Home > Wings (Black City #3)(17)

Wings (Black City #3)(17)
Author: Elizabeth Richards

“Which one’s the registration building?” Beetle asks in a hushed voice.

We look about. Behind us the Sentry guards are starting to bring the prisoners up the avenue. There are horrified sobs from the prisoners as they see the crucifixes. To our right is a large three-story building. The lights are on in one of the rooms on the ground floor.

“That must be it,” Natalie says.

We hurry down the alleyway next to building, dumping the laundry bags along the way. At the back of the building is a large parking lot, filled with military trucks. Some have the numeral 2 printed on the side, others 3, which I’m guessing represents the town the prisoners will be taken to after they’ve been registered. There don’t appear to be any drivers in the trucks—they must be inside, keeping out of the cold, until it’s time to drive the prisoners to their new homes. Most of the lights in the building are off. We peer through the windows, searching for the records room. Day stops outside one of the windows.

“This room has loads of filing cabinets in it,” she whispers.

I carefully open the window and we climb through. There’s a long com-desk in the center of the room. I turn it on, but am immediately asked to enter a password. I switch the com-desk off. We’ll have to do this the old-fashioned way. I force open one of the locked drawers to find stacks of manila files inside, in alphabetical order. There are thousands of them, which surprises me, considering the Tenth has officially been operational only since the ballot a few weeks ago. Purian Rose must have secretly opened the camp early.

I open up one of the documents. Inside is a photograph of a prisoner—a Darkling woman called Thelma Grieves, thirty-two years old, Nordin species, prisoner number 0000458712, laboratory 6, Primus-Three. The word DECEASED is printed in large red letters across the document. I put the file back and turn to the others.

“We’re looking for Lucinda Coombs and Yolanda Theroux—”

“Fillion,” Elijah corrects. “Mom was my dad’s mistress, not wife. I only took his surname because it’s tradition in my culture.”

None of us know what Kieran’s surname is, so we can’t search for him.

“We should look for Amy too,” Day says, referring to our friend Amy Jones. “I think the Sentry took her here, after they killed Stuart.”

Beetle helps me search the C–D filing cabinets for Lucinda’s file, Natalie and Elijah take the E–F cabinets, and Acelot and Day look for Amy’s file in the I–J drawers. I have no trouble seeing in the moonlight, but the others are clearly struggling to read the files.

Day lets out a frustrated sigh. “I can’t find Amy listed anywhere.”

“That’s a good thing, right?” Natalie says. “Maybe she escaped?”

Beetle glances at me. Or maybe Amy died before she got here.

The sound of footsteps approaches the door and everyone freezes. Beetle reaches for his gun and softly cocks the hammer, pointing it toward the door. I wait, my heart counting the seconds: one, two, three, four. The guard walks past the door. I exhale. We keep searching.

“Here,” Natalie says in an urgent whisper, passing a file to Elijah.

“That’s Mom!” he says. “She’s being held in laboratory seven, in Primus-Three.”

Natalie starts closing the filing cabinet, then stops. A crease forms between her brows. She opens the drawer again and pulls out a document.

“Aha!” Beetle says next to me, drawing my attention. He’s holding a manila file. “Lucinda Coombs, laboratory seven, Primus-Three.”

There’s a good possibility Kieran’s been sent there too. It’s a relief to know they’re still alive, although if they’re in the science laboratories in Primus-Three, they won’t be for long.

“Let’s go,” I whisper, reaching out my hand toward Natalie.

She’s still holding the document, her face ashen. Tears brim in her blue eyes.

“What is it?” I say.

“I’m so sorry,” she whispers, passing the file to me.

I open it up. A photo of a gray-haired, middle-aged man stares up at me. The word DECEASED is written across the document. I stagger back, dropping the file to the floor.

The man in the photograph is my dad.

14.

NATALIE

ASH SINKS TO HIS KNEES, the contents of his father’s file scattered across the floor in front of him. He clamps his hands over his mouth, trying to contain the howl threatening to escape his lips, knowing he can’t make a noise, not here, not now. I know what he’s feeling; it’s taking all my willpower to hold back the scream that’s crawling up my throat like a spider.

I kneel down, crushing the papers beneath my knees, and draw him into my arms. He buries his face into my hair and lets out a pained wail, unable to hold it in any longer, the sound muffled by my curls. He clings to me with desperate fingers, his whole body shuddering with grief.

“I’m so sorry,” I whisper over and over, tears spilling down my cheeks.

Beetle picks up the fallen photograph and his face pales. “It’s his dad,” he murmurs.

Day gasps.

“God,” Acelot mutters.

From what I read on the cover sheet, Harold was captured two weeks ago and taken to one of the laboratories in Primus-Three. He died three days ago from total organ failure. Whatever experiments they were doing to him must’ve been horrific to have caused all his organs to shut down. What are they doing here?

Outside the open window a truck engine revs. The Sentry guards are returning to their vehicles in the parking lot, ready to transport the first batch of prisoners to their barracks.

“We need to leave,” Elijah says quietly.

I don’t know how we’re going to get Ash out of here. I’m not sure he can stand.

“Ash?” I whisper, stroking his silken hair. “Are you going to be able to do this? Destiny can come and get us.”

He takes a deep breath, his cheeks glistening with tears. “I need to get my aunt.”

Ash gets up and takes the photograph from Day. He tucks it into his pants pocket and climbs out of the window. I hurriedly gather the loose papers on the floor and shove them into the nearest cabinet, and then we follow him. Ash is waiting for us in the alley. About fifty feet away, the back door of the registration office opens and the first prisoners are escorted across the parking lot by several armed guards, to an awaiting truck marked with a numeral 2 at the opposite end of the lot.

“We need to get on one of those trucks.” Beetle points to the vehicles nearest to us marked with a 3.

“How will we get on?” Day whispers.

A moment later a plump, middle-aged Sentry guard exits the registration office and strolls over to one of the trucks, twirling the keys around his left index finger while he uses his other hand to smoke a cigarette. He’s whistling a jolly tune under his breath. We slink back into the shadows so he doesn’t spot us. The chubby guard approaches one of the black vehicles, walking around to the driver’s side, which is closest to us.

Before I realize what’s happening, Ash confidently strides over to the man. My heart leaps into my mouth. What’s he doing! Ash taps the guard on the shoulder.

“Got a light?” he says.

The chubby guard turns, smiling. “Sure.”

The smile drops off the man’s lips. Before he can shout for help, Ash clamps a hand over the man’s mouth and pushes him against the side of the truck. He sinks his fangs into the guard’s neck. The man struggles against Ash, dropping the keys in the process, but he’s no match for a twin-blood. I run over to them and grab Ash’s arm, pulling him away from the man before he kills him. Blood oozes out of the puncture wounds on the man’s neck, making his black shirt wet like oil. His brown eyes are glazed over from the Haze.

Ash furiously wipes the blood from his lips. “Why did you pull me away?”

“Because it’s murder,” I say. “I know you’re angry; I am too. But you’re not a killer.”

He lowers his eyes.

The others hurry over to us and lift the drugged man into the back of the truck while Acelot scoops the keys off the ground. He climbs into the driver’s seat and starts the engine. Ash and I climb into the back of the truck with the others, and take our seats just as the vehicle lurches forward.

“Any ideas which direction I should head in?” Acelot calls over his shoulder.

“Head east,” I say, recalling the location of Primus-Three from the map of the Tenth we were shown back in Black City, all those weeks ago.

I check out the window to see if anyone is chasing after us, but no one is. I sink back into the seat and take Ash’s hand. He shuts his eyes as Acelot drives us to Primus-Three.

• • •

The journey takes a few hours, and the mountain roads are bumpy and uneven. The Tenth is enormous, stretching on for hundreds of miles. From our altitude I can see the thin line of the Boundary Wall snaking through the forests below us, cutting off the detention camp from the rest of Mountain Wolf State. Occasionally I notice a house peeping out through the trees. I’m sure most of the former residents of this area were evacuated or rounded up and executed before the Boundary Wall went up, but the area is so vast—the size of a small state—that it’s possible a few people slipped through the net and are still living here, unable to escape.

To our left is Mount Alba, its gray, ash-covered slopes stark against the misty yellow skies of dawn. You can still make out the original tracks of the landslides that devastated the area after the eruption, although much of the base of the volcano, where we are now, is lush with vegetation. A lot of the area is covered in Carrow trees, with their famous flame-colored, star-shaped leaves, so the whole area looks like it is on fire.

Elijah is up front with Acelot, chatting to his brother to keep him awake, while Beetle is lounged across one of the benches, snoring loudly. Beside him, Day has just woken up. She rolls her shoulders and head, trying to loosen her stiff muscles.

Lying on one of the seats is the chubby Sentry guard Ash attacked last night. His skin has a nasty gray hue to it, and I don’t need to check his pulse to know he’s dead. Ash must’ve injected him with too much Haze. I don’t feel any pity for the man, just sad that Ash will have to carry this burden around with him for the rest of his life. Maybe I’m reading too much into it. Maybe Ash won’t care. The man drove prisoners just like Ash’s father to Primus-Three to be executed. It might be a cold thing to think, but he got what he deserved.

Ash is fast asleep, his head resting on my lap. I stroke his hair, trying not to cry, heartbroken over Harold’s death and the knowledge that Ash is alone in this world. Well, maybe not entirely. He has me. I’ll take care of him now.

Day pads over to us, sitting down on the seat in front of me. Her usually immaculate black hair is frizzy and tangled from sleep. She wipes her tired eyes, then puts on her glasses. They immediately slide down her nose.

“How’s he doing?” she whispers, pushing them back up.

“Not too good,” I admit, feeling the echo of his aching heart inside me.

“I’m surprised Harold’s capture wasn’t announced on the news,” Day says.

“The guards mustn’t have recognized the name. Harold hasn’t been in the papers much, and he’s human, not Darkling—so the connection to Ash isn’t immediately apparent—otherwise I’m sure it would have been.”

Day chews on her bottom lip. “Do you think Logan and Martha are here too?”

I hadn’t even considered it, but Sigur’s second-in-command, Logan, and my old housemaid Martha were traveling with Harold. Guilt rips through me that I hadn’t thought to look for their files back in Primus-One. If they are here, there’s a small chance they’re still alive, but if they’re being experimented on, death might be the preferable option.

“Do you think Amy’s alive?” I ask.

Day shakes her head and her eyes glisten. She gazes out of the truck window, studying Mount Alba to our left. “It’s a weird place for the Four Kingdoms to hide the Ora, don’t you think?” she says, referring to the terrorist organization led by Lucinda.

I shrug. “Not really. It’s remote, they know the area, and it’s relatively uninhabited.”

“Yeah, but it’s also an active volcano,” she says. “It’s not the best place to store weaponized yellowpox. Or to build a detention camp, for that matter.”

“Well, I’m presuming it’s the only place he could build the camp without rousing too much suspicion, since the area was pretty much uninhabited. Plus, I doubt he cares if prisoners all get wiped out if there is another eruption,” I say. “And maybe Elijah got it wrong. Perhaps the Ora isn’t yellowpox.”

“Then what is it?”

“I have no idea,” I say tiredly.

We assumed the Ora was yellowpox, based on old research Elijah found at his mom’s laboratory. She’s a geneticist, specializing in xenotransplantation—the transplantation of cells or organs from one species to another—but during the first war she worked with the Four Kingdoms in creating weaponized viruses, which would attack only people with certain genes. She had been developing a strain of yellowpox designed to target humans with the V-gene—the gene that helps humans sense Darklings. All the Trackers have it. However, after the Four Kingdoms attempted to poison Black City’s water supply, Lucinda was arrested and Yolanda went into hiding, so she never got to finish her work. It’s our belief they hid the yellowpox in a secret base on Mount Alba, and have come looking for it so they can finish what they started. A wave of tiredness crashes over me and I wipe my brow. It’s covered in a faint sheen of sweat. My skin feels hot, feverish.

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