Title: Heart of a Traitor (The Agency Book 4)
Author: C.C. Bolick
Genre: YA Dystopian
As prince of Golvern, Chase knows that his days as a Lucha Noir spy are numbered. His sister has been kidnapped and he struggles to uphold his vow to never lose her again. Chase finds himself fighting a threat he never considered—a Tyro leader who holds the power to change Golvern’s future. But what good is learning the truth if you never get to tell anyone? At Sylvia’s insistence, Tyler leaves Earth to avoid being captured and tried as a traitor. He travels to Golvern and takes on a mission from Van to infiltrate a Tyro base and kill their leader. There, he learns of an underground mine using human slave labor, despite Golvern’s advanced technology. He vows to find the leader of this place, but first he must fight to survive using his power.
The guard stopped at a room that held a table, again with rock walls and a ceiling I could touch. Blue light greeted me from a circle at the center of the ceiling. The table, about as long as I was tall, cut diagonally from one corner of the square room to another. On this table were stones of all shapes and colors and sizes. Beneath the stones, the surface of the table was a bright white light. The stones glimmered above the light, flashing with a beauty that made me pause. Thousands of dollars, maybe even millions in treasure spread across the table.
A woman moved around the table, carefully placing each stone on a scale and typing the values into a tablet before placing it into a white container.
“Where are we?” I whispered, afraid to break the silence.
He watched her and I wondered if she might be special to him. “A sorting room. Meet your mentor.”
She froze with a green stone in her hand. Her mouth opened, but no sound emerged. I squinted to get a better look at her face above the lighted table. Brown hair fell around her eyes and down to her waist, with alternating streaks of silver. Each silver patch was braided from her scalp down. At the corners of her eyes and across her face were deep wrinkles. Like the guard, she had to be late fifties or early sixties, but there was beauty and grace in the way she’d almost danced around the table. Her outfit was the same shade of orange I wore, but fit her skin tightly, with a gleam of wetness as if she’d been swimming. Her feet were bare on the dirt floor.
I stepped closer to get a look into her eyes, soft gray with a flash of innocence. That innocence was gone before I blinked.
She narrowed her eyes and dropped the green stone on the table. “I completed a mentoring assignment two days ago.”
The guard frowned. “The prisoner died. Your assignment was marked incomplete.”
“The rules state that I get two weeks in solitary. I can’t help he wasn’t strong enough to survive the training.” Her eyes traveled from my face to my feet. “This one doesn’t appear to be built much sturdier.”
Sturdier? I was taller than most people I’d met. I worked out on a daily basis, with endurance training to build bands of muscle in my body and strength in my arms and legs. For the last three months, I’d trained and fought until my muscles ached and threatened to give way. But they never did. It was my self-inflicted punishment for betraying my friends, but also my sheer will to make amends for the pain I’d caused. I was solid. Unbreakable.
“He has a binding assignment,” the guard said.
“What did he do?” she asked.
“He said he killed someone.” The guard cleared his throat. “His assignment came on paper.”
A shadow passed over her face and her eyes bored into me as if assessing my chances of survival.
“I have my orders,” the guard said and disappeared.
She leaned against the table, the tough-as-nails look fading with her sigh. Her eyes closed and she bit her lip until a red line appeared. “I’m wondering if I should accept this assignment or kill you now. You’d probably appreciate the latter.” The woman turned and looked over me. “Who did you anger?”
I swallowed. “I’m not sure.”
“What is your name?”
“Tyler?” She watched without moving. “How did you get here?”
“By ship.” I swore as soon as I realized my words were in English.
“You’re from Earth?”
“You speak English?”
“You came from Earth recently?”
“Are you human?”
Her eyes narrowed. “If you don’t start answering my questions, this will take the rest of the night.”
“How do you know it’s night if we’re underground?”
She gave me a look of disapproval. “The less you know about this place the better.”
“I know we’re in some kind of prison.”
“This is no kind of prison you’ve ever known.”
This back and forth was getting us nowhere. “What’s your name?”
“You can call me Gems.”
“Gems?” I asked.
“Gems. How recently did you come from Earth?”
“What does it matter? I’m here now.”
With another sigh, longer this time, she spun from the table and walked to face me. The top of her hair barely reached my chest while the stubborn resolve in her voice reminded me of Sylvia. “The way you speak your words is wrong.”
“I’m speaking Golvern’s language, right?”
“Your words are of Golvern, but they’re in the wrong order. You may know the words, but you can’t speak them convincingly.”
“The guard who led me here didn’t seem to notice.”
“He was probably more worried about emptying his bottle than explaining what you’d face here.”
Why was I arguing with this woman? I couldn’t let our battle get out of control, especially when I needed her help. All one hundred pounds of it. “He understood me and so do you.”
Gems set her chin and glared up at me. “What I understand is meaningless. Some of the guards will beat you unconscious for refusing to speak Golvern’s language. They’d take your babbling as a dismissal of their authority.”
“What should I do?”
“With me, speak your language from Earth. I will help you understand how to talk to them. Unless you’re asked to speak, keep your mouth shut.”
“How can you understand me?”
“I’ve been trained in several languages from that planet.”
“Why would you learn other languages?”
“Only those with human blood are brought to live at this underground prison. Many have never learned how to speak Golvern’s language. How else would I have a conversation with anything other than the walls?”
“Are you saying that Golvern’s government brings human slaves here?”
“How else would the work get done?”
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