United as One (Lorien Legacies #7) by Pittacus Lore

PROLOGUE

THE GIRL STANDS ON A ROCKY PRECIPICE, HER toes curled over the edge. A dark chasm opens up in front of her, and a few pebbles dislodge beneath her feet and fall away, disappearing deep, deep down, into the shadows. Something used to be there, a tower or maybe a temple—the girl can’t remember exactly what. She stares down into the bottomless hole before her, and, somehow, she knows this place was once important. A safe place.

A sanctuary.

She wants to step back from the steep drop-off. It is dangerous, teetering here on the edge of nothingness. Yet she finds herself unable to move. Her feet are rooted to the spot. She feels the rocky ground shifting and crumbling beneath her feet. The pit before her is spreading. Soon, the edge she balances on will break and she’ll fall, swallowed up by the darkness.

Would that be so bad?

The girl’s head hurts. It’s a distant pain, almost like it’s happening to someone else. It’s a dull throb that starts at her forehead, wraps around her temples and down her jawline. She imagines her head like an egg that’s begun to crack, the breaks in the shell fanning out across the entire surface. She rubs her hands over her face and tries to focus.

She vaguely remembers being thrown down on the craggy ground. Over and over again, swung by her ankle with a force too powerful to resist, her head smashing and rattling on the unforgiving rocks. It’s like it happened to someone else, though. The memory, just like the pain, seems so far away.

In the darkness, there’s peace. She won’t have to remember the beating or the ensuing pain or what was lost when this bottomless pit was blasted into the earth. She’ll be able to let go, once and for all, if she just slides the rest of the way over the edge and falls.

Something pulls her back. A knowledge, deep inside herself, that she shouldn’t run from the pain. She should charge back towards it. She needs to keep fighting.

There’s a flicker of cobalt blue in the darkness below her, a solitary ember of light. Her heart flutters at the sight. It reminds her of what she fought to protect and why she’s so hurt. The light begins as just a pinprick, like she’s looking down at the night sky and its solitary star. Soon it expands and zooms upwards, a comet coming right for her. She wavers on the edge of the chasm.

And then he’s floating in front of her, aglow just like the last time she saw him. His curly black hair a perfect mess, his emerald-green eyes fixed on her—he is exactly how she remembers him. He smiles at her, that devil-may-care smile, and holds out a hand.

“It’s okay, Marina,” he says. “You don’t have to fight anymore.”

Her muscles relax at the sound of his voice. The darkness stretching out below her doesn’t seem so ominous anymore. She lets one of her feet dangle over the abyss. The pain inside her head seems even more diminished now. Further away.

“That’s right,” he says. “Come home with me.”

She nearly takes his hand. Something isn’t right, though. She looks away from his eyes, his smile, and sees the scar. A thick band of upraised purple tissue that wraps all the way around his neck. She jerks her hand back and nearly stumbles over the edge.

“This isn’t real!” she yells, finding her voice. She gets both her feet planted firmly on the rocky ground and pushes away from the darkness.

She watches as the curly-haired boy’s smile falters, turns into something cruel and mean, an expression she never saw on his actual face.

“If it isn’t real, why can’t you wake up?” he asks.

She doesn’t know. She’s stuck here, on the edge, in this place in-between with the dark-haired boy—she loved him once, but that’s not really him. It’s the man who put her here, who beat her so badly and then destroyed this place that she loved. And now he’s desecrating her memories. She locks eyes with him.

“Oh, I’m going to wake up, you bastard. And then I will come for you.”

His eyes flash, and he tries to put on an amused expression; but she can tell that he’s angry. His perverse trick didn’t work.

“It would’ve been peaceful, you little fool. You could’ve just slipped down into the darkness. I was offering you mercy.” He begins to recede into the chasm, leaving her alone in this place. His words float back to her. “Now all that awaits you is more pain.”

“So be it,” she says.

The one-eyed boy sits on his backside in his prison of pillows. He hugs himself—not by choice; his arms are secured inside a straitjacket. His one eye stares dully at the white walls, everything padded and soft. The door has no handle, no discernible way to escape. His nose itches, and he buries his face in his shoulder to scratch it.