Neena extracted a beat-up book from her bag, held it up, and said, “Catch!”
Kiarra managed to catch the abused book and read the title: DEFEND Rules and Regulations.
Neena walked over and tapped the title with one of her perfectly shaped fingernails. “This darling has saved me many times, so take good care of her. She comes in handy when you want to skirt round the rules without breaking them.”
She didn’t want to waste any of her three—or was it now two?—questions, but right now, Kiarra had no idea what the woman was talking about. “What’s DEFEND and why do I need to know about its rules?”
“That’s two questions wrapped into one, but brilliant as you are, I’ll humor you.” Neena tapped the word “DEFEND.”
“DEFEND,” Neena continued, “stands for Defending Every Feiru’s Equality, No Discrimination. I know the name is a bit rubbish, but I had more pressing things to worry about at the time.”
“At the time?”
Neena got a far-off look in her eyes. “Ah, the days of cajoling my first recruits.” Neena shook her head and continued. “You and I are both part of the first-born club, my dear. Shortly after the Chatterjee clan rescued me from the AMT, I decided to turn my anger into something more productive. Hence, DEFEND.”
Kiarra’s heart skipped a beat. “You’re a first-born?”
Neena gave a sympathetic smile. “Yes, and while I wasn’t imprisoned as long as you, it took me a while to feel comfortable with myself again. I didn’t become a leader overnight, but you will get there.” She tapped a finger against her chin. “Actually, some claim I’m still not leader material. But they change their tune before long.” Neena’s eyes took on an evil glint. “I can be quite persuasive.”
Kiarra hoped she never needed to be “persuaded” by Neena.
She didn’t know the circumstances surrounding Neena’s imprisonment and escape, but at least now she knew that others had come out of the AMT alive and stayed that way.
Maybe Kiarra could do it too.
Neena turned away from her to look out the window and Kiarra realized that Neena still hadn’t answered the second part of her question. “Why do I need to find a way around the rules?”
Neena faced her again and winked. “That is for you to find out.” Neena’s face grew serious. “But make sure to memorize the basics of the book. We all make mistakes, but I won’t tolerate deliberate harm to my organization.”
Kiarra glanced down at the battered book in her hands. “But why would I need this book?”
Neena smiled. “Because, my dear, you are my latest recruit.”
“It’s not going to make sense to you now, but it will in time.” Neena tilted her head. “And you can’t refuse, because I know not only the secret of your fire, but also the one about your blood. I’ll expose them both to the world if I have to.”
Kiarra stopped breathing. “How do you know about that?”
Neena waved a hand. “It doesn’t matter. Besides, if you agree to work and train with DEFEND for three months, I’ll make sure my people protect you. No doubt the AMT enforcers are already coming after you by now.”
Kiarra was worried about the AMT enforcers, but Neena’s offer was little more than blackmail. If Kiarra refused, or tried to escape, and word got out about her lack of ele
mental magic, Kiarra would spend the rest of her life inside a research facility.
A breeze brushed against Kiarra’s cheek and the sense of calm from earlier returned. She looked up at Neena. “I don’t really have a choice, do I?”
“You always have a choice, my dear. But whether you decide to take the correct path or not is up to you.” Neena scooped up her bag, pulled out a phone, and looked at it. She clicked her tongue. “I’ll give you fifteen minutes to make a decision. Come upstairs when you’re ready.”
Before Kiarra could muster up another word, Neena was gone.
Without Neena’s presence, the strange calmness that had come over Kiarra disappeared, and the reality of her situation sank in. She was exposed, in a strange house full of strange people, one of whom was threatening her with blackmail.
Part of her wanted to take the easy way out and finish what she’d started back in her cell in the AMT, and kill herself. But as she looked out the window across the room, taking in the trees and bushes in the yard, she realized how much she wanted to live now that she’d had a taste of the outside world again. Neena’s offer might be the only chance she had to do that.
Besides, who knew—maybe after her training Kiarra would even find a way to help the other first-borns from the outside.
She didn’t trust Neena, but if things went bad, she could always end her life later. As long as she acted like she wanted to live, and put in a little effort toward her training, they’d never suspect her Plan B, if it came to that.