“I’m here,” he says, reaching out to touch my shoulder.
But instead of leaning into his hand, letting his now gentle warmth consume me, I pull away. With a groan, I get to my feet, only to see Shade standing over me. His expression is dark, pulled in anger, and I brace myself for a scolding. I shouldn’t have left him. It was wrong of me to do that.
“I’m—” I begin the apology, but never get to finish. He crushes me into an embrace, wrapping his arms around my shoulders. I cling to him just as tightly. He trembles a little, still afraid for his little sister. “I’m fine,” I tell him, so quietly only he can hear the lie.
“No time for that,” Farley spits, forcing herself to her feet. She glances around, still off balance, but gauges our location. “Battle Garden’s that way, a few streets east.”
Wolliver. “Right.” I nod, reaching out to hold her steady. We can’t forget our mission here, even after that deadly debacle.
But I keep my eyes on Shade, hoping he knows what lies in my heart. He only shakes his head, dismissing the apology. Not because he won’t accept it, but because he’s too kind to want it.
“Lead on,” he says, turning to Farley. His eyes soften a little, noting her dogged resolve to continue, despite her injuries and her nausea.
Cal is also slow to his feet, unaccustomed to teleportation. He recovers as quickly as he can, following us through the alleyways of the city sector known as Threestone. The smell of smoke clings to him, as does a deeper rage. Silvers died back in the Security Center, men and women who were only following orders. His orders once. It can’t be an easy thing to stomach, but he must. If he wants to stay with us, with me. He must choose his side.
I hope he chooses ours. I hope I never have to see that empty look in his eyes ever again.
This is a Red sector, relatively safe for the time being, and Farley keeps us to twisting alleys, even pulling us through an empty shop or two to avoid detection. Security officers shout and dart over the main roads, trying to regroup, trying to make sense of what happened at the Center. They’re not looking for us here, not yet. They still don’t realize what Shade is, how fast and far he can move us.
We huddle against a wall, waiting for an officer to pass us by. He’s distracted, like all the others, and Farley keeps us to the shadows.
“I am sorry,” I mutter to Shade, knowing I must say the words.
Again, he shakes his head. He even butts me gently with his crutch. “Enough of that. You did what you had to. And look, I’m all right. No harm done.”
No harm done. Not to his body, but what about his mind? His heart? I betrayed him, my brother. Like someone else I know. I almost spit in anger, hoping to expel the thought that I have anything in common with Maven.
“Where’s Crance?” I say, needing to focus on something else.
“I got him away from the Seaskulls; then he went his own way. Ran off like a man on fire.” Shade’s eyes narrow, remembering. “He buried three Mariners in the tunnels. He’s got no place here anymore.”
I know the feeling.
“What about you?” He jerks his head, vaguely gesturing in the direction of Ocean Hill. “After all that?”
After almost dying. Again.
“I said I’m okay.”
Shade purses his lips, unsatisfied. “Right.”
We lapse into a stiff silence, waiting for Farley to move again. She leans heavily against the alley wall, but soldiers on when a crowd of noisy schoolchildren passes ahead. We move again, using them as cover to cross the bigger road before entering another maze of back streets.
Finally we duck under a low arch—or rather, the others duck; I simply walk through. I’m barely to the other side when Shade stops short, his free hand reaching out to stop me from going forward.
“I’m sorry, Mare,” he says, and his apology almost knocks me down again.
“You’re sorry?” I ask, almost laughing at the absurdity. “Sorry for what?”
He doesn’t answer, ashamed. A chill that has nothing to do with temperature runs through me as he steps back, allowing me to see past the mouth of the archway.
There’s a square beyond, clearly meant for Red use. Battle Garden. It’s plain but well maintained, with fresh greenery and gray stone statues of warriors all over. The one in the center is the largest, a rifle slung across his back, one dark arm extended into midair.
The statue’s hand points east.
A rope dangles from the statue’s hand.
A body swings from the rope.
The corpse is not naked, and wears no medallion of the Red Watch. He’s young and short, his skin still soft. He was not executed long ago, probably an hour or so. But the square is clear of mourners and guards. No one is here to see him swing.
Even though the sandy hair falls into his eyes, obscuring some of his face, I know exactly who this boy is. I saw him in the records, smiling out from an ID photograph. Now he will never smile again. I knew this would happen. I knew it. But that doesn’t make the pain, or the failure, any easier.
He is Wolliver Galt, a newblood, reduced to a lifeless corpse.
I weep for the boy I never knew, for the boy I was not fast enough to save.
I try not to remember the faces of the dead. Running for my life makes for an effective distraction, but even the constant threat of annihilation can’t block out everything. Some losses are impossible to forget. Walsh, Tristan, and now Wolliver occupy the corners of my mind, catching like deep, gray cobwebs. My existence was their death sentence.
And of course, there are the ones I’ve killed outright, by choice, with my own two hands. But I don’t grieve for them. I can’t think about what I’ve done, not now. Not when we’re still in so much danger.
Cal is the first to turn his back on Wolliver’s swaying body. He has his own parade of dead faces, and doesn’t want to add another ghost to the march. “We need to keep moving.”
“No—” Farley leans hard against the wall. She presses a hand to her mouth, gulping in disgust, trying not to throw up again.
“Easy,” Shade says, putting a steadying hand on her shoulder. She tries to wave him off, but he stands firm, watching her spit into the garden flowers. “We needed to see this,” he adds, burning a righteous glare at Cal and me. “This is what happens when we fail.”
His anger is justified. After all, we sparked a firefight in the heart of Harbor Bay, wasting the last hour of Wolliver’s life, but I’m too tired to let him berate me.
“This isn’t the place for a lesson,” I reply. This is a grave, and even speaking here feels wrong. “We should take him down.”
Before I can take a step toward Wolliver’s corpse, Cal hooks one arm in mine, steering me in the opposite direction. “Nobody touch the body,” he growls. He sounds so much like his father it shocks me.
“The body has a name,” I snarl when I collect myself. “Just because his blood isn’t your color doesn’t mean we can leave him like that!”
“I’ll get him,” Farley grumbles, pushing off her knees.
Shade moves with her. “I’ll help.”
“Stop! Wolliver Galt had a family, didn’t he?” Cal presses on. “Where are they?” He casts his free hand around at the garden, gesturing to the empty trees and shuttered windows looking down on us. Despite the distant echoes of a city marching on toward nightfall, the square is still and quiet. “Certainly his mother wouldn’t leave him here alone? Are there no mourners? No officers to spit on his body? Not even a crow to pick his bones? Why?”
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