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When I was clean enough, I curled back up against the wall, my teeth chattering as my wet skin shivered in the cold air. Would I ever be warm again?

“We spoke to your father and sister, Sydney,” said the voice. “They were so sad to hear that you didn’t want to see them. Zoe cried.”

Internally, I winced, regretting that I played along last time. The voice now thought this family tactic had some leverage over me. How could they think I’d want to bond with the people who’d locked me up here? The only family I might have wanted to see—my mom and my older sister—probably weren’t on the visitor list, especially if my dad had gotten his way in their divorce proceedings. That outcome actually was something I would’ve liked to hear about, but no way would I let on to that.

“Don’t you regret the pain you’ve caused them?” asked the voice.

“I think Zoe and Dad should regret the pain they caused me,” I snapped back.

“They didn’t want to cause you pain.” The voice was trying to be soothing, but mostly I wanted to punch whoever was behind it—and I wasn’t the kind of person usually given to violence. “They did what they did to help you. That’s all we’re trying to do. They’d love the chance to talk to you and explain themselves.”

“I’m sure they would,” I muttered. “If you even talked to them.” I hated myself for engaging with my captors. This was the most I’d spoken to them in a while. They had to be loving it.

“Zoe asked us if it would be okay if she brought you a skinny vanilla latte when she visits. We told her it would. We’re all for a civilized visit, for you to sit down and truly talk, so that your family and especially your soul can heal.”

My heart beat rapidly, and it had nothing to do with the lure of coffee. The voice was confirming again what had been suggested before. A real visit, sitting down, drinking coffee . . . that had to take place out of this cell. If any of this fantasy were even true, there was no way they’d bring my dad and Zoe here—not that seeing them was my goal. Getting out of here was. I still maintained that I could stay here forever, that I could take whatever they threw at me. And I could. But what was I accomplishing? All I proved was my own toughness and defiance, and while I was proud of those things, they weren’t getting me any closer to Adrian. To get to Adrian, to get the rest of my friends . . . I needed to dream. To dream, I needed to get away from this drugged existence.

And not just that. If I were somewhere that wasn’t a small, dark cell, I might be able to work magic again. I might have a clue about where in the world they’d taken me. I might be able to free myself.

But first I had to leave this cell. I’d thought I was brave staying here, but suddenly, I wondered if getting out was what would truly test my courage.

“Would you like that, Sydney?” Unless I was mistaken, there was an edge of excitement in the voice—almost an eagerness—that contrasted with the lofty and imperious tone I’d grown used to. They’d never sparked this much interest from me. “Would you like to begin the first steps toward purging your soul—and seeing your family?”

How long had I languished in this cell, moving in and out of agitated consciousness? When I felt my torso and arms, I could tell I’d lost a considerable amount of weight, the kind of weight loss that took weeks. Weeks, months . . . I had no idea. And while I was here, the world was going on without me—a world full of people who needed me.


Not wanting to sound too eager, I tried to stall. “How do I know I can trust you? That you’ll let me see my family if I . . . begin this journey?”

“Evil and deception are not our ways,” the voice said. “We relish in light and honesty.”

Liars, liars, I thought. They’d lied to me for years, telling me good people were monsters and trying to dictate the way I lived my life. But it didn’t matter. They could keep their word or not about my family.

“Will I have . . . a real bed?” I managed to make my voice choke a little. The Alchemists had taught me to be an excellent actress, and now they’d see their training put to work.

“Yes, Sydney. A real bed, real clothes, real food. And people to talk to—people who’ll help you if you’ll only listen.”

That last part sealed the deal. If I were going to be put regularly around others, surely they couldn’t keep drugging the air. As it was, I could feel myself being especially alert and agitated now. They were piping in that stimulant, something that would make me anxious and want to act rashly. It was a good trick on a worn and frazzled mind, and it was working—just not how they’d expected.

Out of old habit, I put my hand on my collarbone, touching a cross that was no longer there. Don’t let them change me, I prayed silently. Let me keep my mind. Let me endure whatever there is to come.


“What do I have to do?” I asked.

“You know what you have to do,” the voice said. “You know what you have to say.”

I moved my hands to my heart, and my next internal words weren’t a prayer, but a silent message to Adrian: Wait for me. Be strong, and I’ll be strong too. I’ll fight my way out of whatever they’ve got in store. I won’t forget you. I won’t ever turn my back on you, no matter what lies I have to tell them. Our center will hold.

“You know what you have to say,” the voice repeated. It was practically salivating.

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