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Why did he bring me here? Everything about the place was a sneeze away from collapsing. Cracked ceiling, holes in the wall and floorboards, and I’m pretty sure I saw a colony of rats. The building formally known as Limmerman & Company definitely deserved to be put out of its misery.

A roach brushed my fingers and I steeled myself. If the guys saw a bug freak me out they would dump me faster than I could talk my way into going.

After a slow count of ten, I casually hid my hands in my pockets. Having them out was stupid anyway. I stepped away from the blackened counter. I still wasn’t sure if it was a fire that did it or layers of grime. That or it was naturally black. Offices usually did have black countertops. Made everything sleek.

“It’s not here.” Mel stormed out of the last remaining office in full growl mode.

“Soo….do we try another floor?” A prayer of hope went up. The ceiling did not look friendly and we were only on the second floor. A third or fourth floor was insane. As it was, the floorboards he was strategically maneuvering around were unstable.

He grabbed my arm, much to my ignored protest, and swung me behind him in time to miss the rubble that came crashing down where I once stood. A thanks was the most I could get out before he started yelling at me to get moving. The building had finally had enough.

Hurried footsteps overheard made things a little clearer. Those idiots probably forgot their footing. One horrible placed step and bam, the domino effect was in full swing.

“Dana!” Tommy skidded to a stop. Mistake two of the team. I pulled him into the stairwell seconds before the ceiling gave away again.  “Where’s Mel?”

“I save your pervy ass and that’s the first thing you ask?” Incredible. “No clue. He went back for Blue.” A year of intense training helped with my outward reactions. Fear was invisible but I sure as hell felt it. Mel could very well be dead and I still had no idea what his death would have been for.

Tommy and I rammed ourselves against the emergency door. We didn’t have time to be polite about. I also wanted out. The air had grown thick with dust, dirt, and aged building materials.

“Count off!”

Mel. I focused on catching my breath instead of showing my relief. Emotions had to be checked if we were to be efficient. Outwardly anyway.

“Six,” I shouted. Six and last. Five was the only number missing.

A dangerous groan came from the building. We hightaled it to the other side of the street and watched as both the building and our fallen comrade were destroyed. I lingered to mourn while the others shoved off. Emotions were blinders, I got that, but was it too much to give a moment to someone we worked with?

I heard one of the guys dismiss it as a waste and a part of me snapped. “Nick is nothing but a waste? What the hell did he die for anyway? Blind faith?”

I knew they heard me. Every single one. The abandoned streets had an annoying echo affect that, for once, I found useful. Mel couldn’t ignore me. Not if he wanted our secret mission to remain under the Trol’s radar.

The guys parted to make room for Mel to put me in my place. I stood with my head high and toes twitching. Me and my mouth. But I wouldn’t take it back. Nick deserved our respect and I deserved to be treated like an actual rebel fighter.

Mel stopped inches from me. Backtracking a little, I reconsidered my premature temper. Maybe I didn’t deserve anything at all.

His stone eyes bored into mine and I steeled myself. “He is a sacrifice to the Regime,” he growled.

I stared him down despite my warm palms. The Regime was a ghost. We fought for it, hunted for it, and killed for it yet none of us knew who we were really backing. It could be worse than the Republic. It could be worse than the slap that never came. Instead Mel took my gun. He pulled it apart, piece by piece, till he found the slip of paper expertly hidden inside of it.

“This is our mission.” He held up the unfolded paper.

“They’re just weird symbols.” And why was it in my gun? Kill off the newbie why don’t you.

“Yea,” he grunted with a nod, “nobody can read it around here but we aren’t suppose to read it. Isn’t our job. We just gotta find the books with these things on them.”

Then what? But that wasn’t what came out. “Why are you telling me?”

He smiled a sick smile that had me grateful that I didn’t eat the slop earlier. “Cause, you’re part of the puzzle. When this is over, you’ll be dead.”

My jaw literally dropped. I was going to die? I accepted death as a risk since I was part of the rebels but the way he said it was like my fate was sealed. Was I the next sacrifice?

An aggressive pull brought me and my fear against him. “We all have our part to play. Yours is being our blood paid to bring a new order. Smile, Dana, you’ll see Nick again.”