Glass Sword (Red Queen #2) by Victoria Aveyard

ONE

I flinch. The rag she gives me is clean, but it still smells like blood. I shouldn’t care. I already have blood all over my clothes. The red is mine, of course. The silver belongs to many others. Evangeline, Ptolemus, the nymph lord, all those who tried to kill me in the arena. I suppose some of it is Cal’s as well. He bled freely on the sand, cut and bruised by our would-be executioners. Now he sits across from me, staring at his feet, letting his wounds begin the slow process of healing naturally. I glance at one of the many cuts on my arms, probably from Evangeline. Still fresh, and deep enough to leave a scar. Part of me delights in the thought. This jagged gash will not be magically wiped away by a healer’s cold hands. Cal and I are not in the Silver world anymore, with someone to simply erase our well-earned scars. We have escaped. Or at least, I have. Cal’s chains are a firm reminder of his captivity.

Farley nudges my hand, her touch surprisingly gentle. “Hide your face, lightning girl. It’s what they’re after.”

For once, I do as I’m told. The others follow, pulling red fabric up over their mouths and noses. Cal is the last uncovered face, but not for long. He doesn’t fight Farley when she ties his mask into place, making him look like one of us.

If only he was.

An electric hum sets my blood on fire, reminding me of the pulsing, screeching Undertrain. It carries us inexorably forward, to a city that was once a haven. The train races, screaming over ancient tracks like a Silver swift running over open ground. I listen to the grating metal, feel it deep in my bones where a cold ache settles in. My rage, my strength back in the arena seem like faraway memories, leaving behind only pain and fear. I can scarcely imagine what Cal must be thinking. He’s lost everything, everything he ever held dear. A father, a brother, a kingdom. How he’s holding himself together, still but for the rocking of the train, I do not know.

No one needs to tell me the reason for our haste. Farley and her Guardsmen, tense as coiled wire, are enough explanation for me. We are still running.

Maven came this way before, and Maven will come again. This time with the fury of his soldiers, his mother, and his new crown. Yesterday he was a prince; today he is king. I thought he was my friend, my betrothed, now I know better.

Once, I trusted him. Now I know to hate him, to fear him. He helped kill his father for a crown, and framed his brother for the crime. He knows the radiation surrounding the ruined city is a lie—a trick—and he knows where the train leads. The sanctuary Farley built is no longer safe, not for us. Not for you.

We could already be speeding into a trap.

An arm tightens around me, sensing my unease. Shade. I still can’t believe my brother is here, alive and, strangest of all, like me. Red and Silver—and stronger than both.

“I won’t let them take you again,” he murmurs, so low I can barely hear him. I suppose loyalty to anyone but the Scarlet Guard, even family, is not allowed. “I promise you that.”

His presence is soothing, pulling me backward in time. Past his conscription, to a rainy spring when we could still pretend to be children. Nothing existed but the mud, the village, and our foolish habit of ignoring the future. Now the future is all I think of, wondering what dark path my actions have set us upon.

“What are we going to do now?” I direct the question at Farley, but my eyes find Kilorn. He stands at her shoulder, a dutiful guardian with a clenched jaw and bloody bandages. To think he was a fisherman’s apprentice not so long ago. Like Shade, he seems out of place, a ghost of a time before all this.

“There’s always somewhere to run,” Farley replies, more focused on Cal than anything else.

She expects him to fight, to resist, but he does neither.

“You keep your hands on her,” Farley says, turning back to Shade after a long moment. My brother nods, and his palm feels heavy on my shoulder. “She cannot be lost.”

I am not a general or a tactician, but her reasoning is clear. I am the little lightning girl—living electricity, a lightning bolt in human form. People know my name, my face, and my abilities. I am valuable, I am powerful, and Maven will do anything to stop me from striking back. How my brother can protect me from the twisted new king, even though he is like me, even though he’s the fastest thing I’ve ever seen, I do not know. But I must believe, even if it seems a miracle. After all, I have seen so many impossible things. Another escape will be the least of them.

The click and slide of gun barrels echo down the train as the Guard makes ready. Kilorn shifts to stand over me, swaying slightly, his grip tight on the rifle slung across his chest. He glances down, his expression soft. He tries to smirk, to make me laugh, but his bright green eyes are grave and afraid.

In contrast, Cal sits quietly, almost peaceful. Though he has the most to fear—chained, surrounded by enemies, hunted by his own brother—he looks serene. I’m not surprised. He’s a soldier born and bred. War is something he understands, and we are certainly at war now.

“I hope you don’t plan to fight,” he says, speaking for the first time in many long minutes. His eyes are on me, but his words bite at Farley. “I hope you plan to run.”

“Save your breath, Silver.” She squares her shoulders. “I know what we have to do.”

I can’t stop the words from bursting out. “So does he.” The glare she turns on me burns, but I’ve dealt with worse. I don’t even flinch. “Cal knows how they fight, he knows what they’ll do to stop us. Use him.”

How does it feel to be used? He spit those words at me in the prison beneath the Bowl of Bones and it made me want to die. Now it barely stings.

She doesn’t say anything, and that is enough for Cal.

“They’ll have Snapdragons,” he says grimly.

Kilorn laughs aloud. “Flowers?”

“Airjets,” Cal says, his eyes sparking with distaste. “Orange wings, silver bodies, single pilot, easy to maneuver, perfect for an urban assault. They carry four missiles each. Times one squadron, that’s forty-eight missiles you’re going to have to outrun, plus light ammunition. Can you handle that?”

He’s met only with silence. No, we can’t.

“And the Dragons are the least of our worries. They’ll just circle, defend a perimeter, keep us in place until ground troops arrive.”

He lowers his eyes, thinking quickly. He’s wondering what he would do, if he were on the other side of this. If he were king instead of Maven. “They’ll surround us and present terms. Mare and I for your escape.”

Another sacrifice. Slowly, I suck in a breath. This morning, yesterday, before all this madness, I would have been glad to give myself over to save just Kilorn and my brother. But now . . . now I know I am special. Now I have others to protect. Now I cannot be lost.

“We can’t agree to that,” I say. A bitter truth. Kilorn’s gaze weighs heavy, but I don’t look up. I can’t stomach his judgment.

Cal is not so harsh. He nods, agreeing with me. “The king doesn’t expect us to give in,” he replies. “The jets will bring the ruins down on us, and the rest will mop up the survivors. It will be little more than a massacre.”

Farley is a creature of pride, even now when she’s terribly cornered. “What do you suggest?” she asks, bending over him. Her words drip disdain. “Total surrender?”