Our heads snapped up at the sound of a low moan. A man lay crumpled in the road about a block ahead. Blood oozed from a gash across his forehead. Ana and I locked eyes, then crept toward the man, sticking close to the shelter of the nearest building. Ana reached him first and knelt at his side. The back of his neck was blistered and raw from lying in the sun, as were the backs of his hands. He wore a stained and torn leather smock, similar to the ones Raphael had given us. His lips were a startling color, redder than the most chapped lips I’d ever seen. He groaned as Ana touched his shoulder. “Hey,” she said to him. “You need some help?”
The man said something in a language I didn’t understand. I turned to Ana, who spoke several languages, but she looked as lost as I felt. “Let’s at least get him off the street,” she said. “He’s roasting alive.”
We grasped the guy under his arms and lifted him off the road. His blistered fingers clutched at our cloaks, and he licked at his crimson lips with his tongue, which was an equally violent shade of red. Though I wanted to help him, revulsion made my throat tighten.
“It’s all right,” Ana soothed as we dragged him toward the nearest building. Both of us sighed with relief as we entered the shaded, dank space. It was at least twenty degrees cooler than the street and felt downright awesome. We set him on the floor and began to rise, but our wounded companion grabbed our cloaks, speaking urgent words we couldn’t decipher.
I squatted next to him, trying to get him to look at me, to see we didn’t mean him any harm. Next to me, Ana stood up abruptly.
“What should we do for him?” I asked her.
“Nothing,” she whispered. “I think he’s served his purpose.”
Then I heard the growl, deep and vicious. It rolled like a wave up my spine, raising goose bumps. The bleeding man let go of my cloak, shot to his feet, and scrambled across the space to press himself against the wall. I looked over my shoulder.
Ana stood between me and the threat. She’d already drawn her knives. “He was a decoy.”
We entered the soaring lobby, and the doors to the Judge’s chambers swung shut with an echoing click. “Where to?” I mumbled, my lips almost too numb to push the words over my tongue. Any strength I’d pulled together to face the Judge was gone. My heart beat sluggishly, forcing Juri’s venom through my veins. I allowed my heavy eyelids to close for a moment, and opened them to see we were now making our way down a wallpapered hallway lined with wooden doors. “Are we in the dark city?”
“Not quite,” answered Raphael. “We’re still in the Sanctum. It’s the connection between all of the realms, but not really in any of them, even though it looks that way. You’ll stay here until you’re ready to leave.”
I opened my mouth to ask when I would meet my new Captain, but at that moment, a door up ahead opened, and a woman stepped into the hallway. Tears sprang to my eyes. She wore the navy-blue shirt and fatigue-style pants I recognized as part of the human Guard uniform. Her gleaming black hair was pulled into a high ponytail, and her skin, a coppery umber, was far less pale than the last time I’d seen her, when I’d held her hand as she died. “Ana?”
Her dark cat’s eyes drifted over me and then lit on Raphael. “Have you healed her yet?”
“Not yet,” he replied.
She drew a knife, twirled it in her fingers, and threw it right at my chest.