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‘Pryana, you are excused,’ Maela says. ‘In light of the situation, it wouldn’t be fair.’
Pryana’s coffee eyes echo the alarm I feel.
‘I’m so sorry for your loss,’ Maela simpers, squeezing Pryana’s shoulder.
‘What loss?’ The girl’s voice is so low, Maela looks at her like she can’t hear.
I speak up instead, my mouth dry. ‘She asked, what loss?’
‘Unfortunately –’Maela lingers on the word – ‘this piece is from the academy in Cypress.’
Pryana gasps as her eyes dart to the spot, trying to read the brilliant web.
‘I can’t imagine much of it is left.’ Maela offers an apologetic look and then turns to whisper to Erik.
‘My sister attends the academy in Cypress,’ Pryana says quietly.
Everyone is watching her now, but her eyes stay fixed on the mutilated piece. A few of the other girls glance over at me. When Pryana lifts her eyes, she looks directly at me.
‘You killed her.’
I’m fairly positive Maela expects her to kill me. I’m certainly bracing for it when a pair of firm hands grip my arms. Erik is pulling me away to safety.
We walk swiftly until we reach the stone hallway I was led from only yesterday. There Erik slows and loosens his grip on me. I look up to catch him grinning at me. He’s all business in his dark, trim suit, carefully shaved and groomed. Only his wild blond hair and lopsided smirk belie his professionalism. He’s younger than I thought. In total fairness, I’ve been half-drugged or half-starved during our previous meetings. Still, I can’t help wondering if he’s as dangerous as his boss.
‘Did I miss a joke?’ I ask.
‘Oh, you were there,’ Erik assures me, still grinning. ‘You sure know how to get under Maela’s skin. I’ve never seen her lose it like that.’
‘You have a strange sense of humour.’ I think back to Maela’s perfect calm, broken by a single, disastrous moment of fury. But perhaps even then she was in control, her anger precise in its purpose, turning Pryana against me.
‘Why didn’t you do it?’ he asks.
‘It wasn’t necessary. That thread was strong,’ I answer without hesitation.
‘But the Guild has a purpose in asking for its removal,’ Erik argues, dropping my arm altogether.
‘Do they?’ I ask, and then wish I hadn’t. I’m sure that everything I say to him will be reported straight back to Maela, especially if it sounds like I’m questioning things. But if he’s got a response to my scepticism, he doesn’t share it.
We stop at a towering oak door, and he jostles it open.
‘Do you want the penny tour?’ he offers, his blue eyes twinkling a bit.
I take a look around the empty stone cell and shake my head. ‘I’ve been here before, but thanks anyway.’
‘Well, I’ll check on you later,’ he says, stepping back into the hall.
‘I can’t wait.’
‘I know.’ Erik shoots me a wink as he pulls the large door closed.
The first thing I notice is the toilet. I must have done something to deserve this slight improvement in my imprisonment, but I’m not sure what. Regardless, it’s small comfort. I know now I’ll die here. Maybe not in this cell, but somewhere in the Coventry. It should bother me more than it does. But rather than focus on my own fate, here in the dark, I think of my mother and Amie. Here in this cell without the blinding lamps and overbearing colour of the compound, I can sketch them in my mind. The way my mother chewed her lipstick off when she was concentrating. Or how Amie would tell me, down to the colour of their socks, what every girl in her class wore to academy and who got in trouble for talking during quiet hour. The blackness lets me imagine we’re back in my room, giggling at how Yuna Landew got called out of class to be interrogated about her purity. Of course, that part doesn’t seem so funny to me any more.
Now that I know how far the Guild will go to prove a point, I wonder what really happened to Yuna. Maybe she played dumb better than I can. I should have known Maela’s little test wasn’t aimed at weeding out the weak girls so much as testing my loyalty. Hundreds are dead because of me. And who have I ‘saved’? An elderly teacher or a terminally ill child?
Just as I’m sinking into total hopelessness, the door to my cell creaks open. I start when I realise that it’s the strange boy with the disappointed eyes, bringing my meal.
‘Miss me that much?’ he teases, setting the tray down near me. I’ve been huddling in a corner that feels warmer than the rest of the cell.
‘Don’t flatter yourself. I have a fetish for cold prison floors.’
‘Fetish? Big word.’ He raises one eyebrow at me, challenging me to explain how a pure Eligible knows a word like that.
I want to tell him that unlike the other simpering idiots here I’ve actually read a book or two in my life, but no matter how much it might impress him, I keep the information locked in my head and glare up at him. It’s not a very impressive glare, because something about the smirk he’s trying to hide at my wounded expression makes me feel silly and excited and happy all at the same time.
To my surprise, he crosses the cell and drops down beside me.
‘Thought I warned you to play dumb,’ he says with a lowered voice.
‘Guess I didn’t listen,’ I retort with a shrug.
‘You’ll get yourself killed.’ He sounds resigned as though he knows I don’t care any more.