1.11 Storming

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Polluted rainfall blurred the living city to a dreamy underwater glow. Even at a distance, the carnival brightness hurled defiance at the black ruination they were flying over.

The Torth vessels were more lively at the border. And more numerous. Alex sank his awareness into their ship's hull.

"Behind us!" Weptolyso said with alarm.

Alex spiked himself into shrieking winds. A missile slammed into his wall of high pressure air and exploded.

The enormous explosion ripped across the dome window, blinding and hot. Black cracks burned across the whiteness. One wedge of the dome continued to flicker, wavering between a view of the outside and a gray blankness, evocative of a computer crash.

Everyone was on their hands and knees. Alex found himself on the floor, wrists aching from the sudden impact. At least he had managed to avoid landing on top of Margo, especially in his armor.

"Our hull is damaged," Thomas said in a tight, furious voice. He must be strapped into place, because he hadn't moved, and his hoverchair hadn't slid anywhere.

"Reinforce our hull, Alex," Thomas said in a scathing tone. "Otherwise we're dead."

Fireballs flared against their ship, forcing it to careen. Alex braced himself and sent his awareness crisscrossing around their hull. He absorbed shock wave after immense shock wave, shoving away deadly objects, and cementing the fractured hull in place.

He struggled to do all of that while hanging onto his identity. If he forgot who he was—if he became a force of nature—he might just destroy his friends the way he'd accidentally killed his mother.

Margo gripped his armored fingers. She did not ask if he was all right, but Alex saw her concern. She helped him remember who he was and where he was.

Their ship arced over a pitch-black wasteland, or maybe an abyss. A wide ribbon of nothingness seemed to separate the dead city from the living one.

Alex had no time to study the border. Bombs exploded from above, and he poured himself into solid winds around the ship, leaving no time to ponder the chasm, or sludge canal, or deadly wall, or whatever it was, which separated the cities. There were no visible bridges or roads, no way to stroll out of the dead city into the living one, or vice versa.

Then he was amidst a dazzle worse than Times Square in New York City. Bombs rained through the low clouds. Searchlights shone their way. Holographs glowed between buildings, so Alex could hardly know, at a glance, what was solid and what was a mirage.

Transports swarmed towards them, shooting fiery missiles.

"They're trying to make us crash." Thomas slammed controls, and their ship banked one way, then another. "They know we can't hide here. The living city is well-lit and has eyes everywhere."

Alex didn't see any eyes. The dreary-looking buildings lacked visible windows and balconies. This was Torth-style architecture, seamless and over-engineered, but instead of skyscrapers, it looked more like blocky, geometric mountains.

The buildings on Umdalkdul had been dusty sandstone. Here, everything was coated by layers of sludge and slime, sharp angles made indistinct. No rooftop gardens or terraced plazas. No foot traffic in sight.

All the people must be indoors.

Alex extended his awareness briefly through a nearby building, and sure enough, life sparks glowed here and there. A scattered flow of them must be a street full of pedestrians. Slaves, most likely. Torth rarely packed so close together.

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