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A Lost Souls Novel
By Tiffany Truitt, Stacy Abrams
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Tiffany Truitt
All rights reserved.
"Tessie? Are you hurt?"
My throat went dry as I tried to swallow the hard, knotty lump that had formed. I didn't know how to answer his question. It should have been a simple yes or no. But I couldn't speak; I could barely breathe. It wasn't the question that was impossible to answer — it was the man asking it.
He was alive.
For years and years, I'd thought the man who stood before me was dead. Taken from me by the council, an organization of men who had long ago replaced the government lost to civil war. My father had been considered a traitor, so one day chosen ones, genetically engineered superhumans who made up the council's army, came and ripped my father from my grasp. There was only one certainty about this life — all traitors, all men or women, who attempted to stand up against the all-mighty council, would die.
Or at least that's what I had thought.
I opened my mouth. Attempted to swallow again. I needed to speak. So many things to say, so many questions to ask. But all I could do was nod. My father gingerly reached for me, and I froze. I was afraid that if I touched him, my hand would go straight through, that he would be nothing but a ghost. But when my father lifted the bottom of my shirt, revealing the stab wound I'd received only a day before, he didn't disappear.
Instead, he paled. His eyes narrowed and his head gave the smallest of shakes. But he didn't disappear. He reached down and pulled something from a satchel he wore near his waist.
"I'm sorry it went down this way. I sent her to stop you. I knew I wouldn't make it in time, and I didn't want you meeting that creature without me. An army can't move as fast as a single woman — even a small army. She was one of my fastest," he explained, pouring liquid out of a bottle onto a cloth. "I thought you would see her disheveled and fragile state and take pity on her. I wanted her to slow you down. I never told her to stab you."
An army? My father had an army. And he had sent the girl to stop me? A dull heaviness overtook my head. Foggy. Disorienting. I just wanted to sit there and listen to him, to his every word. Every breath between us made it more and more certain that the man standing before me was very much alive. He pressed a wet cloth against my wound, and the fog disappeared instantly. I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from crying out. The liquid stung, shooting electricity up and down my abdomen.
My father smiled thinly. "Sorry, Tessie, I probably should have warned you that would hurt like hell. It's important to keep wounds clean. Especially in these conditions."
In these conditions. The reality overtook the dream I had nearly lost myself in. We were in the woods controlled by the Isolationists, the Middlelands — home to the men and women who sought refuge from the council of the West and government in the East. These men searched out freedom in the harsh and unforgiving territories, but it came at a price. Conditions were rough and as the new war between the east and west surged closer and closer, their home was the new battleground.
The naturals, those not created in a lab, had no part in this new war. It was fought between the council of the east and west; these governments no longer needed us when they could make a whole race of humans to follow their every command. Now, these councils would fight to see who would conquer this new world of artificial life.
The naturals had two choices: sit back and die, or fight for whatever freedom they could grasp.
My father had chosen the fighting side.
He widened his eyes slightly. How could he not? It had been years since he had seen me as well. How strange it must have been to leave a child and find a woman in her place. I cleared my throat. "How are you here?"
The side of my father's mouth pulled up. "That's a mighty long story."
Despite the pain in my side and the way my heart pounded in disbelief that he was standing before me, I smiled. "I always liked your stories."
His eyes shifted from mine to the ground. Whatever emotion swept across them, he hid it from me. Hesitantly a hand reached up and touched my cheek. "And I promise to tell it to you one day, but these woods aren't safe, and we must be on the move."
He pulled his hand from my cheek, and I instantly wanted to clutch onto it. He was real. He was alive, and, somehow, that made everything seem all right, even if the feeling was only temporary. It dulled the pain of once again losing James, the chosen one I had fallen in love with. It quieted the fears of knowing I had no home to return to, after being banished from the Isolationists' camp. It alleviated the nauseous feeling that threatened to consume me when I thought of what fate awaited Louisa, my little sister, who now sat pregnant in a world where pregnant women had little chance of surviving.
Women. My sister could barely call herself a part of the group the council blamed for most of the world's problems. Barely fifteen, yet in some ways she had seen and felt more of what it meant to be a woman than I had at eighteen.
My father would fix it. As he had always done during my childhood.
As he began to walk away from me, he stopped and held out his hand. "Come, Tessie. It isn't safe here."
Hand and hand, we trekked to where the others waited. A rag- tag team of outcasts and survivors, and sitting amongst them, her knees cradled to her chest as she leaned against a tree, was my doomed sister. Seeing her, my father's grip tightened painfully around my fingers.
And then his hand was gone. With no words of affection or encouragement, he walked ahead of us, and I knew we were supposed to follow.
"Are you taking us to the resistance?" I called out to him as I helped my sister to her feet.
"I am the resistance," he replied without looking back.CHAPTER 2
"You're out of your damn mind!" Eric screamed at my father.
I clutched onto Louisa's hand, loosening my grip when she whimpered in pain. I hadn't realized I had been holding onto her so tightly. We sat on the ground, leaning against a tree deep in the forest that was becoming a larger part of my life as time went on — uncivilized, unsafe, unpredictable. I reached up a hand, tucking Louisa's bright blond hair behind her ear. She refused to meet my eyes, only sat silently next to me, her arms wrapped protectively around her swollen abdomen.
I tried to keep from staring down at it. I was definitely no expert on babies, but I guessed she was about four months along. There was no mistaking that she was carrying a child. Her thin, frail, sickly frame announced it to the world, almost defiantly.
"We need to move out, and we need to move out now," my father replied sternly, ignoring Eric's protest.
"Are you okay?" a voice asked softly. I turned my head from the brewing confrontation in front of me to find Henry crouching down to my right.
All I could do was nod. I didn't know if I was okay. I didn't know if anything was okay. Every time I seemed to get a grip on the world, it moved and changed beneath my hands, becoming a place I had no hope of navigating. Only moments before I had gotten my father back. The same man who taught me the beauty of music and the endless opportunities hope offered, but this man wasn't him. It was as if the moment he saw Louisa, truly saw her, that man disappeared.
Nothing ever stayed. Nothing was permanent.
I looked over the crowd surrounding me — a collection of my past and present. My father and sister were relics of a family nearly destroyed by the council's brutality. Henry, my best friend, a symbol of my life in the compound. Lockwood and Eric, men from my life in the Isolationists' camp, men who sought freedom at any cost. Now, we were all together in the woods. Worlds colliding with unknown consequences.
Eric marched up to my father, pushing right into his face. "I don't know you, which means I don't answer to you. So, excuse me if I don't give a crap about what you have to say. I'm not going anywhere until we bury him."
History had a strange way of repeating itself. After I went on the run from the council, McNair and Eric had escorted me, Henry, and Robert through these very woods. Early in our journey, I had argued with McNair, begging him to help us go back and rescue my sister, but he always refused. He only worried about safely delivering me to his people. I was special, and it was his duty to make sure I made it back to the Isolationist community. I could do what the other women couldn't — the thing I prayed my little sister could do, too. If I chose to, I'd give birth without dying. Whatever affliction affected the women didn't affect me.
Eric didn't wait for my father to respond. Throwing his hands in the air, he stalked over to where McNair's body lay. He crumpled to his knees next to his fallen leader and began to dig with his hands.
I got Eric's need to bury his friend, but even I could partially understand my father's hesitation at staying put. We needed to move. We had already spent too much time standing in the woods, discussing our next move, less than a mile away from where I had lost James, the boy I loved. But all the warnings in the world wouldn't matter in the end. Eric didn't have any loved ones waiting for him back in the community. The closest thing he had to family was now dead, his neck effortlessly snapped by George.
George was a chosen one I had met during my days of servitude at the council's compound, Templeton. But he was nothing like the chosen one I loved. He thrived on torturing the naturals he thought were below him, and he had lured me into the woods to save my sister.
George wanted to make a trade. James for the sister he'd defiled. When James came after me, seeing my illness in one of his visions, George figured out his gift. He realized he could use James, return James to the council, and get back in with the people who created him. He had been almost excommunicated by the council, sentenced to stand guard over naturals in a compound. But now that he had James, now that he discovered James's own gift, he could gain what he had always thought was his right — power.
George. The boy who whispered in my ear that I would help him bring down the council.
Looking at Eric, the despair I felt in the deepest, darkest parts of my soul echoed in his eyes, and I knew I had to help him. Crazy or not, I simply had to.
I took a deep, shaky breath and looked for Robert. Meeting my eye, he nodded, answering my unspoken question. He moved so he was sitting on the other side of Louisa. Robert understood this was something I needed to do, that maybe I needed to bury McNair just as much as Eric did. And if I was going to step away from Louisa, I wanted the strongest person in our group next to her.
I pried my hand from Louisa's and pulled myself to my feet using the tree for support, suppressing the groan that wanted to escape my lips. My side still smarted.
"Don't even think about it," my father commanded.
I slowly dragged my eyes from the scene of Eric furiously clawing at the ground beneath him to find my father staring me down. His eyes carried a depth, an anger, an authority that was never present during my childhood. I staggered back. The transformation of the man I called father, the quick change from the affectionate man he had shown me earlier, left me dizzy.
I swallowed. I had never stood up to him before. At least not in any important way. I had never had the chance. The council had seen to that.
I took a deep breath. This was the same man who'd checked my wound and touched my cheek. I didn't need to fear him. "It's the right thing to do. I owe him that," I said, my voice strong. Firm.
"Don't be ridiculous. There's no point in this. We need to go back to the community," he answered. Just like that, I was dismissed.
"The community?" Lockwood scoffed. Scoffing was second nature to the boy who had first befriended me in the community. Somewhere between teaching me how to milk a cow and teasing me nonstop, he'd become one of the people I trusted most in the world, and I was eternally grateful to have him at my side. "They won't let us back in," he continued. "We left. We defied Al. So we won't be welcomed back by anyone there. Not when our leaving could have led the council back to them. Not when our leaving got McNair killed." Lockwood had been unusually quiet since the encounter with George. He mostly just stood silently, watching over my sister, a girl he didn't even know.
"Lockwood's right," I said. "We all left knowing we wouldn't be able to return. So, unless you have some safe haven we can travel to, we need to come up with a new plan. And that means we have time to bury McNair," I explained, hoping to make my father see some sense. He had always been a reasonable man.
"I agree with Tess. There's no point wandering around aimlessly," my childhood friend Henry argued. "Not with Tess wounded and Louisa ..." His voice trailed off.
I swallowed the bile that wanted to crawl up my throat at the thought of what my sister was facing. I had watched our older sister, Emma, die during childbirth. I wouldn't be able to do it again.
I still hadn't discovered the truth behind why so many of our women died while bringing life into the world; all I knew was that it kept happening, plaguing our species with little rhyme or reason. A sickness that appeared to have no hope for a cure. A sickness I was, somehow, immune to.
I turned my back on my father and made my way toward Eric, where I knelt down and began to help him dig. I kept my eyes focused on the earth, the many layers that would cover the body before me. It would hide another death I was responsible for. If McNair had just stayed in the community, refused to help me on my quest to save Louisa, he wouldn't have died. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.
There would be time to mourn, but it wasn't today. I needed to help Eric. He had been there when I needed him, and he was my friend. I didn't have many of those. As I lifted my head to look at the people who surrounded me — Henry, Lockwood, Robert, and Eric — I knew I would do anything for them.
Months ago, I never would have imagined that Eric was capable of feeling anything close to devastation, but back then I had been so narrow-minded. I wanted to hate the world and everyone in it. I didn't see his thirst for vengeance against the deformed chosen one for what it really was — debilitating sadness.
The kind of sadness that made you or broke you.
I looked over at the man who had once shared a toast with me, a toast to our dead mothers. His face was beyond pale and his eyes watered. His jaw was set. He wasn't going anywhere till he buried his friend, and so I wasn't, either.
Strength meant doing what was right even when what was right felt foolish.
Henry, who was on his knees across from me, reached forward and lifted my chin. Our eyes echoed each other's sadness. We were all connected, everyone who shared the woods with me, by loss.
I opened my mouth to speak when I was suddenly yanked off the ground by my arms. I spun around, coming face-to-face with my father.
"Enough," he gritted out. "You will stop this second. We will go back to the community. I know Al. He's a weak man who stands behind a gun and calls it power. Trust me when I tell you this — they'll let us in. Now. Let's. Go."
My mouth fell open, and despite how hard I tried, I couldn't stop the tremble that ran through me.
"Take your hands off her," Henry snarled, next to me in only a matter of seconds.
"I suggest you mind your business. This is a family matter," replied my father, dragging me toward my sister. Louisa's hands moved to her ears and she began to cry.
"Family?" Henry yelled after him. "Last time I checked, you've been dead. Usually dead means, you know, not walking around and attempting to manipulate your daughters through fear and ridiculous displays of testosterone. Now, if she wants to stay here and bury her friend, that's what she'll do."
"Maybe we should all just calm down and talk about this," Lockwood suggested. "Take a deep breath. Everyone is an adult here." He shot a worried glance toward my sister, who had seemed to curl in on herself, an attempt to protect herself from the only people she had left.
I twisted out of my father's grasp. "He's right. We all need to settle down and talk about our next move. Sitting here and yelling —"
Excerpted from Creators by Tiffany Truitt, Stacy Abrams. Copyright © 2014 Tiffany Truitt. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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