“Mare!” Shade shouts, half-surprised, half-angry. Kilorn doesn’t say anything, watching me wobble on the spot.
My hand closes on his arm and he doesn’t flinch. My sparks are already gone—he knows I won’t hurt him. “Look,” I say, pointing.
We knew soldiers would come. Cal told us, warned us, that Maven would send in a legion after the airjets. But not even Cal could have predicted this. Only a heart so twisted as Maven’s could dream up this nightmare.
The figures of the first line are not wearing the clouded gray of Cal’s hard-trained Silver soldiers. They are not even soldiers at all. They are servants in red coats, red shawls, red tunics, red pants, red shoes. So much red they could be bleeding. And around their feet, clinking against the ground, are iron chains. The sound scrapes against me, drowning out the airjets and the missiles and even the harsh-barked orders of the Silver officers hiding behind their Red wall. The chains are all I hear.
Kilorn bristles, growling. He steps forward, raising his rifle to shoot, but the gun shudders in his hands. The army is still across the avenue, too far for an expert shot even without a human shield. Now it’s worse than impossible.
“We have to keep moving,” Shade mutters. Anger flares in his eyes, but he knows what must be done, what must be ignored, to stay alive. “Kilorn, come with us now, or we’ll leave you.”
My brother’s words sting, waking me up from my horrified daze. When Kilorn doesn’t move, I take his arm, whispering into his ear, hoping to drown out the chains.
“Kilorn.” It’s the voice I used on Mom when my brothers went to war, when Dad had a breathing attack, when things fell apart. “Kilorn, there’s nothing we can do for them.”
The words hiss through his teeth. “That’s not true.” He glances over his shoulder at me. “You have to do something. You can save them—”
To my eternal shame, I shake my head. “No, I can’t.”
We keep running. And Kilorn follows.
More missiles explode, faster and closer with each passing second. I can barely hear over the ringing in my ears. Steel and glass sway like reeds in the wind, bending and breaking until biting silver rain falls down upon us. Soon, it’s too dangerous to run, and Shade’s grip tightens on me. He grabs Kilorn too, jumping all three of us as the world collapses. My stomach twists every time the darkness closes in, and every time, the falling city gets closer. Ash and concrete dust choke our vision, making it difficult to breathe. Glass shatters in a bright storm, leaving shallow cuts across my face and hands, shredding my clothes. Kilorn looks worse than I do, his bandages red with fresh blood, but he keeps moving, careful not to outpace us. My brother’s grip never weakens, but he begins to tire, paling with every new jump. I’m not helpless, using my sparks to deflect the jagged metal shrapnel that even Shade can’t jump us away from. But we’re not enough, not even to save ourselves.
“How much farther?” My voice sounds small, drowned out by the tide of war. Against the haze, I can’t see farther than a few feet. But I can still feel. And what I feel are wings, engines, electricity screaming overhead, swooping closer and closer. We might as well be mice waiting for hawks to pluck us from the ground.
Shade stops us short, his honey-colored eyes sweeping back and forth. For one frightening second, I fear he might be lost. “Wait,” he says, knowing something we don’t.
He stares upward, at the skeleton of a once great structure. It’s massive, taller than the highest spire of the Hall of the Sun, wider than the great Caesar’s Square of Archeon. A tremor runs down my spine when I realize—it’s moving. Back and forth, side to side, swaying on twisting supports already worn by centuries of neglect. As we watch, it starts to tip, slumping slowly at first, like an old man settling into his chair. Then faster and faster, falling above us and around us.
“Hold on to me,” Shade shouts over the din, adjusting his grip on us both. He wraps his arm around my shoulders, crushing me to him, almost too tight to bear. I expect the now unpleasant sensation of jumping, but it never comes. Instead, I’m greeted by a more familiar sound.
Now it isn’t Shade’s ability saving my life, but his flesh. A bullet meant for me catches him in the meat of his upper arm, while another strafes his leg. He roars in anguish, almost falling to the cracked earth beneath. I feel the shot through him, but I have no time for pain. More bullets sing through the air, too fast and numerous to fight. We can only run, fleeing both the collapsing building and the oncoming army. One cancels out the other, with the twisted steel falling between the legion and us. At least, that’s what should happen. Gravity and fire made the structure fall, but the might of magnetrons stop it from shielding us. When I look back, I can see them, with silver hair and black armor, a dozen or so sweeping away every falling beam and steel support. I’m not close enough to see their faces, but I know House Samos well enough. Evangeline and Ptolemus direct their family, clearing the street so the legion can press on. So they can finish what they started and kill us all.
If only Cal had destroyed Ptolemus in the arena; if only I had shown Evangeline the same level of kindness she showed me. Then we might have a chance. But our mercy has a cost, and it might be our lives.
I hold on to my brother, supporting him as best I can. Kilorn does most of the heavy lifting. He takes the bulk of Shade’s weight, half dragging him toward a still smoking impact crater. We gladly dive into it, finding some refuge from the storm of bullets. But not much. Not for long.
Kilorn pants and sweat beads on his brow. He rips off one of his own sleeves, using it to bandage up Shade’s leg. Blood stains it quickly. “Can you jump?”
My brother furrows his brow, feeling not his pain but his strength. I understand that well enough. Slowly he shakes his head, his eyes going dark. “Not yet.”
Kilorn curses under his breath. “Then what do we do?”
It takes me a second to realize he’s asking me and not my older brother. Not the soldier who knows battle better than us. But he’s not really asking me either. Not Mare Barrow of the Stilts, the thief, his friend. Kilorn is looking to someone else now, to who I became in the halls of a palace and the sands of an arena.
He’s asking the lightning girl.
“Mare, what do we do?”
“You leave me, that’s what you do!” Shade growls through clenched teeth, answering before I can. “You run to the river, you find Farley. I’ll jump to you as soon as I can.”
“Don’t lie to a liar,” I say, trying my best to keep from shaking. My brother was only just returned to me, a ghost back from the dead. I won’t let him slip away again, not for anything. “We’re getting out of here together. All of us.”
The legion’s march rumbles the ground. One glance over the edge of the crater tells me they’re less than a hundred yards away, advancing fast. I can see the Silvers between the gaps in the Red line. The foot soldiers wear the clouded gray uniforms of the army, but some have armor, the plates chased with familiar colors. Warriors from the High Houses. I see bits of blue, yellow, black, brown, and more. Nymphs and telkies and silks and strongarms, the most powerful fighters the Silvers can throw at us. They think Cal the king’s killer, me a terrorist, and they’ll bring the whole city down to destroy us.
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