Home > Wings (Black City #3)(10)

Wings (Black City #3)(10)
Author: Elizabeth Richards

“You’re here! I was starting to think you weren’t coming,” she says giddily. Has she been drinking?

“Nice suit,” Eric says sincerely, sliding his hand down Catherine’s back.

Furious, I grab Catherine’s arm and lead her away from the group. Patrick watches us, a smirk on his lips.

“What the hell, Catherine?” I snap. “I thought I was your date tonight.”

“What . . . ?” A small crease forms between her brows, and then her eyes suddenly widen as she catches on. “Oh, Edmund, no, I’m so sorry.” She lightly touches my arm. “I meant we’d come together as friends. That’s why I invited Drew and Harriet too.”

“But we kissed,” I say.

Color floods her cheeks, and she lowers her gaze.

I think back to the kiss and realize that at no point did Catherine return it. She also told Patrick it was just a good-night kiss between friends, because that’s all we are in her mind. She was trying to let me down gently, to spare my feelings. It’s my fault I chose to ignore the signs. There’s a titter of laughter from Harriet, who’s clearly been eavesdropping on our conversation. I don’t dare look at Patrick’s reaction.

Catherine nervously plays with her yellow lace gloves. “I care for you, Edmund, so much. It’s just—” She flicks a look at Eric.

“You like him more,” I finish for her, letting go of her arm.

“I’m so sorry,” she says, her brown eyes brimming with tears. “Please say you forgive me. I couldn’t stand you being mad at me, Edmund.”

“Don’t worry about it, Caterpillar. My mistake. Can’t blame a guy for trying.” I chuckle slightly, but the sound cracks. “Friends?”

She gives me a grateful smile. “The best.”

Catherine takes my hand as we walk back to the others. I want more than anything to go home, but I don’t want to give Patrick the satisfaction of knowing how much Catherine’s rejection stings. Harriet laughs as we join the group.

“The moron thought you were on a date?” she says.

“It’s not funny, Harri,” Catherine says.

Eric scratches his freckled neck. “Sorry, Ed, I didn’t know you and Cat had plans.”

“It’s fine,” I say flatly, dying inside.

Patrick strolls over to me. He dips his head so that his mouth is just millimeters from my ear. “How could you ever think my sister would want to be with you, freak?”

That does it. I spin around and shove him. Patrick staggers back, surprised by my unexpected strength. Fury blazes over his face, contorting his features, and he strikes back, his punch landing squarely on my left cheek, sending two teeth flying out of my mouth. They fall into the dirt by Catherine’s feet, like a pair of glistening pearls. She gasps. The teeth are neatly attached by a thin steel wire. Drew and Harriet start laughing.

“Oh my God, the freak wears dentures!” Harriet squeals.

The music stops, and a hush falls over the town square as everyone turns to stare at us.

I drop to my knees and frantically gather my dentures, wedging them into my mouth without bothering to wipe off the dirt. Grandfather was right, this was too risky! What was I thinking? Patrick narrows his blue eyes at me. Catherine pushes past him and sinks down beside me, not caring that her yellow silk dress is getting covered in mud.

“Are you okay?” she says.

I can’t look at her. I can’t look at anyone, as fear and humiliation burns through me like the scalding water that destroyed my flesh.

“Lots of people have dentures, Edmund,” she says kindly. “It’s not an issue.”

Eric crouches down beside her. “Yeah, really, it’s no big deal. My uncle lost all of his front teeth when he was our age. Admittedly, a horse kicked him in the face . . .”

They haven’t put two and two together yet, but I can’t quell the panic rising in me. It’s only a matter of time before they start wondering why a boy my age needs fake teeth. A shadow passes over us, and I glance up to see my grandfather, along with the Langdons.

“Catherine Elizabeth Langdon, you’re ruining your new dress!” Mrs. Langdon says.

Catherine rolls her eyes, getting to her feet. Grandfather helps me up.

“Perhaps you should go home?” he says. His voice is tense. Afraid.

Mr. Langdon glares at his son. “Patrick, apologize to Edmund.”

Hatred simmers in Patrick’s blue eyes. “Sorry you’re such a freak.”

“Patrick!” Mrs. Langdon exclaims.

My heart suddenly cramps and I gasp, clutching a hand to my chest. “Gah!”

“Edmund, what is it?” Catherine says, placing a hand on my arm.

Instinctively I whip my head around, drawn to the Boundary Wall for some reason. I scan the dark, searching for . . . I have no idea what. Something silver flashes across the rooftops.

“Is everything all right?” Catherine asks.

Another streak of silver leaps between two buildings. I get a good look this time.

“Howler!” I cry out.

The town square erupts into screams and chaos as the Lupine springs off the rooftop into the plaza, his long, smoke-gray jacket flaring behind him. The cool night breeze ruffles his snow-white hair, which has been decorated with feathers and bones. I know who he is, based on Grandfather’s past descriptions of him: Alaric Bane, the Lupine pack leader.

Behind him, more Lupines leap off the rooftops and surround the plaza, blocking the escape routes. Others hang back on the wall, their faces obscured by shadows. Families huddle together, terrified, realizing they’re trapped. One of the Howlers—a vicious-looking man with a speckled-gray mane and a crescent moon tattoo on his neck—stands nearest to us. Catherine lets out a whimper and clings on to Eric, and Mr. Langdon stands protectively in front of his wife. Out the corner of my eye, I notice Patrick drawing the dagger from his belt. Harriet and Drew do the same.

One of the Howlers—a plain-looking teenage girl with short hair and wind-burned cheeks—slowly approaches the wooden cross. Her furlike hair is white, just like the girl on the cross. Given the way she’s looking at the girl, I wonder if they were sisters.

“We don’t want a fight,” Alaric says to my grandfather, which I find odd, since Mr. Langdon is the man in charge. “I just want my daughter’s body back.”

“You’re trespassing on Guild territory, Alaric,” Grandfather says. “You need to leave.”

“Not without my sister,” the Lupine girl replies.

“Ulrika, be silent,” Alaric snarls.

The girl’s jaw immediately snaps shut, but her eyes are like flints.

“You kidnapped four of our people and you never returned their bodies to us,” Mr. Langdon says. “Perhaps this will be a warning—”

“I will ask you again, please leave,” Grandfather interrupts and Mr. Langdon throws him a cold look, his cheeks flushing.

“Not until we get what we came for.” Alaric approaches the wooden cross and uses his razor-sharp nails to sever the binds around his daughter’s arms. Her body collapses over his shoulder. Ulrika clenches her jaw, visibly holding back her grief, but her father knocks back his head and lets out a pained howl. The other Lupines join him. Big mistake.

The second they’re distracted, Eric reaches for something in his belt—a dagger—and thrusts it at the Lupine beside him. The blade sinks into the man’s flesh, and he howls in pain. Eric pulls out the blade and attempts to stab the Lupine again. This time he grabs Eric and rips out the boy’s throat, spraying hot blood into the air. My senses explode as the predator inside me roars with thirst. The Lupine tosses Eric’s dead body to the ground.

It all happens in a flash: Patrick lunges for the Lupine and it swipes out a clawed hand to protect itself, accidentally slashing Catherine’s neck and chest in the process. She gasps, staggering back, as blood blooms over her yellow silk dress, while Patrick and the Lupine crash to the ground. They roll across the dirt, wrestling for their lives.

Harriet, Drew and Mr. Langdon draw their daggers and plunge their blades into the Lupine’s body, stabbing him over and over until the ground is awash with his blood. Mrs. Langdon faints, her blue satin dress pooling around her like an ocean. The town is soon in pandemonium as people push and scream, desperate to get out of the plaza. In the melee, Catherine slips down a nearby alleyway, clearly keen to get away from the Lupines blocking the path to her house. I chase after her.

The winding passageway is cramped and as black as Cinderstone. I follow the trail of Catherine’s blood, my hunger igniting with every footstep. I don’t feel like a boy looking for a girl; I feel like a hunter stalking its prey. I shake my head, trying to force out these thoughts.

Somewhere behind me, Alaric howls, calling his pack. I quickly scan the rooftops. The Lupines are retreating to the wall, Alaric leading the way. In his arms is his dead daughter. At the end of the pack is Ulrika. There’s a pop of gunfire and a bullet whizzes past her, grazing her right arm. She gasps, losing her footing, and falls, unbeknownst to the other Howlers. They keep going without her, leaving her to the mercy of the townsfolk. I don’t have time to worry about her now. I rush over to Catherine, who is lying in a ball on the ground at the far end of the passageway, quiet and still. I kneel down beside her.

“Edmund . . . thank His Mighty . . . you’re here,” she rasps, causing crimson blood to spurt out of the gruesome slash marks on her neck. My insides clench and I shut my eyes, taking a shaky breath, but it’s too late. I’ve smelled her blood. I can taste her in my mouth. My thirst consumes me, touching every nerve, every fiber of my body, demanding one thing: drink.

She lets out a startled gasp as I sink my teeth into the open wound on her neck and begin to feed. Unlike my grandfather’s blood, hers is sweet and delicious, and a groan forms in my throat. Her fists pound against my arms, trying to stop me, but her struggling just excites the predator in me even more. In my darkest moments I’ve fantasized about doing this to her, but the reality is so much better than any dream. I don’t have to hide what I am now. I can take her, I can have her in a way no other boy can, and she’s powerless to stop me.

This thought alone brings me screeching back to reality. I yank my head back, gasping, my mouth dripping with her blood. I’m not a monster; I’m not like my father! I can be pure, I can be good. Oh Lord, what have I done? I hurriedly press my hands against her neck, trying to stem the bleeding. The fear and shock on her face makes me feel sick with guilt.

“By His Mighty’s name! What are you doing?”

I spin around. Grandfather stares at me, horror-struck. He pushes me out of the way and quickly checks her pulse.

“We need to take her to the hospital,” I say.

“We can’t,” he says quietly. “They’ll execute you, Edmund. And me.”

Catherine’s eyes widen with terror, understanding what this means. “Please don’t kill me,” she gurgles, rolling her head toward me. “I won’t tell, Edmund, I promise . . .”

“I’m sorry, Catherine,” Grandfather says. “But I have to protect my grandson.”

With a swift motion he grabs her head and twists it to one side. There’s a gruesome crack as something inside her breaks. The fear immediately fades from her eyes. I stagger back against the building, my hands clamped over my mouth to muffle my scream.

There’s a rustle on the thatched rooftop above me, and I gaze up. Ulrika’s silver eyes peer down at me, her body pressed flat against the straw. A trickle of blood courses down her bare arm from the gunshot wound. She looks as startled as I feel. How long has she been there? Grandfather hasn’t noticed her yet, as he’s too busy staring at his blood-soaked hands.

“I saw Catherine come down this way!” Patrick calls from farther down the alley.

Ulrika doesn’t wait around to be caught—she leaps onto her feet and springs across the rooftops toward the Boundary Wall. She scales the wall and drops down the other side.

“You need to go, Edmund. I’ll tell them I found her like this,” Grandfather says.

I give Catherine’s body one last fleeting look before racing down an adjoining alleyway that leads home. The last thing I hear before entering the sanctuary of the church is Patrick’s guttural cry.

9.

NATALIE

I START AWAKE, wondering what pulled me out of my sleep. I’d been having a nightmare about the homeless guy with the rotting face. He was dressed in gleaming white Pilgrim robes and was chasing me through the streets of Black City. Then he turned into one of the Tin Men from Scott’s shop and I was suddenly trapped behind the mirrored door, unable to breathe, as the walls closed in around me. It was terrifying, but something about it triggered a memory . . . the Pilgrim robes . . . Then it hits me. I saw a Pilgrim back in Thrace with shimmery gray eyes just like the Tin Man’s! I knew I’d seen it somewhere before. It must be some sort of genetic defect, like people with one blue eye and one brown.

I glance about my stark room, which I share with my parents. Their beds are empty. I check the clock. It’s barely seven in the morning. Where are they? Footsteps run past my room and I climb out of bed, curious to know what’s going on. I inch the door open. Several soldiers rush down the corridor, heading toward the main concourse.

Across the hallway, the door to Elijah’s room opens. He’s wearing a loose white T-shirt and a pair of striped pajama bottoms that are slightly too long for him.

“What’s going on?” he says, groggily running a hand through his russet hair.

“I don’t know. Let’s go find out,” I reply.

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