Chapter no 16

The Elite (The Selection, 2)

AEMERGED FROM THE stairwell that had ushered me to safety the night before, it was all too apparent that the Southerners had been here. In the short hallway that led to my room, there was a pile of debris that I had to climb over to get to my door.

Typically, the worst of the mess was gone by the time we were released from the safe room. This time, however, it looked like there had been too much for the staff to get to, and we would have been down there all day. Still, I wished they’d tried a little harder. I spied a group of maids working to scrub away giant letters on a far wall.


The line was repeated down the hall, sometimes written in mud, other times in paint; and one appeared to be done in blood. Chills ran through me, and I wondered what that meant.

As I stood there, my maids dashed up to me. “Miss, are you all right?” Anne asked.

I was startled by their sudden appearance. “Um, yes. Fine.” I looked back to the words on the wall.

“Come away, miss. We’ll get you ready,” Mary insisted.

I followed obediently, slightly stunned from everything I saw and too confused to do anything else. They worked deliberately, the way they did when they tried to soothe me with the routine of getting dressed. Something about their steady hands—even Lucy’s—was calming.

By the time I was ready, a maid came to escort me outside, where we would apparently be working this morning. The smashed glass and chilling graffiti were easy to forget about in the Angeles sun. Even Maxon and the king were standing at a table with advisers, reviewing piles of documents and making decisions.

Under a tent, the queen read over papers, pointing out details to a nearby maid. Near her, Elise, Celeste, and Natalie sat at a table discussing plans for their reception. They were so engrossed, it looked like they’d completely forgotten the rough night.

Kriss and I sat on the opposite side of the lawn, under a similar tent, but our work was going slowly. I was having a hard time talking to her as I fought to get the image of her sharing a moment with Maxon out of my

head. I watched as she underlined sections in the papers Silvia gave us and scribbled notes in the margin.

“I think I might have figured out how to do our flowers,” she commented without looking up.

“Oh. Good.”

I let my eyes wander over to Maxon. He was trying to look busier than he was. Anyone really watching could see how the king pretended not to hear his comments. I didn’t understand that. If the king was worried about Maxon being a good leader, the thing to do was to truly instruct him, not keep him from doing anything because he worried his son would make a mistake.

Maxon shuffled some papers and looked up. He caught my eye and waved. As I went to raise my hand, I saw Kriss enthusiastically wave back from the corner of my eye. I focused on the papers again, fighting a blush.

“Isn’t he handsome?” Kriss asked. “Sure.”

“I keep imagining how children would look with his hair and my eyes.”

“How’s your ankle?”

“Oh,” she said with a sigh. “It hurts a little, but Doctor Ashlar says I’ll be fine by the reception.”

“That’s good,” I said, finally looking up at her. “Wouldn’t want you hobbling around when the Italians come.” I was trying to sound friendly, but I could tell she was questioning my tone.

She opened her mouth to speak but then quickly looked away. I followed her gaze and saw that Maxon was heading over to the refreshment table the butlers had set up for us.

“I’ll be right back,” she said quickly, and limped toward Maxon faster than I would have thought possible.

I couldn’t help but watch. Celeste had walked over, too, and they were all talking quietly as they poured water or grabbed finger sandwiches. Celeste said something, and Maxon laughed. It looked like Kriss was smiling, but she was clearly too bothered by Celeste interrupting her time to be genuinely amused.

I was almost grateful for Celeste at that moment. She might have been a hundred things that irritated me, but she was also impossible to intimidate. I could use some of that.

The king bellowed something to one of his advisers, and my head snapped in his direction. I missed exactly what he’d said, but he sounded

irritated. Over his shoulder, I caught a glimpse of Aspen, walking his rounds.

He looked my way briefly, risking a fast wink. I knew that was meant to ease my worries, and it did a little. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder what he went through last night that led to the slight limp in his step and the bandaged gash by his eye.

As I was debating whether there was a way to inconspicuously ask him to come see me tonight, a call rang out from just inside the palace doors.

“Rebels!” a guard yelled. “Run!”

“What?” another guard called back, confused. “Rebels! Inside the palace! They’re coming!”

The guard’s words made the threat on the walls this morning flash through my mind: WE’RE COMING.

Things started moving very quickly. The maids ushered the queen toward the far side of the palace, some pulling her hands to make her move faster while others dutifully raced behind her, blocking her from an attack.

Celeste’s red dress blazed as she followed the queen, rightly assuming that was probably the safest way to go. Maxon scooped up Kriss and her injured foot, turning to place her in the arms of the nearest guard, who happened to be Aspen.

“Run!” he screamed at Aspen. “Run!”

Aspen, faithful to a fault, bolted, carrying Kriss like she weighed nothing at all.

“Maxon, no!” she cried over Aspen’s shoulder.

I heard a loud pop from inside the opened doors to the palace and screamed. As several of the guards reached under their dark uniforms and pulled out guns, I understood what that sound was. Two more pops came, and I found myself frozen, watching the flurry of bodies move around me. The guards pushed people to the sides of the palace, urging them to move out of the way as a swarm of people in rugged pants and sturdy jackets raced outside, running with backpacks or satchels packed to the brim. Another shot came.

Finally realizing that I needed to move, I turned and ran without thinking.

With the rebels flooding out of the palace, the logical thing to do seemed to be to run away from them. But that put me heading toward the great forest with a pack of vicious people chasing me. I ran and slipped a

few times in the flats I was wearing, and I considered taking them off. In the end, I decided slippery shoes were better than none.

“America,” Maxon called. “No! Come back!”

I risked peeking back and saw the king grabbing Maxon by the neck of his suit jacket, pulling him away. I could see the terror in Maxon’s eyes as he stared after me. Another shot was fired.

“Stand down!” Maxon shrieked. “You’ll hit her! Cease fire!”

There were some more shots, and Maxon continued to scream his orders until I was too far away to make them out. I ran through the open field and realized then that I was alone in this. Maxon was being held back by his father, and Aspen was doing his duty. Any guard coming for me would be behind the rebels. All I could do was run for my life.

Fear made me fast, and I was surprised by how well I avoided the undergrowth once I hit the woods. The ground was dry, parched from months with no rain, and it was solid. I vaguely felt my legs getting scratched, but I didn’t slow down to see how bad it was.

I was sweating, and my dress was sticking to my chest as I moved. It was cooler in the woods, and steadily getting darker, but I was hot. At home I sometimes ran for fun, to play with Gerad or just to feel the ache of exertion. But I’d been sitting in the palace for months, eating real food for the first time, and I could feel it now. My lungs burned, and my legs were throbbing. Still, I ran.

After I got far enough in the woods, I looked over my shoulder to check how close the rebels were. I couldn’t hear them with the blood pounding in my ears, and when I checked, I couldn’t see them either. I decided this was my best chance to hide, before they caught sight of the bright dress in the dim woods.

I didn’t stop until I saw a tree that looked wide enough to conceal me. Once I was behind it, I noticed that there was a branch low enough to grab and climb, too. I took off my shoes, tossing them away, hoping they wouldn’t lead the rebels right to me. I climbed, though not very high, and turned my back to the tree, making myself as small as I could.

I focused hard on slowing my breath, fearing the sound would give me away. But even after I did that, for a moment it was quiet. I figured I’d lost them. I didn’t move, waiting to be sure. Seconds later, I heard a loud rustling.

“We should have come at night,” someone—a girl—huffed. I flattened myself against the tree, praying nothing would snap.

“They wouldn’t have been outside at night,” a man replied.

They were still running, or trying to, and it sounded like they were having a rough go of it.

“Let me carry some,” he offered. It sounded like they were getting very close.

“I can do it.”

I held my breath and watched as they passed right under my tree. Just when I thought I might be safe, the girl’s bag ripped, and a pile of books fell to the forest floor. What was she doing with so many books?

“Damn it,” she cursed, getting down on her knees. She was wearing a denim jacket with some kind of flower embroidered on it over and over again. She had to be burning in that.

“Told you to let me help.”

“Shut up!” The girl pushed at the boy’s legs. In that playful gesture, I could see how much affection there was between them.

In the distance, someone whistled. “Is that Jeremy?” she asked.

“Sounds like him.” He bent and picked up a few books. “Go get him. I’ll be right behind you.”

He looked unsure but agreed, kissing her forehead before jogging off.

The girl gathered the rest of her books, using a knife to cut the strap off her bag and bind them together.

I felt a sense of relief as she rose, assuming she would start moving. But she flipped her hair back out of her face, raising her eyes to the sky.

And she saw me.

No amount of quiet or stillness would help me now. If I screamed, would the guards come? Or were the rest of the rebels too close for that to matter?

We stared at each other. I waited for her to call the others, hoping that whatever they had planned for me wasn’t too painful.

But she didn’t make a sound except to let out a single quiet laugh, amused at our situation.

Another whistle sounded, slightly different from the last, and we both glanced in the direction it came from before looking at each other again.

And then, in the least expected of all possible gestures, she swung one leg behind the other, lowering herself in a graceful curtsy. I looked on, completely stunned. She rose, smiling, and ran off toward the whistle. I watched her back as a hundred tiny sewn flowers disappeared into the brush.

When it felt like more than an hour had passed, I decided I could get down. I stood at the foot of the tree, realizing I didn’t know where my

shoes were. I walked around the base of the trunk, trying to locate the little white slippers to no avail. Giving up, I decided I should make my way back to the palace.

Looking around, it became clear that that wasn’t going to happen. I was lost.

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