Then I find her. (Actually, she finds me.) I don’t even get a chance to step inside the bar.
I’ve barely walked out of an adjacent alley and am heading toward this bar’s side door when I feel something fly right past my shoulder. A dagger. Instantly I leap out of the way— my eyes dart up. Someone leaps down from the second floor, lunges for me, and knocks both of us into the shadows. My back slams into the wall. I reach instinctively for the knife at my belt before I see who my attacker is.
“It’s you,” I say.
The girl facing me looks furious. Street light reflects off her vine tattoo, and heavy black makeup outlines her eyes. “All right,” Kaede says. “I know you’re looking for me. You want t’see me so badly that you’ve been wandering through Alta’s bars for over an hour. What do you want? A rematch or something?”
I’m about to respond when I see another movement in the shadows behind Kaede. I freeze. Someone else is here with us.
When Kaede sees my eyes dart away, she raises her voice. “Stay back, Tess,” she says. “You don’t wanna see this.”
“Tess?” I squint into the darkness. The figure standing there looks small enough, with a delicate frame and hair that seems to be tied back in a messy braid. Large, luminous eyes peer at me from behind Kaede. I find myself itching to break into a smile—I know this is news that will make Day very happy.
Tess steps forward. She looks healthy enough, although dark circles have appeared under her eyes. The suspicious look on her face sends a wave of shame through me.
“Hello,” she says. “How is Day? Is he okay?”
I nod. “For the moment. I’m glad to see you’re okay too. What are you doing here?”
She gives me a cautious smile, then glances nervously at Kaede. Kaede shoots her an angry look and presses me harder against the wall. “How about you answer that question first?” she snaps.
Tess must have joined the Patriots. I drop my own knife to the ground. Then I hold my empty hands out to both of them. “I’m here to negotiate with you.” I meet her stare with calm eyes. “Kaede, I need your help. I need to talk to the Patriots.”
This catches her off guard. “What makes you think I’m a Patriot?”
“I work for the Republic. We know a lot of things, some that might surprise you.”
Kaede narrows her eyes at me. “You don’t need my help. You’re lying,” she says. “You’re a Republic soldier, and you turned Day in. Why should we trust you?”
I reach around, unzip my backpack, and pull out a thick wad of Notes. Tess lets out a tiny gasp. “I want to give you this,” I reply, handing the money to Kaede. “And there’s more where that came from. But I need you to listen to me, and I don’t have much time.”
Kaede flips through the bills with the hand on her good arm and tests one on the tip of her tongue. Her other arm is wrapped in a tight cast. Suddenly I wonder if Tess was the one to bandage up that arm. The Patriots must find her useful.
“I’m sorry about that, by the way,” I say, gesturing at her arm. “I’m sure you understand why I did it. I still have the wound you gave me.”
Kaede lets out a dry laugh. “Whatever,” she says. “At least we got ourselves another medic in the Patriots now.” She pats her cast and winks at Tess.
“Glad to hear it,” I say, looking sideways at Tess. “Take good care of her. She’s worth it.”
Kaede studies my face a little longer. Then, she finally releases me and nods at my belt. “Drop your weapons.”
I don’t argue. I pull four knives from my belt, hold them out slowly so she can see, then toss them to the alley floor. Kaede kicks them out of my range.
“You have any tracking gear?” she says. “Any listening devices?”
I let Kaede check both my ears and my mouth. “Nothing,” I reply.
“If I hear so much as one pair of footsteps heading our way,” Kaede says, “I’ll kill you right here. Understand?”
Kaede hesitates, then lowers her arm and guides us deeper into the shadows of the alley. “No way I’m taking you to see any other Patriots,” she says. “I don’t trust you enough for that. You can talk to us two, and I’ll see if it’s worth passing along.”
I wonder how large an operation the Patriots are. “Fair enough.”
I start telling Kaede and Tess about everything I’ve discovered. I begin with Metias, and then his death. I tell her about my hunt for Day and what had happened when I turned him in. What Thomas had done to Metias. But I don’t mention to her why my parents died or what Metias had revealed about the plagues in his blog entries. I’m too ashamed to say it straight to the face of two people living in the poor sectors.
“So your brother’s friend murdered him, huh?” Kaede lets out a low whistle. “For figuring out that the Republic killed your parents? And Day’s been framed?”
Kaede’s nonchalant tone annoys me, but I brush it aside. “Yes.”
“Yeah, that’s a sad story. Tell me what the hell this has t’do with the Patriots.”
“I want to help Day escape before his execution. And I’ve heard that the Patriots have wanted to recruit him for a long time. You probably don’t want to see him dead, either. Maybe the Patriots and I can come to some sort of arrangement.”
The anger in Kaede’s eyes has turned into skepticism. “So you want revenge for your brother’s death or something? Gonna turn your back on the Republic for Day’s sake?”