Cynthia leaned back. “You’re sure?”
“You did the right thing, coming back,” she said. “No signal from Melancholy or the others?”
Sanguine shook his head. He smiled with a mouth that was too small for his face. “It happens. We have very strong personalities. We get caught up in our activities.”
“If you aren’t worried, then I won’t worry,” Cynthia said. “But those fires… a fireproof creation, perhaps? Maybe more than one?”
“It could be.”
“Or it could be the superweapon we already know of. The Lambs.”
Sanguine smiled. One of his eyes, the size of a woman’s fist, remained fixed on Cynthia. The other turned to one side, peering out the window, past the rain-streaked glass and into the barely-lit street. He focused and unfocused his gaze on three different levels, telescoping his vision.
He switched focuses and stresses. The world took on different tones, textures, and hues, as he focused on a different spectrum of light. He adjusted again, and the darkness was illuminated, cast in white and black.
Across the street, in the shadows between a shack and a house, a rat cleaned itself with its tongue and the water from the rain.
He snapped his eye back to Cynthia, watching the world return to focus.
“What are you doing next?” she asked. She was gathering paperwork together. Maps and letters.
“Me, personally?” he asked. “Or us?”
“I’d like to know the answers to both.”
“Speaking for myself, I don’t know,” he said. His eyes remained fixed on her face, but he altered his focus, until his peripheral vision was sharper than what he could see in the center of his field of vision. He could see her cleavage as clearly as if he was nestled in it. The pores, the tiniest, fairest of hairs, the drop of sweat that traced its way from her neck down to her collarbone, then down into the alluring shadows that her blouse cast. His smile widened. “The smoke is too thick. I might wander the outskirts. But I thought you should know about the fire, and I wasn’t going to get much for my time. I won’t, really. Even if the fires are extinguished, the smoke will still rise.”
“Then stay,” she said, her attention still on the paperwork. She was reading a letter, before deciding to tear it up and throw it aside. She met his eyes.
He’d cocked his head to one side.
“Best case scenario, Melancholy comes back with Choleric and the prisoners of war my boss wanted spared. Worst case scenario, your colleagues are dead, and you expose yourself by being out there alone.”
“I didn’t offend you, I hope, with the idea that you’ve lost the others.”
“I’m hard to offend.”
“Alright. Keep an eye on things here. If you can kill any of those damnable spiders, I’ll thank you for it. Keep an eye out for trouble, watch the roads. From what you describe, they’re too pinned down for a counterattack, but I don’t like relying on luck.”
“You’re scared,” he observed. He could see the softest, most vulnerable parts of her, the base of the throat over the pulse, moving faintly in response to the increased heartbeat. She was pretty in such a natural way, but she’d gone to lengths to make herself prettier still. That she did it because it was just another tool or a weapon for her to employ was something special. Yet… “You’re packing up to run.”
“Concerned. Whatever the cause of it, the fire means you can’t enter Westmore, I can’t send reinforcements, meager as they would be, and I can’t carry out my remaining gambits. I have no control over what happens next. I have no reason to stay.”
“That is an excellent rationale,” he said.
She gave him a sharp look. He cocked his head again.
“I preferred dealing with Melancholy,” she said, sighing. “And that’s saying something.”
“She is much better at dealing with people,” Sanguine said, offering his version of an ear-to-ear grin, though even at that point, his mouth was no wider than another person’s might be when at rest.
“Thank you, Sanguine. If Pock is up, you can tell him he should get some sleep,” she said. She made it a dismissal.
He gave her a lazy salute, then headed for the door, his eyes pointing out to either side as he passed between the two immortal soldiers who guarded the door, then snapping back to point forward after they were behind him. Scarred and infested with parasites from head to toe, they were as stern and silent as he wasn’t.
He walked away with a jaunt, humming, his long rifle banging against his calf and shoulder.
He searched the streets. It was nice and quiet. The world was brightening, the sun rising, casting long shadows.
There. A movement beneath a building.
A stray cat slept on top of a barrel under the awnings of a shop. It had been targeted by one of the spiders. The spider had only started to work on the sleeping cat’s tail.
He knelt, raising his rifle, one eye closed, the other looking down the sights.
He adjusted for the speed with which the bullet would fall, raising the tip.
Squeeze the trigger.
The gun was loud, always was. Not that the spider heard in time. Sanguine rose to his feet in a quick, steady motion. Keeping with habit, always start moving right after shooting. One eye watched where he was going. The other watched the target. He made it one step-
-The spider was obliterated. The cat startled, waking up and dashing off aimlessly.
The tail would heal.
He could remember being newly made, and wanting a cat of his own. Having it with him on a good day, sitting in his lap while he sat cross legged, watching for a victim, purring now and then?
He swaggered his way to the labs on the Lanyard Avenue corner, pausing to admire the crown of trees growing out of the tops of the four walls, before he let himself in.
The building had been a factory once, making use of imports from Westmore, shaping iron into nails, if he had to guess from what remained. Most of the machines and tools had been carried out, and the place retooled. There was a clear space down the middle, a path drawn out without paint or tape or railings, only convention and accepted practice. To the left of the cleared space were tables where stitched could be made, with Stitched ‘sleeping’ against the wall, hooked up to a flickering battery with things swimming inside. To the right was Edwin Grahl’s lab. The man was absent, and his work was left half-complete. The pieces of another giant stitched arm. Grahl hadn’t been seen since sundown. He would have seen off his first cannon-wielding giant, then gone to sleep, secure enough his work would suffice for Cynthia’s purposes.
There were two sorts of people that Sanguine would see tonight. People who had slept through the night, like Grahl, and people who hadn’t. He wasn’t sure which one Pock was.
Though originally a factory, the building had been modified. Crews of stitched and grown material had been used to throw together a second floor and a roof, producing a second tier to the building within the span of a day. This tier was home to three more laboratories. One to the left, one to the right, and a third at the end, no walls separating them. Left and right were left unoccupied, but Pock was in the one at the end.
Pock was flanked by two identical women that stood seven feet tall, each one about ten stone at best, with long faces, folds at the eyes making them look Asian, their hair straight and black. Their spidery fingers were the most animated part of them, the rest of their movements so slow they looked like they were moving underwater. The pair took turns handing him tools as he requested them. He made an incision, and slid a slice of fatty tissue into the cut.
“Ah, you,” Pock said, almost derisive. Almost.
“Me. Cynthia Imlay would like you to know that she won’t be needing your services tonight. There are fires prohibiting access to the city. I saw with my own eyes.”
Sanguine smirked as if he’d made a joke.
Pock stopped. He heaved out a sigh. “Are the prisoners of war still due to arrive?”
“Very likely. My colleague is on it. But there’s no need for haste,” Sanguine said.
Pock nodded. He raised his hands, and the experiments on either side pulled off his gloves. “I’d complain, but it’ll be good to let the swelling subside, and see how close I’ve managed to get.”
The man on the table slept, his face subtly different from one side to the next. Old enough to have grayed hair, his facial hair was cut to have only a beard, no mustache.
“He looks real,” Sanguine admired, studying pores and finer structures. There were differences from an ordinary man, but not ones a typical eye would catch.
“He is real,” Pock said, offended.
“For something made in a vat, he looks human. And he’s not even a clone.”
“He’s close to being one. I had the notes from a colleague. We even had two conversations over the phone. I gave him my own notes.”
Sanguine leaned closer, cocking his head until it was lined up with the man’s. “You have a reference image?”
“A painting,” Pock said, pointing.
Sanguine nodded. He straightened. “Beautiful thing, this. To come out of war, no less.”
“Mm,” Pock said.
“War is amazing like that, isn’t it? Nothing drives us to be better as much as a gun to our head does. With the western Crown States in the midst of a civil war, we have thirty-thousand guns to thirty-thousand heads. The world is going to change in the wake of this war.”
“Of course it is,” Pock said. “We’re going to uproot the Academy from these states, take the clutching fingers the Crown is using to grip it and break every one, until we can retake this part of the country for ourselves.”
Sanguine broke out into a laugh, genuine and hearty.
“Yes,” he said. “That sounds wonderful.”
Pock wasn’t looking half as impassioned now. The man had gone cold.
Was the laugh too much? Sanguine cocked his head.
“Was there anything else?”
Sanguine shrugged one shoulder. “You can rest if you need to. The prisoners of war will be here by midday, if not sooner. We won’t lose anything if we start late.”
“Uh huh. Will you be shooting that damnable gun of yours in earshot?”
“It’s likely. I’m supposed to look out for trouble. There are some spiders lingering, at the very least.”
“No sleep for me, then,” Pock said, grim.
Sanguine bowed a little, then saluted in the most insulting way he could.
He passed downstairs, out the door, and locked it behind him.
His head turned. He studied the surroundings, adjusting the focus of his eyes as he did it. The changes in sharpness and softness and detail rotated through a series of possibilities, until it looked and felt as if his eyes were hearts, beating in his eye sockets. The surroundings throbbed in a way, and he could get a sense of dimension, of texture. His visual memory was acute, and as he took a few steps forward, searching, he could get a sense of where the ground rose and fell, all the way down the length of the street.
The eyes were such an important sense to humans, but the eyes had stopped developing long ago, because the developments were so very unnecessary. When they’d made his eyes, they’d turned to sea creatures for inspiration. Even his face was a bit fishy, he liked to think.
He could see footprints in the mud. He could gauge their size, follow their path, see how the light rainfall distorted the water that had collected in them, and even guess at the amount of muddy water within, water that would have been squeezed out by the weight of the foot setting down. His eyes pointed in two different directions and adjusted until he could compare both places at once, his own footprints from a minute ago against this very small footprint. The amount of water suggested that the person had passed by a moment after he had.
He was amused by the fact that they had probably been watching him, yet he hadn’t seen them.
One child. A Lamb?
It took him a minute to walk to the set of tracks. He pulled his gun around, holding it in both hands, though he didn’t point it at anything.
Whitney wasn’t a city meant for warfare and the military. The layout wasn’t organized in a way that made it easy to defend and hard to take. The military leadership, Cynthia included, had wanted to situate themselves at the center, at the heart of things, except the buildings there were mostly shops. They’d changed the buildings here and there, and made compromises elsewhere.
The footprints led to one such compromise. A shop with living quarters above it.
He slowly turned, taking in the surroundings. Looking, searching for more errant children.
He slipped a bullet into his gun, then fired blindly at the sky. He did it again, then again, then again.
It was Pock who stepped out of the Lanyard Labs, swearing up a storm. His assistants followed him.
“The hell do you think you’re doing, you imbecile!?”
Sanguine held up a hand, index finger raised.
“What? You’re telling me to wait now? You wake half the city, and-”
“Can you shoot?”
“Shoot. Are you able?”
“Yes. Of course.”
Sanguine nodded, his eyes still roaming. He drew a gun from inside his jacket and tossed it to Pock’s assistant, who caught it.
Pock’s attitude changed. “What’s going on?”
“You are coming with me. We’re entering this building. A spy is lurking within.”
“And why would I put myself in close proximity to a spy?” Pock asked, derisive.
“Because the tracks suggest a limp, making this one the most obvious target,” Sanguine said, “And because there are five more close by. If I leave you alone, you’ll be dead before I step outside again.”
Pock didn’t have a ready answer for that.
Sanguine reached into his coat, then affixed a blade to his rifle. He took his time securing the bayonet, using a key to tighten the banding, before slipping the key into a notch to secure it’s place on the barrel.
“The others. If there’s that much danger, then-”
“Cynthia will have heard the shots and thought there was something unusual about it. She knows there’s danger.”
“You’re sure? Because she-”
“I’ve seen her fight. She’s the rare sort of capable.”
“Are you done interrupting me?”
“Yes. Because you must be exceedingly quiet,” Sanguine said. “Or you may die, sir.”
Pock fell silent.
Sanguine smiled as he approached the door. He nudged it open with one toe. “Leave your assistants outside. They’ll make too much noise.”
He adjusted to the darkness with a speed and facility that matched poor Pock’s ability and quickness in blinking.
Dusty. The store hadn’t been cleaned since the commanding officer had taken up residence upstairs. Light streamed from the window above the stairs.
Another adjustment this time. Focusing on light, contrast.
The specks of dust almost glowed, as he focused on the way they caught the light. Fireflies in darkness, swirling, dancing.
The swirling was more intense further up the stairs. His quarry had passed by more than a minute ago, but the air still stirred, just a little.
And, halfway up the stairs, he noted a wire.
Not meant for people giving chase or coming upstairs. For someone going down.
A just-in-case measure, was it? If the target got away and ran for the front door?
He approached the stairs, touching the blade of the bayonet to the wire.
He leaned over the railing, repeating the touch.
An empty flower vase on a little stand beneath the stairs moved in response. The razor thread wound lightly around the railing, extended down to the vase. If disturbed, the vase would fall.
Because of the limp. A lack of security in his or her own ability?
Was it the boy he’d shot the previous day?
“Assassin,” he murmured. He couldn’t hold back his excitement.
Pock made a face, quizzical.
“Not a spy. An assassin,” he clarified. “Take the vase, Pock.”
Pock did as he was told. Good man. Sanguine turned the rifle upside-down and used the sharp end of the bayonet blade to cut the wire.
He gestured for Pock to follow, watching the movement of the dust in the air as he ascended the stairs.
He saw the way the swirl of dust danced down the hallway, leading to a room at the end.
He gestured for Pock to stop, this time. His feet fell on the sides of the hallway, not the center, and he transferred his weight slowly. His body had suffered in the same set of treatments made to capitalize on his eyes. He wasn’t strong. He was sensitive to the heat and the cold, which were bad traits for a sniper who would otherwise want to remain still in poor weather for long periods of time. But that same degree of sensitivity let him sense the creaks as they started, shift his weight away, move the foot to the next few floorboards, and try again.
He was silent enough that he could hear Pock more than he heard himself.
He stopped at the doorway. He could hear whisperings, two voices.
A girl and a man.
His movement noiseless and smooth, he leaned his head forward, peering past the doorway. Nothing so sudden to draw focus.
The girl was straddling the officer, who was in bed, wearing his pyjamas. Her knees were pressing his arms down, but he was undoubtedly strong enough to throw her off. The wire she had around his throat was keeping the man still. She held it with one hand, the wire wound around the handle of a knife. The other hand was on the headboard, so she could lean forward, her face inches from his. She was wearing a raincoat over a dress with lace at the ends. Twelve or thirteen years old, ribbons in her brown hair.
But she had the eyes of a killer. Her pupils were contracted to sharp points.
Sanguine stepped forward, thrusting. The floor creaked.
The girl moved, rolling to one side. The wire unspooled from the handle, and Sanguine lunged for it, using the sheer length of the rifle to try and get the point of the bayonet’s blade under it.
She saw, and she moved, turning so her own body pressed against the wire, while her hand pulled it down, flush against the bedspread, while it cinched tighter around the officer’s neck. It took Sanguine a second to turn the bayonet around, slash at the wire.
But she was already moving, taking advantage of the moment’s pause. There was a nightstand on the far side of the bed. She heaved it over, and the cord went tighter still, digging into the corner of the bed. She’d wound the wire around the drawer or ornamental bit of the piece of furniture, and now she used the weight of it. The blade’s point dragged against woolen covers and sheets, but not deep enough to cut wire.
Sanguine threw himself forward to get a better angle. The only place the wire wasn’t digging into the bed was next to the man’s neck. He found the right position, pulling the blade along the wire rather than sawing or pushing, aware that his quarry was heaving the window open, casting one look over her shoulder, eye glinting-
The thin wire snapped where the blade had cut at it, going slack. Sanguine was only dimly aware of the way the blood welled out from where the wire had dug into flesh. Too much, too fast. No arterial spurts, but enough blood that the man was almost guaranteed to die.
“Pock!” Sanguine called out.
Without waiting for a response, he hurdled over the bed, going to the open window, thrusting the gun’s point and the blade through, followed by his head and one arm, eyes pointing in either direction.
She was at the side, climbing over to the front of the building. The eaves. Her eyes were already on him. She’d seen the gun’s point emerge. Saw what he was going to do next.
He wanted to see what she had planned, and it wasn’t like he was going to do something different.
He slapped the gun against the side of the building, aiming, squeezing-
Sanguine saw the movement, the tensing muscle, and relaxed his grip. She threw herself back and away, pulling her raincoat up and over her head.
He followed her, watching her lift her raincoat up, so it would catch on the edge of the gutter for the next house over. She now gripped the inside of the sleeves, while the middle of the raincoat looped over. She let the raincoat sleeves turn inside-out, controlling her descent.
He moved the gun over, aiming, so he could shoot her the moment she was in the air, when no amount of agility or cleverness would let her move to either side.
Except she hauled down on one sleeve of the raincoat, changing the angle of her descent a fraction. In the final moment before she let go of the raincoat, she swung a bit to one side, letting go.
He adjusted his aim, ready to hit her as she hit the ground, two or three feet to the left of where she had originally been planning. He pulled the trigger this time.
She hit the ground with a stagger. The wood of the porch railing beside her exploded into splinters.
She flashed him a white-toothed grin before half-spinning, half-stumbling around the corner of the porch, ducking too low for him to have a clear shot.
He loved it when they were clever.
He pulled away from the window. There was no point, now.
“I can’t save him,” Pock said. “If I had my kit-”
“Alright,” Sanguine said. He wasn’t surprised. He crossed the room to look the terrified man in the eyes. He gave the man a light slap on the cheek. “You. The girl was asking questions.”
The man sputtered, spit, not blood. “Please help.”
“You heard the doctor,” Sanguine said. “We can’t. What was she asking?”
The man was breathing hard. He had that animal look in his eyes. A horse in panic.
Sad, coming from a soldier.
“Was she asking about Cynthia?”
The man’s attention clarified a moment.
The man nodded slightly, before something reminded him of his present circumstances. The panic returned. His eyes were unfocused.
“They split up,” Sanguine said. “Now they’re going to converge. I need to find them as they do.”
“What? They were going to do this to me?”
“Probably,” Sanguine said, smiling. “I like them. Nightmarish little pricks, aren’t they? The girl was wounded and threw herself off the side of the building. Must have hurt like the dickens.”
“Come now, sir,” Sanguine said. His blood was pumping, he felt almost drugged. “You can’t be so surprised. You’ve dealt with monsters before.”
He stood, backing away from the bed, cocking his head to one side as he studied the dying commander.
He pointed the rifle at the man, who was too out of his senses to even recognize the threat.
Thrusting, he drove the blade’s point into the roof of the man’s mouth, and into the brain. The man jerked, struggled for a moment, and then abruptly died.
“Good god!” Pock said.
“The key parts of the brain should be intact,” Sanguine said, raising his voice to be heard as he walked away. “I’m going, you stay.”
“What if they come back!?” Pock reached the railing by the stairwell and leaned over.
“They won’t. They can’t. They’ll be striking at key targets before fleeing!” Sanguine called out.
He pushed the door open, eyes adjusting for distant targets before he was even outside.
She could handle her own. He knew that.
The sole building that was toward the center of the town that was also fit for the rebellion forces to use was a mason’s workshop. Stone walls, tall, spacious, it could take a hit from a bomb without crumbling into tinder and dust. Cynthia had changed the location of her headquarters from the theater after the children had been chased from town.
A door halfway to Sanguine’s destination was left unlocked, slightly ajar. Grahl’s place. One of his eyes peered through windows.
There. Through the front window. Grahl had spent the night in an armchair, a bottle and a glass beside him. Not one to sleep through a battle after all. The handle of a hatchet or hammer stuck up and away from his head like a lone insect’s antennae.
There were others. The children had moved unerringly, as far as he could tell. Had they planned this from the beginning, figuring out who was where, who would be remaining here, vulnerable, when the fighting was elsewhere, or was it simply an amazing degree of coordination?
He focused on the tracks. Knew they were different ones. Three children. One with a limp, another slow, not running but not limping either.
Just before reaching Cynthia’s place, the sets of tracks diverged.
He felt excited, seeing it.
They knew he was following. They would lay a trap for him. Try to distract.
The mason’s house.
He slowed, searching.
A girl’s. Hard to match to the girl with the limp. The sound carried.
Melancholy had mentioned their names, reading what Cynthia had given them, he wished he remembered.
“Sorry about Melancholic!” the voice called out, so innocent it was almost taunting. The sound bounced off walls of a nearby alley. “I broke her!”
Ah. Wasn’t that too bad?
Still, he smiled. The theatrics were a nice touch.
“Choleric too! Riddled him full of holes!”
Sanguine nodded. He believed it.
“And poor Phlegm! Killed him again!”
Marvelous control of sound. Changing position, letting the voice carry, bouncing at him from different directions.
Phlegm would have liked that, ironically enough.
He felt sad, but it was a small sadness. Not that his colleagues were dead, but because he’d always assumed that when one of them fell, the rest would fall in short order.
And, Sanguine told himself, he didn’t plan on dying tonight.
He asserted his grip on his gun, reaching the front door.
“Wrong direction! She ran!” the girl called out.
He hesitated, hand on the doorknob. One eye flicked out to the side.
No tracks fresh enough to be hers.
A gunshot startled him. Distant. A window two feet left broke.
“Shoot, gosh, and damn!” the girl called out. “Missed!”
He pushed his way in through the door.
Theatrics, with a slim chance of a lucky shot. She’d been too far away to be shooting at him with a pistol.
The mason’s workshop was dark. Lights had gone out.
Halfway between the front door and the stairwell, one of the so-called immortals lay bleeding.
At the door to Cynthia’s office, another lay dead.
He walked past them, ignoring the dying man, and moved through the workshop. No sign of life.
He had to be right on their heels. The children weren’t fast.
Through the back door. Tracks only a handful of seconds old.
A glimpse of movement, further down, between the base of the hill and the back of the workshop. He adjusted his eyes a second too late.
There was only a narrow avenue behind the buildings, with sparse grass growing, and the periodic flower. With the water rolling off the mountainside and down into this space, it had to be fertile ground, though it wouldn’t get much sun. He stepped carefully past fallen firewood, eyes searching.
Had to think like the children. They were steering, moving as a pack of wolves might. Around the periphery, chasing, guiding.
Except he had to think like Cynthia might as well. Because she would recognize what the children did and try to find an avenue they weren’t covering. A gap in the net.
The slower ones would be closer to him. The quicker ones further down, cutting her off.
He ran, feet tramping down on the footpath. The girl wouldn’t have had time to lay a wire, but-
There. Caltrops. Nails bent so that four prongs stuck out in different directions, left in the dirt.
He skipped past them.
Heard a whistle, close. Above?
Looking up, he almost missed what was happening to his left. He passed a space between buildings, and the girl who had had the wire was there, already in motion, out on the street in front of the buildings. Keen eyes saw the movement. Throwing.
He ducked, bending over. The blade struck his back, across his shoulderblades.
Fingers gripped the corner of the building, helping him come to a stop on the slick ground. He heaved himself in the opposite direction, toward that same alley.
Gone. Of course.
One on the roof, to let her know he was coming, so she could be ready. Slowed as she was, she would have had to have carried straight on down the road, while he was busy navigating the building interior.
He watched for her as he continued running behind the buildings, following Cynthia’s tracks. He saw soldiers on the street. They were shouting, calling out.
A smell in the air. He wrinkled his nose.
She’d used her gas. The foul, sense-obscuring stuff. Somewhere further down.
He broke away. No use following, if he’d lose any use of his eyes from the lingering traces of the stuff. He headed to the soldiers, hailing them. Ordinary men. Boys, almost.
“You,” one soldier said. “One of the assassins?”
Sanguine nodded, focusing more on catching his breath and studying the surroundings.
No sign of the limping girl.
“You should know, the children she warned us of are about,” the soldier said.
“Commander ordered the group to follow her, warn her. We were told to stay, pass on word.”
Sanguine frowned, eyes peeled for any movements.
One on the roof, but he didn’t see a thing.
One on the ground, the limping girl with the wire and the knife. But she wasn’t moving forward.
“She carried on this way?” Sanguine asked, indicating the other direction.
“To her apartment?” Sanguine asked.
And they chased her. The soldiers chased her.
Not just a handful of children chasing her. Her own men would be looking for her. Very possibly tipping off the children to her location.
Sanguine broke into a run.
They’d showed themselves for a reason. Raising the alarm. People would find the dead officers and doctors and instinctively want to protect Cynthia, among others.
That she’d changed where she operated from, both to the Mason’s and where she laid her head at night, it didn’t matter. All the children had to do was follow the soldiers.
How many children left?
The giggling girl, the one on the rooftop, the girl with the knife.
He could see the tracks now. The largest of the children had broken off.
One child, smaller than all of the rest, moving from cover to cover as he followed the soldiers.
All the way to Cynthia’s apartment.
The men were gathered at the front, guns in hand, watching, searching the surroundings.
He joined them. “She’s alright?”
“She’s fine. She’s gathering her things. We’ve got the place surrounded.”
“You led one of the children here. They know where she is, now.”
The man frowned a little. “The entrances and exits are covered.”
Sanguine studied the area, backing away from the group, his head turning, each eye operating independently.
Shingled houses, row on row. A cobbled street.
The quiet was broken by a distant, distant rumble. An explosion in Westmore. An hour away. Had to be a big one.
Then stillness and quiet again.
“Cynthia!” Sanguine called out.
He saw her face appear in an upstairs window. She peered down at him.
“Out!” he called.
No sooner was the order given, than a small object flew down from a nearby rooftop.
A moment later, there was fire, and the men at one corner of the house were engulfed, screaming struggling. Panic and madness. The front of the building was licked with flame.
Sanguine, calm, collected, raised his rifle, eyes focusing.
The boy was hiding, using the peak of the rooftop and the chimney for cover. Sanguine took long strides, aiming, looking for a hint of a movement.
He heard a bang, on the far side of the house, out of sight.
A window opening.
He dropped the rifle, running.
“Stay!” he called out, but too late.
She’d leaped from the second story window.
In the same moment she fell, another grenade was cast down from the rooftop.
She’s capable in a scrap, but he’s not even giving her the opportunity.
As with the first, it expanded into flame.
Sanguine saw a glimpse of the boy on the roof, already turning to run, scampering along wet shingles and peaked roofs. He might have had a shot, if he wanted it. Yet Cynthia was flailing, reaching out for help. Every heartbeat counted when it came to saving her.
He straddled the fence, a coin flip between one or the other.
They’d been given orders to leave the Lambs alive. Orders he hadn’t cared about, as his earlier shot at the boy had evidenced, but given this knife’s edge of a decision… he turned his attention to Cynthia, who was partially engulfed in fire.
She could be saved, at least more certainly than the boy could be shot down.
Beauty gone. Even the rebellion’s best doctors would struggle. It would take time to fix.
But there was nobody left to work with. Better to have her alive, so he had a place. He’d have his Lamb-hunt another day.