Winter, p.30
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       Winter, p.30
 

         Part #4 of The Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer  

  That was all. Two thaumaturges and two guards killed, Aimery injured. That was all she had gotten from Maha’s sacrifice, and the brave deaths of two other innocent civilians.

  Cinder was more angry than afraid, feeding on Wolf’s devastation and the horror of all the blank faces around her, all these people used like marionettes.

  She believed what she’d said before. Levana could kill her, but Cinder had to believe her death wouldn’t be the end. This revolution no longer belonged to her.

  Forty-One

  “They’re coming,” said Scarlet, snarling as she backed away from the window. Her first shot had been low, hitting Aimery’s thigh when she’d been aiming for his head. Her second shot had hit the fountain, useless, before the crowd had been too thick to keep firing. She had heard at least three shots coming from Thorne but didn’t know if he’d had any more success.

  Cinder and Wolf were like hogs in a slaughterhouse down there, and she and Thorne would be close behind if they didn’t get out, now.

  Thorne grabbed the helmet he’d stolen from the guard and pulled it over his head, transforming from her friend to her enemy. She hoped the transformation was as convincing to the Lunars. “Give me your gun,” he said. She hesitated only briefly before handing it over. Thorne pocketed it and grabbed her elbow, dragging her toward the staircase.

  They were on the first landing when footsteps stampeded through the bottom level.

  “Found one!” Thorne yelled, making her jump. He held his gun to Scarlet’s head as he dragged her to the bottom of the stairs. Four guards surrounded them. “There were two gunmen. The other might have run, but check the top floors to be sure. I’ve got this one.”

  Scarlet pretended to thrash against his hold as Thorne dragged her past the guards, oozing authority. The guards charged up the stairs. The second they were gone, Thorne swiveled around and released her. They ran for the back exit, dashing into the alley behind the factory.

  Already the brawl was over, judging from the dreadful silence that filled the dome.

  Thorne turned away from the factory, but Scarlet grabbed his arm. “Wait.”

  He looked back, his gaze harsh, but maybe that was the effect of the face mask.

  “We have to try to help them,” she said.

  His brow wrinkled. “You saw how easily they took down Cinder and Wolf, and you think we can do something to help them?”

  She didn’t. She honestly didn’t.

  But if she didn’t even try …

  “Give me my gun,” she said, holding out her hand.

  Thorne stared at her.

  “Give me my gun.”

  With a huff, he pulled the gun from his waistband and shoved it into her palm. Scarlet spun away, not sure if he would follow. He did.

  When they turned the first corner she could see the square. The citizens who had risen up to attack Cinder and Wolf were all kneeling again, placid, as if the fight hadn’t even happened.

  Scarlet wondered how long it would take those guards to search the factory. She wondered if she was crazy not to turn and run.

  The gun was warm in her hand, the handle leaving imprints in her skin. There had been a time when holding a weapon had offered a sense of protection, but that comfort was compromised knowing how easily Lunars could turn the weapon against her.

  Still, if she could get close enough she could get off a shot or two, and this time she wouldn’t miss.

  How close could she get before they detected her? Would the size of the crowd help to hide her, or would she be caught up in the same brainwashing trick as soon as she got too close? She didn’t know how it worked or how vulnerable she would be. She was wishing now that she had asked Cinder more about it when she’d had the chance.

  They moved stealthily, Thorne silent behind her.

  She stopped when she could pick out Wolf and Cinder among their enemies. They both had their hands bound behind them now. Wolf’s shoulders were hunched. He was looking at the ground.

  No, she realized with a shudder. He was looking at Maha.

  Fury ignited in her gut. They had taken everything from Wolf. His freedom, his childhood, his entire family, and he had done nothing, nothing, to deserve it.

  She wanted to avenge him. To take him away from this horrible dust-mottled place. To offer him a life of blue skies and tomatoes and peace.

  Scarlet tightened her grip on the gun, feeling the familiar press of the trigger.

  But she was too far away. She had a better chance of hitting an ally than an enemy from here.

  Heart thumping, Scarlet scrutinized the narrow alley, estimating how many steps she could take and still stay hidden. There was a doorway set into the factory wall she could duck into, but being seen wasn’t her biggest concern, not when Lunars could sense her.

  Letting out a slow breath, she raised the gun and lined up the sights, targeting Aimery’s heart. She held her aim for three breaths before she huffed and lowered the weapon again. She’d been right before. Too far away.

  Again, she considered moving closer. Again, she hesitated.

  Then she noticed a shift in Wolf’s posture. His head turned in her direction.

  It was a subtle change, almost unremarkable. He didn’t look at her. He didn’t make any move to suggest he had picked out her scent among all these people, but Scarlet knew he had. There was a tension to his shoulders that hadn’t been there moments before.

  Her heart somersaulted. She imagined being caught. Wolf, watching, as they put a gun to her head. Wolf, powerless, as she was handed another hatchet. Wolf, whose mother had just been killed in front of him while he could do nothing to stop it.

  Scarlet’s body shook as the memory of her grandmother’s death hit her like a hammer to her skull. The despair that had engulfed her. All the fury and hatred and the certainty thumping into her again and again that she should have been able to stop it.

  But she couldn’t have stopped it.

  Just like Wolf couldn’t have protected Maha. Just like he wouldn’t be able to protect her.

  She couldn’t do that to him.

  Scarlet scrunched up her face, choking back a violent scream.

  Don’t react, Scarlet, she told herself. Don’t react.

  She lowered the gun and stepped back. She looked up at Thorne, and though there was pain etched into his brow, too, he nodded in understanding.

  Aimery’s calm voice drifted toward them. “Linh Cinder will be tried and no doubt executed for her crimes against the crown. It is by the queen’s mercy alone that I will spare the rest of your lives. But take note that anyone caught speaking of the cyborg and her treasonous plots or conducting any sort of rebellious activity will receive a swift punishment.”

  Scarlet glanced back in time to see a guard shove Wolf hard between the shoulder blades, and he and Cinder were led away.

  * * *

  “Princess!” Iko said, keeping her volume as loud as she dared, which wasn’t all that loud considering. “Princess, where are you?” She backtracked through the house, scouring each room for the third time. Winter was not in any cabinets or closets. She was not under Maha’s bed. She was not in the tiny shower or …

  Well, that was it. Those were the only hiding places.

  It was a really small house and Winter wasn’t there.

  Iko returned to the living room, feeling the rumble of her fan in her chest, air escaping through the porous fibers in her back. She was still overheated from the run through the sector, dodging in and out of abandoned homes in an attempt to be discreet.

  Had Winter already been found? Was she too late?

  She didn’t have the answers. She forced herself to pause and organize the information she did have.

  Levana’s minions were in RM-9. They had rounded up every citizen and she was relatively certain it wasn’t to throw them a party.

  Cinder and the others were still in that factory, as far as she knew, and she would have no way of knowing if they were safe until she saw them again.


  She did not know where Princess Winter was.

  She considered her options. Sneaking back to the factory to rejoin Cinder seemed like a logical next step, but she would be endangering herself by doing so. This didn’t bother her so much as her fear of falling into enemy hands. Lunars didn’t seem to know much about android data systems, but if they managed to dissect her programming they would find a lot of confidential information about Cinder and her strategies.

  She could wait for her friends to return, safe and unharmed, but this option went against her most basic programming. She despised being useless.

  She was still debating when she heard heavy footsteps outside the front door. Iko startled and ran into the kitchen, tucking herself beneath a counter.

  The door banged open. Someone entered and Iko picked out the slight auditory differences in the footsteps. Three intruders were inside the house.

  They stopped in the main room.

  A male voice said, “The database confirms this as the residence of Maha Kesley.”

  A short silence was followed by a female voice. “I sense someone, but their energy is faint. Perhaps muffled behind a barrier of some sort.”

  Iko frowned. Surely they couldn’t sense her? Cinder had always insisted that Iko could not be detected by the Lunar gift, given that she didn’t produce bioelectricity.

  “In my experience with the cyborg,” said a third voice, also male, “she does not always react as one would expect to mind control and manipulation. Perhaps she is capable of disguising her energy as well?”

  “Perhaps,” said the woman, though she sounded doubtful. “Kinney, search the perimeter and neighboring homes. Jerrico, check the bedrooms.”

  “Yes, Mistress Pereira.”

  The footsteps scattered. The front door shut again.

  It was a small house. Only moments had passed before the woman entered the tiny kitchen and Iko saw the fluttering sleeves of a red thaumaturge coat. She came to stand in the center of the closet-size kitchen, so close Iko could have touched her. But she didn’t look down or bother to open any of the cupboards.

  From her crouched position, Iko stared up at the woman’s profile. Her gray hair was cut in a bob, and though she was one of the older thaumaturges Iko had seen, she was still beautiful, with sharp cheekbones and full lips. Her hands were tucked into her sleeves.

  She stood still for a long moment, her brow drawn. Iko suspected she was searching for more traces of bioelectricity, and it became clear she was not about to notice Iko beside her.

  Iko held still, glad she didn’t have to stifle her breathing—good stars above, when she’d been trapped in the spaceship closet with Cinder and the others, the noise of their combined breaths had been earsplitting.

  But then her fan kicked in again.

  The woman glanced down and started.

  Iko raised a hand in greeting. “Hello.”

  The thaumaturge studied her for a long, long moment, before she stammered, “A shell?”

  “Close.” Iko snatched a dish towel off the counter and lunged for the woman. A yelp escaped before Iko pressed the towel against her face, stifling the scream. The thaumaturge thrashed, but Iko held her firm against the wall, biting back her instinctive apology as she watched the woman’s face pale, her eyes widen in panic.

  “Just pass out,” Iko said, trying to sound comforting, “and I’ll let you go.”

  “Hey!”

  She snapped her head around as a royal guard spotted them through the kitchen window. He ran for the back door and swung it open and …

  Holy stars almighty.

  She’d always thought Kai was the most attractive human specimen she’d ever seen, but this man was devastingly beautiful, with tan skin and roguish wavy hair, and he was …

  He was …

  Pointing a gun at her.

  Iko yanked the thaumaturge in front of her at the same moment he pulled the trigger. The bullet hit the woman somewhere in her torso and she collapsed, already weak from Iko’s suffocation.

  Iko dropped the woman and hurled herself over the body, grappling for the guard’s gun. He swung her around, knocking her back into the counter. The impact reverberated through Iko’s limbs. The guard yanked the gun away and swung his opposite fist toward Iko’s face. Her head snapped back and she stumbled two, three steps, before colliding with the stove. The guard cursed, shaking out his hand.

  Iko was just thinking that she should have installed some martial arts programming when a second gunshot jolted through her audio receptors. She flinched and clamped her hands over her ears, dialing down the volume even though it was too late.

  When her thoughts cleared, she saw the guard staring at her with an open mouth and saucer-wide eyes, his hands still gripping the gun. “What … what are you?”

  She looked down. There was a hole in her chest, revealing sparking wires and frayed synthetic skin tissue. She groaned. “I just had that replaced!”

  “You’re…” The guard took a step back. “I’d heard of Earthen machines that could … that were … but you…” His face contorted, and Iko had spent enough time analyzing facial muscles to recognize this expression as complete, unbridled disgust.

  Indignation flared inside her, probably seeping out through the new hole in her chest. “It’s not polite to stare, you know!”

  A form appeared in the door leading to the main room. Another guard, and this one Iko recognized as one from Levana’s personal entourage. He had been part of the team that had accosted them on the rooftop in New Beijing. “What happened?” he barked, taking in the fallen thaumaturge and the pretty guard’s lowered weapon and Iko.

  Recognition flitted through his eyes and he grinned. “Nice find, Kinney. I guess this trip wasn’t as pointless as I thought.” He stepped over the thaumaturge’s body.

  Iko raised her fists, trying to recall all those fighting pointers Wolf had given Cinder.

  “Where’s the cyborg?” asked the guard.

  Iko snarled at him. “Bite me.”

  He raised an eyebrow. “Tempt me.”

  “Sir Solis,” said the other guard, Kinney, “she’s not … it isn’t human.”

  “Clearly,” he drawled, glancing at the bullet hole in her chest cavity. “I guess we’ll have to get creative with how we extract information from her. I mean, it.”

  He swung for her. Iko ducked and swung back, but he trapped her easily. Before her processor could catch up, he had her hands locked behind her back. Iko struggled, trying to stomp on the arch of his foot, but he evaded every attempt. He was laughing as he bound her hands and spun her back to face him.

  “All that Earthen technology,” he said, pulling aside the fabric of her shirt to pick at the destroyed skin fibers, “yet you’re somehow still completely worthless.”

  Hot anger turned her vision red. “I’ll show you worthless!”

  Before she could show him anything, though, a banshee’s scream filled the kitchen and a kitchen knife slashed toward Jerrico’s shoulder. He gasped and dodged. The blade cut through his sleeve, leaving a bright red gash. Iko stumbled back.

  Jerrico spun around and slammed the attacker against the wall, holding her throat in one hand while the other wrestled for her wrist, securing her knife hand.

  Winter didn’t let go of the knife or her wild-eyed loathing. She brought her knee up, right between his legs. Jerrico grunted and pulled her away from the wall, just to slam her back again. This time, Winter wheezed, the air pushed out of her lungs.

  “Kinney, watch the android,” Jerrico said through his teeth.

  Iko swiveled her attention from Princess Winter to the too-handsome-to-be-such-a-jerk guard, but Kinney no longer cared about her. His face was horrified as Jerrico held the princess by her throat. “That’s Princess Winter! Unhand her!”

  A humorless laugh erupted from Jerrico. “I know who it is, idiot. Just like I know she’s supposed to be dead.”

  “I heard she was dead too, but clearly she’s not. Rel
ease her.”

  Rolling his eyes, Jerrico turned and dragged Winter off the wall. “No, she’s supposed to be dead. The queen ordered her to be killed, but it seems like someone didn’t have the stomach for it.” Winter slumped forward but he dragged her back up, holding her against his chest. “What a lucky catch. I’ve been waiting to have you alone for years, but that annoying Sir Clay was always hanging around like a vulture on dead meat.” Jerrico dragged his thumb along Winter’s jaw. “Doesn’t look like he’s here now, does it, Princess?”

  Winter’s lashes fluttered. Her eyes were dazed as she looked at Kinney. “You…”

  “Hey.” Jerrico forced her chin around to face him. “You’re my prize, Princess. So what reward do you think I’ll get for bringing your dead body to the queen? I don’t think she’ll care what state it’s in, and as an added bonus, I can prove that your boyfriend is a traitor after all.”

  Iko yanked at her hands, trying to disconnect her thumbs from their sockets and shimmy out of the cords, but she couldn’t get enough leverage with her arms so tightly bound.

  She was about to throw herself forward and ram into Jerrico’s spine with all the force her metal skull could muster when Winter collapsed, as limp as a rag doll.

  Jerrico startled, barely able to regain his hold on her. In the same moment, Winter plunged the forgotten knife into his side.

  Jerrico yelled and released her. Winter stumbled out of his grip, but he grabbed her wrist and yanked her back, then backhanded her across the face. Winter fell. Her head crashed into the edge of the counter.

  Iko screamed as the princess’s body crumpled to the floor.

  With a stream of curses, Jerrico wrapped his hand around the knife handle, but didn’t pull it from the wound. His face was as red as his hair as he snarled at the princess. “What a stupid, crazy—”

  He hauled back his foot to kick her, when Kinney raised his gun and fired. The shot knocked Jerrico against the wall.

  Iko recoiled. No matter how many brawls and fights she found herself in, she was always stunned at how much more horrible the reality was than the net dramas. Even the death of such a despicable guard, his face contorted in disbelief as the life drained out of it, made her grimace.

 
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