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Nameless, Page 10

Jessica Sorensen

  "Ryder, I think I need to tell you something." I keep my voice low. "About what I heard in the shower."

  Ryder pulls his hand back from the lantern, looking at me apprehensively. "What happened? Did someone try to hurt you?"

  I swiftly shake my head. "It's not like that ... I mean, a guy and a girl were knocking on the door, and trying to convince me to let them in. But when I wouldn't, they left."

  Relief washes over his face. "Good. I'm glad you didn't open the door. You can't trust people down here."

  "That's what Blaise said."

  He peers around the busy room then leans closer to me. "Do you know why they were trying to get in?"

  "No, but it kind of sounded like they knew"--I wiggle my wrist--"about this. They said maybe I was one of them."

  He dazes off, sketching his fingers along the cut on his cheek. "We need to make sure you're around Blaise, Reece, or me the entire time we're here. Reece was probably right when he said it wasn't a good idea to bring you here. The posts used to be safe, but too many strays started wandering in, and they don't always like following the rules. Some of them are as bad as the wardens."

  "How long do you think we'll stay down here?"

  "I'm not sure. There was a dirt storm blowing in when Reece and I got here. It's not safe being outside during one. The wind gets so powerful it can literally blow people away. And the air's so thick with dirt it's impossible to breathe. The last thing we should be doing is putting you out in that shit." He traces his finger down the brim of my nose, smiling. "Besides, you look so pretty all cleaned up. I think we should let you stay like this for as long as possible."

  I pick at a crack in the table, trying to distract myself from my fluttering heart. "Ryder ... What do I look like?"

  "You don't know?" he questions before realization dawns. "The wardens never let you look in a mirror, did they?"

  I lift my gaze to him. "No. But I know what one is. I'm not sure why. It's just another thing that I know that I probably shouldn't, right?"

  "I'm not sure." He assesses me with his brows knit. "You're full of all sorts of mystery, aren't you?"

  "I guess so..." Is that a bad thing?

  He tugs a strand of my hair then pushes away from the table. "Come. Let's go find a mirror."

  I follow his lead and get to my feet. Intertwining our fingers, he steers me across the room, squeezing past people and heading for the doors. But at the last second he veers right and ventures toward a hallway. As we pass by Mable's door, I'm reminded of the voice I heard.

  "Ryder, there's something else I need to tell you." I clasp his hand as we pass by a woman and a man, laughing and playfully shoving each other.

  When they walk by us, they give Ryder a nod, which he returns, but they eye me curiously. I glance over my shoulder, expecting someone else to be there, because why would they look at me like that? No one's there, though.

  I wait until they're out of earshot before I continue telling Ryder what happened. "There was this voice ... this hissing. I heard it when I was in the shower and then when I got out." When he casts a puzzled glance over his shoulder, I quickly tell him about what happened when Blaise and I were in the trunk.

  "Blaise mentioned the Tracker knew your name," Ryder says when I'm finished. "You didn't see the red eyes when you heard the voice in the shower, did you?"

  I shake my head. "Do you know what those are?"

  "No. And neither does Reece." He stops in front of a pair of thick double doors and faces me. "Which is saying a lot, because Reece knows almost everything."

  "Should I be worried?" I ask. "That it knew my name."

  "No." He places a hand on each side of my neck and lowers his head so we're eye level. "We promised we wouldn't let anything happen to you, and we won't. Blaise, Reece, and I take our promises very seriously." He winks at me as his thumb skims down the side of my throat. "Especially when it comes to pretty girls."

  A strange, confusing, bitter emotion stirs inside me. How many pretty girls have they helped? Am I one of many? Why do I care? It seems so silly.

  "I didn't mean it like that. We don't go around rescuing girls all the time and promising them shit." He seems flustered. "Allura, stop looking at me like that. There hasn't been a lot of girls."

  "Sorry," I say. "I don't know how I look, though."

  "Your nose is all scrunched up." He softly brushes his finger across my nose. "And while it's cute, it's making me feel like I did something bad."

  "Oh." I wiggle my nose, trying to erase the look.

  He chuckles. "You're going to be a handful. I can tell."

  "That doesn't sound like a good thing to be."

  His lips quirk as he tucks a strand of my hair behind my ear. "Don't worry. I'm just teasing you."

  Teasing? Is that why he's smiling at me like that, all cheery and playful, like he's happy to be with me? I shake my head. It doesn't really matter right now. We've gotten off topic, and I need to tell him about the voice I heard.

  "Ryder, about the hissing ... It kind of sounded like ... like Lex ... that warden who talked to me in the cell and told me his name."

  His smile falters. "That's odd. I've never heard of one mimicking a specific voice. And I don't know how you could've heard the voice that clearly from down here--the walls are too thick. Are you sure it sounded like Lex? Maybe it just sounded similar."

  "Yeah, maybe." I still feel unsettled, though. "It did sound a lot like him. And Lex threatened to find me when we were escaping the channels. Maybe he's been tracking me the whole time and knows I'm here. Can wardens do that?"

  "They can, but we weren't followed from the channels. We were careful about that. And the last place the Tracker tracked us was miles from here. Besides, a warden can't get down here without everyone knowing about it. There's only one way into East City Post, and it's through the door we came in. And it doesn't open from the outside. The only way someone gets in is if they're let in."

  "But maybe someone did let him in. Everyone keeps saying how there's a lot of bad people down here. What if a bad person let in a warden and didn't tell anyone?"

  Ryder drags his thumb across his lip, mulling something over. "Shit. You could be right." Before I can panic, he adds, "I don't want you to worry about this. I'll have Blaise and Reece look around and make sure the location's safe."

  I fidget with the hem of my sleeve, feeling restless. "And what do I do while they look around?"

  "You stay with me the entire time. Never leave my side, no matter what." He drapes an arm around me and pulls me to his side. "From now on, you and I are attached at the hip."

  I nod, more than willing to stay beside him at all times. The last thing I want is to be alone again.

  "Now, time to unveil your prettiness." He's all smiles as he opens the double doors.

  Instead of walking into the room, he moves back and gestures for me to go in first. I timidly step over the threshold and enter a room smaller than my old cell.

  Like the other rooms at East City Post, the metal walls and limited lighting make the atmosphere dull, but not nearly as bad as in the channels.

  I take another step and another, inching my way into the room. Then my breath hitches in my throat.

  At least a dozen mirrors form a half-circle around the room. Some of the surfaces are cracked or chipped, but my reflection bounces back at me from each one. Big, brown eyes; pale, freckly, scarred skin; mounds of long, wavy brown hair; all of my features carry familiarity. I've seen my reflection before, but a long time ago, when I was much younger. I run my hands over my waist and hips. I didn't have so many curves before, although curves might be a stretch. My body looks nowhere near like Lucille's. Frail, thin, gangly are the first words that pop into my mind as I stare at my slender neck, protruding collarbone, and long limbs.

  "You need more meat on your bones, but that's only because you haven't been fed properly." Ryder steps up behind me and captures my gaze in the mirror. "Do you want to know what my favorite part is?

  I nod. He has a favorite part?

  He inches closer until his chest touches my back. Then he slips a hand around to the front of me and sweeps his knuckles along my cheeks and nose. "Your freckles."

  "Really?" I lean forward to examine the tiny dots splattering my cheekbones and nose. I poke my cheeks, my nose, and the dark circles under my eyes. "I think the freckles make me look like I have dirt on my face."

  "No way. They're cute. Trust me. And your eyes are big and beautiful, and your nose is adorable." His smile is so genuine I want to believe him. He dips his face toward the top of my head and inhales, smelling my hair. "You smell good, too. Like rain."

  I like the idea that I smell like rain and that my freckles, eyes, and nose are cute, but I just can't see all of this myself. I study my reflection harder, trying to see what he does, but I stare for so long my eyes begin to water and my face becomes a hazy splotch. It's like I'm reliving the forgotten memories again, seeing everything through a blindfold. Then, for a flash of an instant, I swear my eyes glow red.

  I jerk back, dabbing the water from my eyes until my vision comes back into focus. I look back at the mirror again and breathe in relief when my eyes look brown again.

  "Everything okay?" Ryder asks from behind me.

  I unsteadily nod, turning around. I miscalculate the distance between us and nearly bump my head against his nose. I hurriedly step back.

  "I think so. It's just a little strange. I know who I am, yet it feels like I don't. That probably sounds strange, doesn't it?"

  He shakes his head, strands of his blond hair falling into his eyes. "Not at all. There's been times when I've gone months without looking at myself, and it's always weird to look in a mirror again. I can't even imagine how strange this is for you."

  Strange, indeed, especially when my eyes turned red. Maybe I just imagined that, though. Perhaps being out of the channels is simply messing with my head. Then why does everything I'm seeing, feeling, and hearing seem realer than anything ever has in my entire life?

  Chapter Ten

  Life and Death

  I decide not to tell Ryder about how I thought my eyes glowed red. While I think I can trust him, a voice inside my mind begs me to keep quiet. I worry the guys might think I'm crazy. Or worse, what if something is wrong with me and they decide to leave me? I don't want to be left behind.

  By the time Ryder and I get back to the table, Blaise and Reece are there, hunched over in what appears to be an intense conversation. Blaise has a serious, determined look on his face as he tells Reece something. Reece seems calmer, simply listening and nodding occasionally. I start to strain my ears to listen, but then I note the four plates on the table and the most delicious-looking food I've ever seen, and all thoughts leave my mind.

  But before I can sit down and dive in, Ryder announces, "We should go find a room to bunk up in and then eat."

  Blaise and Reece glance up. The three of them exchange a mysterious look. Then Blaise and Reece rise to their feet before they collect the plates of food and silently make their way across the room.

  Reece nods for me to follow them and walks behind me so the four of us are filed in a line. We turn down another long, narrow hallway lined with so many doors I lose count.

  "You sure no one's staying in this one?" Ryder asks Blaise as we finally stop in front of a door. "I don't want to fall asleep and then be woken up ten minutes later by some drunken asshole who thinks this is their room."

  "I already talked to Mable. She said we were good to stay here for tonight." Blaise unlocks the door then walks inside the room. He sets down the plate he's carrying on a crate then unfolds a blanket and spreads it out on the floor. "Mable did say that she thinks Allura should sleep in another room."

  "Hell no. I'm not leaving her anywhere alone." Ryder shucks off his hoodie then removes the sling of bullets strapped across his chest. "Not after some jackass tried to get into the room when she was showering."

  Blaise's jaw drops as his gaze darts to me. "What?"

  I inch toward Ryder. While I'm not afraid of Blaise, something about his intensity makes me feel like I'm about to dive off a cliff ... willingly.

  "It was after I got out of the shower," I say. "A guy and a girl were on the other side of the door, and they kept trying to get in."

  When he continues to gape at me, I hurry and tell him what happened, making sure to mention the voice I heard.

  "I bet it was Maxx and Lucille," Blaise says, lowering himself onto the blanket.

  Reece takes a seat beside him and picks at a roll he collects from a plate. "Why would you think that? There's a ton of people down here, Blaise." He pops a piece of a roll into his mouth. "You can't go around, making accusations without any proof. Remember what happened last time?"

  "What happened last time?" I kneel down on the blanket and eye the food, my mouth salivating.

  "Blaise nearly got himself executed." Ryder sits beside me and crisscrosses his legs.

  "What?" I stare at Blaise in disbelief.

  Blaise picks up a fork and takes a bite of potatoes. "It's really not that uncommon, Allura. Out here ... Well, there aren't many laws, but the few that are enforced have pretty severe punishments."

  "This place scares me," I admit. "But it's not as bad as the channels."

  Ryder scoots a plate in front of me. "Eat up."

  I smile gratefully, peel a chunk of the roll off, and stuff it into my mouth. The bread tastes amazingly mouthwatering good.

  The three of them trade another look as I shove my mouth full. Then Reece locks his eyes on me, rubbing at a large welt below his eye.

  "Allura, we need to talk to you about Lex," Reece says. "I need you to try to remember as many details about him as you can: how he talked, what he looked like, any strange details about him. While I doubt he's down here, we need to be safe. Safe and cautious are always better."

  "He had dark hair and pale skin, but most wardens look like that." I swallow down a mouthful of food. "His nose was kind of crooked."

  "That's good." Reece nods his head encouragingly. "Anything else? Maybe he smelled different?"

  "I never noticed a smell." I press my hand to my chest, remembering the last time Lex was in my room, how he placed his palm over my heart, and the excruciating pain that came afterward. "He touched me here the last time I saw him," I say quietly. "Visitors did that to me all the time, but Lex was the first warden who ever did it."

  Reece licks a glob of melted butter off the side of his hand. "It's not completely unheard of for a warden to feed on the prisoners in the channels, but they usually stick to their own, personal prisoners."

  Feed? I gasp in shock then start to choke on a mouthful of potatoes.

  Ryder pats my back as I cough, food spewing out of my nose and mouth.

  Blaise leaps to his feet, digs a bottle of water out of the pocket of his jacket, and returns to my side. He untwists the cap and hands the bottle to me. "Take a drink."

  I grab the bottle and down a few large gulps, gasping for air.

  "Good?" Ryder asks when I stop hacking.

  I nod, setting the bottle down by my plate. "Sorry, you just startled me when you said wardens feed on their prisoners."

  Reece glances at Blaise, his brow arching. "I thought you already told her."

  Blaise shakes his head, sits down, and stuffs a bite of potatoes into his mouth. "I was waiting for the right time."

  "There's never a right time for these things," Reece says, picking at a roll.

  "Yeah, but ..." Blaise fiddles with a stud in his brow. "Normally, we don't have to explain how fucked up a Nameless situation was. They usually can't understand enough."

  "Would you stop talking around her?" Ryder warns. "She can hear everything you're saying."

  "I know that." Blaise glares at Ryder, but when he looks at me, the harshness in his eyes dissipates. His lips part, but no words come out. He shakes his head and stares at his food, picking through the vegetables.

bsp; Reece sighs, shoving to his feet. He winds around the blanket and drops down beside me, close enough our shoulders touch. Like with Ryder and Blaise, his presence makes me feel safe, not afraid, so I don't lean away.

  "There's some stuff you should know about what the wardens did to you," he starts. "Blaise explained how humans are at the bottom of the food chain, right?" he asks, and I nod. "The thing is ... The reason they're at the bottom of the food chain is because watchers are stronger, and to get more strength and longevity, they steal it from humans."

  I force down the mouthful of food. "So, when they put their hands on my chest, they stole strength from me?"

  He nods, his eyes never wavering from me. "And not just strength, but"--his gaze flicks from Blaise to Ryder before landing on me again--"they stole some of your life."

  "Visitors stole some of my life every time they put their hands on my chest ... and Lex, too?" I trace the square patterns of the quilt below me as I try to process what they're saying. "What did it do to me, exactly?"

  Reece's Adams apple bobs as he swallows hard. "Every time a visitor puts their hands on your chest, they're stretching out the span of their life and reducing yours. Depending on how many times they did it to you, they might have reduced your lifespan by years, maybe even a few decades."

  I release a shaky breath as the air gets knocked out of me. "S-so, I could die soon?"

  "Not necessarily," Ryder says, quickly scooting in front of me. "The wardens were pretty particular about who got to feed on you. That might've limited how many times you were fed on."

  "Allura, do you have any idea how many visitors bought your time?" Reece asks with a cautious edge to his tone.

  I shiver, suddenly feeling cold. "I don't know. Maybe a few thousand, if not more. It's hard to remember, because my memories are sometimes hazy. But sometimes, I'd try to keep track just so ..." I shrug. "I don't know."

  The color drains from Ryder's face. "A few thousand?"

  "Is that bad?" I ask, feeling queasy.

  The three of them stare at me like I'm a foreign creature that shouldn't exist.

  "The highest number I've heard of is five hundred," Reece says. "And he--"

  "That's enough!" Blaise snaps, chucking his fork onto the plate. "She doesn't need to know everything right away. She can have some time to enjoy her freedom."