Scarlet Page 17


His head jerked in what could have been a nod. “The Wolves are headquartered in Paris. That’s probably where they’re keeping her.”

Paris. The word filled her up. A clue. A promise.

She glanced at her ship and its shattered window. Renewed hatred flared for her father, but it deflated quickly—there wasn’t time. Not now. Not when she had her first taste of hope in two endless weeks.

“Paris,” she murmured. “We can take the train from Toulouse—it’s, what, eight hours?” She hated the thought of being without her ship, but even the obnoxiously slow maglev train would be quicker than getting the window replaced. “Someone will have to look after the farm while I’m gone. Maybe Èmilie, after her shift. I’ll send her a comm, then I just need to grab some clothes and…”

“Scarlet, wait. We can’t just rush up there. We need to think this through.”

“Rush? We can’t rush? They’ve had her for more than two weeks! This isn’t rushing!”

Wolf’s gaze darkened and Scarlet paused, for the first time recognizing his unease.

“Look,” she said, wetting her tongue, “we’ll have eight hours on the train to think up something. But I can’t stay here a moment longer.”

“But what if your father is right?” His shoulders stayed stiff. “What if she has hidden something here? What if they come looking for it?”

She roughly shook her head. “They can look all they want, but they won’t find anything. My dad is wrong. Grand-mère and I don’t keep secrets.”

Fourteen

“Your Majesty.”

Kai turned away from the window that he’d been staring out half the morning, listening to the drone of the news anchors and military officials reporting on the escape of the most-wanted convict in the Eastern Commonwealth. Chairman Huy stood in the doorway, Torin beside him. Both looked supremely unhappy.

He gulped. “Well?”

Huy stepped forward. “They’ve gotten away.”

Kai’s pulse hiccupped. He took a tentative step toward his father’s desk and gripped the back of the chair.

“I’ve given the order to deploy our reserve fleets immediately. I am confident we’ll have the fugitives found and taken into custody by sunset.”

“With all respect, Chairman, you don’t sound particularly confident.”

Though Huy puffed his chest out, his face took on a tinge of pink. “I am, Your Majesty. We can find them. It’s only that … it’s complicated by it being a stolen ship. All the tracking equipment has been stripped.”

Torin let out an irritated sigh. “The girl has proven herself to be more clever than I would have given her credit for.”

Kai dragged his hand through his hair, extinguishing an unexpected spark of pride.

“There is also the issue of the girl being Lunar,” Huy added.

“Whoever captures her will just have to be alert,” said Kai. “They should all be made well aware that she’ll no doubt try to turn their minds against them.”

“There is that too, but not what I was referring to. In the past, we’ve had difficulty tracking Lunar ships. It seems that they’ve learned how to disable our radar systems. I’m afraid we’re not sure how they do it.”

“Disable our radar systems?” Kai glanced at Torin. “Did you know about this?”

“I’ve heard rumors,” said Torin. “Your father and I chose to believe that’s all they were.”

“Not all my contemporaries agree with me on this matter,” said Huy. “But I myself am convinced it is the Lunars disabling our equipment. Whether it’s through their mental abilities or some other talent, I can’t tell. Regardless, Linh Cinder won’t get far. We’ll have every resource searching for her.”

Tempering his inner turmoil, Kai molded his face into stone. “Keep me informed.”

“Of course, Your Majesty. There is one other thing I thought you might want to see. We’ve finished going over our security footage from the prison.” Huy gestured to the inlaid screen in Kai’s desk.

Rounding his chair, Kai tugged on his long sleeves, suddenly warm, and sat down. A comm from the council of national security rotated in the corner. “Accept comm.”

The screen brightened with footage of the prison, all white and glossy walls. It showed a long hallway lined with smooth doors and ID scanners. A prison guard moved into view and gestured at a door. He was followed by a short, old man wearing a gray cap.

Kai jerked upward. It was Dr. Erland. “Volume up.”

Dr. Erland’s familiar voice filtered through the screen. “I am the leading scientist of the royal letumosis research team, and this girl is my prime test subject. I require blood samples from her before she leaves the planet.” Looking miffed, he reached into a bag and pulled something out—a syringe, but the bag still bulged. That wasn’t all that was inside it.

“I have my orders, sir,” said the guard. “You’ll have to obtain an official release from the emperor to be allowed entrance.”

Kai frowned as the doctor put the syringe back into the bag, knowing that Dr. Erland hadn’t made such a request.

“All right. If that’s protocol, I understand,” said Dr. Erland. And then he just stood there, serene and patient. After the space of a few heartbeats, Kai glimpsed the doctor’s smile. “There, you see? I have obtained the necessary release from the emperor. You may open the door.”

Kai’s jaw dropped as, amazingly, the guard turned toward the cell door, swiped his wrist across the scanner, and punched in a code. A green light flashed and the door opened.

“Thank you kindly,” said Dr. Erland, passing the guard. “I’ll ask that you give us a bit of privacy. I won’t be but a minute.”

The guard complied without argument, shutting the door and meandering in the direction they’d come from, leaving the screen empty.

Kai glanced up at Huy. “Has that guard been questioned?”

“Yes, sir, and his statement is that he remembers denying access to the girl, and then the doctor left. He was confounded when we showed him this footage. He claims to not remember any of it.”

“How is that possible?”

Huy busied his hands by buttoning his suit jacket. “It appears, Your Majesty, that Dr. Dmitri Erland glamoured the guard into allowing him access to the prisoner’s cell.”

Hairs prickling beneath his collar, Kai slumped back in his chair. “Glamoured? You think he’s Lunar?”

“That is our theory.”

Kai stared up at the ceiling. Cinder, Lunar. Dr. Erland, Lunar. “Is it a conspiracy?”

Torin cleared his throat, as he did whenever Kai mentioned some off-the-wall theory—although it seemed like a perfectly legitimate question to Kai. “We’re in the process of investigating all possibilities,” said Torin. “At least now we know how she escaped.”

“We have other video that shows the prisoner glamouring the guard on the next shift,” said Huy, “and being shown to a new cell. In that footage she has two feet, and a different left hand from the one she entered the prison with.”

Kai shoved himself out of his chair. “The bag,” he said, pacing toward the windows.

“Yes. Dr. Erland was bringing her these tools, we must assume with the intention of assisting her escape.”

“That’s why he left.” Kai shook his head, wondering how Cinder really knew Dr. Erland—what they’d really been doing all those times she’d come to see him at the hospital. Plotting, conniving, conspiring? “I thought she was just fixing a med-droid,” he murmured to himself. “I didn’t even question—stars, I’ve been so stupid.”

“Your Majesty,” said Huy, “our few resources not searching for Linh Cinder have been dedicated to finding Dmitri Erland. He will be arrested as a traitor to the crown.”

“Please excuse the interruption,” said Nainsi, the android who had once tutored Kai as a child, but had now taken on the more significant role of personal assistant. The android who had malfunctioned—was it not even four weeks ago?—and led him to his first meeting with Linh Cinder, back when she was nothing more to him than a renowned mechanic. “Her Majesty, Lunar Queen Levana, has requested an immediate appoint—”

“I will not be announced by an android!”

Huy and Torin spun around as Queen Levana swooped in and backhanded Nainsi across her single blue sensor, eyes flaming. The android no doubt would have toppled onto her back if her stabilizing hydraulics hadn’t kicked in just in time to catch her.

The queen’s usual entourage followed—Sybil Mira, head thaumaturge, whose role in the Lunar court seemed to be a cross between a doting lapdog and a gleeful servant who delighted in seeing to Levana’s cruelest requests. Kai had once seen her attack and nearly blind an innocent servant at the queen’s bidding, without a hint of hesitation.

She was followed by another thaumaturge, one rank beneath Sybil, who had dark skin and piercing eyes and no purpose, it seemed to Kai, other than to stand behind his queen and look smug.

Sybil’s personal guard followed, the blond man who had held Cinder during the ball when Levana first threatened her life. Even after a month of their being guests in his palace, Kai didn’t know his name. A second guard, his hair flaming red, had been the one to jump in between a bullet and Levana at the ball, taking it squarely in the shoulder. It seemed that bullet wounds weren’t enough to let one off royal guard duty, though, and the only indication of the wound was the lump of a bandage beneath his uniform.

“Your Majesty,” Kai said, addressing the queen with, he thought, an admirable lack of contempt. “What a pleasant surprise.”

“One more patronizing comment and I will have you slice off and nail your own tongue to the palace gate.”

Kai blanched. Levana’s voice, usually so melodious and sweet, was rigid as steel, and though he’d seen her angry many times before, it had never been enough for her to drop the thin veneer of diplomacy. “Your Majesty—”

“You let her escape! My prisoner!”

“I assure you, we’re doing everything we can—”

“Aimery, silence him.”

Kai’s tongue fell limp. Eyes widening, he reached a hand to his lips, realizing it wasn’t only his tongue, but his throat, his jaw. The muscles had gone useless. Which perhaps was better than having his tongue nailed to the palace gate, but still …

His gaze darted to the male thaumaturge in his pristine red coat, who grinned charmingly back. Rage flared inside him.

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