Nothing was ever simple. We got out of my house—I didn’t even feel the need to look back. My family could reap what they’d sowed if the king came after them. I felt no sympathy for people who could sell their own son.
But we’d only gone a few streets before guards began stomping down the main thoroughfare. I pulled Teddy with me into an alley as six passed us, their boots thudding against the cobbles. When it fell quiet, I slowly peeked my head around the corner of the building.
They’d left a guard at the four-way guidepost. There was no way we could pass him without being questioned. We’d have to try and make our way out of the city via the warren of alleys. Wildman would’ve really come in handy; he seemed to have an innate sense of direction, but there was no way I could risk taking Teddy near the theater. It was too close to the palace, and even making our way to the city edges was fraught with danger. Luckily the nails on the guards’ boots made their steps echoingly loud in the quiet city not yet woken for the day.
We weren’t just trying to escape the guards, we were racing the dawn. I’d slid a lightened pack on Teddy’s shoulders, careful with his injured one, but mine was even more heavily laden to compensate, plus he still needed my support and guidance. The added distance and time we spent avoiding the guards was wearing on me.
Exhaustion led to haste when we finally neared the entrance to the tunnel that would let us out of this crazy city. I took one step out of the alley, nearly to the edge of the pool of light emitted by the sign post, but then Teddy’s boot snagged on something. I stumbled sideways into the building, unable to catch myself before I scraped my cheek on the rough stone.
The sudden flare of the light reflecting off a blade kept me frozen against the building.
I eased backward and slumped against the wall, panting as my heart raced. I looked into Teddy’s eyes. Had he stopped me on purpose? Was he still in there? I couldn’t really tell. My face was burning, and warmth was dripping down the site. I’d have to let it bleed, though, because the sun was nearing the top of the wall, and we’d lose the wells of shadow keeping us safe.
Had he heard us? I grabbed Teddy and started backtracking. I paused once, when I thought I heard footsteps, but there was nothing. It took six alleys to get around that one square, but we were finally at the entrance to the tunnel. I’d hoped to find Wildman here, but he was nowhere in sight.
We couldn’t wait for him in the city, and I was reaching the end of my endurance. Worse, since the machine drained me, I could barely make the lantern I’d packed flicker bright enough to keep from stumbling over rocks or into holes.
We’d only made it about a quarter of the way into the more natural rocky tunnel when my strength gave out. My right leg buckled under Teddy’s weight, and we went down. I lost my wind when I landed on a smooth rock, bruising my ribs. I gasped for air, shuddering.
I groped in the darkness for Teddy, and he was still beside me, on his stomach. The lantern went out the second I dropped it, so I was forced to crawl in a circle until I felt the cool metal of the base under my hands.
My head was bloody, my ribs ached, Teddy had a gash on one hand that I bound with a handkerchief and bruises probably littered his body under his skin. Worse, not even the fall had brought him back to me.
I had never felt more alone.
My grunts was muffled by the stone all around us as I maneuvered Teddy against the rock wall and then snuggled against him. I just needed a short rest.
A sound brought me upright. Teddy slumped into my lap, and I held my hand up, blocking the blinding light. My eyes burned, and I blinked rapidly to clear them. “Who’s there?”
“Bad sleep. Go now.”
I blinked, wiping the tears. “Wildman? Is that you?”
“Not me sleeping.”
The shock of going from asleep in the dark to the bright light finally eased, and I could make him out, holding the lantern. I ran my hand over Teddy’s head, smoothing back his hair and checking his face. His eyes were open.
“Teddy? You awake?” He blinked, but didn’t reply. What had I done to him? I cursed myself viciously. “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.” I would find a way to bring him back from whatever had happened to his mind.
“Go now. Bad men follow. They die in jungle.”
Damn. “Thank you for helping us, Wildman.”
He shrugged. “Leaving now.” He turned.
“Wait! Help me get Teddy up. You’re taking us with you, right?” I’d find a way to make it out there on our own, but our odds of surviving went up significantly if Wildman would let us stay with him.
He shrugged, but he put one arm under Teddy’s shoulder. I expected to have to take more of the weight, but once again Wildman surprised me with his strength, heaving Teddy up before I even got to my feet.
Our pursuers weren’t that close behind if Wildman kept the light going that bright… and didn’t that just answer and raise even more questions about him. He had to be a Beta to have that much power, and he knew about the machine. Had they drained him like they had the twins? Had he escaped before it drained him fully?
Or did his power come back? I desperately latched on to the hope it was the last one.
Now on to other flashers!