Chapter 16

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I'm having that dream again.

Not about Harmen with his whip and questions. Those are rare, lately appearing far less often than my current nightmare.

I almost miss the old visions, they didn't hurt as much.

In the dream I am lying in bed. My pillow and sheets are gripped tightly as I fight for breath. Loneliness cuts through me, sharp as knives and I shiver from the chill made worse by my sweat.

Then, mercifully, I feel a wonderful warmth. Heat seeps through the scarred skin at my back as his chest presses into me. Strong arms snake their way around my torso and I melt into him.

Smiling with pleasure I roll over, searching.

This dream isn't like the others.

Instead of Will's steely grey eyes I am staring into two blue-black pools.

I awake with a start. Darkness surrounds me but I wait and soon, my eyes adjust. The dirty floor of one of Babel's tunnels appears first, then Luca's sleeping form a second later. He rests with his back to me a couple yards away and for several moments I watch his shoulders fall up and down in tune with his breath. I recall my relief at having seen him returned from the Tower but not my surprise. Luca manages. He always does.

As if sensing my eyes on him he rolls over. Even in the dim light I can see his question.

"What did you do with the Tech?" I ask in a whisper.

A small sigh. "She is gone."

Numbness at hearing what I already knew spoken out loud. My failure and loss of control left Luca with no other choice. I hate myself for making him kill. It isn't easy on him, no matter how familiar he is with death.

"Go easy on yourself." Luca's voice floats through the darkness. "She felt no pain, no fear."

It was better than she deserved.

The whispers come on suddenly, crowding my sleep-dampened mind.

She was a monster. They all are.

I clap my hands down over my ears but the whispers only grow louder.

Rid first this dome, then the whole world of their poison.

"Enough." WIthout my noticing, Luca has managed to close the distance between us. "Enough of this place. Come. Grab your things."

I stumble around the other sleeping forms, haphazardly stuffing my pack and pulling it closed, pausing only to check that my father's dagger is tucked securely against my leg. My heart is hammering heavily now, the whispers unintelligible so long as I can focus, so long as I can keep myself on task.

We weave soundlessly though Babel's underground labyrinth, our journey to the surface feeling like an extension of my dream. The distant shrieks of the Scorched intermingle with the murmurs in my head and beneath it all there is a fluttering, an urgency that I can't quite place. It isn't until we shoulder our way through the rocks and feel the blast of night air against our faces that I recognize this sensation.

Relief.

My legs give out and I collapse to my hands and knees. Sand spills between my fingers as my grip tightens, my lungs swelling and practically bursting from the exhilaration of open ground stretching before me once more.

Lifting my head, I shut my eyes against the cooling breeze, letting the desert wash over me and welcome me home.

All at once, my strength returns. I jump to my feet and tighten the pack sitting across my shoulders. A glance at Luca and then I am off, streaking like a star loosed from the sky.

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