“Didn’t your father ever teach you respect for your elders?” Ara crows at Ptolemus, stepping neatly under another blade. The next one she pulls out of the air, and tosses it back at him. An impressive but useless trick, as he waves it off with a curled smirk. “Well, Red, aren’t you going to do something?” she adds, toeing my leg.
I stare at her, stunned for a moment. Then I clamber to my feet, forcing myself to stand. A little bit of my terror disappears. “With pleasure, my lady.”
At the end of the corridor, Ptolemus’s grin widens. “Now to finish what my sister started in the arena,” he growls.
“What your sister ran from,” I call back, directing a bolt at his head. He throws himself sideways, against the wall, and in the time it takes him to recover, Ara closes the distance between them and leaps, kicking off the tile wall. Using the momentum, she breaks Ptolemus’s jaw with her elbow.
I follow and, judging by the pounding footsteps behind me, I’m not the only one.
Fire and lightning. Mist and wind. Metal rain, curling darkness, explosions like tiny stars. And bullets, always bullets, close behind. We move forward through the battle storm, praying for an end to this prison, following the map we all did our best to memorize. It should be here, no here, no here. In the mist and shadows, it’s easy to get lost. And then there’s Gareth, always spinning the bounds of gravity, sometimes doing more harm than good. When we finally find the entrance hall, the room with red and silver and black doors, I’m bruised all over again, and my strength is fading fast. I don’t even want to think about the others, Julian and Sara, who could barely walk earlier. We need to get in the open. To the sky. To the lightning that can save us all.
Outside, the sun has risen. Ara and Ptolemus continue their visceral dance as the Wash looms, a gray haze on the horizon. I only have eyes for the Blackrun and the other jet idling on the runway. A crowd swarms around the crafts, newblood and Silver alike, boarding everything within reach. Some disappear into the fields, hoping to escape on foot.
“Shade, get him to the jet,” I yell, grabbing Cal by the collar as we run. Before he can protest, Shade does as instructed, and jumps him a hundred yards away. I can always count on Shade to understand; Cal is one of our only two pilots. He cannot die here, not when we’re so close to getting away. We need him to fly, and fly well. A split second later, Shade returns, wrapping his arms around Julian and Sara. They disappear with him, and I breathe a small sigh of relief.
I call on everything I have left, down to the deepness of my bones. It makes me slow, makes me weak, taking my will, and turning it into something stronger. To my delight, the sky darkens.
Kilorn stops next to me, his rifle tucked against his shoulder. He shoots with precision, picking off our pursuers one by one. Many men step in front of the queen, protecting her, whether by their own volition or hers. She’ll be within range soon, of both my ability—and her own. I have only one chance.
It happens in slow motion. I glance at the two Silvers locked in battle between me and the jets. A long, thin blade, like a giant needle, cuts through Ara’s neck, spilling a silver fountain. Ptolemus spins with the momentum, directing it through her, at me. I move to duck, expecting what I think is the worst.
I can’t possibly see what’s coming.
Only one person could. Jon. He walked away from all this. He let this happen. He didn’t want to warn us. He didn’t care.
Shade appears in front of me, intending to take me away from all this. Instead, he gets a cruel, gleaming needle through his heart. He doesn’t realize what’s happening. He doesn’t feel any pain. He dies before his knees hit the ground.
I don’t remember anything else until we’re in the air. My face runs with tears but I can’t wipe them away. I stare at my hands, painted in both colors of blood.
This is not the Blackrun.
Instead, Cal pilots a massive cargo jet, built to carry heavy transports or machinery. Now the cargo bay holds over three hundred escaped prisoners, many injured, all shell-shocked. Most are newbloods, but there are also Silvers among them, keeping to themselves, biding their time. For today at least, they all look the same, cloaked in rags, exhaustion, and hunger. I don’t want to go down to them, so I stick to the upper level of the jet. At least it’s quiet in this section, separated from the bay by a narrow stairwell, and from the cockpit by a closed door. I can’t make myself move past the two bodies at my feet. One lies beneath a white sheet, stained only by the blossom of red blood over his pierced heart. Farley kneels over him, frozen, a hand under the sheet to clutch my brother’s cold, dead fingers. The other corpse I refuse to cover.
Elara looks ugly in death. Lightning twisted her muscles, pulling her mouth into a sneer even she couldn’t muster while alive. Her simple uniform is cooked to her skin, and her ash-blond hair is almost gone, burned away until only stringy patches remain. The other bodies, her guards, were just as deformed. We left them rotting on the runway. But the queen is still unmistakable. Everyone will know this corpse. I’ll make sure of it.
“You should go lie down.”
The body unsettles Kilorn, that much is clear. I don’t know why. We should be dancing on her bones. “Let Sara check you out.”
“Tell Cal to change course.”
He blinks at me, perplexed. “Change course? What are you talking about? We’re going back to the Notch, back home—”
Home. I scoff at such a childish word. “We’re going back to Tuck. Tell him, please.”
He doesn’t move. “Have you gone crazy? Do you remember what happened back there, what the Colonel will do to you if you come back?”
Crazy. I wish. I wish my mind would snap from the torture my life has become. That would be such a relief, to simply go mad. “He can certainly try. But there are too many of us now, even for him. And when he sees what I bring him, I doubt he’ll refuse us this time.”
“The body?” he breathes, visibly shaking. It’s not the corpse scaring him, I realize quietly. It’s me. “You’re going to show him the body?”
“I’m going to show everyone.” Again, firmer. “Tell Cal to change course. He will understand.”
The jab stings Kilorn, but I don’t care. He hardens, drawing back to do as I tell him. The cockpit door shuts behind him, but I barely notice. I’m preoccupied with more important things than petty insults. Who is he to question my orders? He’s no one. A fish boy with only good luck and my foolishness to protect him. Not like Shade, a teleporter, a newblood, a great man. How can he be dead? And he is not the only one. No, there are certainly others left to make the prison their tomb. We’ll only know when we land, and can see who else escaped on the Blackrun. And we will be landing on the island compound, not trekking to some lonely, backwoods cave.
“Did your seer tell you about this?”
The first words Farley’s spoken since we left Corros. She hasn’t wept yet, but her voice sounds hoarse, as if she spent the last few days screaming. Her eyes are horrible, ringed with red, the irises a vivid blue.
“That fool, Jon, who told us to do this?” she continues, turning to face me. “Did he tell you Shade would die? Did he? I suppose that was an easy price for the lightning girl to pay, so long as it meant more newbloods for you to control. More soldiers in a war you have no idea how to fight. One measly brother for more followers to kiss your feet. Not a bad trade, was it? Especially with the queen thrown in. Who cares about a dead man no one knows, when you could have her corpse?”
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