Home > Wings (Black City #3)(13)

Wings (Black City #3)(13)
Author: Elizabeth Richards

“Shut up,” Sebastian snarls.

“You’re full of it, Sebastian,” I say. “You act so righteous, but I know you’ve taken Haze, slept with Darklings, and raped and murdered people. Your dad must be so proud of you.”

His whole head reddens with anger, highlighting the crimson rose tattoo above his left ear. “My father loves me.”

“Sure,” I say. “Remind me: when was the last time you saw him?”

A muscle twitches along his jaw.

“No one cares about you, Sebastian,” I say. “Not your dad, not Purian Rose. You’re nothing but an embarrassment to them. That’s why they haven’t come looking for you.”

Sebastian holds my gaze for a tense moment, then looks away, frowning. I turn around in my chair again and glance at Acelot.

“That was petty of me,” I admit.

Acelot shrugs languidly. “Yeah, but he deserves it.”

We fly over the abandoned warehouses until we spot one with a roof that’s still mostly intact, offering us some cover. Acelot expertly steers the aircraft through the wide-open doors and lands inside the warehouse. There’s a heavy jolt as it hits the earth. Behind me, Marcel lets out a startled cry as he falls off the bench.

“Geez, Ace!” Marcel snaps, standing up. “Who taught you to fly?”

“Hey, at least I didn’t crash it. That’s one up on you.” Acelot winks at his brother and Marcel pouts.

I step off the Miniport to check that our location is secure. Sunlight slices through the holes in the roof, creating a speckled effect on the dirt ground. There’s still a few metal shelves running down the left side of the building, and at the far end of the warehouse is a large stack of crates. Dust and cobwebs coat everything, and weeds poke out of the earth. In the rafters is a nest of chirping swallows. There don’t appear to be any cameras, and the pathway outside the warehouse is deserted. We should be safe to hang out here for a while.

Acelot strolls off the aircraft behind me, stretching his arms above his head to untangle the knots in his back. Marcel pushes past him, takes one look at the warehouse, curls his lip and then stomps back inside the Miniport.

“So what’s the plan, my friend?” Acelot says once we’re out of Sebastian’s earshot. We’ve been careful not to discuss anything about our mission in front of him.

“Have some lunch, then do a scout of the city,” I say. “We need to find a way to get into the Tenth undetected.”

“All right,” Acelot says.

I glance over my shoulder toward the Miniport. Marcel’s on his hands and knees, searching for something underneath his seat, his tail stuck up in the air. Sebastian watches with amusement.

“You don’t have to come to the Tenth,” I say to Acelot. “I can’t guarantee your safety.”

Acelot gazes at his little brother for a moment. “I have to come,” he eventually says. “I’m the Bastet Consul; it’s my duty to protect my people.” He turns his golden-brown eyes on me. “Besides, I owe it to you after what my parents did.”

He heads into the Miniport to get some food while I start a small fire. Acelot returns a moment later with a few tins of beans, a glass and a grumpy-looking Marcel. The boy slumps down on the ground and lets out a bored sigh. He draws some swirls in the dirt while Acelot opens up the canned beans and places them on the fire. As they’re cooking, he bites his wrist with his saber teeth and pours his blood into the glass. There are several older puncture wounds up his arms where he’s done this for me before. I take the glass gratefully, my stomach groaning with hunger, and knock it back in one hit.

“Thanks,” I say, wiping my mouth.

Acelot wraps a rag around his wrist. “Nia probleme,” he says in his native tongue. “I’d rather not wake up to find you gnawing on my neck. Don’t get me wrong, you’re a good-looking guy, but I prefer to be taken out to dinner first.” He grins at me and I laugh.

Acelot makes sure the beans are cooked and then passes a can to Marcel. The young Bastet curls his lip up at it, in a gesture that reminds me of Elijah. Well, Elijah pretending to be Marcel, anyway. God, it’s confusing!

“Don’t we have anything nicer?” he sulks. “I don’t like beans.”

Acelot takes them back. “All the more for me.”

Marcel snatches the can, and Acelot musses his brother’s hair as he sits down. A beam of sunlight cuts across Acelot’s slim face, and he tilts his head back slightly, enjoying the heat. We chat for a while about nonsense, ignoring Sebastian, who is still sitting in the Miniport and complaining about being hungry--he can have some cold beans later, if he’s lucky—and for a moment I forget about the rebellion and the Ora, and just enjoy myself. Marcel turns out to be surprisingly amusing as he tells a funny story about Acelot getting caught in a very compromising position with one of their maids, by their parents.

“He claimed he was helping her scrub the floor,” Marcel says, chuckling. “Father just stood there, utterly mortified! What did Mom say again?”

Acelot puts on a feminine voice. “You’ve missed a spot, darling.”

I belly laugh, and it feels good. I can’t remember the last time I did that.

When Acelot and Marcel are finished with lunch, we head back into the Miniport to gather our weapons and hooded jackets. Marcel grabs his dark red frock coat.

“What are you doing?” I say.

He furrows his brow. “I’m coming with you.”

“No, you’re keeping watch over this goon,” I say, gesturing toward Sebastian. The Tracker gives me a flinty look. “Just don’t let him near any oil lanterns, okay?”

Marcel flushes, remembering the incident back at Sentry headquarters.

Acelot and I put on our jackets, pulling the hoods low to hide our faces, and head into the city.

• • •

It takes an hour to walk into the bustling central district, mainly because we’re keeping to the winding streets whenever possible, to try to stay out of sight. The town center is swarming with people, and we have to elbow our way through the crowds. The old city of Gray Wolf wasn’t designed for this many inhabitants. The narrow roads are gridlocked with military vehicles, the cafés and inns overflowing with Sentry guards, who spill out onto the streets, drinking Shine, smoking and playing cards.

The whole town has been turned into a Sentry stronghold; everywhere I turn, there’s another guard or Lupine—the Lupines have long been faithful supporters of Purian Rose, so it’s not surprising to see them here—but ironically because there are so many Sentry, it’s easier for us to blend in. Even so, I keep my hood low over my face and my hand firmly grasped around the gun in my jacket pocket, just in case.

At any other time, the town would be beautiful, but the Sentry guards have already trashed the place, leaving empty bottles and litter on the sidewalks. In all the shop windows there are government propaganda posters. I notice a few posters advertising a public Cleansing ceremony being held next week in Winston Square, with ATTENDANCE IS MANDATORY written in bold letters at the bottom.

I stop dead. In one of the windows is a recent newspaper article. The headline reads DARKLING AMBASSADOR FOUND GUILTY. Someone’s drawn a mustache and pair of devil horns on the black-and-white picture of Sigur that accompanies the report. I scan the article, my mind reeling with every word. Sigur’s going to be executed this weekend.

The noise around me fades as I stare at the article. They’re going to kill him. I stretch out a hand and touch the glass that separates me from the photo of my Blood Father. A million thoughts race through my head, trying to work out how to save him. But I know I can’t. I won’t. I have a mission to complete. I turn away from the window.

“Let’s check out the train station. In the Barren Lands I saw a cargo train filled with prisoners,” I say. “I’m guessing that’s how they’re transporting people to the Tenth.”

We head down a long road called Colonial Street and emerge in an enormous plaza. In the center of the square is a column, more than a hundred feet high, topped with a bronze statue of Theodore Winston, one of the country’s founding fathers. At the base of the statue, a team of Workboots are busy building a wooden platform. My eyes are drawn to the billboard-sized digital screen perched on top of the building to our left. A government commercial is playing on the screen, showing a congregation of Pilgrims during their morning Cleansing. The ritual is fascinating; I’ve never seen one performed before. I’ve only ever attended my dad’s services, but he was a minister of the Old Faith—the religion the people of the United Sentry States used to follow before the Purity became popular.

The Pilgrims walk up to the altar, one by one, where two bowls are waiting for them: one white, one red. They drink from the white bowl, and then the preacher dips his thumb into the red bowl and draws a mark across their foreheads. They all look serene and blissed out after the ritual. They remind me of my Haze clients—they have that same euphoric, faraway look. The commercial ends with the slogan HIS MIGHTY PROTECTS THE FAITHFUL. I shake my head in disbelief. The government’s basically saying follow the Purity faith, or be sent to the Tenth.

Acelot points toward the building on the other side of the plaza. “Well, there’s your train station. Shall we take a look inside?”

I nod. It’s the only way we’re going to know for certain if the trains are running directly into the Tenth. We cut across the square in the direction of the station. It’s an impressive Gothic building with a soaring clock tower and arched windows.

The inside of the station is cool and inviting, with marble floors and pillars, and a high vaulted ceiling painted a rich green. A red-and-white Sentry flag hangs down from the ceiling. Like everywhere else in Gray Wolf, the station is heaving with people. I notice a few Sentry guards sitting outside the station’s tavern, enjoying their lunch break, and others have gathered around the numerous market tables where vendors sell cheap watches, dirty magazines, playing cards, cigarettes—basically anything they think the Sentry guards will want. The guards jovially barter with the vendors. It’s all just a big vacation to them. Venom floods my fangs.

Amid all this, packs of Lupines lug heavy crates of supplies up and down the flights of stairs, which lead to the platforms. We casually stroll around the station, trying to act normal and blend in with the other passengers, although my heart is racing.

“Ash, look,” Acelot whispers, subtly gesturing toward a group of Lupines dressed in long burgundy jackets. They’re each carrying a crate with THE TENTH stamped on them. They head down the stairs toward platform six. So that’s where the trains to the Tenth are running from? One of the Lupines—a female with a snowy-white mane and naturally red lips—glances in our direction. We quickly turn our backs on her.

“Let’s get out of here,” I whisper, not wanting to stick around any longer.

We hurry back to the warehouse on the west side of the city, taking the same route that we used to get here. I’m relieved when we approach the familiar-looking canal outside the disused warehouses, far away from Sentry eyes.

“I think we should head out at first light tomorrow,” I say as we enter the warehouse. “I don’t want to wait around here for long—”

We stop in our tracks.

The Miniport’s gone.

Tendrils of smoke spiral out of the dying fire I built earlier. Two cans of beans lie abandoned beside it, along with my blue duffel bag. The contents are laid out across the floor—Marcel must’ve been going through my stuff again. Next to my bag is a bloodstain.

“No,” I say. Then louder. “No, no, no, no, NO!”

“Shit!” Acelot rakes his hands through his hair, panicked. “He took Marc!”

There’s a groan from deeper in the warehouse. We follow the trail of blood snaking across the ground. The drops of blood get heavier and heavier until it’s a steady stream of red, which leads behind the stack of crates.

Marcel is slouched against the wall. By his side is an ivory-handled dagger, covered in blood. The boy’s skin is glistening with sweat, his lips ghostly white. There’s a crimson stain on his shirt, just above his stomach.

“Marcel!” Acelot pushes past me and kneels down. He gently cradles his brother against him. The younger Bastet looks so small, wrapped in his brother’s arms.

“What happened?” I say, pressing my hand against the wound. He’s deathly cold.

“I dropped my . . . my dagger in the Miniport . . . when I fell off the bench earlier,” Marcel explains between ragged breaths, every word a struggle out of his trembling lips. “I couldn’t find it . . . Sebastian . . . he . . . he got hold of it somehow. Cut himself loose.”

I can imagine the scene now: Marcel, bored as always, looking through my belongings by the campfire, his back turned to the Miniport, unaware as Sebastian retrieved the dagger from under the bench and used it to sever his binds. The boy had no chance against a skilled Tracker. Based on the blood splatter, Marcel must’ve been stabbed once near the Miniport, then chased into this corner of the warehouse and stabbed again.

“I’m sorry, Ace,” Marcel rasps.

“We’re going to get help,” Acelot replies, his eyes glistening. “Just hold on, brother.”

Marcel’s blood seeps through my fingers, stinging my nostrils. I hold my breath, forcing myself not to breathe it in. I can feel the boy’s pulse getting fainter beneath my fingertips.

“I’m dying,” Marcel whispers.

“No you’re not,” Acelot says huskily, blinking. The tears finally fall.

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