-- Pray for daylight, pray for morning,
Pray for an end to our deception.--
The sun was setting over land and sea. Tori rose from her hiding place and ventured out into the city. She knew where she was, where she needed to be, what she had to do. There was no turning back.
The shadows lengthened, spilled across the floor as if Celchu himself cast them. The darkness at his feet grew until it stretched to the window, covering everything in a soft ebony blanket. His shoulders tensed. His muscles tightened. Tonight it would be done.
He watched the last rays of sunlight fall beneath the dome of the Vatican, imagined them swooping under the planet to light the paths of mortals on the other side. The air pulsed with the blood of the streets as Derek stared across the rooftops toward the end of it all.
The sun set completely, and Wedge jerked awake in the stillness. The silence pressed in against him, the total silence that can only be found in a city. It was unnatural to him, as devoid of life as a corpse; there was nothing in it like the life and breath of the wilderness. Yet here was wilderness as he had once understood it, the wilds of humanity and those who hunt them.
There is a place where the sun never sets, where there are no shadows hiding dark things and no moon to pull the tides and the hunger. Wes dreamed of that place. But the night crept up as it always did, and he woke shaking and starving. Hades clawed at him, rising to the surface too swiftly to be stopped. It moved silently through the room, taking the human's mind before it took the blood.
Mortals still moved through the Eternal City, but here among the old homes silence reigned. It coated the streets thick as blood, muffling the sounds of the night creatures as they danced in the darkness.
Four men slid across the old cobbled streets. The smallest of them called to the shadows, pulled them from their homes in the corners of buildings to mask himself and his allies. The wall lay ahead, cutting off the street where it once protected the wealthy from their less fortunate brethren. Wes sidled up to a crumbling old building, found the spot where it met the wall.
Wedge glanced around them. "Merando's lived here for centuries--"
"Try millenia," Tycho muttered. "He probably built the whole city."
"Exactly. Do you think he doesn't know about this entrance?"
"That's not the point, is it?" Wes asked through clenched teeth. His hands worked at the time-smoothed stones, searching for the entrance. "The point is that he doesn't know that we know. How could we? Tycho never knew about it, and the local sewer rats aren't talking to us." He paused and rested his pounding head against the cool stones. Was there really an opening, or had he just imagined it all, in a city he couldn't remember?
Derek stepped back and scanned the empty street. "I've got a bad feeling about this," he told Wedge. "I don't want to send him in there."
"He'll be fine." Wedge pitched his voice low and tried to convince himself. "He's completely lucid."
"That's not what I'm worried about." Derek shook his head and turned away, glaring at the Prince's back as the Celchu stood muttering to Wes. "We're going to lose him, Wedge; is it worth it to you?"
Wedge squared his shoulders and gave his best commander glare. "It is. But clearly you're not willing to sacrifice anything for your cause."
"What gives you the right to determine my sacrifice? You crawl in the shadows and bear your self-loathing like a cross-- you have nothing, and it costs you nothing to lose it." Derek hissed with pain as the cobbled street leapt up and knocked itself into his back. Wedge stood over him for a moment, then reached down and pulled him upright. His eyes weren't angry-- they were tired and sad.
"If you walk away now, she will have died for nothing, Hobbie."
Derek brushed the street dirt from his clothes and stared hard at the wall. "She would have anyway, Wedge. That's how mortals die-- for age, and sickness, and nothing that you 'd give anything to believe is something. In the end it's just death, isn't it? For a cause? It's still death, and the cause can't bring them back."
A creative Taanabian curse ripped through the air and they turned in time to see Wes put his shoulder to the stones and push them halfway through to the other side of the wall. He stepped aside, rubbing his shoulder, as Celchu peered into the gloom.
"There is a tunnel. But the entrance..." he stepped out of sight for a moment, then, with a loud scraping noise, a column of stones swung outward and the Prince came back into view. "Only a few feet off." Wes looked disgusted.
Their footsteps echoed down the narrow tunnel. Wedge glanced back into the street and carefully closed the entrance to the passageway. "Be on your guard," he said quietly. "They may have people that can see through any of your shadows."
"Then I'll take care of them."
"I mean it, Wes." Wedge grabbed his arm, his eyes dark and fierce. "Be careful. I... We don't want to lose you again."
Wes shrugged as he measured the light with his hands. "I am ready to die." His gaze faltered as he looked at his friend. "I have always been ready to die for you."
He went without blaster or blade. He went alone, lost to himself. Wedge shut his eyes and turned away from his allies. He felt a hand on his arm.
"If you let the end justify the means, you are no better than he is."
He didn't glance back at Hobbie. "Who? Merando, or Tycho?"
"What's the difference?" He felt the other Kindred shrug.
Wedge walked away.
Continued in Part Twenty-One