My mind races with questions as we dash through endless tunnels of darkness. I have no perception of time down here. Has it been seconds? Minutes? Hours? Every inch of my body aches and begs for rest. But we can't stop; if we stop they find us.
Elias tugs my hand harder, warning there is a turn coming up. We bank right, my thin shoes crunching against the ground. Shivers creep up my spine at the thought of what my feet could have landed on. I force my mind to focus on something else.
Elias. The pressure of his hand is warm and strong in mine. He didn't even hesitate when he grabbed my hand. When we kissed he didn't hesitate ether. I haven't let myself even begin to think about that moment since it happened. The shivers return, snaking their way up my back and to the ends of my fingertips. I remember the pressure of his lips on mine, his hands, roaming up and down my body. But he broke away, I remind myself. He ended it.
I shake my head forcing the memories away. Not here, not now, do I want to reflect on that kiss. Keenan's face flashes in my mind along with the words from the Augur. Your heart wants Keenan, and yet your body is alight when Elias Veturius is near. Keenan, with his brilliant red hair and chestnut eyes, any girl would swoon over him. So why do I have to keep reminding myself that I want him?
A sharp pain explodes through my body as I run into Elias's back. His other hand immediately shifts to my mouth stifling a groan. "Not a sound," he whispers against my ear before pushing me against the tunnel wall. Heat rushes through my body as he presses up against me. My fabric of my dress abruptly seems very thin. At first there is only silence, then the soft thud of footsteps echo through the tunnel. They're far away but approaching at a quick pace. Elias swears under his breath.
"Stay close to the wall. Do not engage. These people are trained to kill and they won't hesitate." His words make my muscles freeze. Even if I wanted to move I couldn't. Cold air brushes against my skin as he moves away. The footsteps stop and everything is silent. For a long moment I can't breathe until I hear a loud bang that echoes off the stone walls. Chaos erupts around me.
Bodies rush by me. Earsplitting thuds erupt through the tunnel. Elias could be anywhere in that mess. My legs shake against the rock, aching to run away from the danger. I grip the wall behind me until I can feel the blood drain from the vessels. I can't run. I can't leave Elias behind like I left Darin. I heave Elias's warning and stand as still as a statue.
Air rushes out of my lungs as a hand grabs at the fabric of my dress and throws me to the ground. Pain bursts through the back of my skull. The hands come at me again, this time pulling at my wrist and slamming me against the wall. Fabric is stuffed in my mouth before I can scream for Elias.
"Don't fight, it will only hurt more." The man's voice is rough in my ear and stubble along his face scratches on my cheek. I try to whimper, but it only comes out as a string of babbles. The man's fist is at my stomach before I can deflect the attack. Punches land on my stomach and side leaving behind throbbing pain. He grabs my face, the one hand still holding my wrists above my head. I twist and wither in his grasp. In this position I have no way to grab at the dagger strapped to my leg. Hot breath fills my ear and he whispers again, "I told you not to fight."
A scream escapes me as his nails dig into my wrists drawing blood. Another punch lands at my side and then I'm tasting blood. His hand comes to my cheek again and my head hits the tunnel wall with a blood curdling crack. For a terrifying moment I can't comprehend anything. Ringing fills my ears. Did I black out?
That's when I feel the hand on my thigh. It travels up my leg to lift the hem of my dress. All my fight is gone and all the energy I have left is going into trying to keep myself conscious. Maybe I should just let myself drift off. I wouldn't be able to feel it then, right? Marcus' face flashes behind my closed eyes. His breathe against my ear and his hands on my body. I feel blood drip down my arms as his grip tightens.
"Please," I whimper through the gag. His hand slams me into the wall again and I scream.
Then the hands are gone replaced by the freezing rush of air. I immediately fall to the ground, curling my bare legs up to my chest. Move, a voice screams in my head. My hands shake as I place them on the cold ground. Something scurries across my hands, but the scream is caught in my throat. Blood is still dripping from my wrists leaving a trail as I crawl against the wall. Keep moving, I repeat in my head
My breathe catches in my throat and I yell out. "Elias!"
The stone cuts into my skin as I pull myself up. Darkness is still flooded my vision. Elias could be right in front of me or a million miles away for all I could see.
"Laia stay where you are, I'm coming."
Moments later a hand grasps at mine. A scream erupts in my throat and I claw at the person in front of me. My mouth is covered by a hand. No, no, no! "Laia, it's me, it's Elias. It's okay. You can't make a sound, there might be more coming so we have to keep moving."
His voice calms my nerves and I nod in response, even though he can't see it. This time he doesn't grab my hand.
When we finally see light, my lungs are ready to give up. My feet ache and my head pounds. I haven't even thought about how bad my injuries might be, or Elias's. He took on that whole group of men alone, how is he still standing?
My head snaps up and I blink in the dim light. His face is clearly outlined now in the pale sunlight shinning down from the grates above us. Blood trips onto his lips from his nose, which sits at an awkward angle. His eyes are wide set and staring straight at me, more importantly to my cheek. His hand is soft when it brushes against my cheek.
"He hurt you," Elias mumbles. I want to urge him to keep moving. But I'm frozen on the spot.
"I'm fine, really," I answer brushing away his hand. Elias presses his lips together but doesn't press me further.
"We need to get out of the city as quickly as possible. Just follow me and keep your head down." I nod and adjust the cloak on my shoulders. Elias breaths out a deep sigh then pulls the hood of my cloak up to cover my face.
Above the tunnels the sunlight is starting to fade, casting long shadows along the streets. Elias pulls me against his back and into the shadow of building. We move swiftly along the streets, sticking to the shadows and keeping our heads down. Buildings pass us by on either side and I start to wonder what the people inside are doing. By this hour Darin and I would have been cleaning up from dinner, placing the used dishes in the sink, wiping down the table. Nan and Pop would be in the next room. On good days Pop would pull out his old music player and dance with Nan between the couch's. Whenever they did this Darin and I would also pretend to wash the dishes, but instead end up watching from the doorway. Nan had always smiled her brightest then, dancing with Pop in the dying sunlight. My heart aches to be back there, secretly listening to the scratchy music and humming along.
Elias holds out his arm to block my path. "There's a patrol set up along the gate." I peek around his arm to see the barricade set up in front of the city gate. At least thirty men there, we'd never get through that.
"What do we do now?" I ask, pressing back against the wall. Elias's eyebrows pull together and he stares behind my head, thinking.
"We need to lay low, stay out of sight until the barricade is lifted," He answered.
He gulps and stares back down at me, his eyes are wide again. "I don't know, Laia." My heart drops to my stomach. We can't be on the streets, they'll find us. It's a miracle we haven't been spotted already.
"The tunnels? We could go back down there –."
"No, too many patrols."
My mind starts reeling. We can't stay on the streets or go back into the tunnels. And we can't let them find us or Drain is dead and so are we. I grasp at every passing thought. Elias breathe is harsh and steady against my ear. His chest rises heavily with his breathing. The scims at his back glint in the last rays of sunlight. The scims…
Elias's head jolts up and he stares at me. Is he angry? Relieved? His stare gives nothing away, just as a Mask is taught to do, hide their emotions. "How do you know him?
"The Commandant had me deliver some letters to him. My brother was also his apprentice before he was taken away."
Elias nodded slowly, tracking the pedestrians that walk by. "Do you know how to get there?"
I twist around in his grasp and stare at the street around us. 3rd street. Of all the streets in Serra I had never been on this street before, never had a need to leave the city.
"I don't know where we are, but if you got me to the square I'm sure I could get us there," I respond.
We keep to the shadows still. By the time we reach the square the sun has long gone down and patrols are stretched along the streets. Elias keeps pace beside me as we job through alleys until the smith's residence loams in front of us.
"Are you sure about this," Elias asks between breathes. Even running for this long had put a strain on him.
"Do we have another option?" Elias's eyes narrow, but he continues on the path to the house. I steal a glance at Elias. His jaw is hard set and his eyes are focused. I ache to hold his hand again, to feel his touch. Maybe when this is over, when Darin is safe...
Spiro Teluman appears behind the doorway. Without waiting for a response Elias elbows past him into the building and slams the door behind me.
"What is this?" Teluman asks. A dagger glints in between his fingers.
Elias glares at me, his arms crossed across his chest. "I'm sorry but we had nowhere else to go. We need somewhere to lay low. Just until the barricade clears," I say, taking a tentative step forward.
The dagger glints once more before Teluman slams it onto a table, rattling a stack of books. His eyes scan over Elias. His posture, his appearance, Teluman knows what he is. "They're hunting you," he concludes.
Elias growled quietly and Teluman raised an eyebrow. "Something like that."
When I turn back to Teluman after glaring at Elias I can feel daggers shooting at me from his eyes. "Please, you said you could help and we have no where less to -"
"There are lines," Teluman rumps. Elias steps forward; his fists tighten at his sides. If Elias goes at him we don't have any shoot at stay here, I realize. I step in front of Elias trying my best to block him despite my small frame which is easily dominated by his.
"Please," I beg. Teluman averts his gaze from Elias to me. "We need help."
A smile tingles on his lips, the same way Izzi's had the first time she saw the festival. "The scims."
Elias tenses behind me and growls, "What about them?"
Teluman picks the dagger up again and points to the handle of the blades sticking out above Elias' head. "I want them."
It takes every ounce of strength to keep Elias from charging at this man. "No way!"
"Relax Mask," Teluman sighs, enjoying the reaction he earns from Elias. "I only want to admire them. You'll get them back."
Elias's remains tense. Even without turning back I can tell he's staring down the smith. C'mon Elias. The silence stretches on until I'm about to jump in and answer for him.
"Alright," Elias mutters, unsheathing the blades and stepping around me. Balanced on his hands are most glorious blades I have seen. Black etchings run down the handles and curve up the blade. Each has gold incrusted in the web of designs and silver gem sited at the base of the handle. How does Elias possess such blades?
Teluman reaches out and runs a tentative hand along the length of one of the blades. Ruby blood glistens at his fingertip as it skids over the tip of the blade, but he only smiles wider. "Very well," the smith declares, retrieving the blades with steady hands. "Come with me."
Elias doesn't spare me a glance before following after Teluman. He leads us through a back hallway and out into the alley running along the stone building. With a glance back to make sure were still there he pulls away a tarp to relieve a set of wooden doors raised above the ground.
"My storage space," he explains while unlatching a key from the ring around his belt and jiggling it in the lock. "No one will come looking around in there. I'm the only one with a key." Teluman pulls open the doors with unexpected ease, and then climbs through the doorway and down the steps leading under the house. Elias follows grimily and I scurry after.
"It's the best I've got, can't risk keeping you in the house." Teluman walks around the space lighting up candles. Soon candle light eliminates the room in an orange glow. Boxes and crates are stacked along the walls in dusty heaps. A single table sits at the far end of the room. Even from behind Elias I can see the thick layer of dust and grim that has accumulated on its surface. A single window is positioned at the top of the wall behind us. Its pane, just like everything else down here, is dense with dirt.
"Thank you," I mumble from behind Elias. Teluman smiles gently at me then starts back up the steps. He turns back just before vanishing up the top steps.
"I'll come back with some food and blankets," He says. The smith opens his mouth like he wants to say more, but decides against. The doors behind us close with a creak and Elias and I are left alone.