A.N. This is Part II of a Trilogy. If you missed Part I, Check out "Damsel in Distress".

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PROLOGUE

(River's first month at the Academy)

River had looked forward to the new challenges she'd face in the Academy, but regret already clouded her excitement. She had not danced in over a month and several times she had woken up in hospital in serious pain. She couldn't remember why. As she limped through the sterile gray corridor heading to the administrative office, her mind was enveloped in fear. She wanted to tell them that they'd made a mistake. She was wrong for this program and wanted to go back to her regular classes.

The world was silent around her. On the left side of the hall, Exam Room 1 was open and empty. She shuddered at the sight of the cold, metal chair. Exam Room 2 was closed. On the right, a bay of windows looked into an empty lab and a huge incubator cooked up some bacteria or other. River heard a clatter as someone in Exam Room 2 dropped a clipboard, but otherwise the hall was still. Her own soundless footfalls as she hobbled through the corridor only added to the silence.

"STOP! PLEASE! NOOOOOOO!" Shrieks from Exam Room 2 pierced the silence. River froze, unsure of whether to run or to stay and help. She heard crashes and bangs as heavy equipment in the room was tossed and hurled about. One scream piled on top of another, pleading for help and for mercy, until a deathly silence fell.

Suddenly the door to Exam Room 2 burst open and a Chinese boy staggered out. His skull was shaved and dotted with pricks of blood from being cut. River's jaw dropped as she saw a doctor and three nurses in the room, blood pouring from their eyes and ears. The doctor was draped over a counter-top, looking as though he'd been caught off guard. Most of the nurses were backed into corners. Several machines had tipped over; one sparked angrily into the air. River looked from the bodies to the boy. He held his head, put a hand out to steady himself, and scanned the halls as if he couldn't remember where he was. Then his eyes locked on her.

"They are hurting you," he said, his breath coming in short bursts.

River choked, wanting to deny his statement, but unable to.

"The chain is broken."

Not waiting for her to respond, he grabbed her hand and began running to the exit. River's injured knee protested the motion, but she was too scared to fight him. They ran down the stairs toward the back exit and right through a security check point.

"Hey!" the guard called after them. "You're not authorized to leave through here!"

As the man reached for a walkie talkie, the boy turned around and cast an evil glare. River was confused by this sudden stop; her heart pounded and her knee throbbed from running. As the boy's stare intensified, his grip on her hand tightened and she bit her lip to keep from crying out in pain. She had thought about running away so many times, and though she didn't trust this boy, she wondered if he might be her ticket out. A stare-off with a security guard was not what she'd envisioned for her great escape.

"Come on, before he calls someone," she whimpered, tugging at the boy's hand. He didn't move and after a moment, she realized that the security guard wasn't moving either. As River watched in horror, the security guard dropped the walkie talkie. Blood began streaming out of his eyes, ears, nose, and fingernails.

River screamed. "Stop! You're killing him!" She yanked as hard as she could, trying to get free of the boy's grasp, but she could not.

"Help me," the boy pleaded quietly. "Help or they will kill you."

River watched powerlessly as the security guard's scream drowned her thoughts. As soon as the guard fell, the boy began running again, pulling River along. Bursting through the back door, they were met with a sharp, cold breeze. The prickly fall grass poked at River's bare feet as they dashed across the campus and toward the woods. Tears streamed down her face as her mind clouded with confusion. She wanted so much to be gone from this place, but not in this way. There was nowhere for her to run. She had no money, she was not properly clothed. The world said shirt and shoes required. She had no shoes! The grass underfoot gave way to small rocks and tree roots. There was an electric fence just beyond the tree line and she feared the boy may plow them both straight into it.

But as soon as they crossed the tree line, he released her hand and pushed her sideways. River tumbled into the brambles, yelping as broken twigs scraped her skin. The boy walked to the fence, crouching behind trees when possible. His hand reached out, but he did not touch the fence.

"Peter Rabbit," he whispered.

River only half listened—her other half was looking for an escape. She scanned the fence quickly and pointed to a noticeable gap. "There!"

The boy grabbed her hand, pulling her to her feet, and the two ducked carefully through the hole in the fence. After another twenty minutes of running, the boy finally slowed down. They had hit a river valley and were following the bank heading west.

"Where are we going?" River asked after she'd caught her breath.

The boy shrugged. "Away."

"Do you even know where we are?"

"Away," he said again.

River rolled her eyes, trying to make light of her fears. "That makes no sense. If we're going away and we are away, then we're already there. But since we're still walking, that can't be the case."

"You're new to the Academy aren't you?"

"What makes you say that?"

"You want things to make sense in a traditional way. What I said makes perfect sense, you just don't understand."

"I understand that you haven't thought this plan through."

"Then you do not comprehend."

River picked her steps carefully around a sludgy part of the bank. She was parched and wanted to drink the water, but the boy kept pulling her forward, his hand clutching hers with an iron grip. As much as she tried to pretend that she was adventuring through the backyard with her brother, she could not escape the danger of the situation. Her mind swirled around the fact that this boy had killed five people today and if she crossed him, she could be next.

"They would have killed me," the boy said suddenly. He didn't seem to be speaking to her as much as to the empty air in front of him.

"I didn't say anything," River replied, furrowing her brow.

"You're worried that I would kill you too. But I won't."

"What are you, psychic or something?"

"You are too. That's why they want you."

"Want me? I don't understand."

"They need you. They've already made mistakes with me, and they will make all new mistakes with you."

"But I'm not—"

"I have learned how to kill them." The boy stopped and faced her, his eyes glistening with madness. "If I go back, they will cut me to pieces to find out how I did it."

"How did you do it?"

"With my brain!"

"That's just crazy," River criticized. If the boy had been her brother and this had been a game, she would have laughed and played along. But the boy was scaring her.

"Come on," he insisted, yanking her into the river to cross it. The current pulled at her gown and her feet slid on the moss-covered stones at the bed. Suddenly, the current swept her feet out from under her and she submerged. Her shoulder snapped, anchored by the boy's firm grip. He lifted her above the surface; the cold water rushed around her head as she gasped for breath. Slowly, they made their way across the river and up the muddy banks on the opposite side, shivering as the cool air scathed their damp skin.

"Stop!" a shout came from across the water. River looked back and saw three security officers crossing a fallen tree log as quickly as balance allowed. Why hadn't they crossed that way?

The boy didn't stop to consider; he just grabbed her hand and started running again.

"You can't be afraid to kill them," the boy panted as he pulled her through the foliage. "They will not hesitate to kill you."

"But how—I don't understand!" River cried.

POW! A sonic blast knocked the boy to the ground, unconscious. River fell with him, landing hard on her knee. She was suddenly stricken with fear. What if the authorities thought she was involved with the five murders? She couldn't tell them that the boy had stared those people to death. Looks can't kill! If she said that, they would put her in an institution, locked down more tightly that she was now. River caught herself on that thought. She'd never considered herself a prisoner at the Academy before today. She watched the boy as he writhed in pain from the sonic blast. He had called her psychic. He had said they would kill her.

Unable to walk, River scooted on her elbows over to the boy and cradled his head so he wouldn't hurt himself on the rocky forest floor. "They're taking us back now," she whispered softly, a tear rolling down her cheek. The security officers surrounded them, shouting at them not to move.

The boy wheezed, pressing his eyes closed. "They will kill you."

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