Scarlet Page 52

“Whererewe?” he muttered.

“Oh, you’re awake already,” said Cinder, returning with salve and gauze. “I was hoping you’d stay knocked out awhile longer. The peace and quiet was a pleasant change.”

Despite her tone, Scarlet could sense the relief rolling off the girl as she dropped a tube of salve onto the man’s stomach. She passed the gauze to Scarlet along with another tube of salve and a scalpel. “We need to cut out your ID chips and destroy them, before they track you.”

Easing to a seated position, the man gave Scarlet a hazy, suspicious look and she thought for a moment he’d forgotten where she’d come from, before his attention dropped down to Wolf. “Managed to get the loon on board, huh? Maybe I can find a cage for him in one of these bins. I’d hate for him to kill us in our sleep after all that.”

Scarlet scowled, unraveling a strip of gauze. “He’s not an animal,” she said, focusing on the claw marks on the side of Wolf’s face.

“Are you sure?”

“I hate to agree with Thorne,” said Cinder, “I mean, I really hate to agree with him, but he’s right. We don’t know that he’s on our side.”

Scarlet pressed her lips and pulled out another strip of tape. “You’ll see when he wakes up. He’s not…” She hesitated, and realized a moment later that she couldn’t even convince herself that he was on their side.

“Well,” said the man. “I feel much better.” Tearing a hole in his pants, he dabbed the ointment on the puncture wound from the tranquilizer.

Pulling her hair out of her face, Scarlet ripped open Wolf’s shirt and slathered the medical salve onto the deep gashes across his abdomen. “Who are you?”

“Captain Carswell Thorne.” Recapping the salve, he propped himself against the cargo bay’s wall. His hand landed on the shotgun. “Where did this come from?”

“Scarlet found it in one of the crates,” said Cinder, facing the netscreen on the wall. “Screen, on.”

The screen showed a shaking image of a bloodied man running full speed toward the camera. There was screaming, and then static. A male anchorman behind a desk replaced the video, his face pale. “This is footage fed to us from the attacks in Manhattan earlier tonight, and sources have confirmed that more than a dozen cities across the Union are also under siege.”

Scarlet bent over to cut the ID chip from Wolf’s wrist. She noticed he already had a scar there, as though it hadn’t been very long ago when the ID chip had been put in him to begin with.

The anchorman continued, “Citizens are urged to stay in their homes and lock all doors and windows. We are now going to a live feed from Capitol City where President Vargas will be making an address.”

A groan drew everyone’s attention to Wolf. From the corner of her eye, Scarlet saw Captain Thorne cock the gun and level the barrel at Wolf’s chest.

Scarlet set aside the scalpel and both their ID chips and tilted Wolf’s face toward her. “Are you all right?”

He lifted bleary eyes to her, before suddenly wrenching away and rolling onto his side, vomiting onto the ship’s floor. Scarlet winced.

“Sorry,” said Cinder. “That’s probably a side effect of the drugs.”

Thorne gagged. “Aces, I’m glad that didn’t happen to me. How embarrassing.”

Swiping at his lips, Wolf collapsed again onto his back, cringing with every movement. He furrowed his brow, then squinted up at Scarlet. His eyes had returned to their normal vibrant green—no longer filled with animal hunger. “You’re alive.”

She tucked a curl behind her ear, baffled at her own relief. This was the man who had handed her over to those monsters. She should have hated him, but all she could think of was his desperation when he’d kissed her on the train, when he’d begged her not to go looking for her grandmother. “Thanks to you.”

Thorne scoffed. “Thanks to him?”

Wolf tried to look at Thorne, but couldn’t twist his neck enough. “Where are we?”

“You’re aboard a cargo ship orbiting Earth,” said Cinder. “Sorry about the whole tranquilizer thing. I thought you were going to eat her.”

“I thought I was too.” His expression darkened as he took in Cinder’s metal hand. “I think my queen is looking for you.”

Thorne quirked an eyebrow. “Was that supposed to make me feel better about having him on board?”

“He’s better now,” Scarlet said. “Aren’t you?”

He shook his head. “You shouldn’t have brought me here. I’ll only put you all in danger. You should have left me down there. You should have killed me.”

Thorne released the safety on the gun.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Scarlet. “They did this to you. It’s not your fault.”

Wolf eyed her like he was speaking to a stubborn child. “Scarlet … if anything happened to you because of me…”

“Do you intend to harm anyone aboard this ship or not?” said Cinder, cutting through their conversation.

Wolf blinked at her, at Thorne, then at Scarlet, his eyes lingering. “No,” he whispered.

Three heartbeats later, Cinder’s body relaxed. “He’s telling the truth.”

“What?” said Thorne. “And that’s supposed to make me feel better?”

“Kai is going to make an announcement!” Iko’s voice blared through the ship, then the volume of the netscreen rose.

An anchor was speaking again. “—appears that all attacks have ceased. We will keep you posted as news develops. Now, we connect you to the feed from the Eastern Commonwealth where we are expecting an emergency announcement from Emperor Kaito to begin—”

He was cut off, the screen turning to the EC’s press room, where Kai stood behind a podium. Cinder bunched the material of her pants in both fists.

“Cinder has a bit of a crush on him,” Thorne stage-whispered.

“Don’t we all?” said Iko.

Kai seemed momentarily disconcerted beneath the bright lights, but it passed as he squared his shoulders. “You all know why I have called this press conference in the middle of the night, and I thank you for coming on such short notice. I hope to answer some of the questions that have been posed since these attacks began nearly three and a half hours ago.”

Wolf hissed in pain as he sat up to see better. Scarlet’s fingers tightened around his hand.

“I can confirm that these men are from Luna. Some of our scientists have already begun conducting tests on the body of one of these men, killed by a police officer in Tokyo, and have confirmed that they are genetically engineered soldiers. They appear to be Lunar males whose physical makeup has been combined with the neural circuitry of some sort of wolf hybrid. It seems clear that their surprise attack was orchestrated in a way to ensure terror, confusion, and chaos throughout Earth’s major cities. In this, I feel it is safe to say they succeeded.

“Many of you are aware that Queen Levana has been threatening to declare war on Earth for nearly her entire rule. If you are wondering why Queen Levana chose now to initiate this attack after so many years of threats … it’s because of me.”

Scarlet noticed Cinder pulling her knees into her chest, squeezing them until her arms began to shake.

“Queen Levana is angry at my inability to adhere to a treaty between Luna and Earth that states that all Lunar fugitives be apprehended and returned to Luna. Queen Levana made her expectations quite clear in this regard, and I failed to meet them.”

A strange sound escaped Cinder’s throat—a squeak or a whimper—and she clamped her metal hand over her mouth to stifle it.

“Because of this, I feel it is my responsibility to end these attacks and prevent a full-scale war so long as it is within my power to do so. So that is what I’ve done, in the only way I could.” His gaze pierced the back wall of the press room as if he were too mortified to look any of the journalists in the eye. “I have accepted an alliance of marriage with Queen Levana of Luna.”

A shocked scream ripped from Cinder and she launched herself to her feet. “No. No!”

“In return,” Kai continued, “Queen Levana has agreed to withhold further attacks. The wedding has been scheduled for the next full moon, the twenty-fifth day of September, to be followed immediately by Queen Levana’s coronation as empress of the Eastern Commonwealth. The removal of all Lunar soldiers from Earthen soil will begin the following day.”

“No!” Cinder screeched. Grabbing the boot off her foot, she heaved it at the screen. “Idiot! You idiot!”

“My cabinet and I will have further updates in the coming days. I will not be taking any questions tonight. Thank you.” The room filled with barking questions regardless, but Kai ignored them all, slinking off the platform like a defeated general.

Cinder spun away and kicked the nearest crate with her bare metal foot. “He knows this was her doing but he’s still going to give her everything she wants! She is responsible for the deaths of thousands of Earthens, and now she’s going to be empress!” She paced the floor, spotted the two bloodied ID chips beside Scarlet, and mercilessly stomped them to pieces, grinding them into the floor with her heel. “And how long will she be satisfied with that? A month? A week? I even told him! I told him she planned on using the Commonwealth as a stepping stone to wage war on the rest of Earth, and he’s still going to marry her! She’s going to have complete control over all of us, and it will be all his fault!”

Scarlet crossed her arms over her chest. “It sounds to me,” she said, her voice rising to compete with Cinder’s, “that it will be all your fault.”

Cinder’s tirade ceased and she gaped at Scarlet. Between them, Thorne settled his chin on his palm as if watching a great show—though his free hand still held the shotgun aimed at Wolf’s head.

“You know why she did this,” said Scarlet, climbing to her feet despite the protests of her angry muscles. “You know why she’s after you.”

Cinder’s fury simmered off. “Your grandmother told you.”

“Yes, she did. What sickens me is that you let this happen in the first place!”

Glowering, Cinder bent down and ripped off her other boot. Scarlet shied away but Cinder only tossed it into a corner. “What would you rather I did? Just hand myself over? Sacrifice myself in hopes that would satisfy her? It would have come to this anyway.”

“I’m not talking about when you were arrested at the ball. I mean before that. Why haven’t you done anything to stop her? People are relying on you. People think you can make a difference, and what are you doing? Running away and hiding! My grandmother didn’t die so you could live as a fugitive, too much a coward to do something!”

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