Boundless Page 77

Bad mother.

“A bad mother,” Samjeeza remarks. “Who’s her unlucky offspring?”

Kokabel shakes his head. “Penamue’s, I believe. I thought he didn’t have it in him to sire children, but they say he’s the father. She’s a troublesome one. Asael sends her back to us every time she displeases him, which is often.”

Angela takes a sudden breath, a strangled whimper escaping her, the cords on her neck standing out and halting Desmond’s progress. Without blinking an eye he rears back and slaps her, hard, across the face. I have to bite my lip to keep from crying out. She slides down on the chair, closes her eyes. Gray tears slip down her cheeks as he finishes the words.

Samjeeza turns to Kokabel. “I’d like to choose the design for the female,” he says. “Will you show me your book?”

“Yes. This way,” Kokabel says. “I’ll be back for the girl,” he directs at Desmond, and then he steps into the hall. Samjeeza holds back a moment longer, reaches to slip something into Desmond’s hand, a plastic bag, then follows Kokabel to deliberate on my ink.

I’m thinking it’s not going to be a pretty butterfly on my hip.

Desmond puts the bag in his pocket and pats it, like it’s a pet or something. He scoots his stool up to my chair. I force my eyes down as he takes my chin and turns my head from side to side.

“Lovely skin,” he says, his breath like sour cigarettes and gin. “I can’t wait to work on you.”

Christian’s body tightens like a bowstring.

Don’t, I tell him with a look, not daring to speak even with my mind in here.

Desmond gets up and peels off his gloves, throws them onto a counter in the corner, stretches, wipes at his nose again.

“I need a refreshment,” he says, clicking his fingers together in a kind of nervous rhythm. Then he goes out, sniffling and rummaging for the bag Samjeeza gave him, and closes the door behind him.

You have perhaps five minutes to make your escape, comes Samjeeza’s disembodied voice in my head, the second we’re alone with Angela. Go back to the train station and take a northbound train, which will come shortly. Hurry. In a few minutes the whole of hell will be after you, including me. And remember what I told you. Don’t speak to anyone. Just go. Now.

Christian and I rush to Angela’s side.

“Ange, Ange, get up!”

She opens her eyes, the dark traces of tears still on her cheeks. She frowns as she looks at me, like my name isn’t quite coming to her.

“Clara,” I supply. “I’m Clara. You’re Angela. This is Christian. We have to go.”

“Oh, Clara,” she says wearily. “You were always so pretty.” Absently she rubs at her arm where it says jealous. “I’m being punished, you know.”

“Not anymore. Let’s go.”

I pull at her arm, but she resists. She whispers, “I’ve lost them.”

“Ange, please …”

“Phen doesn’t love me. My mother did, but now she’s lost, too.”

“Web loves you,” Christian says from beside me.

She stares up at him with anguish in her eyes. “I left him for you to find. Did you find him?”

“Yes,” he says. “We found him. He’s safe.”

“He’s better off,” she says. Her fingers drift up to scratch at the fresh words on her neck. Bad mother.

I grab her hand. Her self-loathing churns through me. I get the sharp taste of bile in the back of my throat. No one loves her. She can never go back.

Yes, you can, I whisper in her mind. Come with us. But I don’t know if she can hear me. She never learned how to receive.

“What’s the point? It’s over. Ruined,” she says. “Lost.”

In that instant I know that her soul is wounded. She’ll never wake up from this trance she’s in, not like this. She’ll never agree to come with us.

We came here for nothing.

No one loves me, she thinks.

No. I will not let this happen, not again. I grab her shoulders, force her to look at me. “Angela. I love you, for heaven’s sake. You think I would have come all this way, to freaking hell, to rescue you if I didn’t love you? I love you. Web loves you, and what’s more, he needs you, Ange, he needs his mother, and we don’t have any more time to waste with you feeling sorry for yourself. Now get up!” I command her, and at that precise instant I send the smallest blast of glory straight into her body.

Angela jerks, then blinks, shocked, like I threw a glass of water in her face. She looks from Christian to me and back again, her eyes going wide.

“Angela,” I whisper. “Are you okay? Say something.”

Her lips slowly curve up into a smile.

“Geez,” she says. “Who died and made you boss?”

We stare at her. She jumps to her feet. “Let’s go.”

No time to celebrate. We slip into the hallway, back to the deserted waiting room. It takes all of two seconds flat for us to be out the door and down the street, staying close together, Christian leading us north, toward the train station, followed by me close behind him, trying to walk in step to keep some kind of subtle physical contact between us, trailed by Angela. In this chain we make our way past a row of dingy, falling-down apartments and onto Palo Alto Street, which on earth has a charming, hometown-America feel but in hell is like something out of a Hitchcock film, lined with twisted, leafless black trees that seem to claw at us as we pass, the houses decaying, the windows broken or boarded over, the paint peeling in gray flakes. We pass a woman standing in the middle of a yard, holding a hose, watering a patch of grassless, muddy ground, mumbling something about her flowers. We see a man beating a dog. But we don’t stop. We can’t stop.

The rundown neighborhood gives way to more open city, commercial buildings, restaurants, and offices. Angela’s looking around like she’s never seen this place before, which I find odd, considering she’s the one who’s been here for almost two weeks. We pop out on Mercy Street near the library, and city hall looms over us, a huge granite building with lots of blackened windows, and suddenly the street is flooded with the gray people again, groaning and crying and tearing at their skin. It’s hard going, since the lost souls on the sidewalk are mostly moving south, the wrong direction. We’re like fish pushing our way upstream against the current, but at least we’re getting there, step by slow step. It feels like we’ve been walking for hours, but we can’t have been gone longer than five or ten minutes.

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