Chapter 14

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I didn't need Tawny to tell me that time passes slowly belowground.

The false sky plays its tricks, stretching days into nights. I become distrustful of the PA system's hourly notifications and find myself twitching in tune with each mechanical chime.

Re-orienting myself with Babel proves a worthy distraction. I flit the city streets dressed in a bland rotation of cloaks and scarves, growing gradually accustomed to the sights, the sounds and the smells of the enemy camp.

There is a nervous energy to Babel. People tread lightly and speak softly, as if afraid to draw too much attention to themselves. It doesn't take a master spy to realize that this is a city gripped by fear; what I have a hard time deciding is whether it's the inside or the out that scares them most.

Luca and I fall into a routine. We spend our days familiarizing ourselves with our respective environments and our nights regrouping and assembling our findings. I'm impressed with how quickly Luca is able to fall into his role as an Enforcer but unsurprised; anyone who can travel as silently as him must have a knack for disguise.

We recline against one of many stone walls. Tawny's camp has relocated countless times since I've joined up with them, each move revealing a new secret. By now I can recognize the Scorchers' warning cries and leaned how to avoid them. The knowledge that comes with knowing several escape routes is beyond comforting and makes it easier to push away any unwelcome clouds of red.

"What do they speak about, up above?" Luca asks as he removes his armoured breast plate.

"Her, mostly." I reply, resting my head back and staring up at the leaky pipes. "Other than that their talk is mundane. Work. Family. The same worries that plague us."

"Any mention of the Runner?" Luca rolls his shoulders, relishing in being free of the extra weight and accepting a flask of water when I hand it to him.

"Occasionally." I admit. "But I'm confident that Tawny and the others have kept their mouths shut. There are no rumours about me being in Babel."

"Good." He runs his wrist along his mouth.

"What about the Enforcers?" I ask.

"They talk of her. You." Passing the flask back to me. "There are rumours being spread. We're told to keep an eye out, but no one seems to take the job too seriously, aside from a few keen louts."

"Good." I swirl the drink in my hand, considering. "Then I think it's time we move forward."

"Meaning that you wish to go inside."

"You have a way in, right?" I soldier on, ignoring his comment. "The bribes have worked?"

"Yes. I can take on someone's shift in the labs whenever I like."

"Begin tomorrow." I say decisively. "I'll begin my search during the evening's announcement and if we're lucky, I'll be able to head to the tower directly. I'll need you to be ready."

"Always." His head tilts to the side as he studies me.

I touch my face self-consciously. "What?"

"Your hair."

My fingers move to the fiery mass on my shoulder. "Oh. Right."

"You'll have to change the colour." His eyes rove the length of my braid. "We should ask Tawny to help."

I glance towards the tunnel's entrance before motioning for Luca to follow me deeper into the shadows.

"I don't want any of them to know that we've seen into the labs, yet." I confess in a low voice. "As far as they're concerned, you're still shadowing Geoff and I'm pickpocketing."

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