I fly through the rain, eyes narrowed in determination. I guess this is where the storm moved to. Figures.
Eva and Jeter are locked in what used to be called the Tower of London. It's my job to sneak past the guards, probably steal some keys, and break Eva and Jeter out with anyone noticing us – well, that's the plan, anyway.
The Tower looms in front of me. This is it, then. I try to calm my nerves, although I still bite my lip as I move over to a window. It's locked, but Quigley taught me how to unlatch them with a thin piece of metal. I just hope it works.
After a few moments, I exhale sharply in relief as it comes unlocked with a slight click. I open the window as quietly as I can and climb through, folding my wings to my back as I do so.
The stone corridor is empty, but not for long, judging by the sound of footsteps coming around the corner. I quickly step into an alcove, disappearing into the shadows.
The person – most likely a guard – walks on by without a glance in my direction, and I slip out and continue to walk silently, searching for my friends. Quigley gave me a vague idea of where they'd be, but right now that isn't much help.
I search for what seems like hours, avoiding guards and trying to be as silent as possible. Then I hear a sound that makes my heart lurch; a small, teary whisper.
I spin around. There's Eva, behind a wooden door, peering out of the tiny barred window. "Eva!" I gasp, almost forgetting to keep my voice down as I rush over to her. "Just hold on. I'm going to get you out of there, okay?" then, with my heartbeat quickening and an odd flutter in my stomach, I add, "Is – is Jeter in there with you?"
Her tiny hand slides out between the bars towards me as I come over, and she nods. Her face is all grimy, except for where tears have left pale streaks. "Jeter, Lucia's here," she whispers tremulously.
I hear him speak from within the cell. "You're just imagining, Eva," he says gently. Then his voice turns hard as steel and cold as ice. "She betrayed us. She's certainly not coming to save us."
I lean closer to the door. "I'm here, Jeter," I say, my voice low and rough and full of pain. "I'm here."
I hear a jingle of chains, and Jeter mutters to himself, "Great, now I'm hallucinating too." He groans softly, and Eva sniffles.
"But she is here," she whispers, but she doesn't sound quite so confident.
I press my forehead to the door, linking my fingers with Eva's outstretched ones. "If I wasn't real, I couldn't touch you," I murmur to her. Then I raise my voice a little so Jeter can hear. "If I betrayed you – if you really hate me so much – why would you hallucinate me being here, Jeter LeFay?"
"So I could have the satisfaction of telling you off, maybe," he retorts, although I can now hear the effort he's taking to speak. He shifts with the grating of iron against stone, and groans again. Eva glances at him, wincing, and clings onto my hand so tightly that her knuckles turn white.
"Jeter! Are you hurt?!" I say, panicked. "Listen, I'm going to get you out of there." I gently extract my hand from Eva's grasp and pull out the bit of metal I used to unlatch the windows. I'm about to slide it into the lock when I hear a voice behind me, making me freeze.
"I wouldn't do that, if I were you."
Eva lets out a startled, fearful gasp, stumbling away from the window. I whirl around, but I'm thoroughly shocked to see that the owner of the voice is… a boy. My age. Maybe even a little younger. He has dark brown eyes and shaggy light brown hair that darkens near the tips, with two slightly longer pieces in the front.
"Who are you supposed to be?" I say.
He scoffs. "You're asking me that?! Really?!" His eyes flash.
"Yeah, I am. Cause you must be really, really important if you're a guard," I say, smirking. "You look barely sixteen."
"Oh yeah? Same to you. I guess the best the Outlaws could scrape up is one overly-confident girl to execute a prison break, eh?" His hands begin to glow like fire, and I can feel the heat coming from them.
My eyes widen. "I chose to come because nobody else was crazy enough to," I retort, trying not to show my surprise.
"Well. I actually agree with that," he says, stepping forward, a ball of fire forming in his hands. I back up to the door.
Suddenly the door opens behind me, and I fall backwards. Eva rushes out, straight for the boy, pushing him back onto the stone wall of the hallway with her hands on her chest. She's not getting burned at all. "You don't mess with my friends," she seethes, glaring at him.
I stand up, staring. "How did you…?!"
"I don't know," she admits, but keeps him pinned.
I move closer. "You know, kid, you're kind of cute," I say, smirking again. "Well, you would be if you weren't evil – and if my affections weren't already taken." I glance at Eva. "Want me to knock him out?" I offer.
She steps aside gratefully, her cheeks red. "Thank you."
I punch him hard in the jaw – with my human hand, not the metal-fingered one – and he falls, unconscious. I immediately spin around and run into the cell, dropping to my knees beside Jeter.
He's chained against the wall. "You're not real," he tells me hazily. He has a nasty bruise above his left eye from when he was struck by the guard's weapon, and his shirt is torn. There's a dark, wet patch on the wall and floor where he must have been sitting before he moved.
I lean in and press my lips to his for several seconds before pulling back. "Yes, I am," I say, then turn to look at the doorway. "Eva, bring me that kid's keys, will you?"
"Sure," she replies.
Jeter stares at me, mouth halfway open. "Now I know I'm hallucinating," he mumbles.
I roll my eyes, although my heart feels like it's going to beat right out of my chest and I'm sure my face is bright red. Eva brings me the keys and I start unlocking his chains. "That was real, I assure you," I say quietly. "Why would you imagine me kissing you? Me of all people? You hate me."
"Not true," he manages to gasp before slumping forward as I undo his chains. Then I see his back and realize what those dark patches are. Blood. His. His entire back is torn up with gashes, his shirt barely hanging in threads, soaked in blood.
I let out a soft wail. "Jeter!" I turn to look at Eva, eyes wide with panic and fear. "We have to get out of here."
"I came in through a window, but I don't think that will work for all of us again," I say.
"Then what are we going to do? Escape in a supplies wagon?"
"I don't think that'll work," I say, frowning. "We need some sort of a diversion."
"Okay…" Eva begins slowly. "I'll distract everybody while you escape with Jeter."
"No!" I say quickly. "No, Eva, you'll get caught again. I'm not letting that happen." I stand up and hug her tightly.
She clings to me. "But –" she begins. However, she's interrupted by the city-wide alarms. She looks up at me. "Well, that's convenient."
I smile. "No. It's Quigley."
"Ugh, I suppose we'll have to take flame boy," I say, making a face as I look at the unconscious boy lying on the ground. "He's not really that cute, but he knows too much. You think you can drag him or something, Eva? I'll carry Jeter."
Eva nods and steps over to him, grabbing his hands and starting to drag him. She seems to manage, although when we come to the stairs she bangs his head on every one. "Oops! Sorry!" she whispers with every thud.
Jeter's skinny and fairly light, so he's not that hard to carry – although he's completely limp. I extend my wings just slightly and hover down the stairs behind Eva, making sure she's not looking.
The boy's shoe gets caught on something, and Eva pulls with all her might before letting go – dropping him on his face without realizing it – and going over to free his shoe. Then she gets back to dragging him. That kid is going to have one heck of a headache. I cringe in sympathy for him, even if he is evil, and a jerk, and scary besides – I mean, shooting fire out of his hands!
At least it's not storming anymore. We leave the tower cautiously, even though it's deserted, and start to make our way back to the Outside. We meet up with Quigley about halfway, and explain all that happened, and – thankfully – he takes over carrying the boy. It's well past sunset by the time we reach home.
I carry Jeter upstairs carefully, and Eva follows. I lay him down on his cot and, face red, pull off the tattered remains of his shirt. I stare at the deep, jagged cuts scarring his back and wince. I don't even know where to start.
Fortunately, Eva does. She boils water and fetches clean cloths and some sort of herbal salve. Quigley helps her, after securing the boy onto the bedpost with what he calls 'handcuffs'.
"Here," Eva says, handing a damp cloth to me.
I lightly begin to clean the cuts, hoping Jeter won't wake up while I'm doing this. When I've finished I take the salve and begin to gently rub it in with my fingers.
"D'you think he'll be okay?" Eva asks worriedly.
"He should be," I reply softly, finishing and leaning back to look at her.
"He will be," Quigley reassures us. He tips his hat. "I'll check on you in the morning." With that, he leaves.
I look at Jeter. "I hope he'll be okay," I whisper.
Suddenly I hear a moan from behind me and glance over at the bed to see the boy opening his eyes. "Where am I?" he groans.
"So you're awake, flame boy," I say.
Flame boy glowers. "Don't call me that."
"Why not?" I say, grinning.
He just rolls his eyes.
Eva goes over to him, standing just out of reach. "Hello," she says. "What's your name, then?"
He looks at her, and his dark brown eyes soften just a little. "Emerson," he says.
"I'm still going to call you flame boy," I say, and he glares at me wordlessly.
"Nice to meet you, Emerson," Eva says cheerfully. "I'm Eva, and that's my brother Jeter." Then she looks at me expectantly.
I scowl. "I'm Lucia," I mutter.
Emerson nods. "And where am I?" he asks Eva.
"The Outside," she says simply. "This is our house."
He shifts slightly and winces. "Oh, my head." His jaw is bruised where I punched him to knock him out, and I'm sure his head is aching from when Eva dragged him down the stairs.
"Oh, sorry, that may be my fault," she says. "There were stairs."
He flinches again, teeth clenched. "You could've been a little gentler," he says. "Or at least tried to, anyway."
"I did try!" she protests. "But you're heavy!"
"He's probably not that heavy," I put in. "you're just small."
Eva crosses her arms and glares at both of us. "I'm not that small," she huffs.
"Just a bit," I say. Then I get up and walk over to Emerson, crouching beside him and looking at him earnestly.
He gives a little start. "You're a cyborg. The cyborg. The first one to successfully escape from the Inside in years – decades, even."
"Yes, and she's not going back," Eva says, chin raised slightly. "She's an Outsider now."
"You're also the one who activated her microchip and led the Insiders here to capture those two," he says, gesturing to Eva and Jeter.
I glare at him, my eyes filling with tears. "Shut up!" I say, turning and walking out the door. I hurry down the steps and stand on the grass outside. A few tears slide down my cheeks, and I wipe them away roughly.
I look up, and when the clouds part I catch sight of a few bright stars. A sob escapes me. It's hard to believe that was only two days ago. So much has changed since then, I can hardly even keep track of it. Now Jeter is badly wounded and hates me, we've got an Insider handcuffed to the bed, and – to be honest, I'm surprised that Eva doesn't hate me too. 'She will,' I tell myself. 'Just give her time to realize what you did.'
I sink to the ground, and look up as it begins to rain.