“We shouldn’t split up,” Teddy said.
“I agree, but which way do we go? We don’t have an unlimited amount of time. At least we won’t get lost.” Our footprints left a clear path behind us in the layer of dust.
“This way.” Wildman didn’t even wait for us to discuss it, he just plunged ahead down the right corridor.
“Does this seem like the right way?” I whispered to Teddy as we trailed him.
“Right way,” Wildman said.
Teddy shrugged. “I don’t know where we are under the palace, but we’re definitely still on the grounds somewhere. He seems to know where to go, and it’s better than just picking a turn at random.”
Since we began this journey, my emotions had been all over the place. Excitement and pride as I planned to follow in Schvesla’s footsteps, horror and betrayal when we realized what was truly going on, gratitude and pleasure I’d never felt before after Teddy and I moved into an intimate relationship, to anger and frustration when our every plan was thwarted by those who care too little.
The emotional upheaval was exhausting.
It was a relief to have the end in sight, as it were. “We have to be close.” My heart was beginning to pound. “Is your arm okay?”
“Fine.” Teddy rested his good hand on the hilt of the short word tucked into a silenced scabbard at his side. He cradled his other arm against his stomach. We’d taken unobtrusive weapons, but I had a pistol as well, as a last resort. My ability was a far more effective—and silent—method of personal protection, but it wouldn’t work at a distance or on more than two or three people at a time, so I focused on keeping the lantern bright enough to light our way but not blind us or give away our position.
The corridor took an abrupt turn. Wildman dropped to his belly and cautiously peeked around the corner. He crawled backward and then stood up. He spread his arms. “Big room.”
“This has to be it,” Teddy whispered. “Did you see anyone?”
He shook his head.
“What about a machine?” I leaned forward, anxious to hear the answer.
“It has to be it. There’s nothing else worth hiding down here.”
“Let’s check it out, but be careful,” I cautioned them.
We crept out into a round chamber. The ceiling was high, extending in the shadows beyond our sight, great metal tubes pushing upward from the contraption sitting on a raised dais in the middle of the floor. I paused, staring at the machine in front of me I’d only ever read about in books.
“This is it,” Teddy said. Wildman prowled around to the back of the machine.
“It is.” I went in the opposite direction. “But these aren’t supposed to be part of it.”
There were two cables running from the machine to two bulky man-shaped metal cages. They were… chilling. I know what they were used for. Evil.
“We have to destroy them.” Teddy was standing next to me, and I swayed back, leaning into him for a brief moment. “The machine has to be destroyed too, but how?”
My first plan had just been to physically destroy it. But what if they rebuilt it? It was too big; we couldn’t just smash it to pieces.
“I think… I think we need to destroy it ourselves.” I turned and looked at Teddy. “I don’t know if it’s possible, but if we overload it, burn it out and all the wires through the city… they’d never be able to fix that. No one knows how to fix the cables Schvesla invented to transmit the Beta power.”
“What if it burns us out? Like the others?” Teddy was pale, and I understood his fear. Being a Beta was what I’d based my worth upon for so long; what if I didn’t have that anymore?
“We won’t be able to stay here any longer, and what good will it do us out there, outside the city? We can make it on our own because of who we are, together, and not depend on what we are.”
Teddy swallowed hard, and then nodded. “Let’s do it.”
“Wildman,” I called softly. He rounded the back of the machine, padding along on bare feet that didn’t make a sound on the rough stones. “Once we figure out where it is, we need you to flip the switch or press the button that will activate the cages. Can you do that?”
He shrugged, turning and walking back to the machine. He pointed to a set of cogs and a lever. “Here.”
Damn. He really was smarter than his appearance and speech led a person to believe. I wasn’t going to ask if he was sure; I knew he was.
“Okay.” I sucked in a breath and let it out slowly. “Here we go.”
“I think we should take off anything metal. We don’t want anything to spark.” I wasn’t sure if it would, but it was better to be safe than sorry. Teddy unstrapped his long knife and removed a small pistol I hadn’t known he was carrying. I set them on the floor in front of the cage, and then shut the door.
He shivered, gripping the front of it. I covered his fingers with mine. “You’ll be fine. We’ll be fine.”
Teddy nodded. “I love you.”
“Love you too.”
I went over to my cage. I unstrapped my long knife, but before I could set it down, echoing footsteps from booted feet startled me.
“Stop! What are you doing there?”
I spun. A guard stood at the other edge of the room, staring at us with huge eyes. His hand hovered over his weapon. Thankfully, my pistol was in my hand. I pointed it at his head. “What should’ve been done a long time ago.”
He took a step back.
“Take one more step, and I’ll shoot.”
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