He imagined something even worse now: the look she would have tonight when she realized he was gone. The realization that, in the end, he’d betrayed her for what might be the final time without even bothering to say good-bye.

He closed his eyes, sorrow welling in his chest. He’d been wrong to accuse her of not caring. Even more wrong to think of her as a coward. Clarke would always be one of the fiercest people he’d ever known, and here she was, standing up for what she thought was right.

“Listen, man,” Luke was saying to him, rocking back onto his heels with a heavy sigh. “If you’re getting cold feet, if you don’t think this is the right thing…”

Bellamy opened his mouth to answer, but before he could, Luke let out a frustrated huff, his fists balling by his sides.

“No, screw that.” Luke shook his head. “I’m sorry, Bel, I am, but your plan is the best one we’ve got. And Glass is in there.” His cheeks grew mottled, his red-rimmed eyes welling fast. “She’s in there. I’ve got to get her out.”

Bellamy watched him for a moment, his thoughts swirling and landing and settling at last on something that felt like a final answer. “No cold feet, Luke.”

Luke’s eyes locked on his.

Bellamy nodded back—a promise.

“This happens tonight.”






Glass held tight to the skirt of her white dress, willing her smile to stay steady as she strolled with Soren along a corridor with cracked walls covered in ivy and roses. The first time Glass had seen the flowers, a few days earlier, she’d marveled at how lovely they looked against the crumbling concrete. Beauty triumphing over ugliness. Nature redeeming the sins of the humans who’d taken her for granted. But now the roses just looked trapped, far from the woods and meadows where they belonged.

“It’s a lovely ceremony,” the High Protector was explaining, the midday light filtering through the ruined ceiling hitting her face in disorienting flashes. “The first ritual will be held outdoors at sunrise tomorrow. The men and women are washed and anointed and blessed by Earth Herself before the actual pairing begins.”

“I’m sorry,” Glass said. “I think I’m still a little confused. What exactly goes on at the Pairing Ceremony?”

“Oh, goodness, yes.” Soren laughed and it sounded like sunshine. “Of course you’re curious. It’s when the new recruits, girls like you that Earth has gifted us, become true members of our community. We pair each new girl with one of the male recruits, and they consummate the union, thereby becoming Protectors. Then, if their pairing pleases Earth, She blesses us with a true-born child.”

Glass stumbled and held on to the wall while she tried to blink her dizziness away. “Consummate?” she whispered.


Surely Soren couldn’t mean what Glass thought she was implying. Was the Pairing Ceremony a mating ritual? Was that why Glass and the other girls had been taken? A memory slithered out from the back of her brain. Luke’s roommate, Carter, placing his hands on her waist, trapping her against the wall. The feel of his warm breath too close to her skin. She squeezed her eyes shut, fighting back waves of nausea.

“Yes,” Soren said. “As I’d told you, the Pairing Ceremony dates back to the very first Protectors, and the outsiders who welcomed them in. Most of those Protectors healed from the radiation they’d been exposed to on the surface. Outwardly, anyway. When it came time to bring a new generation into the world, they found that they were unable to conceive…” She trailed off and looked at Glass, as if prompting her to continue the story.

A chill ran down Glass’s spine and she scrambled to connect the dots. “They had the new people conceive for them,” she said slowly as unsettling images filled her head.

Soren nodded. “Exactly. The following generations didn’t have the same problems, but it became the most honored ritual in our society, and we’ve been doing it ever since. New recruits are always a little nervous, of course, as I’m sure brides and grooms were in the old world, but with everyone taking part together, it adds a level of unity and community that’s hard to describe.”

Glass’s mouth fell open as her stomach roiled. There was no way Soren could mean… right there, in the open, with everyone watching. That was how they would all prove themselves invaluable to the community?

No. She couldn’t let this happen. Her heart beat frantically against her rib cage, a trapped bird begging for escape. Luke. He had to be on his way to find her. He’d never let this happen to her. He’d find a way…

“I normally arrange the pairs, of course,” Soren said. “But you’re so special to me, and it’s important to me that you feel comfortable. So I was wondering, would you like to be paired with that friend of yours? The handsome dark-haired one?”

“Wells?” Glass asked hoarsely, her throat suddenly dry.

“Yes, he shows a lot of promise, my men tell me.”

Oh my god. Oh my god. The corridor started to spin as gut-wrenching images flooded her head. Wells’s face burning with shame as he looked away, trying to afford his childhood friend a shred of dignity as she undressed in front of him. The agony in his eyes as he was forced to… whispering, “I’m so sorry, Glass,” while he…

No. It was too terrible to imagine.

Though not nearly as terrible as the image of the girls in the den being shoved into the arms of leering strangers. Lina. Anna. Octavia.

Soren glanced behind her as they neared the sprawling courtyard at the center of the building. “I think we’ll perform the ritual here, Glass. The Heart of the Stone. What better place?”

Glass struggled to breathe. Every time she tried to inhale, the breath caught in her chest. Finally, she managed to wheeze out, “That all sounds great.”

Soren pressed her hands into Glass’s shoulders, pleased. “I’m touched, Glass. I can tell how much this means to you. Would you like to be the one to tell your friends about the honor that awaits them? I’m sure it’ll mean a great deal, coming from you.”

“Yes,” Glass said, taking one last shaky breath.

“Wonderful.” Soren sniffed, her tone returning to all-business briskness. “Now’s as good a time as any. I’ve got something to attend to at the front gates.” Her face clouded. “Something… unpleasant, I’m afraid. I’ll look forward to picking up our chat where we left off when I get back.”

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