My fist clenches, wishing for lightning, but I feel flame instead. Hot skin against mine, fingers worming into my grip. Cal. I won’t be able to spark up without hurting him. Part of me wants to, to push him away and save my brother in a single sweeping motion. But that will get us nowhere.
With a sharp gasp, I realize we could not ask for a better distraction—a better moment to slip away. Shade is not a distraction, a voice screams in my head. I bite my lip, almost breaking the skin. I can’t leave him, I can’t. I can’t lose him again. But we can’t stay here. It’s too dangerous, and so much more is at stake.
“The Security Center,” I whisper, trying to keep my voice from shaking. “Ada Wallace must be found, and the Center is the only way.” The next words taste like blood. “We should go.”
Shade lets the next blow knock him sideways, giving him a better angle. His eyes meet mine. I hope he understands. My lips move without sound. Security Center, I mouth to him, telling him where to meet us when he gets away. Because he will get away. He’s a newblood like me. These people are no match for him.
It almost sounds convincing.
His face falls, torn by the knowledge that I will not save him. But he nods all the same. And then the press of bodies swallows him whole, blocking him from sight. I turn my back before cane hits bone, but I hear the hard, echoing sound. Again I wince, and tears bite my eyes. I want to look back, but I have to walk away, to do what must be done, and forget what must be forgotten.
The crowd cheers and presses forward to see—making it all the easier for us to slip into the street, and deep into the city of Harbor Bay.
The streets surrounding the Paltry are like the market itself—crowded, noisy, stinking of fish and bad tempers. I expect no less from the Red sector of the city, where houses are cramped and leaning out over the alleys, forming shadowed archways half-filled with garbage and beggars. There are no officers that I can see, drawn either to the gang fight in the Paltry or the tunnel collapses far behind us. Cal takes the lead now, moving us steadily south, away from the Red center.
“Familiar territory?” Farley asks, cutting a suspicious glance at Cal when he ducks us down yet another twisting alley. “Or are you just as turned around as I am?”
He doesn’t bother to answer, responding only with a quick wave of the hand. We scamper by a tavern, its windows already swarming with shadows of professional drunks. Cal’s eyes linger on the door, painted an offensively bright red. One of his old haunts, I suppose, when he could slip out of Ocean Hill undetected to see his kingdom without the sheen of Silver high society. That’s what a good king would do, he said once. But as I discovered, his definition of a good king was very, very flawed. The beggars and the thieves he’s encountered over the years were not enough to convince the prince. He saw hunger and injustice, but not enough to warrant change. Not enough to be worth his worry. That is until his world chewed him up and spit him out—making him an orphan, an exile, and a traitor.
We follow him because we must. Because we need a soldier and a pilot, a blunt instrument to help us achieve our goals. At least, that’s what I tell myself as I trail at his heels. I need Cal for noble reasons. To save lives. To win.
But like my brother, I too have a crutch. Mine is not metal. It is flesh and fire and bronze eyes. If only I could cast him away. If only I was strong enough to let the prince go and do what he would with his vengeance. To die or live as he saw fit. But I need him. And I can’t find the strength to let him go.
Though we’re far from the Fish Market, a horrible smell permeates through the street. I push my shawl to my nose, trying to block out whatever it is. Not fish, I steadily realize, and the others know it too.
“We shouldn’t go this way,” Cal murmurs, putting out a hand to stop me, but I duck under his arm. Farley is right on my heels.
We emerge from the side street into what was once a modest garden square. Now it is deathly quiet, the windows of the houses and shops shut fast. The flowers are burned, the soil turned to ash. Dozens of bodies swing from the bare trees, their faces purple and bloated, with rope nooses around their necks. Each one has been stripped naked, save for their matching red medallions. Nothing fancy, just carved wooden squares dangling from rough cord. I’ve never seen necklaces like that, and I focus on them to keep my eyes from so many dead faces.
They’ve been up for a while, judging by the smell and the buzzing cloud of flies.
I’m not a stranger to death, but these corpses are worse than any I’ve seen—or made.
“The Measures?” I wonder aloud. Did these men and women break curfew? Speak out of turn? Were they executed for the orders I gave? Not your orders, I tell myself reflexively. But that doesn’t lessen the guilt. Nothing will.
Farley shakes her head. “They’re Red Watch,” she mumbles. She starts to step forward, but thinks better of it. “Bigger cities, bigger Red communities, they have their own guards and officers. To keep the peace, to keep our laws, because Security won’t.”
No wonder the Seaskulls attacked Crance and Shade so openly. They knew no one would punish them. They knew the Red Watch was dead.
“We should cut them down,” I say, though I know it’s not possible. We don’t have the time to bury them, nor do we want the trouble.
I make myself turn away. The sight is an abomination, one I will not forget, but I do not weep. Cal is there, waiting a respectable distance away, as if he doesn’t have the right to enter the hanging square. I quietly agree. His people did this. His people.
Farley is not so collected as me. She tries to hide the tears gathering in her eyes, and I pretend not to notice them as we walk away.
“There will be a reckoning. They will answer for this,” she hisses, her words tighter than any noose.
The farther we go from the Paltry, the more ordered the city becomes. Alleys widen into streets, curving gently instead of turning at hairpin angles. Buildings here are stone or smoothed concrete, and don’t look ready to fall down in a strong breeze. A few homes, meticulously kept but small, must belong to the successful Reds of the city, judging by the red doors and shutters. They are marked by our color, branded, so everyone knows who and what lives inside. The Reds wandering the street are just as clear, mostly servants wearing corded red bracelets. A few have striped badges pinned to their clothes, each one bearing a familiar color order, denoting which family they serve.
The closest one has a badge of red and brown—House Rhambos.
My lessons with Lady Blonos come flooding back, a blur of half-remembered facts. Rhambos, one of the High Houses. Governors of this, the Beacon region. Strongarms. They had a girl in Queenstrial, a slip of a thing named Rohr who could tear me in half. I met another Rhambos in the Bowl of Bones. He was supposed to be one of my executioners, and I killed him. I electrified him until his bones shrieked.
I can still hear him screaming. After the hanging square, the thought almost makes me smile.
The Rhambos servants turn west, up a slight incline to a hill that overlooks the harbor. Heading for their master’s mansion, no doubt. It’s one of many palatial homes dotting the rise, each one boasting pristine white walls, sky-blue roofs, and tall silver spires topped with sharp-pointed stars. We follow, winding our way up, drawing closer to the largest structure of all. It looks crowned in constellations, surrounded by clear, gleaming walls—diamondglass.
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