Chapter 7

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The City fades to a distant speck as I jog across the sandy plains. The weight sitting against my shoulders grows lighter and my heart becomes fuller with each footfall, the space between myself and the Wall filling with my hopes of locating both the Madam and Will.

Luca is waiting for me beneath the relative shade of a long-dead tree. He reclines casually against the trunk, his back to me although I know he is keenly aware of my approach. I slump down onto the sand alongside him, catching my breath.

"Have you been waiting long?" I ask.

"Yes, but only because I am so much faster than you." He replies.

I snort, shrugging off my weapons and leaning back against the tree. "Your arm looks better."

"Fully healed." Luca extends his right arm, turning it so that I can see. The beautiful blue tattoos decorating his dark skin are marred only slightly by the burns he received during the explosion. Without thinking I run a finger over the markings, tracing the intricate pattern. I look up and catch him watching me, his strange dark eyes startling.

I pull my hand away quickly. "I'm glad you're still in one piece."

"I am flattered that you care." He teases.

Jumping to my feet, I grab my sword and bow and busying myself re-attaching them to my belt."We should get going." I say, lifting my chin and indicating the horizon. "Your brother doesn't like to be kept waiting."

"As you wish." Luca climbs gracefully to his feet.

I halt in my preparations, biting my lip as I work up some courage. "There's something I wonder about you."

"Ask it."

"Why are you here?" I shake my head, trying again. "What I mean is, Jaron has an insatiable thirst for battle, and you know my reasons for hunting the Madam, but I'm not entirely sure of yours."

"You do not know why I stay?" Luca repeats my question slowly, as if asking it back to me.

"You told me when we first met that you wanted nothing but to walk free, to have no obligations to anyone. I thought that after we rescued Noah I would be seeing the last of you." I say clumsily. "So, why are you still here?"

Luca remains very still, unmoving except for where the wind teases his hair and clothes. After a time, a slow smile pulls at his mouth.

"What I told you is that I wanted freedom. Tell me, Kay," He spreads his arms wide, indicating the endless desert surrounding us. "What could be more free than this?"

I laugh, momentarily releasing the strains of my City life and my fears about Will.

"Fair point." I grin. "I suppose... I just need to know that you're staying for yourself and not for—"

"For you?" Luca interrupts, raising an eyebrow.

"I didn't say that."

"Tell me this, then. Do you want me to stay?"

"I want you to follow your own will, not mine or anyone else's."

He smirks. "And if I told you that I am precisely where I want to be, would you then admit that you want me here?"

"You really need me to say it, don't you?" I fold my arms across my chest.

"Oh, I do not think that I am the only one who needs something."

"Fine." I mock-sigh. "Luca, I am so glad that you're here."

"And grateful."

"Yes, and grateful."

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