Home > Wings (Black City #3)(14)

Wings (Black City #3)(14)
Author: Elizabeth Richards

Marcel smiles faintly. “You always were a terrible liar, Ace.” He glances down at the bloodstain on his top. “This was my favorite shirt too . . .”

He shudders, and lets out a small sigh, the last of his life leaving him. His head droops. A low, anguished wail escapes Acelot’s lips as he hugs his brother to him. Grief is such a private thing, and I feel like a voyeur, watching his suffering. I give his shoulder a gentle squeeze, then get up and head outside.

I find a spot by the canal and kneel down, washing my hands in the chilly water. Ribbons of blood lift off my skin and dance about the surface of the deep blue water. The color reminds me of the dark flecks in Natalie’s eyes. An aching pain balls up in my chest and I sit back, sucking in a ragged breath, but it barely fills my lungs. I don’t know how many more days I can go on without her. If it was Garrick’s intention to torment me by capturing Natalie, then it’s working. I’m broken. Ready to surrender. I sink my head into my hands.

Where are you, Natalie?

12.

NATALIE

“SO HOW EXACTLY are we going to steal one of those?” Day says.

We’re in the aircraft hangar in the Sentry rebel base, where a fleet of Transporters are parked. Several of the Transporters shoot out of the tunnel, sending squads of Sentry rebels on to their next mission, while dozens of soldiers unload crates of weapons from the other aircraft. They’ve been bringing them in all week.

I considered going to my father and asking for his help to rescue Ash but then quickly decided against it. He’d have to get permission from the Commander, and he’s already made his position crystal clear on this particular subject—he doesn’t want any more resources “wasted” on finding Ash—and I don’t have time to convince him otherwise. We need to get to Gray Wolf before Ash leaves.

“More to the point, who’s going to fly it?” Day says. “Does anyone know how to pilot those things?”

“Garrick does, but he won’t help us,” I say. “He spent weeks trying to get me here; he’s hardly going to let me swan off to Gray Wolf, especially since the place is swarming with Sentry guards. My mother would skin him alive.”

“What about Roach?” Elijah suggests.

Beetle shakes his head. “No good, bro. She doesn’t know how to fly them.”

“Then who?” Elijah asks.

A name suddenly springs to mind, and I snap my fingers. “Destiny!”

• • •

We find her in command central, deep in concentration as she types something into the com-desk. She’s the only person in the room—I guess the others are still with Sigur. On the digital screen behind her is a map of Centrum. I easily recognize the famous giltstone buildings and the domed roof of the Golden Citadel, where Purian Rose lives. On the map are lots of red dots, plus several areas highlighted in bright green, including the citadel.

“Are you planning an attack on Centrum?” Day exclaims as we enter the room.

Destiny’s head snaps up, startled. “Lord above, you guys scared me half to death!” She turns off the screens, looking at me. “You’re not supposed to be in here, hon.”

“Is there going to be an attack on Centrum?” I ask.

“You know I can’t tell you that,” Destiny says, dramatically nodding her head.

I smirk a little. She’s not technically telling me if she uses gestures instead of words, so it’s not going against her orders. So that’s why they’re bringing in all those supplies downstairs; they’re preparing for an assault on the capital city? It’s upsetting that Father didn’t mention any of this to me, but then again why would he? I’m not one of his soldiers; I’m just his “little girl.”

“When’s it going to take place?” Beetle asks.

“I’m not allowed to say,” she replies, wiggling five fingers. Five days’ time. Wow, all of this could be over in less than a week. It’s thrilling and terrifying all at once, knowing the final battle is soon to take place. She looks at me. “Did you want something, hon?”

“I have a teeny favor to ask,” I say.

She narrows her brown eyes, flicking a look between me and the others. “Why do I get a feeling I won’t like this?”

“We need a ride to Gray Wolf,” I say. “Ash is there and I’m going to rescue him.”

“You know I can’t, hon,” Destiny says. “We have—”

“Orders, I know. But here’s the thing: I don’t take orders from people I don’t know,” I say. “Do you know who the Commander is?”

Destiny frowns, shaking her head. “My aunt wouldn’t tell me.”

“And yet we’re expected to just blindly follow him?” I say. “I know it’s a lot to ask, but I don’t have anyone else to turn to, Des. Please help us.”

“I don’t know . . . ,” she says.

“If Ash gets caught or dies, just think how much damage it’ll do to this rebellion,” I continue, trying a different tactic. “I know the Commander doesn’t think Ash is ‘strategically important,’ but he’s wrong.” Beetle and Day nod. “You said earlier the new Sentry regime needs the Darklings’ support. Well, imagine what the Darklings will think—”

“Or Humans for Unity,” Beetle adds.

“—if they learn that the Sentry rebels refused to help Phoenix,” I say. “Plus, we think Ash has a lead on the Ora, and I know you agree we should be looking for it.”

This seems to pique her interest. Destiny nods. “Okay.”

“You’ll take us?” I say, grinning.

“It’s what my aunt would’ve done,” Destiny says, referring to Emissary Vincent. “She wasn’t afraid to break the rules if she believed it was the right thing to do. And personally, I’d sleep better at night knowing Phoenix was here, safe and sound.”

I fling my arms around her, giving her a massive hug. “Thank you!”

Destiny chuckles. “Don’t thank me yet, kiddo. We have to get out of here first.”

On the way back to the hangar, we swing by our rooms to change into our civilian clothes. I grab my heart medication and the black syringe case Dr. Craven gave me, and tuck them into my jacket pocket, thankful that he had the foresight to let me manage my own medication. I suspect he knew I’d go looking for Ash one of these days.

When I’m dressed, I join the others and we make a brief pit stop at the arsenal. We each take a handgun, just in case we get into any trouble in Gray Wolf, and follow Destiny into the hangar. We walk confidently across the forecourt. Destiny nods to a few of the soldiers, acting like nothing out of the ordinary is happening.

I spot the pink-haired Lupine, Sasha, by one of the Transporters, her jumpsuit covered in oil stains. My pulse quickens. If she notices us, then the mission is over before it’s even started. Thankfully she’s so focused on fixing the aircraft that she doesn’t raise her head. We hurry by her and board one of the other Transporters. Inside, the aircraft has that gleaming just-off-the-production-line look. We take our seats.

“I hate these things,” Elijah grumbles, nervously playing with his gold bands.

I blush. The first time we were in a Transporter together, I threw up on him.

“I’m sitting up front,” Day says, hopping over our legs. “I want to learn how to fly one of these beauties.”

Beetle pats her on the butt as she walks past. She takes the copilot’s seat while we try to get comfortable, although it’s hard when I’m so eager to get to Ash. The engines roar to life, there’s a jerk as the aircraft’s clamps are released, and soon we’re zooming down the tunnel. The aircraft suddenly lifts, Destiny presses a button on the control panel to open the security doors blocking the tunnel exit, and we burst into daylight.

The city of Gallium glints below us, the metal-fronted buildings like coins spilled across the ground. The city isn’t as ugly as I first thought. Like Black City, there is beauty here if you look close enough.

“How are we going to find Ash when we get to Gray Wolf?” Elijah says. “His message told us only that he was going to the city, not where he’d be staying. And we still haven’t worked out the second part of his message, about the local fireworks display. Where’s that?”

My heart sinks. “I don’t know,” I admit. I’m hoping once we get to Gray Wolf it’ll become clear what he meant.

A familiar voice crackles over the cockpit radio. “Destiny, this is General Buchanan. Return to base immediately.”

My stomach leaps into my throat. It didn’t take them long to realize we were missing.

“Natalie, this is your mother!” my mom’s voice shouts from the radio. “You come back this very minute, young lady! That’s an—”

Day turns off the radio. “Oops, we seem to have lost the signal.”

She glances over her shoulder at me and grins.

“Thank you,” I mouth back at her. Day’s a great friend.

It takes around three hours to reach Gray Wolf, although it feels like a hundred. Beetle and Elijah go over possible places to start searching for Ash, and Destiny gives Day a quick lesson on how to fly a Transporter. She picks it up really fast, but that’s hardly surprising. Day’s brilliant at everything, except perhaps baking. I recall the lopsided cake she made for my seventeenth birthday. I get up, needing to shake off some of this nervous energy, and join them in the cockpit. The sky fills the windscreen, blistering blue, with clouds like puffs of spun sugar.

“This is so much fun, Nat!” Day turns to grin up at me, accidentally tilting the control stick in her hands in the process. The Transporter lurches wildly to the right and I let out a squeak of fright, clinging to her seat for dear life.

Day grimaces as she quickly corrects the aircraft’s position. “Sorry.”

“Nice flying, babe,” Beetle calls from the passenger section behind us.

“I’d like to see him try it,” Day grumbles.

I let go of her leather seat and lean my hip against the control desk. I nervously twist my blue diamond engagement ring.

“You okay, Nat?” Day asks.

“What if we don’t find him?” I say.

“We will,” she replies gently.

Destiny takes back the controls as we come in to land. The aircraft tilts to the right, and I get a fantastic view of Gray Wolf through the windscreen. Mount Alba is far in the distance, its white snowy cap stark against the robin’s-egg-blue sky. She lands the Transporter in an abandoned lot, in the north part of town. We get out. The weather is warm with a cool breeze. We lift our jacket hoods to help hide our faces and head into the city center.

The city is bustling with people, making me feel claustrophobic as they push and shove against me. I start to get a terrible sinking feeling. How am I ever going to find Ash here? We turn a corner and spot a squadron of Tin Men in their coin-gray uniforms, coming from the other way. The crowd parts as they march down the street in our direction.

We dart into a bookstore before they reach us, and take cover behind a rack of books. We pretend to browse the shelves, so as not to arouse too much suspicion from the other customers, while casting surreptitious looks toward the window. It’s almost entirely covered by government posters with slogans like ONE FAITH, ONE RACE, ONE NATION UNDER HIS MIGHTY written on them, but through the gaps I can see the men walking by.

Like the guards in Gallium, they’re wearing a metal butterfly pin on their chests. They march in perfect unison, their expressions blank. They pass a street vendor who is selling tacky figurines, which are laid out on the sidewalk in front of him. Without breaking their stride, they trample over the porcelain figures, smashing them under their boots. The vendor shakes his fist at their backs. We wait a few minutes, until we’re sure they’ve gone, before heading into the busy street.

“So, where do we start looking?” Beetle says.

I look about me, hoping to get some inspiration, but come up with nothing.

“I don’t know,” I mutter.

“We can’t keep wandering around aimlessly,” Day says.

“I know!” I say, getting frustrated. “But I don’t know where he is. It’s not like I’m psychically linked to Ash.”

“Erm . . . actually, you sort of are,” Day says, pushing her glasses up her nose.

I blink. I hadn’t thought about that, but Day’s right—there is a special connection between me and Ash. Before we started dating, I would often find myself drawn to the same places as he was, such as the underpass where we first met. At the time I put it down to coincidence, but now I’m not so sure. I think it was our Blood Mate connection luring me to him, like the moon’s gravity pulling at the tides.

I shut my eyes and try to drown out the sounds around me, focusing only on the echo of Ash’s heart beating inside of me. The sound is faint at first; but like the ticking of a clock, the more I listen for it, the louder it becomes until suddenly it’s all I can hear, pounding in my ears. Ba-boom, ba-boom, ba-boom. I feel a slight tug in my chest. I open my eyes.

“That way,” I say, pointing to a street across the road named Proctor Lane.

Destiny and Elijah share a confused look, while Day and Beetle just grin.

We dash across the busy road, ignoring the blaring horns. Proctor Lane is a winding alleyway, lined by redbrick houses with window boxes blooming with colorful spring flowers. After a few minutes we reach a crossroads and I shut my eyes, waiting for my heart to tell me where to go. There’s a faint pull to the left, toward Colonial Street.

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