Rebel Grey

Rebel Grey, a Dystopian Teen Fantasy Chapter Seven

Chapter Seven

Meanwhile, in the treacherous streets of Razor City…

Dante followed the winding path through the shadows and back alleys of Razor City. His heart thumped. He wished he had a weapon. In the darkness behind an old, dilapidated tenement building, he knelt and searched the debris. He didn’t find a knife or a gun, but he found a large, jagged rocked amongst the torn newspapers and trash. It would have to do.

He avoided the main streets, even in the city center. Marshals in scarlet suits patrolled, hassling the citizens who passed by or standing around in small groups, chatting and laughing. Even if the Marshals weren’t behind his attack and the attack on the compound, he didn’t think showing his face to them was wise. He’d seen them in action. He knew what they were really like now.

He needed to remember. If he could just remember…Part of him wanted to leave it all behind. He remembered just enough to know plenty of reasons why someone would want to kill him. He remembered enough to know exactly why there were many people who wanted to see him dead. His memories, the flashes of his life—they were horrible. Blood, misery–not his own misery. He’d been perfectly happy, but he’d caused so much unhappiness. He’d hurt and tormented so many people, and they all hated him for it. He didn’t really blame him. He was beginning to hate himself.

His father’s face, twisted and angry…The man in black in a dark alley with his hand raised to strike a killing blow…Petra…His mother. She’d been young and beautiful and sweet…His mother lying in a pool of blood…Elia…Blood…more blood. So, so much blood. A city of blood. A city of scarlet.

The flashes were coming fast and furious now. It was as though simply finding out his own name had broken the wall in his mind that had been keeping him from knowing himself. He didn’t want to remember. He didn’t want to know who he had been. He wanted to go back to Petra’s fairy tale. He wanted to be a lost child. He wanted to feel the way he’d felt when he was with her. He wanted to be innocent. He wanted Grey to be real. He didn’t want to know the truth. He didn’t want to know all the things he’d done and the people he had hurt.

Suddenly, as though wishing them away had only drawn them closer, the memories crashed over him in a terrible, disorienting rush. He cried out and clutched his head, falling against the dirty alley wall. Then it was all back. Every ugly, horrific moment.

The war, the terrible, bloody civil war that had torn the country apart…the moment the government had been destroyed and everything had gone dark until the fires started all hell had broke loose…the fighting and looting in the streets…his father tearing through the city, crushing anyone who got in his way on his rise to power…innocents shot dead in the streets…children crying over their parents’ dead bodies…himself accusing innocent men of treason and enjoying their fear as they faced a firing squad in the blood-soaked courtyard outside the King’s mansion…so much blood, always blood everywhere…the Uprising spreading through the people like a silent, deadly predator, evidence of their influence appearing in every corner of the city…so many nights drinking…the women, the people he had hurt and humiliated…his father shouting at him, his eyes filled with rage and shame for the corrupted, wicked young man his son had become…his father, always his father who was willing to kill him himself if he had to…

He didn’t want any of it. He begged to go back. He begged to be Grey again. Grey had been innocent. He hadn’t known any of the horrors and the endless tiny evils that Dante knew so well. He’d been so desperate to remember who he was, but now that he did, he would give anything to go back. At least when he’d been Grey, he hadn’t known what sort of person he truly was. There weren’t any of these images, these hideous nightmares that were his entire world. When he was Grey, there had been only longing and fear, and there had been Petra.

The person he was–the person Dante was–was disgusting.

The flood subsided, but the pain did not. He groaned and straightened up. He pictured Petra’s face. He’d cared for her. He’d genuinely cared for her, but he knew now that he hadn’t known her at all. She’d lied and manipulated him. Everything she’d told him had been to keep him quiet and contained until she could use him to get back her family and friends–the ones who had been falsely accused. The ones who shouldn’t even be locked up.

He pressed his hand to his forehead. He didn’t know what Petra was. He wondered if he would have done the same. Yes, he certainly would have. Dante would have done much, much worse. He had done much, much worse. Those people she’d been so desperate to save, for whom she was willing to do anything, were in prison because of him and his people.

He couldn’t really blame her for trying to use him to get them back.

Tears streaked down his cheeks. He took a hitching breath.

He knew everything now. And he knew Petra was the first person—the first thing–in his life that had made him feel safe and decent and loving since he’d lost his mother to Scarlet’s city of blood. Even if it had been all a lie.

***

Meanwhile, in the outlands…

“What do we know about Shaw?” Lux asked. She shot out a hand to press Petra back against an alley wall as two men with spiky hair passed by, laughing raucously.

Petra sighed and shook her head. “Not much. His parents were imprisoned for treason. Jayne brought him in about two months ago, said he found him hiding out in one of the burnt out houses in the outlands. He was beat up and looked like he hadn’t eaten in a few days.”

“Yeah, and since he got to the compound, he’s been acting like we owe him something.”

Petra considered. “He just wanted to be part of the inner circle.”

“Yeah, well, turning Dante in wasn’t the way to do it.”

“I never expected he would turn on us like that. If I had known…”

“I would have booted his traitor ass right out.”

Petra snorted. “Yeah, I think I would have, too. I would have taken any excuse.”

“So no ideas where he might be hiding out?”

She shook her head. “No. No ideas. As far as I knew, he didn’t have a friend in the world before he came to us. I don’t know where he could be. Probably hiding out in the outlands again.”

“He might’ve gotten paid enough for his information to be camped out in one of the hotels in the city center.”

“We could check.”

Lux snorted. “I don’t think we’ll have much success with that. I don’t see a desk clerk giving us guest room numbers.”

“Maybe your guy can get it for us.”

Lux shook her head. “If he knows about the hit on the compound we might not have to.”

“Why wouldn’t he?”

“Because it was the hunters who hit us, not the Marshals. Don’t you think the King would have sent his own people if he’d known where Dante was?”

Petra considered. “Did you find out anything about the guy who was leading them? The one who attacked Dante the first time?”

“A little. One of my contacts heard the call out for hunters, but she didn’t make the hit. She doesn’t go after kids.”

She scowled. Petra peered out into the street. It was clear. She tilted her head, and the girls ran across to the next alley. A pile of newspapers stirred. They jumped as an old, dirty man cursed furiously at them. They ignored him. “Who is he?” Petra demanded.

“His name’s Saer Dagon. No one knows that much about him. He doesn’t usually work with the hunters. He works for money up front.”

“He’s a hit man?”

“He does jobs for the King and the Nobles. Only people who can afford to pay him. He doesn’t pick up bounties. He solves problems.”

“So he was sent to kill Dante.”

“Maybe. I don’t know. He didn’t manage to do it the first time, so he might have had some other reason for going after him that night. He’s good. He’s the best. Even the hunters are afraid of him. They seem to think he’s something inhuman. Like he’s had some kind of augmentation or something. There are a lot of rumors.”

“What sort of augmentation?”

“To make him faster and stronger, I guess. He was in a coma during the war, and word is some mad scientist did experiments on him. When he woke up, he killed the doctor, left him all torn up in the lab. Then he went on a rampage and killed a bunch of the King’s men before they caught up to him. Scarlet didn’t imprison him, though; he hired him to do his dirty work.”

Petra frowned. “It sounds like a load of rubbish.”

“Yeah, I thought so too. He’s like a bounty hunter boogey man. Anyway, they’re sure he’s on some kind of drugs. He’s pretty much unstoppable when he’s juicing.”

Petra exhaled heavily. “And he’s after Dante?”

“Yeah, but like I said, he might not have been trying to kill him. The hunters seem to think that if he’s sent to kill you–you’re dead. You don’t get a second chance.”

“I think Dante took him by surprise. He remembered having a gun. He shot him.”

“From the sound of it, a little gunshot isn’t going to take this guy down. You saw him at the compound. He didn’t look like a bullet wound was slowing him down.”

Petra considered this. “If he’s the one after Dante, we need to find him.”

“Saer?” Lux sounded completely incredulous. “What do you think we’re going to do?”

“No, not Saer. Dante. We have to make sure he knows who this guy is.”

“Petra, that’s nuts. What do you think we’re going to do? Knock on the King’s palace doors and ask to see him? What are you going to tell them–you’re the girl who kidnapped him and now you want to warn him his life’s in danger? Come on.”

She sighed. Her chest ached. “I know it’s stupid.”

“Petra, we’ve already covered the outlands. He’s made it back to the city center. He’s probably back at his dad’s house now. You made a mistake when you lied to him, and now he’s gone. You have to let it go.”

“I thought you were on my side.”

“I was. I am. But now that he’s back with his father, there’s nothing we can do. I’m not going to let you go rushing into a bad situation because you have a crush.”

Petra glared at her. “I don’t have a crush.”

“Whatever. Come on. We’re here. Keep your guard up. This isn’t the Blade. This is the outlands. This club is rough.”

The Blade isn’t rough?”

Not like this.”

The entrance to the club was in an alley across the street. No one was outside. Even in the daylight, it looked sinister and dangerous. There wasn’t even a name over the beaten, peeling black door. Lux rapped once with her knuckles. A tall woman with long black hair and piercings in her nose and lip that connected with a thick, metal chain opened the door. Her eyes were sharp and suspicious. When she saw Lux, she nodded and stepped aside.

“Just keep your head down and let me do the talking,” Lux ordered. “This isn’t your average hunter. This is one of the King’s guys. If he gets caught talking to us or has any idea we had Dante, this could get ugly for all of us. He can’t be trusted.”

Petra nodded. The man they were meeting looked as though he was in his late twenties. He had dark hair combed back from his face. He was clean shaven and looked well-kept, as though he spent a lot of time tending to his appearance. He wasn’t handsome, but he had the look of a man who lived well.

He wasn’t wearing a scarlet suit. He was dressed in neat jeans and a long black coat. There was a bulge under his arm that Petra was certain was a weapon. In the outlands, he’d need one. He’d look extremely appetizing to muggers and outlaws.

He was sitting in a table in the corner. It was a quiet place. Soft music played over the speakers. Voices hummed in the dusty corners and at the long, beaten wooden bar on the far side of the room. There were only a few people in the bar this early in the day, but there was a breathless, cagey quality to the air, like the patrons might fly at each other at any moment like animals upon their prey. It was a good place to meet if you didn’t want anyone to come looking for you. Most people would have the good sense to stay away.

“Hello, Lux,” the Marshal greeted.

Lux inclined her head. “Raff.”

Raff’s eyes flicked to Petra. He didn’t ask who she was. He didn’t seem to care. He nodded to her and turned back to Lux. “You wanted to talk.”

“Yeah. You heard anything about the prince lately?”

Raff didn’t seem particularly interested in why she wanted to know. He didn’t even bat an eyelash. He shook his head. “No. He still hasn’t turned up.”

“What?” Petra exclaimed. Lux elbowed her in the ribs, and she snapped her mouth shut.

“I’m sorry I didn’t warn you the hunters were coming,” Raff told Lux with a frown. “I didn’t know.”

“You didn’t know?” Lux sounded surprised.

“No. None of us knew. We were all shocked when we heard the hunters crashed your compound. No one had even heard the tip he was there before they hit.”

Lux and Petra exchanged a frown. “The King didn’t know about it?”

“We don’t know if he knew. We just know we didn’t know. He didn’t send us.”

“It was Saer Dagon. He was leading the hunters.”

Raff’s eyebrows traveled up toward his neatly combed hair. “Saer? He was there?”

“Yeah. Any idea who would send him and why?”

“All he does is kill.”

“Who does he work for?”

“You know who he works for. I’ve seen him around the palace. He works for the King, as far as I know. We never know what he’s been hired to do until it’s happened. Sometimes we don’t even know then. He doesn’t come out for just anything. He’s the best. And he doesn’t fail.”

“He tried to kill the prince once,” Lux told him. “He failed.

Raff stared at her for several seconds. “You have to be mistaken.”

“Why?”

“If Saer went after the prince, he was sent by Scarlet.”

Petra’s breath caught. “Are you sure about that?”

“I’ve never heard of him working for anyone but the King’s people. No one else can afford him. But I don’t see a Noble hiring Saer behind the King’s back to kill his son. Saer isn’t loyal to anyone, but if someone wanted to go after the prince, they wouldn’t send an assassin that’s in the King’s pocket. The King would find out about it. Saer would tip him the moment he offered some cash or juice. None of the Nobles would take that risk, and no one else can afford him.”

Lux sat back in her seat. Her expression was blank, but Petra could see the flash in her dark eyes. “Do you know who our traitor talked to?”

“I don’t know. Like I said, I never heard about the hit until afterward. The Marshals were never involved. We didn’t hear a word about it until it was too late to do anything about it.”

“So you think the King might want to have the prince killed?”

Lux’s voice was soft, but Raff reacted as though she’d shouted it. He hissed out his breath through his teeth. “It isn’t safe to make those kinds of accusations about the King.”

“But you think he did!” Petra whispered.

He glared at her. Lux nudged her sharply in the ribs again. Raff scowled. “I’m not saying anything of the kind. I’m just saying that Saer works for the King. He works for other people, too.”

“We have to find him,” Petra hissed to Lux. “We can’t let him die.”

Lux glared at her incredulously, but Petra leapt to her feet before her friend could shush her again. She raced toward the door without looking back. Lux’s legs were longer, and she was in better shape. She caught Petra in the alley outside. “What the hell are you doing?” she demanded.

“I have to find him!”

Lux stared at her. “And how exactly do you intend to do that?”

“He isn’t in the palace. He’s still out there in the streets.”

“And you think we’re just going to find him? He could be anywhere. We don’t know anything about him! He could be hiding with a friend or some girl somewhere.”

Petra felt as though she’d been hit in the stomach. Lux was right. They didn’t know anything about Dante’s life. They didn’t know where he could be or who he would be with if he was in trouble. She shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. I have to try.”

Lux sighed. She reached out to catch Petra’s arm as she started away. “Wait.”

Petra spun angrily back to her. “What?”

“I have an idea.”

“What idea?”

“I have some friends. A network around the city. They are in most of the corners. If Dante shows his face somewhere, they’ll know.”

Petra perked up. “You’ll talk to them?”

“Yeah. I’ll talk to them. I’ll put them on the lookout.” She pulled her cell phone out of her pocket and punched in a message. She looked up at Petra. “It’s done.”

Petra frowned. “Is that safe?”

“Sure. I’ve been using them for years. I trust them.”

“We trusted Shaw, too. Grey trusted me.”

Lux patted her arm. “Things went horribly wrong, Petra. Suck it up. Get over it and move on.” She jerked her chin. “Come on. You should get back to the safe house and check on Key. There’s nothing else you can do.”

Petra hesitated. She wanted to dart out into the streets and begin knocking on every door until she found Dante and warned him about Saer and his father. That was stupid, though. Finally, she sighed and nodded in resignation. “You think they’ll find him?”

“If he’s out there to be found, they’ll find him, Petra. But right now, Key needs you.”

“Yeah, you’re right.” She dropped her forehead in her hands. “I hope Key’s all right.”

“He will be. You need to have a little faith.”

“I lost my faith a long time ago, Lux.”

“I know. That’s why we’re in this mess to begin with.”

***

Meanwhile, in the heart of Razor City…

The King’s mansion loomed over him. For a moment, Dante’s step faltered. There were men in scarlet suits stationed outside. He could step out into the light of the courtyard and command the men to take him inside to his father, to bring all of this to an end in a single, easy instant. He could become Prince Dante again. He could have it all back.

He didn’t step out into the light. He crept around the side of the mansion to the servant’s doors. There were no guards there. He’d used the entrance before, on nights when he’d slipped his bodyguards or spent the night somewhere he shouldn’t have and didn’t want his father’s watchdogs to rat him out.

The entrance wasn’t locked. It was never locked. Dante didn’t think his father and his people even remembered the servant’s entrance. No one had used it in years. In fact, he couldn’t remember a time anyone had used it. There were enough guards watching the perimeter around the house to keep any ill-intentioned citizens from even wandering close enough to find the unattended entrance.

Dante wasn’t a wandering citizen. He knew exactly how to sneak inside through the chinks in the guards’ armor. It was dark, but he’d navigated the steep, narrow stairs many times, usually drunk. He could find his room and slip inside before anyone noticed. He could probably hide in there for days without anyone realizing he’d ever come home. He didn’t know how long he’d been gone. Perhaps he could claim to have been there the entire time and simply gone unnoticed.

Yeah, right. He would have to answer to his father. He wasn’t sure what he was going to tell him. He could tell him the truth. He could have Petra and the innocent kids from the compound tossed in prison without a trial. He knew exactly where they were. He knew how to find them. They had committed a crime. They had kidnapped him. They’d lied to him. Petra had committed a crime. Kidnapped him. Lied to him.

But she and her people had protected him, too. They hadn’t given him to the hunters. They’d suffered terribly for it, but they hadn’t given him up. He didn’t know what to do. He hadn’t been telling the truth when he’d promised not to turn them in, but he wasn’t sure he meant to do it, either. He needed time to think. He needed time to decide who to trust. He needed time to understand what Petra and her people had meant to him in those few, blissfully ignorant days. He needed to know what they still meant to him.

He sensed movement in the dark; heard the faintest rustle of fabric. His eyes hadn’t adjusted to the darkness, but he felt the air change as something moved toward him. It was big, and it was fast. It hit him squarely in the chest. Dante staggered back down several stairs, but he didn’t fall. He caught the railing before he tumbled down to the stone floor below. He didn’t have to see the man to know who he was. He knew.

He felt rather than saw the man in black—the man from the alley and the compound–bracing for another attack. Tension crackled in the air. He heard the faintest intake of breath. Dante reached into his pocket. He hadn’t needed it in the streets. He hadn’t met any outlaws or muggers in the outlands or the city center, but he still carried the jagged rock that he’d picked up amongst the rubble in case trouble found him on his way to the palace. He wasn’t a match for a man who killed for a living, but he knew these stairs, and he had the home team advantage.

When his assailant rushed him again, Dante lifted the rock and struck out blindly at him. He made contact. The man in black grunted. The blow was only glancing, but it must have been startled him or stolen his breath because the assassin stopped moving.

Dante didn’t waste the brief seconds he had before the man came back to his senses. He rushed forward grabbed hold of his long, black coat to shove him toward the chilly stone floor. He heard the man hit the stairs as he fell. His attacker didn’t fall far; he must have caught himself on the rail. Dante heard him scrambling to regain his feet, his shoes scraping against the stone floor. He didn’t say a word.

Dante ran. He could hear the man struggling to his feet behind him, but Dante was fast, and he knew the King’s land better than anyone. He didn’t look back. He slipped past the Marshals the way he had come and hurtled into the dark, sinister streets around the city center.

He only had one place to go. He prayed he could remember the path back to Petra’s safe house. He prayed that when he got there she would take him back. He couldn’t go home again, not until he knew who the man was and why he was waiting for him in his father’s house. How had he known where Dante would go? How had he known he would return? Who had sent him, and how had he gotten past the Marshals. Unless…unless he had been placed there on purpose. Unless he’d been sent by King.

He couldn’t focus on that now. He didn’t stop running. His lungs burned, but he reached the edge of the city in mere minutes. He’d been careful to pay attention when he’d left the safe house. He’d thought he’d meant to tell his father and their people where it was, to get back at the people who had tricked him and lied to him and kept him prisoner. But perhaps…perhaps he had really known all along there might be a time when he needed somewhere to run. Perhaps he’d suspected all along he’d need a way back.

The outlands, though, were a twisted, dirty, dilapidated maze. He’d only been there once on his own, and the streets all had the same sinister look to them. He wished he’d left a trail of bread crumbs or tied a string to something. He was hopelessly out of his element here. A gang of outlaws rushed through the streets, shouting and laughing. He ducked into an alley to avoid them. He clutched the rock in his hands. It was slick with blood. He grimaced and tossed it away.

When the outlaws were gone, things got worse. He was hopelessly lost. He didn’t recognize the streets around him, even if he had traversed them mere hours ago. He cursed. It was dark. He couldn’t possibly find his way to the safe house now, even as the fires burned around him and illuminated the streets and shadowed the back always. He would have to find a place to camp for the night.

He was going to need another rock.

***

Meanwhile, in a safe house in the outlands…

“Petra!”

Key was sleeping peacefully for the first time since the attack. The pain meds seemed to be helping. Eloise had given him a lot of them. He was badly beaten up, but Eloise had patched him up right enough. He would make it. Petra lifted her hand from his brow and looked up at Lux. She rose to meet her with a frown.

“Key just got to sleep. What the hell are you shouting for?”

Lux grabbed her arm and pulled her away from Key’s sick bed. “We have a hit.”

“A hit?”

“We found him. One of my people spotted Dante in the outlands. It sounds like he was heading here.”

Petra blinked. Then her face lit up. “Here? He’s okay? Is he alone?” Then her face fell. “Or is he…is he with…”

“No. He hasn’t brought his dad’s people. He’s alone. He’s okay for now, but he’s in the outlands and he’s unarmed.”

“We have to go find him.”

Lux hesitated.

“What?”

“Petra, he might…well, he might be coming back here for a different reason. He might be leading someone here.”

“You said he was alone.”

“Yes, he’s alone. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t just appear to be alone. He could just be bait for the Marshals. We have to be careful.”

“He wouldn’t do that.”

“Petra, he’s Prince Dante. He isn’t Grey. He remembers who he is now. Whether he remembers everything, he at least knows who he is. We don’t know the way he’s going to react to what you did. We don’t know how much of either person he is right now. He could be all Dante and no Grey. You know what he’s capable of.”

“It doesn’t matter, Lux. We have to warn him about Saer and his father. He is in danger. He should know.”

“If Raff was right, he’s as safe as he can be right now, as long as he’s not with his father.”

“Safe? He’s out there in the outlands by himself. He’s in enemy territory. If he’s spotted by someone else, his father and Saer will be the least of his worries!”

Lux stared at her a moment. She sighed. “You do care about him, don’t you?” When Petra looked away, she shook her head. “That’s stupid, Petra. You know who he is.”

“It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t change anything.”

Lux shook her head sadly. “All right. I’ll help you.”

Petra smiled. “Where is he?”

“Come on. He’s not too far.”

Key was wide awake when Petra and Lux passed him. He caught Petra’s arm. He didn’t look at all as though he’d just downed three pain meds. He looked sharp and suspicious. He frowned. His lips were swollen and bruised, but he could still talk. “Where are you going?”

Petra glanced at Lux. “Grey is wandering the outlands.”

“So?” Key frowned. “I thought you let him go.”

“We did, but he’s still in danger. The guy who was leading the hunters is an assassin. He was the one who attacked Grey the night I found him. And he works for the King.”

“You think Scarlet really is trying to kill his own son?”

“Yes. He could be anyway. We can’t take that risk. He needs to know it isn’t safe for him to go home until we know for sure.”

“We have spies watching him,” Lux put in. “He’s still in the outlands—and he’s still alive—so he probably hasn’t found his way out yet. He’ll probably head there as soon as day breaks or he finds a way to get a hold of his father’s people.”

“We have to warn him before Saer gets to him and it’s too late.”

Key sighed. “Petra…”

“We have to help him, Key. He’s a victim in this, too.”

“Maybe if we actually help him this time, he’ll help us,” Lux added.

Petra lowered her head. “I’m sorry about what happened, Key.”

He waved a hand. “I’ll make it and so will everyone else. Look, Petra, if you think this will save us and Grey, you have to at least try. At least warn him. Even if he doesn’t forgive us, it’s the right thing to do. You can’t just sit back and let him die if you have the chance to stop it.”

Petra smiled. She leaned down to kiss him on the forehead. He winced a little. “Sorry. But for the first time in a long time, Key, I agree with you. I think it’s time I do the right thing for once.”

Lux’s phone chirped. She frowned down at it. “He’s on the move, Petra. He’s entering rebel territory. We have to go. If we don’t get him now, we’ll lose him to the Uprising. You know what they’ll do to him.”

Petra didn’t need to hear more. She spun toward the door. “Bye, Key!”

He grunted in reply, but she wasn’t listening anymore.

The streets were eerily quiet. Word of the attack on the compound must had spread to the outlanders. They were keeping their heads down in case any of the hunters got it in their heads to sweep the area for rogue bounties. Petra didn’t mind; they didn’t have time to tangle with outlaws tonight. Lux checked her phone and grabbed Petra’s arm. “Come on. He’s this way.”

“Is he moving?”

“Not anymore. He went inside an old house. I think he might be camping out for the night.”

“That’s not very safe.”

“Well, from the sound of it, being the prince isn’t that safe right now regardless of where you are.”

They hurried through the crumbling, deserted streets. Petra’s heart pounded. She was thankful there were no gangs or vandals wandering around, raising hell or waiting to accost innocent, unsuspecting children. She didn’t know have any idea they were going, and Lux didn’t bother to tell her. She led Petra swiftly through the alleys and main streets with the ease of someone who spent a lot of time in the outlands. Petra felt safe with Lux.

She was still anxious. She hadn’t been so anxious since she’d lost Ren.

Lux shot out an arm to push Petra back against the wall of a dark alley. Despite the loaded, charged atmosphere in the air all around them, a group of rebels suddenly tore through the street beyond, whooping and hollering. It sounded as though they were celebrating. Petra didn’t like the sound of it. Her pulse leapt.

She peered out around the corner to catch a glimpse of what was happening. Lux slammed her back against the wall. “What the hell are you doing?” she hissed.

“Is he with them? Let me see.”

Lux scowled. “No. Stay back. They aren’t after us, but we still don’t want to be seen. You never know what they will do.”

“What are they so happy about? Lux!”

Lux cursed. She ducked out toward the street to peer cautiously around the corner. “They don’t have him. At least I don’t think they do. I don’t see him.”

“Are you sure?”

“No. I’m sorry. I can’t tell. There are too many of them. But our guy said he’s inside the house.” Her cell phone chirped. She glanced down at it and cursed again. “Yeah. Forget what I just said. We lost him.”

“What? I thought you said he’d stopped moving. He was supposed to be in the house. I thought he was camping for the night.”

“Apparently not. He must have gone. My guy says he isn’t inside anymore.”

“Where did he go?”

“I don’t know, Petra!”

“How did he lose him?”

“He must have gone out a different way and my guy didn’t catch him. I’m sorry, Petra. He’s gone.”

“We have to follow those rebels and see if they’ve got hold him. They might have found him in the house and taken him out.”

“Petra, you know we can’t. If the rebels do have them, they won’t kill him. He might be safe enough for now. Probably safer than at home.”

Petra scowled. “How can you be sure about that?”

“That’s not what the Uprising does. They aren’t killers or vigilantes. They’re just trying to do something to change the way things are here in Razor City. They probably intend to do exactly what we planned to do with him.”

“And failed.”

Lux shrugged. “Maybe they will do a better job.”

“That isn’t making me feel any better! I want to go after them.”

“No, Petra.” She looked back down at her phone. Her fingers flew over the keys as she typed a message so quickly, Petra was amazed she’d had time to say anything.

“Lux!”

“Just hold on.” She held up her hand. After several seconds, her phone chirped. She looked back up at Petra and caught her arm to drag her through the alley.

Petra bared her teeth in irritation, but she didn’t resist. “Where are we going? The rebels went that way.”

“Just shut up and come with me.”

Petra didn’t argue. Lux led her through the winding alleys to a door with a buzzing neon sign overhead. The sign still illuminated the name in jagged, flickering letter: Cutthroat Tavern. Petra didn’t like the sound of that. Bars in the outlands were risky. She didn’t protest when Lux pulled her inside, though. Lux wasn’t the sort to give up. Whatever the reason she was bringing Petra to the sinister place, it had to do with getting Grey back.

“What are we doing here?”

Lux rolled her eyes. “Just be patient. We’re meeting someone.”

Petra glanced around at the patrons. They hunched over their drinks when the door opened, as though they didn’t want their faces to be seen. Petra didn’t care about any of them. She followed Lux toward the back of the room. There was a young man sitting in a corner booth. He looked like a typical outlander. His clothes were tattered and torn, and his beard was thick and scruffy. He was wearing a wide-brimmed hat that concealed his eyes.

He tilted his head back to look at Lux as they walked toward him. He nodded and hunched back over his beer. When she slid into the seat across from him, he tipped his hat up to meet her gaze. “I’m sorry, Lux. I didn’t mean to lose him.”

“You were watching Grey?” Petra demanded, leaning forward.

The young man looked at her strangely. “I was watching Prince Dante.”

“Right. What was he doing? What happened to him?”

“I don’t know. I caught sight of him on the edge of the city. He seemed to be avoiding the King’s Marshals.”

“Yeah, because they’re trying to kill him. I’m just glad he listened to something we said.”

“What? They are?”

Lux waved her hand dismissively. “And?” she demanded.

“I wasn’t sure where he was trying to go, but he seemed to be moving in your direction. He was looking for something, anyway. I think he got lost so he went into the house to wait out the night.”

“Sounds about right.”

“But he left the house?”

“He didn’t come out for a few minutes, so I went in to make sure he was okay, like you asked. He was gone.”

“Did the rebels take him?” Petra demanded.

The spy shook his head. “I don’t know. I don’t think so. I didn’t see the rebels. They usually make themselves known.”

“But they could have been in the house when he went in. Did you see them leave?”

“I didn’t see anyone leave. I’m sorry. I walked around the immediate streets, but I couldn’t catch up to him again.”

Petra scowled. Lux nodded and rose. “Thanks, Bano. Let me know if you see him again.” She passed him something across the table. Petra didn’t see what it was. She probably didn’t want to know.

Lux didn’t move toward the door. She paused near the bar. Petra scowled. “What are you doing?”

“Petra, you need a drink. I need a drink.”

“We have to find Grey!”

Lux squeezed her arm. She frowned. “You need to stop acting like a schoolgirl with a crush. You have to start thinking like an adult. This is not a game, Petra. If he was taken by the rebels, we can’t just crash in there and get him. If he wasn’t, he isn’t far. Another of my spies will pick him up.”

Petra sighed. She dropped her head in her hands. Lux waved over the bartender. He poured two shot glasses of amber liquid. Lux pushed one toward Petra and held hers up.

“Drink it.”

Petra did. It burned down her throat. She winced and pushed away the empty glass.

“Petra, if you were thinking straight, you would have realized by now that, if the rebels have Dante, Beth will find out for us.”

Petra’s stomach flipped. Her face broke into a grin. “Lux!”

“Get it together, girl.”

Petra leapt toward the door. “I will once we’ve found him. Come on!”

Lux rolled her eyes. She slapped a bill down on the counter and followed Petra back out into the uncannily noiseless streets.

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