Home > Steel Scars (Red Queen 0.2)(8)

Steel Scars (Red Queen 0.2)(8)
Victoria Aveyard

Two men bring up the rear. They are young, both probably within their first year of conscription. Neither is scarred or visibly injured, so they can’t be masquerading as wounded back in Corvium. Supply soldiers, most likely. Lucky to haul crates of ammunition and food. Although the second, the one at the very back, seems too slight for manual labor.

The bald woman stops ten feet away, her palms still raised. Too close for both our liking. I force myself to stand from the grass and close the distance between us. Tye and Tristan keep still, not hidden, but not moving either.

“We’re the ones,” she says.

I keep my hands on my hips, fingers inches from the gun belted across my waist. A naked threat. “Who sent us?” I ask her in testing. Behind me, Tristan tightens like a snake. The woman has the bravery to keep her eyes from his rifle, but the others behind her don’t.

“Will Whistle of the Stilts,” she replies. She doesn’t stop there, though it’s enough for the moment. “Children taken from their mothers, soldiers sent to slaughter, countless generations of slavery. Each and every one of them sent you.”

My fingers drum quietly. Rage is a double-edged sword, and this woman has been bled by both edges. “The Whistle will do. And you are?”

“Corporal Eastree, of the Tower Legion, like the rest.” She gestures behind, to the other three still watching Tristan. I nod at him, and his trigger finger relaxes a little. But not much. “We’re support troops, conscripted to Corvium.”

“Will told me as such,” I lie quickly. “And what did he tell you of me?”

“Enough to get us out here. Enough to risk our necks for.” The voice comes from the lean young man at the back of the line. He angles forward, around his comrade, his smile crooked, teasing, and cold. His eyes flash. “You know it’s execution if we’re caught out here, right?”

Another breeze, sharper than the last. I force my own empty grin. “Oh, is that all?”

“We best make this quick,” Eastree says. “Your lot might protect your names, but we have no use for such things. They have our blood, our faces. This is Private Florins, Private Reese, and—”

The one with the crooked smile steps out of line before she can say his name. He crosses the gap between us, though he doesn’t extend a hand to shake. “I’m Barrow. Shade Barrow. And you better not get me killed.”

My eyes narrow at him. “No promises.”

THE FOLLOWING MESSAGE HAS BEEN DECODED

CONFIDENTIAL, SENIOR CLEARANCE REQUIRED

Day 23 of Operation RED WEB, Stage 1.

Operative: Captain REDACTED.

Designation: LAMB.

Origin: Corvium, NRT.

Destination: RAM at REDACTED.

-CORVIUM intelligence enclosed: fort statistics, city map, tunnel overlay, army schedules/timetables.

-Early assessment: Most promising are Corp E (eager, angry, a gamble) and Aide B (connected, officer’s aide recently stationed to CORVIUM). Possible for recruitment or Stage 2.

-Both seem willing to pledge but are otherwise ignorant to SG presence in NRT, LL. Invaluable to have two operatives inside CORVIUM. Will continue progress, request to fast-track recruitment?

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 Corvium.

-Request denied. Corp E and Aide B nonessential.

-Move on from CORVIUM. Continue assessing WHISTLE contacts/RED WEB Stage 2 assets.

RISE, RED AS THE DAWN.

THE FOLLOWING MESSAGE HAS BEEN DECODED

CONFIDENTIAL, SENIOR CLEARANCE REQUIRED

Operative: Captain REDACTED.

Designation: LAMB.

Origin: Corvium, NRT.

Destination: RAM at REDACTED.

-CORVIUM intelligence vital to SG cause at large. Request more time at location. Pass up to COMMAND.

-Firmly believe Corp E and Aide B are strong candidates.

RISE, RED AS THE DAWN.

THE FOLLOWING MESSAGE HAS BEEN DECODED

CONFIDENTIAL, SENIOR CLEARANCE REQUIRED

Operative: General REDACTED.

Designation: DRUMMER.

Origin: REDACTED.

Destination: LAMB at Corvium, RAM at REDACTED.

-Request denied. Orders are to continue Stage 1 assessment for Stage 2/Asset Removal.

RISE, RED AS THE DAWN.

THE FOLLOWING MESSAGE HAS BEEN DECODED

CONFIDENTIAL, COMMAND CLEARANCE REQUIRED

Operative: Captain REDACTED.

Designation: LAMB.

Origin: Corvium, NRT.

Destination: DRUMMER at REDACTED.

-Strong opposition. Many military assets present at CORVIUM, must be assessed for Stage 2 removal.

-Request more time at location.

RISE, RED AS THE DAWN.

THE FOLLOWING MESSAGE HAS BEEN DECODED

CONFIDENTIAL, SENIOR CLEARANCE REQUIRED

Operative: General REDACTED.

Designation: DRUMMER.

Origin: REDACTED.

Destination: LAMB at Corvium.

-Request denied. Move out.

RISE, RED AS THE DAWN.

Following protocol, I light the thin strip of correspondence paper on fire. The dots and dashes detailing Command orders char away to nothing, consumed by flame. I know the feeling. Hot anger licks at my insides. But I keep my face still, for Cara’s sake.

She looks on, thick glasses perched on her nose. Her fingers itch, ready to click out my response to orders she cannot read.

“No need,” I say, waving her off. The lie sits in my mouth for a moment. “Command bent. We stay.”

I bet the Colonel’s damned red eye is rolling in his skull right now. But his orders are stupid, narrow-minded, and now Command thinks the same. They must be disobeyed, for the cause, for the Scarlet Guard. Corporal Eastree and Barrow would be invaluable to us, not to mention they’re both risking their lives to get me the information I need. The Guard owes them an oath, if not evacuation in Stage 2.

They’re aren’t here, in the thick of things, I tell myself. It helps ease the sting of disobedience. The Colonel and Command don’t understand what Corvium means to the Nortan military, or how important our information will become. The tunnel system alone is worth my time—it connects every piece of the fortress city, allowing not only clandestine troop movements but easy infiltration of Corvium itself. And thanks to Barrow’s position as aide to a high-ranking Silver, we know less-savory intelligence as well. Which officers prefer the unwilling company of Red soldiers. That Lord General Osanos, the nymph governor of the Westlakes region and commander of the city, continues a family feud with Lord General Laris, commander of the entire Nortan Air Fleet. Who is essential to the military and who wears rank for show. The list goes on. Petty rivalries and weaknesses to be exploited. There are places of rot for us to poke at.

If Command doesn’t see this, then they must be blind.

But I am not.

And today is the day I set foot inside the walls myself and see the worst of what Norta has to offer tomorrow’s revolution.

Cara folds up her broadcaster and reattaches it to the cord around her neck. It stays with her always, nestled next to her heart. “Not even to the Colonel?” she asks. “To gloat?”

“Not today.” I force my best smirk. It placates her.

And it convinces me. The last two weeks have been a goldmine of information. The next two will certainly be the same.

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