Home > Wings (Black City #3)(2)

Wings (Black City #3)(2)
Author: Elizabeth Richards

“What is that daft old crone doing?” I mutter.

Catherine slaps my arm. “Be nice, Edmund. You know she hasn’t been the same since Dr. Hope died last year. Someone should get her inside.” She looks pointedly at me.

I sigh and jog over to the porch, while Catherine waits nearby on the street. Mrs. Hope looks bewilderedly at me when I take the watering can from her, placing it on the ground.

“You need to get out of the rain,” I say loudly to her.

Mrs. Hope squints at me with milky eyes. “You’re Minister Hector’s son, aren’t you?”

I nod, although Hector’s my grandfather, not my dad.

“I didn’t see your sister at church today,” the old lady continues. “Is Cassie unwell?”

“She’s dead,” I say sharply. “She’s been dead for almost eighteen years, and Cassie was my mother, not my sister.”

“Oh . . . yes,” Mrs. Hope murmurs as I usher her inside the cottage. “Yes, that’s right. She hanged herself, after dropping that poor little baby into a tub of scalding water . . .”

I stop dead. “What was that?”

She brings her fingers to her lips, like she’s trying to remember what she was saying.

“Mrs. Hope?”

She gives me a weak smile. “You’re Minister Hector’s boy, aren’t you?”

I roll my eyes, slamming the door behind her. Crazy old bat.

Catherine looks curiously at me when I join her. “I thought your mother fell down the stairs and broke her neck.”

“She did,” I say. Shortly after I was born, my mom accidentally dropped me into a bath of hot water. In her hurry to fetch the doctor, she tripped down the stairs and snapped her neck. At least, that’s what my grandfather told me happened. I glance back at Mrs. Hope’s house. Her husband used to be the town doctor and would have been the first person on the scene after the incident. Does she know something I don’t?

Catherine takes my gloved hand, drawing me out of my thoughts. We quicken our pace through the dark streets, although we’re both already soaked to the bone. At the center of the town is Langdon Square, named after Catherine’s family, who run the butchery, general store and boutique. We pass the chapel, where I live. During the day, the spire casts a long shadow across Amber Hills, a reminder that wherever we are, we’re always under the watchful eye of my grandfather and the Guild. We pause outside Langdon and Son’s General Store, where her family is asleep upstairs, both of us breathless from running.

“Well, good night, Edmund,” Catherine says, giving me a shy smile.

“Night, Caterpillar.” I hold her gaze, wanting to kiss her. Just do it! I lean toward her.

Her hazel eyes widen. “Edmu—”

Her words get lost in my kiss. Her soft lips taste of apples and rain.

“What in His Mighty’s name are you doing with my sister?”

I jump at the sound of Patrick’s voice, breaking the kiss. He glowers at us from the doorway, his arms angrily folded across his broad chest. I’m usually taller than Patrick, but he’s standing on the step, so we’re eye to glaring eye. He’s the complete opposite of Catherine. Where she’s dark haired and petite, he’s blond, blue eyed and built like a bear. He’s the kind of guy who would’ve made a great Watchman, but Catherine told me he’s afraid of heights.

“He wasn’t doing anything,” Catherine says.

“He was kissing you,” Patrick says furiously.

“That was just a good-night kiss, between friends,” she says, looking uncertainly at me. “Right, Edmund?”

I wince at the word. Friends. But then realize that of course she’s going to say that in front of her brother; she doesn’t want him scaring me away like he did Eric and all the others.

“Right,” I say.

Patrick drags her inside and then turns to look at me.

“I have a good mind to report you for leaving your post,” Patrick says.

“And get your sister in trouble for being out after curfew?” I say. “I don’t think so.”

“Stay away from her, freak,” he snarls. “Or else.”

“Or else, what?”

That was a mistake. Patrick shoves me and I hit the ground, getting mud all over my woolen pants. I catch Catherine’s eye just as Patrick slams the door. They’re filled with pity. I furiously pick up the rifle and clamber to my feet, roughly brushing the mud off my pants, my mind racing with a million ways to get back at Patrick. I trudge through the town to resume my post on the wall, my head bowed against the lashing rain.

Something flashes across the path in front of me.

What was that? My hand twitches over my rifle. If a Howler’s gotten inside the compound, I’m in big trouble. Nearby is Mrs. Hope’s cottage. Her bedroom window is wide open, the long metal latch clanking against the wall. Oh no! I enter the cottage without knocking.

“Mrs. Hope, it’s Edmund,” I say, my voice cracking a little.

All the lights in the cottage are off, apart from a single candle that illuminates the hallway. Rows of medical books line one side of the wall. A clock ticks at the far end.

There’s a creak of floorboards from the room overhead.

I walk up the rickety staircase, gun raised. Every instinct screams at me to run, but a strange tugging sensation compels me forward, like someone is pulling on a gossamer thread woven to my chest, drawing me farther up the stairs.

I lick my dry lips. “Whoever’s here, I’ve got a gun, so you’d best leave now!”

A dull pain begins to ball up inside my rib cage as I softly tread toward the bedroom.

I open the door.

“Mrs. Ho—” My words get lost in my throat. The old lady is in front of the window, floating several feet above the ground, her long white nightdress billowing in the breeze. A pale arm is hooked around her waist—someone is lifting her out of the window! I take a step toward them, and pain explodes in my chest. I fall to my knees, dropping the gun.

“Help me!” Mrs. Hope cries.

I struggle to my feet and stagger over to the old woman just as she’s dragged out of the window. She stretches out her hand, our fingertips touch, and then—

She’s gone.

2.

NATALIE

“I DON’T SEE ANY OTHER OPTION. I’m going to steal a Transporter and find Ash myself,” I say to Elijah, or more accurately, to his backside. He’s currently knelt in the dirt in front of me, pulling up carrots from the vegetable patch. His catlike tail sways happily as he works.

We’re in the UG—an enormous subterranean greenhouse lit by ultraviolet strip-lights, thus its imaginatively titled name, Ultraviolet Greenhouse, or UG for short. It’s unlike any hothouse I’ve been in before—equal parts farm, fruit orchard and garden, complete with outbuildings and a water tower. We’re gathering supplies for lunch. Well, Elijah is. I’m “supervising” from my spot on the rockery beside him. Colorful primroses jut between the stones, sweetening the recycled air with their perfume.

The UG is definitely my favorite place in the Sentry rebel stronghold—a secret military base that runs under the city of Gallium, the capital of the Copper State—but its beauty is lost on me right now. It’s been nine days since Rafe Garrick and his Lupine pack brought us to the compound, and my patience is wearing thin. Ash is somewhere out there, and I’m stuck down here just waiting for any news of him. A radio crackles in my pocket as if to remind me of this point. I have it constantly tuned to Firebird, a pirate radio station run by Humans for Unity, listening for any mention of Ash—thankfully we’re able to get a signal down here because of the complex’s booster system—but so far there’s been no word on Phoenix, the name by which he’s commonly known these days.

“That’s a great idea, pretty girl,” Elijah says, tossing a bunch of carrots into the basket by my feet. “Except for the bit about you flying a Transporter, of course.”

I frown. He has a point. I have no pilot training.

“Okay, I’ll kidnap Garrick and force him to fly it,” I say.

Elijah quirks an eyebrow at me.

“All right, bad idea.” I pick up a garden knife lying on the dirt and twirl it between my fingers. “Why did my parents leave Ash behind? If they’d just brought him with us, none of this would be an issue.”

“You know why,” Elijah says patiently. “They thought you’d be better off without him.”

I let out an angry sigh, still mad at my parents. I sort of understand their reasoning—they wanted to bring me and my sister, Polly, to the compound so we could be a family again, but there was no place for Ash in their plan. When I pushed them for an explanation, my mother threw up her hands and finally admitted the truth. “That boy is a bad influence, Natalie. A drug dealer and a wanted criminal, and he’s caused you nothing but trouble since you’ve been together. He’s torn this family apart! I don’t like the hold he has over you,” she’d said. “It’s not healthy. My God, you’re just seventeen and you’re already talking marriage.”

I turned to my father for support, but he just shook his head slightly. “We only have your best interests at heart, Talie,” he said.

My grip tightens around the knife in my hand, frustrated with them. It’s always been this way with my parents. They controlled my life as a child and they’re still doing it now. I stab the blade into a patch of primroses, beheading a few of the flowers. One of the female gardeners—a pretty brunette named Josie, who always has a smudge of dirt on her nose—gives me a frosty look. I blush. Unlike Elijah, I haven’t exactly made a good impression around here, after the “incident” in the Mess Hall.

Shortly after I arrived at the compound, I set fire to the canteen when my father refused my umpteenth request to retrieve Ash. It worked. He sent Beta Squad to Viridis, but by the time they arrived, Ash and two of Elijah’s half brothers—Acelot and Marcel—had vanished and Purian Rose’s troops were swarming all over the place. Beta Squad barely made it back alive. After that disaster, and two more failed missions to look for Ash in Thrace and our rendezvous point in Centrum, my father was ordered not to send out any more rescue teams. “I’m sorry, but those are the Commander’s instructions. It’s out of my hands now,” he said.

Although my father runs the compound, he isn’t the man spearheading the Sentry rebellion. That person is some rich benefactor, known only as the Commander, who has been funding this operation for years, and he’s the one who makes all the decisions around here. I don’t know his real name, as it’s a closely guarded secret to protect his identity.

I sink my chin into my hands, wondering what to do about Ash, while Elijah continues to work. The gold bands on his wrists glint as he heaves three bags of fertilizer over his muscular shoulders and carries them back to the vegetable patch. He grabs a fork and begins to shovel the fertilizer over the earth. He briefly pauses to mop his brow, smearing dirt over his face in the process. The effect somehow manages to make him look even more gorgeous. A group of nearby women cast appreciative glances his way.

I roll my eyes, laughing. “God, they’re shameless.” Elijah lifts a brow, and I nod toward the ogling women. “They’re old enough to be your mother.”

A flash of pain crosses his features.

“Oh, Elijah, I’m so sorry,” I stammer. “I didn’t think . . .”

“It’s okay,” he says quietly.

His mother, Yolanda, went missing a month ago, along with Ash’s aunt, Lucinda Coombs, and their childhood friend Kieran. They were all members of a terrorist group known as the Four Kingdoms, whose goal was to unite the four races by any means necessary. Before they disappeared, the trio were searching for the Ora—a powerful weapon believed to be weaponized yellowpox, which targets only those with the V-gene, namely the Sentry. Ash, Elijah and I had been on a mission to find them and retrieve the Ora, before we got separated in Viridis.

“We’ll find her,” I say gently. “Garrick’s put the word out in Gray Wolf to look for them. Hopefully his men will turn up something soon.”

“Yeah, hopefully,” Elijah says, unconvinced. “I wish Esme had been able to give us more details before she was killed.”

Esme was Kieran’s wife, whom we met in Thrace. She’d told us that the trio had contacted her from Gray Wolf, saying they were heading to a nearby mountain called the Claw, to retrieve the Ora. That was the last any of us heard of them. Before we could question Esme further, we were attacked by Sentry guards and Esme was shot. We’ve tried to figure out which mountain the Claw is, but it’s not on any map that we can find. I thought it might be a nickname, like how Crimson Mountain is also known as the Devil’s Fork because of its twin peaks, but the closest mountain to Gray Wolf is Mount Alba, but that has a caldron-shaped crator, so that can’t be it, as it doesn’t match the description of a claw. So we’re back at square one.

My antique watch beeps and I sigh, getting up. It’s time for my daily appointment with Dr. Craven Eden. Without needing to be asked, Elijah starts packing away our things. He brings the basket of carrots over to Josie.

“Thanks, kitten,” she says, smiling flirtatiously.

He flushes, mumbling, “No worries. Always happy to help out.”

I smirk at him when he returns. “Kitten?”

He turns a deeper shade of red. This sweet, blushing version of Elijah is so unlike the arrogant, strutting boy from a few weeks ago—that boy’s favorite pastime was flirting with girls, and he wouldn’t lift a finger to help out—but then again he was impersonating his spoiled half brother Marcel, so I’m only just starting to know the real Elijah. I pull the wood-handled knife out of the murdered primroses and tuck it into my pocket, intending to return it to the toolshed.

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