Home > Red Queen (Red Queen #1)(3)

Red Queen (Red Queen #1)(3)
Victoria Aveyard

Samson spits, sending a sunburst of silverblood across the arena. Ten yards away, Cantos tightens his grip on his sword, ready to incapacitate Samson and end this.

“Poor fool,” I mutter. It seems Kilorn is right. Nothing but a punching bag.

Cantos pounds through the sand, sword held high, eyes on fire. And then he freezes midstep, his armor clanking with the sudden stop. From the middle of the arena, the bleeding warrior points at Cantos, with a stare to break bone.

Samson flicks his fingers and Cantos walks, perfectly in time with Samson’s movements. His mouth falls open, like he’s gone slow or stupid. Like his mind is gone.

I can’t believe my eyes.

A deathly quiet falls over the arena as we watch, not understanding the scene below us. Even Kilorn has nothing to say.

“A whisper,” I breathe aloud.

Never before have I seen one in the arena—I doubt anyone has. Whispers are rare, dangerous, and powerful, even among the Silvers, even in the capital. The rumors about them vary, but it boils down to something simple and chilling: they can enter your head, read your thoughts, and control your mind. And this is exactly what Samson is doing, having whispered his way past Cantos’s armor and muscle, into his very brain, where there are no defenses.

Cantos raises his sword, hands trembling. He’s trying to fight Samson’s power. But strong as he is, there’s no fighting the enemy in his mind.

Another twist of Samson’s hand and silverblood splashes across the sand as Cantos plunges his sword straight through his armor, into the flesh of his own stomach. Even up in the seats, I can hear the sickening squelch of metal cutting through meat.

As the blood gushes from Cantos, gasps echo across the arena. We’ve never seen so much blood here before.

Blue lights flash to life, bathing the arena floor in a ghostly glow, signaling the end of the match. Silver healers run across the sand, rushing to the fallen Cantos. Silvers aren’t supposed to die here. Silvers are supposed to fight bravely, to flaunt their skills, to put on a good show—but not die. After all, they aren’t Reds.

Officers move faster than I’ve ever seen before. A few are swifts, rushing to and fro in a blur as they herd us out. They don’t want us around if Cantos dies on the sand. Meanwhile, Samson strides from the arena like a titan. His gaze falls on Cantos’s body and I expect him to look apologetic. Instead, his face is blank, emotionless, and so cold. The match was nothing to him. We are nothing to him.

In school, we learned about the world before ours, about the angels and gods that lived in the sky, ruling the earth with kind and loving hands. Some say those are just stories, but I don’t believe that.

The gods rule us still. They have come down from the stars. And they are no longer kind.

TWO

Our house is small, even by Stilts standards, but at least we have a view. Before his injury, during one of his army leaves, Dad built the house high so we could see across the river. Even through the haze of summer you can see the cleared pockets of land that were once forest, now logged into oblivion. They look like a disease, but to the north and west, the untouched hills are a calm reminder. There is so much more out there. Beyond us, beyond the Silvers, beyond everything I know.

I climb the ladder up to the house, over worn wood shaped to the hands that ascend and descend every day. From this height I can see a few boats heading upriver, proudly flying their bright flags. Silvers. They’re the only ones rich enough to use private transportation. While they enjoy wheeled transports, pleasure boats, even high-flying airjets, we get nothing more than our own two feet, or a push cycle if we’re lucky.

The boats must be heading to Summerton, the small city that springs to life around the king’s summer residence. Gisa was there today, aiding the seamstress she is apprenticed to. They often go to the market there when the king visits, to sell her wares to the Silver merchants and nobles who follow the royals like ducklings. The palace itself is known as the Hall of the Sun, and it’s supposed to be a marvel, but I’ve never seen it. I don’t know why the royals have a second house, especially since the capital palace is so fine and beautiful. But like all Silvers, they don’t act out of need. They are driven by want. And what they want, they get.

Before I open the door to the usual chaos, I pat the flag fluttering from the porch. Three red stars on yellowed fabric, one for each brother, and room for more. Room for me. Most houses have flags like this, some with black stripes instead of stars in quiet reminder of dead children.

Inside, Mom sweats over the stove, stirring a pot of stew while my father glares at it from his wheelchair. Gisa embroiders at the table, making something beautiful and exquisite and entirely beyond my comprehension.

“I’m home,” I say to no one in particular. Dad answers with a wave, Mom a nod, and Gisa doesn’t look up from her scrap of silk.

I drop my pouch of stolen goods next to her, letting the coins jingle as much as they can. “I think I’ve got enough to get a proper cake for Dad’s birthday. And more batteries, enough to last the month.”

Gisa eyes the pouch, frowning with distaste. She’s only fourteen, but sharp for her age. “One day people are going to come and take everything you have.”

“Jealousy doesn’t become you, Gisa,” I scold, patting her on the head. Her hands fly up to her perfect, glossy red hair, brushing it back into her meticulous bun.

I’ve always wanted her hair, though I’d never tell her that. Where hers is like fire, my hair is what we call river brown. Dark at the root, pale at the ends, as the color leeches from our hair with the stress of Stilts life. Most keep their hair short to hide their gray ends but I don’t. I like the reminder that even my hair knows life shouldn’t be this way.

“I’m not jealous,” she huffs, returning to her work. She stitches flowers made of fire, each one a beautiful flame of thread against oily black silk.

“That’s beautiful, Gee.” I let my hand trace one of the flowers, marveling at the silky feel of it. She glances up and smiles softly, showing even teeth. As much as we fight, she knows she’s my little star.

And everyone knows I’m the jealous one, Gisa. I can’t do anything but steal from people who can actually do things.

Once she finishes her apprenticeship, she’ll be able to open her own shop. Silvers will come from all around to pay her for handkerchiefs and flags and clothing. Gisa will achieve what few Reds do and live well. She’ll provide for our parents and give me and my brothers menial jobs to get us out of the war. Gisa is going to save us one day, with nothing more than needle and thread.

“Night and day, my girls,” Mom mutters, running a finger through graying hair. She doesn’t mean it as an insult, but a prickly truth. Gisa is skilled, pretty, and sweet. I’m a bit rougher, as Mom kindly puts it. The dark to Gisa’s light. I suppose the only common things between us are the shared earrings, the memory of our brothers.

Dad wheezes from his corner and hammers his chest with a fist. This is common, since he only has one real lung. Luckily the skill of a Red medic saved him, replacing the collapsed lung with a device that could breathe for him. It wasn’t a Silver invention, as they have no need for such things. They have the healers. But healers don’t waste their time saving the Reds, or even working on the front lines keeping soldiers alive. Most of them remain in the cities, prolonging the lives of ancient Silvers, mending livers destroyed by alcohol and the like. So we’re forced to indulge in an underground market of technology and inventions to help better ourselves. Some are foolish, most don’t work—but a bit of clicking metal saved my dad’s life. I can always hear it ticking away, a tiny pulse to keep Dad breathing.

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