Treachery, p.1Andrea Cremer
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A division of Penguin Young Readers Group.
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The weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest, either by secret machination, or by confederacy with others.
Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan
THE PAIN NO LONGER kept me awake, no matter how much I needed it to. Sleep would kill me. I was sure of it.
I tried to move as often as possible, forcing my body to remember that it was bruised, scraped raw in ways that should always jolt me back to the present moment. Pressing up against the cold steel of the cell walls, I sucked in a sharp breath when the icy surface met my skin through the ruins of my clothes. But I didn’t relax. I couldn’t. No matter how much my bones were screaming at me to collapse. To puddle onto the floor, letting go of the conscious world.
I’d let it happen before, more than once. When exhaustion pushed on my head and shoulders, forcing them to the ground. When everything that had happened shoved my eyelids down with tears burning beneath them. That was the most dangerous time because I couldn’t hold my mind in check. I couldn’t fight off the swell of feelings that rose up, choking me with confusion, fear, and regret.
The torture I could take—at least until it killed me. But I’d quickly learned that my mind was the real problem. When that broke, I’d give up. And I was so close to breaking. I no longer remembered how much time had passed between being shoved into this cell and now. I knew I existed on the verge of losing it. And it got much worse whenever I passed out.
Because I only had two dreams.
I never knew which one would take me when staying awake slipped out of my control.
But they were both deadly.
Everyone is here. My whole life, embodied by the wolves I live with and the witches who rule us. The Keepers stand apart, but still in sight, tall shadows illuminated by firelight and moonlight. Nightshades and Banes ring us—shadows lurking in the woods just behind the pack. The new pack. My pack. Haldis.
The air is static with anticipation and I can hardly keep still. Bryn stands opposite me, but I can see her through the leaping flames of the bonfire. The burning pile of logs sends glossy waves of heat into the night sky. Above us the blood moon is bathed in ochre and crimson.
Voices join the smoke and flames that leap skyward. First Nev. Then Sabine. I haven’t heard this song before. It’s nothing like Nev’s tunes when he plays at the Burnout, or favors the pack with an impromptu, exclusive acoustic set. The minor key of this melody is old, but it feels familiar. Already I want to howl—to lend my voice to the ancient song that speaks of loyalty, honor, courage. But it’s not time yet.
My eyes meet Bryn’s in the flickering light.
I love you, I mouth. I see her eyes brim and dimples appear on her cheeks when she smiles at me.
It’s almost here. The moment where we’ll be together. Living together. Our future.
The song ends, though Nev and Sabine’s voices linger in the air, filling the forest a moment longer.
Without a word, we shift. All the wolves. I lift my muzzle, staring at the blood moon, and howl with all my being. My call is a hundred calls. I’ve never heard all the voices of the Nightshade and Bane packs united. It sends electric waves beneath my fur. We are the night. We are power.
In his wolf form, Ren steps from the shadows, dark as the smoke rising from the bonfire. He stands before us. The only wolf not joining in our song. He waits, alert and unwavering. Our alpha.
I continue to sing, though I’ve drawn my eyes from the moon to search the edge of the trees for my sister. I think of how her white wolf will look like a ghost materializing from the dark. How her light will contrast the shadow gray of Ren’s coat.
I don’t see her.
We’re still singing, but the mood of the packs ripples. Ren stirs, turning in an anxious circle as his gaze darts to the forest.
Where is she? Bryn’s thought enters my mind.
I force my tone to be light when I answer. Cold feet?
God, I hope not. Bryn has stopped howling. Beside her, Sabine bares her teeth.
Mason whimpers in my ear. Something’s wrong.
I don’t answer. I don’t want to. The thrill of the night racing through my veins has grown cold.
The chorus of howls falters. Intermittent snarls and low growls begin to filter through.
The Keepers, who’ve been standing apart, silent and watchful, begin to move. Efron Bane, standing with Logan and Lumine, suddenly shouts:
“Emile! To me.”
I watch the burly Bane alpha lope to his master’s side. I can’t hear what Efron says, but a moment later Emile is racing into the forest with five elder Banes at his heels.
A large, dark shape shoulders into me. My father doesn’t say anything, but I can feel the tension in his body. The way he’s standing is defensive, as if he expects an attack at any moment.
My hackles raise, but I force myself to stay still.
Bryn creeps across the circle, standing close to me but careful not to touch me. There are too many watchful eyes here. What if she’s hurt?
What could hurt Calla? I ask, but my stomach is knotted.
The other young wolves begin to cluster and I notice that we’ve split into our former groups. Sabine, Dax, Ren, and Nev huddle together. Mason and Fey appear at Bryn’s flank.
New howls echo in the woods and I jump. The Banes’ call is alarmed and furious.
Stay close, my father says as a low growl rumbles in his chest.
My mother comes to his side, pressing her muzzle against his.
I wish I knew what she was saying to him.
Emile bursts from the trees, shifting form as he reaches Efron. He keeps his voice low, but I watch the Keeper’s face contort with outrage. Efron points at us and Emile grins. He’s a wolf again, barreling toward my parents.
My father jumps in front of my mother and Emile stops just short of him. His teeth are bared and drool slips from his jaws.
What do we do? Bryn is trembling beside me. What’s happening?
I don’t know. My hackles are raised, but we can’t attack a Bane alpha. Can we?
As my father and Emile stare at each other, fur bristling and muscles quivering with rage, Lumine and Efron move together, closing the space that had separated the Keepers from the wolves.
Lumine passes Emile without a glance. Her eyes are cold as they pass over my mother to rest on my father.
“This will be much more pleasant if you stand down, Stephen,”
Keeping his eyes on Lumine, my father shifts form.
“Mistress, please.” He bows his head. “What’s happening? Where’s my daughter?”
Lumine stiffens, but Efron smiles.
“That is something we’d all like to know,” he says. He flicks his wrist and Emile lunges forward, knocking my still-human father to the ground.
The squeal of the cell door opening woke me. I cemented my jaw shut, forcing myself to swallow the sob at the back of my throat.
I knew what I’d see next: the slithering movement of a wraith. The Keepers sent them in at least twice a day.
But today—whatever day that was—something different came through the door. Something worse.
I recognized him immediately. The dark fur and smoky eyes. The confidence in his stride.
Ren. In wolf form.
It was the first time I’d seen him since the Chamber. Since my mother’s throat had been torn out. And then they’d taken Ren . . . and given him to wraiths. That was something we’d shared. Torment by the Keepers’ shadow pets.
Looking at Ren now, it was clear that we no longer had that in common. In this cell, I was a husk of what I’d been. My body was barely covered by tattered scraps of formal wear, but my skin was marbled by indigo, sickly green, and gray-blue bruising. I was caked in my own filth.
Ren was none of these things. He looked ... well.
And he was a wolf.
Rolling onto my back, I pushed myself against the wall until I was sitting up as much as I possibly could. Some of my muscles refused to fully stretch out anymore.
I wanted to glare at him, to show him how much I hated him, but I couldn’t look at him. I couldn’t look at a wolf without falling apart, and the Keepers knew that. They knew seeing him would be that much worse than being a wraith’s bitch for yet another day.
My mind was bursting with questions about what had changed. Why was I still being tortured while Ren had been made whole? But I couldn’t risk asking. Somewhere in the sliver of my mind that still functioned, I knew I didn’t want the answers.
Keeping my eyes downcast, I croaked, “Get out.”
My throat shrieked at the effort; it was still raw from all the screaming. Those were the first words I’d spoken in days.
Ren didn’t give any sign he’d heard me. I glanced up and saw that he had lain down, though his head was still lifted. His gaze was fixed on me, unwavering.
I turned my head, resting my cheek on the frigid metal wall.
We stayed like that for so long. I didn’t look at him again. I stayed silent, curling in on myself, pretending that his presence was only making me angry. But I wasn’t angry, and after a while, tears I could no longer hold back began to drip onto my cheeks.
I heard the click of his toenails on the steel floor. He stopped next to me and shifted into human form.
Still crouched close, he whispered, “She did this to you.”
An invisible hand began to crush my throat. I closed my eyes, shaking my head, afraid to do anything else.
The stiff denim of Ren’s jeans rustled as he rose and walked away from me. “Coming out!”
The door squealed open, then clanged shut.
I was alone again.
The other dream was worse. Worse because I always knew it was a dream but I couldn’t get out of it. I didn’t want to. Worse because it meant I cared about myself more than my sister’s betrayal, than my mother dying, than my friends’ suffering.
The high forest that skirts Haldis is my favorite. I’m tearing through it at the best time of day. Just before dawn. The ground is still laced with mist that comes up to my chest. The air is alive with scents. The day stretches out before me, brimming with possibilities.
I’m light as the wind when I run. If I could race the slightest bit faster, I’d be flying. The forest knows me. Deer flit out of my path. Rabbits dash for their warrens, not wanting to become a morning snack.
A clear, commanding bark catches my attention. Calla stands on a ridge, a few yards ahead of me. She wags her tail, barks again, and jumps from the ledge. She lands on the forest floor, even closer now. With a yip, she wheels and takes off.
I know this game. We’ve played it since we were pups.
She wants me to catch her, but she’s always been able to outrun me. But I’m older now. Taller. Stronger. This time I will catch her. This time she’ll be proud that her little brother isn’t so little anymore.
I keep pace with her, though she twists and turns, making a maze of the tall pines. We reach an open meadow as the sunrise hits it. Tall grasses wink with dew. Wildflowers turn their faces to the light.
With a bark to let her know that I’m about to overtake her, I lunge forward. The ground churns beneath my paws. My toenails dig into the dirt, propelling me ever faster.
But something isn’t right. My body feels heavy. I should be running faster, but I’m slowing down. My bones ache. My muscles shriek as I feel them stretching too far, and then tearing.
I can’t feel the wolf, only my human form, which is a painful hulk of flesh and blood. I drop to my knees when I see it. The wolf that was me is still running. Each stride brings it closer to Calla. My wolf runs with his alpha, free and full of joy.
I’m kneeling in the dirt and I begin to scream, “Calla! Calla!”
But she doesn’t come back.
My mouth was open, my throat on fire. I knew it was the screaming that woke me. I’d been calling out my sister’s name in my sleep. That had happened too many times. It seemed to be the only thing that could pull me from that particular nightmare. And this time the dream had held me captive, even through the door opening and closing. Even through someone joining me in the room.
Ren was taking his turn as my cellmate again. He was also in wolf form again, but when he saw my eyes open, he shifted into his human body.
For a moment I felt grateful, but a wave of sickness pushed any relief away. I hated that nightmare so much. Pushing myself to my hands and knees, I crawled to the opposite side of the room.
“Bad dreams?” Ren asked.
I laughed, but what came out was a cracked, gurgling sound.
Ren jumped to his feet, and I marveled at the quickness and ease of his movement.
“Coming out!” Ren called through the small slit high in the cell door. But when the door opened, he didn’t leave. I heard him murmur quietly to whoever stood guard in the hall. A couple minutes passed. I didn’t move. Ren didn’t move.
With another quiet word, Ren closed the door and I noticed that he now had a glass of water. He walked slowly to my side. He approached with caution, as if I might attack him. I wanted to laugh, but I couldn’t bear to hear that awful sound again.
“Drink this.” He offered me the glass. When he saw how badly my hand was shaking, he put the lip of the glass to my mouth without asking.
Instinct overpowered my desire to shove the glass away. I doubted I could do anything close to shoving anyway. I probably couldn’t swat a fly away.
I swallowed through the rawness of my throat. My tongue was thick and parched in my mouth.
When Ren took away the glass, letting me catch my breath, he said, “They told me they were giving you food and water.”
I was surprised to see him frown.
He gave me another swallow and I decided to try talking again.
“They do,” I rasped. “But not that often.”
“I’ll fix that,” he said. “There’s no reason to treat you this poorly.”
My lip cracked when I smiled. “Since they’re going to kill me soon enough anyway.”
The news of my execution didn’t come as a surprise. I’d been expecting it every day. Even after I lost count of days. At this point I was ready to welcome it. I wondered if Bryn was dead. And Mason. Had the Keepers decided to eliminate all the young Nightshades?
I squeezed my eyes shut tight, having made that terrible mistake: thinkin
“They’re not going to kill you.” Ren’s voice broke through my slide into despair over Bryn.
I forced my eyelids up. “Why not?”
“Because it wasn’t your fault,” he answered. “It was hers.”
My mind flashed back to the dream. Calla’s wolf running free, running away from me no matter how much I cried out to her.
I knew Ren could read the pain on my face, though I’d looked away from him.
“How do you think I feel?” he asked.
Turning my gaze back to him, I searched his dark eyes. Behind the strength and health of his body I could still see it—he was haunted. Something in him was broken and bleeding. But he was still a wolf. And I couldn’t forgive him for that.
“I don’t have anything to say to you,” I said, though I couldn’t muster any heat with the words. “The Keepers can do what they want to me. I have nothing more to lose.”
“But you have a lot to gain,” Ren countered.
My heart pumped harder, in a way I wished it hadn’t. I squirmed another foot away from him.
“No,” I whispered. “I don’t.”
Ren didn’t try to approach me, but from where he sat he spoke slowly. “I think we feel something similar. About being left behind. About being betrayed.”
I didn’t answer him. Bile began to climb from my stomach into my throat.
“But I can’t imagine how you feel now,” Ren continued. “Without your wolf.”
My fingers curled against the cold metal floor. I couldn’t speak. Shame and sorrow were rising up, threatening to drown me.
“They did the worst thing they could to you,” he said, bowing his head. “They know that. But Ansel, can you imagine how angry Calla made them? She spit in their faces. She turned against everything she’s ever been given, and they gave her all she could want.”
Treachery by Andrea Cremer / Young Adult / Fantasy have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on25 votes