Scarlet Page 45


She cursed to herself.

“Cinder!” came Thorne’s distraught scream from somewhere overhead.

Cinder flicked on her flashlight and tore off the protective packaging of the new cell, her breaths coming in short, panicked gasps. It didn’t take long for the engine room to grow stifling hot without the cooling system.

She plugged a cable into the cell’s outlet, then bolted it to the engine. Already she was forgetting how she’d ever managed to survive without the screwdriver in her new hand as she secured the cell to the wall. The overlaid blueprint on her vision zoomed in as she connected the delicate wires.

Gulping, she punched the restart code into the mainframe. The engine hummed, grew louder, and soon purred like a contented cat. The red lights flickered back on, and were just as quickly replaced with bright whites.

“Iko?”

The response was almost instantaneous. “What just happened? Why won’t anyone tell me what’s going on?”

Exhaling, Cinder dropped to her stomach and wriggled back toward the door. She grasped the ladder rungs that led to the ship’s main level, calling out, “Ready for takeoff!”

No sooner had the words left than the combustors flared beneath her and the ship lurched up off the ground. Cinder screamed and grasped the ladder, clinging tight to it as the Rampion hovered momentarily before shooting up into the sky, away from the destruction happening in Michelle Benoit’s beautiful hometown.

When they’d entered orbit again, Cinder found Thorne in the cockpit, slumped in his chair with both arms draped toward the floor.

“We should clean our wounds,” she said, seeing the dark spot of blood on his shoulder.

Thorne nodded without facing her. “Yeah, I definitely don’t want to catch whatever he had.”

Her right leg shaking under her own weight, Cinder made her way awkwardly into the medbay, grateful she’d had the forethought to clear the crates away from it, and found an assortment of bandages and ointments.

“Nice takeoff back there,” she said when she joined Thorne in the cockpit. “Captain.”

He grunted, sulking as Cinder used her imbedded knife to cut open his sticky sleeve.

“How does it feel?” she asked, examining the bite marks on his arm.

“Like I was bit by a feral dog.”

“Are you light-headed? Woozy? You lost a lot of blood.”

“I’m fine,” he said, glowering. “Pretty upset about my jacket.”

“It could have been a lot worse.” She ripped off a long band of medical tape. “I could have used you as a human shield, like that officer.” Her voice hiccupped on the last word. A headache was coming on, starting in her desert-dry eyes, as she wrapped a bandage around Thorne’s arm and taped it.

“What happened?”

She shook her head and peered down at the gash in her palm. “I don’t know,” she said, awkwardly wrapping the tape around it too.

“Cinder.”

“I didn’t mean to.” She slumped back in her own chair. She felt sick, remembering the dead, blank stare of the woman as she put herself between Cinder and that man. “I just panicked, and the next thing I knew, she was there, in front of me. I didn’t even think—I didn’t try—it just happened.” She shoved herself out of the chair and marched out into the cargo bay, needing room. To breathe, to move, to think. “This is exactly what I was talking about! Having this gift. It’s turning me into a monster! Just like those men. Just like Levana.”

She rubbed her temples, biting back her next confession.

Maybe it wasn’t just being Lunar. Maybe it ran in her blood. Maybe she was just like her aunt … just like her mother, who had been no better.

“Or maybe,” Thorne said, “it was an accident, and you’re still learning.”

“An accident!” She spun around. “I killed a woman!”

Thorne held up a finger. “No. That blood-sucking, howling wolf-man killed her. Cinder, you were scared. You didn’t know what you were doing.”

“He was coming after me, and I just used her.”

“And you think he would have left the rest of us alone once he had you?”

Cinder clamped her jaw shut, stomach still churning.

“I get that you feel like it was your fault, but let’s try to put some of the blame where it belongs here.”

Cinder frowned at Thorne, but she was seeing that man again, with his haunting blue eyes and sick smile.

“They have Michelle Benoit.” She shuddered. “And that’s my fault too. They’re looking for me.”

“Now what are you rambling on about?”

“He knew that’s why we came to Rieux, but he said they’d already found her. The ‘old lady, ’ he said. But they only came after her because they’re trying to find me!”

Thorne pulled a palm down his face. “Cinder, you’re being delusional. Michelle Benoit housed Princess Selene. If they tracked her down, that’s why. It has nothing to do with you.”

She gulped, her entire body shaking. “She might still be alive. We have to try and find her.”

“Since neither of you will tell me anything,” said Iko, her voice taut, “I’ll just have to guess. Were you by chance attacked by men who fought like starved wild animals?”

Thorne and Cinder traded glances. Cinder noticed that the cargo bay had grown abnormally warm during her tirade.

“Good guess,” said Thorne.

“They’re talking about it all over the newsfeeds,” said Iko. “It’s not just in France. It’s happening all over the world, every country in the Union. Earth is under attack!”

Thirty-Eight

Howls filled the theater’s basement. From the corner of her bed, in the cell’s near blackness, Scarlet held her breath and listened. The lonesome cries were muffled and distant, somewhere out on the streets. But they must have been loud indeed to reach all the way to her dungeon.

And there seemed to be dozens of them. Animals seeking one another in the night, eerie and haunting.

There shouldn’t be wild animals in the city.

Peeling herself off the bed, Scarlet crept toward the bars. A light filtered down the hallway from the stairs that led up to the stage, but it was so faint she could barely make out the iron bars over her own door. She peered down the corridor. No movement. No sound. An EXIT sign that probably hadn’t been lit up in a hundred years.

She peered the other direction. Only blackness.

She had the sinking sensation of being trapped all alone. Of being left to die in this underground prison.

Another howl echoed up, louder this time, though still stifled. Perhaps on the street just outside the theater.

Scarlet slicked her tongue over her lips. “Hello?” she started, tentatively. When there was no response—not even a distant howl—she tried again, louder. “Is anyone out there?”

She shut her eyes to listen. No footsteps.

“I’m hungry.”

No shuffling.

“I need to use the bathroom.”

No voices.

“I’m going to escape now.”

But no one cared. She was alone.

She squeezed the bar, wondering if it was a trap. Perhaps they were luring her into a false security, testing her to see what she would do. Perhaps they wanted her to try to escape so they could use it against her.

Or perhaps—just perhaps—Wolf really had meant to help her.

She snarled. If it wasn’t for him, she wouldn’t be in this mess to begin with. If he’d told her the truth and explained to her what was going on, she would have come up with another plan to get her grandma out, rather than be led like a lamb to the feast.

The joints in her fingers started to burn from clenching the bars too tight.

Then, from the hollowness of the basement, she heard her name.

Weak and uncertain, posed as a delirious question. Scarlet?

Stomach clenching, Scarlet pushed her face into the bars, their coldness squeezing her cheekbones. “Hello?”

She started to shake as she waited.

Scar … Scarlet?

“Grand-mère? Grand-mère?”

The voice went silent, as if speaking had drained it.

Scarlet thrust herself away from the barred door and ran back to the bed, claiming the small chip she’d tucked beneath the mattress.

She returned to the door desperate, pleading, hoping. If Wolf had tricked her about this—

She reached through the bar and flicked the chip across the scanner. It chimed, the same sickeningly cheerful chime it had given when her guards brought her food, a sound she had despised until this moment.

The bars swung open without resistance.

Scarlet lingered in the open doorway, her pulse racing. Again she found herself straining to hear any sound of her guards, but the opera house seemed abandoned.

She stumbled away from the stairwell, into the blackness of the hallway. Her hands on the walls to either side were her only guides. When she came to another iron-barred door, she paused and leaned against the opening. “Grand-mère?”

Each cell was empty.

Three, four, five cells, all empty.

“Grand-mère?” she whispered.

At the sixth door, a whimper. “Scarlet?”

“Grand-mère!” She dropped the chip in her excitement and immediately fell to the floor in search of it. “Grand-mère, it’s all right, I’m here. I’m going to get you—” Her fingers found the chip and she whipped it up before the scanner. A wash of relief covered her when it chimed, although a pained, terrified sound came from her grandmother upon hearing it.

Scarlet yanked the bars open and pushed into the cell, not bothering to stand lest she accidentally trip over her grandmother in the darkness. The cell was rank with the stench of urine and sweat and old, stale air. “Grand-mère?”

She found her huddled on the gritty stone ground against the back wall. “Grand-mère?”

“Scar? How—?”

“It’s me. I’m here. I’m going to get you out of here.” Her words dissolved into sobs and she grasped her grandma’s frail arms, pulling her into an embrace.

Her grandma cried out, an awful, pitiable sound that cut through Scarlet’s ears. She gasped and laid her back down.

“Don’t,” her grandma whimpered, her body sliding limply down to the ground. “Oh Scar—you shouldn’t be here. You shouldn’t be here. I can’t stand you being here. Scarlet…” She started crying, choking, wet sobs burbling up from her.

Scarlet hovered over her grandma’s body, fear gripping every muscle. She couldn’t remember hearing her grandmother cry before. “What did they do to you?” she whispered, drawing her hands over her grandmother’s shoulders. Beneath a thin, tattered shirt, there were the lumps of bandages and something damp and sticky.

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