Scarlet Page 47


Scarlet shoved herself off the wall, but Ran was there first, his massive form crouching over her grandmother’s body, scooping one hand beneath her back so that her head fell heavily onto the hard floor.

Like a starved animal having brought down his first kill, Ran leaned over and clamped his jaws over Michelle’s neck.

Scarlet screamed and fell backward. The world spun with the sight of blood and Ran crouched on all fours.

Her grandmother’s accusation echoed back to her. They’ve turned you all into monsters.

Still in shock, she forced her face away and rolled onto her side. Her stomach heaved, but there was nothing inside her but bile and saliva. She tasted iron and acid and blood and realized she’d bitten her tongue when Ran had thrown her at the wall, but there was no pain. Only hollowness and horror and a dark cloud creeping over her.

She was not here. This was not happening.

Stomach burning from trying to push up food that wasn’t there, she crawled toward the far wall, putting as much distance between her and Ran as she could. Ran and her grandmother.

Her hand fell into the streak of light from the hallway. Her skin was sickly pale. She was trembling.

Run.

Lifting her head, she could see the start of a stairwell at the end of the hallway. Beside it, a painted sign long since faded. TO STAGE.

Run.

Her brain struggled to find the meaning of the words. TO STAGE. Stage. Stage.

Her grandmother’s last words.

Run!

Reaching forward, she wrapped her fingers around the bars of the cell and used them as leverage. Straining to pull herself up. To stand. To push forward, into the hallway, into the light.

Her legs felt nonexistent at first as she hobbled to the bottom of the stairs, but as she climbed, she found strength in them. She pushed forward. She ran.

A closed door loomed at the top of the stairs, an old wooden door not even equipped with an ID scanner. It creaked when she shoved it open.

Then footsteps below, coming for her.

Scarlet emerged backstage. Old pillars stood clustered together to her right and a maze of fake stone walls and painted trees filled the shadows to her left. The door slammed behind her and she ran into the wooden forest, grabbing a wrought-iron candelabra.

She lifted it in both hands and waited, feet braced.

Ran burst through the door, chin covered in blood.

Scarlet swung as hard as she could. A roar was wrenched out of her as the iron bar collided with Ran’s skull.

He cried out and stumbled back into the curtain. He tripped on the fabric and fell backward.

Scarlet thrust the candelabra at him, not sure she had the strength to heft it again. She heard fabric ripping, but she was already gone, dodging between the set pieces, scanning the creaking wooden floorboards as she lunged over coiled dusty power cords and toppled spotlights. She stumbled onto the stage, the empty expanse of wooden floorboards and trapdoors, and half jumped, half fell into the phantom orchestra. Ignoring a jolt of pain that burned across her knee, she shoved the music stands aside and bolted into the auditorium.

Footsteps thumped across the stage behind her. Inhumanly fast.

The rows of empty chairs flashed by and all she could see was the door looming ahead.

He grabbed her hood.

She let him pull her back, used the momentum to swing around and aim her knee for his groin.

He let out a cry of pain and staggered.

Scarlet darted through the crumbling marble arches, past the cherubs with their broken arms, past the shattered chandeliers and broken tile floors. She flew down the marble stairs, focusing on the huge doors that would lead to the street. If only she could get out of there. Into public. Into the real world.

As she hit the lobby floor, the silhouette of another man moved across the exit.

Her feet skidded to a stop, landing her in the square of pale sunlight from the hole in the ceiling.

Pivoting, she ran for the other staircase, the stairs that went back down to the depths of the opera house.

Above, a door slammed shut, and there were footsteps pounding and she couldn’t tell if it was one set of footsteps or two.

Sweat coated the back of her shirt. Her legs ached, her burst of adrenaline fading.

She rounded a corner and barreled into darkness. The main room had once been used for important guests of the opera house and a series of doors and hallways led to every corner of the sublevel. Scarlet knew the halls to the right would take her back to the prison cells, so she veered left. A drained fountain basin filled the space between the two stairways that led to the upper level. The bronze statue of a half-dressed maiden lingered in an alcove atop a pedestal, one of the few statues that seemed to have survived so many years of neglect.

Scarlet ran for the opposite staircase, wondering if going back up to the lobby would be suicide—and yet knowing that to be trapped down here was no alternative.

She reached the bottom of the stairs and her foot hit the low ledge of the fountain. She stumbled, crying out.

Ran was on her before she hit the ground.

Fingernails dug into her shoulder, flipping her onto her back amid the tiny broken tiles of the dry basin. She peered up into his glowing eyes, the eyes of a madman, of a murderer, and she remembered Wolf onstage at the street fight.

Fear clamped her throat shut, strangling a scream.

He gripped her shirt and lifted her from the ground. She grabbed his wrists, but was too petrified to fight as he brought her face toward his. Scarlet nearly gagged on the stench of his breath, like rotten meat and blood—so much blood—her grandmother—

“If it wasn’t such a repulsive thought, I might take advantage of you here, now that we’re all alone,” he said, and Scarlet shuddered. “Just to see the look on my brother’s face when I told him about it.” With a roar, he threw her at the statue.

Her back collided with the bronze pedestal and pain exploded through her head, knocking the wind from her. She collapsed to the ground, grasping her chest, trying to draw air back into her lungs.

Ran crouched before her, ready to spring. His tongue swiped out over his canines, coating them with strings of saliva.

Her stomach lurched. She kicked at the ground in an attempt to push herself into the small space between the statue and the wall. To disappear. To hide.

He sprang.

She cowered against the wall, but the impact didn’t come.

Scarlet heard a battle cry, followed by a heavy thud. Snarling.

She lowered her trembling arms. In the center of the cavern, two forms tangled with each other. Jaws snapping. Blood dripping over taut muscles.

Eyesight blurring, she managed to ease in a breath, glad to feel her chest expand. Reaching overhead, she gripped the statue and tried to pull herself up, but the muscles in her back screamed at her.

Clenching her jaw, she worked on tucking her legs under her and battled against the pain until she could stand, panting and sweating against the bronze goddess.

If she could just get away before the brawl was over—

Ran pulled the other man into a headlock. The opponent’s glowing emerald eyes pierced Scarlet, for one heart-stopping moment, before he flipped Ran over his head.

The ground vibrated from the impact, but Scarlet barely felt it.

Wolf.

It was Wolf.

Forty

Ran rebounded onto his feet and he and Wolf sprang apart, each straining against unburned energy. Scarlet could almost see it, simmering and seething beneath their skin. Wolf was covered in gashes and blood, but he didn’t seem to notice as he stood slightly hunched, hands flexing.

Ran bared his fangs.

“Return to your post, Ran,” Wolf said with a snarl. “This one is mine.”

Ran snorted in disgust. “And let you embarrass me—embarrass our family—with all your newfound sympathy? You’re a disgrace.” He spat a glob of blood onto the broken concrete. “Our mission is to kill. Now, stand aside so I might kill her, if you’re not willing to do it yourself.”

Scarlet glanced behind her. The staircase was low enough that she could climb over the railing, but her body ached just thinking of it. Trying to shake off the helplessness, she struggled to crawl to the edge of the fountain.

“She is mine,” Wolf repeated, his voice tinted with a low growl.

“I do not want to fight you over a human, brother,” Ran said, though the loathing etched into his face made the endearment sound like a joke.

“Then you will leave her.”

“She was left under my jurisdiction. You should not have abandoned your own post to come for her.”

“She is mine!” Wolf’s temper flared and he swiped at the nearest candelabra, tearing the bronze arm from the wall. Scarlet ducked as it crashed to the floor, sending wax candlesticks hurtling into the fountain’s basin.

They both remained in their hunched stances. Panting. Glaring.

Finally, Ran snarled. “Then you’ve made your choice.”

He pounced.

Wolf batted him from the air with an open palm, swiping him down onto the fountain wall.

Ran landed with a yelp, but quickly rolled back onto his feet. Wolf lunged, digging his teeth into Ran’s forearm.

With a cry of pain, Ran swiped his sharp nails down Wolf’s chest, leaving crimson gouges. Unlocking his jaw, Wolf backhanded Ran across the face, sending him reeling into the fountain’s statue.

Scarlet screamed and stumbled back against a column at the base of the stairs.

Ran attacked again and Wolf, expectant, grasped him by the neck and used the momentum to throw him overhead. Ran rolled gracefully onto his feet. They were both panting, blood soaking through their shredded clothes. They paced, waiting, hunting for weaknesses.

Again, Ran made the first move. He threw his whole weight at Wolf, tackling him to the ground. His jaws went for the neck, snapping, but Wolf held him off, hands wrapped around his throat. He grunted beneath Ran’s weight, struggling to avoid the dripping fangs, when Ran dug his fist into Wolf’s shoulder—the bullet wound from Scarlet’s gun.

Howling, Wolf curled his legs to gain purchase and shoved Ran off him with a kick to the stomach.

Ran rolled away and they both staggered to their feet again. Scarlet could see their energy dissolving as they stood, wobbling, gazes flashing murder. Neither moved to cover their wounds.

Ran swiped a bare arm across his mouth, streaking his chin with blood.

Wolf crouched and sprang, shoving Ran onto his back and landing on top of him. A fist clawed for him. Wolf ducked, catching the brunt of the damage on his ear.

Pushing his opponent into the marble, Wolf raised his face to the ceiling, and howled.

Scarlet forced her back into the column, petrified. The howl resounded off the walls and through her skull and joints, filling every empty space in her body.

When he stopped howling, Wolf dropped down and snapped his jaw around Ran’s throat.

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