“You should have been with her. You said you would watch over her,” Jens said.
They were in the darkness of the lounge, a sliver of light coming in under the door.
Tay opened her eyes and lifted her head. She was back on the sofa, wrapped up in the dust sheet, her dreams crawling back to the recesses of her mind. “What’s wrong?”
Jens sat on the floor in front of her with his knees hugged to his chest. “Get some sleep. We’ll rescue Gren, but you need to rest.”
“You said you would be with her, keep her safe.”
“I wanted to but,” Tay tried to say that she was pulled away, but she knew it was her fault, that she should have looked out for Gren.
“Call your uncle,” Jens said, holding out a phone.
“Is that Wyn’s?”
“A martyr could get Gren out of the barracks.”
“I can’t, you don’t know what he’ll ask of me.”
“You know what will happen to Gren in there? What they’ll do to her?”
Tay brought her legs round and reached out, cupping Jens’ face. The light from the hall reflected in his eyes. “Don’t Jens, we’ll get her out. You heard Wyn and her captain, they both agreed to try. We just have to trust them.”
“I laid there thinking about what will happen. She’s alone in there, with no one to watch out for her. She thinks she is so big and brave, but she’s my little sister,” Jens said, tears running down his cheeks. “I can’t lose her, Tay. Please help her.”
He held up the phone and gave her a pleading look. “Gren would do anything for you.” Tay took the phone and stared at it. “Do this or I’ll never talk to you again.”
Tay reached into her jeans and pulled out the card. Jens crawled over to a lamp and switched it on. He came back to watch as Tay smoothed the card out on her knee and dialled the number.
“Hello?” A man’s sleepy voice on the other end.
“Who is this?” Michael asked.
“It’s Tay Garson.”
“Tay? Is everything okay, it’s three in the morning?”
“I need to speak to my uncle.”
“He’ll be asleep. What do you need?”
“I have a favour to ask.”
There was a moment of silence before he spoke again. “Go ahead.”
“The militia arrested a friend of mine at the protest tonight. I need to get her out.”
“Is that it?”
“Can you do it?” Tay asked in surprise. Jens' face lit up.
“Of course. Your uncle is a powerful man in the government now. Give me the name.”
“Okay, I’ll call you back in a few hours.”
Tay looked down at the phone and then set it on the coffee table.
“Did you hear all of that?” Tay asked and from the look of relief on Jens’ face, she knew he had.
Orange light reflected from the slick sections of the wall, but the rest was blacker than the sky. The effect created ghost towers that loomed over the river, a city on the horizon, just beyond reach. She’d made Jens wait at the pub, she didn’t want the distraction or to bring him to her uncles’ attention.
The water made a sound as it moved in the dark like it was a living thing, a sick creature with a collapsed lung that gurgled and sighed as it slid past. Strange that Tay never remembered that. In the daylight, it was drowned out by the noises of the sector, but in the early hours, it was quiet enough for its secret to be revealed.
A car turned off the road and into the small carpark, a further two cars pulling in behind it, headlights turned so that Tay had to shield her eyes. She forced herself to lower her hand and stand tall. Maybe Osiris was right, she shouldn’t show weakness in front of these people, they had to believe that she still wanted to be one of them.
People got out of the cars, too many, Tay thought, growing nervous. Erik Garson came forth, his heavy coat wrapped tight against the early morning chill. He walked to the low wall and peered over.
“Uncle,” Tay said. “I thought it would just be us.”
He turned in the headlights and stared at her. “It is good to hear you call me that, Tay.”
“Why did you pick this spot?”
“It felt right.” Erik pointed into the sector at the buildings across the road. “I knew from your call that you were in there somewhere. I remember when you were a child that you fell into this river, close to here. You would have drowned but for my brother, he gave his life saving his only child. Your mother fretted that you had swallowed too much of the water, but you survived.”
“I don’t remember that.”
“She had no interest in reliving that day. She was a weak woman even before my brother died.” Erik pulled his coat tighter and turned his attention to Tay. “He sacrificed his life to save you.”
“I was only a child.”
“It is in the past,” Erik said with a dismissive flick of his wrist. “I was worried that you were reluctant to work for me.”
“It wasn’t that.” Tay had thought about how this conversation would likely go and done her best to be prepared. “I didn’t think your people would want to work with me and Osiris, but I’m willing to prove myself.”
“Don’t worry about Osiris anymore. She’s gone.”
“Where?” Tay tried to cover her panic.
“The Arcists demanded one of you in retribution for what happened, but I think she escaped. Never mind, she will not be resurfacing.” Erik approached closer. “Who is this girl you asked me to find? A friend?”
“Gren, her and her brother are like family to me.”
“You have your real family now.”
“Can you find her?”
“I already have, but what worries me is your concern for other people. The Street Apostles will be your family now.”
“Erik, I have to get her back. She’s only a kid.”
“Not uncle? Prove to me your loyalty and I will give you Gren.”
Erik gripped her shoulders and stared into her eyes. “You look like him in this light. Are you ready?”
“Ava!” Erik called out towards the cars. A line of silhouetted men and women stood in a semi-circle around Tay and her uncle. A door opened and then slammed shut. Ava stepped into the light, as big as ever and with eyes that glinted with barely restrained fury.
“What the fuck is this?” Tay hissed and took a step back. Erik put a steady hand on her back.
“Stand firm,” Erik whispered in her ear. “I have faith in you, child.”
Erik stepped away, leaving Tay to stand on her own, the river at her back and Ava in front of her.
“You are right that the Apostles wouldn’t accept you,” Erik said from a place at the edge of the circle. “You must prove that you are worthy of their love.”
“What do you want me to do?” Tay asked.
“You killed her partner.”
“It was an accident. She’s as much to blame as me.”
Ava took a step forward, a blade flashing in her hand. “You did it. You killed him because you couldn’t keep your shit together.”
“I didn’t know what was happening. You were killing people all around me. I don’t know what you want me to say?”
“Nothing.” Erik stepped to the low wall and stared down at the black water.
“I can’t fight her,” Tay pleaded with her uncle. “There has to be something else I can offer?”
“A leader is only as strong as the bond he has with his followers. This is the price of my power.” Erik raised his head to look at the top of the wall.
Ava held the blade out and advanced on Tay. It was folly to fight the larger woman, Tay knew but there was no way out. She scanned the line of Apostles, searching for a weak link but they looked ready to stop her. The river seemed her only option, a dive off the wall and then she could get away. The quiet voice inside her approved of the idea.
Ava took away the choice by lunging at her with the knife and slashing at her arm. The blade cut deep, and Tay howled in pain, dancing away. She tried to run, but at every turn, there was a stony-faced Apostle ready to push her back. Ava cried out and Tay spun to see her charging at her, the knife striking at her heart. Tay grabbed for the hand holding it, smearing blood over the grip but slipping. Ava crashed into her, and they were both carried to the ground. Tay punched, but it was a weak blow that only seemed to anger the larger woman and provoke her to greater violence.
Ava tossed the knife aside and started punching Tay around the head. Tay curled up into a little ball, unable to do anything but mount a weak defence. Ava wrenched her hands away and leered down at her.
“You had a woman there, didn’t you?” Ava breathed heavily into Tay’s face. “What was her name? Mara?”
Tay struggled, but Ava was too heavy and pinned her down.
“I found her on top of you, saved you from the blast with her body. It was very sweet, very touching.”
“Don’t talk about her.”
“I killed her. I shot her full of holes and dragged you away.”
“No!” Tay screamed but Ava laid into her with a series of punches that rattled her brain and turned her world upside down.
Tay felt powerless to stop her, pinned and too weak to defend herself, she was sure those were the last moments of her life, she was only glad that maybe they would throw her corpse into the river. The voice in her cried out in anger, it didn’t want her to suffer nor to die. It wanted her to live. Anger coursed through Tay’s veins and her hand lashed out on its own, fingernails raking Ava’s face.
“That’s more like it,” Ava growled, blood dripping from her cheek. “Better when they fight, not like that one I found on you.”
Something moved within Tay, a phantom that possessed her body and hissed loudly in her ear. She struck again, but Ava knocked her hand away. The voice inside Tay was crying out in an animal rage, and pumping her veins full of venom. Tay’s next punch slipped under Ava’s guard and took her in the jaw. She hit again, this time driving her fingers into her enemy’s throat. Ava fell back, clasping her neck but Tay was on her, digging her fingers into the bigger woman’s eyes, gouging and biting, blood flowing freely. Ava bucked and kicked dislodging Tay but rather than sprawl in the gravel, Tay rolled and came back up on her feet, charging back in and kicking Ava in the head.
The big woman fell still, and Tay loomed over her, breathing hard and with her fists raised ready to fight again. The only sound that broke the air was the wheezing cough of the river as it continued with its existence, uncaring of the life that hung in the balance only metres away.
Michael stepped forward and held a gun out to Tay. “Kill her and your friend goes free.”
Tay took the gun and aimed at Ava. The anger coursing through her making her arm shake, she gripped the gun in both hands. With one quick shot, she would be the victor and her uncle would look upon her with pride. Tay faltered; she didn’t want to please him. She wanted Gren released and back home with her and Jens but was it worth a life? Her finger grazed the trigger.
“I can’t do it,” Tay said, her voice soft and distant. She took her finger away and lowered the gun to her side.
Michael retrieved the gun without looking at her and then stepped back letting Erik take his place.
“I hoped for more from you,” Erik said. “I will have to toughen you up before you are any use to me.”
“What about Gren?”
“What about her? She will rot in the barracks; I will make sure of it. Let her be your first lesson. Those people are your weakness.”
“You said you would get her released?” Tay said but her uncle turned his back on her.
Apostles grabbed her from behind and dragged her to the road, throwing her to the ground. They stood over her while she got to her feet and stumbled away. She heard a bang and glanced back to see two men throwing a body over the wall. The splash echoed along the barrier.
Tay reached the corner and then ran, pushing herself to greater speeds in a desperate attempt to escape what had just happened. Her thoughts battled with the voices, all accusing her of failing, of letting Gren down and condemning her to a life of suffering. Lost in the cacophony was one that tried to console her, to tell her she tried.
She came to a stop outside the pub; her left leg aching and her lungs gasping for air. There was a light on in the upstairs room. Jens would be sitting there waiting for her to return with Gren. When she walked in without her, he would turn his back on her, and she would be alone.
A drop of water fell on Tay’s face, and she tilted her head back. It started to rain and as it quickened the voices within her shouted, clamouring for her attention. She needed to shut them out, to forget everyone and everything, to obliterate her existence. She needed to kill the snakes and set herself free.
She ran into the rain.