Rivton was a small town built of wood and stone, with winding streets and whitewashed facades. The buildings were at most two levels high, each constructed in a matching architectural style that was oddly soothing. While the slanted roofs gave Lilith little escape from the sun, the uniformity of the buildings was reassuring: here was a sign of civilization unlike any she’d encountered in Tulkan.
There was no official entrance to the town. The forest simply ended, and then, beyond a small curve in the river, houses began. Lilith stared at the structures, wondered what it was like to live in them here in the middle of the wilderness. Wooden door frames, wooden windowsills . . . this town would have cost a small fortune to build underground. Yet here it was worth nothing. They even passed a house that had potted flowers on display in the windowsill, where anyone could take them.
Then Lilith grimaced. She wouldn’t trade being human for all the wood and flowers in the world. This was an infected town; she couldn’t let herself be lulled by the appearance of society. This town was no better a place than Tulkan. In fact it was worse—at least in Tulkan, Lilith had known what she was dealing with.
She’d fallen behind. Lilith pushed off her hood, then unclasped her cloak. The heat beaded on her forehead as she struggled to catch up.
Silver shot her an irritated look. “Keep close.”
Howl had already scampered far ahead, Jake and Fang at his heels. That was she was trusted less than a child like Howl rubbed her the wrong way, but before she could snap back, Amber came to Lilith’s defence.
“She made it out of Tulkan alone, Silver. She’ll be fine here.”
“Barely.” He sneered, his gaze flicking to the scar on Lilith’s wrist.
Lilith hid her arm behind her back and scowled right back. “I look more than barely alive, don’t I?” The anger that flared inside was mostly directed at herself. She hated feeling drawn to Silver, hated how she couldn’t stop acknowledging him. Lilith let her arm drop, kept her head turned away as she resolved to ignore him. That would solve a lot of problems.
They walked in silence, winding their way through the low-storied houses. Between each building, Lilith caught glimpses of the river, which was stretching wider and wider with every step, the cool water rippling in the sunshine. She licked her cracked lips, her throat tight and dry. But she would not speak.
Silver seemed unaffected by the heat, but then again, of course he wasn’t. He was infected. Lilith touched her cheeks. They were strangely hot.
“You’re burnt,” Amber said casually.
Impossible. She hadn’t been close enough to the fire last night. Lilith frowned, felt her cheeks again. They radiated heat.
“Better pull your hood back up unless you want it to get worse.” Her smile was knowing. “You worms always underestimate the sun.”
“Don’t call me that,” Lilith muttered, but she pulled her hood up all the same.
They kept to the edges of the town, following the river until it turned into a lake. Along the waterfront was a series of stalls—a local market of sorts. People were ambling back and forth, most of them with heads uncovered, pausing to examine goods with the unhurried patience of those comfortable in their environment. None of Tulkan’s desperation here, and none of its violence.
Dominating the view, on the other side of the market, was a tall building made entirely of stone. It had a large set of double doors, and on those doors was a dark green cross, strangely familiar.
But Lilith soon lost sight of the building as they joined the market crowd, stallholders crooning to the passersby, tables piled high with bread and fish and fresh fruit—enough to make Lilith’s mouth water. Amber grabbed Lilith’s hand, leading her through the crowds.
One stallholder caught her eyeing the apples, so red and bright. His teeth were crooked when he smiled. “Only three rebels a kilo, miss. Three rebels a kilo.”
Amber tugged her onward, past all the food, past the clothing stalls and the trinkets, to the far side of the market where a group of stalls stood alone.
And no wonder—all the stallholders here were ewtes.
The customers looked less human, too. There were rock-men and lizards, even a large wild cat that had to be some kind of werekin.
In her distraction, Lilith hadn’t realised Amber had let go of her hand until Amber was several metres ahead, striding calmly through the infected as if she didn’t see them. And Silver was missing, too, his blond hair nowhere in the crowd.
Panic shot through her, turning Lilith to stone. But she refused to acknowledge the fear; lifted one foot and then the next as she set after Amber. She’d already survived two days above ground. She didn’t need Silver, not for anything.
To prove her own point, Lilith hung back as Amber approached one of the stalls, keeping her head high, daring the infected to look her in the eye. Few did, and those that did, didn’t look for long. She couldn’t help but feel triumphant.
Amber was still haggling with the ewte, a thin-looking, speckled creature wearing an off-white cloak. Lilith drifted closer.
“If your drinks are warm, we’ll just go buy them somewhere else,” Amber snapped.
“They were cold this morning,” the ewte replied evenly, her high-pitched voice startlingly feminine. “It’s these, or nothing. You’ll find the same everywhere else.”
Amber scowled. “Three rebels, then.”
“Five.” The ewte leaned forward, teeth bared. “No lower. Your friend is shopping on the other side.”
Amber swivelled round, peered at the other side of the market—the nicer side. “Knowing him, he is,” she muttered, pulling out a purse.
The ewte pushed three skins of liquid toward Amber. The skins lay bloated on the table, dull in the sunlight. No doubt the contents were as flat and tasteless as Upper Hall water. And just behind the stall was the lake, stretching as far as the eye could see, cool and inviting.
Lilith frowned, felt the skin of her lips split. She wasn’t going to let herself be intimidated by the infected any longer.
“You expect us to drink this?” She stepped forward, adopting the imperious tone her mother used on journalists, the frustrations of the past few days bubbling to the surface. Lilith picked up a skin, dropped it in disgust. “We asked for something cold.” Then she summoned every ounce of willpower she had, stared the ewte straight in the eye, and said: “Now.”
The ewte’s eyes widened. She scurried away from them, wading into the water, her thin cloak trailing out behind her in a wide arc. She seemed to be gesturing to someone underwater.
Within minutes, the ewte returned, three dripping skins in her arms. She put them on the table, eyes skittering away from Lilith. This time the skins felt cold.
“Amber, give her three rebels,” Lilith said, riding the adrenaline. She’d cowed an infected with nothing more than words. What was so fearsome about them now?
Her moment of glory didn’t last long.
As they walked away, Amber grabbed her hand, squeezed just tight enough to make her bones rub together.
“Don’t you ever try that on me,” Amber said flatly.
Try what? There was no time to ask. Silver rejoined them, looking pleased with himself—or, at least, less miserable than usual.
Amber looked right at him. “We need to talk.”