Home > Wings (Black City #3)(6)

Wings (Black City #3)(6)
Author: Elizabeth Richards

“Good morning, gentlemen. What can I do for you?” Scott asks.

“We need a quart of Night Whisper,” the man says in a flat voice.

“Gee, sorry, fellas, I don’t have any in stock,” Scott says. “I’ll have to order that from Centrum.” He reaches for his notepad and pen, and accidentally knocks over the jar of flaxseeds in the process. The heavy glass jar smashes as it hits the floor, scattering the golden seeds everywhere. Some of them skid under the thin gap at the bottom of the mirror-door, stopping by my feet. Uh-oh. Elijah clamps a hand over his nose and mouth, muffling the sneeze. The man’s eyes narrow and panic claws up my throat. Did the man hear it?

“I’m such a klutz.” Scott chuckles nervously. “How much did you need again? A quart?”

The squad leader ignores Scott and walks around the counter. He stops in front of the mirror. Our faces are just centimeters apart, separated only by the thin sheet of double-sided glass. I don’t dare breathe, terrified the smallest thing will give us away. Behind him, Destiny’s hand inches toward her gun holster. Light glints in the man’s strangely pale eyes. They have an almost metallic quality to them. He shakes his head. “You’re imagining things,” he mutters to himself, then turns away and addresses Scott. “Make it two. We need it by the weekend.”

He joins the four other men and they leave. The instant they’re gone, Destiny opens the mirror-door and Elijah and I spill out, both gasping for breath.

Scott stares at me. “It’s you.”

I realize I’m not wearing my mask and scramble to put it back on, but the damage is already done. Garrick and Sasha quickly form a protective barrier in front of me. A low, throaty growl escapes Sasha’s neon-pink lips, and Scott wisely backs away.

“You can’t tell anyone what you saw,” Destiny says to him.

“My lips are sealed.” He pretends to zip his mouth closed.

“Who were those guys?” Elijah asks, gesturing toward the shop door.

“Rose’s new security force,” Scott says. “They’ve been kicking about the city for the past few weeks, scaring folk into giving them names of anyone suspected of anti-government sentiments.” He passes Destiny the supplies we came for. “Use the cellar door. It’s safer.”

My mind is still on these “Tin Men” as we climb out the cellar door, which leads into a dark alleyway beside the church. A bell lets out a melancholy dong, dong, dong from the church’s belfry, telling the Pilgrims the morning service is about to start. What does Purian Rose need with a new security squad? It can only mean trouble. Destiny, Garrick and Sasha enter the alley first; Elijah and I follow.

The alleyway is filled with trash cans overflowing with several weeks’ worth of garbage, and I cautiously step over the piles of junk. It’s nearly all glass bottles. Some of them still have a milky-gray residue in them. They must be some of Scott’s potions. I accidentally kick one of the bottles and it rolls across the cobblestones, hitting a pile of rags. The material stirs and a man’s craggy face appears between the folds. A gasp escapes my lips. His sallow skin is drenched in sweat and covered in seeping ulcers, which have devoured his face so that part of his nose and eyelids are missing. Even through my respirator mask I can smell the sticky scent of decay reeking off him. He grabs my ankle and I cry out in fright.

“Help me . . . ,” he rasps, blood spraying out of his chapped lips.

“Let her go!” Elijah roughly kicks the man’s hand away.

We hurry to meet the others, my heart racing. What was wrong with him? I haven’t seen wounds that bad since the Wrath, but he didn’t have any of the telltale signs like yellow eyes and hair loss. So what is it?

“You okay, hon?” Destiny asks as we reach them.

“No,” I admit. “That man needs our help.”

“Scott can deal with him,” Destiny says, taking a firm hold of my arm.

She drags me down the passageway, ignoring my protests to go back. Just before we slip into the crowds, I look over my shoulder. Through the shadows, the homeless man’s rotting face peers back at me.

5.

ASH

I STARE AT THE BURNT-OUT RUINS of Black City Zoo, expecting to feel sadness, grief, something at the sight. This is where the Darkling assembly used to be. It’s where Natalie and I, and so many others, took refuge when Purian Rose attacked the city a month ago. It was our home. But looking at it now, I feel surprisingly empty. Maybe it’s because I helped orchestrate the attack on Black City that caused this to happen. Or maybe it’s because my real home is where Natalie is and that’s not here. I don’t know where home is anymore.

I turn my back on the zoo. I knew it would be destroyed, but I had to see it for myself. In the three days since we’ve been in Black City, I’ve visited almost every place that was significant to me and Natalie, as if it would somehow bring me closer to her: the bridge where we first met (destroyed); Black City School where my heart activated (rubble); the house where she lived with Day’s family (razed to the ground). I’ve yet to pluck up the nerve to visit my childhood home, the Ivy Church. Maybe some places are best avoided.

The air is crisp as I stroll through the sprawling Darkling ghetto. Although it’s early spring, you wouldn’t think it, looking at the cinder skies. My feet stir the ash that has settled on everything, from the winding cobblestone path to the thousands of cheap metal shacks that once housed my people.

Up ahead, the Boundary Wall splits the horizon. The concrete structure is easily thirty feet high and stretches around the entire ghetto, dividing Black City in two—the humans on one side, the Darklings on the other. I frown. Despite a decade of war, an air raid and an inferno, the Boundary Wall is still standing.

There are hundreds of walls like this one in the United Sentry States, the biggest of them all surrounding the Tenth. I run my fingers over the rough concrete. Before I met Natalie, I used to spend hours walking the length of this wall, wondering what life was like on the Darkling side. Now I know. Famine, disease, death. What I saw here changed everything; I could no longer ignore the suffering of my people.

I press my palm against the cold stone.

This wall’s not indestructible. It’s not an immovable force.

It’s just concrete.

And I’m going to bring it down. I’m going to bring them all down, and free my people.

I drop my hand and head out the nearby gates, which lead into the town square. The plaza’s almost unrecognizable under the blanket of gray, and it takes a moment for me to get my bearings. The smoldering pile of rubble at the north side of the plaza was once Black City School. A few meters to the east is where Sebastian and I started the fight that ignited a riot and led to my arrest. My eyes drift to a pile of ashes where three crosses once stood. That was where Purian Rose tried to execute me. I briefly shut my eyes, remembering the fire that ripped over my body, the choking heat that stole the breath out of my lips—

CLANG! My eyes snap open at the sound of metal hitting the ground, followed by a stream of angry curses. Parked in the center of the plaza is a Transporter Mini MV5—a compact version of the tilt-wing aircraft that the Sentry use to transport soldiers and prisoners, more commonly known as a Miniport. The MV5 is the deluxe model, with glossy white paintwork and heated leather seats, and is primarily used by rich Sentry businessmen and politicians to do short hops between cities, although this particular Miniport belonged to the former Bastet Consul and his wife. A deep gash runs down the left side of the aircraft, and the metalwork is badly dented where his brother Marcel crashed it a few months ago while out on a joyride. Jutting out from underneath the aircraft is a pair of leather boots and a long spotted tail.

“Everything okay, Ace?” I ask.

A tall Bastet boy slides out from under the Miniport, his face and green shirt covered in oil. In his hand is a metal disc. He leaps to his feet and grins triumphantly at me, the smile crinkling the corners of his catlike eyes. “I’ve fixed Alice’s oil leak,” he says, lovingly patting the Miniport.

We didn’t have time to properly mend the aircraft before the Sentry showed up in Viridis, and we had to flee. It was my suggestion to hide in Black City until we could fix the aircraft and gather some supplies, because we wouldn’t expect them to look for us here. It’s still our intention to get the Ora and then save Natalie and Elijah when we’ve found out where they’re being held captive. My best guess is Centrum, but if Garrick’s brought her to Purian Rose, why hasn’t her capture been announced all over the news?

“Erm, isn’t that supposed to be attached to something?” I say, pointing to the metal disc in Acelot’s hand.

He grins sheepishly at me. “Yeaaaah, sorry, I might’ve accidentally knocked it off. But don’t worry; it’s not vital,” he adds in a rush when he sees the alarm on my face. “I think it belongs to the heat exchanger that controls the seat warmers.” He turns it over in his hands and his smile fades. “Unless it’s from the engine cooling system. Then we might have a problem.”

“What sort of problem?” I ask warily.

“There could be a tiny explosion when we start the engine.”

“How small?” I say.

“I’m almost certain it’s for the seat warmers,” he says, dodging the question.

Acelot tucks the disc into his pocket and pulls out a monogrammed handkerchief. He attempts to wipe the oil off his face but doesn’t have much luck. There’s definitely a family resemblance between Acelot and his half brother Elijah—they both have the same honey-colored eyes and cheetahlike spots on their tanned skin—although Acelot is slimmer, with short brown hair and a long, boyish face that makes him look younger than his nineteen years. Only his eyes look old, ringed with dark circles. With the death of his parents, the welfare of his brothers Marcel and Elijah and that of the entire Bastet people now rests in his hands. It’s a heavy burden for anyone to shoulder, let alone a teenager. I know how he feels.

With a defeated sigh, Acelot tucks the handkerchief back into his pocket and nimbly climbs into the pilot’s seat. I sit beside him. The windscreen and control panels are badly cracked, and the navigation system keeps going down. Still, it can fly.

“Here goes nothing,” Acelot says, punching the START ENGINE button.

I grip on to the control panel and say a silent prayer as the engines roar to life, sending clouds of ash swirling around the aircraft, but mercifully no fiery ball of death. I let out a relieved sigh as the aircraft jerks up and the world (and my stomach) drops rapidly below us.

Acelot smirks slightly. “I told you it was nothing to worry about, my friend!”

“I never doubted you for a second,” I say, prying my fingers off the dashboard.

Black City whooshes below us as Acelot confidently weaves the aircraft between the smoldering buildings. Everything is in ruins. The Park is a pile of debris; Chantilly Lane Market is little more than a hole in the ground; the digital screens that once sat upon the rooftops now lie broken on the cobbled streets. We don’t need to go near the Chimney to know it’s been destroyed, since the Cinderstone plants continue to spew plumes of choking smoke into the sky. A few other civilian aircraft streak across the sky—looters, probably—but otherwise the city is eerily silent.

“I’ve fixed Alice as best I can,” Acelot says. “She should hold together long enough to get to the Tenth and back.”

My stomach twists at the thought. I pull out an old photo from my back pocket. It’s a picture of my mom when she was younger. We look alike—the same black hair, thin face, and dark eyes. She’s standing in a forest glen with Lucinda and my grandparents Paolo and Maria Coombs. Behind them is another Darkling—a stern-looking man with a birthmark on his cheek. I have no idea who he is. In the background of the photo is Mount Alba, the way it looked before it erupted, with a claw-shaped peak.

From this photo and an old map I saw back at the Bastet embassy in Viridis, I figured out that the Claw was Mount Alba. That’s where the Ora is and where my aunt, Kieran and Yolanda went to retrieve it. The only trouble is, Mount Alba is right in the heart of the Tenth. I don’t relish the idea of walking into the detention camp, but I have a mission to complete. There’s no point in putting this off any longer.

“Let’s head out today,” I say. “What’s the time?”

Acelot checks his expensive gold watch. “Just after two.”

“Okay, we should get to the station soon,” I say, referring to Black City News, on the outskirts of the city. We did a quick sweep of the city outskirts earlier and thankfully the station is still there, having been spared the worst of the fires that swept through the districts because of its remote location. “I want to send out my message before we go.”

Acelot turns down Bleak Street and lands the aircraft in an alleyway beside the Sentry headquarters, so it’s out of sight from anyone wandering by on the street. Although it was my idea to hide out in Black City, it was actually Sebastian’s suggestion we actually set up base in the former Sentry headquarters. I was reluctant at first, given that I distrust everything that comes out of that jerk’s mouth, especially since he’s our hostage, but it turned out to be a good choice. Not that I’d admit this to him.

The usually white marble building is covered in soot and part of the roof has caved in, but otherwise it’s come out relatively unscathed. Which is why I’m surprised when I see dark smoke billowing out of one of the windows on the first floor.

We enter the building via the kitchen and run through the corridors toward the dining room, where the smoke’s coming from. I push open the door. Marcel is standing by the window trying to fan the smoke out of the room while Sebastian watches with amusement. He’s sitting next to the mahogany table, bound to one of the chairs with rope. The table is covered in piles of guns, tinned food and medical supplies salvaged from the arsenal and laboratory downstairs. On the antique rug next to the table is a smashed oil lantern. A large hole has been scorched into the fabric.

Hot Series
» Vampire Academy Series read online
» Crossfire Series read online
» Fifty Shades trilogy read online
» Kate Daniels Series read online
» Black Dagger Brotherhood Series read online
» Cassandra Palmer Series read online
» Rosemary Beach Series read online
» Sea Breeze Series read online
» Too Far Series read online
» Shatter Me Series read online
» Thoughtless Series read online
» Marriage to a Billionaire Series read online
Most Popular
» Drawn into Love (Fluke My Life #4)
» Nightchaser (Endeavor #1)
» Right Where I Want You
» Tangled Like Us (Like Us #4)
» Be the Girl
» Playing for Keeps (Heartbreaker Bay #7)
» If I Only Knew
» Vengeance Road (Torpedo Ink #2)
» 99 Percent Mine
» Free (Chaos #6)
» Work in Progress (Red Lipstick Coalition #3
» Moonlight Scandals (de Vincent #3)