Why would someone willingly want to go?
I stare at Ethan in shock as I gasp, “Why would you do that to me?”
“Move, Jai!” He grips hold of my arm, yanking me up the stairs.
My gaze jumps between the stairs and his hand wrapped around my arm.
His eyes flick to me, his irises dark with tension, as he exclaims, “You need to keep calm. You can’t freeze up on me. Your father said you would be able to handle this!”
Rearing back against his hold on me, I ask, “Why? What’s going on? I don’t understand any of this.”
“It’s not safe in the ecocity. Your father asked me to get you out, so just do as I say.”
It’s no longer safe here? That doesn’t explain much.
With the initial shock gone, I remember what Dad told me. The only reason I keep climbing the stairs is because Dad said I can trust Ethan.
Ethan gives me another flick of his eyes, then says, “After the emissaries bless us and we get our packs, just stay by my side. Before the boundary marker, we’re going to split from the group. My brother is waiting for us on the other side.”
Geez, how can he sound so calm?
My heart is beating out of my chest, especially with all the touching. I want to run home and hide in my bed.
I wet my lips again before asking, “Is all the touching necessary?”
Instantly, Ethan lets go of me.
As we continue climbing the stairs, I swallow hard on the lump in my throat, but it bounces back, pushing tears up to my eyes.
Dad arranged for me to leave the ecocity because it isn’t safe any longer?
More emotions bubble into my chest.
Dad wouldn’t do anything to hurt me. If he and Ethan say it’s dangerous in the ecocity, then it must be.
You’ll be fine. At least you’re not alone. Just follow Ethan’s instructions.
But why do we have to split from the group?
“Why won’t we stay with the rest of the group?” I ask, a tremble of fear clearly audible in my voice.
“There’s no such thing as spreading the word on the other side,” Ethan holds me back, his eyes locking with mine. “There’s only death.”
I’m not sure if my legs are tired from the stairs or numb from the shock, but they struggle to keep me standing.
I stare at Ethan, who lets out a sigh. “I can’t explain everything right now, but if you want to make it out alive, you must trust me.”
A cold fear washes over me, and this time I’m grateful when Ethan takes my hand. I need to hold onto something. He’s my only chance at survival, and I don’t want to die.
“…every year, seven courageous crusaders are chosen to go outside the boundary marker. They sacrifice their life of comfort to spread the word and ways of the virtuous to the deviants. This year we are tripling our blessing to the deviants in the hopes that the word might be spread faster. Blessed be,” the words drone from Emissary Jacob.
Everyone in the room, except for Ethan and me, repeats the words, “Blessed be.”
I don’t feel very blessed right now as I look at the other nineteen people. Besides the three older men and Mr. Demetrius, there are three other guys from my sector standing with Jasper, five of the chosen are younger boys, and the last six are men in their early thirties.
Then there is Ruth, me, and Ethan. Besides Ruth and me, there are no other women.
After everything Ethan told me, I know why I’m here, but I don’t understand why Ruth was selected. She’s not strong. She’s gorgeous and more petite than me. Her face is covered in red blotches from all the crying.
Maybe she’s not fertile? It’s the only reason I can think of because it’s a general rule that women don’t get chosen if they’re able to bear children.
My gaze shifts back to the broad table where the emissaries are seated.
Each emissary has a flag hanging from the ceiling above their head, with a virtue printed on the pale blue cloth.
“Blessed be your journey. Blessed be you all.” Emissary Jacob closes with the usual greeting. He is the emissary of the virtue chastity.
“Blessed be.” The murmur goes through the room, and before I can bring myself to open my mouth, it’s quiet again.
With the ceremony over, we follow Aaron to another room where there are three tables. One holds silver square packets and water bottles, and another has the blue first aid kits I recognize from class. The last table is covered with bags. To my left, I see clothes in different sizes. They’re all black, and I can’t stop staring at them. It’s the first time ever I’ve seen black clothes.
“Pick your size and get dressed. Move it,” Ethan whispers. He hurries toward the larger sizes, and I automatically head to the smaller ones.