Scarlet Page 49


Cinder tripped and they all stumbled, Wolf’s body landing on the ground with a thud. Scarlet pulled out from beneath him and her heart lurched to see blood gushing out of his wounds, made worse from the trek. “Wolf!”

An eerie howling rose up all around them. Much closer than it had seemed before.

“Open the ramp!” the girl yelled, startling the man.

“We need bandages,” said Scarlet.

The girl got to her feet and grasped Wolf’s wrists again. “There are bandages on the ship. Come on.”

The man ran ahead, screaming, “Iko! Open the hatch!”

Scarlet heard the clicking of gears and the humming of electricity as the hatch began to open, revealing the welcoming interior of the ship. Pulling herself onto her feet, she’d just grabbed Wolf’s ankles when she saw a man loping toward them at a sprint, his nostrils flaring, lips pulled taut against his fangs. He was one of the men who had first taken her to her cell.

A ping, a thunk, as a dart buried itself in his forearm. He roared and increased his speed for two steps before his anger faded and he fell forward, face slamming onto the pavement.

“Almost there,” said Cinder through her teeth, picking up Wolf’s dropped wrists.

More howling greeted them from the roads and alleys and shadows, great loping figures appearing out of the darkness.

Scarlet’s back and legs ached and her palms were slick as she struggled to retain her grip on Wolf’s ankles. “They’re coming!”

“I noticed!”

Scarlet fell, crashing onto her knees. She looked up at Wolf’s unconscious face, at the panicking girl, and frustration welled up inside her. She forced herself to stand again, though her legs were no stronger than unbaked dough.

Then the man was back, shoving her toward the ship. “Go!” he yelled, and grabbed Wolf’s ankles.

“Thorne! You’re supposed to be flying the ship, you dunce!”

Scarlet turned toward the ship’s open hatch. “I can fly! Just get him inside!”

She ran, though her mind screamed at her for leaving Wolf behind. Her muscles burned, her head pounded with the rush of blood. She could only focus on putting one foot in front of another. Ignoring the burning. Ignoring the sharp stabbing pain in her side. Blinking away the sweat. One. More. Step.

Something sliced across her back. She heard the rip of fabric, a loud thump, and then something grabbed her ankle. She screamed and collapsed at the bottom of the ramp. Fingernails buried themselves into the flesh of her calf and she cried out in pain.

Whistle. Thud.

The hand released her.

Scarlet kicked the man in the jaw before scrambling up the rest of the ramp, into the gaping hull of the ship. She flew into the cockpit and stumbled into the pilot’s seat. They hadn’t bothered to stop the engines and the ship rumbled and purred around her. Her motions were automatic. She could barely see for the salty sting of sweat in her eyes. Her heartbeat felt like horse’s hooves trampling her chest.

But her fingers knew what to do as they breezed over the panel.

“Captain? Cinder?”

Startled, she spun back toward the door, but there was no one there. “Who’s there?”

A momentary silence, then: “Who are you?”

Scarlet swiped the sweat from her forehead. The ship. The ship was talking to her.

“I’m Scarlet. We need to get ready for takeoff. Can you—”

“Where are Thorne and Cinder?”

“Right behind me. Is this ship equipped with auto lift?”

A series of lights lit up on the panel. “Auto lift and auto magnetic stabilizers.”

“Good.” She reached for the thruster output control and waited to hear the sound of footsteps on the ramp.

A drop of sweat slid down to her temple. She gulped, harshly, failing in her attempt to wet her sandpaper throat.

“What’s taking them so long?” Swiveling the chair around, she threw herself toward the cockpit entrance and peered past the cargo bay.

Wolf’s prone body was laid out not a dozen steps from the end of the ramp, and there were Linh Cinder and her friend, standing back to back.

They were surrounded by seven Lunar operatives, and the thaumaturge.

Forty-Two

Cinder sensed the thaumaturge before she saw him, like a snake slithering into her brain. Urging her to stop running. To stand still and be captured.

Her right leg obeyed—her left kept going.

With a yelp, she crashed to her hands and knees. The unconscious man—Wolf?—nearly crushed her before his body rolled away. Thorne cried out and tripped, barely able to catch himself before falling.

Cinder jumped back to her feet and spun around.

The men came out of the shadows, from the alleyways, around corners, from behind the ship, each with their glowing eyes and sharp canines bared. Seven in all.

She spotted the thaumaturge, handsome as they always were, with curly black hair and a chiseled face. He wore a red coat—a second level thaumaturge.

Backing up, she collided with Thorne.

“So…,” he murmured. “How many more darts do you have?”

The thaumaturge’s dark irises sparkled with moonlight.

“One.”

She doubted the thaumaturge could have heard her, but he smiled serenely and tucked his hands into his maroon sleeves.

“Right,” said Thorne. “In that case.”

He snatched the officer’s stolen gun from his belt and spun, aiming for the thaumaturge. Then froze.

“Oh no.”

From the corner of her eye, Cinder saw Thorne’s arm curl back, change direction, until the barrel was aimed at her temple instead.

“Cinder…” His voice nearly broke from panic.

The thaumaturge’s expression remained complacent.

Cinder held her breath, stilling her nerves, and targeted her last tranquilizer at Thorne’s leg. The thunk made her cringe, but within seconds the gun had clattered from Thorne’s fingers and his body collapsed motionless on top of Wolf’s.

A warm laugh spilled out of the thaumaturge. “Hello, Miss Linh. How pleasant to make your acquaintance.”

She swooped her gaze over the seven men. They were all threatening, hungry, ready to pounce on her and tear her limb from limb at the slightest provocation.

Somehow, she preferred that to the thaumaturge’s gleeful amusement. At least with these men there was no misinterpreting their intentions.

She’d taken three steps forward before she realized it. She braced herself and strained to keep her feet still, wobbling for a moment before finding balance and standing solid on the pavement, at the same time that her bionics picked up on the intrusion.

BIOELECTRICAL MANIPULATION DETECTED. INITIALIZING RESISTANCE PROCED—

The text vanished as Cinder regained purchase of her own thoughts, her own body. Her brain was being stretched in two directions as the thaumaturge failed to control her, her own Lunar gift fighting against him.

“So it’s true,” he said.

The pressure released, her ears popped, and she was back in her own head again. She was panting, feeling like she’d just run across the whole continent.

“You will forgive me. I did have to try.” His white teeth glinted. He didn’t seem at all put off by the fact that she couldn’t be controlled as easily as Thorne had been.

As easily as the seven men surrounding her.

Heart skipping, she glanced at the nearest man—one with shaggy dark blond hair and a scar that ran from temple to jaw. She forced herself to be calm, urged the desperation to subside, and reached her thoughts toward him.

His mind wasn’t like any of those she’d touched with her Lunar gift yet. Not open and focused like Thorne’s, not cold and determined like Alak’s, not petrified like Émilie’s, not anxious or proud like the military officers’.

This man had the mind of an animal. Scattered and wild and raging with primal instinct. The desire to kill, the need to feast, the constant awareness of where he stood in the pack and how he could improve his station. Kill. Eat. Destroy.

With a shudder, she pulled her thoughts away from him.

The thaumaturge was chuckling again. “What do you think of my pets? How easily they fit in with the humans, but how quickly they turn into beasts.”

“You’re controlling them,” she said, finding her voice.

“You flatter me. I’m only encouraging their natural instincts.”

“No. No person—not even animals have instincts like this. To hunt or defend, maybe, but you’ve turned them into monsters.”

“Perhaps there were some genetic modifications involved.” He finished the statement with another chuckle, like she’d caught him in a guilty pleasure. “But don’t worry, Miss Linh. I won’t let them hurt you. I want my queen to have that pleasure. Your friends, unfortunately…”

In unison, two of the soldiers stepped forward and grasped Cinder by the elbows.

“Take her to the theater,” said the thaumaturge. “I will inform Her Majesty that Michelle Benoit turned out to be useful for something after all.”

But Cinder’s captors hadn’t taken her two steps when the roar of an engine rattled the pavement. They hesitated and Cinder glanced back as the Rampion started to rise, hovering chest height above the street. The ramp was still down and Cinder could see the metal vibrating, the storage crates rattling against one another.

“Cinder!” Iko’s voice cut through her thundering pulse. “Get down!”

She sank to her knees, hanging limp between the two soldiers, as the ship surged forward. The lowered platform collided with the two men. They dropped Cinder onto all fours and she glanced up as the ramp cut through the rest of the soldiers, mowing down all but one who had the sense to dodge out of its way, before the ramp smashed into the thaumaturge.

He gasped, his legs dangling as he clung to the edge.

Staying low as the belly of the ship hovered overhead, Cinder spun around and scrambled for Thorne’s dropped pistol. She waited until she was sure she had a clear shot before firing. The bullet lodged itself in the thaumaturge’s thigh and he screamed, releasing the ramp and dropping onto the pavement.

His calmness was gone, his face contorted with rage.

The blond soldier came out of nowhere, tackling Cinder to the ground, sending the gun skidding across the pavement. She struggled to push him off, but he was too heavy, pinning her right arm to the ground. She swung a punch at him with her metal fist—heard the bones crunch on impact, but he didn’t release her.

He snarled and opened his jaws wide.

Just as he brought his mouth toward her neck, the ship spun in the air. The landing gear took the soldier in his side, throwing him off Cinder. She rolled away, colliding with Thorne’s and Wolf’s prone bodies.

Prev page Next page