Last time we saw MICA… (click for recap)
After Mica and Ben hide the soldier Mica clumsily attacked and knocked out, they find the Black Rock Inn and Bar–the place where they’ll find the Unseen contact who can help them get into Windrose City. After waiting all day, Mica grows anxious to find their contact, Styx, and, after having one too many drinks, asks the bartender where they can find the spy, much to Ben’s dismay. Angry, the bartender threatens to throw them out if they can’t pay, which they can’t. Ben makes a strange sign, one the bartender completes. It turns out their bartender is their contact. Styx tells them he can’t help them get into Windrose City. Security is tight, tighter than it’s been in a while, and he’s not risking anything on them. He’s sending one last person through tomorrow morning, and then he’s done. Mica realizes he’s getting Aaron into Windrose–so their time is almost up…
Mica stormed out of the bar slinging her pack onto her shoulders. Her shoulders tensed and tightened and ached under the weight of her pack. It felt too heavy. She felt too heavy. Styx had turned them away, refused to help them get into Windrose. Without his help, there was no way into the city. It was over.
“Wait up,” Ben called after her. He limped up to her and put a hand on her shoulder, but she shoved his hand away.
“There’s no way in, is there?” she said. “It’s over. We came all this way, and we….”
“Mica, I’m sorry.”
“Just… don’t. Don’t even try.”
Ben edged away, giving her some space to fume, but he didn’t go far. “Mics, we need to head out. It’ll be dark soon, and it’s a long walk back to the gate.”
But Mica turned away from Ben and walked towards the alley. While she was here in the city, Anda felt closer. When they turned and headed back for the Empty Places, Mica would just be running away again. Her stomach turned sour at the thought, and shame nudged at her with a bony and scabbed elbow.
Mica leaned back against the alley wall and watched, disinterested, as locals walked down the sidewalk hunched against the cold. She pulled her lighter out of her pocket and flicked it on and off. A group of kids in dirty jackets sprinted past them and hopped over the low wall across the street, disappearing. The idea snapped to life like a flame. How tall could a wall be before it was unclimbable?
“I’m getting in there,” Mica said out loud, flicking her lighter closed. “I don’t care what he says. I’m going to find Anda.”
“Mica, there’s no way into the city, you heard him. The Wall runs all the way around the city, there’s no way in except through that gate, and we’re not getting through that gate any time soon.”
“Have you ever seen the Wall?” she asked quietly.
Ben watched her with lowered eyelids. “No, and I don’t want to. I know what people say about it.”
Mica knew the stories too, but she was willing to risk it. “Why don’t we just go have a look, huh? We have to be out of West One by nightfall anyway. Why don’t we see what we’re actually up against?”
“No. No way. We’re going back to Haven and the others.”
“Perseus wouldn’t say that.”
Ben pointed a finger at her. “Don’t do that. It’s not funny.”
“I didn’t say it was funny. All I said was, ‘Perseus wouldn’t say that.’ Perseus would find a way in, wouldn’t he?”
“I’m not going to be manipulated. We’re going back.”
“Please, Ben,” Mica said. “I have to at least see it and know that there isn’t any way in. I didn’t come all this way to turn back now. What would mom have done?”
The image of her mother holding the hammer flashed through Mica’s mind. She wondered if Ben had seen the hammer that day.
Ben chewed on his lower lip in thought. “We go see the Wall, and if there’s no way over, we leave. That’s it.”
“Fine. If we can’t get over, we leave.”
Mica and Ben left West One by the main road, keeping as close as possible to a group headed for North Sixteen, but Ben’s leg pulled them farther and farther behind. In the last rays of daylight, they darted off into the woods just outside the gate as the sun sank into the horizon. They hiked through the woods just like when they were kids. The three of them used to wander beneath tall and slender trees, hopping over old stumps and ducking low hanging branches in the brightness. Mica missed those days. Now she and Ben walked together towards the Windrose City Wall and the night, every step taking them closer and closer to Anda.
They hiked in silence through the woods for hours, trying to get past the vast city of West One. A chain-link fence holding West One together ran along on their right, keeping out the wild and the animals. Night had fallen, and wandering through unfamiliar ground was becoming dangerous. Roots caught her feet, and thorns poked at her clothes. She knew it was even more hazardous for Ben and his crutch, but she kept quiet and walked slowly.
“Who is the Overseer?” Mica asked.
“I don’t know. Hannah didn’t want to give me too many details, just in case. But I assume the Overseer is head of the Unseen.”
“They don’t have one leader. No one leads,” Mica said, but she had a pretty good idea of who the Overseer was.
“When do you want to head back?” Ben asked. “We’ve been walking for hours, and we can’t even find the Wall.”
Mica grimaced in the dark. “We’re so close—we can’t give up yet.”
“Even if we did find it. I don’t want to try and get over the Wall in the dark, do you?”
“You want to go in the morning when they can see us better?”
“I don’t want to do this at all,” Ben said. “Let’s wait here and head back in the morning.” He stopped and leaned back against a tree. “My leg….” He rubbed at his thigh.
Even in the darkness, Mica could see his knee shaking. He must be in such terrible pain. Her heart sank, and she stared up into the canopy of branches stenciled against the night sky. Beyond the trees and the flicker of dead leaves, she saw the stars. Perseus.
“No. I’m getting into that city tonight,” Mica said. She didn’t come all this way to rest, not when she could practically see the lights of Windrose City. “You can wait here or go back if you want. I said I’d do this without you, and I will.” She kept walking.
“Mics, come on. You know this is a bad idea. How are you going to get over the Wall by yourself?”
“I’ll figure something out. If you haven’t noticed, I’m pretty good at getting in and out of places I’m not supposed to.” She pushed past brambles and half-frozen trees.
“This is suicide, Mica. Just listen to yourself.”
“Oh, and I should listen to you? The boy who thinks he’s the savior of Nova? Perseus? Look,” Mica pointed up through the branches towards the sky. “Perseus is up there. He’s not coming down to save us because he’s not real. But I am, and I’m going to find Anda,” she said and kept walking.
Ben’s voice floated over the forest, “I don’t know why you won’t believe me.”
“Because it’s stupid. You’re not him.”
“You saw what I can do. Why won’t you believe me? Are you jealous?” Ben asked, after a moment of silence.
Mica twinged at his question, and her stomach churned. “Jealous? Of you? Please—you’re nuts. You think you’re going to save Nova.”
“You know I can, Mica.”
She stopped and faced him, her arms crossed over her chest. “All right—prove it. Once and for all, prove to me that you are Perseus, and I will believe you. Use your abilities and get us over the Wall.”
“It won’t matter even if I do. You won’t believe me. I’ve already used my abilities twice. Why would this be any different?”
Mica took a step closer. “Use your ‘abilities’ on whoever’s guarding the Wall. Get me into Windrose, and then I’ll believe you.”
Ben stared down at her with a hard expression. Shadows shifted like water over his face. “All right. I will.”
Mica and Ben reached the end of the forest and the fence and the shadows and stopped. Beyond the trees, a field appeared, blue and shifting like a river in the moonlight. Mica and Ben crept to the end of the woods and paused. A vast field stretched as far as they could see. Directly in front of them, running out to the left and right in an unending ribbon, stood the Wall.
Mica had thought the Wall would be taller, imposing, terrifying. She had imagined metal sheets welded together and topped with spikes and barbed wire, and maybe it was electrified too. She had imagined something evil and sinister, a challenge to scale and cross. But the Wall wasn’t at all what she had expected. Not at all.
The low stone wall glimmered blue and bright in the soft moonlight like a ring of tarnished silver. It stood maybe ten feet high, not even, and was wide enough to hold stone guard towers. The small stone towers appeared every fifty feet or so and stood out like points on a crown. Mica imagined walking around the entire city on top of that wall, walking over fields and roads and water. Stephen had shown her pictures of a Great Wall in some distant country, which reminded her of this. But something about its simplicity felt ominous.
“I thought it’d be… taller. Right?” Mica asked. She kept her breath even and pushed her fear down deep. It felt like a dream, being so close to the Wall, wondering if the stories were true.
Ben nodded to the stone towers. “Don’t get too close,” Ben said. He held an arm out as if to keep her from crossing into the field in front of them. “They have guards in those towers. And I can feel….”
Ben crinkled his brow. “I don’t know. But Viola told some pretty crazy stories, and I’d prefer not to find out which ones were actually true.”
Mica shivered at the thought and stepped back deeper into the woods. “Then how do we get over?”
Ben thought for a moment. “We cross at a guard tower.”
“What?” Mica asked, suddenly afraid. “At a guard tower? Didn’t you just say no to get too close?”
“If I can control whoever’s in those towers, maybe I can buy us enough time to get over the Wall, but to do that, I have to be closer.”
“But… you think it’s just people in the towers, right? You don’t think there are Watchers, do you?”
He looked at her, studying her face. “Do you see a Watcher?”
Mica shook her head. His eyes were clear.
Ben turned back to the Wall. “Me neither. They might have Watchers, but something feels… odd.”
“If it’s not Watchers, what is it?” Mica asked, her blood chilling and slowing.
“Don’t know. I don’t think all the stories are true, but they came from somewhere.”
Mica swallowed. “All right. How do we find a guard you can control?”
“I guess we start here,” he said, taking a step into the clearing.
“What are you doing?” Mica said and grabbed his arm.
“Mics, I need to be closer for this to work.”
“Like how close?” The young woman and the child flashed through her mind. “You have to see their eyes,” she said, understanding. “Make eye-contact?”
“Depends. If they’re focused and not on the Calm or anything, then yeah, I have to make direct eye contact, and it’s harder. But if they’re on the Calm, well, I just have to be close. Their minds are kind of already open. I’ve been getting better at this, so we’ll see how close I have to get.”
She thought about this. “But if they see you, it’s too late.”
“For them,” he said with a smile. “Trust me. I just have to get a little closer.”
Mica released him, and he limped out into the open field. She didn’t like him being out in the open this close to the Wall, and she pulled her gun out of her boot. It was warm in her hand. Ben stared hard at the guard tower and stood very still. Mica shuddered and wondered what was happening inside his mind and the mind of whoever was inside that tower. She couldn’t see anyone, but maybe Ben could.
After a few minutes, Ben took a deep breath. “Odd. I can’t get control. I can feel them, see them, but I can’t… get inside their head.”
“Why not? You got control of those farmers pretty fast—there were two of them. What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know, but something’s not right,” he said and limped back towards her. Mica held the gun behind her back out of sight. Up closer, Ben’s face twisted and cracked with pain. They’d been walking all day, and Mica knew his leg must be killing him, but this was their one shot. She couldn’t let pity stop her now. But Mica looked at the dark towers and wondered if this was really a good idea. Maybe they should rest and then start back for Haven and the Unseen. Maybe she was pushing him too hard. An image of Anda laughing streaked through her mind, and Mica set her jaw.
Ben nodded towards another tower. “Let’s try another one.”
But to get closer to that tower, they had to leave the shelter of the woods and venture far into the open field. Suddenly this all seemed like a very, very bad idea. “What, you want us to go stand out in the open?” Mica asked.
“Stay low to the ground. The grass is pretty tall, so if we keep low, we should keep out of sight. What, having second thoughts?”
Mica hesitated. “No. Let’s go,” she said and sank into the sea of grass.
As they crawled, the grasses waved above their heads and shivered in the wind. For Mica, there was nothing by sky and grass and stars. Ben crept closer to the guard tower and the starlight and tried again. Nothing. They moved on to another one. Then another and another. At each one, Ben would crawl closer and closer and stop and stare at the tower, trying to find the guard inside and take control of his mind. All the while, Mica kept a watchful eye out, hoping they wouldn’t be fried, diced, or turned inside out unexpectedly.
They continued on for what felt like miles into the wilderness and the dark, pausing at each tower for Ben to stare. No luck. Mica’s patience was wearing thin. Her knees and hands were cold from pressing into the freezing earth, and her hand was aching from gripping the gun.
“That’s it. You had your chance. Now we’re going to do this my way,” Mica said. She got to her knees and readied herself to charge the Wall, gun ready for a fight.
“Whoa, you can’t do that,” Ben said.
“Why not? It’ll only take one shot, and then we make a run for it.”
“Are you crazy?” Ben asked. “You can’t go in shooting—you’ll alert every single soldier, and whatever’s on that Wall within five miles. Plus, you’re not a very good shot, so you’ll miss and get us both killed. Do you even know how to use that?”
“What else can I do?” Mica demanded. “You obviously can’t get us in. I am getting into that city one way or another—”
“Shut up,” Ben said and held up a hand. His eyes narrowed with concentration.
Mica, cold and angry, kept going. “This is my decision, Ben, you had your chance.”
“No, shut up. Be quiet.” He turned to face the Wall. “That one,” he said, pointing at the tower in front of them. “Run!”
He struggled to his feet and rushed the tower, his gaze locked on some invisible point in the darkness on the stone. Mica swore, got her feet, and ran after him. She had to sprint to catch up, and she struggled to cram the gun into her back pocket under her pack without shooting herself in the ass. Adrenaline surged through her as she got closer and closer to the tower. The moon slipped behind a cloud, and the night grew darker. She passed Ben, limping along, but looked back at him and nearly shrieked—his eyes glowed bright blue-green in the darkness. Bright blue like gemstones, like the clearest water sparkling in the sunlight.
“Go! Run!” Ben screamed at her, and she ran. She hadn’t realized she had stopped when she saw his glowing eyes.
Mica reached the Wall first and jumped, her hands outstretched to catch the edge of the stone. Her fingers barely caught the top of the Wall, and she scrambled to get herself up. She swore under her breath as she struggled to pull herself up, her arms aching from the extra weight of her pack.
Once on the Wall, she fell onto a walkway running along the top of the Wall and rolled to a stop. She had expected to be greeted by soldiers rushing her, but she was alone—no soldiers, no nothing. She turned and reached down to Ben, who was still limping quickly for the Wall.
“Come on, come on, come on,” she said, looking around for soldiers and guns to materialize out of the dark, but nothing happened.
“Mics, catch!” Ben threw his crutch up to her. She caught and instantly dropped it, falling to her knees with her hand out to help Ben.
He jumped with a yelp of pain, but she caught his hand and pulled. She didn’t remember him being this heavy. Somehow they managed to get him up onto the cold stone. He collapsed on his bad leg and almost roared with pain. But there was no time to stop. Mica dragged Ben to his feet, but he shoved her aside and stared at the guard tower with glowing eyes. His pupils dilated and ringed with shifting color like deep water churning, but Mica saw something else in his expression. Ben was afraid.
She kicked Ben’s crutch to him, pulled the handgun out of her back pocket, and aimed at the tower. She edged closer, wondering what was inside. In the darkness, she couldn’t see a door or windows, but she crept closer. Ben limped in front of her, stopping her with an outstretched hand, and stared at the black emptiness before them.
The moon emerged from behind the clouds, lighting the tower, and Mica saw what had captivated and frightened Ben. The guard tower was more like an alcove, shaped like a half-moon, and in the crescent stood what looked like a glass coffin. A kiln, standing upright. Inside the kiln stood a woman. Her shaved head lolled like she was drunk, and her breath came hard and fast. Ben stared like he had seen a ghost.
“Ben, move,” Mica said. She pointed the weapon at the woman and thought about her mother, her father, Peter, and Anda.
“No, don’t shoot,” Ben said, shielding the woman encased in glass.
“She’s a Watcher.”
“No, no, no, I don’t think she is.”
A coldness passed over Mica. “What are you talking about? How can she not be a Watcher? She’s in a kiln!” Mica’s hand began to shake. But she knew he was right. Something was wrong. If the woman wasn’t a Watcher, then what was she? This wraith before them couldn’t be anything good. “Ben, move.”
“No, just wait, let me think—” but Ben’s voice cut off as the pale woman in glass opened her eyes. They glowed bright blue-green but began to flicker a deep pinky-purple color. Mica caught her breath as the woman’s eyes shimmered between blue-green and bright magenta. The light faded in and out, magenta, blue, magenta, blue.
“I’m losing her, Mica. Run!” Ben said. Mica turned to run, ready to sail over the edge of the Wall and run for Windrose City, but she stopped cold. Something was rising out of the wall.
Ben stumbled into Mica and shoved her forward with his free hand, his crutch knocking against her ankles.
“Keep moving!” he said, pushing her forward. But Mica pushed Ben back and pointed to the movement ahead of them.
“What is that?” she asked while keeping her eyes on the thing rising out of the Wall. She gasped as moonlight caught on moving glass, and Mica realized what it was. Another kiln. A kiln like the one holding the woman with the strobing pinky-purple eyes rose and spun to face them, leaving a gaping hole of darkness beneath the coffin. Behind the glass stood a man, smooth and slender and tall.
Ben did not respond. The man beneath the glass stood still as if frozen in sleep. Suddenly his eyes shot open, and a magenta light, bright like a flower, saturated like the richest ink, shown from his sockets. For a moment, everything froze. Then Mica gasped as she and Ben lifted from the ground. She shrieked. They began gliding forward through the air towards the dark and the hole in the stone, drifting like leaves on a slow-moving stream.
“Ben, do something!” Mica screamed, her arms wheeling to balance her but failing. She tipped and bobbed like she was floating in a river.
“I can’t, I can’t take his mind,” Ben cried, staring hard at the man.
As she floated towards the dark hole in the stone, Mica realized that this was where she was going to die. This was where everything led, and her journey ended here. And that wasn’t fair. But another thought ripped through her brain like fire—she wouldn’t get to see Anda again. She would die like this, knowing that she had condemned her sister to death and Burning and forgetting. And Anda would one day die not knowing who she was.
But that wasn’t good enough. Shame touched reached for her with grubby hands as she drifted past on the wind. It couldn’t end like this, not yet. She was still breathing, so there was still hope.
Fury rose in her stomach and spun like a flame in her mind. Mica dropped to the ground with a slam, planted her feet, and held her ground. The gun clattered to the stone. Ben kept gliding past her, grasping at her arm and yelling at her for help. Mica stood firm and stared at the strange man behind the glass. As Ben sailed past her, he reached down and snatched the gun from the ground. He turned as he bobbed on the invisible river and fired at the man with the magenta glowing eyes.
Three shots cracked and shattered the glass, then the man’s eyes ceased to glow. Ben fell to the ground. He twisted around and fired at the woman behind them. Her eyes pulsed blue and magenta, and then the glow died as she slumped over against the cracked glass.
Everything was quiet.
A gentle wind brought the scent of fields and woods and winter jasmine. Ben got to his feet and looked down at Mica. She stared up at him with hot tears rolling down her face.
“Ben?” she said softly, but a chill went through her as a wailing siren sounded. The noise, louder than anything she’d ever heard before, rose and shrieked around them. Ben pushed Mica away from the man surrounded by broken glass and sent her flying over the edge of the Wall.
Mica fell, suspended in the air, staring up into the darkness and stars and clouds. For an instant, there was nothing but cold breath and a weightless feeling, like sinking in deep water. Then she landed on her side with a heavy thud, and the wind knocked from her lungs. Ben landed some feet away and scrambled to his feet, leaning on his crutch.
“Let’s go—move it!” Be grabbed her wrist and pulled her up. She struggled to breathe as Ben dragged her along the open field towards the city lights in the distance. Windrose.