“All right. Will you give us the second lens?”
Immediately, I was hit again and fell back to the ground.
“I will tell you!” Darius shouted.
But I shook my head. “He doesn’t know where I hid it. Ask me again.”
“Will you give us —”
I had no sooner returned to my feet before I was hit again from behind. I withstood that blow, but it only meant Mercy’s next hit came at me harder, sending me to my knees.
“He does not have the lens!” Darius said.
“But he knows where it is.” Wilta crossed in front of me as I stood. “Tell us, Jaron.”
I braced myself, though it wasn’t enough to remain on my feet when the next hit came.
“Ask me again.”
This time, my legs shook when I tried to stand. I’d just lifted one knee before the next hit came, hard enough that I fell completely flat on the ground.
“Where is the lens?” she yelled.
I rolled to my side, pushing myself into a sitting position. “I will never tell you.”
“Enough of this.” Darius met my eyes. Hoping to stop him, I mouthed his name, but he frowned back at me and reached into his coat pocket. “The lens is here.”
My heart sank. Darius could not have known how high the price would be for saving me now.
“How easily you crumble,” Wilta said with a cold smile. She snatched the lens from him, then slid it into the second position on the scope.
“Take them to the prison cell,” Strick ordered Lump. “Let the people know there will be a triple execution at midnight. We want everyone there to see this.”
Darius helped me stand and braced my weight as Roden led us back toward the prison cell. I knew they were both trying to speak to me, but I barely heard any of it. The only thought passing through my mind was that Wilta was one step closer to her quest.
And we were only one step away from execution.
Back in the prison cell, Amarinda tended to my injuries as best she could, but Darius sat slumped in one corner. She had been steadily watching him all afternoon, but he hadn’t seemed to notice.
“He’s not all right,” she whispered to me.
“I know.” But I had no idea what to do about it.
Even with Amarinda here, the life seemed to have gone out of Darius. As we had raced toward the beach before, a fire had lit in his eyes. It was the fire of purpose, of freedom, the fire of a king in defense of his people. That spark was diminished now. No, it was worse. That fire was gone.
I bore some of the blame for that. Although I’d sworn to keep Trea’s secret, this was not the way he ever should have found out.
Part of me wanted to ask what he was thinking. Was he angry with Conner for sending him here? Or with my parents for lying to him all his life? Or angry with me? He had every right to be. Did he still consider us brothers?
That question was the reason I didn’t ask, because the other part of me didn’t know if I could bear to hear the answer.
“Is it true that they’ve captured everyone else?” Amarinda asked.
Though it deepened the ache in my heart, I nodded. I understood Imogen’s reasons for leaving Trea’s hut the way she had. I knew she had her own plans, and maybe a few secrets of her own. But I was terrified that everything might fall apart before tonight. Time was passing far too quickly in this cell.