Scarlet Page 53


“Uh, I’m confused,” said Thorne, raising a finger in the air. “What are we talking about?”

Scarlet glanced at the captain. “Would you stop pointing that gun at him?”

Thorne tossed the gun to the side and folded his hands in his lap.

“He doesn’t even know, does he?” Scarlet rounded on Cinder. “You’ve put his life in danger—all of our lives in danger—and he doesn’t even know why.”

“It’s more complicated than that.”

“Is it?”

“I haven’t even known for a week! I found out who I was the day after the ball, when I was sitting in a jail cell preparing to be handed over to Levana like a trophy. So between breaking out of prison and running from the entire Commonwealth military and trying to save your life, I haven’t had much time to overthrow an entire regime. I’m sorry if I’ve disappointed you, but what do you want me to do?”

Scarlet drew back, a headache pounding at her temple. “How could you not have known?”

“Because your grandmother shipped me off to the Commonwealth without bothering to tell me.”

“But isn’t that why you were at the ball?”

“Stars, no. You think I would have been stupid enough to face Levana if I’d known the truth?” She hesitated. “Well. I don’t know. For Kai, maybe, but…” She grasped her head with both hands. “I don’t know. I didn’t know.”

Scarlet was suddenly dizzy from the anger, the rush of blood, the exhaustion. The only response she could form was a baffled “Oh.”

Thorne coughed. “I’m still confused.”

With a sigh, Cinder wilted onto a crate, staring down at her mismatched hands. She scrunched her whole face up, like preparing for a blow, and muttered, “I’m Princess Selene.”

Thorne snorted and they all turned to him.

He blinked. “What, really?”

“Really.”

The joking smile froze on his lips.

A heavy silence was followed by a vibration beneath their feet and Iko’s voice. “I don’t compute.”

“That makes two of us,” said Thorne. “Since when?”

Cinder shrugged. “I’m sorry. I should have told you, but … I didn’t know if I could trust you, and I thought if I could find Michelle Benoit and have her explain some things to me, tell me how I came to be here, how I came to be this…” She held up both hands before letting them fall limply back into her lap. “… then maybe I could start figuring things out.” She sighed. “Iko, I’m really sorry. I swear I didn’t know before.”

Snapping his jaw shut, Thorne scratched at his chin. “You’re Princess Selene,” he said, testing the words. “The crazy cyborg girl is Princess Selene.”

“Is your gift intact?” Wolf asked. He was sitting crookedly, trying not to put too much weight on his side.

“I think so,” said Cinder, shifting uncomfortably. “I’m still learning how to use it.”

“She controlled one of the … special operatives,” said Scarlet. “I saw her do it.”

Cinder glanced down. “Only barely. I couldn’t maintain control.”

“You were able to manipulate one of the pack? While Jael was there?”

“Yeah, but it was awful. I could only get to one of them and I nearly passed out—”

A sharp laugh silenced her, before Wolf coughed painfully. Still, an amused expression lingered on his face. “And this is why Levana wants you. You are stronger than she is. Or … you could be, with practice.”

Cinder shook her head. “You don’t understand. That thaumaturge had seven men under his control and I could barely manage one. I’m nowhere near as strong as them.”

“No, you don’t understand,” said Wolf. “Each pack is ruled by a thaumaturge who controls when our animal instincts take over, when all we can think about is killing. They’ve manipulated our Lunar gift and used it to turn us into these monsters instead—with some physical modifications. But it’s all connected to our master. Most Lunars couldn’t control us at all—we might as well be shells to them—and even our masters, who could control hundreds of average citizens at once, can only keep hold of a dozen or so operatives. That’s why our packs are kept so small. Do you see?”

“No,” said Cinder and Thorne at once.

Wolf was still smiling. “Even the most talented of thaumaturges can only control a dozen operatives, fifteen at the most, and this after years of genetic modifications and training. And yet you manage to take one away from his master on your first attempt? With some practice…” He looked like he wanted to laugh. “I would not have thought it before, but now I think Her Majesty might actually have cause to be afraid of you, Princess.”

Cinder flinched. “Don’t call me that.”

“I am assuming, of course, you do mean to fight against her,” continued Wolf, “judging from your response to your emperor’s announcement.”

Cinder shook her head. “I don’t have the first idea how to.… I don’t know anything about being a ruler or a leader or—”

“But plenty of people think you can stop her,” said Scarlet. “My grandmother died so you could have this chance. I’m not going to let her sacrifice be wasted.”

“And I would help you,” added Wolf. “You could practice your abilities, on me.” He slumped, his body tired from sitting up for too long. “Besides, if you are who you claim to be, that makes you my true queen. Therefore, you have my loyalty.”

Cinder shook her head and hopped off the crate again. “I don’t want your loyalty.”

Scarlet planted her hands on her hips. “What do you want?”

“I want—I want some time to think about this and figure out what to do next without everyone yapping in my ear!” Cinder stomped off toward the main corridor, every other step a loud clang as her metal foot struck the floor.

When she had gone, Thorne let out a low whistle. “I know, I know. She seems a little”—crossing his eyes, he swirled both fingers around his ears—“but it’s really part of her charm, once you get to know her.”

Forty-Five

She’d had the bridge built for herself out of very special glass, so that she could watch her soldiers from above—watch them train, watch them fight, watch them adapt to their new mutations—all without being observed herself. She was intrigued now by a new pack who had just completed the genetic transformation a few days ago. They were still so young. Mere boys—not one older than twelve years.

They were almost precious, the way some of them stood off from the group, constantly checking the fine fur on their knuckles, bouncing back and forth on their restructured limbs, while others were already brawling and taunting one another.

Making their place. Choosing their hierarchy.

Just like the animals they were.

Each thaumaturge beckoned to their assigned subjects, leading them through various formations. This too always fascinated her. How some of them would force the control, while others tried to seduce it from their cubs, like tender mothers.

She watched the youngest faction with growing pleasure. Seven had lined up without question, leaving only one cub standing off from the rest. Crouched on all fours, he was snarling at his thaumaturge, fangs fully bared, more wolf-like than any of them. Rebellion and hatred glowed behind his golden eyes.

That one would make alpha. She could already tell.

“Your Majesty.”

She listed her head but didn’t take her eyes off the boy. “Sybil.”

Her head thaumaturge’s heels clicked on the glass floor. She detected the ruffle of fabric as Sybil bowed.

Down in the cave, the cub was prowling a circle around his mistress—a young, blonde-haired girl who looked ghastly pale in her black coat. Her expression held a trace of anxiety, a tinge of doubt that she would have the mental strength to control this one.

“All special operatives have been temporarily relieved from their missions and returned to concealment status. We estimate two hundred, sixty operative deaths.”

“The Earthens will notice the tattoos soon, if they haven’t already. Be sure they take care to mask them well.”

“Of course, Your Majesty. I’m afraid I also have one thaumaturge death to report.”

Levana looked up, for a moment expecting to catch Sybil’s reflection in the glass, but there was none, not in this window. Not in any of the royal windows. She’d made sure of that. And yet, after all these years, she still wasn’t entirely used to it.

She raised an eyebrow, prompting Sybil to continue.

“Thaumaturge Jael. He was shot in the chest.”

“Jael? It isn’t like him to abandon his sanctuary, even in battle.”

“One of his betas has informed me that Linh Cinder presented herself—it seems he was attempting to apprehend her personally.”

Levana’s nostrils flared and she turned back toward the training grounds, just as the young cub lunged for his mistress. The girl screamed and fell onto her back, before her entire body seized up in concentration. Even from her overlook, Levana could see beads of sweat forming on the girl’s brow, sliding across her temple.

The cub opened his mouth, teeth glinting, then hesitated.

Levana couldn’t tell what was fighting his animal instinct—the thaumaturge grasping for control, or the remnants of a Lunar boy still clinging to the thoughts in his head.

“Jael’s pack has already disbanded, except for the one beta who was found inside the Paris stronghold. I will send Thaumaturge Aimery to retrieve them.”

The cub fell off his mistress, curling into a ball on his side. Trembling. Whimpering. In obvious pain.

Unsteady herself, the thaumaturge climbed to her feet and brushed the black regolith dust from her jacket. The regolith dust was everywhere in these caves—naturally created lava tubes that would never be clear, no matter how long they continued to develop and build within them. Levana hated the dust, the way it clung to her hair and nails, filled up her lungs. She avoided the tubes whenever she could, preferring to stay in the bright, glistening dome that housed Luna’s capital and her palace.

“Your Majesty?” said Sybil.

“No, don’t send Aimery,” she said, her attention glued to the cub as he writhed in pain. Still fighting his mistress’s control. Still struggling to keep his own mind. Still wanting to be a little boy. Not a soldier. Not a monster. Not a pawn. “Let Jael’s pack go. The special operatives have served their purpose.”

Prev page Next page