Today's Reading

She should return to bed before Lukas awakened, but she couldn't think inside their cabin—couldn't worry or even wonder what would happen if she tried to step outside the gates, the barbed wire, alone. Inside the cabin, she tried not to feel at all.

All she did was hold her daughter and wish they could steal away together in the night. A wish she could never tell another soul, not even whisper to Elsie. Others in the Aryan Council had longed for an escape, but they never ran far. Her father wouldn't allow it.

Often they never ran at all—those people simply disappeared like the sinking stone.

The lake lapped over her toes again, delivering its chill from a long journey down the mountains. Then a light flickered through the fog, a tiny spark on the water. A lone star in this galaxy of night.

She stared at the spark until a flame, as sharp as her husband's sword, dipped and curled itself in the black space, piercing the edge of the veil, its glow burning through her mind.

A nightmare, she thought, of fire and screaming and people trying to scale the barbs and spikes on their property's fence. She must still be asleep in the cottage above the lake, Lukas at her side, Elsie rocking in her cradle beside them.

Only a dream—

A siren shattered the silence, rippling across her skin, slicing through the mist in her mind.

This was no dream. Nor was it a drill. Her father wouldn't allow the guards in their gatehouse to train without warning. A siren meant the men must fight. The women and children run.

She knew exactly what she was supposed to do if the enemy attacked. Father had boats waiting to transport the women and children and eventually the men to the opposite shore. Deep in the mountains, far from town, was another compound called Eagle's Nest, a fortress stockpiled with weapons and enough food to last a decade if necessary.

A hiding place their enemy would never find.

She was supposed to run, but her feet froze in the mud.

The flames lapped against her parents' cottage, like the water across her feet, and in a blink, the fire devoured the pine.

People poured out of their homes now, screaming with the blare of sirens.

Was Lukas still in their cottage? He'd been asleep when she crept down to the shore, but sometimes he left during the night as well.

Had he—had they—left Elsie alone?

Fear swept through her, igniting her feet. Instead of climbing into a boat, Sarah raced up the hill until another young woman—Aimee—grabbed her arm, tried to pull her toward the water. "You can't go back, Sarah."

A second cottage succumbed to the blaze, then one beside it. Her cabin was next.

"Elsie!" she cried out, shaking off the woman's hold.

Not that her daughter could respond, but she must know her mom was coming. That she would never leave her baby alone to face this fire.

She coughed as she ran, the smoke burning its way into her lungs, stinging her eyes.

"Sarah—" Lukas's voice roared over the chaos. "I've got her."

The fire licked against the cottage as she squinted through the haze, searching for her husband and the girl in his arms.

A glimpse was all she needed. Then she would know.

"We'll meet at Eagle's Nest," he shouted.

Sarah pushed through the crowd, her arms outstretched as she pressed toward his voice. "Give her to me."

"No." The sound was fainter now, as if the fire was swallowing him. "I'll carry her to the mountain."

Aimee took her arm again, tugging toward the dock. "We have to go."
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