My head pokes out into the cold air, inhaling the night's cool air.

Ah. Free. I move out of the exit, so that Anica can come through. Ninety short minutes. That's how long we have above ground. Rebecca and her gang have already run off to their little camp, set up somewhere in the cornfields. I wait until the others are out of earshot before I whisper to Anica.

"What's the plan?" I ask her.

"What we talked about last night, idiot." She hisses back. I try to hide my annoyance. Last night's plan is either going to work perfectly, or fail miserably. There is not going to be an in-between, and given my luck... Well. We will see what happens.

"Well?" Anica prompts me. I pull out a bird whistle. It's accurate enough, but the call's not native. It'll be like sending up a flare; I need to draw the gang away from their camp, while Anica tracks it down and destroys it.

"Fine." I watch as she slips away, her black clothes camouflaging her among the shadows of the corn field. The second she disappears, I put the whistle to my mouth and blow. No response. I try again, and sure enough, this time it works like a charm. I hear the loud rustle of clothes against leaves, and the outline of a person materializes just a few yards away. I hurl a dagger into their leg, then quickly back away into the corn stocks. I hear a thump, followed with curses and I allow myself a small moment to celebrate my minor victory.

Bad idea. A prick in my thigh is my only warning. A numbness rolls down my leg, sending me crashing to the ground. I unleash my own string of curses. Stupid. I had forgotten about Nemesis, the new girl, and her love for darts. Another one hits me, in the shoulder this time. Then a third. Dammit. When I am rendered completely immobile, the girl steps out of her hiding spot to stand over me. Her sharp face and tangled-looking braid are silhouetted by the full moon.

"Oh. You thought you could beat us, didn't you." She says, her voice dripping with false sympathy. I glare at her. "Aww. It's so cute, pretending to be a warrior instead of a child." She smirks down at me. "Well then, little warrior. Good luck getting back to Training on time." I will my arm to move. Just grab one of my daggers and stab her with it. "Buh-bye." She singsongs. She steps kicks me in the ribs one last time and stalks away. I make a mental note to leave something nasty in her bed tonight. Spiders, maybe.

It takes over an hour for the feeling to come back into my legs. By the time I can stand up, most of my free time has been used up. I glance down at my watch. Five minutes and twenty-two seconds left until we have to be inside or face the harsh consequences. Shit. I begin to walk, well, hobble really, back to the entrance underground.

Ten seconds remaining.

I almost fall down the stairs as I stumble down, the air cool against my flushed face.


Then I do fall, rolling down the stairway in an ungraceful tumble. Through the lingering numbness, I feel bruises spreading across my body.

Three. At least I got down quicker. I pull myself to my feet. The doorway is five feet in front of me. I force my legs to move.


I lurch against the door. Yank the handle. Nothing. It's locked. And I'm out of time. Panic begins to block out all logical thinking. I pound on the door, hoping that maybe it will magically open. Then another thought hits me. Locked… I can pick it! I pull out the skeleton key tucked in a discreet pocket on my shoulder. And then I slide it back. The door isn't locked because there is no lock. My pulse begins to rise even further. Barricade? I turn the handle again, and hurl my shoulder at the door. Something on the other side gives a little. Encouraged, I try again. This time, I get a scrape of heavy objects sliding across stone. The feeling has returned to my arms and legs. My shoulder hurts, but I try again, and again and again. The second there is enough space to squeeze through, I go for it. I slide through the small space, right into the disapproving glare of Mrs. Fregot.

"I - I can explain." I stammer quickly.

"I'm sure you can. In the meantime, your next three hours are going to be dedicated to drills."

"Three hours! But that'll leave me with only three hours of sleep!"

"So be it."

"But -"

"There are consequences for assassins who get caught."