Star Cursed - Page 51/73

I shake off the sympathy. My business is getting Tess out of here safely.

“What were you thinking?” I demand in a furious whisper.

“Look at this place! They’re not cattle,” Tess hisses, her jaw set. She eyes the meat hooks hanging from the ceiling, the blood spattered on the cold concrete floor. “This isn’t a warehouse, it’s an abattoir, and it’s not a fit place to keep people. I want to help them. I can do this. I know I can.”

“Why do you even care?” Maura shoves her hands in her pockets. “They don’t care about us. If we were the ones locked up, they’d throw away the key. Or worse.”

Tess’s cheeks and nose are red from the cold. “You don’t know that.”

“I do. You’re being naïve if you think otherwise,” Maura insists, tossing her brown curls.

“Cate?” Tess reaches out a hand. “Even if it’s true, we should be better than that. We should help them because we can, because it’s right. And if we don’t, they’re going to put them all on the prison ship.”

“Where did you hear that?” Maura asks, glancing at the plump gray-haired woman nearest us.

“One of the guards said so. We can stop it, but we have to do it now. Before the storm gets worse.” Tess points toward the high windows, at the fat snowflakes swirling in through the broken glass.

I suspect Tess is strong enough to manage this on her own, but I take her hand anyway, letting her draw magic from me. She stares down the empty expanse of concrete toward the holding pens.

With a crack, each padlock drops to the floor. Scarcely a second later, the gates fly up, one by one, in a series of great crashes. The prisoners are screaming, shouting, flooding down the passageway toward us. A tall black man is the first out, followed by two burly blond men who look like brothers.

“Who opened the doors?” one of the blond men asks. His face is smudged with dirt.

“It was magic!” cries a thin girl with fuzzy black braids, rushing toward the prisoners. “Papa! It was magic!”

“What the devil? Stop right there! Stop!” one of the guards shouts, ineffectually waving his pistol. The crowd flows toward him, ignoring the warning shot he fires into the air.

“The witches are helping us!” someone shouts.

“Danny! Danny, where are you?” The stout old woman pushes past us.

The guards from outside stream in, and shots are fired, but most of the guards take in their odds, turn tail, and run. The prisoners tackle those who are left. Two guards are already being shoved down the hall toward the holding pens. Most of the prisoners are out now. A tall, thin man with dark hair half carries a limping old man.

“Oh, dear,” Tess says as two prisoners kick a guard huddled on the floor. “I didn’t mean—should we help?”

I grab her arm. “No. We’ve done enough.”

“What about Mei’s sisters? Should we see that they’re all right?” she asks.

“We need to go. I bet those guards ran to get help.” Maura slips toward the exit, and I drag Tess after her. Mei’s sisters can find their own way out.

The bulk of the crowd is running up the street, shouting and making much of their sudden freedom. Maura leads us in the opposite direction, around the warehouse and along the creaking wooden docks. We stop between the gangplanks of two huge vessels—a schooner called the Lizzie Mae unloading coal and a great three-masted, iron-hulled ship swarming with sailors. There’s so much banging and clanging, so much activity onboard, that no one will overhear us. Maura’s hair goes red again, her cloak black, and I see my own windswept hair turn blond as she releases her illusions.

“We did it!” Tess says, launching herself at me with such force she almost knocks me over. “I knew we could. What did I tell you—we make a marvelous team!”

Maura stops walking and stares down at the sluggish gray river. “The two of you are a team?”

“I mean—the three of us always make a marvelous team, when we work together, don’t we?” Tess babbles, flushing, her eyes falling guiltily to her feet. “That’s why we can’t let all of this Sisterhood business come between us.”

“It already has,” Maura says softly. There’s a funny expression on her face. “I used to try to win you over, you know. I’d brush your hair out and braid it like you were my little doll and sing you songs and tell you fairy stories. But then Cate would come in from the garden, and you’d go running to her. It’s always been her you’ve gone to, for everything, every bruise and bad dream.”

“That’s not true.” Tess reaches out, catching at the snow-covered sleeve of Maura’s cloak. “I’ve been confiding in Cate more lately, yes, but that’s only because you’ve been so distant. Like you didn’t want anything to do with us. I know Elena broke your heart, Maura, but ever since then, you’ve been so cold.”

“You think I’m cold?” Maura shakes her off. “Cate’s the one who couldn’t care less about those girls being murdered! I suggested trying to break in and rescue them, and she discarded the idea, the way she rejects anything she doesn’t think of first! All she cares about is saving her own skin—hers and Finn’s. Do you know she’s still seeing Brother Belastra?”

The wind picks up. Behind Maura, the water in the river begins to churn, the great ship nearest us rocking as if tossed in a tempest. The men on the deck shout, running to secure their cargo. Is it just the snowstorm, or is Maura losing her temper?

“This isn’t about Cate,” Tess says firmly, taking a cautious step backward. “This is about you and me. Our relationship as sisters.”

“It’s always about Cate,” Maura disagrees, her black cloak rippling in the sudden squall. “She insinuates herself into everything! We don’t even know which one of us is the oracle yet, but you’ve already made up your mind, haven’t you? If it were up to you, you’d have Cate lead the Sisterhood.”

Tess squares her shoulders. “I don’t like Sister Inez. I don’t trust her. So, yes, I think Cate’s the best choice.”

Maura looks stunned, as though she’s been slapped. “What about me? Don’t you trust me?” She gives a hysterical little laugh. Tears are gathering in her blue eyes. “Let me guess: you think I’m reckless. ‘Too easily ruled by my emotions,’ Elena said. As though feeling things deeply—wanting more for myself and girls like us—is so terrible!”

A heavy crate falls overboard with a tremendous splash. On the gangway, there’s a spate of cursing from the sailors.

“Maura, let’s go home and talk about this there,” Tess suggests.

“Cate won’t win this war, you know,” Maura insists. The snow is falling faster and faster now, obscuring the ships farther away. The dock is slippery beneath my heeled boots. “You’ll need soldiers like me and Inez. People willing to do what needs to be done.”

“We’re not at war,” I snap. “And it’s a good thing, because the Brothers outnumber us a hundred to one.”

“But we’re a hundred times more powerful.” Her smile is chilling as she gazes out over the harbor. “You want to free a few witches? That’s not enough. We need to show people what we’re really capable of. That’s why we’re going to ruin the Head Council.”