It’s time to read or BLEED! Last week we posted the first three chapters from Glass Sword, the sequel to Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard and now we’re giving you FOUR more chapters! ***WARNING: Reading these chapters WILL make you super angry that you don’t have the rest of the book to read, but fear not because the book goes on sale February 9th. (You should probably pre-order a copy to make sure it arrives on time!)
Haven’t read the first 3 chapters? Read them here!
Farley’s not as tall as Kilorn, but her steps are faster, more deliberate, and harder to keep up with. I do my best, almost jogging to match her pace through the mersive corridor. Like before, the Guardsmen jump out of our way, but now they salute her as we pass, clasping hands to their chest or fingers to their brow. I must say Farley cuts an impressive figure, wearing her scars and wounds like jewels. She doesn’t seem to mind the blood on her shift, absently wiping her hands against it. Some of it belongs to Shade. She dug the bullet out of his shoulder without blinking.
“We didn’t lock him up, if that’s what you think,” she says lightly, as if talk of imprisoning Cal is casual gossip.
I’m not stupid enough to rise to that bait, not now. She’s feeling me out, testing my reaction, my allegiance. But I’m no longer the girl who begged for her help. I’m not so easily read anymore. I’ve lived on a razor wire, balancing lie after lie, hiding myself. It’s nothing to do the same now and bury my thoughts deep down.
So I laugh instead, pasting on the smile I perfected in Elara’s court. “I can tell. Nothing’s been melted,” I reply, gesturing to the metal walls.
I read her as she tries to read me. She masks her expression well, but surprise still flickers in her eyes. Surprise and curiosity.
I haven’t forgotten the way she treated Cal on the train—with shackles, armed guards, and disdain. And he took it like a kicked dog. After his brother’s betrayal and his father’s murder, he had no fight inside him. I didn’t blame him. But Farley doesn’t know his heart—or his strength—like I do. She doesn’t know how dangerous he really is. Or how dangerous I am, for that matter. Even now, despite my many injuries, I feel power deep inside, calling out to the electricity pulsing through the mersive. I could control it if I wanted. I could shut this whole thing down. I could drown us all. The lethal idea makes me blush, embarrassed by such thoughts. But they are a comfort all the same. I’m the greatest weapon of all on a ship full of warriors, and they don’t seem to know it.
We seem weak because we want to. Shade was talking about the Guard when he said that, explaining their motives. Now I wonder if he wasn’t also trying to convey a message. Like words hidden in a letter long ago.
Cal’s bunk room is at the far end of the mersive, tucked away from the bustle of the rest of the vessel. His door is nearly hidden behind a twist of pipes and empty crates stamped with Archeon, Haven, Corvium, Harbor Bay, Delphie, and even Belleum from Piedmont to the south. What the crates once held, I can’t say, but the names of the Silver cities send a twinge down my spine. Stolen. Farley notices me staring at the crates, but doesn’t bother to explain. Despite our shaky agreement over what she calls “newbloods,” I still haven’t entered her inner circle of secrets. I suppose Cal has something to do with that.
Whatever powers the ship, a massive generator by the feel of it, rumbles beneath my feet, vibrating into my bones. I wrinkle my nose in distaste. Farley might not have locked Cal up, but she’s certainly not being kind either. Between the noise and the shaking sensation, I wonder if Cal was able to sleep at all.
“I suppose this is the only place you could put him?” I ask, glaring at the cramped corner.
She shrugs, banging a hand on his door. “The prince hasn’t complained.”
We don’t wait long, though I’d very much like the time to collect myself. Instead, the wheel lock spins in seconds, clanking round at great speed. The iron hinges grate, screaming, and Cal pulls open the door.
I’m not surprised to see him standing tall, ignoring his own aches. After a lifetime preparing to be a warrior, he’s used to cuts and bruises. But the scars within are something he doesn’t know how to hide. He avoids my gaze, focusing instead on Farley, who doesn’t notice or doesn’t care about the prince with a shattered heart. Suddenly my wounds seem a bit easier to bear.
“Captain Farley,” he says, as if she’s disturbed him at dinnertime. He uses annoyance to mask his pain.
Farley won’t stand for it and tosses her short hair with a sniff. She even reaches to close the door. “Oh, did you not want a visitor? How rude of me.”
I’m quietly glad I didn’t let Kilorn tag along. He’d be even worse to Cal, having hated him since they first met back in the Stilts.
“Farley,” I tell her through gritted teeth. My hand stops the door short. To my delight—and distaste—she flinches away from my touch. She flushes horribly, embarrassed with herself and her fear. Despite her tough exterior, she’s just like her soldiers. Afraid of the lightning girl. “I think we’re fine from here.”
Something twitches in her face, a twinge of irritation as much with herself as with me. But she nods, grateful to be out of my presence. With one last daggered glance at Cal, she turns and disappears back down the corridor. Her barked orders echo for a moment, indecipherable but strong.
Cal and I stare after her, then at the walls, then at the floor, then at our feet, afraid to look at each other. Afraid to remember the last few days. The last time we watched each other across a doorway, dancing lessons and a stolen kiss followed. That might as well be another life. Because it was. He danced with Mareena, the lost princess, and Mareena is dead.
But her memories remain. When I walk past, my shoulder brushing one firm arm, I remember the feel and smell and taste of him. Heat and wood smoke and sunrise, but no longer. Cal smells like blood, his skin is ice, and I tell myself I don’t want to taste him ever again.
“They’ve been treating you well?” I speak first, reaching for an easy topic. One glance around his small yet clean compartment is answer enough, but I might as well fill the silence.
“Yes,” he says, still hovering by the open door. Debating whether or not to shut it.
My eyes land on a panel in the wall, pried back to reveal a tangle of wires and switches beneath. I can’t help but smile softly. Cal’s been tinkering.
“You think that’s smart? One wrong wire . . .”
That draws a weak but still comforting smile from him. “I’ve been fooling with circuitry for half my life. Don’t worry, I know what I’m doing.”
Both of us ignore the double meaning, letting it slide past.
He finally decides to shut the door, though he leaves it unlocked. One hand rests on the metal wall, fingers splayed, looking for something to hold on to. The flame-maker bracelet still winks on his wrist, bright silver against dull, hard gray. He notes my gaze and pulls down one stained sleeve; I guess no one thought to give him a change of clothes.
“As long as I stay out of sight, I don’t think anyone will bother with me,” he says, and goes back to fiddling with the open panel. “It’s kind of nice.” But the joke is hollow.
“I’ll make sure it stays that way. If that’s what you want,” I add quickly. In truth, I have no idea what Cal wants now. Beyond vengeance. The one thing we still have in common.
He quirks an eyebrow at me, almost amused. “Oh, is the lightning girl in charge now?” He doesn’t give me a chance to respond to the jibe, closing the distance between us in a single long step. “I get the feeling you’re just as cornered as me.” His eyes narrow. “Only you don’t seem to know it.”
I flush, feeling angry—and embarrassed. “Cornered? I’m not the one hiding in a closet.”
“No, you’re too busy being put on parade.” He leans forward, and the familiar heat between us returns. “Again.”
Part of me wants to slap him. “My brother would never—”
“I thought my brother would never, and look where that got us!” he thunders, throwing his arms wide. The tips of his fingers touch either wall, scraping up against the prison he’s found himself in. The prison I put him in. And he’s caged me in with him, whether he knows it or not.
Blazing heat flares from his body, and I have to step back a little. He doesn’t miss the action and deflates, letting his eyes and arms drop. “Sorry,” he bites out, brushing a lock of black hair off his forehead.
“Never apologize to me. I don’t deserve it.”
He glances at me sidelong, his eyes dark and wide, but he doesn’t argue.
Heaving a breath, I lean back against the far wall. The space between us gapes like open jaws. “What do you know about a place called Tuck?”
Grateful for the change in conversation, he pulls himself together, retreating into a prince’s persona. Even without a crown, he seems regal, with perfect posture and his hands folded behind his back. “Tuck?” he repeats, thinking hard. His brow furrows, forming a crease between his thick, dark brows. The longer it takes him to speak, the better I feel. If he doesn’t know about the island, then few else will. “Is that where we’re going?”
“It is.” I think. A cold thought ripples through me, remembering Julian’s lessons hard learned in the court and the arena. Anyone can betray anyone. “According to Shade.”
Cal lets my uncertainty hang in the air, kind enough not to prod at it. “I think it’s an island,” he finally says. “One of several off the coast. It’s not Nortan territory. Nothing to warrant a settlement or base, not even for defense. It’s just open ocean out there.”
A bit of the weight on my shoulders lifts. We’ll be safe for now. “Good, good.”
“Your brother, he’s like you.” It’s not a question. “Different.”
“He is.” What else is there to say?
“And he’s all right? I remember he was injured.”
Even without an army, Cal is still a general, caring for the soldiers and the wounded. “He’s fine, thank you. Took a few bullets for me, but he’s recovering well.”
At the mention of bullets, Cal’s eyes flicker over me, finally allowing himself to look at me fully. He lingers on my scraped face and the dried blood around my ears. “And you?”
“I’ve had worse.”
“Yes, we have.”
We lapse into silence, not daring to speak further. But we still continue to stare at each other. Suddenly his presence is difficult to stand. And yet I don’t want to go.
The mersive has other ideas.
Beneath my feet, the generator shudders, its pounding pulse changing rhythm. “We’re almost there,” I mutter, sensing electricity flow or ebb to different parts of the craft.
Cal doesn’t feel it yet, unable to, but he doesn’t question my instincts. He knows my abilities firsthand, better than anyone on the ship. Better than my own family. For now, at least. Mom, Dad, Gisa, the boys, they’re waiting for me on the island. I’ll see them soon. They’re here. They’re safe.
But how long I’ll be with them, I don’t know. I won’t be able to stay on the island, not if I want to do something for the newbloods. I’ll have to go back to Norta, use whatever and whoever Farley can give me, to try and find them. It already seems impossible. I don’t even want to think about it. And yet my mind buzzes, trying to form a plan.
An alarm sounds overhead, synchronizing with a yellow light that starts to flash over Cal’s door. “Amazing,” I hear him mutter, distracted for a moment by the great machine all around us. I don’t doubt he wanted to explore, but there’s no room for the inquisitive prince here. The boy who buried himself in manuals and built cycles from scratch has no place in this world. I killed him, just as I killed Mareena.
Despite Cal’s mechanically inclined mind and my own electrical sense, we have no idea what comes next. When the mersive angles, nosing up out of the depths of the ocean, the whole room tips. The surprise of it knocks us both off our feet. We collide with the wall and each other. Our wounds bang together, drawing pained hisses from us both. The feel of him hurts more than anything else, a deep stab of memory, and I scramble away quickly.
Wincing, I rub one of my many bruises. “Where’s Sara Skonos when you need her,” I grumble, wishing for the skin healer who could mend us both. She could chase away the aches with a single touch, returning us both to fighting form.
More pain crosses Cal’s face, but not from his injuries. Well done, Mare. Wonderful job, bringing up the woman who knew his mother was murdered by the queen. The woman no one believed. “Sorry, I didn’t mean—”
He waves me off and finds his feet, one arm pressed against the wall for balance. “It’s fine. She’s—” The words are thick, stilted. “I chose not to listen to her. I didn’t want to listen. That was my fault.”
I met Sara Skonos only once, when Evangeline almost exposed me to our entire training session. Julian summoned her—Julian, who loved her—and watched as she mended my bloody face and bruised back. Her eyes were sad, her cheeks hollow, her tongue missing entirely. Taken for words spoken against the queen, for a truth no one believed. Elara killed Cal’s mother, Coriane the Singer Queen. Julian’s own sister, Sara’s best friend. And no one seemed to mind. It was so much easier to look away.
Maven was there too, hating Sara with every breath. I know now that was a crack in his shield, revealing who he truly was beneath practiced words and gentle smiles. Like Cal, I didn’t see what was right in front of me.
Like Julian, she is probably dead already.
Suddenly the metal walls and the noise and the popping of my ears are too much.
“I need to get off this thing.”
Despite the strange angle of the room and the persistent ringing in my head, my feet know what to do. They have not forgotten the mud of the Stilts, the nights spent in alleys, or the obstacle courses of Training. I wrench the door open, gasping for breath like a girl drowned. But the stale, filtered air of the mersive offers me no respite. I need the smell of trees, water, spring rains, even summer heat or winter snow. Something to remind me of the world beyond this suffocating tin can.
Cal gives me a head start before following, his footsteps heavy and slow behind me. He’s not trying to catch up, but give me space. If only Kilorn could do the same.
He approaches from farther down the corridor, using handholds and wheel locks to ease himself down the angled craft. His smile fades at the sight of Cal, replaced not by a scowl but by cold indifference. I suppose he thinks ignoring the prince will anger him more than outright hostility. Or perhaps Kilorn doesn’t want to test a human flamethrower in such close quarters.
“We’re surfacing,” he says, reaching my side.
I tighten my grip on a nearby grate, using it to steady myself. “You don’t say?”
Kilorn grins, leaning against the wall in front of me. He plants his feet on either side of mine, a challenge if there ever was one. I feel Cal’s heat behind me, but the prince seems to be taking the indifferent path as well, and says nothing.
I won’t be a piece in whatever game they’re playing. I’ve done that enough for a lifetime. “How’s what’s-her-name? Lena?”
The name hits Kilorn like a slap. His grin slackens, one side of his mouth drooping. “She’s fine, I guess.”
“That’s good, Kilorn.” I give him a friendly, if condescending, pat on the shoulder. The deflection works perfectly. “We should be making friends.”
The mersive levels out beneath us, but no one stumbles. Not even Cal, who has nowhere near my balance or Kilorn’s sea legs, hard earned on a fishing boat. He’s taut as a wire, waiting for me to take the lead. It should make me laugh, the thought of a prince deferring to me, but I’m too cold and worn to do much of anything but carry on.
So I do. Down the corridor, with Cal and Kilorn in tow, to the throng of Guardsmen waiting by the ladder that brought us down here in the first place. The wounded go first, tied onto makeshift stretchers and hoisted up into the open night. Farley supervises, her shift even bloodier than before. She makes for a grim sight, tightening bandages with a syringe between her teeth. A few of the worse off get shots as they pass, medication to help with the pain of being moved up the narrow tube. Shade is the last of the injured, leaning heavily on the two Guardsmen who teased Kilorn about the nurse. I would push through to him, but the crowd is too tight, and I don’t want any more attention today. Still too weak to teleport, he has to fumble on one leg and blushes furiously when Farley straps him into a stretcher. I can’t hear what she says to him, but it calms him somewhat. He even waves off her syringe, instead gritting his teeth against the jarring pain of being hoisted up the ladder. Once Shade is safely carried up, the process goes much faster. One after the other, Guardsmen follow each other up the ladder, slowly clearing the corridor. Many of them are nurses, men and women marked by white shifts with varying degrees of bloodstains.
I don’t waste time waving others ahead, faking politeness like a lady should. We’re all going to the same place. So when the crowd clears a little, the ladder opening to me, I hurry forward. Cal follows, and his presence combined with mine parts the Guardsmen like a knife. They step back quickly, some even stumbling, to give us our space. Only Farley stands firm, one hand around the ladder. To my surprise, she offers Cal and me a nod. Both of us.
That should’ve been my first warning.
The steps on the ladder burn in my muscles, still strained from Naercey, the arena, and my capture. I can hear a strange howling up above, but it doesn’t deter me in the slightest. I need to get out of the mersive, as fast as possible.
My last glimpse of the mersive, looking back over my shoulder, is strange, angling over Farley and into the medical station. There are wounded still in there, motionless beneath their blankets. No, not wounded, I realize as I pull myself up. Dead.
Higher up the ladder, the wind sounds, and a bit of water drips down. Nothing to bother with, I assume, until I reach the top and the open circle of darkness. A storm howls so strongly that the rain pelts sideways, missing most of the tube and ladder. It stings against my scraped face, drenching me in seconds. Autumn storms. Though I cannot recall a storm so brutal as this. It blows through me, filling my mouth with rain and biting, salty spray. Luckily the mersive is tightly anchored to a dock I can barely see, and it holds firm against the roiling gray waves below.
“This way!” a familiar voice yells in my ear, guiding me off the ladder and onto the mersive hull slick with rain and seawater. Through the darkness, I can barely see the soldier leading me, but his massive bulk and his voice are easy to place.
“Bree!” I close my hand on his, feeling the calluses of my oldest brother’s grip. He walks like an anchor, heavy and slow, helping me off the mersive and onto the dock. It’s not much better, metal eaten with rust, but it leads to land and that’s all I care about. Land and warmth, a welcome respite after the cold depths of the ocean and my memories.
No one helps Cal down from the mersive, but he does fine on his own. Again, he’s careful to keep some distance, walking a few respectable paces behind us. I’m sure he hasn’t forgotten his first meeting with Bree back in the Stilts, when my brother was anything but polite. In truth, none of the Barrows cared for Cal, except Mom and maybe Gisa. But they didn’t know who he was then. Should be an interesting reunion.
The storm makes Tuck difficult to see, but I can tell the island is small, covered in dunes and tall grass as tumultuous as the waves. A crack of lightning out on the water illuminates the night for a moment, showing the path in front of us. Now out in the open, without the cramped walls of the mersive or the Undertrain, I can see we number less than thirty, including the wounded. They head for two flat, concrete buildings where the dock meets land. A few structures stand out on the gentle hill above us, looking like bunkers or barracks. But what lies beyond them, I can’t say. The next bolt of lightning, closer this time, shivers delightfully in my nerves. Bree mistakes it for cold, and draws me closer, draping one heavy arm across my shoulders. His weight makes it hard to walk, but I endure.
The end of the dock cannot come fast enough. Soon I’ll be inside, dry, on solid ground, and reunited with the Barrows after far too long. The prospect is enough to get me through the bustle of wet activity. Nurses load the wounded onto an old transport, its storage bed covered in waterproof canvas. It was certainly stolen, as was everything else. The two buildings on land are hangars, their doors ajar enough to reveal more transports waiting inside. There’s even a few boats anchored to the dock, bobbing in the gray waves as they ride out the storm. Everything is mismatched—outdated transports in varying sizes, sleek new boats, some painted silver, black, one green. Stolen or hijacked or both. I even recognize the clouded gray and blue, the Nortan navy colors, on one boat. Tuck is like a much larger version of Will Whistle’s old wagon, packed with bits and pieces of trade and thievery.
The medical transport putters off before we reach it, fighting through the rain and up the sandy road. Only Bree’s nonchalance keeps me from quickening my pace. He isn’t worried about Shade, or what lies at the top of the hill, so I try not to be too.
Cal doesn’t share my sentiment, and finally speeds up so he can walk next to me. It’s the storm or the darkness, or maybe simply his silver blood making him look so pale and afraid. “This can’t last,” he mutters, low enough so only I can hear.
“What’s that, Prince?” Bree says, his voice a dull roar. I nudge him in the ribs, but it doesn’t do much more than bruise my elbow. “No matter, we’ll know soon enough.”
His tone is worse than his words. Cold, brutal, so unlike the laughing brother I used to know. The Guard has changed him too. “Bree, what are you talking about?”
Cal already knows and stops in his tracks, his eyes on me. The wind musses his hair, pasting it to his forehead. His bronze eyes darken with fear, and my stomach churns at the sight. Not again, I plead. Tell me I haven’t walked into another trap.
One of the hangars looms behind him, its doors opening wide on strangely quiet hinges. Too many soldiers to count step forward in unison, as regimented as any legion, their guns ready and eyes bright in the rain. Their leader might as well be a shiver, with almost white-blond hair and an icy disposition. But he’s red-blooded as I am—one of his eyes is clouded crimson, bleeding beneath the lens.
“Bree, what is this?!” I yell, rounding on my brother with a visceral snarl. Instead, he takes my hands in his, and not gently. He holds me firm, using his superior strength to keep me from pulling away. If he were anyone else, I would shock him good. But this is my brother. I can’t do that to him, I won’t.
“Bree, let me go!”
“We won’t hurt him,” he says, repeating it over and over. “We’re not going to hurt him, I promise you.”
So this isn’t my cage. But that doesn’t calm me at all. If anything, it makes me more angry and desperate.
When I look back, Cal’s fists are aflame, his arms stretched wide to face the blood-eyed man. “Well?” he growls in challenge, sounding more like an animal than a man. A cornered animal.
Too many guns, even for Cal. They’ll shoot him if they must. It might even be what they want. An excuse to kill the fallen prince. Part of me, most of me, knows they would be justified in this. Cal was a hunter of the Scarlet Guard, essentially guaranteeing Tristan’s death, Walsh’s suicide, and Farley’s torture. Soldiers killed at his orders, wiping out most of Farley’s rebel force. And who knows how many he’s sent to die on the war front, trading Red soldiers for a few measly miles of the Lakelands. He owes no allegiance to the cause. He is a danger to the Scarlet Guard.
But he is a weapon as well as I am, one we can use in the days to come. For the newbloods, against Maven, a torch to help lift the darkness.
“He can’t fight out of this, Mare.” That’s Kilorn, choosing the worst of moments to sidle back. He whispers in my ear, acting like his closeness can influence me. “He’ll die if he tries.”
His logic is hard to ignore.
“On your knees, Tiberias,” the blood-eyed man says, taking bold steps toward the flaming prince. Steam rises from his fire, as if the storm is trying to stamp him out. “Hands behind your head.”
Cal does neither, and he flinches at the mention of his birth name. He stands firm, strong, proud, though he knows the battle is lost. Once he might have surrendered, trying to save his own skin. Now he believes that skin worthless. Only I seem to think otherwise.
“Cal, do as he says.”
The wind carries my voice so that the whole hangar hears. I’m afraid they can hear my heart too, hammering like a drum in my chest.
Slowly, reluctantly, a statue crumbling to dust, Cal sinks to his knees and his fire sputters out. He did the same thing yesterday, kneeling next to his father’s decapitated corpse.
The blood-eyed man grins, his teeth gleaming and straight. He stands over Cal with relish, enjoying the sight of a prince at his feet. Enjoying the power it gives him.
But I am the lightning girl, and he knows nothing of true power.
They try to convince me it’s for the best, but their poor excuses fall on unsympathetic ears. Kilorn and Bree quickly use every argument they’ve been told to say.
He’s dangerous, even to you. But I know better than any that Cal would never hurt me. Even when he had reason to, I feared nothing from him.
He’s one of them. We can’t trust him. After what Maven’s done to his legacy and reputation, Cal has nothing and no one but us now, even if he refuses to admit it.
He is valuable. A general, a prince of Norta, and the most wanted man in the kingdom. That one gives me pause, and strikes a chord of fear deep down. If the blood-eyed man decides to use Cal as leverage against Maven, to trade him or sacrifice him, it will take all I have to stop him. All my influence, all my power—and I don’t know if it will be enough.
So I do nothing but nod along with them, slowly at first, pretending to agree. Pretending to be controlled. Pretending to be weak. I was right. Shade was warning me before. Once again, he saw the turn of the tide long before it rolled in. Cal is power, fire made flesh, something to be feared and defeated. And I am lightning. What will they try to do to me if I don’t play my part?
I have not stepped into another jail, not yet, but I can feel the key in the lock, threatening to turn. Luckily I have experience in this kind of thing.
The blood-eyed man and his soldiers march Cal into the hangar, not stupid enough to try and bind his hands. But they never lower their guns or their guard, careful to keep their distance lest one of them be burned for their boldness. I can only watch, eyes wide but mouth shut, when the hangar door slides closed again, separating the two of us. They won’t kill him, not until he gives them a reason. I can only hope Cal behaves.
“Go easy on him,” I whisper, leaning into Bree’s warmth. Even in the cold autumn rain, he feels like a furnace. Long years fighting on the northern front have made him immune to wet and cold. I think back to Dad’s old saying. The war never leaves. Now I know it firsthand, though my war is very different from his.
Bree pretends not to hear me, hurrying us both from the docks. Kilorn follows close behind, his boots catching my heels once or twice. I resist the urge to kick him, and focus on climbing the wooden steps leading to the barracks on the hill above. The steps are worn down, beaten by too many feet to count. How many came this way? I wonder. How many are here now?
We crest the hill and the island stretches out before us, revealing a military base larger than I expected. The barracks on the ridge was one of at least a dozen I see now, organized in two even rows separated by a long, concrete yard. It’s flat and well-maintained, not like the steps or the dock. There’s a white line painted down the middle of the yard, perfectly straight, leading away into the stormy night. What it goes to, I have no idea.
The whole island has an air of stillness, momentarily frozen by the storm. Come the morning, when the rain breaks and the darkness lifts, I suppose I’ll see the base in all its glory—and finally understand the people I’m dealing with. I’m developing a bad habit of underestimating others, particularly where the Scarlet Guard is concerned.
And like Naercey, Tuck is far more than it seems.
The cold I felt on the mersive and in the rain persists, even when I’m ushered into the doorway of the barracks marked with a painted black “3.” I’m cold in my bones, in my heart. But I can’t let my parents see that, for their sake. I owe them this much. They must think me whole, unbroken, unaffected by Cal’s imprisonment and my own ordeals in a palace and an arena. And the Guard must think I’m on their side—relieved to be “safe.”
But aren’t I? Didn’t I swear an oath to Farley and the Scarlet Guard?
They believe as I do, in an end to Silver kings and Red slaves. They sacrificed soldiers for me, because of me. They are my allies, my brethren, brothers and sisters in arms—but the blood-eyed man gives me pause. He is not Farley. She might be gruff and single-minded, but she knows what I’ve been through. She can be reasoned with. I doubt reason lives in the heart of the blood-eyed man.
Kilorn is strangely quiet. This silence is not like us at all. We’re used to filling the space with insults, with teasing, or in Kilorn’s case, with utter nonsense. It’s not in our nature to be quiet around each other, but now we have nothing to say. He knew what they planned to do to Cal and agreed with it. Worse, he didn’t even tell me. I would feel angry but for the cold. It eats at my emotions, dulling them into something like the electrical hum in the air.
Bree doesn’t notice the strangeness between us, not that he would. Besides being pleasantly foolish, my oldest brother left when I was a gangly thirteen-year-old who thieved for fun, not necessity, and wasn’t so cruel as I’ve become. Bree doesn’t know me as I am now, having missed almost five years of my life. But then, my life has changed more in the last two months than ever before. And only two people were with me through it. The first is imprisoned and the second wears a crown of blood.
Any sensible person would call them my enemies. Strange, my enemies know me best, and my family doesn’t know me at all.
Inside the barracks is blissfully dry, humming with lights and wires bundled along the ceiling. The thick concrete walls turn the corridor into a maze, with no markers to guide the way. Every door is shut, steel gray and unremarkable, but a few bear the signs of life within. Some woven beach grass adorning a knob, a broken necklace strung across a doorway, and so on. This place holds not just fearsome soldiers but the refugees of Naercey and who knows where else. After the enactment of the Measures, commanded from my own lips, many Guardsmen and Reds alike fled the mainland. How could they stay, threatened by conscription and execution? But how did they manage to get away? And how did they make it here?
Another question joins my steadily growing list.
Despite my distraction, I keep careful notice of the twists and turns my brother takes. Right here, one, two, three corners, left by the door with “PRAIRIE” carved into it. Part of me wonders if he’s taking a roundabout route on purpose, but Bree isn’t smart enough for that. I guess I should be thankful. Shade would have no problems playing the trickster, but not Bree. He’s brute strength, a rolling boulder easy to dodge. He’s a Guardsman too, freed from one army just to join another. And based on how he held me on the docks, he owes his allegiance to the Guard and nothing else. Tramy will probably be the same, always eager to follow, and occasionally guide, our older brother. Only Shade has the good sense to keep his eyes open, to wait and see what fate awaits us newbloods.
The door ahead of us stands ajar, as if waiting. Bree doesn’t need to tell me this is our family’s bunk, because there’s a purple scrap of fabric tied around the doorknob. It’s frayed at the edges and clumsily embroidered. Lightning bolts of thread spark across the rag, a symbol that is neither Red nor Silver, but mine. A combination of the colors of House Titanos, my mask, and the lightning that surges inside of me, my shield.
As we approach, something wheels behind the door, and a bit of warmth moves through me. I would know the sound of my father’s wheelchair anywhere.
Bree doesn’t knock. He knows everyone’s still awake, waiting for me.
There’s more room than in the mersive, but the bunk is still small and cramped. At least there’s space to move, and plenty of beds for the Barrows, with even a bit of living space around the doorway. A single window, cut high in the far wall, is closed tight against the rain, and the sky seems a bit lighter. Dawn is coming.
Yes it is, I think, taking in the overwhelming amount of red. Scarves, rags, scraps, flags, banners, red on every surface and hanging from every wall. I should’ve known it would come to this. Gisa sewed dresses for Silvers once; now she painstakingly makes flags for the Scarlet Guard, decorating whatever she can find with the torn sun of resistance. They aren’t pretty, with uneven stitches and simple patterns. Nothing compared to the art she used to weave. That’s my fault too.
She sits at the little metal table, frozen with a needle in her half-healed claw of a hand. For a moment, she stares, and so do the rest. Mom, Dad, Tramy, staring but not knowing the girl they’re looking at. The last time they saw me, I couldn’t control myself. I was trapped, weak, confused. Now I am injured, nursing bruises and betrayals, but I know what I am, and what I must do.
I have become more, more than we could ever have dreamed. It frightens me.
“Mare.” I can barely hear my mother’s voice. My name trembles on her lips.
Like back in the Stilts, when my sparks threatened to destroy our home, she is the first to embrace me. After a hug that isn’t nearly long enough, she pulls me to an empty chair.
“Sit, baby, sit,” she says, her hands shaking against me. Baby. I haven’t been called that in years. Strange that it returns now, when I’m anything but a child.
Her touch ghosts over my new clothes, feeling for the bruises beneath like she can see right through the fabric. “You’re hurt,” she mutters, shaking her head. “I can’t believe they let you walk, after—well, after all that.”
I’m quietly glad she doesn’t mention Naercey, the arena, or before. I don’t think I’m strong enough to relive them, not so soon.
Dad chuckles darkly. “She can do as she pleases. There’s no let to it.” He shifts and I notice more gray in his hair than ever. He’s thinner too, looking small in the familiar chair. “Just like Shade.”
Shade is common ground, and easier for me to talk about. “You’ve seen him?” I ask, letting myself relax against the cold metal seat. It feels good to sit.
Tramy gets up from his bunk, his head nearly scraping the ceiling. “I’m going to the infirmary now. Just wanted to make sure you’re—”
Okay is no longer a word in my vocabulary.
I can only nod. If I open my mouth, I might tell them about everything. The hurt, the cold, the prince who betrayed me, the prince who saved me, the people I’ve killed. And while they might already know, I can’t bring myself to admit what I’ve done. To see them disappointed, disgusted, afraid of me. That would be more than I can bear tonight.
Bree goes with Tramy, patting me gruffly on the back before following our brother out the door. Kilorn remains, still silent, leaning against the wall as if he wants to fall into it and disappear.
“Are you hungry?” Mom says, busying herself at a tiny excuse for a cabinet. “We saved some dinner rations, if you want.”
Though I haven’t eaten in I don’t even know how long, I shake my head. My exhaustion makes it hard to think of anything but sleep.
Gisa notes my manner, her bright eyes narrowed. She pushes back a piece of rich, red hair the color of our blood. “You should sleep.” She speaks with so much conviction I wonder who the older sister really is. “Let her sleep.”
“Of course, you’re right.” Again, Mom pulls me along, this time out of the chair and toward a bunk with more pillows than the rest. She nannies, fussing with the thin blankets, putting me through the motions. I only have the strength to follow, letting her tuck me in like she never has before. “Here we are, baby, sleep.”
I’m safer than I’ve been in days, surrounded by the people I love most, and yet I’ve never wanted to cry more. For them, I hold back. I curl inward and bleed alone, inside, where no one else can see.
It isn’t long before I’m dozing, despite the bright lights overhead and the low murmurs. Kilorn’s deep voice rumbles, speaking again now that I’m out of the equation.
“Watch her” is the last thing I hear before I sink into darkness.
Sometime in the night, somewhere between sleep and waking, Dad takes my hand. Not to wake me up, but just to hold on. For a moment, I think he is a dream, and I’m back in a cell beneath the Bowl of Bones. That the escape, the arena, the executions were all a nightmare I must soon relive. But his hand is warm, gnarled, familiar, and I close my fingers on his. He is real.
“I know what it is to kill someone,” he whispers, his eyes faraway, two pinpricks of light in the blackness of our bunk. His voice is different, just as he is different in this moment. A reflection of a soldier, one who survived too long in the bowels of war. “I know what it does to you.”
I try to speak. I certainly try.
Instead, I let him go, and I drift away.
The tang of salt air wakes me the next morning. Someone opened the window, letting in a cool autumn breeze and bright sunlight. The storm has passed. Before I open my eyes, I try to pretend. This is my cot, the breeze is coming from the river, and my only choice is whether or not to go to school. But that is not a comfort. That life, though easier, is not one I would return to if I could.
I have things to do. I must see to Julian’s list, to begin preparations for that massive undertaking. And if I request Cal for it, who are they to refuse me? Who could say no in the face of saving so many from Maven’s noose?
Something tells me the blood-eyed man might, but I push it away.
Gisa sprawls in the bunk across from me, using her good hand to pick loose a few threads from a piece of black cloth. She doesn’t bother to watch as I stretch, popping a few bones when I move.
“Good morning, baby,” she says, barely hiding a smirk.
She gets a pillow to the face for her trouble. “Don’t start,” I grumble, secretly glad for the teasing. If only Kilorn would do that, and be a little bit of the fisher boy I remember.
“Everyone’s in the mess hall. Breakfast is still on.”
“Where’s the infirmary?” I ask, thinking of Shade and Farley. For the moment, she’s one of the best allies I have here.
“You need to eat, Mare,” Gisa says sharply, finally sitting up. “Really.”
The concern in her eyes stops me short. I must look worse than I thought, for Gisa to treat me so gently. “Then where’s the mess?”
She huffs as she stands, tossing her project down on the bunk. “I knew I’d get stuck babysitting,” she mutters, sounding very much like our exasperated mother.
This time she dodges the pillow.
The maze of the barracks goes by quicker now. I remember the way, at least, and mentally note the doors as we pass. Some are open, revealing empty bunk rooms or a few idling Reds. Both tell the tale of Barracks 3, which seems to be the designated “family” structure. The people here don’t look like soldiers of the Guard, and I doubt most of them have ever been in a fight. I see evidence of children, even a few babies, who fled with their families or were taken to Tuck. One room in particular overflows with old or broken toys, its walls hastily painted a sickly yellow in an attempt to brighten the concrete. There’s nothing written on the door, but I understand who the room is for. Orphans. I quickly avert my eyes, looking anywhere but the cage for living ghosts.
Piping runs the length of the ceiling, carrying with it a slow but steady pulse of electricity. What powers this island, I don’t know, but the deep hum is a comfort, reminding me of who I am. At least that is something no one can take away, not here, so far from the silencing ability of the now dead Silver Arven. Yesterday he almost killed me, stifling my ability with his own, turning me back into the Red girl with nothing but the dirt beneath her fingernails. In the arena, I barely had time to be frightened of such a prospect, but now it haunts me. My ability is my most prized possession, even though it separates me from everyone else. But for power, for my own power, it is a price I am willing to pay.
“What’s it like?” Gisa says, following my gaze to the ceiling. She focuses on the wiring, trying to feel what I can, but comes back empty. “The electricity?”
I don’t know what to tell her. Julian would explain quite easily, probably debating himself in the process, all while detailing the history of abilities and how they came to be. But Maven told me only yesterday that my old teacher never escaped. He was captured. And knowing Maven, not to mention Elara, Julian is most likely dead, executed for all he gave to me, and for crimes committed long ago. For being the brother of the girl the old king truly loved.
“Power,” I finally say, wrenching open the door to the outside world. Sea air presses against me, playing in my ratty hair. “Strength.”
Silver words, but true all the same.
Gisa is not one to let me off the hook so easily. Still, she falls silent. She understands her questions are not any I want to answer.
In the daylight, Tuck seems both less and more ominous. The sun shines bright overhead, warming the autumn air, and past the barracks, the sea grass gives way to a sparse collection of trees. Nothing like the oaks and pines of home, but good enough for now. Gisa leads us across the concrete yard, navigating through the bustle of activity. Guardsmen in their red sashes unload mobiles, stacking more crates like the ones I saw on the mersive. I slow a little, hoping to get a glance of their cargo, but strange soldiers in new uniforms give me pause. They wear blue, not the bright color of House Osanos, but something cold and dark. It’s familiar but I can’t place it. They look like Farley, tall and pale, with bright blond hair cut aggressively short. Foreign, I realize. They stand over the cargo piles, rifles in hand, guarding the crates.
But guarding them from who?
“Don’t look at them,” Gisa mutters, grabbing onto my sleeve. She tugs me along, eager to get away from the blue soldiers. One in particular watches us go, his eyes narrowed.
“Why not? Who are they?”
She shakes her head, tugging again. “Not here.”
Naturally, I want to stop, to stare at the soldier until he realizes who and what I am. But that is a foolish, childish need. I must maintain my mask, must seem the poor girl broken by the world. I let Gisa lead on and away.
“The Colonel’s men,” she whispers as soon as we’re out of earshot. “They came down with him from the north.”
The north. “Lakelanders?” I reply, almost gasping in surprise. She nods, stoic.
Now the uniforms, the color of a cold lake, make sense. They are soldiers of another army, another king, but they’re here, with us. Norta has been at war with the Lakelands for a century, fighting over land, food, and glory. The kings of fire against the kings of winter, with both red and silver blood in between. But the dawn, it seems, is coming for them all.
“The Colonel’s a Lakelander. After what happened in Archeon”—her face pains, though she doesn’t know the half of my ordeal there—“he came to ‘sort things out,’ according to Tramy.”
There’s something wrong here, tugging at my brain like Gisa tugging on my sleeve. “Who is the Colonel, Gisa?”
It takes me a moment to realize we’ve reached the mess, a flat building just like the barracks. The din of breakfast echoes behind the doors, but we don’t pass through. Even though the smell of food makes my stomach rumble, I wait for Gisa’s answer.
“The man with the bloody eye,” she finally says, pointing to her own face. “He’s taken over.”
Command. Shade whispered the word back on the mersive, but I didn’t think much of it. Is this what he meant? Is the Colonel who he was trying to warn me about? After his sinister treatment of Cal last night, I have to think so. And to know such a man is in charge of this island, and everyone on it, is no particular comfort.
“So Farley’s out of a job.”
She shrugs. “Captain Farley failed. He didn’t like that.”
Then he’ll hate me.
She reaches for the door, one small hand outstretched. The other has healed better than I thought it would, with only her fourth and fifth fingers still oddly twisted, curled inward. Bones gone wrong, in punishment for trusting her sister in a time long ago.
“Gisa, where did they take Cal?” My voice is so low I’m afraid she doesn’t hear me. But then her hand stills.
“They talked about him last night, when you went to sleep. Kilorn didn’t know, but Tramy, he went to see him. To watch.”
A sharp pain shoots through my heart. “Watch what?”
“He said just questions for now. Nothing that would hurt.”
Deep inside, I scowl. I can think of many questions that would hurt Cal more than any wound. “Where?” I ask again, putting a bit of steel in my voice, speaking like a Silver-born princess should.
“Barracks One,” she whispers. “I heard them say Barracks One.”
As she opens the door to the mess, I look past her, to the line of barracks marching toward the trees. Their numbers are clearly painted, black against sun-bleached concrete: 2, 3, 4 . . .
A sudden chill runs down my spine.
There is no Barracks 1.
Most of the food is bland, gray porridge and lukewarm water. Only the fish is good, cod taken straight from the sea. It bites of salt and ocean, just like the air. Kilorn marvels at the fish, idly wondering what kind of nets the Guard uses. We’re in a net, you idiot, I want to shout, but the mess is no place for such words. There are Lakelanders in here as well, stoic in their dark blue. While the red-uniformed Guardsmen eat with the rest of the refugees, the Lakelanders never sit, constantly on the prowl. They remind me of Security officers, and I feel a familiar chill. Tuck is not so different from Archeon. Different factions vie for control, with me right in the middle. And Kilorn, my friend, my oldest friend, might not believe this is dangerous. Or worse, he could understand—and not care.
My silence persists, broken only by steady bites of fish. They’re watching me closely, as instructed. Mom, Dad, Kilorn, Gisa, all pretending not to stare, and failing. The boys are gone, still at Shade’s bedside. Like me, they thought him dead, and are making up for lost time.
“So how did you get here?” The words stick in my mouth, but I force them out. Better I ask the questions, before they start in on me.
“Boat,” Dad says gruffly around a slurp of porridge. He chuckles at his joke, pleased with himself. I smile a little, for his sake.
Mom nudges him, clucking her tongue in exasperation. “You know what she means, Daniel.”
“I’m not stupid.” He grumbles, shoveling back another spoonful. “Two days ago, round midnight, Shade popped up on the porch. I mean actually popped.” He gestures with his hands, snapping his fingers. “You know about that, don’t you?”
“Near gave us all a heart attack, what with the popping and him being, well, alive.”
“I can imagine,” I murmur, remembering my own reaction to seeing Shade again. I thought us both dead, in some place far beyond this madness. But like me, Shade had merely become someone—something—else to survive.
Dad continues, on a roll now, literally. His chair rocks back and forth on squeaky wheels, moving with his wild gestures. “Well, after your mom stopped crying over him, he got down to it. Started throwing stuff in a bag, useless stuff. The porch flag, the pictures, your letter box. Didn’t make no sense, really, but it’s hard to ask anything of a son come back to life. When he said we had to leave, now, right now, I could tell he wasn’t joking. So we did.”
“What about the curfew?” The Measures are still sharp in my head, nails in my skin. How could I forget them, when I was forced to announce them myself? “You could’ve been killed!”
“We had Shade and his . . . his . . .” Dad struggles for the right word, gesturing again.
Gisa rolls her eyes, bored with our father’s antics. “He calls it jumping, remember?”
“That’s it.” He nods. “Shade jumped us past the patrols and into the woods. From there, we went to the river and a boat. Cargo’s still allowed to travel at night, you see, so we ended up sitting in a crate of apples for who knows how long.”
Mom cringes at the memory. “Rotten apples,” she adds. Gisa giggles a little. Dad almost smiles. For a moment, the gray porridge is Mom’s bad stew, the concrete walls become rough-hewn wood, and it’s the Barrows at dinner. It’s home again, and I’m just Mare.
I let the seconds tick by, listening and smiling. Mom jabbers about nothing so I don’t have to speak, letting me eat in quiet peace. She even chases away the stares of the mess hall, meeting every eye that swings my way with a vicious glare I know firsthand. Gisa plays her part too, distracting Kilorn with news of the Stilts. He listens intently, and she bites her lip, pleased by his attention. I guess her little crush hasn’t gone away just yet. That leaves only Dad, glopping through his second bowl of porridge with abandon. He stares at me over the rim of his bowl, and I glimpse the man he was. Tall, strong, a proud soldier, a person I barely remember, so far from what he is now. But like me, like Shade, like the Guard, Dad is not the ruined, foolish thing he seems. Despite the chair, the missing leg, and the clicking contraption in his chest, he’s still seen more battles and survived longer than most. He lost the leg and lung only three months before a full discharge, after near twenty years of conscription. How many make it that far?
We seem weak because we want to. Perhaps those are not Shade’s words at all, but our father’s. Though I’ve only just come into my own strength, he’s been hiding his since he came home. I remember what he said last night, half-hidden in dreams. I know what it is to kill someone. I certainly don’t doubt it.
Strange, it’s the food that reminds me of Maven. Not the taste, but the act of eating itself. My last meal was at his side, in his father’s palace. We drank from crystal glasses and my fork had a pearl handle. We were surrounded by servants, but still very much alone. We couldn’t talk about the night to come, but I kept stealing glances at him, hoping I wouldn’t lose my nerve. He gave me such strength in that moment.
I believed he had chosen me, and my revolution. I believed Maven was my savior, a blessing. I believed in what he could help us do.
His eyes were so blue, full of a different kind of fire. A hungry flame, sharp and strangely cold, tinged with fear. I thought we were afraid together, for our cause, for each other. I was so wrong.
Slowly, I push the plate of fish away, scraping the table. Enough.
The noise draws Kilorn’s eye like an alarm, and he swings back around to face me.
“All done?” he asks, glancing at my half-eaten breakfast.
In response, I stand up, and he jumps to his feet along with me. Like a dog following commands. But not mine. “Can we go to the infirmary?”
Can, we. The words are carefully chosen, a smoke screen to make him forget who and what I am now.
He nods, grinning. “Shade’s doing better by the second. Well, Barrows, care for a trip?” he adds with a glance toward the closest thing he has to a family.
My eyes widen. I need to speak to Shade, to find out where Cal is and what the Colonel plans for him. As much as I missed my family, they’ll only get in the way. Luckily, Dad understands. His hand moves swiftly beneath the table, stopping Mom before she can speak, communicating without words. She shifts, adopting an apologetic smile that doesn’t reach her eyes. “We’ll come along later, I think,” she says, meaning much more than those few words. “About time for a battery change, isn’t it?”
“Bugger,” Dad grumbles loudly, tossing his spoon into his bowl of muck.
Gisa’s eyes flicker to mine, reading what I need. Time, space, an opportunity to start untangling this mess. “I’ve got more banners to sort out,” she sighs. “You lot go through them pretty fast.”
Kilorn shrugs off the good-natured jab with a laugh and a crooked smile, like he’s done a thousand times. “Suit yourselves. It’s this way, Mare.”
Condescending as it may be, I let him lead me through the mess. I’m careful to make a show of it, playing up a limp, keeping my eyes downcast. I fight the urge to stare back at everyone watching, the Guardsmen, the Lakelanders, even the refugees. My time in the dead king’s court serves me just as well on a military base, where once again I must hide who I am. Then I pretended to be Silver, unflinching, unafraid, a pillar of strength and power called Mareena. But that girl would be right next to Cal, confined in the missing Barracks 1. So I must be Red again, a girl named Mare Barrow, a girl no one should fear or suspect, reliant on a Red boy and not herself.
Dad and Shade’s warning has never been so clear.
“Leg still bothering you?”
I’m so focused on faking the limp, I barely hear Kilorn’s concern. “It’s nothing,” I finally respond, pressing my lips into a thin line of forced pain. “I’ve had worse.”
“Jumping off Ernie Wick’s porch comes to mind.” His eyes glitter at the memory.
I broke my leg that day, and spent months in a plaster cast that cost both of us half our savings. “That wasn’t my fault.”
“I believe you chose to do it.”
“I was dared.”
“Now who would’ve done such a thing?”
He laughs outright, pushing us both through a set of double doors. The hallway on the other side is obviously a new addition. The paint still looks wet in places. And overhead, the lights flicker. Bad wiring, I know instantly, feeling the places where the electricity frays and splits. But one cord of power remains unbroken, flowing down the passage to the left. To my chagrin, Kilorn takes us right.
“What’s that?” I ask, gesturing the opposite way.
He doesn’t lie. “I don’t know.”
The Tuck infirmary isn’t so grim as the medical station on the mersive. The high, narrow windows are thrown open, flooding the chamber with fresh air and sunlight. White shifts shuttle back and forth between patients, their bandages blissfully clean of red blood. Soft conversation, a few dry coughs, even a sneeze fill the room. Not a single yelp of pain or crack of bone interrupts the gentle noise. No one is dying here. Or they have simply died already.
Shade isn’t hard to find, and this time, he isn’t pretending to sleep. His leg is still elevated, held up by a more professional sling, and his shoulder bandage is fresh. He angles to the right, facing the bed next to him with a stoic expression. Who he’s addressing, I can’t tell yet. A curtain surrounds the bed on two sides, hiding the occupant from the rest of the infirmary. As we approach, Shade’s mouth moves quickly, whispering words I can’t decipher.
He stops short at the sight of me, and it feels like a betrayal.
“You just missed the brutes,” he calls out, adjusting himself so there’s room for me on the bed. A nurse moves to help, but Shade waves him off with a bruised hand.
The brutes, his old nickname for our brothers. Shade grew up small, and was often Bree’s punching bag. Tramy was kinder, but always followed in Bree’s lumbering footsteps. Eventually Shade grew smart and quick enough to evade them both, and taught me to do the same. I don’t doubt he sent them from his bedside, allowing him enough privacy to talk with me—and whoever it is behind the curtain.
“Good, they’re on my nerves already,” I reply with a good-natured smile.
To outsiders, we look like jawing siblings. But Shade knows better, his eyes darkening as I reach the foot of his bed. He notes my forced limp and nods infinitesimally. I mirror the action. I got your message, Shade, loud and clear.
Before I can even hint at asking him about Cal, another voice cuts me off. I grit my teeth at the sound of her, willing myself to keep calm.
“How do you like Tuck, lightning girl?” Farley says from the secluded bed next to Shade. She swings her legs over the side, facing me fully, with both hands clenched in her bedsheets. Pain streaks across her pretty face ruined by a scar.
The question is easy to dodge. “I’m still deciding.”
“And the Colonel? How do you like him?” she continues, dropping her voice. Her eyes are guarded, unreadable. There’s no telling what she wants to hear. So I shrug, busying myself with arranging Shade’s blankets instead.
Something like a smile twists her lips. “He makes quite a first impression. Needs to prove he’s in control with every breath, especially next to people like you two.”
I round Shade’s bed in an instant, planting myself between Farley and my brother. In my desperation, I forget to limp. “Is that why he took Cal away?” The words come sharp and fast. “Can’t have a warrior like him running around, making him look bad?”
She lowers her eyes, as if ashamed. “No,” she murmurs. It sounds like an apology, but for what, I don’t know yet. “That’s not why he took the prince.”
Fear blossoms in my chest. “Then why? What has he done?”
She doesn’t get the chance to tell me.
A strange quiet descends on the infirmary, the nurses, my heart, and Farley’s words. Her curtains hide the door from us, but I hear the stomp of boots marching in quick time. No one speaks, though a few soldiers salute from their beds as the boots close in. I can see them through the gap between the curtain and floor. Black leather, caked in wet sand, and getting closer by the second. Even Farley shivers at the sight, digging her nails into the bed. Kilorn draws closer, half concealing me with his bulk, while Shade does his best to sit up.
Though this is a medical ward filled with Red wounded and my so-called allies, a little piece of me calls to the lightning. Electricity flares in my blood, close enough to reach for if I need it.
The Colonel rounds the curtain, his red eye fixed in a constant glare. To my surprise, it lands on Farley, forsaking me for the moment. His escorts, Lakelanders by their uniforms, look like pale, grim versions of my brother Bree. Hewn of muscle, tall as trees, and obedient. They flank the Colonel in practiced motion, taking up positions at the end of Shade’s and Farley’s beds. The Colonel himself stands in between, boxing in Kilorn and me. Proving he’s in control.
“Hiding, Captain?” the Colonel says, fingering the curtain around Farley’s bed. She bristles at the name and the insinuation. When he tsks aloud, she visibly cringes. “You’re smart enough to know an audience won’t protect you.”
“I tried to do all you’ve asked, the difficult and the impossible,” she fires back. Her hands quiver in the blankets, but with rage, not fear. “You left me a hundred soldiers to overthrow Norta, an entire country. What did you expect, Colonel?”
“I expected you to return with more than twenty-six of them.” The retort lands hard. “I expected you to be smarter than a seventeen-year-old princeling. I expected you to protect your soldiers, not throw them to a den of Silver wolves. I expected much and more from you, Diana, much and more than what you gave.”
Diana. The name is his killing blow. Her real name.
Her shivers of rage turn to shame, reducing Farley to a hollow shell. She stares at her feet, fixating on the floor below. I know her look well, the look of a shattered soul. If you speak, if you move, you’ll collapse. Already, she’s starting to crumble, leveled by the Colonel, his words, and her own name.
“I convinced her, Colonel.”
Part of me wishes my voice would shake, to make this man think I fear him. But I’ve faced worse than a soldier with a bloody eye and a bad temper. Much, much worse.
Gently, I push Kilorn to the side, moving forward.
“I vouched for Maven and his plan. If not for me, your men and women would be alive. Their blood is on my hands, not hers.”
To my surprise, the Colonel only chuckles at my outburst. “Not everything revolves around you, Miss Barrow. The world does not rise and fall at your command.”
That’s not what I meant. It sounds foolish, even in my own head.
“These mistakes are her own and no one else’s,” he continues, turning back to face Farley. “I strip you of your command, Diana. Do you challenge this?”
For a brief, simmering moment, it looks like she might. But she drops her head and her gaze, retreating inward. “I do not, sir.”
“Your best choice in weeks,” he snaps, turning to go.
But she isn’t finished. She looks up once more. “What of my mission?”
“Mission? What mission?” The Colonel seems more intrigued than angry, his one good eye darting in its socket. “I was not made aware of any new orders.”
Farley turns her gaze back to me and I feel an odd kinship to her. Even defeated, she’s still fighting. “Miss Barrow had an interesting proposition, one I plan to pursue. I believe Command will agree.”
I almost grin at Farley, emboldened by her declaration in the face of such an opponent.
“What proposition is this?” the Colonel says, squaring his shoulders to me. From this close, I see the distinct swirls of blood in his eye, moving slowly, clouds on the wind.
“I was given a list of names. Of Reds like my brother and me, born with the mutation that enables our own . . . abilities.” I must convince him, I must. “They can be found, protected, trained. Red like us but strong as Silvers, able to fight them in the open. Maybe even powerful enough to win the war.” A shaky breath rattles in my chest, quivering with thoughts of Maven. “The king knows about the list, and will surely kill them all if we don’t find them first. He won’t let so strong a weapon go.”
The Colonel is silent for a moment, his jaw working as he thinks. He even fidgets, playing with a fine chain necklace hidden in his collar. I glimpse links of gold between his fingers, revealing a fine prize no soldier should carry. I wonder who he stole it from.
“And who gave you these names?” he finally asks, his voice level and hard to read. For a brute, he’s surprisingly good at hiding his thoughts.
“Julian Jacos.” Tears well in my eyes at the name, but I will not let them fall.
“A Silver.” The Colonel sneers.
“A sympathizer,” I fire back, bristling at his tone. “He was arrested for rescuing Captain Farley, Kilorn Warren, and Ann Walsh. He helped the Scarlet Guard, he sided with us. And he’s probably dead for it.”
The Colonel settles back on his heels, still scowling. “Oh, your Julian is alive.”
“Alive? Still?” I gasp, shocked. “But Maven said he would kill him—”
“Strange, isn’t it? For King Maven to leave such a traitor still breathing?” He revels in my surprise. “The way I see it, your Julian was never with you at all. He gave you the list to pass on to us, to send the Guard on a goose chase ending in another trap.”
Anyone can betray anyone. But I refuse to believe that about Julian. I understand enough of him to know where his true loyalties lie—with me, Sara, and anyone who would oppose the queen who killed his sister.
“And even if, if, the list is true, and the names do lead to other”—he searches for the word, not bothering to be gentle—“things like you, then what? Do we dodge the worst agents of the kingdom, hunters better and faster than us, to find them? Do we attempt a mass exodus of the ones we can save? Do we found the Barrow School for Freaks, and spend years training them to fight? Do we ignore everything else, all the suffering, the child soldiers, the executions, for them?” He shakes his head, making the thick muscles on his neck strain. “This war will be over and our bodies cold before we gain a single bit of ground with your proposition.” He glances at Farley, heated. “The rest of Command will say the same, Diana, so unless you wish to play the fool yet again, I suggest you keep quiet about this.”
Each point feels like the blow from a hammer, smashing me down to size. He’s right about some things. Maven will send his best to hunt down and kill the list. He’ll try to keep it secret, which will slow him down, but not by much. We’ll certainly have our work cut out for us. But if there’s even a chance for another soldier like me, like Shade, isn’t it worth the cost?
I open my mouth to tell him just that, but he holds up a hand. “I will hear no more of it, Miss Barrow. And before you make a snide comment about me trying to stop you, remember your oath. You swore to the Scarlet Guard, not your own selfish motives.” He gestures to the room of injured soldiers, all harmed fighting for me. “And if their faces are not enough to keep you in line, then remember your friend and his own position here.”
Cal. “You wouldn’t dare hurt him.”
His bloody eye darkens, swirling with deep crimson the color of rage.
“To protect my own, I certainly would.” The corners of his eyes lift, betraying a smirk. “Just as you did. Make no mistake, Miss Barrow, you have hurt people to serve your own ends, the prince most of all.”
For a moment, it’s like my own eyes have clouded with blood. All I see is red, a livid anger. Sparks rush to my fingertips, dancing just beneath my skin, but I clench my fists, holding them back. When my vision clears, the lights flicker overhead, the only indication of my fury. And the Colonel is gone, having left us to simmer alone.
“Easy there, lightning girl,” Farley murmurs, her voice softer than I’ve ever heard it. “It’s not all bad.”
“Isn’t it?” I bite out through gritted teeth. I want nothing more than to explode, to let my true self out and show these weak men exactly who they’re dealing with. But that would get me a cell at best, a bullet at worst. And I would have to die with the knowledge that the Colonel is correct. I’ve done so much damage already, and always to the people closest to me. For what I thought was right, I tell myself. For the better.
Instead of commiserating, Farley straightens her spine and sits back, watching me seethe. The shamed child she was disappears with shocking ease. Another mask. Her hand strays to her neck, pulling out a gold chain to match the Colonel’s. I don’t have time to wonder about the connection—because something dangles from the necklace. A spiky iron key. I don’t need to ask where the corresponding lock is. Barracks 1.
She tosses it to me blithely, a lazy smile on her face.
“You’ll find I’m remarkably good at giving orders, and particularly awful at following them.”
Kilorn grumbles all the way out of the infirmary and into the concrete yard. He even walks slowly, forcing me to slow down for him. I try to ignore him, for Cal’s sake, for the cause, but when I catch the word foolish for the third time, I have to stop short.
He collides with my back. “Sorry,” he says, not sounding at all apologetic.
“No, I’m sorry,” I spit back, spinning to face him. A little bit of the anger I felt toward the Colonel spills over and my cheeks flush with heat. “I’m sorry you can’t stop being an ass for two minutes so you can see exactly what’s going on here.”
I expect him to shout back at me, to match me blow for blow in the usual way. Instead, he sucks in a breath and steps back, working furiously to calm himself.
“You think I’m so stupid?” he says. “Please, Mare, educate me. Show me the light. What do you know that I don’t?”
The words beg to fall out. But the yard is too open, filled with the Colonel’s soldiers, Guardsmen, and refugees hustling back and forth. And while there are no Silver whispers to read my mind, no cameras to watch my every move, I won’t go soft now. Kilorn follows my gaze, eyeing a troop of Guardsmen who jog within a few yards of us.
“You think they’re spying on you?” he all but sneers, dropping his voice to a mocking whisper. “C’mon, Mare. We’re all on the same side here.”
“Are we?” I ask, letting the words sink in. “You heard what the Colonel called me. A thing. A freak.”
Kilorn blushes. “He didn’t mean that.”
“Oh, and you know the man so well?”
Thankfully, he has no retort for that.
“He looks at me like I’m the enemy, like I’m some kind of bomb about to go off.”
“He’s—” Kilorn stumbles, unsure of the words even as they leave his lips. “He’s not entirely wrong though, is he?”
I spin so fast the heel of my boot leaves black skid marks in the concrete. Would that I could leave a similar bruise on Kilorn’s stupid, sputtering face.
“Hey, c’mon,” he calls after me, closing the distance in a few quick steps. But I keep walking, and he keeps following. “Mare, stop. That came out wrong—”
“You are stupid, Kilorn Warren,” I tell him over my shoulder. The safety of Barracks 3 beckons, rising up ahead of me. “Stupid and blind and cruel.”
“Well, you’re no picnic either!” he thunders back, finally becoming the argumentative twit I know he is. When I don’t reply, nearly sprinting for the barracks door, his hand closes on my upper arm, stopping me cold.
I try to twist out of his grasp, but Kilorn knows all my tricks. He pulls, dragging me away from the door, and into the shaded alley between Barracks 3 and 4. “Let go of me,” I command, indignant. I hear a little bit of Mareena come back to life in the cold, royal tone of my voice.
“There it is,” he growls, pointing a finger in my face. “That. Her.”
With a mighty shove, I push him back, breaking his grip on me.
He sighs, exasperated, and runs a hand through his tawnyhair. It sticks up on end. “You’ve been through a lot, I know that. We all know that. What you had to do to stay alive with them, all while helping us, finding out what you are, I don’t know how you came out on the other side. But it changed you.”
So perceptive, Kilorn.
“Just because Maven betrayed you doesn’t mean you have to stop trusting people altogether.” He drops his eyes, fiddling with his hands. “Especially me. I’m not just something for you to hide behind, I’m your friend, and I’m going to help you with whatever you need, however I can. Please, trust me.”
I wish I could.
“Kilorn, grow up” comes out instead, so sharp it makes him flinch. “You should’ve told me what they were planning. Instead you made me an accomplice, you made me watch when they marched him away at gunpoint, and now you tell me to trust you? When you’re in so deep with these people who are just waiting for an excuse to lock me up? How stupid do you think I am?”
Something stirs in his eyes, the vulnerability hidden inside the relaxed persona he tries so hard to maintain. This is the boy who cried beneath my house. The boy he was, resisting the call to fight and die. I tried to save him from that and, in turn, pushed him closer to danger, the Scarlet Guard, and doom.
“I see,” he says finally. He takes a few quick steps back, until the alley yawns between us. “It makes sense,” he adds, shrugging. “Why would you trust me? I’m just the fish boy. I’m nothing compared to you, right? Compared to Shade. And him—”
“Kilorn Warren.” I scold him like I would a child, like his mother did before she abandoned him. She would shriek when he skinned his knees or spoke out of turn. I don’t remember much else of her, but I remember her voice, and the withering, disappointed glares she saved for her only son. “You know that’s not true.”
The words come out hard, a low, visceral growl. He squares his shoulders, fists balled at his sides. “Prove it.”
To that, I have no answer. I have no idea what he wants from me. “I’m sorry,” I choke out, and this time I mean it. “I’m sorry for being—”
“Mare.” A warm hand on my arm stops my stumbling. He stands above me, close enough to smell. Thankfully the scent of blood is gone, replaced by salt. He’s been swimming.
“You don’t need to apologize for what they did to you,” he mumbles. “You never have to do that.”
“I-I don’t think you’re stupid.”
“That might be the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me.” He chuckles after a long moment. He pastes on a grin, ending the conversation. “I take it you’ve got a plan?”
“Yes. Are you going to help?”
Shrugging, he spreads his arms wide, gesturing at the rest of the base. “Not much else for the fish boy to do.”
I shove him again, drawing a genuine smile from him. But it doesn’t last.
Along with the key, Farley gave me detailed directions to Barracks 1. As on the mainland, the Scarlet Guard still favors their tunnels, and Cal’s prison is, of course, located underground.
Technically, underwater. The perfect prison for a burner like Cal. Built beneath the dock, hidden by the ocean, guarded by blue waves and the Colonel’s blue uniforms. It’s not only the island prison but also the armory, the Lakelander bunks, and the Colonel’s own headquarters. The main entrance is a tunnel leading from the beach hangars, but Farley assured me of another way. You might get wet, she warned with a wry smile. While the prospect of diving into the ocean unsettles me, even so close to the beach, Kilorn is annoyingly calm. In fact, he’s probably excited, happy to put his long years on the river to good use.
The protection of the ocean dulls the usually alert Guard, and even the Lakelanders soften as the day wears on. Soldiers focus more on the cargo loads and storage hangars rather than patrolling. The few who keep their posts, pacing the length of the concrete yard with guns against their shoulders, walk slowly, easily, often stopping to talk to each other.
I watch them for a long while, pretending to listen to Mom or Gisa as they chatter over their work. Both sort blankets and clothing into separate piles, unloading a collection of unmarked crates along with several other refugees. I’m supposed to help, but my focus is clearly elsewhere. Bree and Tramy are gone, back with Shade in the infirmary, while Dad sits by. He can’t unload, but still grumbles orders all the same. He’s never folded clothes in his life.
He catches my eye once or twice, noting my twitching fingers and darting glances. He always seems to know what I’m up to, and now is no different. He even rolls his chair back, allowing me a better view of the yard. I nod at him, quietly thankful.
The guards remind me of the Silvers back in the Stilts, before the Measures, before Queenstrial. They were lazy, content in my quiet village, where insurrection was rare. How wrong they were. Those men and women were blind to my thieving, to the black market, to Will Whistle and the slow creep of the Scarlet Guard. And these Guardsmen are blind too, this time to my advantage.
They don’t notice me watching, or Kilorn when he approaches with a tray of fish stew. My family eats gratefully, Gisa most of all. She twists her hair when Kilorn isn’t looking, letting it curl over one shoulder in a ruby fall of red.
“Fresh catch?” she says, indicating the bowl of stew.
He wrinkles his nose and pretends to grimace at the gray glops of fish meat. “Not from me, Gee. Old Cully would never sell this. Except to the rats, maybe.”
We laugh together, me out of habit, following a half second later. For once, Gisa is less ladylike than I am and she giggles openly, happily. I used to envy her practiced, perfect ways. Now I wish I wasn’t so trained, and could shed my forced politeness as easily as she has.
While we force down the lunch, Dad pours out his bowl when he thinks I’m not looking. No wonder he’s getting thin. Before I can scold him—or, worse, Mom can—he runs a hand over a blanket, feeling the fabric.
“These are Piedmont made. Fresh cotton. Expensive,” he mutters when he realizes I’m standing next to him. Even in the Silver court, Piedmont cotton was considered very fine, a common alternative to silk, reserved for high-ranking Security, Sentinel, and military uniforms. I remember Lucas wore it, up until the moment he died. I realize now I never saw him out of uniform. I can’t even picture it. And his face is already fading. A few days and I’m forgetting him, a man I sent to his death.
“Stolen?” I wonder aloud, running a hand over the blanket, if only for distraction.
Dad continues his investigation and runs a hand down the side of a crate. Sturdy, wide planks of wood, freshly painted white. The only distinguishing mark is a dark green triangle, smaller than my hand, stamped in the corner. What it means, I don’t know.
“Or given,” Dad says.
He doesn’t need to speak for me to know we’re thinking about the same thing. If there are Lakelanders with us here, on this very island, then the Scarlet Guard could easily have friends elsewhere, in different nations and kingdoms. We seem weak because we want to.
With a stealth I didn’t know he possessed, Dad takes my hand quickly and quietly. “Be careful, my girl.”
But while he is afraid, I feel hope. The Scarlet Guard has deeper roots than I knew, than any Silver could imagine. And the Colonel is only one of a hundred heads, just like Farley. An opposition definitely, but one I can overcome. After all, he’s not a king. Of those, I’ve had my fair share.
Like Dad, I pour my stew into a crack in the concrete. “I’m finished,” I say, and Kilorn jumps up. He knows his cues.
We’re going to visit Shade, or at least that’s what we say out loud, for the benefit of the others close by. My family knows better, even Mom. She blows me a kiss as I walk away, and I tuck it close to my heart.
When I pull up my collar, I become just another refugee, and Kilorn is no one at all. The soldiers pay us no mind. It’s easy to walk the length of the concrete yard, away from the docks and the beach, following the thick white line.
In the light of midday, I see the concrete extends toward gentle, sloping hills, looking very much like a wide road to nowhere. The painted line continues ahead, but a thinner, more worn line branches off at a right angle. It connects the central line to another structure, located at the end of the barracks, towering over everything else on the island. It looks like a larger version of the hangars on the beach, tall and wide enough to fit six transports stacked on top of each other. I wonder what it holds, knowing the Guard does their own share of thieving. But the doors are shut fast, and a few Lakelander men idle in the shade. They chat among themselves, keeping their guns close. So my curiosity will have to wait, perhaps forever.
Kilorn and I turn right, toward the gap between Barracks 8 and 9. The high windows of both are dark, abandoned—the buildings are empty. Waiting for more soldiers, more refugees, or worse, more orphans. I shiver as we pass through their shadows.
The beach isn’t hard to get to. After all, this is an island. And while the main base is well developed, the rest of Tuck is empty, covered only in dunes, hills swathed in tall grass, and a few pockets of ancient trees. There aren’t even paths through the grass, with no animals large enough to make them. We disappear nicely, winding through the swaying plants until we reach the beach. The dock stands a few hundred yards away, a wide knife jutting out into the waves. From this distance, the patrolling Lakelanders are only smudges of dark blue pacing back and forth. Most focus on the cargo ship approaching from the far side of the dock. My jaw drops at the sight of such a large vessel obviously controlled by Reds. Kilorn is more focused.
“Perfect cover,” he says, and starts to take off his shoes. I follow suit, kicking off my laceless boots and worn socks. But when he pulls his shirt over his head, exposing familiar, lean muscles shaped by hauling nets, I’m not so inclined to follow. I don’t fancy running around a secret bunker shirtless.
He folds his shirt over his shoes, fiddling a bit. “I take it this isn’t a rescue mission.” How could it be? There’s nowhere to go.
“I just need to see him. Tell him about Julian. Let him know what’s going on.”
Kilorn winces, but he nods all the same. “Get in, get out. Shouldn’t be too hard, especially since they won’t expect anything from the ocean side.”
He stretches back and forth, shaking out his feet and fingers to make ready for the swim. All the while, he goes over Farley’s whispered instructions. There’s a moon pool at the bottom of the bunker, opening up into a research lab. Once used to study marine life, now it serves as the Colonel’s own quarters, though he never visits them during the day. It’ll be locked from the inside, easy to open, and the corridors are simple to navigate. At this time of day, the bunks will be empty, the passage from the docks sealed, and very few guards will remain behind. Kilorn and I faced worse as children, when we stole a case of batteries for my dad from a Security outpost.
“Try not to splash,” Kilorn adds, before wading into the surf. Goose bumps rise on his skin, reacting to the cold autumn ocean, but he barely feels it. I certainly do, and by the time the water reaches my waist my teeth are chattering. With one last glance toward the dock, I dive below a wave, letting it chill me to the bone.
Kilorn cuts through the water effortlessly, swimming like a frog, making almost no noise at all. I try to mimic his movements, following close to his side as we swim farther out. Something about the water heightens my electrical sense, making it easier to feel the piping running out from the shore. I could trace it with a hand if I wanted, noting the path of electricity from the docks, through the water, and into Barracks 1. Eventually Kilorn turns toward it, angling us on a diagonal to the shore, and then parallel. His advance is masterful, with the stolen boats at anchor to hide our approach. Once or twice he touches my arm beneath the waves, communicating with a slight pressure. Stop, go, slow, fast, all of it while he stays fixed on the dock ahead. Luckily, the freighter ship is unloading, drawing the attention of any soldiers who might spot our heads bobbing through the water. More crates, all white, stamped with the green triangle. More clothes?
No, I realize as a crate topples, cracking open. Guns spill across the dock. Rifles, pistols, ammunition, probably a dozen in one crate alone. They gleam in the sunlight, newly made. Another gift for the Scarlet Guard, another twist of even deeper roots I never knew existed.
The knowledge makes me swim faster, pushing me past Kilorn even when my muscles ache. I duck under the dock, safe at last from any eyes above, and he follows, keeping pace just behind me.
“It’s right below us.” His whispers echo oddly, reverberating off the metal dock above and the water all around. “I can just feel it with my toes.”
I almost laugh at the sight of Kilorn stretching, his brow set in concentration as he tries to brush a foot against the hidden bunker of Barracks 1. “Something funny?” he grumbles.
“You’re so useful,” I reply with a mischievous smirk. It feels good to be with him like this, sharing a secret goal again. Although this time we’re breaking into a military bunker, not someone’s half-locked house.
“Here,” he finally says, before his head disappears below the water. He bobs back up again, arms wide to keep himself afloat. “The edge.”
Now comes the hard part. The plunge through suffocating, drowning darkness.
Kilorn reads the fear on my face plainly. “Just hold on to my leg, that’s all you have to do.”
I can barely nod. “Right.” The moon pool is on the bottom of the bunker, only twenty-five feet down. “It’s nothing at all,” Farley had said. Well, it certainly looks like something, I think, peering at the black water below me. “Kilorn, Maven will be so disappointed if the ocean kills me before he can.”
To anyone else, the joke would be in poor taste. But Kilorn chuckles lowly, his grin bright against the water. “Well, as much as I’d like to annoy the king,” he sighs, “let’s try and avoid drowning, shall we?”
With a wink, he dives, end over end, and I grab hold.
The salt stings my eyes, but it’s not so dark as I thought it would be. Sunlight angles through the water, breaking up the shadow cast by the dock above. And Kilorn moves us quickly, pulling us down along the side of the barracks. The water-bent sunlight dapples his bare back, spotting him like a sea creature. I focus mainly on kicking when I can and not getting caught on anything. This is not twenty-five feet, my mind grumbles when the twinge of oxygen deprivation sets in.
I exhale slowly, letting the bubbles rise past my face, up to the surface. Kilorn’s own breath streams past, the only testament to his strain. When he finds the bottom edge, I feel his muscles tense, and his legs kick along, powering us both beneath the hidden bunker. Dimly, I wonder if the moon pool has a door, and if it’ll be closed. What a joke that would be.
Before I know what’s happening, Kilorn bursts up and through something, hauling me with him. Stuffy but blissful air hits my face and I gulp it down in deep, greedy gasps.
Already sitting on the edge of the pool, his legs dangling in the water, Kilorn grins at me. “You wouldn’t last a morning unknotting nets,” he says with a shake of the head. “That was barely a bath compared to what Old Cully used to make me do.”
“You really know how to cut me deep,” I reply dryly, hoisting myself up and into the Colonel’s chambers.
The compartment is cold, lit by low lights, and offensively well organized. Old equipment is pushed neatly against the right wall, gathering dust, while a desk runs the length of the left. Stacks of files and papers crowd the surface in neat rows, dominating the space. At first I don’t even see a bed, but it’s there, a narrow bunk that rolls out from beneath the desk. Clearly the Colonel doesn’t sleep much.
Kilorn was always a slave to his curiosity, and now is no different. He drips his way over to the desk, ready to explore.
“Don’t touch anything,” I hiss at him while I wring out my sleeves and pant legs. “Get one drop on those papers and he’ll know someone was in here.”
He nods, pulling his hand back. “You should see this,” he says, his tone sharp.
I step to his side in an instant, fearing the worst. “What?”
Careful, he points a finger at the only thing decorating the walls of the compartment. A photograph, warped by age and damp, but the faces are still visible. Four figures, all blond, posing with stern but open expressions. The Colonel is there, barely recognizable without his bloody eye, one arm around a tall, well-boned woman, and his hand on a young girl’s shoulder. Both the woman and the girl wear dirt-stained clothes, farmers by the look of it, but the gold chains at their necks say differently. Silently, I remove the gold chain from my pocket, comparing the metal so fine it could be thread to the necklaces in the picture. But for the mismatched key dangling from the end, they are identical. Gently, Kilorn takes the key from my hand, puzzling over what it could mean.
The third figure explains it all. A teenager with a long, golden braid, she stands shoulder to shoulder with the Colonel and wears a smirk of satisfaction. She looks so young, so different without her short hair and scars. Farley.
“She’s his daughter,” Kilorn says aloud, too shocked for much else.
I resist the urge to touch the photograph, to make sure it’s real. The way he treated her back in the infirmary, it can’t possibly be true. But he called her Diana. He knew her real name. And they had the necklaces, one from a sister, one from a wife.
“C’mon,” I murmur, pulling him away from the picture. “It’s nothing to bother with now.”
“Why didn’t she say anything?” In his voice, I hear a little bit of the betrayal I’ve felt for days.
“I don’t know.”
I keep hold of him, moving us both toward the compartment door. Left down the stairs, right at the landing, left again.
The door swings open on oiled hinges, revealing an empty passage quite like the ones on the mersive. Sparse and clean, with metal walls and piping above us. Electricity bleeds overhead, pumping through a wired network of veins. It’s coming from the shore, feeding the lights and other machinery.
Like Farley said, there’s no one down here. No one to stop us. I suppose, as the Colonel’s daughter, she would know firsthand. Quiet as cats, we follow her instructions, mindful of every single step. I’m reminded of the cells beneath the Hall of the Sun, where Julian and I incapacitated a squadron of black-masked Sentinels to free Kilorn, Farley, and the doomed Walsh. It seems so far away, yet that was only days ago. A week. Just one week.
I shudder to think where I’ll be in seven more days.
At last we come to a shorter passage, a dead end with three doors on the left, three doors on the right, and just as many observation windows set in between. The glass of each is dark, but for the window on the end. It flickers slightly, casting harsh white light through the pane. A fist collides with the glass and I flinch, expecting it to crack beneath Cal’s knuckles. But the window holds firm, echoing dully with every boom boom of his fists, showing nothing more than smears of silver blood.
No doubt he hears me coming, and thinks I’m one of them.
When I step in front of the window, he freezes mid-motion, one clenched and bleeding fist poised to strike. His flame-maker bracelet slides down his thick wrist, still spinning from his momentum. That’s a comfort, at least. They didn’t know enough to take away his greatest weapon. But then why is he still imprisoned at all? Couldn’t he just melt the window and be done with it?
For a single, blazing moment, our eyes meet through the glass, and I think our combined stare might shatter it. Thick, silver blood drips from where he struck his hand, mixing with already-dried stains. He’s been at this for a while, beating himself bloody in an attempt to get out—or burn off a little bit of his rage.
“It’s locked,” he says, his voice muffled behind the glass.
“Couldn’t tell,” I reply, smirking.
Next to me, Kilorn holds up the key.
Cal starts, as if noticing Kilorn for the first time. He smiles, grateful, but Kilorn doesn’t return the gesture. He won’t even meet his eyes.
From somewhere down the hall, I hear shouting. Footsteps. They echo strangely in the bunker, but grow closer with every heartbeat. Coming for us.
“They know we’re here,” Kilorn hisses, looking back. Quickly, he jams the key in the lock and turns it It doesn’t budge and I throw my shoulder against the door, slamming into cold, unforgiving iron.
Kilorn forces the key again, twisting. This time I’m close enough to hear the mechanism click. The door swings inward as the first soldier rounds the corner, but my thoughts are only of Cal.
It seems princes make me blind.
The invisible curtain drops the moment Kilorn shoves me into the cell. It’s a familiar sensation but I can’t place it. I’ve felt it before, I know I have, but where? I don’t have time to wonder. Cal surges past me, a strangled yell erupting from his lips, his long arms outstretched. Not to me, or the window. To the door as it yanks shut.
The click of the lock echoes inside my skull, again and again and again.
“What?” I ask the heavy, stale air. But the only answer I need is Kilorn’s face, staring at me from the other side of the glass. The key hangs from one clenched fist, and his face curls into something between a scowl and a sob.
I’m sorry, he mouths, and the first Lakelander soldier appears through the window. More follow, flanking the Colonel. His satisfied smirk matches the one his daughter wore in the photograph, and I begin to understand what just happened. The Colonel even has the audacity to laugh.
Cal hurls himself at the door in vain, driving his shoulder against solid iron. He swears through the pain, cursing Kilorn, me, this place, himself. I barely hear him over Julian’s voice in my head.
Anyone can betray anyone.
Without thought, I call for the lightning. My sparks will free me and turn the Colonel’s laughter into screams.
But they don’t come. There’s nothing. Bleak nothing.
Like in the cells, like the arena.
“Silent Stone,” Cal says, leaning heavily against the door. He points with one bloody fist to back corners of the floor and ceiling. “They have Silent Stone.”
To make you weak. To make you like them.
Now it’s my turn to pound my fists against the window, punching at Kilorn’s head. But I hit glass, not flesh, and hear only the cracking of my own knuckles instead of his stupid skull. Despite the wall between us, he flinches.
He can barely look at me. He shivers when the Colonel puts one hand on his shoulder, whispering into his ear. Kilorn can only watch as I scream, an indecipherable roar of frustration, and my blood joins Cal’s on the glass.
Red running through silver, joining into something darker.
OMGOMGOMGOMGOMG AS;DLKFJASD;KFJASDF;KJ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WHY DO WE HAVE TO WAIT UNTIL FEBRUARY 9TH????? THAT IS SO UNFAIR. (Feel free to tweet your frustrations to the following Twitter accounts: @EpicReads, @VictoriaAveyard, @RedQueenBooks)
More Red Queen goodness to tide you over:
Watch the full length Glass Sword book trailer!
The Book Shimmy Award Winners!
Gift Ideas for Fans of Red Queen
Quiz: What’s Your Red Queen Power?
Read the first 7 chapters of RED QUEEN!
A Guide to Red Queen’s Kingdom of Norta
23 Exquisite Palettes Inspired By Our Favorite YA Book Covers