Home > Wings (Black City #3)(12)

Wings (Black City #3)(12)
Author: Elizabeth Richards

“It’s possible,” Day says.

“It’s not much of a clue to go on,” Beetle mutters. “Going to the town near here. Where’s ‘here’? How are we supposed to figure that out?”

I bite my lip, thinking. “Maybe Ash is expecting us to trace the signal? Perhaps he’s going to the town closest to that location?”

“I don’t think so,” Day says. “It’s really hard to trace a radio signal. You need a powerful DF antenna to triangulate the source, and Ash knows Humans for Unity doesn’t have anything like that,” she explains. “And even if we did, I can’t imagine he’ll be broadcasting this message long enough for us to trace it. Plus we’d encounter all the same problems the government’s been having in locating our broadcasts, like propagation distortions and—” She stops talking when she notices the look of wonder on Beetle’s face.

“You amaze me sometimes, babes,” he says. “How do you know all this?”

Her caramel skin flushes pink. “It’s called reading. You should try it sometime.”

He grins. “Nah, sounds like a lot of hard work.”

I sigh. Ash is giving us a clue and I can’t work out where he means! We listen to the radio for another ten minutes waiting for Ash to speak again, hoping to work out the riddle.

“Going to the town near here; then checking out the local fireworks display,” Ash says just as my watch beeps. I check the dial—09:30. Time for my appointment with Dr. Craven. For the first time, the thought doesn’t depress me. Not only am I getting better, but it’s a great excuse to see Sigur.

I push my chair back. “I have to go.”

We agree to meet up again in an hour, before I head to the hospital, bringing the radio with me as my mind whirs, trying to work out Ash’s clue. I enter the ward. My parents, Dr. Craven and Roach are huddled around Sigur’s bed, deep in discussion.

“I overheard my guards at the prison talking about a new security force that Purian Rose has enlisted,” Sigur mumbles, his bruised lips making it hard to talk. There are welts all over his bare torso, where he’s been tortured.

Father nods. “We’ve seen them walking around the city.”

I wonder if they’re referring to the Tin Men I saw in Scott’s shop.

“Well, according to the guards, Purian Rose is forcing these men to take a new drug as part of an initiation into the group,” Sigur explains. “They’re calling the drug Wings.”

Father turns to Dr. Craven. “Have you heard of it before?”

Dr. Craven shakes his head.

“What does the drug do?” Roach asks. She’s casually sitting at the end of his bed, one scruffy boot propped up on the mattress, her other leg dangling over the side.

“The guards thought it was a performance-enhancing drug,” Sigur says.

“Like steroids?” Father says.

“The men who took it were coming back stronger, more aggressive, so it would support the guards’ theory,” Sigur continues. “But I am not so sure. Perhaps past experiences have made me paranoid”—he turns his good eye toward Dr. Craven, who pretends to clean his glasses—“but I suspect there is more to this drug than people think. Purian Rose has a tendency to disguise one thing with another.”

“You mean, like hiding the Wrath virus in the Golden Haze?” Roach says, casting a look at my mother, whose mouth tightens into a thin line.

“I don’t see how this drug Wings is a threat to us,” Mother says.

Sigur turns toward her. “Perhaps I am being paranoid, but when it comes to Purian Rose, I think it is best to be on guard,” he says. “As you know, he used the Golden Haze as Trojan horses, by infecting them with the Wrath virus and then letting my people feed on them, passing it on to us. So who knows what hidden threat lurks in this drug, or who he truly intends to hurt with it? We need to be extra vigilant, Emissary.”

Father nods. “I’ll put some feelers out, see if we can find out what Rose is really up to.”

I cough, letting them know I’m here. “Sorry to intrude, but I have an appointment . . .”

Dr. Craven ushers me over to a bed beside Sigur. I place the radio on the nightstand while Dr. Craven collects a thin black box and places it on the tray beside me. He opens it up, revealing a velvet-lined case filled with four syringes, a pack of needles and four small vials of medicine, each one with a different-colored cap.

“What’s that?” I say.

“This is your Wrath medication,” he says. “As much as I’ll miss your company, pumpkin, I figured you’d want to learn to administer it yourself. There’s enough here to last you seven days.”

I grin, delighted that I’m not going to have to come to the hospital every day. Dr. Craven shows me how to fill the syringes, explaining about the dosages, and then teaches me to inject myself. It’s painful, and I mess up the first injection, causing blood to squirt out of my vein. Sigur shuts his eyes, his jaw clenching at the smell.

“Sorry,” I mutter.

While I’m attempting to do the third injection, the radio crackles and Ash’s voice rings out over the airwaves, repeating the same message.

Sigur’s head whips around at the voice. “Was that—?”

“Ash, yes!” I grin, briefly explaining everything. My mother’s scarlet lips purse together; I think she was secretly hoping he’d stay lost. “I don’t know where ‘the town near here’ is yet, but Day’s working on it.”

“I want to help.” Sigur grimaces as he sits up. “We can arrange a rescue—”

“That might not be possible,” my father interrupts.

“What?” Roach splutters. “Why the fragg not?”

Father sighs. “I’ve been ordered not to expend any more resources searching for him.”

“But, Jonathan, he is my Blood Son . . . ,” Sigur says.

“You’re wasting your breath,” I mutter, leaning against my pillow.

Sigur and Roach share a knowing look, their expressions hardening.

“We should let you rest,” Father says to Sigur.

He and my mom leave the ward, Roach hot on their heels.

“This is fragging madness!” I hear her yell at my dad just as the door swings shut.

Sigur lies down, wincing with pain. He turns his head away as Dr. Craven helps me with my last injection. When we’re finished, I grab the black syringe case and radio and head to Elijah’s room, mulling over what Sigur said about the drug Wings, which Purian Rose is making his men take. I check my watch, wondering if I have time to shower before meeting up with the others. It’s 10:20. I could probably— The radio crackles.

“Going to the town near here; then checking out the local fireworks display,” Ash says.

My heart aches at the sound of Ash’s voice. What does his message mean? There must be a way to work out where he is! Okay, think, Natalie. Wherever Ash is, it has to be somewhere Humans for Unity can figure out, based on that clue. So chances are, the place is significant to the rebellion. Black City? No, why would he go back there? Okay . . . erm . . . Centrum? It’s possible, but not likely. The only other place I can think of is . . . Oh! I pause midstep, making the soldier walking behind me bump into my back.

“Sorry,” I mutter as he shoots me an impatient look.

I study my watch, my mind whirring. When I was in the Mess Hall earlier, his message came on at precisely 09:30. And when I checked my watch just now, at 10:20, the message played again. I quickly count how many times the message has played over the past hour, hope building in me. Five times. Could it be . . . ? I race through the compound until I reach Elijah’s bedroom, barging in without even knocking. He’s sitting on the floor with Beetle and Day, a portable com-screen on the ground between them, showing a satellite map of Mountain Wolf State. They must be trying to work out where the Claw is. They look up.

“There’s a ten-minute delay between each message!” I say breathlessly. “That was the clue! They’re at the town nearest to the Tenth. And you know where that is?” I look at Elijah.

“Gray Wolf!” he answers, recalling what Garrick told us yesterday about Gray Wolf being overrun by Sentry guards, because it was the closest town to the camp.

“Get your things,” I say. “We’re going to rescue Ash.”

11.

ASH

THE MINIPORT SWOOPS dramatically to the left, making me start awake. I run a tired hand over my face. I hadn’t realized I’d been asleep. Acelot is beside me, singing very badly to a cheesy song playing over the aircraft’s stereo.

“Your beauty is like a priceless work of art; you’re the key to unlock the secrets of my heaaaaaaart,” he warbles.

“I didn’t take you for a Chuck Lazlo fan,” I say.

He grins guiltily and turns off the stereo. “It’s Marc’s album. My kid brother may be a moody brat sometimes, but he’s a real softy deep, deep down.”

I raise a skeptical brow.

“It’s not entirely his fault he’s like that,” Acelot continues. “It’s just what happens when you’ve led a privileged life. You think the world owes you everything.”

“You’re not like that,” I point out.

“I’m older and, well, I wouldn’t say wiser, but certainly less of a jerk than I used to be,” he says. “Although my ex-girlfriends back home might not agree. Elijah’s the only one of us who turned out normal.”

I furrow my brow. “But Elijah’s just like Marcel.”

“Are you joking? They’re completely different,” Acelot says.

It occurs to me that the Elijah I knew was pretending to be his younger brother the whole time I knew him, so I don’t actually know the “real” Elijah at all.

“So what’s he like then?” I ask.

Acelot shrugs. “He’s a quiet sort of person, you know? Hardworking, never complains. And, man, can that kid fish! We used to take my boat out every weekend, and this one time he hooked this marlin, easily a four-footer. Took him three hours to reel it in, but he got it in the end.” Acelot smiles at the happy memory.

“Sounds like you two are close,” I say.

“Yeah, we are,” Acelot says. “Pisses Marc off no end, though. You might not have noticed, but he’s a bit possessive.”

I chuckle and glance out the windscreen. “Where are we?”

“Approaching Gray Wolf,” Acelot says.

Through the glass, the historic city looms up ahead. It looks like a fairy-tale town straight from the pages of a children’s storybook, with twisting cobbled streets and quaint colonial buildings that remind me of dolls’ houses, made from red brick with terra-cotta-tiled roofs and white sash windows, complete with shutters.

A busy railroad is on the east side of the city, and a derelict factory district is on the west side, on the outskirts of Gray Wolf, near a wide canal. I vaguely recall my old history teacher, Mr. Lewis, telling us about the depression that gripped the region around the time Mount Alba erupted. Many citizens relocated to the bigger cities in search of work and new opportunities, which explains why the factory warehouses are dilapidated and overrun with weeds and foliage. Based on the bustling streets below us, the city’s fortunes have changed with the arrival of Purian Rose’s troops, who are using the town as a military hub, since it’s so close to the Tenth.

The powder-blue skies around us are filled with Sentry Transporters, zooming in and out of the city. Thankfully, because of all the air traffic, our Miniport doesn’t look too conspicuous as we fly over the city in search of a place to land.

“Try the warehouses near the canal,” I say.

Acelot steers the aircraft in the direction of the factory district. He looks tired, with dark rings under his eyes, but that’s hardly surprising; he hasn’t slept in more than twenty-four hours. The journey from Black City to Gray Wolf would normally take only about five hours, but because our navigation systems are down, we made a few wrong turns. I check the clock on the cracked dashboard. It’s almost lunchtime.

“Do you think Humans for Unity got your message?” Acelot asks, yawning.

“I hope so.” I wanted to let them know where I was going, not only to confirm I’m still alive, but to give them a clue to the Ora’s location, in case I don’t make it back alive. I’m determined to free my people and end this war, even if I’m not there to see it. Ideally Humans for Unity will figure out I’m coming to Gray Wolf, and that the “local fireworks display” is the volcano, Mount Alba, because it looks like a fireworks show when it erupts.

There’s a loud snore from the seat behind me, and I glance over my shoulder at our two passengers. Marcel is fast asleep on one of the leather chairs, his tail dangling over the side of the seat. He’s using his red velvet frock coat as a pillow, so he’s just in a white shirt and dark pants. Tucked into his belt is a small dagger with an ivory handle. Across from him is Sebastian. He’s wide awake and citing verses from the Book of Creation, the holy text of the Purity faith. He’s been doing it since we left Black City.

“And we shall rid the Darkling plague from His Mighty’s green earth, for they are demons sent to tempt us with their opiates and their bodies and their sinful ways. But they are Damned creatures!” he says. “And anyone who lies with a Darkling is Damned as well, cursed to spend eternity in the burning depths of hell—”

“Like you, you mean?” I say, recalling a conversation with Natalie when we first started dating about Sebastian cheating on her with their young Darkling housemaid. Sebastian turns his green eyes toward me. They’re filled with hate. “You got her pregnant, right?”

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