The wings faded and they tumbled to the ground. Vinny twisted away from Blake. Sharp pains lanced through her hip and elbow on impact. Blake cried out, and Vinny scrambled to her feet.
“Blake.” She put a hand on his back. “Blake! Say something.”
He groaned and pushed up on his left arm. She put her arms around him, helped him to his feet, and shifted her body under his shoulder.
“Let’s go,” she urged as she pulled him along.
“Leave me,” he groaned. “I’m slowing you down.”
She didn’t bother to answer, just kept going. Blake had made her study a map of Denysrus, and all the places where she could summon the Sages in an emergency, like this one. She remembered being confused by the names, and the sound of his voice explaining that Arta Togarm was the singular name, and Artana Garm the plural form. A diagram of the city shuffled itself around in her mind’s eye, locations she wasn’t sure of moving around those she was. There was an Arta Togarm nearby, on Steyn Street. Adnes could heal him when they got there, but she had to hurry. If the Handmaiden survived the fire then she’d call in back up.
The alley opened into a street. Vinny kept close to the shadows of the buildings as she walked up it. Her shoulder was throbbing, gnawing pain. She had to stop, but not in the open. There was always the chance they’d run into some cops looking to round up druggies and drunks heading home from the nightclubs, and she couldn’t afford a run in with the Pigs. If the drunks and druggies bugged her, she could fight, but she didn’t have a cent on her to bribe the police.
She dragged Blake across the road and through the overgrown bushes and trees growing alongside a small theatre. Branches scratched at her face and arms.
Vinny collapsed back against the wall with Blake and panted for breath. Her legs trembled. If only the strange rush of strength she’d felt in the alley had lasted a little longer. She peered through the tangled branches. There was no sign of the Handmaiden, or anyone else, so she turned her attention to her Guardian.
It was too dark to see much of anything so she traced her fingers across his chest to find his injured arm.
“Don’t,” Blake growled as her fingertips made contact with something warm and sticky. Blood, lots of it.
“Suck it up man, we can’t leave a trail to Adnes.” She had to stop the bleeding somehow.
Vinny wiped her hand on her pants and tried to stay calm, ignoring the queasiness in her stomach as the rich, metallic smell invaded her nostrils. She had to focus. There wasn’t time for fear and anxiety.
Blake was always sensible, stable, and reasonable. Things she wasn’t. She didn’t know how to handle this situation like he would. Part of her wanted to just hide away, like all of this would vanish if she could find a small enough space to crawl into.
But Blake would die.
With shaking fingers, she removed the belt on her cargo pants, looped it around his shoulder, and pulled it tight under his armpit. Blake let out a strangled cry, but she ignored him and knotted the belt as securely as she could.
“Stop wasting time on me, Vinny, you need to get to safety. I can’t protect you like this.”
“Don’t be a dumbass, Blake, I’m not leaving you.”
Self-control. She’d spent years perfecting it under a sadist’s thumb and she called on it now, forcing herself to think. It didn’t look like they’d been followed, that was the most critical worry, but she had to get Blake to the Sages. She wasn’t strong enough to carry him and she cursed herself for not spending more time training as she ducked her shoulders beneath his uninjured arm and prepared to move off again.
“Come on, it isn’t much farther.”
“No,” he groaned. “Call Al.”
The image of a man with dark hair, a stubble-lined jaw, and brown eyes leapt to her mind. With it came memories of soft lips, the sandalwood and musk scent of his skin, and the sting of betrayal and harsh truths.
She did not want to call Alistair, but this was an emergency. Without further hesitation, she pulled her phone from her pocket, found his number, and pressed ‘call’.
“I need your help,” she interrupted him. “Blake is badly hurt, we’re in the bushes surrounding the theatre in town.”
“What happened?” he asked. She heard a door bang.
“Handmaiden. I don’t know if her dog got him or the Skaath but he’s bleeding.”
“Apply pressure to the wound, I’m on my way.”
He hung up and she shoved the phone back in her pocket. Apply pressure to the wound with what?
“I need your knife,” she said to Blake as she reached for his belt.
“Al’s coming?” he asked.
“Yeah.” Vinny pulled the blade free from his hip sheath and hacked at the bottom half of her shirt.
“I have to apply pressure to your wound,” she said.
Blake didn’t reply. She reached for his arm and held her breath as she probed for the wound.
Blake grunted. “Higher up,” he groaned.
Vinny gritted her teeth as he guided her hand towards his wound. He let out a weird, strangled cry as she pressed the wad of cloth against it. She turned her face to press her nose and mouth against her arm, hoping to block out some of the smell of his blood. It would help if she had something else to focus on, an intricate pattern or repetitive movement.
“One and one is two,” she muttered against her arm. “Two and one is three, three and two is five, five and three is eight, eight and five is thirteen…”
“Are you reciting a Fibonacci sequence?”
“I’m playing a game with myself to distract me from the smell of your blood, don’t make me lose count.”
“Eight and five is thirteen,” he replied.
“Thirteen and eight is twenty one,” she continued.
“I’m sorry; I forgot you don’t like blood.”
“And you got hurt on purpose, did you? It’s not your fault so don’t apologise.”
Somewhere nearby a car’s hooter honked out three short blasts, followed by one long.
“That’s Al,” Blake mumbled.