Scarlet Page 44


A growl rolled up from his throat and his lips curled, revealing teeth that came to a fine point, more canine than human.

Cinder pressed herself against the bench, sure her momentary meltdown had fried something, that her optobionics were sending crossed messages to her brain. But her vision didn’t clear.

In unison, the military officers rounded their guns on the man, but he showed no concern. He seemed pleased at the horrified cries, the way the crowd surged away from him.

He lunged for the nearest officer before he could pull the trigger. His hands wrapped around the officer’s head—a loud snap and the officer fell lifeless to the ground. It happened so fast, every movement a blur.

Screaming filled the tavern. There was a stampede for the door, customers struggling over the crashed tables and chairs.

Ignoring the crowd, the man smirked at Cinder. She stumbled back into the booth, trembling.

“Hello, little girl,” he said, his voice too human-like, too restrained. “I believe my queen has been looking for you.”

He leaped for her. Cinder pulled back, unable to scream.

The female officer jumped between them, facing Cinder, her arms spread out wide in protection. Her face completely, entirely blank. Her lifeless eyes peered down at Cinder, even as the man howled with rage and grabbed her from behind. He wrapped one arm around her head, yanking her back and sinking his fangs into her throat.

She didn’t scream. Didn’t fight.

A bloodied gurgle erupted from her mouth.

A gun fired.

The crazed man roared and picked up the officer, swinging her around like a dog would a toy and tossing her halfway across the tavern. She crumpled to the ground as another shot rang out, catching the man in the shoulder. Bellowing, he whipped forward, snatching the gun away from the remaining officer with one hand. He swiped with the other, his fingers curled into a claw that left four red gashes on the officer’s face.

Heart hammering, Cinder gaped down at the woman as the life drained out of her eyes. Her gasps stuck in her throat. Her heart was pounding so hard it was sure to break out of her chest. White spots specked her vision. She couldn’t breathe.

“Cinder!”

She searched the room, dazed, and found Thorne scrambling out from behind a toppled table with his hands still latched behind his back. He collapsed to his knees beside the bench.

“Come on, the cuffs!”

Her lungs burned. Her eyes stung. She was hyperventilating.

“I—I killed her—” she stammered.

“What?”

“I killed—she was—”

“This is not the time to go crazy, Cinder!”

“You don’t understand. It was me. I—”

Thorne threw himself at her, his forehead hitting hers so hard she yelped and fell back onto the bench.

“Pull yourself together and help me unlock these things!”

She grabbed on to the table and hauled herself back up. Head aching, she blinked at Thorne, then at the officer who lay slumped against the wall, neck dangling at an odd angle.

Her brain struggling to grasp on to reality, she lurched forward, dragging Thorne with her through the toppled chairs. Crouching beside the first fallen officer, she grabbed his arm and held up his wrist. Thorne twisted his hands toward her and the cuffs blinked and fell open.

Cinder dropped the limp hand and stood. She bolted for the door—but something grabbed her ponytail and hauled her backward. She cried out, falling onto a table. Glass bottles shattered beneath her, water and alcohol soaking into the back of her shirt.

The crazed man hovered over her, leering. Blood was dripping out from his lips and his bullet wounds but he hardly seemed to notice.

Cinder tried to scramble backward, but she slipped—a shard of glass slicing through her palm. She gasped.

“I would ask what brought you to little Rieux, France, but I think I already know.” He smiled, but it was haunting and unnatural with the jutting canines slicked with blood. “So sad for you that we found the old lady first, and now my pack has you both. I wonder what my reward will be when I bring your leftover pieces to my queen in a plastic box.”

Thorne roared and heaved a chair upward, breaking it over the man’s back.

The man spun around and Cinder used the distraction to roll off the table. She collapsed to the floor, looking up just as the man buried his teeth in Thorne’s arm. A scream.

“Thorne!”

The man pulled away, chin dripping with blood, and let Thorne collapse to his knees.

His eyes glinted. “Your turn.”

He took two sauntering steps toward her. Cinder upended the table, creating a blockade between them, but he kicked it aside with a laugh.

Standing, she raised her hand and fired a tranquilizer dart into his chest.

He snarled and yanked the dart out like a minor annoyance.

Cinder backed away. Tripping over a fallen chair, she cried out and collapsed backward onto the warm, unmoving body of the officer who had managed to get off two useless bullets.

The man grinned sickeningly, then paused again, paling. His cruel smile vanished and, with one more step, he crashed face-first on the ground.

Cinder stared, stomach in knots, at his still form amid the wreckage.

When he didn’t move, she dared to glance at the dead officer whose blood was leaking onto her collarbone. Rolling off him, she grabbed the gun that had been tossed onto the floor and shoved herself back to her feet.

She seized Thorne’s elbow and stuffed the gun into his hand. He moaned in pain but didn’t fight her as she hauled him to his feet and shoved him toward the door. Rushing back to the booth, Cinder tucked the power cell under her arm before running after him.

The street was chaos, people screaming and barreling out of the buildings and crying hysterically.

Cinder spotted the two policemen who had been inspecting the podship, trying to direct a fleeing crowd. A window shattered as a man threw himself through the glass—the creepy man from the parts store—and tackled one of the police in the same movement. His jaws latched on to the officer’s neck.

Nausea welled up in Cinder as the maniac released the officer and turned his bloodied face up to the sky.

He howled.

A long, proud, ominous howl.

Cinder’s dart caught him in the neck, silencing him. He had time to turn his glower on her before he collapsed onto his side.

It didn’t seem to matter. As Cinder and Thorne ran for their abandoned podship, the man’s howl was picked up by another and another, half a dozen unearthly calls being sent up in every direction to greet the rising moon.

Thirty-Seven

“What was that?” Thorne yelled as he peeled the podship off the street. Flying lower and much faster than regulations suggested, they fled over the patchwork of crops that surrounded the town of Rieux.

Cinder shook her head, still panting. “They were Lunar. He mentioned his queen.”

Thorne slammed his palm down on the podship’s control board, cursing. “I know Lunars are supposed to have some screws loose—no offense—but those men were psychotic. He practically gnawed off my arm! And this is my favorite jacket!”

Cinder glanced over at Thorne, but his injured shoulder was the one turned away from her. She could, however, make out a red welt where he’d pounded his forehead into hers in order to snap her from her delirium.

She pressed her cool metal fingers to her own forehead, which was starting to throb, and noticed a skein of text in her vision that she’d been too terrified and distracted to notice before.

WHERE ARE YOU???

“Iko’s panicking.”

Thorne swerved around an abandoned tractor. “I forgot about the police! Is my ship all right?”

“Hold on.” Sick to her stomach at the swerving, Cinder gripped her harness and called up a new comm.

ON OUR WAY. ARE THE POLICE STILL THERE?

Iko’s response was almost instantaneous.

NO, THEY STUCK A TRACKING DEVICE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SHIP AND LEFT. SOMETHING ABOUT A DISTURBANCE IN RIEUX. I’M LOOKING AT THE NETSCREENS NOW—CINDER, ARE YOU SEEING THIS?

She gulped, but didn’t answer. “The police are gone. They left a tracker.”

“Well, that’s predictable.” Thorne swooped down, catching the tip of a windmill on the landing gear. Cinder saw the Rampion only a few miles off, a large gray splotch amid the crops, barely discernible in the night.

IKO, OPEN THE PODSHIP DOCK.

By the time the pod dipped toward the Rampion, the dock was wide-open. Cinder squeezed her eyes shut, bracing herself against the seat as Thorne dove toward it too fast, but he released the thrusters just in time and soon they were coming to a very rocky, sudden stop. The podship shuddered and died—Cinder had tumbled out of the side door before the lights faded.

“Iko! Where’s the tracker?”

“Stars, Cinder! Where have you been? What is going on out there?”

“No time—the tracker!”

“It’s under the starboard landing gear.”

“I’ll get it,” said Thorne, marching toward the wide-open doors. “Iko, seal the dock as soon as I’m out, then open the main hatch. Cinder, get that power cell installed!” He jumped down off the dock, and Cinder heard a squelch of mud when he landed. A moment later, the interlocking doors began to slide shut.

“Wait!”

The doors froze, leaving a space not larger than Cinder’s pounding head between them.

“What?” cried Iko. “I thought he was out! Did I crush him?”

“No, no, he’s fine. I just have to do something.”

Chewing on her lip, she knelt on one knee. Yanking her pant leg up, she unlatched the compartment to her prosthetic leg and found two small chips lodged in the mess of bundled wires. The direct communication chip glittering with its peculiar iridescence, and Peony’s ID chip, still caked with dried blood.

Those officers had tracked her through Peony’s chip, and she wouldn’t have been surprised if Levana’s minions had found her the same way.

“I’m so stupid,” she muttered, prying the chip loose. Her heart suddenly clamped up, but she did her best to ignore it as she brushed a quick kiss against the ID chip and threw it out into the field. It glinted once with moonlight before vanishing in the dark.

“All right. You can close the doors now.”

As the doors clanged shut, she threw herself toward the podship and pulled the power cell off the floorboard.

The engine room glowed with red emergency lights. Her retina display had already pulled up the plans by the time she slithered on her stomach to the ship’s exterior corner and unbolted the old power cell.

When she yanked it free, the whole ship went black.

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