Home > Wings (Black City #3)(9)

Wings (Black City #3)(9)
Author: Elizabeth Richards

“Cast it out!” the congregation chants.

“Stop this!” Grandfather yells.

The Howler frantically flays about under the water. My chest tightens and I can’t breathe, like I’m the one drowning. Her silver eyes widen and with a terrified gasp she sucks in a fatal breath. It’s over. They pull her out of the pool and dump her body by my feet. Splashes of water drip on my boot. Grandfather stares grimly down at her body.

“Let this be a warning to the Lupines,” Mr. Langdon says. “For every life they take, we will take one of theirs.”

“So sayeth His Mighty,” everyone chants.

Catherine throws a guilty look in my direction. I glance down at the Howler girl, shame squirming in my stomach.

“So sayeth us all,” I say.

7.

EDMUND

PATRICK AND DREW PICK UP the girl’s limp body and carry her outside while the rest of the congregation files out of the chapel. Mrs. Langdon looks adoringly up at her husband as they walk down the aisle. Tears glisten in Catherine’s eyes as she obediently follows them.

Outside, the October air is crisp and fresh, the ground still damp from last night’s downpour. Women lift their bustle skirts to prevent their hems from getting muddy as they gossip to their friends about tonight’s dance and what they plan to wear, the conversation polite and forced. In the center of the town square is a large wooden cross, more than eight feet high.

During the Misery—a yearlong conflict between the Darklings, Lupines and people of Amber Hills that resulted in hundreds of deaths—any citizens caught associating with a Darkling would be tied to the cross, on the Guild’s orders. They’d be left up there for days. Many would die from exposure or starvation. It hasn’t been used in almost two decades, until today that is. Patrick binds the dead girl to it as a warning to any more of her kind if they come back here searching for another victim.

Mr. Langdon strolls over to Grandfather, his wife still hanging off his arm. He can’t be much older than thirty-six, but his sandy beard makes him look older. All the kids in Amber Hills have young parents, as it’s common to marry at eighteen and have your first child at nineteen. I look longingly at Catherine, who is outside her house with some kids from school.

Eric Cranfield—the boy Catherine was hoping would take her to the dance—strolls over to her. He’s lanky in a way that’s stylish rather than awkward, with a sprinkling of freckles over his nose and auburn hair. He dips his head and whispers something in her ear before placing a consoling arm around her shoulders. Jealousy flares inside me.

“Fine service today, Hector,” Mr. Langdon says, drawing my attention.

“Thank you,” Grandfather replies coolly. “The ending was certainly eye opening.”

Mr. Langdon gives a forced smile. “It’s important to show our strength in these terrible times. We can’t let the Howlers think they can take our people without consequence.”

Grandfather scowls. “Is it really worth starting a conflict between our species over four people?”

“If you ask me, the Howler got what was coming to it,” Mrs. Langdon chimes in, ignoring the fact that no one asked for her opinion. She looks just like her daughter, with the same brunette hair, pale skin and heart-shaped face. “If I had my way, we’d put them all down. We have to protect the children, Hector.”

Grandfather slides a look at Mr. Langdon. “I always do.”

A muscle flexes in Mr. Langdon’s jaw.

“Will you be attending the dance tonight?” Mrs. Langdon asks me, her eyes constantly drifting toward the Howler girl. I suspect she wants the girl’s long, snowy white hair—Lupine fur is worth a lot of money.

“Yes. I’m taking Catherine, actually,” I say.

Grandfather arches a thick brow at me.

“Oh, that’s . . . wonderful,” Mrs. Langdon replies, clearly disappointed. “You’ll have to come by the shop later, so we can fit you for a new suit.”

I glance down at my brown woolen pants and jacket. I’d intended to wear these.

“I can’t . . . um . . . A new suit would be very expensive,” I mutter.

“Don’t worry, Edmund. It’s on the house,” Mr. Langdon says, brushing some imaginary dirt off his own expensive frock coat, which has faint fleur-de-lis pattern on it.

“Thanks,” I say, feeling anything but grateful. I hate charity; it’s the same thing as pity.

“Will you please excuse us?” Grandfather says.

I reluctantly follow him inside the church, giving Catherine one last, lingering look. She’s too busy talking to Eric to notice me leaving. We head upstairs to our living quarters. There are just four rooms in the apartment: a kitchen, a tiny bathroom, Grandfather’s bedroom, and the attic where I sleep. The best word to describe our home is sparse. The walls are white, the hardwood floors and furniture all the same shade of brown.

There aren’t many objects in the kitchen, which is the main room in the house. On the table is a glass jar filled with dead butterflies, while mounted on the wall is a telephone and an old photograph of my mother. We look a lot alike, with matching gray eyes, dark hair and a wide, thin mouth. Did she really kill herself, like Mrs. Hope said?

Grandfather turns to me. “You’re not going to the dance with that Langdon girl. What were you thinking, Edmund? You know it’s forbidden for Darklings and humans to date.”

“Only because the Guild says so.”

“And for a very good reason. You only have to look at yourself to understand why.”

I flinch.

“I’m sorry, Edmund. I didn’t mean . . .” Grandfather gazes down at me with kind eyes, which are so much like my own. I praise His Mighty every day that I inherited my mother’s eyes and not my father’s. “I know you’re not like the other Darklings; you’re a good boy. But His Mighty never meant for our species to be together. That’s why their offspring are—”

“‘Cursed with a heart of ice,’” I mutter, reciting from our scriptures. “It’s not fair.”

“I know, Edmund,” Grandfather says. “I pray to His Mighty every night to take pity on you and bless you with a heartbeat. It’s all I want for you.”

I pull away from him and walk to the window. Most people have gone home by now, but a few mill about the town square, including Catherine and Eric Cranfield. They’re with her brother and the O’Malley siblings. Patrick is checking his silver dagger while the brother-and-sister act lounge on the steps outside the Langdons’ store. I watch them for a moment, imagining what it would be like to be them. They don’t need to make excuses when they get invited over for a meal because the food makes them sick, or hold their breath when someone’s bleeding because the scent makes their insides tear apart. They didn’t have to have their teeth ripped out of their heads when they were babies to hide the fact that they were born with fangs, or lie to their best friend about what they are because if they ever knew, if they ever knew. They don’t have to do any of these things because they’re alive, and I’m . . . I touch a hand to my chest and feel the silence beneath. A demon.

Grandfather says I’m not like the other Darklings, that I’m good. But I’m certain that’s only because of him and my faith, which keep me on a true path. If I didn’t have those things, I’m quite sure I wouldn’t have turned out this way. The predator is always there, lurking within me, wanting, hungry. But it’s not the only part of me that has desires; the human side of me thirsts for other things. I gaze at Catherine for a long moment, watching as she unpins her hair, letting it fall in loose brown waves around her narrow shoulders. Eric smiles.

“You can never be with her,” Grandfather says gently. “It’s not just your safety I’m worried about, but hers. You know what sinful desires are within you, Edmund.”

I look at the floor, ashamed. My father raped my mother, so I know exactly what I’m capable of. I hate the fact that his blood is in my veins. But I would never hurt Catherine!

Grandfather draws me away from the window. “Are you hungry?”

I nod, sitting down at the kitchen table while Grandfather collects a knife and glass from the cupboard. He nods toward the jar of dead butterflies on the table.

“Will you grind some of those up for me?” he asks.

I take off my gloves and unscrew the lid, pouring a few of the silvery-blue-winged butterflies into a stone mortar. I start grinding them into a fine powder with the pestle. My grandfather has been mixing it into the holy water for years, under the Guild’s advisement, to keep the townsfolk placid. It’s not easy being enclosed inside a walled compound without going stir-crazy after a while, so it’s for their own good. I pour the powder into a small pot.

“That should be plenty,” Grandfather says, sitting down at the table. He rolls up the sleeve of his dark tunic, exposing his arm. There are slashes all the way up it; some old, some fresh. He slices his arm with the knife and pours his blood into the glass. The rusty scent stings my nostrils. He fills the glass to the brim before passing it to me. I greedily drink.

“Slow down, Edmund,” Grandfather says. “That’s all you’re getting this week.”

I force myself to stop guzzling the blood and try to savor it, but it’s hard when I’m this hungry. The heat spreads over my tongue, awakening my taste buds. The blood has a slight bitter undertone to it, which I don’t like, but otherwise it’s good. I place the empty glass on the table and wipe my lips with the back of my scarred hand. They still look hideous, even after all these years. Darklings are meant to have amazing regenerative abilities, and I do to some degree—these wounds would’ve killed a human child.

“Why did you save me that night Mom dropped me in the bath?” I ask quietly.

“Because there is goodness in you, Edmund. Part of you is human; that part can be saved.” He sighs, getting up, and reaches for the phone. “I should call Mrs. Langdon and tell her you’re not taking Catherine to the dance. I’ll say you’re unwell.”

“No, wait,” I say in a rush. “It’ll look weird if I don’t go. Everyone will be there.”

His hand hovers over the receiver. If there’s one thing he hates more than the Langdon family, it’s gossip about ours. “Fine. But you’re not to see that girl again after tonight.”

I nod, not looking at him, knowing it’s a promise I can’t keep. I’m sick of watching my life from the sidelines. If things go well with Catherine tonight, then I don’t care what the risks are; I’m going to ask her to be my girlfriend. I place a hand over my silent heart. For once in my life, I want to know what it feels like to live.

8.

EDMUND

A SWARM OF BUTTERFLIES fill my stomach as I rap on the door of Langdon’s General Store. Behind me, in the town square, the dance is already in full swing, with men and women dressed in their finest clothes. Strung from some of the shops is a hand-painted banner, reading CELEBRATING 18 YEARS OF PEACE. Tied to the cross in the center of the town square is the Lupine girl. Her dead eyes stare blankly at the banner.

To the left, a stage has been set up for the band, and to the right is a long row of tables, where an elaborate buffet has been laid out. My stomach roils. I’m not looking forward to eating it later; human food makes me sick, but occasionally I have to swallow it down, to keep up appearances in front of the Guild.

I quickly check my outfit for the umpteenth time, my nerves mounting, as I wait for Catherine to answer the door. Mrs. Langdon could barely conceal her contempt for me when I went to get my suit earlier. She picked out a burgundy velvet frock coat for me, with a cinnamon-gold waistcoat and cravat, dark brown pants and dress shoes. Clutched in my right hand is a purple wrist corsage.

There’s a sound of footsteps in the hallway and the door finally swings open. I smile, holding up the corsage.

“This is for you,” I say, expecting to see Catherine.

“You shouldn’t have,” Patrick replies dryly. He’s dressed in an expensive ink-blue tailcoat and matching pants. Tucked into his belt is a silver dagger. A lot of people carry weapons these days, ever since the Lupines started snatching people from the town.

I look past him, into the house. “Is Catherine in?”

“She’s already at the dance. With Eric,” he says, nodding over my shoulder.

I follow his gaze, and my face drops. Catherine’s outside Mr. Elwin’s curiosity shop with Harriet, Drew and, much to my confusion, Eric. They’re studying the macabre objects in the store window: stuffed Phantom owls frozen in midflight, Bastet skulls with gleaming saber teeth and—most disturbing of all—a table with glass jars filled with Darkling hearts.

Catherine’s wearing a silk brocade dress in buttercup yellow, with a voluminous bell-shaped skirt and tight corset top that shows off her curves, much to Eric’s obvious delight, given the way he keeps leering down her top when he thinks she’s not looking.

“Oh. I thought . . . ,” I murmur, not quite understanding what’s going on.

Patrick looks at my outfit, then the purple corsage, his blue eyes bright with amusement.

“Fragg, you didn’t think you and Cat were going on a date, did you?” he says.

“No. I thought we were meeting here first,” I lie. This would be more believable if I wasn’t carrying this stupid corsage. “This is for your mother, to thank her for the suit.”

Patrick gives a deep belly laugh before pushing past me, muttering “pathetic” under his breath. I shove the corsage into my jacket pocket and follow him across the square. Grandfather is by the stage with Mr. and Mrs. Langdon. There’s a faintly smug expression on Mrs. Langdon’s lips. Catherine smiles when she sees me.

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