Home > Red Queen (Red Queen #1)(9)

Red Queen (Red Queen #1)(9)
Victoria Aveyard

They cannot catch me.

Using the stalls to hide, I run as fast as I can. The main street is a war zone but I keep my eyes forward, on the blue awning beyond the square. I pass the jewelry store and slow. Just one piece could save Kilorn. But in the heartbeat it takes me to stop, a hail of glass scrapes my face. In the street, a telky has his eyes on me and takes aim again. I don’t give him the chance and take off, sliding under curtains and stalls and outstretched arms until I get back to the square. Before I know it, water sloshes around my feet as I sprint through the fountain.

A frothing blue wave knocks me sideways, into the churning water. It’s not deep, no more than two feet to the bottom, but the water feels like lead. I can’t move, I can’t swim, I can’t breathe. I can barely think. My mind can only scream nymph and I remember the poor Red man on the avenue, drowning on his own two feet. My head smacks the stone bottom and I see stars, sparks, before my vision clears. Every inch of my skin feels electrified. The water shifts around me, normal again, and I break the surface of the fountain. Air screams back into my lungs, searing my throat and nose, but I don’t care. I’m alive.

Small, strong hands grab me by the collar, trying to pull me from the fountain. Gisa. My feet push off the bottom and we tumble to the ground together.

“We have to go,” I yell, scrambling to my feet.

Gisa is already running ahead of me, toward the Garden Door. “Very perceptive of you!” she screams over her shoulder.

I can’t help but look back at the square as I follow her. The Silver mob pours in, searching through the stalls with the voracity of wolves. The few Reds left behind cower on the ground, begging for mercy. And in the fountain I just escaped from, a man with orange hair floats facedown.

My body trembles, every nerve on fire as we push toward the gate. Gisa holds my hand, pulling us both through the crowd.

“Ten miles to home,” Gisa murmurs. “Did you get what you needed?”

The weight of my shame comes crashing down as I shake my head. There was no time. I could barely get down the avenue before the report came through. There was nothing I could do.

Gisa’s face falls, folding into a tiny frown. “We’ll figure out something,” she says, her voice just as desperate as I feel.

But the gate looms ahead, growing closer with every passing second. It fills me with dread. Once I pass through, once I leave, Kilorn will really be gone.

And I think that’s why she does it.

Before I can stop her, grab her, or pull her away, Gisa’s clever little hand slips into someone’s bag. Not just any someone though, but an escaping Silver. A Silver with lead eyes, a hard nose, and square-set shoulders that scream “don’t mess with me.” Gisa might be an artist with a needle and thread, but she’s no pickpocket. It takes all of a second for him to realize what’s happening. And then someone grabs Gisa off the ground.

It’s the same Silver. There are two of them. Twins?

“Not a wise time to start picking Silver pockets,” the twins say in unison. And then there are three of them, four, five, six, surrounding us in the crowd. Multiplying. He’s a cloner.

They make my head spin. “She didn’t mean any harm, she’s just a stupid kid—”

“I’m just a stupid kid!” Gisa yells, trying to kick the one holding her.

They chuckle together in a horrifying sound.

I lunge at Gisa, trying to pry her away, but one of them pushes me back to the ground. The hard stone road knocks the air from my lungs and I gasp for breath, watching helplessly as another twin puts a foot on my stomach, holding me down.

“Please—,” I choke out, but no one’s listening to me anymore. The whining in my head intensifies as every camera spins to look at us. I feel electrified again, this time by fear for my sister.

A Security officer, the one who let us inside earlier this morning, strides over, his gun in hand. “What’s all this?” he growls, looking around at the identical Silvers.

One by one, they meld back together, until only two remain: the one holding Gisa and the one pinning me to the ground.

“She’s a thief,” one says, shaking my sister. To her credit, she doesn’t scream.

The officer recognizes her, his hard face twitching into a frown for a split second. “You know the law, girl.”

Gisa lowers her head. “I know the law.”

I struggle as much as I can, trying to stop what’s coming. Glass shatters as a nearby screen cracks and flashes, broken by the riot. It does nothing to stop the officer as he grabs my sister, pushing her to the ground.

My own voice screams out, joining the din of the chaos. “It was me! It was my idea! Hurt me!” But they don’t listen. They don’t care.

I can only watch as the officer lays my sister next to me. Her eyes are on mine as he brings the butt of his gun down, shattering the bones in her sewing hand.

FIVE

Kilorn will find me anywhere I try to hide, so I keep moving. I sprint like I can outrun what I’ve done to Gisa, how I’ve failed Kilorn, how I’ve destroyed everything. But even I can’t outrun the look in my mother’s eyes when I brought Gisa to the door. I saw the hopeless shadow cross her face, and I ran before my father wheeled himself into view. I couldn’t face them both. I’m a coward.

So I run until I can’t think, until every bad memory fades away, until I can only feel the burning in my muscles. I even tell myself the tears on my cheeks are rain.

When I finally slow to catch my breath, I’m outside the village, a few miles down that terrible northern road. Lights filter through the trees around the bend, illuminating an inn, one of the many on the old roads. It’s crowded like it is every summer, full of servants and seasonal workers who follow the royal court. They don’t live in the Stilts, they don’t know my face, so they’re easy prey for pickpocketing. I do it every summer, but Kilorn is always with me, smiling into a drink as he watches me work. I don’t suppose I’ll see his smile for much longer.

A bellow of laughter rises as a few men stumble from the inn, drunk and happy. Their coin purses jingle, heavy with the day’s pay. Silver money, for serving, smiling, and bowing to monsters dressed as lords.

I caused so much harm today, so much hurt to the ones I love most. I should turn around and go home, to face everyone with at least some courage. But instead I settle against the shadows of the inn, content to remain in darkness.

I guess causing pain is all I’m good for.

It doesn’t take long to fill the pockets of my coat. The drunks filter out every few minutes and I press against them, pasting on a smile to hide my hands. No one notices, no one even cares, when I fade away again. I’m a shadow and no one remembers shadows.

Midnight comes and goes and still I stand, waiting. The moon overhead is a bright reminder of the time, of how long I’ve been gone. One last pocket, I tell myself. One more and I’ll go. I’ve been saying it for the past hour.

I don’t think when the next patron comes out. His eyes are on the sky, and he doesn’t notice me. It’s too easy to reach out, too easy to hook a finger around the strings of his coin purse. I should know better by now that nothing here is easy, but the riot and Gisa’s hollow eyes have made me foolish with grief.

His hand closes around my wrist, his grip firm and strangely hot as he pulls me forward out of the shadows. I try to resist, to slip away and run, but he’s too strong. When he spins, the fire in his eyes puts a fear in me, the same fear I felt this morning. But I welcome any punishment he might summon. I deserve it all.

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