The Grey Edge: Chapter Forty-Six

‘I’m sorry sir,’ Magnolia whispered to Taylor. He was still alive. Barely. Just barely. He wasn’t going to survive another few hours – as such, there was no longer any danger in releasing him. Tossing him back into system territory and letting him hope for the best, but it was one chance more than none. Any future, any chance, that getting back into system territory – even one where he was branded a traitor for his “crimes” and executed – was better than wasting away alone in some isolated room in the bowels of the Magpie Court.
It was…hopefully going to be one of those times were Ryan’s pathetic softness, his lack of conviction, his massive flaws as a leader, would be to their advantage.
She put a hand to Taylor’s face, and her heart jumped, then pounded, unbelievably loudly in her ears. He was faking. Muscles were tightened in such a way that- No. Not possible.
He opened his eyes. Clear, present, brown eyes stared up at her. ‘Are we alone?’
She nodded and let tears fall – the rebirth of hope was, somehow, even more painful than its loss.
He reached a sweaty arm up, wrapped it around her neck and pulled her down for a kiss. She kissed him back, hard, then rested her forehead against his. He was no trick of her mother, no illusion, no further cruelty. He was real, and he was-
‘I love you.’
She had meant to ask him “how”, how he was sitting up, how he was alive, how he had survived when all signs had pointed to succumbing to withdrawal.
‘I love you.’
The words hadn’t come from her mouth. She looked down at him, and he gave her a slight, mater-of-fact nod, as if he’d done little more than comment on some combat technique.
‘Later. Everything. Later. We’re leaving.’
‘There’s a weak spot at the highest point in the sky, we’re going through that.’
‘How do you know?’ she asked as she helped him sit up more.
‘Information from…from a friend. Later. I need something to bite.’
She retrieved a wash cloth for him, and rolled it before passing it over. He looked up. ‘If you have weapons, retrieve them.’
‘There’s none, sir.’
‘Then just stay back, Magnolia.’
He bit down on the cloth, and in a few seconds, his body was slick with sweat again, but not fever sweat, not the sweat of a man wasting away. Pain contorted his face – whatever he was doing was hurting him, so much so that he wasn’t bothering to hide it.
His legs withered, like a rapid atrophy. Muscle wasted away in seconds, along with bone, leaving him with little more than hollow skin bags bags hanging from his hips. He screamed into the cloth, and fell forward, balancing his weight on his hands.
Wings tore from his back. Huge, white, fluffy angel’s wings sprouted from each shoulder, each wing as tall as he was, thick with long feathers.
He slumped for a moment as the wings moved, extending, contracting, spreading wide, testing their movement, before finally folding on his back.
‘I didn’t know you could do that, sir.’
‘They’re for emergencies,’ he said after a moment. ‘Lash my feet together.’
‘Yes sir.’
It didn’t take very long at all to find something to bind his feet. She tied the heavy silk with a nigh-unbreakable knot, leaving enough room between his feet for a small step, a small harness to stand on.
She stood, enjoying being close to him again, enjoying the knowledge that he was alive, and that for the first time since they’d been trapped, they had a chance to escape. There was no room for any thoughts about how attractive he was with feathers.
One last look around the room confirmed that there was nothing that could be easily refashioned into a weapon. There was nothing – even the flail was gone. There were some heavy objects, but if they were going to fly, then weight had to be the first consideration. There was, however, something in the room that hadn’t been there before.
She crossed quickly to the small table and picked up the bottle of wine.
‘Is it French?’
She gave the label another look, then nodded.
‘Smash it open.’
She placed it on the bed, lifted the quilt over, then brought the lamp down on it. She tore away the quilt and stared at the prize at the bottom of the bottle. ‘Browning, 9mm, semi-automatic. Sir?’ she asked, his lack of surprise intriguing.
‘It’s sufficient to say that Wrath is on our side.’ His wings extended and he flapped them once, leaving him floating in mid-air. ‘We’re leaving, now.’
She stepped onto the makeshift silk harness, wrapped one arm around him, checked her range of movement, then nodded against his chest.
With one massive flap of his wings, they shot out the large open window that looked out over the cliff face the Magpie Court sat upon.
She held her body against his as tightly as she could – there weren’t even minutes until someone saw them escaping, or found her room empty, and every iota of wind resistance could make their escape attempt fatally slow.
A few dozen magpies were disturbed as they flew higher. Her eyes scanned each in turn, looking for any sign that they were more than low cousins. Nothing. They were all just normal birds.
Normal birds, and one guard having lunch on the same outcropping. He stared at them, an overstuffed sandwich halfway to his mouth.
She pushed herself away from Taylor, and launched herself toward the guard, who still hadn’t grabbed a weapon, or even put down his sandwich.
With a grunt, she hit the guard, the cliff wall and the sandwich. She broke his neck with one swift movement, patted down the corpse for weapons – finding two small throwing knives, then let herself fall back into her commander’s arms.
‘I can hear an alarm,’ Taylor said as she righted her footing in the harness.
She listened, and heard it, an alarm floating on the wind. They’d been- No. They had a huge lead. Enough of a lead. Gods, it had to be enough.
Taylor seemed to have no trouble with his wings, pushing them higher and higher into the sky as easily as he would climb a flight of stairs.
If there was a soft spot in the sky, it meant the Court had a finite sky, it meant that they would reach the roof of the world. Touching the sky wouldn’t be a metaphor.
She cast a look below, and saw soldiers spilling out of the Court.
‘Are we going through this again, Magnolia?’
The voice was close. Her mother wasn’t.
‘You will come back, and this will begin again.’
It was true. Even if – big if at this point, judging by the horde of gaining soldiers – they escaped, everything would just start over.
‘Faster, sir.’
Agency. They needed to be back in the Agency. Back with supplies, options, allies. Another hit of the experiment’s blue would at least stalemate the situation for a few hours.
A few hours. A few hours to think of the same options that they had thought of the first time around. A few hours to hire an assassin. A few hours to hire a Court traitor and launch a genocidal attack on the magpies. A few hours to start a war.
Bullets shot past, and she swung the Browning down towards the soldiers, keeping her finger away from the trigger – none of them were within range, and the few that could be close enough weren’t close enough to allow an accurate shot, and accuracy was king when bullets were limited.
‘How far?’
‘There,’ he said, as she turned from their pursuers for a moment. There was a slight depression in the sky – a barely-noticeable upward pull of the clouds into the solid blue sky.
‘Last chance, Magnolia.’
‘Do I really have to say that I’d rather die?’
‘Wishes can be granted, Magnolia.’
She felt the skin across her chest and middle sparking and cracking, readying to explode.
‘Sir.’All for nothing. All of it, all for nothing. No reason for him to die. ‘I love you.’
She let go of him, tucked her limbs against her body and dove toward the oncoming soldiers.
Take a few of them out at least. Disorient the high-flyers. Give Taylor a chance to-
His strong arms grabbed her from behind. ‘Fade!’ he screamed into her ear.
She fixed the roof of the world into her mind, her vision tunneling as they dropped closer to the soldiers and their now much more accurate shots, and began to race down the tunnel.
The fade tunnel had always just been that – a tunnel. The thinnest of tubes she had pushed herself through towards a pin point-sized image of her destination. It had always been more like a trick of the mind than a proper fade.
No more. She could stand. She could see. Her destination – the vortex in the sky was still visible at the “end”, but so was everything else, the ground far below her feet. It was so much more the “walk” that other fae had described to her.
One last thing learned before death.
Taylor kept his grip on her as the first wave of the explosion hit.
Fire, hot as napalm burnt as her skin cracked and sealed over and over, but the flames dissipated almost as soon as they hit the still, dead air of the fade. The second, third, and fourth waves of the explosion were even less kind. She heard herself screaming, and even that wasn’t enough. Every inch hurt, ribs snapped under pressure, the feathers on her back shrivelled, and worse, deeper pain, hit, an indicator that she was seriously, seriously hurt.
His arms held her up, despite the need to sleep, the need to curl up into a ball and sink into a pool of morphine. It would have been fatal. It should have been fatal. For once, her mother had honestly been trying to kill her, rather than just fuck with her.
The grey tunnel of the fade shook, a shoddy shack in a gale, then finally shattered as the last bit of the explosion wracked her broken body. Blood slid down her legs, poured from deep gashes in her arms, leaked from under her fingernails, painted her in red all over. Her body lost tension as they were cast back into the world, and she began to pitch toward the earth again.
The soldiers had caught up. Two grabbed her and began to pull her back toward the earth. She lifted the gun, still miraculously in her blood-slick hand, and shot one in the chest. He clutched at the wound, dramatic as a pantomime actor, then dropped like a stone.
She turned to the other and kicked him. He swore, then released her, letting her fall as she stayed above, drawing a weapon. She swung the Browning up and fired two shots – one whizzed uselessly past his head, but the other managed to clip a wing, and he screamed obscenities as he plummeted past her. Wings. They all had wings. Not a few dozen feathers protruding from their backs, and not just a slight edge against gravity, but real wings, and the ability to give gravity the finger.
Taylor swooped beneath her, she landed on his back. It hurt him, something she would have known even without hearing his shout of pain.
He was tiring, fast, his wings weren’t beating with the same ferocity, they weren’t climbing with the same speed, and they were still far from safe.
She wrapped her arms around his neck and let her legs slide down his back and into the harness.
There was blood on his wings. Hers. His. Both. Didn’t matter. Parkers. Jones. They would fix everything. Gods, everything hurt. Everything except her hands, she couldn’t even feel those.
They hit the soft spot, they touched the sky, they pushed through the sky.
The building that rose up in front of them as they left the Court, however, was not something that could be pushed through.
At the last second, Taylor swung his right wing around, and it took the brunt of the impact. He grabbed her as they fell, and she could barely feel his hands. Barely-
One last fade. One last kiss. One last miracle. Anything. Nothing. So much of everything was nothing now.
She tried to focus on his face.
She tried to focus.
She couldn’t even speak.
She couldn’t even-