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All is quiet as Mama gently strokes my hair. We’ve been sitting here for ages, I think. It must be over by now, but I’m too afraid to speak. The darkness eats me up, like the silence, the heavy breath of the men by the window. It sits high on the wall, near the ceiling, but outside it doesn’t rise above the street. There is only blackness beyond its dirty glass frame.
“Are they gone?” whispers Ada. Mama lets go of me and takes hold of my little sister, all in one swift movement. She presses her palm against Ada’s mouth, speaking rapidly and silently into her small ear. The gunmen shift restlessly in the corner.
A soft light creeps in from the street, sending a ripple of disturbance through the darkness. Mama grips Ada even tighter as the soldiers gather around us. They aim their guns to the window, to the lights and the people behind them.
The Deceivers. That’s what we call them. On the Outside they are known by a different name. They are all commanded by the Queen.
The One who Remembers.
We are the lucky ones, Mama tells me. Most Untouchables didn’t live through the Purge. Even the survivors slowly died off, starved or worse. There are only a few of us left. We’ve lost contact with everyone else. It’s just us and the gunmen, down in this basement, colder than ice.
No one remembers the Purge, except for the Queen. No one remembers what the sun looked like, or who decided the laws before the Clouds came. All we’ve ever known is the Deceivers and their Monarch.
The lights roam the empty streets, passing our window a few times. We hold our breath until I feel like fainting, but the lights slowly dim and retreat, back into their fortresses of metal and blood. We relax.
“Kate,” whispers one of the men. “We have to get them out. Before the next wave comes.” Mama nods, gently coaxing Ada out, who’s been hiding in the folds of her dress. Mama looks old and grey as she sends Ada towards the gunmen, though she’s not even thirty. One of the soldiers scoops Ada into his arms. Her face scares me, so cold and inhuman. Another one lifts me up.
“It’s alright Ella,” he whispers. “We’ll be safe soon.” I’ve learned not to take the gunmen’s words to heart. They try not to scare me, at the cost of truth.
We are the only things outside now. Not even the stars are brave enough to come out. And we run, faster than the wind, noiselessly as the skycraft they send on it. We surge through the black streets, unseen and invincible.
But someone heard us. I can almost taste the bullet as it unloads into the back of the gunmen carrying me. The one with Ada retrieves his gun, but soon he is shot as well. I hear Mama scream.
I grab Ada’s hand and run, but she’s too small and we don’t make it far. The Deceivers circle us, all in black, and tall, like trees. One of them speaks to me in a soft velvet voice.
“Ella, Ella, you know me. Remember? I’ll keep you safe now. Come with me. I’ll take you home.”
I remember this voice from long ago. It’s so kind, but so like poison. I don’t want to believe him, but I don’t have a choice. They take our hands and lead us slowly away.