Urban stepped out into the exposed air of the city, stopped short. Bodies littered the courtyard. Fires burned inside the scattered storefronts. He glanced backward, only to find Na Creidmhigh ablaze. The glass front of the building had been blown out and the spires of water were blood red, boiling in their channels. Inside, he spotted a roiled mass of shadows all colliding with one another. Screams and shrieks escaped the cavernous maw of Na Creidmhigh, as if the building itself were mourning its current state.
His escorts thrust into the courtyard with precise, coordinated movements. He strode forward, though he searched for a surprise appearance from Carrick. He hadn’t expected this level of chaos, but the little shit had pulled it off. He’d wrestled control of the Family under his grasp. They’d destroyed themselves quickly and efficiently, but at least Carrick would be able to say they were his. And Urban would be the instrument of his miserable downfall. The gun comforted him, pressed against the small of his back.
“Where are the rest of the men?” Urban asked, catching up to the guards.
“To be honest, there aren’t many of us left. Most were executed by Carrick after the meeting. We thought you’d been as well, but an informant got us your location.”
“Quite the elaborate production you’ve got here.”
The leader cleared his throat. “As much as I’d like to take credit, this happened all on its own. We were still trying to figure out how to get in.”
Urban paused. “You mean the riots . . . ?”
“We took advantage of them. The explosions clued us in that something was happening. We were able to walk in with minimal losses.”
“Of all the luck.”
“We had to come by some honestly. I’m surprised Carrick hadn’t killed you.”
Urban looked back at his home. Thick curtains of black smoke rose from the building. “I am too.”
The four of them rounded a corner. Opening into a wide lane, they moved in unison, flanked by abandoned apartments. In the distance, a bay window burned yellow in the night. Distant shapes grouped together into indistinct silhouettes.
“Is that our destination?”
“Not exactly.” The leader rubbed his nose with his knuckle.
“You guys seem pretty precise. I can’t imagine you just started training.”
“No, sir. We—”
“Urban, we have been a part of — let’s say that Keir was nervous about an incursion. We’ve been trained behind the scenes in case — well, in case this happened.”
“So Keir didn’t trust his personal guard.”
“Obviously they weren’t too interested in his safety.”
“True,” Urban said, wracking his brain to remember any hints of this. He had the sinking feeling that there was a lot more going on in the recesses of his lost home that he would be sick at the thought of. He shook away the trepidation at what he would have to do, instead settling on a certainty that he would have his moment to make things right.
Shouts tripped down the passage, coming from all ends. The men froze like battle weathered soldiers, guns at the ready. Urban stood back and to the left, fingers going numb. He reached for his pistol.
The first scrambled across the cobblestones like some beast. Shadow images trailed from its limbs as it darted forward. Urban stepped forward, fired, struck its jaw. It collapsed in a heap. Urban let out a breath, lowering his gun only slightly as his eyes searched the lane for any other attackers.
An explosion ripped apart a building at the end of the block. Flames leapt out as bits pelted the ground. A cloud of soot fell over the soldiers.
They didn’t budge.
More than a dozen shadows surged from the alleys, their eyes blazing through the dust. The soldiers opened fire. The crack of gunfire came out dulled. Urban’s ears thumped as the bursts disappeared into the smoke.
Urban spun around to protect their flank, then a pair of hands seized him. He struck the ground, face slammed into the cobblestones. A fresh pain came then a sudden feeling of loss, congestion. This little shit had broken his nose. He flipped over. Urban grabbed for his pistol, but the man pinned his arm down, shrieking into Urban’s bloody face.
Urban stared into the eyes of madness, found them unrelenting. His attacker’s boot dug into his flesh, grinding his arm against the stone. Urban bucked, but the attacker pivoted and tried to force him down. Urban reeled back his leg, kicked, caught his assailant’s knee. Freed, Urban seized his weapon. He pointed it, fired.
His attacker slumped, hit the ground.
Urban scrambled to his feet, unsteady, shaking. The gunfire had died down to a smattering of traded shots. He turned to find one of his escorts on the ground, not moving.
Though bits of gore flecked his face, coated his arms, the leader stood there stoic. His resolve didn’t seem to waver as he stepped over his fallen friend. “We have to get moving.” The rest of them paused only for a moment before following.
In silence, they moved down an alley; their steps were harsher, echoing down the corridor. Sheathed in darkness, Urban could barely see their faces. The heat smothered him like a wet blanket, pressing against him, restricting his breathing.
“We’re almost there.” The leader faced his remaining men. They straightened, regaining some sense of composure.
An explosion shook the ground nearby. Urban spun around, saw a building on fire less than a block away. “We might need to run.”
“No need.” The leader kneeled, then using a stowed away crowbar, lifted the manhole cover. The stench of piss and shit filled the constrained area. He let a humorless smile escape. “Welcome to your new home, sir.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
The leader’s face fell. All business, he replied, “Not at all. This is the safest place for you.”
“Wading through the city’s shit?” Urban shook his head. He ran his tongue over his teeth. “No, sir.”
“You don’t have a choice in the matter. Your survival is our concern.”
“Carrick is still out there.”
“All the more reason for us to go underground. This isn’t up for debate.”
“And here I thought you were going to be following my orders.”
The leader didn’t smile. “In due time.” His remaining men seized Urban. Their rough hands on his arms instantly brought back his time under Carrick. He tensed, causing them to tighten their grips. His heart thudded in his chest as his thoughts spiraled out in front of him. All sound was muffled; the city burning drowned to the rapid beat of his heart. Urban locked eyes with the leader and forced himself to regain control. At the end of this, they would not, could not stop him from claiming Carrick’s life.
Urban let his warmest smile settle on his face. “Not a problem. Lead the way.”
The leader settled his gaze, spit. “Yes, sir.” The soldiers let him go and retreated a step. The others relaxed visibly, dropped their hands from their rifles. The first of his entourage lowered himself into the reeking hole.
Urban slipped his finger into the trigger guard. He let out a slow, soundless breath.
He fired four shots.
The sound of cracking bones hit his ears as the manhole cover slammed against the leader’s motionless body. Urban stood there staring at the corpses, his hands shaking.
A child’s wail rose up in its deathly chorus of discordant echoes. It surrounded him, coming from all sides, erupting from the gap that led to the sewers. He doubled over, grief piercing his chest. He tried to fight against it, but his breaths came labored, leaving him helpless, pinned to the ground with the enormity of its mourning. He stared into the collapsed face of the leader, memorizing his distorted features. He etched it into his memory, vowing to never forget him or his sacrifice. They had braved Carrick’s fortress in an effort to save him and he had repaid them unjustly. He would make sure they lived on in memory, however. The wail tapered off, leaving him alone with his handiwork.
Urban righted himself. Silence draped over the bodies, accepting them into its mausoleum. He set his jaw, listening for any movement, but none came. Tears streamed down his soot covered face, caking in grey clumps.
He rubbed them away with his dirty sleeve, taking control once more. He searched the bodies, grabbing a couple mags. Seizing one of the rifles, he turned back to the tower. The city seemed to breathe, alive with its fires.
His heart thudded as he crossed over the bodies, intent on finding Carrick.