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The Offering

The Offering

Page 29

Brook skidded to a halt. “Wait! Are you saying Eden was here too?” She nudged her way to the front of our group so she could be heard. She surveyed Eden, as if seeing her in a new light altogether. “You lived here? In the work camp? I never knew that.”

Eden kept walking. “There’s a lot of things you don’t know about me.” Was all she told Brook, and then she turned her attention to Caspar. “I told you I’d come back for you, and I did. You were the one who didn’t want to leave.” She didn’t sound disappointed, the way a sister might if she hadn’t been able to persuade her brother to come with her. She sounded bitter, as if this were a sore spot and Brook had just jabbed a stick into it.

“You can come with me now,” she maintained. Her eyes narrowed on him, and Brook and I stopped too.

Caspar sighed. “Look around, Eden,” he said, his voice and his face softening. Eden didn’t look, but I did.

We were standing on a hillside now, overlooking the encampment as it stretched in front of us—larger and more widespread than I’d first realized. Than I’d ever imagined. I tried to guess how many children it housed, how many orphans Caspar was responsible for. It was baffling that they’d done so well for so long on their own.

“I can’t leave here,” he went on. “You have your cause and I have mine.”

They stared at each other, neither blinking. Neither looking as if they had any intention of backing down. They shared that same determination, that same inflexibility.

It made me squirm to witness.

Just when I started to consider sneaking away, creeping back down the path to hide in the cramped barrack where Eden had deposited us last night, Eden reached out and punched Caspar playfully in the arm. “You’ve gone soft. I always knew you’d be the motherly type,” she taunted.

Caspar, refusing to let Eden see that her blow—or her words—had stung, did his best to hide his cringe. “And you’re about as lovable as a thorny shrew.” He scowled at her. “Only not half as cuddly.”

Eden grinned, and I couldn’t help thinking she’d taken his insult as a compliment. Caspar just shook his head and started walking again. We followed until he finally came to a halt in front of a large building that reminded me of one of the oversize storehouses in the warehouse district of the Capitol. Unlike the rest of the compound, this building wasn’t dilapidated at all. The outside was made from concrete and steel with paint that wasn’t chipped or peeling. It was as tall as it was wide, and likely as deep. Even the ground we stood on here was smoothly laid asphalt, new and even and black. “How is this possible?” I asked, staring at the building, which seemed so out of place here.

Eden chuckled, and I suddenly felt like I was the butt of the joke. “What? That the work camps were given resources for the commodities they were expected to manufacture, but not for the children they housed? Did you think Sabara would have expended anything more than she had to for the care of orphans?”

I closed my eyes and tried to remind myself that this was why Ludania needed me. That these were the kinds of changes I’d been working so hard to make.

“So what was it you were manufacturing here?” I asked Caspar.

“We were a munitions camp.”

My eyes strayed to the dark-haired girl with the bird perched on her shoulder, and I felt sick that children like her, and like the others from the bunkhouse last night, had been exploited so freely under Sabara’s reign. It was hard to imagine children making weapons.

I had never considered where Ludania’s weapons had come from, or where they were coming from now.

You did this, I accused Sabara. They’re only children, and you turned them into slaves.

They were nothing, she hissed back. They had no homes, and I housed them. No food, and I fed them. I gave them a purpose.

She ignored the part where they’d been overworked and tortured and experimented on, but there was no way she hadn’t known. She just didn’t care.

You cannot maintain an empire without an army, and that army must be invincible, Sabara justified, as if there were any excuse for her actions.

I shook my head, trying to purge Sabara from my mind. Not wanting her corrupt logic to poison me.

Casting me a curious grin, Caspar continued, unlocking the massive warehouse door. “But this . . .” He tugged the handle, and the door started to open. “This is what we’re most proud of,” he announced smugly.

“This? This what?” Brooklynn asked, sounding skeptical. I felt my thoughts clearing. What could a bunch of kids possibly have inside that warehouse that could be useful to us right now?

Slivers of sunlight streamed into the dark interior from windows high above, shining at odd angles and casting squares on the concrete floor like checkerboards. Above us we heard the frantic beating of wings as a flock of birds from within the building took flight into the rafters. The girl’s bird, however, remained as still as ever.

But all that faded into the background the moment we spotted the machinery taking up the center of the floor. I wasn’t entirely certain what it was, but it was most definitely a vehicle. Some sort of massive, strangely shaped, motorized vehicle.

“What the . . .” Brook’s question trailed off as she approached the beast of a machine, her fingers outstretched toward it. “Can I?” She turned her wide brown eyes on Caspar, beseeching him to say yes.

He was powerless against her, and he nodded mutely.

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