Scarlet Page 54


Finally, the cub stopped twitching. The fine fur on his cheeks was wet with tears as he lay there, panting.

His mistress’s gaze was fierce, as animalistic as her charges. Levana could almost hear the woman’s orders, even though no words were being spoken. Telling him to get up. To join the line. To obey her.

The boy did. Moving slowly, painfully, he lifted himself up onto his slender legs and shuffled into the line. Head bowed. Shoulders hunched.

Like a scolded dog.

“These soldiers are nearly ready,” Levana said. “Their genetic modifications are complete, their thaumaturges are prepared. The next time we strike against Earth, these men will be leading the attack, and there will be no disguising them.”

“Yes, Your Majesty.” Sybil bowed—this time Levana felt the respect rolling off her as much as heard it. “And may I also wish you my warmest congratulations on your engagement, My Queen.”

Levana’s left hand curled, her thumb running over the polished stone band on her finger. She always hid it in her glamour. She wasn’t sure that anyone alive knew she still wore it. She herself so often forgot that it was there, but her finger was tingling tonight, since Emperor Kaito’s acceptance of a marriage alliance.

“Thank you, Sybil. That will be all.”

Another bow, then the retreating footsteps.

Below, the factions were beginning to disband, their training over for the day. The thaumaturges led them off through separate caves, into the natural labyrinth beneath Luna’s surface.

It was peculiar to watch these men and boys, these creatures that had been only an experiment in her parents’ time, but had become a reality under her rule. An army faster and stronger than any other army. The intelligence of men, the instincts of wolves, the pliability of children. They made her nervous, a feeling she hadn’t experienced for many years. So many Lunars, with such peculiar brainwaves, that even she could not control them all. Not all at once.

These beasts—these scientific creations—would never love her.

Not like the people of Luna loved her.

Not like the people of Earth would soon come to.

Forty-Six

Scarlet cried for hours, curled up on the bottom bunk of her new crew quarters. Each sob pulsed through her aching muscles, but the pain only made her cry harder with the memory of it all.

The adrenaline and anger and denial had fallen away while she’d been digging through the dresser and had found a military uniform folded neatly in the bottom drawer. Though the American uniform was all gray and white, instead of the mix of blues found on European pilots, it still looked remarkably like the clothes her grandma had worn in her military days.

She’d clutched the plain white T-shirt to her and cried into it for so long it was almost as soiled as the clothes she was supposed to be changing out of.

Her entire body was throbbing as the tears finally began to dry up. Gasping for breath, she rolled onto her back and wiped the last streaks away with the cotton. Every time her crying had started to subside before, the words would echo in her head, Grand-mère is gone, and send her into another torrent. But the words were becoming hollow, the sting fading into numbness.

Her stomach growled.

Groaning, Scarlet settled a hand on top of it, wondering if she just shut her eyes and went to sleep, would her body forget that it hadn’t eaten in more than a day? But as she lay there, willing the numbness to take over, her stomach rumbled again. Louder.

Scarlet sniffed, annoyed. Grabbing hold of the bunk overhead, she pulled herself to sitting. Her head swam with dizziness and dehydration, but she managed to stumble to the door.

She heard a crash from the galley as soon as she pulled it open. Peering down the hallway, she saw Wolf hunkered over a counter, holding a tin can.

Stepping into the galley’s light, Scarlet saw that the can was labeled with a picture of cartoon-red tomatoes. Judging from the enormous dents in its side, Wolf had been trying to open it with a meat tenderizer.

He glanced up at her, and she was glad that she wasn’t the only one red faced. “Why would they put food in here if they were going to make it so hard to open?”

She bit her lip against a weak smile, not sure if it was from pity or amusement. “Did you try a can opener?”

At Wolf’s blank expression, she stepped around the table and riffled through the top drawer. “We Earthens have all sorts of special tools like this,” she said, emerging with the can opener. She clamped it around the can’s lid and slowly twisted it open.

Wolf’s ears glowed pink as he curled back the lid and frowned down at the bright red goop. “That’s not what I was expecting.”

“They’re not farm fresh like you’ve become accustomed to, but we’re just going to have to make do.” Digging through the cabinet, Scarlet cobbled together a can of olives and a jar of marinated artichoke hearts. “Here, we’ll have an antipasto.”

She felt the lightest touch against her hair and ducked away. Wolf’s hand dropped down, gripping the edge of the counter. “I’m sorry. You had—your hair—”

Setting down the jars, Scarlet felt for the back of her hair, finding it knotted and tangled as a haystack. She shoved the olives at Wolf. “Why don’t you give the can opener a try?”

Mindlessly picking at the tangles, she found a fork and sat down at the long table. It had years of military personnel’s initials carved into the top, reminding her of her prison cell in the opera house. Though being on the ship was immeasurably better than being stuck in that basement, the confinement of it still pressed in around her, almost suffocating. She knew that her grandma had probably been stationed on a similar ship during her time in the military. No wonder she’d retired to a farm, with all the sky and horizon a person could want.

She hoped that Émilie was still taking care of the animals.

When she couldn’t find any more knots, she smoothed down her hair with both hands, then twisted open the jar of artichokes. Glancing up, she saw that Wolf was still standing with the olives and tomatoes clasped in each hand.

“Are you all right?”

His eyes flashed. Panic, she thought. Maybe fear.

“Why did you bring me here?” he said. “Why didn’t you just leave me?”

Looking down, she speared an artichoke and watched the oil drizzle back into the jar. “I don’t know. I didn’t exactly stop to weigh the pros and cons.” She let the artichoke heart plop back down into the marinade. “But it didn’t feel right to leave you there.”

He turned his back on her, setting the cans on the counter, and picked up the can opener. On the third try, he managed to clip it to the olive can’s lid and twist it around the edge.

“Why didn’t you tell me the truth?” said Scarlet. “Before we got to Paris?”

“It wouldn’t have mattered.” He set the opened cans on the table. “You still would have insisted on going after your grandmother. I thought I could plead your case with Jael and convince him that you were useless to us—that he should let you go. But I could only do that if I was still loyal to them.”

Scarlet stabbed the artichoke heart again and slipped it into her mouth. She didn’t want to go over the what-ifs. She didn’t want to linger on all the choices that could have ended with her and her grandmother safely back on the farm. She didn’t even know if such choices had existed.

Dropping his gaze, Wolf eased himself onto the bench opposite her, grimacing in pain at each movement. Settled, he picked a tomato from the can and stuffed it into his mouth. His nose crinkled. He looked like he was choking down a worm as he swallowed.

Scarlet pressed her lips against a chuckle. “Makes you appreciate my garden tomatoes, doesn’t it?”

“I appreciated everything you gave me.” He picked up the can of olives and sniffed at them, wary of being tricked again. “Although I didn’t deserve any of it.”

Scarlet bit her lip. She didn’t think he was referring to the produce.

Dipping her head, she dunked her fork into the can of olives Wolf was holding, managing to spear two on its tines.

They ate in silence, Wolf discovering he liked the olives and suffering through two more soppy tomatoes before Scarlet offered him an artichoke. The combination of the two, they discovered, bordered on acceptable.

“Some bread would be nice,” Scarlet said, scanning the open shelves behind Wolf that showed mismatched plates and coffee mugs painted with the American Republic insignia.

“I’m so sorry.”

Goose bumps scattering across her arms, she dared to look at him, but he was staring at the can of tomatoes, nearly crunching it in his fists.

“I took you away from everything you cared about. And your grandmother…”

“Don’t, Wolf. Don’t do this. We can’t change what happened and … you did give me that chip. You did save me from Ran.”

He hunched his shoulders. Half his hair was messy and wild and normal, the other half still matted down with dried blood. “Jael told me he was going to torture you. He thought it would make your grandmother talk. And I just couldn’t…”

Scarlet shuddered, closing her eyes.

“I knew they would kill me when they found out, but…” He struggled for words, releasing a sharp breath. “I think I realized that I would rather die because I betrayed them, than live because I betrayed you.”

Scarlet wiped her oily fingers on her jeans.

“I was going back for you and your grandmother when I saw you being chased by Ran. My head was so jumbled, I couldn’t think straight—I honestly don’t know if I meant to help you both, or kill you. Then when Ran threw you at that statue, something just…” His knuckles whitened. He shook his head, spikes of hair flailing. “It doesn’t matter. I was too late.”

“You saved me.”

“You wouldn’t have needed saving if it wasn’t for me.”

“Oh? So if you hadn’t been chosen to bring me to them or find out what information I had, they would have left me alone? No. If it had been anyone but you, I would be dead now.”

Wolf frowned at the table.

“And I don’t believe for a second you were coming back to kill us. No matter how much control that thaumaturge had over you, it was still you in there. You weren’t going to hurt me.”

Wolf met her gaze, sad and bewildered. “I honestly hope we never have to test that theory again. Because you don’t know how close I was.”

“You still fought it.”

His face contorted, but she was glad when he didn’t argue with her. “It shouldn’t have been possible to resist him like that. What they did to us … to our brains … it changed the way we think about things. Anger and violence come so quickly, but other things … it shouldn’t even be possible.” His hand started to move toward hers, but halted halfway. He quickly withdrew, fiddling with the battered tomato label instead.

Prev page Next page