We’d trusted the wrong person to help us.
Amal had betrayed us. She’d kept Ta’Zan in the loop about what we were up to. The Faulties’ rebellion was a failure from the very beginning. Yet, Ta’Zan had let them go through with it. He’d allowed the diversion to continue, and he’d encouraged Amal to get us out of the diamond dome, to guide us through the colosseum, and to get us within reach of an actual escape… only to crush it all with his presence and his incredibly annoying calm demeanor.
But there was a silver lining to all this. The Faulties had planned for failure and betrayal, too. Isda had gotten Varga out another way, keeping him separate from our group from the moment we’d left our… enclosure.
Varga was out. We were back in the diamond dome. We had no idea whether Araquiel, Abaddon, and their crew had gotten their claws on our kids yet—and we still worried about Abaddon losing his temper and getting all murderous, like he’d done before. I didn’t know how many times they’d be able to evade him. On top of it all, Ta’Zan had finally sent his new, greater and stronger upgraded Perfect, Cassiel, to tail Varga, assuming that the young vampire-sentry prince would lead him to Ben and Rose’s group.
But at least one of us had made it beyond the diamond walls of the colosseum. Varga had a better chance out there than in here with a shock collar around his neck.
“I wonder what happened to Isda, Monos, and the others,” Sofia said, resting her head on my shoulder.
We’d settled on the glassy floor, right next to Lucas’s bed. Marion was with him, keeping an eye on his wounds. Cassiel had done a quick but painful number on him, but the long and deep cuts on his chest were already healing.
“They’re probably getting punished,” I replied. “They rebelled. Ta’Zan would be seen as weak if he didn’t retaliate somehow.”
“They were trying to help us,” Sofia sighed.
“No, they were trying to help themselves, to remove Ta’Zan from his rule by getting us out and giving us a fair fighting chance,” Claudia interjected. “The Faulties aren’t stupid. They knew what they were signing up for.”
“That doesn’t stop me from feeling sorry for them,” Sofia said, and I instinctively put my arm around her shoulders and pulled her closer. I couldn’t get enough of the soothing sensation that her presence gave me, especially in these circumstances.
“I didn’t say you shouldn’t feel sorry for them,” Claudia replied, rubbing her face with her palms. “It’s just… we’ve got our own to worry about, too. Varga is out there.”
“Ah, you’re worried about your grandson.” Lucas scoffed, then pushed himself into a seated position, while Marion watched him like a hawk. “I get that, Claudia, I totally do. But we can’t not spare a thought for the complete strangers who trust us to save them.”
Corrine exhaled, shaking her head. “You know, I did try to teleport out of there,” she muttered. “When we bumped into Ta’Zan. They’re blocking my ability somehow.”
Kailyn gave her a brief nod. “Yeah, Isda mentioned something about it, at some point. They’re using the same stuff on Kailani’s crew to stop them from zapping out of there.”
“And still, our kids keep slipping away.” I chuckled. “Dammit, we’ve raised them well.”
Suddenly, all eyes were on me, not only from our founders’ crew, but also from the other prisoners. I couldn’t help but smile. For the first time in days, I could see the glimmer of hope refusing to dim, despite the circumstances.
“You’re in a good mood,” Xavier said, raising an eyebrow. “Not sure you’ve noticed, but we’re back in the friggin’ diamond dome with shock collars around our necks.”
“Yes. But Varga is out. Our plan B worked. Ta’Zan wasn’t impossible to trick, after all. We’ve spent so much time and energy letting him get to us that we forgot one very simple truth: he’s a creature, much like us. He has weak spots, much like us. He lacks crucial strategic experience, as do his Perfects. We don’t. And it’s time we make use of that. We can beat him. I know it. I can feel it.”
Claudia smiled, but there was sadness lingering in her eyes. “I get where you’re coming from, I do. I feel the same way. Like salvation is just around the corner. Like… we’re almost there! But, Derek, Ta’Zan just sent his most powerful hybrid yet to chase my grandson around. To capture the others… to drag them all back here.”
“Or to kill them, if they’re too much of a nuisance,” Yuri added, his head low and a muscle twitching nervously in his jaw. “Elonora, Varga. Everyone who’s trying to help us.”
“Yeah, we all heard him, but I doubt Ta’Zan will go through with that part of his ominous promise,” Corrine replied. “I mean, think about it. These kids have been giving him the middle finger for quite some time now. They’re good. They’re strong and relentless and sharp-witted. He’ll want to study them; he’ll want to know what makes them tick, what makes them intellectually superior to his Perfects. I think earlier he was just really pissed off, and he just wanted to make us stew in our own juices, when he said he’d have Cassiel kill our people.”
“Are you being an optimist, or is it really what you think?” I asked, the corner of my mouth twitching.
Corrine gave me a shrug. “It could be both.”
“Good. We need it,” I replied.
“You know, there’s one thing I’ve been thinking about since Ta’Zan introduced Cassiel,” Ibrahim cut in. “There has to be a limit to their intelligence, right? To their physical prowess, too. They can’t be almighty and all-powerful. I don’t think that’s physically possible. We’re all the result of nature, after all, and there’s only so much that we could unlock with gene manipulation, right?”
“That’s a reasonable assumption to make, yes,” Vivienne replied. “What are you trying to get at?”
“The Perfects, much like the Faulties, are limited. Even Cassiel, I think, has some automatic brakes on. So, that should give us hope. As in, there’s only so much they can do. Does that make sense?” Ibrahim asked, and we all nodded in return. “The one thing that works in their favor right now isn’t just their speed and strength, but also the fact that they can’t be killed. Not as far as we know, anyway. But the idea that they’re limited…that could be poked and prodded.”
“So, you’re saying we should, what, exactly? Point out the Perfects’ limitations? Make them feel inferior, somehow?” I replied, slightly confused.
“I’m saying that it could be a good way into their minds. To emphasize that Ta’Zan placed limits on them. That he fears them. Ah…” Ibrahim squirmed, then took a deep breath. “The collar is as sharp as ever.”
The double doors opened, and an unexpected face came through.
We all froze at the sight of her as she walked in, accompanied by other Faulties with food carts. Isda was still here, and not with the other rebellious Faulties. There was no sign of Monos anywhere, so we could definitely assume he’d been caught and possibly jailed.
But Isda had helped Varga escape. Yet here she was, serving our food with a faint smile and a wary look in her eyes.