I wanted nothing more than to stay in bed with Teddy, but that wasn’t going to happen. We dressed in dark clothing, saying nothing until I noticed Teddy left his sling off.
“You need to wear that.”
“Will, we’re sneaking into the palace to find Shvesla’s machine in order to destroy it. Who knows what will happen? I’ll be careful, but I may need to use both arms. We’re already stuck going in there alone; it’s a risk I’m willing to take.”
Arguing with him would waste precious time, even if I didn’t want to admit that he was right. “Be very careful,” I cautioned him.
We used the servant entrance in order to sneak out again. “I wish we could get a transport, but we’ll have to make our way to the theater on foot.”
“It’s fine. We had a good nap earlier.”
The city was a different place when we were trying to hide from everyone. I’d grown up blindly believing that we were safe, even lucky, to be living there. I’d only seen what I wanted to. We didn’t have to deal with the danger those unfortunate beings who’d been outside when nature took over and the world became inimical for humans.
Of course, it turned out the toxins and mutated creatures out there weren’t alone in viewing the people of the city as prey. How long before this had started happening? Before we’d turned on our own? Were humans any better than the creatures outside the city? At least all they wanted to do was survive.
We were crossing an alley when a hand reached out and yanked me back into the blackness far beyond the edges of the city lights. It clung, even when I tried to shake it off. Focusing, I sent a wave of my will to force my attacker to a stop.
It didn’t work.
That had never happened.
“Not hurting you.”
I stopped trying to pull away. “Wildman?”
“Yes.” He let me go. “Bad city.”
“How did you find us?” Teddy asked.
“Following you easy.”
“You’ve been following us since we got back?”
“Off and on.”
“Why?” How’d we miss him? It wasn’t like Wildman blended in with anyone.
“Bad machine. You need help. I can help.”
I stared at the slight shine of his eyes, the only thing I could see. He’d followed us for days, and was just now approaching us? “Why not let us know you were here before?”
“You alone now. Hiding from the lights.”
So he’d noticed that we were trying to stay hidden. Who else had noticed? “Is there someone following us, besides you?”
“Before. Not now.”
Teddy put a hand on my shoulder, and I leaned into him. “What do you mean before?” he asked.
“I stopped him.”
“You stopped him. Is he dead?”
Wildman didn’t say anything. Maybe that silence was indicative that he’d killed a man and didn’t even care. If someone was following us, he was probably in the employ of Sir Varket, so I couldn’t feel bad no matter what had happened.
“We need to go, Will.”
“I know.” This was a whole different world than the jungle outside the city, but considering Wildman had followed us for days, and I hadn’t noticed a thing, he would be handy when it came to sneaking into the palace. “Are you coming with us?” I asked him.
The theater was dark. After Wildman showed up, I half-expected No Name and his friends. We weren’t that lucky, but then it might be better anyway. We were going for stealth. I carefully helped Teddy get down the rope into the room below the theater floor. I expected Wildman to slither right down, but he jumped over the rope and straight down, landing lightly on his feet.
Every step through the tunnel toward the palace ratcheted up the tension. We crept along until we reached the end. This was the first moment of truth. If our actions had been discovered, the cell would be full of guards waiting for us.
I held my breath as I slid the slab of slate up and across the floor, wincing at the loud scrape. I peeked out and let out a breath of relief. “All clear,” I whispered.
The skeleton was still propped up against the wall. Wildman stared at it and then bowed. We didn’t have time, and it wasn’t the place, to ask him why he’d just bowed at a pile of bones.
“Key.” Teddy handed me the key he’d stashed in the inner pocket of his coat. I had to press tight to the bars and stretch my arm across at an awkward angle to get it in the lock, but with a hard turn and a loud clunk, the door unlocked and swung open. I stumbled, but managed to stay on my feet.
“Should we take the other keys?”
“We might need them.” Teddy grabbed the ring with the remaining keys off the wall, but they kept clanking in his pocket. We split them up and each took two.
The big door we’d seen the last time we entered the tunnels was still shut tight, but thankfully didn’t need a key. It did take both me and Wildman to open the thick slab. It hadn’t been opened in a long time. The dust on the other side of the tunnel was even thicker than it was in the cell, and the edges made a wide swath of in the buildup.
“At least we know there probably won’t be any guards,” I whispered.
Wildman sniffed and wrinkled his nose, but he pushed me aside to take the lead. I didn’t argue with him. Following directly behind him, holding up the lamp I lit just enough to make a small circle of light around us, we snuck along the hall… until it branched.
“Now what do we do?”
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