“Hello, William. I am glad you’re all right, and that we could save you before you were returned to the city. How’s your neck?”
“It’ll be fine.” The raw weals stung, but were so far down on my list of things to care about, it wasn’t even humorous. I snapped my mouth shut on the words I wanted to say about their supposed rescue. “Teddy was hurt when we destroyed Shvesla’s machine. He has a damaged shoulder, and he’s recovering mentally. He can’t walk on his own.”
Anna gestured to two men who faded into the darkness. “We can carry him. What about you?”
I crossed my arms over my chest. “I’ll be fine.”
“I’m sure of it.” Anna raised an eyebrow. “But you’ve done something no one has come close to, not in a hundred years. You stopped the corruption in the city, single-handedly.”
“No one could’ve done that alone. I had help.” Not from you, I wanted to say, but I didn’t. Recent events had taught me the virtue of picking and choosing my moments to speak my mind.
“Let us help you now. Do you need some food? Something to drink?”
“I am thirsty,” I conceded.
A metal flask was thrust toward me by a guard. I unscrewed the cap and tried to take a subtle sniff of the contents.
I took a cautious sip, then a long drink, tipping my head back and swallowing over and over until the flask was empty. The water was warm, but it soothed the rasp in my throat. It took me a minute to catch my breath after I finished drinking.
The men sent off by Anna soon came back with two long poles, cut fresh, with rope woven between them and set it right next to Teddy. “Be careful,” I said as they reached to shift Teddy to the litter. I reached for his arm, bracing it across his chest as they moved him.
“We should go. We need to move away from the city.” Anna’s word was apparently law, as we were trooping back under the trees in minutes. She latched onto my arm, keeping me with her. Since she walked in the center of the group, just behind the litter carrying Teddy, I didn’t object. Varket was at the rear of the group, a gag in his mouth after he refused to stop running it.
“Tell me what happened when you destroyed Shvesla’s machine. Don’t leave anything out.”
“It’s a long story,” I said.
She made a rude sound in her throat. “We have a long walk.”
Long walk didn’t even cover it. It took us the whole day to reach the husk of a city where Anna ruled her group of survivors. The only thing I could do was collapse in the bed beside Teddy’s limp body. I rolled toward him, burying my face against his shoulder. We were dirty, and sweat stained my underclothes, but I was too exhausted to care.
“Love you, Teddy.”
An arm was draped over my stomach and a warm body was pressed against my back. I froze. “Teddy?”
“Mmm…?” His breath swept across my neck, and I shivered.
Hope stole my breath. I flipped over, and wrapped my arms around him, yanking him close.
“Ow!” he objected sleepily. “Too tight. I’m still tired.”
“You’ve rested enough.” I pressed my forehead tight to his, staring into Teddy’s eyes which were staring right back at me. “I was scared I lost you forever,” I whispered. I let out a shuddery breath, blinking away the tears that would take away the one thing I wanted to see more than anything else in the world.
“I’d never leave you, not for anything.”
“There almost wasn’t a choice.” We’d had so many close calls, but we’d persevered.
“What happened? Where are we?” Teddy inched closer to me. “Are we safe?”
“Yeah.” I rubbed my hand up and down his back. “We’re outside the city. Wildman found us in the tunnel, but then Varket followed us. He captured you and me, but Wildman escaped again and somehow brought Anna and a bunch of men. They killed the guards, took Varket into custody for his crimes against the Betas and Gammas who’d managed to survive Schvesla’s machine.”
“I remember things falling, but did we….”
“No one will ever steal the power from a Beta or Gamma again,” I promised him. “You did it.”
Teddy let out a huge sigh and smiled. “We did it.”
“We did.” I smiled back. “And we’re still together.”
“So what do we do now?”
“Well, right now we’re back in Anna’s clutches. I know you liked her before, but there was a lot she didn’t tell us, and some outright lies even.”
His smile turned down into a grimace. “I don’t like her that much. She didn’t encourage us to go back and take down the king’s control over the city, but we could’ve gotten killed because of her. What are our other options?”
“Wildman pulled his disappearing act again, but said he’d meet us here tomorrow, up at that roof window we used to escape last time. We stay, or we go with him.”
“Live in the jungle? I don’t know how good I’d be at that. How would we get food?”
“You’ll sing for your supper… and anything else.” I winked.
Teddy snorted. “You know I can’t sing.”
I reached down and palmed one of his cheeks, squeezing it through the thin barrier of his small clothes. “Well then I guess chocolate and pastries are not in your future. Though, maybe there’s something else you could do….”
He arched into my touch, licking his lips with his eyes half-lidded, but then his expression smoothed out as he turned serious. “I don’t care, you know? I’ll live in the jungle with you, if that’s what you want, even if we end up eating roots and drinking tea made from bark.”
Now more flashers!!