Here is the third chapter in the EverMarked series coming out at the end of the month. Hope you enjoy!
If you haven't read Chapter One or Chapter Two yet, check them out first.
Chapter 3 - Sienna
The DEZ had a depressing façade, both inside and out. No matter how far away from the downtown core it was, the large cement building couldn’t hide from sight, even placed discreetly on the far end of the city. It was still an eyesore for anyone who passed. It had no windows or view from the inside. Technically, no way in besides the main doors guarded day and night, but Vic had helped me find a few ways.
A cool breeze swept through the open street we walked down, the lights no longer dancing in the sky far away from the city center.
A few blocks before we reached the DEZ, we moved towards the underground water canals flowing through the city. We were careful no one saw us. The grate we stood next to, above the sound of rushing water, was easy to lift. The water itself was only waist deep, not hard to move through, and relatively clean…at least that’s what I told myself.
I hissed through my teeth as I dropped into the cold water. Theo did the same behind me before reaching up and pulling the grate back into place. We let the water move us forward, closer to the depressing grey building looming in the moonlight through the narrow slits of the grates lined up every few yards.
“How long have you known Ava?” Theo asked. He’d been quiet most of the way back, but I could see his mind working the entire time. Calculating everything she’d said to us.
“About a year.”
“And you trust her?”
“With my life,” I said. And I meant it. She had saved me more than a few times when I got myself in over my head during a fight, once on my way home when I hadn’t been cautious enough to stay out of sight of a few drunk idiots looking to pick a fight with the genetic freak.
“She’s a bit…odd.” Theo chose his words strategically.
“She’s different, but she can be trusted,” I said. “Don’t think too hard about what she said; she’s always going off on some weird tangent about the stars and fate. I don’t put much weight into how much of it is truth. All I know is she’s protected me, kept my secret, and saved me more than once.”
Theo nodded. Though it didn’t stop the wheels in his head from turning, it kept him silent the rest of the way.
When we finally reached the cement walls of home, I sucked in a deep breath and dove under the water, moving with the current under the thick cement walls through the narrow pipe. It was a good distance to the other side, but I had trained myself to hold my breath for a long time.
The chasm opened into the basement mechanical room. Taking only a second to catch my breath, I quickly pulled myself out of the water and ducked behind the large furnace. Oil fumes filled the air, tickling my throat. The space was loud enough we didn’t have to worry about being quiet.
A towel had been left for me by Vic, probably hours ago, as I had returned much later than planned. But I could always count on her to have my back. Under the towel was a small bag filled with dry clothes for me to change into.
Theo hopped out behind me, shaking out his wet hair. Once I was dry, I tossed him the damp towel.
“Thanks.” He glared at it, holding it out between pinched fingers.
“You should have planned ahead before you decided to follow me,” I teased, turning my back to him as I sloughed off my soaking wet top. The hairs on the back of my neck tingled a familiar warning sign, telling me I was being watched. When I glanced over my shoulder, Theo quickly turned his gaze away.
My wet pants suctioned to my legs as I pulled them off, tossing them in a pile before replacing them with the dry, warm ones Vic had left me. Dark red pants clung tight to my still sticky, damp legs, and the long-sleeved black shirt covered all thirteen strikes on my arm.
I had more than the customary two marks on my wrist we were given as children—the ones differentiating the Marked from the Pur, genetic kids that were like us, only their parents kept them, and they had no marks classifying them as different. They were still made perfect in appearance, like us, only we were someone’s leftover garbage. The kids in the DEZ were unwanted, impure, and marked to make that clear.
I was marked with thirteen lines so far, a testament to the amount of times I’d done something wrong, said the wrong thing, or been the wrong thing. Our instructors, if you can even call them that—more like prison guards—didn’t take kindly to those who stood up for themselves or questioned their ways. And I was always questioning.
When I turned back around, Theo had removed his shirt and was wringing out the water as best he could. It was impossible not to stare at his bare chest. Ripped with muscles covering his smooth, tan skin, he was stunning. The only imperfection on him was the two thick, black lines marked on his wrist.
But that was how we were all made—perfect. All genetic kids had the gift, and curse, of being flawless, even the Marked. Created from the DNA of only the best parts of Carbon and human parents, we were molded into something to be revered. Only we were hidden while the Pur lived in the lap of luxury. They were the lucky ones. We were the rejects, the ones marked with a flaw, and shoved away in this hovel.
“So how am I supposed to get back to my quad soaking wet?” Theo asked, rubbing the towel through his wet black hair, making it stick up all over the place.
I chuckled as I patted down the stray pieces as best I could. “That’s for you to figure out, not me. That will teach you for following me.”
Theo grabbed my wrist as I went to pull away, keeping his gaze locked on mine. I tensed under his stare and the fire in his eyes. “You need to be more careful, Sienna. If I followed you there, that means anyone else could have.”
I pulled my hand out of his grip and crossed my arms. “I don’t need you to protect me or tell me to be more careful. I can take care of myself.”
He tilted his head to the side. “Sure you can.” He didn’t believe me, but he let it go, kicking off his shoes and dumping the water out with a sigh.
I turned to leave, set on letting him figure a way out on his own, but guilt stopped me. I tossed him my bag of wet clothes. “Take everything off but your boxers and put them in the bag. Vic will pick them up tomorrow morning and make sure everything’s dry.”
Theo did as he was told, and again I turned my back to him as he removed his pants. He shoved everything, including his shoes, in the bag, and I slid it all under the large, steel furnace we hid behind. I placed a finger to my lips and began leading the way.
My footsteps matched the cadence of the machinery, a constant rhythm I settled into. Slithering between equipment, I paused at each corner, waiting four seconds as the camera bots circled above in a constant pattern. Theo followed my lead with a bit more difficulty than me. He was a lot bigger after all. When we reached the doors leading out of the mechanical room into the basement of the DEZ, I pointed to the two camera bots circling the large room and motioned with my fingers the four-second intervals we had to time our movements by.
I waited for the first to pass before I slid under the railing of the staircase and cracked the door open. Glancing down the empty hallway, I opened the door a bit wider and squeezed through, pressing myself against the wall so Theo had room to get through, too. He arrived four seconds later, undetected. The door closed silently behind us, and we breathed a small sigh of relief.
The rest of the way back to our quads was much easier. The hallways only had camera bots at the crossroads, and they were less attentive given the fact that seeing us walk down the hallways wasn’t a crime. But we still avoided them as best we could. A few too many questions to answer, given Theo’s current attire…or lack thereof. Plus, we weren’t technically supposed to be wandering the hallways after lights out.
We were only a few more turns away from our quads when footsteps sounded in the distance, coming closer. We turned on our heels, scrambling for a way out, but the camera bot was hovering on the route back. The route forward took us face-to-face with the person behind the footsteps.
The hallway was dim, but not dark enough to hide in plain sight. Silently, we wrestled with each other, fear and excitement coursing through my veins. I pushed him forward, and he spun out of my hands and tried to do the same. We grappled and clawed, trying to grab hold of the other to shove them in the way of those footsteps and the person taking them towards us.
Who was going to take the fall? I knew if it was me, I’d have less explaining to do, though I’d likely get another strike. If it wasn’t for Theo, though, I’d already be in my quad. Narrowing my eyes and crossing my arms over my chest, my eyes silently told him just that.
Sighing, Theo tilted his head back, mouthing the words, “Fine, but you owe me big time,” before he shoved me into the alcove of a doorway and took a few steps towards whoever was coming.
“Theo?” The voice of Instructor Yarik echoed through the hallway. “Care to explain what exactly you’re doing out of your quad in…those?”
I had to cover my mouth to stop from bursting with laughter.
“Uh, I just went to get a drink from the kitchen. Couldn’t sleep. Guess I forgot to put on pants,” Theo said. I could hear the humiliation in his voice.
I clutched my stomach, clamping my mouth tight as I tried desperately not to laugh. One glimpse of his expression would’ve pushed me over the edge. I knew the look on our stern instructor’s face would have been extremely un-amused. Instructor Yarik was anything but understanding, and she was the last person I’d expect to crack a smile at the sight of Theo in only his boxers.
“Well, I would advise you to take more care next time you choose to leave your quad in the middle of the night. This could be a strike against you, if I were so inclined,” Instructor Yarik chided, and I swallowed back the guilt. I was used to getting in trouble, the thirteen strikes on my forearm were a testament to that, but not Theo. He rarely stepped out of line.
“I’m sorry, Instructor. It won’t happen again,” Theo said, his usual smooth voice filled with confidence. I could almost feel the boyish charm he tried to lay on her.
To my surprise, it worked. “Fine. Just get back to your quad. Now,” Yarik said, and the two began heading down the hallway, away from me.
I glanced around the corner of the doorway I hid behind as Theo and Yarik rounded the corner. Theo’s eyes caught mine before he swept out of view, his mouth a thin line as he glared at me. I gave him a sweet smile and a little wave of my fingers.
Quiet as a mouse, I padded down the hallway, taking the opposite corner Theo had as I slipped toward my quad. The round familiar steel door came into view a few steps away. I pressed my hand against the panel on the wall, and the lock clicked open. I pulled at the heavy door until it was open enough for me to squeeze through and crept in, sealing it shut behind me.
The bed under me shifted, and a light flicked on. Vic’s tired eyes squinted through the bright space. “What took you so long?” she asked, yawning.
“I had a stowaway holding me up.” I gently pushed her over a bit, making room for me on the tiny bed.
We’d always shared a room, even when we were old enough to have our own. I couldn’t sleep if she wasn’t beside me, and I think even though she could sleep alone, she knew I needed her. So she stayed. The rooms, which we called quads, were only meant for one person. A single hard bed covered the entire space. Two small shelves by the head of the bed kept a clock and a small notepad. We shared the single compartment recessed into the wall housing our clothes. And a single, incredibly bright, and way too harsh, light was overhead. If I were claustrophobic, this room would be my worst nightmare. But despite the cold space and constant smell of dirt and a musky, smoky scent, it was home.
I reached up and turned off the light, tucking my cold feet under the blankets.
“What kind of stowaway?” Vic asked, sleep still coating her voice.
“The tall, brooding type.” I could feel Vic’s silver eyes dart my way, even in the darkness. “Don’t worry. Theo got his punishment for following me.” I chuckled to myself. “I’ll tell you all about it in the morning.”
I heard the rustling of Vic nodding before she rolled over and was quick to fall back to sleep. She had always been the trusting one in this friendship, never one to demand an explanation or force me to answer everything right that second. It was why I hadn’t told her what I’d been up to the last year, or how I was funding our future. I wouldn’t lie to her if she asked, but she knew not to ask. She understood me; she was my best friend, my family.
Vic was sweet and quiet, always listening before talking. It had served her well. I was brutal enough for the both of us. She was smarter than she gave herself credit for and the only reason I had found a way out of the DEZ at all. I relied on her more than I think she even knew.
As I rolled on my side and a mouth full of Vic’s curly, dark hair hit me in the face, I sighed and pulled it up and out of the way. I was envious of her curly hair perfectly framing her brown skin, making her silver eyes even more striking than they already were. My bright hair was annoyingly bone straight.
Yeah, we were complete opposites—the pale redhead and the caramel beauty. But we were family, and that would never change.
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