Scarlet Page 36


Adri’s cheeks tinted pink. “Even that is too kind for her, Your Majesty. Are you aware that she can’t even cry?”

Kai sat back. After a moment he found that, rather than being disgusted as Adri clearly expected, he was left merely curious. “Really? Is that normal for … for cyborgs?”

“I wouldn’t know, Your Majesty. She is the first and hopefully the last cyborg I’ll ever have the misfortune of knowing. I can’t understand why we make cyborgs in the first place. They’re dangerous and proud creatures, parading around like they think they’re better than everyone else. Like they deserve special treatment for their … eccentricities. They’re nothing but a drain on our hardworking society.”

Collar beginning to itch, Kai cleared his throat. “I see. You said something earlier about evidence that Cinder had been near the quarantines? And … done something sinister?”

“Yes, Your Majesty. If you’d be so kind as to refer to my ID page, you’ll see I’ve uploaded a video that is rather incriminating.”

Kai unlatched his portscreen from his belt, thinking about the footage from the quarantines as he searched for Adri’s page. The video was at the top—a low-quality image tagged with the symbol of the Commonwealth’s law enforcement androids. “What is this?”

“When Cinder wouldn’t respond to my comms that day, and I was sure she was fleeing the country, I enacted my right to have her forcibly retrieved. This is the footage from when they found her.”

Holding his breath, Kai played the video. It was shot from a hovercar, peering down on a dusty street surrounded by abandoned warehouses. And there was Cinder, panting and angry. She raised a clenched fist toward the android. “I didn’t steal it! It belongs to her family, not to you or anyone else!”

The camera shook as the hover landed and the android approached her.

Scowling, Cinder took half a step back. “I haven’t done anything wrong. That med-droid was attacking me. It was self-defense.”

Kai watched, shoulders tense, as the android rambled on in its monotone voice about the rights of her legal guardian and the Cyborg Protection Act, until finally Cinder assented to come with them and the video ended.

It took a mere four seconds for Kai to pull up the footage of the girl attacking the quarantine med-droid, and his grip tightened around the device as he fit the puzzle pieces together. He found himself feeling like a fool, for the hundredth time that week.

It made sense that it was Cinder. Of course it was Cinder. He had given the antidote just hours before to Dr. Erland, right in front of her. Erland must have passed it to her, and she then gave it to Chang Sunto. And though the cameras had never got a good shot of her, the hasty ponytail and baggy cargo pants matched perfectly.

Gulping, he shut off the video and reattached the port to his belt. “What was she talking about, that she didn’t steal? What belongs to her family?”

Adri set her mouth in a firm line, deep wrinkles cutting into her upper lip. “Something that did indeed belong with her family—with those who would have given proper respect to the deceased. And Cinder mutilated that which was once most precious to me in order to get it.”

“She what?”

“I believe she stole my daughter’s ID chip, not minutes after her death.” Adri placed a hand on the swath of silk over her abdomen. “It churns my stomach to think of, but I know I should have expected it. Cinder was always jealous of both my girls, and so spiteful. Although I could not have imagined her sinking to such a low before, now that I know her true nature, I cannot be surprised by it. She deserves to be found and punished for what she’s done.”

Kai drew away from the venom in her tone, and couldn’t connect her accusations to his own memories of Cinder. He thought of their paths crossing in the elevator, of her eyes filling with sadness as she spoke of her dying sister. How she’d asked if Kai would save a dance for her in case she miraculously survived.

Or was every memory he had of Cinder truly nothing more than a Lunar trick? What did he know about her, really?

“Are you sure?”

“The reports claimed that the weapon used against the androids was a scalpel, and it all happened just moments after I received the comm telling me that my daughter … my daughter…” Her jaw trembled, her knuckles whitening in her lap. “And I can just see her trying to take Peony’s identity in that inhuman head of hers.” She grimaced. “It chills me to think, but it is precisely something she would have done.”

“And you think she could still have the ID chip with her?”

“That, Your Majesty, I cannot say. But it is a possibility.”

With a nod, Kai stood. Adri and Pearl gawked up at him, mute, before bolting to their own feet.

“Thank you for bringing this to my attention, Linh-jiĕ. I’ll have a tracker set up for the ID immediately. If she has the chip, we will find her.”

Even as he spoke, he found himself pleading to the stars that Linh Adri was wrong. That Cinder had not taken the ID chip. But that was a stupid wish, an immature wish. He had to find her, and he only had one more day to do it. He had no desire to find out what Levana would do if he failed.

“Thank you, Your Majesty,” said Adri. “I only want to know that my daughter’s memory won’t be tarnished because I was once so generous as to allow that awful girl into my family.”

“Thank you,” he started, not sure what he was thanking her for, but it seemed the right thing to say. “If we have any further questions, I’ll have someone contact you.”

“Yes, of course, Your Majesty,” Adri said with a bow. “I only wish to do well by my country, and see this horrid girl brought to justice.”

Kai listed his head. “You do realize that once she’s found, Queen Levana intends to have her executed, don’t you?”

Adri folded her hands prettily before her. “I am sure the law is there for a reason, Your Majesty.”

Pursing his lips, Kai stepped away from the sitting area and led them toward the door.

After two more bows apiece, Pearl glided out of the room with lashes fluttering at Kai until her neck could no longer crane toward him, but Adri paused in the doorway. Bowed one more time. “It was such an honor, Your Majesty.”

He smiled tautly back.

“I do wonder—not that this matters one little bit, but only as a matter of curiosity—should this lead to any discoveries in the investigation … might I be able to expect any sort of reward for my assistance?”

Twenty-Nine

Scarlet’s prison cell had begun life as a dressing room. The vague outlines of mirrors and vanities were burned into the walls and the strips of lightbulbs that had surrounded them had been reduced to empty sockets. The carpet had been pulled up, revealing cold stone beneath, and the solid oak door had been taken off its hinges and left abandoned in the corner, replaced instead with welded iron bars and an ID-sensitive lock.

Scarlet’s fury had kept her pacing and storming about the room, kicking the walls and growling at the bars, for all night and most of the day. At least, it seemed like nearly a full day had passed—it seemed like months had passed—but being trapped in the opera house’s sublevel meant she had no indication of time other than the two meals that had been brought to her. The “soldier” who had made the delivery said nothing when she asked how long they were going to keep her there or demanded to see her grandmother immediately, only smirked at her through the bars in a way that made her skin crawl.

She had finally collapsed on the blanketless mattress, physically exhausted. She glared at the ceiling. Hating herself. Hating these men that kept her prisoner. Hating Wolf.

She gnashed her teeth and dug her fingernails into the worn, broken mattress.

Alpha Kesley.

If she ever saw him again she would scratch his eyes out. She would throttle him until his lips turned blue. She would—

“Finally wore yourself out?”

She jerked upward. One of the men who had first brought her to the cell stood on the other side—Rafe or Troya, she didn’t know which.

“I’m not hungry,” she spat.

He sneered. Every last one of them seemed to carry that same humorless smile, like it had been bred into them. “I’m not offering food,” he said, and swiped his wrist past the scanner. Grasping the bars, he lugged the door open. “I’m taking you to see your precious grand-mère.”

Scarlet scrambled off the mattress, all exhaustion flooding away. “Really?”

“Those are my orders. Am I going to have to bind you or do you intend to come willingly?”

“I’ll come. Just take me to her.”

His gaze dipped over her. Evidently determining she didn’t pose a threat, he stepped back and gestured toward the long, dim corridor. “Then after you.”

As soon as she stepped into the hallway, he grasped her wrist and lowered his face so that his breath steamed against her neck. “Do anything stupid and I’ll take my displeasure out on the old hag, do you understand?”

She shuddered.

Without waiting for a response, he released her and nudged her between her shoulder blades, prodding her down the hallway.

Her heart raced. She was near delirium with fatigue and the promise of seeing her grandmother, but it didn’t keep her from scoping out her prison. Half a dozen barred doorways lined this basement corridor, all dark. The man urged her around a corner, up a thin stairwell, through a doorway.

They were backstage. Dusty old props filled the rafters and black curtains hung like phantoms in the darkness. The only light came from runners along the aisles in the audience and Scarlet had to squint as the soldier led her out onto the stage, then down the steps into the empty audience. An entire section of seats had been removed, leaving holes where they’d once been bolted to the sloped floor. Another group of soldiers was standing there, in the shadows, like they’d been having a jovial conversation before Scarlet and her captor had interrupted them. Scarlet kept her eyes firmly glued to the end of the aisle. She didn’t think any of them were Wolf, but she didn’t want to know if she was wrong.

They reached the back of the theater and Scarlet pushed open one of the huge doors.

They were on a balcony overlooking the lobby and the grand staircase. Still no sunlight came through the hole in the ceiling—clearly she’d missed the whole day.

Her captor grabbed her elbow, pulling her away from the stairs, past more haunting statues of cherubs and angels. She yanked her arm from his grip and tried to commit their journey to memory, creating a blueprint of the opera house in her mind, but it was difficult when she knew that she was going to see her grandmother. Finally.

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