Fury stormed through me, and I didn’t bother to stop it. She was going to kill him—she was going to kill him, and the only way to stop her was to kill her first.
Don’t make me do this, I thought, watching her.
“We had to go,” he said. “We had to. All of this time, we’ve been looking for you.”
The knowing, after all these days of guessing, slammed into me like a fist.
I was right.
She was shaking her head, backing away. “You’re the one who needs help. I’m trying to save you! I’m going to save you!”
Someone called out for her.
“Here!” she yelled back, ignoring the gun I had trained on her. “Here! I found him!”
“Don’t…don’t…” Roman’s voice was faint. “Solnyshko…”
Then I felt it. The twist.
It was like molten liquid pouring into my skull. A scream tore out of my throat. Every joint in my body strained, stretching and contorting. I hit the ground, banging my left side against the root of the massive tree. The gun slipped from my hand, spinning across the dirt and leaves.
Through the blur of tears and smoke, I saw one of the soldiers approach us, dragging a boy after him. Fear shot through me as I struggled to get my hands against the ground, to push myself up.
“Stop, Lana!” he begged. “I’ll come with you, all right? Please—don’t do this!”
“You’ll come with us no matter what,” Lana said. “This”—I screamed again as the boiling pressure increased—“is so you understand that there are consequences to your actions.”
A shot cracked out. The soldier was there, and then he wasn’t. A spray of blood burst from his neck, and he stumbled back, pressing a gloved hand to it. The shock of the hit made him release his grip on the boy, who bolted the instant he was free. Some of the heat in my mind eased enough for me to lift my head and look for Roman.
But the shot had come from the remaining section of the porch. The gun was still smoking in Priyanka’s hands as she lowered it, her eyes going wide.
“Lana!” The word broke from her like a joyful sound, only to be fractured by disbelief.
“Stay back!” I managed to shout through the agony. “Don’t come any closer—”
The girl turned, and I wished I could have seen her expression—if it was still that tight mask of rage, or if it mirrored Priyanka’s exhilaration as it faded into horror.
Priyanka looked first to Roman, then to me, before turning back to Lana.
“What are you doing?” Priyanka jumped down off the porch, her long legs quickly closing the distance between them. Lana tried to back away, refusing to look at her.
The distraction Priyanka provided was enough for the painful heat and pressure in my skull to momentarily ease. I drew myself up enough to try crawling across the ground, straining to reach the gun I’d lost.
“What do you think?” Lana spat. She looked between the three of us with all the feral suspicion of an animal that knew it was about to be cornered.
Priyanka stopped, and, like there was some magnetic force between them, Lana froze in place as well.
“I really don’t know,” Priyanka said softly. “Explain it to me while we get the hell out of here.”
Something switched off in her, and Lana’s tone went flat again. “You’re not going anywhere. You’re mine.”
“You’re damn right I am, Sunshine,” Priyanka said, trying for a pained smile as she knelt down beside Roman, checking his pulse.
Oh, I thought, putting that much together as well.
“That’s not…” Lana began. Her nostrils flared as she took in a heavy, uneven breath. “Don’t. You know what I meant.”
“I know a lot of things,” Priyanka said slowly, rising again. Roman tried to follow, but could only get himself onto his knees. “I know the Lana I loved wouldn’t hurt others, especially not her brother.”
“Just like Pri would never leave me, right?” Lana seethed.
Priyanka struggled to control her expression, but her eyes gave her away. “What’s happened to you?”
Lana clenched her fist, taking a step forward. “He made me stronger. No one, not even you, will hurt me again. He’s the one who took care of me. And now he’s the only one who deserves my loyalty.”
One word rose through the pain ratcheting up in my mind. Who?
“Who…the hell…is he?” I got the words out through gritted teeth. Both of them ignored me, wholly focused on each other.
Priyanka held out her hand. “Just…come with me. We’ve been trying to find you—this whole time, we’ve been trying to reach you.”
“Liar,” Lana whispered, but she didn’t back up again. She stared at Priyanka’s outstretched hand. It trembled where it hung in the air, and I could see in her face, no matter how hard she was working to disguise it, that Priyanka was halfway to heartbreak.
Still, she took another step toward Lana. “We have so much work to do, remember?”
Whatever daze had taken over Lana’s mind was ripped away. “No.”
The gun’s register sounded a split second after the bullet slammed into the tree inches from Lana’s head. Jacob had taken position on the porch and was already lining up his next shot. The boy I’d seen before hung behind him, tears streaming down his cheeks as he spoke, clearly explaining what was happening.
In the distance, helicopter blades sliced through the night air, growing louder by the second. Priyanka lunged for Lana in that moment of interruption, but the girl was faster, both on her feet and in processing her odds. She crashed through the underbrush, jumping over a downed log before disappearing into the trees.
“No!” Priyanka called, running after her. “Lana!”
My vision split in two as the band of pressure around my mind released with a hard snap of pain. Roman shuddered and gasped beside me.
Static roared through my mind, my ears, filling my veins. The welcome caress of power fired through me, erasing the terrifying silence in my mind.
“You all right?” Jacob called, jogging over.
I waited for the dizziness to pass before accepting his help up.
Roman had shoved himself up onto his feet, turning to follow the path Lana and Priyanka had taken through the woods.
“They still have Sasha!” the boy shouted from the porch.
Shit. I gripped Roman’s arm. “Go after Lana, I’ll—”
At that, Roman gave his head a hard shake, pulling away. “No, I’ll go. Can you find Priya?”
I was still just disoriented enough that it took me a second to comprehend his words, and by then, he was already running, stooping to pick up a different gun from the ground. Then he disappeared, too, wrapped in darkness and smoke.
nbsp; Jacob put a hand on my shoulder, making me jump. “You okay?”
“Is it just Sasha?” I asked.
He nodded and the relief was so pure, it brought tears close to the surface again.
“Take him,” I said, angling my head toward the boy. “We’ll bring Sasha.”
“I’m taking that as your definitive vote for trusting them,” he said, wiping the sweat off his face.
I turned back toward the smoldering forest, scanning for any sign of movement. “I tend to find saving kids from being kidnapped and murdered pretty endearing.”
He clucked his tongue. “Makes it unanimous, then. She saved both my and Jen’s asses when she busted into the house. Consider her extra endearing.”
More than that, though, I finally understood what was going on. The darkness I’d sensed at their edges, shaping their lies, hadn’t been some horrible intention. It had been a person, and she was nothing I ever could have imagined.
Like us, but not.
I took off, calling out Priyanka’s name as I moved off the trail and into the woods. My mind raced. What Lana could do…the fact that she could affect our minds the way she had, suppressing our powers and driving stakes of pain directly into our nerves, made me think she might be Orange-classified. The only two I’d known, Ruby and Clancy, hadn’t had the exact same ability, after all. He could plant suggestions, manipulate feelings, and maneuver bodies, but only Ruby had been able to directly affect someone’s memory.
I slid to a stop at the sight of Priyanka coming toward me, her arms crossed tight against her chest, her head down. Her whole body shook, and her face looked as if every emotion had been wrung out of her.
“Are you all right?” I jogged toward her.
She shook her head, momentarily unable to find the words. Priyanka looked…not helpless, but lost. “I couldn’t…I wasn’t enough. I couldn’t make her stay.”
I didn’t know what to say other than “I don’t think anyone could have.”
“I could have. I should have. But I promised Roman not to take it too far.” Even though she didn’t repeat them, I saw the echo of the words on her face. I wasn’t enough.