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I’m not fast enough. The man steps from the shadows at the end of the adjacent shelving unit and catches me around the waist. Clasping his hand over my mouth, he hisses into my ear: ‘Stop fighting me, Adelice.’
I go limp in his arms, and he drops his hold. Whirling on him, I shove him hard in the chest. He stumbles, and I barely make out the annoyance flashing on his face in the dark.
‘Remind me not to save your ass in the future,’ Erik says, regaining his footing.
‘What are you doing here?’ I demand in a low voice.
‘Rescuing you,’ he says, rubbing his chest.
‘Who closed it?’
‘What?’ he asks, confused.
‘The opening back to the upper studios,’ I whisper.
‘Is that how you got in here?’ he asks, matching his volume to mine.
I nod, and begin moving back to the spot where I opened the rift. Erik follows behind me, but there’s nothing left of the gap. I have no idea what to do to save Jost, but every second I waste here leaves him in their clutches.
‘So is this your big plan?’ he asks.
‘It was,’ I say with a sigh. ‘But I guess it’s time to move on to Plan B.’
‘Which is?’
‘There is no Plan B yet,’ I admit.
‘What exactly was Plan A?’ he asks.
‘Get information,’ I answer.
‘That’s all?’
He grimaces. ‘You need help with your plans.’
‘But we have to get back. I left Jost on the other side.’
Erik stiffens as I say his name, and I’m reminded of the rigid distance the two boys usually keep from each other. ‘Well, it won’t take them long to figure out you’re here,’ he says, tugging me back toward the repository’s door. ‘And you wasted a lot of time hiding from me.’
‘You could’ve called out to me,’ I say in an aggravated voice.
‘I’m trying to keep a low profile.’ Erik glares at me, anger burning through his eyes, but his swift pace shifts to a sprint. ‘Come on.’
‘We’ve got to get to Loricel’s studio,’ I tell him as we run.
‘I know.’ His hand is on my arm, urging me along.
At the door, he stops me and straightens a loose strand of hair. Looking at my feet he frowns. ‘Okay,’ he says, ‘this is how we’re playing it. I found you in here, and I’m taking you to Cormac.’
‘So I’m a prisoner?’ I ask.
‘Yes, so look scared.’
‘That shouldn’t be hard,’ I mutter.
Erik opens the door and grabs my arm roughly, forcing me through. I find myself in a brightly lit hallway. Up at the other end, two guards snap to attention and head our way.
‘I caught her,’ Erik calls to them. ‘I’m taking her to Cormac now.’
The older of the two men glances at his companion. Both of them must be ten years his senior at least.
‘I have level-eighteen clearance,’ he says, flashing a card from his hip pocket.
‘Yes, sir,’ both shout, but the eldest’s voice trips on ‘sir’.
I shift my eyes to the floor and drop my shoulders as Erik leads me away. Once we’re around the corner, he loosens his grip on me but doesn’t remove his hand.
‘How did you find me?’ I whisper.
‘Cormac’s going crazy,’ he says under his breath. ‘We’re on level-three alert.’
‘But how did you know I was here?’
‘When I escorted you on the goodwill tour,’ he says, glancing back at me, ‘Cormac had you fitted with a tracking device—’
‘No, he didn’t.’ I remember Enora telling me how he wanted to insert a complant, but couldn’t.
‘Yeah, he did,’ Erik assures me. ‘They put it in your food. It’s programmed to lodge in your small intestine.’
My hand flies to my stomach, and I stare at him. ‘So they’ve been tracking my every move for weeks?’ I ask.
‘No,’ Erik says, lowering his voice further. ‘I have. I corrupted their file. Only I have the tracking link now.’
‘Then you . . .’
‘Yes, I’ve been tracking you.’
‘But you haven’t—’
‘Turned you in?’ he finishes for me. ‘We have similar . . . allies.’
The last word is so strained that I almost don’t believe him, except that he’s here now. Something clicks into place in my mind, something that tried to be discovered earlier today but it can’t be correct. I search his face for clues and settle on his blue eyes.
‘Who?’ I demand impatiently. The vague double-talk is beginning to wear on me, but I’m afraid to utter my suspicions.
‘Now’s not the time,’ he murmurs. ‘I hope you have a very good plan to get us out of here.’
‘I told you I didn’t,’ I snap.
‘Then start thinking of one,’ he says. ‘I’m sure you have more tricks up your sleeve, and I can only get us so far.’
I lapse into silence as Erik drags me through a set of white swinging doors. We’re back in the main hall of the Coventry, and my feet catch on the thick shag carpets as he pulls me along. He leads me away from the meeting rooms, and we walk quickly towards the upper studio’s entrance. Several men in the coal-black uniform of the Guild are blocking the entrance, and as we draw closer, one holds up his hand to stop us.