By Krista Walsh
Reason stared down the dim hallway, the worn soles of her shoes padding softly on the concrete. She focused hard on the darkness, taking in the emptiness. Anything to stop her brain from spinning. How long had it taken her to stop crying? Three days? Four? She wasn’t proud of herself. The first lesson you learned in the Shadows was not to get attached. Grief would kill you as quick as starvation and was just as useless. That was her practical side. Against that was a broken heart that wouldn’t let her do anything other than sit and stare and stifle back screams.
But there was no more time for tears. Damsel had made that perfectly clear when she and Fletch had come to gather what was left of the troupe. When she’d announced that Maverick and Jack wouldn’t be coming with them. The girl’s face had been carved of stone, her voice firm and resolved, but Reason had recognized the pain in her eyes and admired her even more for not letting it show.
Reason reached the room at the end of the hallway and let herself in, the mustiness tickling her nose. No one had been here in over a week and the closeness made it difficult to breathe. She went to the far wall and stood in front of three large paintings: an abstract she’d done out of boredom one day, a landscape portrait of a place she thought she remembered seeing once, and a portrait of her. Jack liked to tell people she’d painted them all, but the truth was that Jack had done the one of her. It was ages ago, back when they’d believed they could stand against anything as long as they were together, before life had hardened Jack and he lost his compassion.
She ran her fingers over the texture of the paint, for a moment lost in memories. Then she pushed away and rubbed her sleeve against her eyes. She wasn’t here to pine, she had important things to do. A knock behind the wall told her she was just in time. She pressed against her portrait and stood back as well-oiled gears twisted and the third portrait swung open like a door.
Mosh stepped out first, his brown eyes staring ahead just as Reason’s had been. Their gaze met briefly but neither could hold it long, both recognizing the sadness in the other and not wanting to feel it. He had taken Firefly’s death hard. Behind him, six other men in army combats followed. The first was tall, broad shouldered, and carried himself like a man who had walked through hell and was now determined to fight back.
“Colonel,” Reason greeted. The man jerked his head in reply. He stared at her and she searched for the hate in his gaze, something she expected from all authority figures these days, but there was only determination. After the explosion, after Alexis and Fletch had gone to the military base to offer their proof that Alexis’s father had been right and the police threat was real, the army had allied itself with the Shadows. Between them, Alexis and the Colonel had agreed to weed out the corruption that had flooded through the ranks of the police department and to make an attempt to put things to rights. At least, Alexis had agreed; the Colonel knew she had held back some vital information in order to stay involved.
Reason wasn’t naive to think the alliance would last. A year, probably less, before the military recognized the threat of an unauthorized army in the darkness and turned its focus on them just as the cops had – but for now they had a common goal and a common enemy, and had opted to stand together.
He gestured for her to lead the way and Reason walked out of the room, Mosh bringing up the rear. In silence, she took the shortest route to Jack’s old office, not trusting these men enough to show them too much of their home. When the time came for the army to smoke out the Shadows, she didn’t want them know where all the holes were.
With a quick rap on the door, Reason and Mosh stood aside as it opened and the soldiers filed in. A fire crackled in the hearth and Fletch stood by the sidebar, a full bottle of wine in his hand. The boy in the back glanced up and his face shot through with recognition at the figure sitting in the chair. One foot propped up, her arm resting atop it, Damsel sat waiting, her blue eyes glacial. She hunkered down in her brother’s jacket, more grey than green with soot, smeared with dry blood and torn from crawling out of the wreckage of City Hall; she wore it now like a badge of honour.
Reason had heard grumblings in the tent city about this new girl taking control of the Shadows, that a veteran would be a better person to take Jack’s place, since there was now a place to fill. But truth was, Alexis had been the only person to step up and take it, and she was also the most determined to do something with what had happened. She’d had the balls to go and take what she knew to the army, and in Reason’s eyes that gave her the right to that chair. She would defend Damsel’s position if she had to, but with Fletch at her right hand, it was unlikely anyone would argue too loudly.
“What have you learned, Colonel Bradley?” Damsel demanded.
“The rumours are true,” the man replied.
A sardonic smile twisted her face. “We have a Rumor of our own who told us as much. What’ve you learned that’s useful?”
Bradley only frowned, but the men behind him shifted uneasily, not used to seeing their commanding officer talked down to, or outwitted. But these army men hadn’t known what was at work under their feet while they stood by guarding walls, so had no idea what to expect. And hopefully they would never learn the full truth.
“Most have them have fled the city, but the ones that haven’t have been…questioned. From what they tell us, there’s a town about two day’s trip from here. Place called the Corpse. Heard of it?”
Damsel shrugged. “Maybe. Is it important?”
“Seems whatever they managed to take from the – er – Golden Tracks, as you call ’em, went with them. Might be it’s where they’re hiding what you’re looking for.”
Damsel stared at him, reading his expression closely to see if he was leaving anything out. It was an expression Jack had mastered and Reason was amazed that Damsel had picked it up so quickly. The Colonel stood firm and kept his face clear.
“I think it’s worth looking into,” Damsel finally replied and rose to her feet. She barely reached the Colonel’s shoulder. “I appreciate you coming here to keep me in the loop.”
“You agreed to an exchange.”
Damsel’s eyes widened, as if she’d forgotten. “So I did. Squeak, can you take these guys to Pops?” She looked first to the small child who had waited unnoticed in the corner and then turned back to the Colonel. “We had someone go through the journal, put together a map of where the rest of the hiding spots are. I’m sure Pop’s about ready with it by now.”
The Colonel didn’t offer any sort of farewell gesture to end the meeting, and Damsel never asked for one. She stood with her arms crossed and as the door closed behind the last soldier, let out a breath and on shaky legs sank back into the chair.
“I’m guessing you don’t mean to let those boys have all the fun?” Fletch asked, taking a swig from the bottle.
Damsel ran her hands over her hair and cupped the back of her neck. With another deep breath she sat back, her gaze jumping from Reason to Mosh to Fletch. Another smile played on her lips.
“No, I guess not.”
“So?” Mosh asked.
“So,” Alexis replied. “We’re going to go save Jack.”