Home > Wings (Black City #3)(15)

Wings (Black City #3)(15)
Author: Elizabeth Richards

“This way,” I say.

The others follow without complaint as we weave through a maze of alleyways for more than an hour. I start to feel a little out of breath and dizzy—I probably shouldn’t be pushing myself so hard; my treatment might be working, but I still have the Wrath, and my body is aching from the exertion—but I push on, determined to find Ash. Elijah throws me a few concerned glances, so I force a smile, pretending I’m feeling okay.

We walk another mile, and I begin to worry I’m leading them on a wild goose chase when we reach a grand canal near a derelict warehouse district. The deflated look on everyone’s face suggests we’re thinking the same thing.

“Maybe we should go back to the Transporter, hon,” Destiny suggests kindly. “We can regroup, then come up with a better plan.”

I sigh, nodding. “Sorry, guys. I really thought—”

“Elijah?”

We all turn. Standing farther down the pathway, outside one of the warehouses, is a tall Bastet boy with ruffled brown hair and a handsomely boyish face, wearing dark pants and a green shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. There’s dirt and blood all over his arms and top. We’ve only met once, but I recognize him immediately.

“Ace!” Elijah exclaims.

The boys rush toward each other and Acelot roughly picks Elijah up, giving him a tight squeeze, before letting go.

“It’s so good to see you, brother,” Acelot says.

“You too,” Elijah says, looking about. “Is Marcel here?”

The smile slips from Acelot’s lips.

“What is it?” Elijah says.

Acelot looks at the blood and dirt on his hands. “Sebastian stabbed him. He’s . . .” Acelot takes a deep breath, clearly trying to hold back his tears. “Marc didn’t make it.”

Elijah looks down, his jaw clenched. His lashes become slick with tears.

“Is Ash okay?” I ask, panic rising in me.

Acelot nods, ushering us inside the warehouse.

Ash is crouched on the ground, beside a mound of rocks and dirt. Like Acelot, he’s covered in dust and blood. A small makeshift cross sticks out of the rocks. I’m guessing Marcel is buried underneath them. Ash suddenly stiffens, pressing a hand to his chest. He whips around. Our eyes meet. Ash blinks once, twice, like he can’t believe it.

“Natalie . . .”

“Hey,” I say softly. “I got your message.”

He sprints over to me, crossing the gap in a few strides, and pulls me into his arms. His lips crush against mine. The kiss is deep, desperate, exquisite, sending little shivers of electricity racing through my veins and into my yearning heart. I run my hands through his rippling hair, which coils and twists around my fingers, while his hands press into my back, drawing me closer. His scent wraps around me: bonfires, musk and rain. Home. Ash gently breaks the kiss. His sparkling eyes search mine as his thumb caresses my cheek.

“I thought I might never see you again,” he says huskily. “Where have you been?”

“Gallium,” I say. “We’ve got so much to tell you.”

“How did you find us?” Ash asks.

I place my hand against his chest. “How do you think?”

“Hey, bro,” Beetle says behind us.

Ash looks up. A wide smile breaks out on his lips, revealing his gleaming fangs. I step aside and the boys quickly embrace. Day stands awkwardly nearby. She’s never managed to form a friendship with Ash, but they tolerate each other.

Elijah goes over to the pile of rocks while I introduce Destiny to Ash and Acelot. We join Elijah at Marcel’s grave, and Acelot performs a short but beautiful remembrance service. I glance at Ash, who gives a faint nod of his head, understanding the unspoken question in my eyes, before I slide my fingers through Elijah’s. He clings to my hand as tears slide down his cheeks. It’s the first time he’s cried since leaving Viridis, his grief finally overwhelming him. I doubt the tears are just for Marcel, but for everyone he’s lost these past few weeks. I don’t know how he’s holding it together.

At the end of the service we each place a trinket on Marcel’s grave, as is tradition in Bastet culture. We have to do with whatever’s close to hand. Ash leaves his cigarette lighter, while I pluck a dandelion head from the ground and place it carefully on top of one of the rocks. A soft breeze stirs the seeds, scattering them into the air.

The funeral over, Ash grabs his blue duffel bag, which is stained with Marcel’s blood, and we return to Destiny’s Transporter in the north end of the town. Elijah hangs toward the back of the group. Ash kisses my hand, then walks over to him.

“You okay?” he asks.

“Not really,” Elijah says. “Marc and I hated each other, but I never wanted him to die. He was my brother.”

Ash places a hand on Elijah’s shoulder and gives it a reassuring squeeze. They walk in silence for a few paces.

“Thank you for going after Natalie when Garrick took her,” Ash says.

Elijah shrugs. “It was no big deal.”

“Yeah, actually, it was,” Ash replies. “You could’ve been killed, but you went anyway.”

Elijah gives a faint smile. “I figured I owed you after that whole double-crossing-you-and-nearly-getting-you-both-shot thing in Viridis.”

Ash chuckles lightly, rubbing the back of his neck. “Yeah, well. This makes us even. We good?” Ash holds out his hand. Elijah hesitates for a second, then takes it.

“We’re good,” Elijah says.

On our way back to the Transporter, we catch up on everything that’s been going on. Ash holds my hand the whole time, like he’s afraid I’ll disappear again if he lets it go. His jaw clenches when I tell him about the Sentry rebel base in Gallium, their planned assault on Centrum, and my parents’ involvement with my “kidnapping.”

“They took you away from me?” he asks quietly. “Why?”

“They were worried about my safety. This country is in chaos and they just wanted to protect me in their misguided, controlling way. I’m all they have left, Ash.” I lower my lashes. “Plus, they think you’re a dangerous influence on me.” I look up in time to catch the hurt flashing across his face. “They just don’t know you like I do.”

He smiles a little. “So they’re going to attack Centrum, huh?”

I nod. “In five days’ time. The rebel compound is really impressive, Ash—you should see all the weapons they have. Guns, grenades, missiles, a whole fleet of Transporters. We could never have dreamed of anything like it.”

“We were doing okay,” Beetle mutters beside me.

“I’m not trying to diminish what we’ve done,” I reply. “I’m just saying they have a lot more weapons than we do. We’re lucky to have the Sentry rebels.”

“So what’s Humans for Unity’s role in the attack?” Ash asks.

Beetle shrugs. “Like they’d tell us anything, bro. But my guess, we don’t have one.”

Ash and Beetle share a knowing look, and my cheeks warm up. Why do I suddenly feel like the girl from months ago, stuck in the middle between Humans for Unity and the Sentry?

“Sigur’s safe,” Day says, quickly changing the subject.

I briefly fill him in on the details, and the tension in Ash’s body evaporates.

“Thank God,” he murmurs.

“And Natalie’s been getting treatment for the Wrath,” Elijah adds as we approach the Transporter, parked in the abandoned lot.

Ash’s head snaps up, his black eyes sparkling with hope.

I pull out the syringe case from my jacket pocket. “I’m not cured, but Dr. Craven said my prognosis was good. I just have to take these every day.”

Ash pulls me toward him and gently cups my face, planting feather-light kisses over my cheeks, lips and eyelids, making my skin tingle wherever his lips have brushed against me. He smiles, showing a hint of fang. “I guess I owe your parents a thank-you. Never thought I’d be saying that.”

“How about you guys?” Day asks.

“We’ve worked out where Aunt Lucinda and the others have gone,” Ash says.

“Where?” Elijah says.

“Mount Alba,” Ash says. “I worked it out when I saw this tapestry at the Bastet embassy, which showed Mount Alba before it erupted, and guess what? It had this talon-shaped peak.”

“The Claw!” I say, catching on.

He nods. “Not only was it the right shape, but it’s next to Amber Hills—”

“Wait, isn’t that where your mother and aunt grew up?” I ask, remembering Ash telling me this a few weeks ago on the train to the Barren Lands.

“Yeah,” he replies. “I think Mount Alba’s where they’ve hidden the Ora. It all fits.”

“But Mount Alba’s in the Tenth,” Day says.

“That explains why I haven’t heard from my mom in weeks,” Elijah mutters. “They must have caught her.”

“How will we ever find them?” Day says. “The place is enormous.”

“If it’s anything like the camp at the Barren Lands, they’ll have a registration office with a list of all the prisoners,” I say. “It should tell us which barracks they’ve been sent to.”

“Whoa, you guys aren’t seriously talking about going into the Tenth, are you?” Destiny says.

“Yes, of course,” I say. “We have to rescue Elijah’s mother.”

“And my aunt Lucinda and Kieran,” Ash adds. “I’m not leaving them there.”

“But you don’t even know for certain they’re in the Tenth,” Destiny says.

“We’ll check the registers. If they’re not listed, then we’ll leave,” I say. “The registration offices will be near the entrance gates. We won’t even have to venture too far into the camp.”

“You’re crazy if you think I’m going to allow this,” Destiny says.

“I wasn’t asking for your permission, Des,” I reply firmly. “We’re going in, with or without your help. If you want to leave, I understand.”

She laughs. “Yeah right, kiddo! I’m already in big trouble with your parents as it is; what do you think they’ll do to me if I go back to Gallium without you? They’d shoot me, that’s what.” She sighs and slides off her chunky black military watch, passing it to me. “This has a GPS tracking chip in it. I’ll be able to follow your location on the monitor in the Transporter. When you’ve got what you need, press this button.” She points to a small red button on the side of the watch. “And I’ll pick you up.”

I hug her. “Thanks, Destiny.”

She lets out a heavy sigh, muttering, “I never liked being a soldier anyway.”

“So, any suggestions how we get inside the Tenth?” Day says.

“Yeah, the same way as everyone else,” Ash says. “We take the train.”

PART 2

THE TENTH

13.

ASH

WE WAIT UNTIL NIGHTFALL before beginning our preparations to head to the Tenth. Beetle and Day are sitting on the Transporter’s floor, legs crossed, as they clean their guns in silence. Their movements are in sync, their expressions hard and focused—the look of a soldier about to go into battle. Day’s tied her long black hair back into a practical braid, revealing the caramel skin on her neck. There’s a thin scar on it, like a bullet’s grazed her. How close have they both come to dying these past few weeks? Beetle, sensing me looking, smirks.

“Bro, I know I’m pretty, but enough with the googly eyes, okay?”

I laugh. “Someone has a big opinion of himself.”

On the bench beside them, Elijah and Acelot talk quietly. Acelot has a reassuring hand on Elijah’s shoulder, but he’s clearly struggling to hold back his own tears. Elijah nods occasionally, his gaze focused on the gold bands around his wrists.

Acelot glances down at the wristbands. “Why are you wearing those? Dad’s gone. You’re not a slave anymore.”

Elijah shrugs. “Technically, I am. I serve the Consul. That’s you now . . .”

“You know, I always thought we had too many servants.” Acelot slides one of the bands off Elijah’s arm and slips it over his own wrist. He grins and the brothers hug. I turn away and head to the cockpit.

Natalie’s got her back to me as she peers at the monitor on the control panel. The Sentry soldier, Destiny, is in the pilot’s seat beside her.

“Is that me?” Natalie says, playing with the GPS watch on her wrist.

“It sure is, hon,” Destiny replies. “Remember, just hit the red button on the side of the watch when you want me to come and pick you up.”

I slip my arms around Natalie’s waist, and she lets out a little gasp of delight.

“Do you mind if I steal my fiancée for a minute?”

I lead Natalie into the hull of the aircraft. She leans against the metal wall and hooks her fingers through my belt loops, drawing me near. For a second I forget what I was going to say. I always feel intoxicated around her. She peers up at me. There’s still a faint tinge of yellow in the corners of her eyes—a symptom of the Wrath. I can’t believe I didn’t notice the signs when she first got ill, when it was literally staring me in the face. The thought of her having the Wrath makes the breath freeze in my lungs, my heart stand still. She may be getting treatment, but she’s still sick.

“Everything okay?” she says.

“Yeah,” I whisper. “You don’t need to come to the Tenth with me, blondie. It’s dangerous. There’s a very good chance we’ll get killed.”

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