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To my amazement, a round of nods met me, and even Sheridan regarded me with approval. Then, she spoke. “That’s a very wise insight, Sydney. And yet something must have gone terribly wrong if you learned no lessons from that incident and ended up here yourself.”

All those eyes swiveled from her to me, and for a moment, I couldn’t breathe. I discussed Adrian occasionally with Duncan, but this was different. Duncan didn’t judge or tear my romance apart. How could I bring up something so precious and powerful to me in front of this group, who would revile it and make it sound dirty? What I had with Adrian was beautiful. I didn’t want to lay it out to be trampled here.

And yet, how could I not? If I didn’t give them something, if I didn’t play their games . . . then how long would I be here? A year—or more—like Duncan? I’d told myself, back in that dark cell, that I’d say anything to get me out of here. I had to make good on that. Lies told here wouldn’t matter if they got me back to Adrian.

“I let my guard down,” I said simply. “My assignment had me working around a lot of Moroi, and I stopped thinking of them as the creatures they are. I guess after my associate, the lines of good and evil got blurred for me.”

I braced myself for Sheridan to start grilling me on the more intimate details of what had happened, but it was another girl, one named Amelia, who spoke up with something wholly unexpected. “That almost makes sense,” she said. “I mean, I wouldn’t have taken it to the, uh, extremes you did, but if you’d been around a corrupt human, it could maybe make you lose faith in your own kind and erroneously turn to the Moroi.”

Another guy I’d rarely spoken to, Devin, nodded in agreement. “Some of them can almost seem deceptively nice.”

Sheridan frowned slightly, and I thought those two might get in trouble for comments semi-favorable to the Moroi. She apparently decided to let it slide in favor of the progress I’d made today. “It’s very easy to get confused, especially when you’re out on assignment by yourself and things take unexpected turns. The important thing to remember is that we have an entire infrastructure in place to help you. If you have questions about right or wrong, don’t turn to the Moroi. Turn to us, and we’ll tell you what’s right.”

Because heaven forbid any of us think for ourselves, I thought bitterly. I was spared further romantic questioning as Sheridan turned her attention on the others to hear what kind of enlightenment they’d had that day. Not only was I off the hook, I’d apparently scored points with Sheridan and—as I saw when dinner came around—with some of my detainees.

When I took my tray from Baxter and started to walk toward an empty table, Amelia beckoned me to hers with a curt nod. I sat down beside her, and although no one actually made conversation with me for the meal, no one ordered me away or berated me. I ate wordlessly, instead taking in everything I heard around me. Most of their talk was typical of what I’d hear in Amberwood’s cafeteria, comments about the school day or roommates that snored. But it gave me more and more insight into their personalities, and I again began gauging who might be an ally.

Duncan had been sitting with others at another table, but when we passed each other leaving the cafeteria, he murmured, “See? I told you you were making progress. Now don’t screw it up.”

I almost smiled but had learned my lesson earlier today about getting too comfortable. So I kept what I hoped was a solemn and diligent look on my face as we shuffled off to the library to select our boring reading choices for the night. I ended up over in the history section, hoping for something a little more interesting than what I’d checked out recently. Alchemist histories were still full of lessons on morals and good behaviors, but at least those lessons weren’t explicitly directed at the reader, as most of the other self-help books were. I was debating over a couple of different medieval accounts when someone knelt beside me.

“Why did you want to know about the gas?” asked a quiet voice. I did a double take. It was Emma.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said lightly. “Do you mean in art today? Duncan and I were discussing the ferns.”

“Uh-huh.” She pulled out a book of Renaissance-era diaries and flipped through the pages. “I’m not going to say a word to you in our room, you know. It’s under surveillance. But if you want my help now, you’ve got about sixty seconds.”

“Why would you help me?” I demanded. “Assuming I even want it? Are you trying to trap me into something so that you can make yourself look better?”

She snorted. “If I wanted to ‘trap you into something,’ I’d have done it ages ago in our room, caught on video. Forty-five seconds. Why do you want to know about the gas?”

Anxiety crawled over me as I waffled on what to do. In my assessments of who might be an ally, Emma had never come up at all. And yet, here she was, offering the closest to sedition that anyone—even my friend Duncan—had presented so far. That made it all the more likely I was being set up, yet part of me just couldn’t resist the opportunity.

“The gas keeps us here as much as the guards and walls,” I said at last. “I just want to understand it.” Hopefully that wasn’t too incriminating.

Emma slipped the book back and selected another diary, this one with fancy embellishments. “The controls are in a workroom that’s on the same level as purging. Each bedroom also has a small pipe feeding in from that system. It’s right behind a ventilation panel near the ceiling.”

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