questions.
“Remember I mentioned that our fathers worked together?”
“Yeah.” I climb a little farther.
“My father found a way to splice human DNA in a way that can alter the subject’s personality. The emissaries are removing our ability to feel emotions, so we’ll be nothing but robots, ready to obey every order. My father got killed because he was against it and to serve as a warning to your father.”
My hands slip, and I fall. The rope yanks at my waist, and I bounce once. The momentum carries me, and I twirl.
Shocked, I hang limply as some of the puzzle pieces fall together.
Chance jumps down, and he unfastens the harness. I’m lifted out of it, and once my feet touch the floor, he says, “When the trackers hunt a person, they take them back to the laboratories where your father has to alter the DNA. They’re called insensates – emotionless and capable of killing without feeling guilty.” I’ve never heard his tone so serious before. “The emissaries believe that emotions lead to the corruption of the soul. They call it a glitch in the human makeup. We’re going to war to stop them. We have to destroy the lab and whatever insensates they have there already. We have to stop them before they take our freedom from us.”
My dad’s been building an army for the emissaries all this time. All those late nights. “I am so stupid. I thought he developed genetically modified food.” I shake my head, horrified by what I learned.
My eyes snap to Chance’s. “What about Ethan?”
My dad won’t strip Ethan of his emotions. Would he?
“I’m hoping your father will keep him safe because I have you.”
My eyes widen, and I gasp. “Is that why you chose to train me?”
“Partly.” His hand cups my cheeks as he steps closer to me. “I also took you down from the nest because I want you.”
Desperately needing a hug, I wrap my arms around his waist and rest my cheek against his chest. “It’s a lot to process,” I admit. “Why are the emissaries so evil?”
“When the wars ended, they were the wealthiest families. They created the ecocity – a utopia – so they had full control over everyone and to avoid future wars.”
“So all the crusaders that have been sent out?”
“Taken to the lab,” he answers.
“Everything you’ve been taught is a lie to keep the citizens from realizing what’s happening right under their noses. The virtuous have been fooled to fear us, and as long as they fear us, they’re not looking at the emissaries. They’re not seeing what’s really going on. Slowly, they’re being replaced, one by one, until the emissaries have their ecocity of insensates.” He shakes his head. “Sending out twenty-one crusaders shows they’re growing desperate, and I have a feeling they’re getting ready to attack us.”
“And my dad is at the heart of it.” I feel sick with worry.