Chapter Five

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I stand there, stupid as the day I was born, and think through my options. I hadn't brought the phone that would connect me with Storm's keep. The last time I used it, I figured out it had a tracking device in it—absolutely the last thing I wanted for today's adventure. Only, getting myself gutted isn't exactly the other option I'd been hoping for.

"What do you want?" I say to the boy. "I haven't any money."

He tilts his head like he can't quite figure out what I'm doing. Maybe he can't hear? I sign a few words, but although he stares avidly at my hands, I can tell there's no comprehension.

"Don't bother," a twangy voice calls from above.

"I haven't any money," I repeat. The man who owns the voice leans casually over the balcony railing. He's got a shock of dark hair, striped white-blond like a dirty skunk. A green button-up opens down his chest. A smattering of chest hair. Beyond his shoulder bobs Marta's fuzzy locks. "Only five Dominion dollars."

"I know that." Even before I see his long grin, a mouth full of metal and rotted teeth, I know I'm in trouble. He pulls a crisp fiver taut between his hands.

"What do you want, then?"

The man nods to the boy behind me. I turn, wanting to keep an eye on him. But when I pivot my body around, I count four boys. Three of them look better fed than Rock Boy. I look back up to the balcony, but Skunk Man is gone.

The boys behind me spread out, their arms outstretched to form a net. They don't say anything more. A raindrop plops down on my face. It occurs to me, a little absurdly, that for a little while the rain had stopped. The drizzle changes to mist, making it hard to tell what the boys in front of me are doing. My heart hammers in my chest as my teeth start to chatter, a combination of terror and chill.

And then Skunk Man is standing before me on the broken asphalt. Marta cowers behind him like a dirty rag doll.

"What do you want me for, then? Since you've clearly already picked my pockets." I nod at Marta and pretend as best I can that I'm not afraid. My hair clings to my neck and face, but I take a small pleasure in seeing how unhappy the skunk man looks in the rain, his striped hair wilting around his face.

Skunk Man shrugs and looks me up and down like I'm a head of lettuce in a market stall. "Marta here is my apprentice, not some common thief. Thieves are thick in Dominion. Information is better. And interesting Splicers who hang about in Heaven Square are even better."

A chill works its way down my spine. I might be okay if he doesn't yet know who I am. Those hopes are dashed a second later.

He sucks his teeth. "You're that True Born's girl. People'd pay a lot of money for his girl."

They've been watching us, then. My chin goes up. "He'll rip you to shreds with his bare hands."

As though it's a signal, one of the boys, a thick, beefy boy in overalls, pulls out a length of painted black chain. Out of another pocket he pulls a rusty combination lock. He comes forward at Skunk Man's beckoning.

They're going to lock me up, it suddenly occurs to me. "Y-You don't want to do this," I stutter.

"Checkers," says Skunk Man to the beefy one. "Don't hurt her too badly. Just make her shut up."

The rain comes tumbling down from the sky, fat drops slapping like hands on my face. I stare at the beefy boy and wonder what making me shut up will feel like. I close my eyes as he comes toward me with outstretched hands. A thick crack rents the air like thunder. I open my eyes. Thick red ribbons of blood blossom from the beefy boy's chest. His face goes slack as he crumples to the ground.

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