2.6 A Rescue Owed

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Cherise watched the scaffold, listening to it creak and clank. One of the pillars that anchored the ancient structure began to buckle. Grimy metal rails screeched, in danger of wrenching apart, as two giants descended out of the rainy gloom above.

Weptolyso seized Alex in a one-armed hug while holding onto a pillar with his other hand. Margo had to hang onto his spiky shoulder.

"The mind reader has more honor than I thought," Dugwon said. "He is brave to let Weptolyso  go ahead of him, and to stay above to protect us."

Cherise made a noncommittal sound. Desperate people wanted to believe that Thomas was on their side. They wanted him to be a hero.

"I think he is different from other mind readers because he is half human," Dugwon stated. "Like you. Humans are nice."

She must want Cherise to admit that maybe Thomas wasn't so bad after all. But Cherise wasn't going to do that. What she'd glimpsed in Thomas's face, before she climbed down, had nothing to do with compassion or courage. His reason for staying behind was dark and cold.

It had something to do with death. Thomas was probably going to kill himself.

Well, fine. If that was what he wanted, then it wasn't Cherise's place to ruin his plans. She wasn't going to warn anyone. She felt sure that his humanity—the gruff kindness he used to have—was never coming back. He could never be trusted again.

Mossy struts canted sideways, and support beams toppled, causing widening gaps. Refugees at the base had to scurry out of the way as the scaffold sloughed apart, splashing and groaning as if relieved to give up.

Weptolyso leaped to the oily ground, and spun just in time to catch Alex. He thrust out a powerful arm to keep Margo from sliding off. His nostrils flared, and he snorted from exhaustion, but with his inky spikes, he made a fiercely proud figure.

Refugees grinned at each other with triumph. They didn't dare cheer, but Cherise could see their unspoken applause. The dead city had not defeated them yet.

"That was close." Kessa peered worriedly up at the swaying remainder of the scaffold. Only one pillar remained, with a few loose struts.

"I must rest." Weptolyso sounded as if he was on the verge of collapse. He set Margo down on top of a fallen pillar.

Alex sat on the same pillar. He leaned over, head down, slumped in misery.

"Are you all right, Alex?" Kessa asked him.

His reply was worn out and curt. "No powers."

That seemed obvious. With powers, Alex would have immediately healed Margo and anyone else who needed it.

"I meant, how are you feeling?" Kessa said gently.

Alex made a growl of frustration. 

"Did you see Choonhulm and Thomas?" Kessa asked worriedly. "Are they going to be able to climb down?" She squinted into the rain, peering skyward.

Alex followed her gaze with a worried frown. "Maybe Weptolyso should get ready to catch them, just in case."

Everyone watched the teetering pillar, their good cheer turning to concern.

"Choonhulm is strong," Pung said with his usual confidence. "They will have a hard time getting down, but he can do this."

Cherise adjusted the ionic knife on her rag-tied belt, clean and safe within its sheath. She expected to feel relieved by the idea of slogging onward without Thomas. Instead, she felt something like despair. Her friends would be devastated.

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