Home > Steel Scars (Red Queen 0.2)(5)

Steel Scars (Red Queen 0.2)(5)
Victoria Aveyard

The Red Watch forms a police force of sorts, upholding what Red justice they can, protecting and enforcing laws Silver Security won’t bother with. They settle Red disputes and crimes committed against our own, to prevent any more abuse by merciless, Silver-blooded hands. Their work is acknowledged, tolerated even by the officers of the city, and for this reason, I will not go to them. Noble as their cause might be, they run too close to Silvers for my taste.

But the Seaskulls, a glorified gang, make me just as wary. They are violent by all accounts, a trait I would normally admire. Their business is blood, and they have the feel of a rabid dog. Vicious, relentless, and stupid, their members are often executed and quickly replaced. They maintain control of their sector of the city through murder and blackmail, and often find themselves at odds with their rival operation, the Mariners.

Who I must assess for myself.

“You’re Lamb, I presume.”

I turn on my heel, away from the horizon stretching in all directions.

The man I assume to be Egan leans against the opposite windows, either unaware or unafraid of the fact that nothing but aged glass stands between him and a long fall. Like me, he’s putting on a charade, showing the cards he wants while hiding the rest.

I came here with only Tristan to present a certain image. Egan, flanked by Melody and a troop of Mariners, elects to show his strength. To impress me. Good.

He crosses his arms, displaying two muscled and scarred forearms marked with twin anchor tattoos. I’m reminded of the Colonel, though they look nothing alike. Egan is short, squat, barrel-chested, with sun-damaged skin and long, salt-worn hair in a tangled plait. I don’t doubt he’s spent half his life on a boat.

“Or at least, that’s whatever code name you’ve been saddled with,” Egan continues, grinning. He’s missing a good amount of teeth. “Am I right?”

I shrug, noncommittal. “Does my name matter?”

“Not at all. Only your intentions. And those are?”

Matching his grin, I cross to the center of the room, careful to avoid the sunken circle where the lighthouse lantern used to live. “I believe you know that already.” My orders stated contact was made, but not to what extent. A necessary omission, to make sure outsiders cannot use our correspondence against us.

“Yes, well, I know well enough the goals and tactics of your people, but I’m talking to you. What are you here for?”

Your people. The words twinge, tugging at my brain. I’ll decipher them later. I wish very much for a fistfight, instead of this nauseating game of back-and-forth. I’d rather a black eye than a puzzle.

“My goal is to establish open lines of communication. You’re a smuggling operation, and having friends across the border is beneficial to us both.” With another winning smile, I run my fingers through my braided hair. “I’m just a messenger, sir.”

“Oh, I don’t think I’d ever call a captain of the Scarlet Guard just a messenger.”

This time, Tristan keeps still. It’s my turn to react, despite my training. Egan doesn’t miss my eyes widen or my cheeks flush. His deputies, Melody especially, have the audacity to smirk among themselves.

Your people. The Scarlet Guard. He’s met us before.

“I’m not the first, then.”

Another manic grin. “Not by a long shot. We’ve been running goods for yours since . . .” He glances at Melody, pausing for effect. “Two years ago, was it?”

“September 300, Boss,” she replies.

“Ah, yes. I take it you don’t know anything about that, Sheep.”

I fight the urge to grit my teeth and growl. Discretion, the orders said. I doubt tossing one up-jumped criminal from his decaying tower is considered discreet. “It’s not our way.” And that’s the only explanation I offer. Because while Egan thinks himself above me, far more informed than I am, he’s wrong. He has no idea what we are, what we’ve done, and how much more we plan to do. He can’t even fathom it.

“Well, your comrades pay well, that’s for certain.” He jingles a bracelet, nicely crafted silver, braided like rope. “I expect you’ll do the same.”

“If you do what’s asked, yes.”

“Then I’ll do what’s asked.”

One nod at Tristan sets his wheels spinning. He tromps to my side in two long steps, so fast and gangly Egan laughs.

“Stars, you’re a twiggy one,” Egan says. “What do they call you? Beanpole?”

A corner of my mouth twitches, but I don’t smile. For Tristan’s sake. No matter how much he eats or trains, he can’t seem to gain any sort of muscle. Not that it makes much difference where he’s concerned. Tristan is a gunman, a sniper, not a brawler. He’s most valuable a hundred yards away with a good rifle. I won’t mention to Egan that his code name is Bones.

“We require overview and introduction to the so-called Whistle network,” Tristan says, making my demands for me. Another tactic of the Colonel’s that I’ve adopted. “We’re looking for viable contacts in these key areas.”

He passes over a marked map, plain but for the red dots on important cities and crossroads throughout the country. I know it without looking. The industrial slums of Gray Town and New Town; the capital, Archeon; Delphie; the military city Corvium; and many smaller towns and villages in between. Egan doesn’t glance at the paper, but nods all the same, a picture of confidence.

“Anything else?” he gravels out.

Tristan glances my way, giving me one last chance to refuse this final order from Command. But I won’t.

“We will require use of your smuggling network soon.”

“Easy enough. With the Whistles, the whole country’s open to you. You can send lightbulbs from here to Corvium and back if you want.”

I can’t help but smile, showing my teeth.

But Egan’s grin fades a little. He knows there’s more. “What’s the cargo?”

With quick hands, I drop a tiny bag of tetrarch coins at his feet. All silver. Enough to convince him.

“The right people.”

THE FOLLOWING MESSAGE HAS BEEN DECODED

CONFIDENTIAL, SENIOR CLEARANCE REQUIRED

Day 6 of Operation RED WEB, Stage 1.

Operative: Captain REDACTED.

Designation: LAMB.

Origin: Harbor Bay, NRT.

Destination: RAM at REDACTED.

-MARINERS led by EGAN agree to terms. Will run BEACON region transport upon undertaking of RED WEB Stage 2.

-Be advised, MARINERS aware of SG organization. Other cells active in NRT. Request clarification?

RISE, RED AS THE DAWN.

THE FOLLOWING MESSAGE HAS BEEN DECODED

CONFIDENTIAL, SENIOR CLEARANCE REQUIRED

Operative: Colonel REDACTED.

Designation: RAM.

Origin: REDACTED.

Destination: LAMB at Harbor Bay, NRT.

-Disregard. Focus on RED WEB.

RISE, RED AS THE DAWN.

THE FOLLOWING MESSAGE HAS BEEN DECODED

CONFIDENTIAL, SENIOR CLEARANCE REQUIRED

Day 10 of Operation RED WEB, Stage 1.

Operative: Captain REDACTED.

Designation: LAMB.

Origin: Albanus, NRT.

Destination: RAM at REDACTED.

-Made contacts in WHISTLE network across BEACON region/into CAPITAL VALLEY, all Stage 2 willing.

-Working way up the CAPITAL RIVER.

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