Home > Wings (Black City #3)(11)

Wings (Black City #3)(11)
Author: Elizabeth Richards

I dart back into my room to slip on my jumpsuit, and then join Elijah in the hallway. He’s changed out of his PJs and put on his jumpsuit as well. We head in the direction of the soldiers and find everyone in the main concourse. The place is buzzing with activity. I spot my parents across the hall, greeting five soldiers by the entrance ramp. It’s Omega Squad!

Leading the group is Adam Slater. He looks like he belongs on the beaches of Golden Sands, with dirty-blond hair, tanned skin and aquamarine eyes. Two members of Omega Squad are carrying someone on a stretcher. I stand on my tiptoes, trying to see who it is. A gasp gets lost in my throat. He’s bloodied and bruised, but there’s no mistaking who it is.

“Sigur!” I cry out.

I push my way through the crowd toward him, Elijah hot on my heels. I reach the Darkling Ambassador just as he’s being led into the hospital.

“I’m sorry we left you,” I blurt out.

He manages a faint smile, showing a glimpse of fang, before he’s taken into the ward, followed by my parents. I try to go after them, but Slater stops me.

“I need to see him,” I say.

“Not now,” Slater replies.

I’m about to protest when I hear a familiar voice behind me.

“Natalie?”

It can’t be! I spin around, my heart hammering, not daring to believe.

Standing on the entrance ramp is a pretty, caramel-skinned girl, with glossy black hair tied into a neat side braid, and chocolate-brown eyes. She’s dressed in navy blue pants, a vest and boy’s black frock coat. Perched on the tip of her long nose is a pair of spectacles.

“Day!” I squeal.

I rush over and throw my arms around her slim body. She hugs me so tightly, it’s hard to breathe, but I don’t care. She’s here, she’s really here, beautiful, stubborn, wonderful Day! We’re both crying and laughing as we cling to each other.

“Hey, Buchanan, get your hands off my girlfriend.”

I let Day go. Walking toward us from the entranceway is Ash’s best friend, Beetle. The scar tissue on his cheek puckers as he grins at me. He’s handsome in a goofy sort of way, with pale skin, messy brown dreadlocks and a lanky frame. He’s wearing an old, battered military jacket, and his black pants are tucked into a pair of chunky leather work boots. Beside him is the head of Humans for Unity, Roach. She looks a lot like her nephew, Beetle, except with freckled skin and garish blue hair. Elijah quickly greets Beetle, doing that awkward half-hug-pat-on-the-back thing guys do, before he embraces Day.

“Hey, spectacles,” Elijah says. “It’s great to see you.”

Day flushes slightly, and Beetle rolls his eyes.

“I’m right here,” he mumbles, and Day pecks Beetle on the cheek.

“How did you guys end up here?” I say as we stroll down the entrance ramp together.

“We’d gone to Centrum to rescue Sigur,” Day explains. “But just as we reached his cell, those soldiers turned up, guns blazing, smoke bombs everywhere.”

“Thankfully Sigur told them to hold fire; otherwise we’d all be dead,” Roach adds.

“We had no idea you were here,” Day says, then lets out a squeak of delight and embraces me again. “What is this place, Nat?”

“Where’s Ash?” Beetle interrupts before I can explain, his expression worried.

“We got separated back in Viridis. But I’m sure he’s alive.” I gesture toward my heart. “I would’ve felt it if he’d died.” During Ash’s failed execution in Black City, I’d felt the echo of his heartbeat fading inside me as his life slipped away, so I would know if he were dead.

“Do you know where he is?” Day says.

I shake my head.

“Let’s get some chow,” Beetle says. “You can tell us everything over breakfast.”

Roach heads to the residential quarters to get showered while we go to the Mess Hall. Along the way, I pop into my room and grab the radio, in order to resume my obsessive checking of the airwaves. Day and I walk behind the boys as we head to the canteen. Beetle gestures wildly as he describes an epic gunfight between him and several Sentry guards, while Elijah politely listens, his hands casually thrust in his pockets as he strolls beside Beetle, his tail swaying idly behind him. An attractive female soldier with auburn hair walks by and smiles at Elijah, but he doesn’t seem to notice. Day raises a brow at me, surprised.

“Is Elijah feeling okay?” she whispers. “It’s not like him to ignore an attractive girl . . . actually any girl.”

I laugh.

“What’s funny?” she asks.

The old Elijah wouldn’t have let a beautiful girl go by without some sort of flirtatious comment, but that was when he was pretending to be someone else.

“What’s funny?” she asks.

“We have a lot to catch up on,” I say, looping my arm through hers.

The Mess Hall is jam-packed and buzzing with news of the Darkling Ambassador’s arrival. There’s still a strong smell of charred wood and metal in the canteen from my recent arson attempt, but I don’t mind it so much—it reminds me of Black City.

Destiny is sitting at one of the tables, chatting to a brown-haired soldier. Her black hair is tied back, showing off the angles of her high cheekbones and almond-shaped eyes. She looks a lot like her aunt, Emissary Vincent. She waves us over and the man leaves. I quickly introduce her to Beetle and Day, explaining how they got here.

“Did you hear about Sigur?” I say.

She nods. “I knew Omega Squad was extracting a prisoner from Centrum, but I had no idea it was the Darkling Ambassador. Your dad kept that strictly on a need-to-know basis.”

Day whips around to me. “Wait, what? Your dad’s here?”

“Yeah, he’s alive,” I say. “It’s a long story.”

“What do they want with Sigur?” Beetle asks Destiny.

She shrugs. “I’m guessing this is the Commander’s way of currying favor with the Darklings,” she says. “We need them on our side once we’ve defeated Purian Rose, so Humans for Unity and other Darkling sympathizers will support the new Sentry regime. Otherwise we’ll struggle to stay in power, given how divided the country is right now.”

“Hold up, the new Sentry regime?” Beetle says.

“Yeahhh,” Destiny says slowly, flicking a confused look at me.

“Nat, what the fragg’s going on here?” Beetle says.

“It’s—”

“A long story,” Day finishes for me, smirking slightly.

Destiny makes her excuses and leaves. The rest of us grab some breakfast while I bring Beetle and Day up to speed on everything. The breakfast spread is a strange mixture of oatmeal, fish, fruit and raw meat. The chef unceremoniously dollops some congealed oatmeal on my plate, clearly still mad at me for setting fire to her Mess Hall. Her mood immediately lightens when she spots Elijah. She serves him a generous portion of kippers. Although Bastets are known for hunting Darklings, their staple diet is fish and berries. The Lupines, on the other hand, tend to eat raw beef and venison, although they’ll take the occasional human. Thankfully, that’s not on the menu today.

“So, let me get this straight,” Day says as we take our trays over to the tables. “The Sentry rebels are planning to overthrow Purian Rose’s government and put a new Sentry government into power, led by this mysterious ‘Commander’? Then they intend to liberate the Darklings, in order to win the trust of Darkling sympathizers, like us, to prevent any further conflict and give the country a chance to rebuild?”

“Yep,” I say. “That sounds about right.”

We sit down at one of the metal tables. I place the radio on the table but don’t turn it on yet, as there’s so much we need to catch up on. Beetle immediately tucks into his breakfast.

“Why have they waited so long to strike?” he mumbles through a mouthful of oatmeal.

“They’ve been building their army,” I say. “Plus, they were waiting for an opportune moment to attack. With Purian Rose distracted by Humans for Unity, he’s weak.”

“Well, that explains a few things,” Day says. “There’s been a bunch of attacks recently that we didn’t do, and we were wondering who was behind them.”

“So what’s going to happen to the Darklings in the Sentry’s new ‘regime’?” Beetle says. “What role will they have in the government? Or the Workboots, for that matter?”

“Um, I don’t know,” I say, flushing.

“How can you not know?” Beetle says. “You’ve been here for nine days.”

“I’ve been sort of busy . . . ,” I murmur.

“Natalie’s sick,” Elijah explains.

Day’s eyebrows shoot up her face. “What’s wrong with you?”

“I have the Wrath. I got it from that Darkling bite a few months ago,” I say, then add hurriedly, “But I’ve been getting treatment. Dr. Craven’s been working on a cure and it’s looking good. I’m heading to the hospital later today for my next appointment, actually.”

Day’s bottom lip quivers and Beetle comfortingly takes her hand.

“So what’s the story with Ash?” Beetle says, diverting the conversation.

I briefly explain what happened—how Garrick had been sent to Black City by my parents to retrieve me and Polly, but when she was killed and the city came under siege, Garrick had to quickly change his plans. He followed me across the United Sentry States, until eventually he caught up with us in Viridis. Elijah winces as I tell them about the massacre at the Bastet embassy, and how Garrick kidnapped me and left Ash behind.

“I’m sorry about your family,” Day says, resting her hand on Elijah’s. “Have you had any luck finding your mom and the Ora?”

“No,” Elijah says. “But we did get a lead in Thrace. Kieran’s wife, Esme, told us they’d gone to the city of Gray Wolf.”

“Apparently they were heading to a nearby mountain, called the Claw, to retrieve the weapon,” I add. “But we can’t work out which mountain it is.”

“I’ll figure it out—don’t worry,” Day says happily. “They must have some reference books in this place.” There’s nothing she likes more than sticking her nose into a book.

“So what’s been going on with you guys?” I ask. “Have you heard from the others?”

“Mama, Papa and MJ made it to the Northern Territories,” Day says, and I let out a relieved sigh. I lived with Day’s family for a few months, so I think of the Rajasinghams as my second family. “But we haven’t heard from Harold or Martha yet,” she continues, referring to Ash’s father and my old Darkling housemaid.

I chew on my thumbnail, worried about them.

“Did you hear about Nick and Juno?” Day says.

“We saw it on the news,” I reply, remembering the footage of Nick being killed in an explosion during a riot in Iridium. Nick was Ash’s decoy and had been traveling with the rebels, pretending to be Phoenix, while we went to Thrace in search of the Ora. Juno Jones, lead reporter for Black City News, was caught in the same explosion that killed Nick, although it wasn’t clear if she’d died. “Did Juno make it?”

“No. Amy and Stuart got captured,” Beetle says, referring to Juno’s younger sister and her cameraman, who were traveling with her. “Stu was executed, along with a bunch of other Humans for Unity rebels, but we think Amy was sent to the Tenth.”

“Oh no,” I whisper. Amy is a good friend of ours.

We slowly shift the conversation to more lighthearted topics, not wanting to dwell on these dark matters, and it’s like the old times back in Black City. My heart aches, thinking about Ash. I miss him so much. Instinctively, I pick up the radio and turn it on. Static crackles over the airwaves as I tune it to Firebird, having a little trouble finding the signal. I twist the dial another notch to the right, and a voice suddenly rings out through the speakers.

“—local fireworks display.”

I drop the radio, my heart racing. It was just three words, but I’d know that voice anywhere.

Ash.

10.

NATALIE

ELIJAH WHIPS OUT a hand and catches the radio before it crashes to the floor. He passes it back to me and I turn up the volume, but all I hear is static. We wait for minute after agonizing minute, listening for Ash. Talk to me, Ash, please, please, please. Just as I’m starting to lose hope, the radio sparks to life again:

“Going to the town near here; then checking out the local fireworks display,” Ash’s voice says again over the airwaves. The last few words of the message are the same as before, so it’s clearly a recording, but even so, it’s Ash! He’s alive! I bury my face in my hands, shaking all over with relief. Elijah gently rubs my back. I knew Ash would try to get a message to us; I could feel it in my heart. I lift my head and take a deep breath. I’ve been drowning with worry for the past nine days, and now I can finally breathe.

Beetle scratches his scarred cheek. “What does the message mean?”

“He’s letting us know where he’s going next,” Day says.

“Do you think he’s looking for me?” I say.

“Maybe,” Day says. “But it’s more likely the message is about the Ora, since Ash would assume we’d think you and Elijah were still with him, as there’s been no news of your capture.”

Elijah’s eyes light up with hope. “Do you think he’s found my mom and the others?”

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