The Night Wanderers
Toby stopped at the turn into an alley that ran underneath a tower building. Lucy slipped past him and scurried to the other end of the covered alley. The propellers of the helicopters were still audible, but much further away now. Toby could not hear any of the foot guards either, which made him question where they went. He had been chased before on nights like this, and they never gave up this easily.
“Clear,” Lucy called softly from the other side of the tunnelling pathway.
“Clear,” Toby repeated, turning into the tunnel and meeting Lucy half way. He kept his eyes on both exits while Lucy cleared a sheet of moss from the wall to reveal a low door. They paused in silence to listen for anyone or anything that might see them.
“Let’s go,” Toby said. Lucy held open the door as he limped through, into a descending staircase in pitch blackness. The sound of the door closing behind Lucy echoed loudly all the way down the passage. Toby knew from experience that it would be loud enough at the bottom to alert the others that they were on their way.
“How long have you been out?” Lucy asked in no more than a murmur, but still an echo surrounded them.
“Since sundown,” Toby answered at the same volume.
“It’s nearly dawn,” she pointed out, surprised. “When do you have time to sleep?”
“I’m nocturnal. Like an owl.”
Lucy had no response and they continued the descent in relative silence. Toby became very aware of the depth of the passage with his injured leg flaring with every step. His breath kept catching and he was certain that Lucy could hear it, but she said nothing. She was not someone to offer sympathy if there was nothing she could do.
A thick curtain marked the end of the staircase and Toby almost fell through it. Lucy caught him under the elbow to prevent him falling over completely, but his stumble caught the attention of the six people in the room.
“Good morning,” Oliver greeted them with a wry smile.
Toby nodded in return, not quite trusting his voice. He sat in a low chair in the corner and rolled up his trouser leg, examining the wound. He felt his stomach jolt at the amount of blood, but it was not the first time a bullet had caught him. Lucy went to the bathroom to fetch gauze.
“What did you see?” Lukas asked before anyone else could. He sat back in the chair behind the desk, his eyes on Toby’s.
Toby winced, which he tried to cover up with a shrug. He pulled the scarf away from his mouth to reply. “Helicopters and foot soldiers. Nothing of note.”
“I was too concerned with running for my life to count them, Lukas,” Toby answered as Lucy returned with a roll of gauze, a sterilised pad and a pot of disinfectant ointment. She placed them on the table beside Toby before joining the five Night Wanderers crowding around Lukas’ desk. He had a map on the table, along with several papers that could have been letters or commands; stolen from a Dark Keeper, no doubt.
Lukas continued to hold Toby’s gaze and he was forced to make an estimate. “Two helicopters on my tail, four others on standby. Too many foot soldiers to count.”
“Could they identify you?” Lukas asked carefully.
“I don’t think so.” Toby shook his head and returned his attention to his injured leg. He dabbed tentatively at the ointment before moving to the open wound, gritting his teeth before touching the outer edges of the bloody dent in his leg while the discussion continued.
“We were followed through the alleys for the best part of three hours this afternoon,” Marcus was saying.
“Dark Keepers?” Lukas asked, his eyes now on the papers in front of him.
“Most likely. They didn’t look just curious.” Marcus glanced sideways at Jason before continuing. “They tried to take a shot at us when we led them in a circle. I think they were trying to scare us, hoping we would lead them here.”
“Of course not,” Jason replied. He sat cross-legged on the floor surrounded by blueprints. “We ran back into the street. Of course, the shot should have been heard by everyone within a half-mile radius, but people can choose to have selective deafness if the threat is not right in front of them.”
“It’s illegal to shoot during daylight,” Lucy pointed out coldly. “How did they think they could get away with that?”
“Well, they did,” Jason answered. “They lost track of us in the street.”
“Were you wearing your scarves and war paint?” Lukas asked as he picked up one of the papers on his desk. Toby paused to try and read it over his shoulder, but the writing was too small. Some words had been underlined in red ink.
“In daylight? No.”
“You have to ask?” Lucy’s voice turned icy and her eyes narrowed dangerously. “What kind of idiots do you take us for?”
Toby spotted the hardening around Lukas’ eyes and the momentary lapse in attention caused him to catch the edge of his wound. He made a sound of pain that was close to a yelp that gained the attention of everyone in the room. Lukas looked over and moved as though he wanted to get up, but Hannah was quicker. She knelt at his side and took the ointment from him. “Try not to focus on the pain too much,” she advised, oblivious to the hard look Lucy was giving her.
“I have had bullet wounds before,” he muttered, but she ignored him. He turned his attention back to the conversation as Hannah tended to his wound. He had spent most of his time in the outpost avoiding her and now having her look after him made for an uncomfortable situation, at least for Toby. Like Lucy, she seemed unfazed by his awkwardness.
“You haven’t let us do anything of use in weeks,” Lucy continued with less ice in her tone. “Those of us that have left the outpost have managed to do nothing but spy, with nothing to report. It’s still illegal to walk the streets at night, and there is still nothing being done about it.”
“Patience, sister,” Lukas replied quietly. “With our outpost so close to being found, it is best that we keep a low profile for a while.”
“So you knew the Dark Keepers were close to finding us?” Lucy asked sceptically. Her hood was still up and the scarf covered her nose, her eyes decorated in patterns of war paint. She sometimes liked to keep the guise of anonymity, even inside the outpost where everyone recognised her voice anyway.
“If Toby stayed in the outpost at night rather than ‘spying’, we might not need to keep a low profile,” Marcus mumbled, but everyone heard.
“What Toby chooses to do during his time here is his choice,” Lukas said coolly.
“As far as the public is concerned, Toby has been dead for nearly a year. His appearances are more risky,” Oliver pointed out.
“I wear the same disguise as the rest of you,” Toby snapped, partially because a nerve ending flared under Hannah’s touch. “It is designed to hide our identity. I am no more recognisable than you.”
“Either way,” Lukas spoke before the argument could escalate, “I have an assignment lined up; one that involves more than spying.” Everyone, including Toby, leant forward fractionally to listen. Lukas swept the papers off the map and pointed to an area circled in red. “This is the point where Jack was killed three weeks ago.”
“What of it?” Lucy asked impatiently. “Members of the Night Wanderers are killed every week.”
“Not from our Watch,” Lukas responded in a tone that told her to be quiet. “Everyone here is a skilled fighter and I do not appreciate them being lost so easily-”
“What’s the assignment?” Marcus asked.
Lukas’ mouth hardened at the corners in irritation at being interrupted. Hannah scraped a lot of ointment onto the cloth pad and held it to the open gun wound on Toby’s leg. He bit the inside of his mouth in an attempt to muffle the sounds of pain, but a low grunt still escaped him. Hannah mumbled an apology as she wrapped the gauze around his calf, holding the pad in place.
“Are you okay?” Lukas asked. Toby nodded stiffly as Hannah stood and moved away. He did not look at her; she reminded him too much of Elsa. “Good, because I want you on this mission.”
Toby frowned in confusion while the rest of the group asked, “Why?”
“I want him on this mission because, unlike the rest of you, I believe that Toby’s anonymity is more of a help than a hindrance,” Lukas announced to quiet the rest of the group. “I want the man responsible for Jack’s death assassinated.”
“How will Toby help with that?” Alex demanded.
“On the off chance that one of you is recognised, Toby can no longer be associated with a civilian,” Lukas pointed out. “In any case, his injury will force him to move slowly, and precision is more important than speed in this instance.”
“You want me to do this alone?” Toby asked warily.
“Not at all,” Luka replied as though the answer was obvious. “Oliver will be your partner on this task, and Lucy will be your shield.” Oliver grimaced to himself but Lucy was almost vibrating with excitement. “Toby and Oliver will tail the man in question until they reach an optimum position. We need him either completely alone, or at least not in the eye line of any guards. Lucy will be on the rooftops, scouting the area. She will be able to tell you if the way is clear. If you get yourselves into trouble, her bow may also come in handy.”
“Which man are we tailing?” Oliver asked as Lucy demanded, “When are we going?”
Lukas smiled slightly, but it did not reach his eyes. “You leave tonight, when darkness has fallen. Your target is a man by the name of Peter Prendergast.”
“The nobleman?” Toby asked, surprised. “How was he Jack’s killer?”
“I didn’t say he was Jack’s killer. I said he was the man responsible for Jack’s death.” At the sight of all the puzzled faces in the room, Lukas continued, “The night Jack died, Peter Prendergast ordered a dozen Dark Keepers to keep a watch over his home. He bribed them with a small fortune, and we still do not know why. None of the Night Wanderers do. My guess is that something was happening that he did not want anyone to know about, even the government.”
“How does Jack relate to this?” Lucy asked.
“Jack was scouting the suburban district that night. It was the excess of Dark Keepers that got him killed; on any other night, he would have been able to escape them with nothing other than a few scratches.”
“That could be called circumstance,” Toby pointed out carefully. “He didn’t intend for Jack’s death.”
“And what was Jack doing scouting alone?” Marcus added.
“Jack was not scouting at my command,” Lukas stated coldly. “I never instruct any of you to scout alone. If Prendergast was doing something that even the government would disapprove of, I have no qualms about having him assassinated. Lucy and Toby, go and get yourselves cleaned up. Make sure you have enough sleep today in preparation for tonight.”
“Why should we bother washing if we will reapply the paint later anyway?” Lucy muttered.
“Believe me, it will become uncomfortable after a few more hours,” Lukas replied, even though Lucy had not intended for an answer. She offered a hand to help Toby up, which he accepted in order to test his weight on his injured leg. The surrounding muscles were weakened, but he could walk.
He limped towards the bathroom with Lucy at his side, leaving the rest of the Watch in the office room. Toby heard the discussion continue, but Lukas was no longer contributing. Lucy kept glancing sideways at him, as though expecting him to fall over.
The bathroom was small, with two cubicles, one shower and a large, circular sink with four taps. The water usually ran cold, the hot water saved for the shower. Both Toby and Lucy shed their coats and scarves, along with their shirts in order to wash. There was no awkwardness between the Watch members when washing, but Lucy insisted on keeping an undervest on. Most of the others felt it was unnecessary, but Toby never complained. He thought she was entitled to her privacy, and also found washing much less awkward with Lucy than with Hannah, despite their history.
“Will you be up to an assassination tonight?” she asked, scrubbing the paint off her nose.
“Lukas seems to think so,” Toby replied, catching water in his cupped hands.
“How do you feel?” she asked, leaning on the sink opposite him. “Lukas is clever, yes, but he can’t tell you how you feel. If you would much rather put your feet up for a couple of days while your leg heals, no one would judge you.”
“When have I ever put my feet up and let someone else take my assignments?” Toby splashed water on his face and snorted as some went up his nose. Lucy wrinkled her nose in disgust as she was splashed.
“You haven’t always been so eager to kill,” she pointed out quietly.
Toby was silent as he scratched at the paint under his eyes. “I’m sure you haven’t been either.”
She smirked at him. “I’ve always been a bloodthirsty monster. You were a budding scholar once upon a time.” Toby leant on the edge of the sink, his hair dripping over his eyes. Little over a year ago he had been dedicated to the Academy and his study.
Toby’s sleep had been disturbed by thoughts and dreams of exploding helicopters and shadowy people in long coats. It was no surprise that he woke up late and found himself bathing in lukewarm water that was closer to cold than hot and rushing out the door with his shirt only half buttoned.
He raced along the street, now bustling with life. He dodged between mules and their carts full of fresh produce. Vendors hailed passing citizens and drew them to their sweet-smelling stalls of fruits or perfumes. From everyone in the Tower District, Toby was the best dressed. His clothes were not old and moth-eaten, but this was a result of being a student of the Academy. As long as you were clever, strong, or athletically skilled, the government, through the Academy, would look after you.
Toby turned to the source of the voice, still running. He waved hurriedly to Benjamin, an elderly homeless man that spent his daylight hours in the Tower District. Toby brought him food in exchange for information on the favelas, skirting for miles outside the towers. Toby had ambition to change the city, to find out what made the night forbidden and improve life for every citizen. He was not yet certain what the Academy’s students generally went on to achieve, but he had his own goals in mind. Currently, however, Toby had no food with him, but made a mental note to bring something to him after work.
There was no physical border between the Tower and Suburban districts, but the sudden change in scenery left no doubt in one’s mind when they left the poorer area of the city behind. Toby had grown up here, in the neat little neighbourhood of orange-brick town-houses, and still worked in a small café close to the Academy. His work clothes were currently stashed in the rucksack slung over one shoulder, along with the assortment of scrolls and notepads he had been translating. He was as fluent in Latin as he was in shorthand English.
The Suburban District was much quieter than the Towers, and the people he did see were far better dressed, calmer, cleaner, and considerably less friendly. He paid little attention to the cold looks from the people that knew his family and thought him mad for choosing to live in a tower rather than stay in his beautiful family home. Toby had moved away soon after receiving his place in the Scholar’s college at the Academy. Translating scriptures with his younger brother buzzing about was near impossible.
He caught sight of the straggling students climbing the steps to the Academy as he rounded a corner into the Governor’s District. He raced to catch up with them before the doors closed for the day. He snatched the edge of the door just as a petite girl with rich brown hair was entering. She looked up in surprise at his sudden appearance and smiled in greeting. Toby’s breath caught, but he hid it with a smile in return. Elsa’s smile could light up the room and ignited a warm glow in his heart.
Toby blinked and looked up. Lucy stared at him with hard eyes across the sink. “Excuse me?”
“I know you’re thinking about her. Stop it.” He sighed and splashed water onto his face, hoping to wash away the lingering image of Elsa’s smile, her warm, bright green eyes that, when she looked at him, made him feel like he was the only thing to see. Lucy’s steely grey gaze was a sharp contrast. “Look, it doesn’t do any good to linger on times gone by. You’re dead, as far as the city is concerned, as far as Elsa is concerned.”
“Don’t say her name. Please.” He brought his hands up to his face as though to scrub at the paint some more, but he left them there. Remembering her name and face was painful enough; having other people mention her name made her real and not some part of a beautiful dream he once had.
“Toby…” Hearing Lucy’s voice full of concern and sympathy was a surprise. She came around the sink to stand close and gently brought his hands down. She held them in her own and looked up at him, abandoning the hard, defensive mask. She was close enough for him to see the faint blue stains on her skin left by the war paint. Her closeness was comforting, and Toby found it too pleasant to push her away. She stretched up and kissed him.
Lucy was fairly tall, boyish and not at all like Elsa. She pushed him against the wall, dug her fingernails into the bare skin of his shoulders and kissed him hard. The flimsy fabric of her vest was the only thing separating her chest from his. She was strong, commanding and knew exactly what she wanted. She in no way reminded him of Elsa; this helped ease his pain, and he could almost lose himself in the fiery passion Lucy provided him.
But she was not Elsa.
Toby grasped hold of her arms and held her away from him. Her touch had once made him lose all sense of reality, including his feelings for Elsa, and he was sure she could do it again. He waited a moment for his blood to stop racing and his breath to catch up before speaking. “Not again,” he hissed quietly.
Her expression flickered between surprise and hurt before she rearranged her features back into the hard mask. She jerked away from him, her chin held proudly. “I’m sorry,” she said stiffly, sweeping up her shirt, coat, and scarf. The bathroom door opened and Lucy flounced out just as Lukas stepped in. He watched her go before letting the door close.
“Are you still sleeping with her?” he asked, his voice surprisingly light.
“No,” Toby answered coolly and immediately regretted it. It was not Lukas’ fault, he reminded himself. “I don’t love her,” he added in explanation.
“I know,” Lukas answered. Gold curls framed his bright blue eyes as he stared levelly at Toby. “Sex doesn’t usually equate to love. But I understand you feel as though you have been unfaithful.”
“I have been unfaithful,” Toby replied morosely.
“You weren’t in a relationship with her,” Lukas pointed out. “She thinks you’re dead. She may well have moved on to another man.”
The thought made Toby’s stomach churn sickeningly. “She knew how I felt.”
“You weren’t in a relationship,” he repeated firmly. “You haven’t been unfaithful to Elsa. Nevertheless, you need to stop stringing Lucy along. I think she is truly hurt by your lust for her that is clearly misplaced.”
“I have never strung her along,” Toby protested. “I have slept with her only three times, and each time, she has been the one to approach me.”
Lukas nodded slowly. “That doesn’t surprise me. Even so, Toby, stop allowing her to seduce you.”
“Did you come in here just to lecture me?” Toby asked.
“No. I came in here to tell you that, after your assignment tonight, I want you to go home.”
“Home?” Toby repeated, as though the word was one of foreign origins. “Why?”
“I need you to reintegrate yourself into the city. We are safer so long as the citizens know who we are, without knowing what we are doing. Besides, if the Dark Keepers find this place and decide to storm it during the day when, they suspect, we will all be asleep, none of us will be here.”
“What am I supposed to tell people?” Toby asked, the prospect beginning to panic him. “My family, my friends?” Elsa?
Lukas shrugged, and even that movement was graceful. Toby was certain that Lukas had never heard of the term clumsy. “You have two days to think about a believable story. Go back to your apartment, rebuild your life. Get your day job back if you can.” He made towards the door before adding, “Elsa will be waiting for you there.”Toby’s throat constricted at the information and by the time he found his voice, Lukas had left.