Home > Wings (Black City #3)(7)

Wings (Black City #3)(7)
Author: Elizabeth Richards

Acelot strolls over to the rug and nudges it with his foot. “I’m pretty certain this didn’t have so many holes in it when we left.”

Marcel dramatically rolls his eyes. At fifteen, the Bastet boy is only two years younger than me, but he acts like he’s twelve sometimes. He’s immaculately dressed in a crimson frock coat, black pants and knee-high patent leather boots, like he’s attending a state dinner. The fact that we’re on the run from the Sentry, and are keeping one of their head Trackers as hostage, doesn’t seem to have registered with him at all.

“It wasn’t my fault,” Marcel says huffily. “I was getting supplies, and when I got back, the rug was on fire. I don’t know how it happened.”

I can guess. I glare at Sebastian, who smirks back at me. Blond stubble covers his normally clean-shaven head and face, partially obscuring the rose tattoo above his left ear. It was a rash decision to bring him with us, but at least this way I know where he is at all times. I snatch a look at the broken lantern on the rug. He must’ve knocked it off the table somehow. I presume he hoped it would cause a big enough fire to force Marcel to untie him, so they could evacuate the building.

“Could I talk to you outside, Marc?” Acelot says, nodding toward the hallway.

Marcel sighs and follows Acelot out of the room while I check Sebastian’s binds. Acelot’s voice drifts through the open doorway.

“You weren’t supposed to leave Sebastian unattended,” he says. “What would’ve happened if he’d gotten loose? He could have killed you.”

“I was just trying to help!” Marcel replies. “God, I can’t win with you. ‘Do this, Marc.’ ‘Don’t do that.’ You’re worse than Dad.”

“Hey! I’m doing my best,” Acelot says. “Maybe if you did what I said for once, I wouldn’t have to keep nagging you.”

“I don’t have to do anything you say,” Marcel replies. “I’m not a sniveling kiss-ass like Elijah.”

“Don’t you dare talk about him like that,” Acelot growls.

“Why do you always take his side?” Marcel says.

Back in our room, Sebastian laughs.

“Such drama,” he sneers. I yank the ropes around his wrists, and his green eyes flash with anger. “Watch it, nipper.”

“Do you want me to gag you too?” I snap.

He glances down at the binds around his wrists and smiles coldy. “You know, Natalie used to like it when I tied her up like this. She’d make these tiny little moans when I—”

I punch Sebastian in the face. His head snaps back, and blood spurts out of his split lip. He shakes his head, bringing himself back to his senses, then laughs.

“Touched a nerve?” he says, licking the blood off his lip.

I turn away, annoyed at myself for letting him get under my skin. I know Natalie never slept with Sebastian, which is why the jerk cheated on her, but they did date each other for a year. The thought makes my skin crawl.

Marcel storms into the room and slumps down on one of the chairs next to the table. Acelot follows a moment later. His eyes flick toward Sebastian, whose bruised lip has started to swell, and he raises an amused brow.

“Now, now, Ash,” Acelot mocks. “What did we say about beating up our prisoner?”

“That it’s a good thing, and I should do it constantly?” I reply.

Sebastian scowls. Acelot chuckles and takes a seat beside Marcel.

“Sorry about the rug,” Marcel mutters.

Acelot ruffles his brother’s hair and Marcel playfully swats his hand away, friends again. The brothers help me make an inventory of the supplies. There’s enough to keep us going until we get to the Tenth. Down on the floor is my blue duffel bag. I go through the contents, making sure Marcel hasn’t taken anything—he’s always nosing around my stuff.

Inside are some rather ripe-smelling clothes, a black headscarf, my mom’s diary, a keepsake box, and a few things I managed to salvage from Natalie’s and Elijah’s bags, which were left behind in Viridis, including Natalie’s heart medication and a sheet of paper, which she’s neatly folded into a square. I open it, curious to know what it is; we’ve been so busy, I haven’t had a chance to look at it yet.

I’m surprised to discover it’s a lab report about something called Project Chrysalis, with all sorts of figures and equations on it that are way beyond my comprehension; science is more Natalie’s thing. Stamped at the top of the document are the words BARREN LANDS LABORATORY, and beneath that is a logo of a silver-winged butterfly. I’m not sure what this report is about, but Natalie obviously thought it was important enough to take with her.

I turn to Acelot. “Can you make any sense of this?”

He takes the document, scanning it. Eventually he shakes his head. “Sorry.”

I tuck the document in my back pocket. “No, what’s far-fetched is you wanting to help me.” I turn to Marcel, who is plucking a loose thread off his crimson frock coat, clearly bored. “Help me load these supplies onto the Miniport—then we can get out of here.”

He reluctantly picks up a single can of beans. Acelot catches my attention and I roll my eyes. I gather an armful of supplies and Marcel follows me out of the room, holding his can of beans. We head down a corridor lined with portraits of Purian Rose, walking side by side. The boy barely reaches my chest, but I know not to underestimate him; Bastets are much stronger than Darklings.

“You know you’re going to get my brother killed, right?” Marcel says when we’re out of earshot. “I know you hate me for what happened in Viridis, and I’m sorry, okay, I’m sorry that they took your girlfriend, but Ace is all I have left, so if he dies . . .” Marcel blinks and his golden-brown eyes glisten. “Please don’t get him killed.”

“I won’t,” I say, but the promise falls flat. I can’t guarantee Acelot’s safety.

“Sure,” Marcel mutters.

We continue our walk to the aircraft in silence. It takes a good half hour to put all the food and weapons into the aircraft, thanks to Marcel’s “help.” He’s trying his best, but manual labor clearly isn’t something he’s had much experience with.

We load the last of the goods into the aircraft, kicking them under the leather seats. Marcel slumps down in the pilot’s seat, his spotted tail swishing against the metal floor.

“Do you think Elijah and Natalie are dead?” Marcel says. “Sebastian reckons they are.”

My fangs flood with venom. “No, I don’t.”

God, just when I’m starting to warm up to that kid, he says something like that. The hairs on the back of my neck suddenly prickle as a faint, musky smell drifts into the Miniport, stinging my nostrils. I sniff the air again. Marcel scrunches up his nose—he’s smelled it too.

“Is that you?” he says, and I growl at him. “What? All you Darks stink to me.”

I look outside the open hatch. The street is silent, and yet something doesn’t feel right. I can’t shake the feeling that something’s watching us.

“Let’s head back,” I murmur.

Marcel lets out a long sigh, like it’s the biggest chore in the world, and follows me outside. The instant we leave the aircraft, I know we’ve made a terrible mistake. A low, throaty growl comes from the roof of the airship. I slowly turn, my pulse racing, to look into the cold, steel eyes of a male Lupine, his silvery hair rippling in the cool breeze.

Behind us, there’s a teeth-tingling sound of claws against brick. I risk a glance over my shoulder to see a female Lupine slowly closing in on us. She’s dressed all in red. Around her throat is a choker made of Darkling fangs. Bounty hunters used to wear those during the first war. I swallow. The Sentry must’ve left the Lupines here to keep guard of the city—or what remains of it—and pick up any stragglers.

“I told you someone was staying at the Emissary’s old place, Dolph,” she says to the male Lupine. Then to me: “I saw the smoke coming from the window earlier. You ought to be more careful, sweetness. There are dangerous people out here.” She gives me a deadly smile.

“Run,” I whisper to Marcel, who is frozen beside me. “RUN!”

My raised voice is enough to break Marcel out of his trance, and he bolts for the kitchen door leading into Sentry headquarters just as the male Lupine leaps at me. I manage to dart out of the way of his snapping jaws, but his razor-sharp nails catch my shirt, slashing the material and my flesh underneath. I grunt as a searing pain rushes down my arm, but I don’t have time to think about it as the Lupine turns and lunges for me again. This time he catches me, knocking me off my feet. I hit the ground, hard. Nearby, the female Lupine howls, and I get a sinking feeling she’s calling out to the rest of their pack, scattered about the city. I struggle against the male Lupine, using all my strength as I try to keep him at arm’s length. His canines drip with saliva, and his hot breath stinks of rotting meat.

“Don’t bite his face, Dolph,” the female says. “We want him recognizable when we claim our reward.”

Dolph sneers at me, his face so close, I can see my reflection in his silvery eyes. There’s no light behind them, only death and darkness. In the distance I hear the howls of other Lupines as they approach Bleak Street. I should be panicked, but instead a peaceful sensation washes over me. So this is it? After weeks of running, this is how it’s going to end?

There’s a sudden pop-pop, a whimper, followed by the sound of something heavy hitting the ground. The noise distracts Dolph long enough for me to throw a punch, almost breaking my hand as it collides with his square jaw. He falls back, yelping with surprise.

Standing by the kitchen doorway is Acelot, a rifle in his hand. My eyes drift toward the female Lupine splayed on the street, a gruesome hole in her forehead. Her lifeless eyes stare at me, still wide with shock. Dolph lets out a pained howl and rushes over to the dead woman, pulling her into his arms. I’m immediately forgotten in his grief. Acelot aims his gun at Dolph and shoots him twice in the chest. The man slumps over his girlfriend.

“Thanks,” I say to Acelot. That’s the second time he’s saved my skin—the first time was in Viridis when he shot the Sentry guards chasing after me, and now this. The howls of the other Lupines get closer; they’ll be here soon. “Start up the Miniport. I’ll get the others.”

I collect Marcel and Sebastian, keeping the Tracker’s hands tied behind his back, then sprint back to the aircraft. Acelot closes the hatch just as the Lupine pack appears on Bleak Street. There are at least ten of them, all baying for blood as they spot us. The engines rumble, and the creatures bound toward us. Several of the Lupines leap up at the aircraft just as we take off, grabbing on to anything they can, trying to drag us back down. The Miniport wobbles, but Acelot guns the throttle and we speed off, the Lupines falling to the ground, thud thud thud. One stubborn male Lupine clings on to the roof, his legs dangling in front of the windscreen. Acelot tilts the aircraft, left, right, shaking off the creature.

“I’ve heard of it raining cats and dogs, but this is ridiculous,” he mutters.

I spin around on Sebastian the instant we’re clear from Bleak Street and punch him for the second time today, not caring that my knuckles are bleeding from hitting Dolph. It’s his fault we were nearly dog food, after that stunt he pulled with the fire. Sebastian falls to the floor, and blood seeps out of a gash on his head—a result of my punch—merging with the red rose tattoo above his left ear. I flex my aching hand and join Acelot in the cockpit.

“Head to Black City News,” I say, taking the seat next to him.

Acelot veers the aircraft to the left, flying us to the edge of the city. The broadcast station is a relatively modern-looking building by Black City standards, with BLACK CITY NEWS written in red letters over the entranceway. Acelot parks the ship in the forecourt. It’s not ideal being out in the open like this, but I’m hoping we’ll be gone before the Lupines catch up with us. We quickly scan the area for any sign of traps or cameras before heading inside the news station. I keep Sebastian a short distance in front of me, so he can’t run off.

The studio is deserted, the offices strewn with abandoned paperwork. We hurry through the maze of corridors until we find a voice-over studio. I flick on the light, filling the room with a dull orange glow. I tie Sebastian to a chair while Acelot checks the equipment. Marcel slumps on the battered sofa in the corner of the room and watches us.

“I’ve programmed the system to broadcast the message for twenty-four hours, then stop,” Acelot says. “By the time they trace it, we’ll be long gone.”

“Okay, let’s record it, then get the hell out of here,” I say, sitting down at the microphone.

A red light glows, letting me know I’m on air. I just hope Beetle and Roach are listening.

6.

EDMUND

Amber Hills, Mountain Wolf State

30 years ago

I FIDGET ON the hard pew, trying to get some blood circulating back in my bony legs, but it’s a lost cause. The church is heaving with people, as the whole town has turned up for Mrs. Hope’s funeral. Many have to stand outside and watch the service through the open doors. I’m surprised so many people showed up, but nothing draws a crowd like murder.

Patrick Langdon, and his friends Harriet and Drew O’Malley, discovered her corpse a mile into the woods, lain against a flat rock, like she was sleeping. Her shrouded body now floats in the pool beside the pulpit. Sprigs of lavender bob on the surface of the water to mask the scent of death, but it’s not helping. All around me, people delicately cover their noses and mouths with handkerchiefs as they listen to my grandfather’s sermon.

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