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And: I wonder if they still do it sometimes. Maybe they sneak off every night and. She stood in the kitchen doorway with a fist planted on her slim, boyish hip. As Helen stood up from the table, Lucas caught her eyes and gave her the tiniest of smiles, encouraging her.

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And: I wonder if they still do it sometimes. Maybe they sneak off every night and. She stood in the kitchen doorway with a fist planted on her slim, boyish hip. As Helen stood up from the table, Lucas caught her eyes and gave her the tiniest of smiles, encouraging her.

Smiling back ever so slightly, Helen followed Cassandra down to the Delos library feeling calmer, more self-assured. Cassandra shut the door, and the two girls continued their search for some bit of knowledge that might help Helen in her quest. Helen turned the corner and saw that the way was blocked by a rainbow of rust. A skyscraper had been bent across the street as if a giant hand had pressed it down like a stalk of corn.

Helen wiped the itchy sweat off her brow and tried to find the safest route over the cracked concrete and twisted iron. It would be hard to climb over, but most of the buildings in this abandoned city were crumbling into dust as the desert around it encroached. There was no point going another way. The only thing she could do was to keep moving forward. Scrambling over a jagged lattice, surrounded by the tangy smell of decaying metal, Helen heard a deep, mournful groaning.

A bolt shook loose from its joint, and a girder above her broke free in a shower of rust and sand. She slammed painfully on her back, stretched out over the crisscrossing bars beneath her. The heavy girder lay across her stomach, pinning her down across her middle. Something was certainly broken—her hip, her back, maybe both. Helen squinted and tried to shade her eyes with a hand, swallowing around her thirst.

She was exposed, trapped, like a turtle turned over onto its back. The blank sky held no cloud to provide even a moment of relief.

Just blinding light and relentless heat. Her head felt stuffed up and hot, like a Thanksgiving turkey on slow roast. It was nearly the end of the school day, but that was no comfort.

Helen looked down at her feet and thought about what awaited her. Every night she descended into the Underworld and encountered yet another horrendous landscape. The worse the mood she was in when she went to sleep, the worse her experience in the Underworld. Still focused on her shuffling feet, Helen felt warm fingers brush against hers in the hustle of the hallway. She pulled in a breath, a quick inward sigh of surprise, and locked eyes with him.

Still moving in opposite directions, they turned their heads to maintain eye contact as they walked on, their identical smiles growing with each passing moment.

With a teasing flick of her hair, Helen abruptly faced forward and ended the stare, a grin plastered on her face. One look from Lucas and she felt stronger. Alive again. She could hear him chuckling to himself as he walked on, almost smug, like he knew exactly how much he affected her.

She chuckled, too, shaking her head at herself. Then she saw Jason. Walking a few paces behind Lucas with Claire at his side, Jason had watched the whole exchange. His mouth was a worried line, and his eyes were sad. He shook his head at Helen in disapproval and she looked down, blushing furiously.

They were cousins, Helen knew that. Flirting was wrong. But it made her feel better when nothing else could. Helen went to her last class and sat behind her desk, fighting back tears as she unpacked her notebook. Long splinters enveloped Helen, forcing her to remain completely still or risk impaling herself on one of them.

She was trapped inside the trunk of a tree that sat alone in the middle of a dry, dead scrubland. If she breathed too deeply, the long splinters pricked her. Her arms were twisted behind her and her legs folded up uncomfortably underneath her, tilting her torso forward. One long splinter was lined up directly with her right eye. If her head moved forward while she struggled to break free—if she even let it sag a little with fatigue—her eye would be stabbed out.

Helen knew she was completely alone. It helped steel her enough to accept the inevitable. Pain usually triggered her release from the Underworld. She stared at the long splinter in front of her eye, knowing what the situation demanded she do, but not sure she was capable of doing it. As the anger fueling her seeped away, desperate tears welled up and spilled down her cheeks. She heard her own constricted, choked-off sobs pressing close to her in the claustrophobic prison of the tree trunk.

Time would not change the situation. Tears would not change the situation. She had one choice, and she knew she could either make it now or hours of suffering from now. Helen was a Scion, and as such a target for the Fates. With that thought, the anger returned. In one sure movement, she jerked her head forward. Even from across the kitchen he could see that the translucent skin across her high cheekbones was so pale it was stained blue by the lacy veins running below the surface.

He could have sworn that when she first came over to study with Cassandra at the Delos house that morning, her forearms were covered in fading bruises. She had a spooked, hunted look to her now. She looked more frightened than she had a few weeks ago when they all thought that Tantalus and the fanatical Hundred Cousins were after her.

Cassandra had recently foreseen that the Hundred were focusing nearly all their energy on finding Hector and Daphne, and that Helen had nothing to fear. Lucas wondered if she was being chased, maybe even tortured down there. The thought tore him up inside, like there was a wild animal climbing up the inside of his rib cage, gnawing on his bones as it went. He had to grit his teeth together to stop the growl that was trying to grind out of him.

He was so angry all the time now, and his anger worried him. But worse than the anger was how worried he was about Helen. Watching her jump at the slightest sound, or tense into herself with wide, staring eyes, pushed him almost to the point of panic. Lucas felt a physical need to protect Helen. It was like a whole body tic that made him want to throw himself between her and harm. Lucas was still working on that problem.

Which was probably why seeing Helen like this hurt him in such a nagging, hateful way. She was on her own down there, and there was nothing he could do about it. His father motioned to the chair on his right as they all sat down at the table for Sunday supper. What kind of an oracle are you, anyway? Lucas could see that his father was seizing this rare opportunity to play with Cassandra, because those opportunities were nearly over.

Soon, she would drift away from all people and become the cold instrument of the Fates, no matter how much she was loved by those closest to her. Castor usually took any chance he could to joke around with his daughter, but Lucas could tell that this time he was only partly focused on taunting Cassandra. His mind was elsewhere. He understood a moment later when Helen sat down next to him, in the place that had, through time and use, become her spot at the table.

Even though she was obviously hurt by whatever was happening to her in the Underworld, her presence filled Lucas with strength. The shape of her, the softness of her arm as it brushed against his while they passed plates around the table, the clear, bright tone of her voice as she joined in the conversation—everything about Helen reached inside of him and soothed the wild animal in his rib cage. He wished he could do the same for her.

Throughout dinner, Lucas wondered what was happening to Helen in the Underworld, but he knew he would have to wait until they were alone to ask. She tensed momentarily and then turned toward him, her features softening. He stared at her for a moment, wondering how she could be so wrong about how she made him feel. He tried to stay calm while he asked her the next question, but still, it came out rougher than he would have liked.

By the way she said it, Lucas knew that her solitude was even worse somehow than torture. Her face was closed. But I heal when I wake up.

Lucas pressed on, sensing her lightening mood, and wanting so much to see her smile once more. Just tell me! He remembered the feel of it when he kissed her and he tensed—stopping himself before he dipped his head down to feel it again. It seemed to glare at her as she ran past. Instead of taking the door on the right or the door on the left, both of which she knew led nowhere, she decided she had nothing to lose and went into the closet.

A mossy wool overcoat loomed in the corner.

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Yeah, right, Zach thought, as he walked out his front door. He jogged for a few blocks, just to put some distance between himself and his dad. Zach went down to India Street to look at the ruined Atheneum steps along with dozens of other gawkers. Everyone was saying that an electrical wire had shorted out in the middle of the street the night before and that it had gotten so hot it melted the pavement. Why was everyone so stupid? It was so obvious to Zach.

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