Scarlet Page 50


The ship swept back around, its running lights washing over the street. The ramp scraped against the road as it settled back to the ground, not half a dozen steps from where Cinder lay. Inside the ship, Scarlet Benoit’s head appeared in the cockpit’s doorway.

“Come on!”

Clambering to her feet, Cinder grabbed Thorne by the elbow and dragged him off Wolf, but she’d barely moved when a long howl ricocheted down her spine. It was quickly picked up by the rest of the soldiers, the sound deafening.

Cinder stumbled at the base of the ramp and looked back. Two of the soldiers were lying motionless—the two who had taken the brunt of the ship’s impact. The rest were crouched down on all fours, their faces turned up to the sky as they howled.

The thaumaturge, farther away, picked himself up from the ground with a sneer. Though it was too dark to see any blood, Cinder could tell he was favoring the leg that had been shot.

Brushing the sweat from her eyes, Cinder focused on the soldier closest to her. She mentally reached out for the bioelectric waves that were rolling off him, frenzied and hungry, and clamped her thoughts around them.

One howl was cut off sharply from the rest.

A headache was already forming at her temples from the effort required to control him, but she sensed the change immediately. Still violent, still angry, but no longer a wild beast sent to rip apart anyone in his path.

You. She wasn’t sure if she said it out loud or merely thought it. You are mine now. Get these two men on board the ship.

His eyes flickered, loathing but restrained.

“Now.”

As he moved to lumber toward her, the rest of the howling ceased. Four faces peered at Cinder and the traitor. The thaumaturge snarled, but Cinder could barely see him. Bright spots were dancing in her vision. Her legs were beginning to shake from the effort of keeping herself standing while maintaining her control on the man.

He grabbed on to Wolf and Thorne by their wrists and began dragging them up the ramp—a puppet under her strings.

But she could already feel the strings fraying.

Hissing, she fell to one knee.

“Impressive.”

The thaumaturge’s voice was muffled in her head. Behind her, her pawn dropped Wolf and Thorne onto the cargo bay floor.

“I can see why my queen fears you. But taking control of one of my pets will hardly save you now.”

She was so close. Get the soldier out of the ship. Get herself inside.

She managed to bring him back to the edge, the very bottom of the ramp, before her hold on him snapped. She fell forward, clutching her temples, feeling as if a hundred needles were being jabbed into her brain. It hadn’t hurt like this to control anyone else, had never hurt at all.

The pain began to ease. She squinted. The thaumaturge was snarling at her, one arm clutching his stomach where the ramp had hit him.

The rest of the soldiers were just standing there, their eyes still glowing but their expressions passive, and it occurred to Cinder that the thaumaturge was too hurt to keep control of them all. That even his hold on them was tenuous.

But it didn’t matter. She had no more strength.

She sank back on her heels, letting her hands fall heavy at her sides. Her body swayed—she could feel unconsciousness calling to her, seeping into her brain.

A grin once again creased the thaumaturge’s lips, but this time it showed more relief than amusement.

“Troya,” he said, “go in and retrieve Mademoiselle Benoit. I will have to decide what is to be done with Alpha Kes—”

His eyes darted past Cinder at the same moment she heard a gunshot.

The thaumaturge stumbled back, clutching his chest.

Slipping onto her hip, Cinder glanced back to see Scarlet marching down the ramp, carrying a shotgun.

“Mademoiselle Benoit retrieved,” she said, planting her heel on the back of the dazed, blank-faced soldier and shoving him off the ramp. “And don’t worry, we’ll take Alpha Kesley off your hands.”

Sneering, the thaumaturge sank down to the ground. Blood began to dribble out between his fingers.

“Where did you get that?” Cinder wheezed.

“One of your storage crates,” Scarlet said. “Come on, let’s…”

A mix of emotions flickered through her eyes—writhing fury, startled confusion, emptiness.

She lowered the barrel of the gun.

Cinder cursed. “Iko, the ramp!” she said, crawling up onto the ramp and collapsing at Scarlet’s feet. Reaching up, she snatched the gun away before the thaumaturge could turn it on either of them, and the ramp began to rise, dropping them both down into the cargo bay.

An angry scream reached them, and then another chorus of howls that faded quickly away. The thaumaturge’s last fading effort to control his pets.

Cinder saw Scarlet shaking her head to rid herself of the fog, before hauling herself to her feet.

“Hold on to something if you can,” Scarlet yelled as she hobbled into the cockpit. “Ship, engage magnet lifters and rear thrusters!”

Cinder sank exhausted onto the floor, still clutching the gun. Moments later, she felt the ship rising up away from the Earth and whipping toward the sky.

Forty-Three

Kai was sweating with the effort not to throw up. His eyes stung, but he couldn’t look away from the netscreen. It was like watching a terrible horror production—too gruesome and fantastical to be real.

The vidlink was being transferred from the downtown city square, where the weekly market and the annual festival had been held only days before, the day of his coronation. Bodies littered the square, their spilled blood black beneath the flickering billboards. Most of the corpses were concentrated near the opening of a late-night restaurant, one of the few businesses that had been open and crowded at midnight, when the attack had started.

He’d been told only one assailant had been in the restaurant at the time, but with the amount of carnage he felt certain it had to be more. How could one man do so much damage?

The feed switched to a hotel in Tokyo just as a man with crazed eyes threw a limp body against a pillar. Kai cringed at the impact and turned away. “Turn it off. I can’t watch anymore. Where are the police?”

“They’re doing their best to stop the attacks, Your Majesty,” said Torin from behind him, “but it takes time to mobilize them and make an organized attempt to fight back. This attack was so unprecedented. So … abnormal. These men move fast, rarely stay on a single block for more than a few minutes—just enough time to kill anyone within reach before moving to another area of the city…” Torin trailed off, as if he heard the panic rising in his own voice and had to stop talking before it overwhelmed him. He cleared his throat. “Screen, show major global feeds.”

Noise buzzed in the room, six news anchors reporting the same stories: sudden attacks, murderous psychopaths, monsters, unknown fatalities, planet-wide mayhem …

Four cities had been struck inside the Commonwealth: New Beijing, Mumbai, Tokyo, and Manila. Ten more had fallen victim across the other five Earthen countries: Mexico City, New York, Sao Paulo, Cairo, Lagos, London, Moscow, Paris, Istanbul, and Sydney.

Fourteen cities in all, and though it was impossible to gain an exact number on the attackers, witness accounts noted that not more than twenty or thirty men seemed to be behind the attacks at each post.

Kai struggled to do the math in his head. Three hundred men, maybe four hundred.

It seemed impossible, as the death toll continued to rise, as the victimized cities began requesting assistance from their neighbors, shipping their injured to other hospitals.

As many as ten thousand dead, some were saying, in the course of not two hours, and at the hands of only three or four hundred men.

Three or four hundred Lunars. Because he knew, he knew that Levana was behind this. In two of the attacked cities, survivors claimed they’d seen a royal thaumaturge in their midst. Though both witnesses had been near delusional with loss of blood, Kai believed them. It made sense that the queen’s most prized minions would be involved in this. It made equal sense that they themselves were removed from the bloodshed, merely orchestrating the attacks through their own pawns.

Kai paced away from the screen, rubbing his fingers into his eyes.

This was because of him. Levana had done this because of him.

Him, and Cinder.

“This is war,” said Queen Camilla of the United Kingdom. “She’s declared war on us.”

Kai slumped against his desk. They’d all been so silent, entranced by the ongoing footage, that he’d forgotten he was still in a global conference with the other Union leaders.

The voice of Africa’s Prime Minister Kamin sounded through the speakers, seething. “First fifteen years of the plague—and now this! And for what? Levana is upset that a single prisoner got away? A mere girl? No, she’s using it as an excuse. She means to make a mockery of us.”

“I’m having all of my major cities evacuated immediately,” said President Vargas of America. “We can at least attempt to staunch the bleeding…”

European Prime Minister Bromstad chimed in, “Before you go that route, I’m afraid I have yet more unsettling news.”

Kai’s chin fell onto his chest, defeated. He was tempted to cover his ears and not listen. He didn’t want to hear anymore, but he braced himself instead.

“The attack is not only in the major metropolises,” said Bromstad. “I’ve just been informed that, in addition to Paris, Moscow, and Istanbul, we’ve had one small town attacked as well. Rieux, a farming community in southern France. Population three thousand, eight hundred.”

“Three thousand, eight hundred!” said Queen Camilla. “Why would she attack such a small town?”

“To confuse us,” said Governor-General Williams from Australia. “To make us believe there’s no sense to these attacks—to make us afraid that she could strike anywhere, at any time. It is precisely something Levana would do.”

Chairman Huy burst into Kai’s office without knocking. Kai jumped, for a moment thinking that the chairman was a lunatic come to kill him, before his pulse began to subside again.

“Any news?”

Huy nodded. Kai noticed that his face had aged years in the last week. “Linh Cinder has been spotted.”

Kai swallowed a gasp and shoved himself off the desk.

“What? Who was that speaking?” said Camilla. “What about Linh Cinder?”

“I must tend to other matters,” said Kai. “End conference.” Sounds of protests were immediately silenced, and Kai focused on the chairman, every nerve humming. “Well?”

“Three military officers managed to track her using a positive ID on her deceased stepsister, Linh Peony, just like her guardian said we would. We found her in a small town in southern France, minutes before the attack.”

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