Home > Wolf By Wolf (Wolf By Wolf #1)(11)

Wolf By Wolf (Wolf By Wolf #1)(11)
Ryan Graudin

Not alone. It was a cruel irony that this was the message she had been chosen to deliver. She, the loneliest of all. The girl without a people. Without a face. The girl who was no one. Who could be everyone.

But she knew Reiniger was right. There would be no dressing up as a maid. No cyanide slipped into his crystal glass of mineral water. The Führer’s death was to be a loud, screaming thing. A broadcast of blood over the Reichssender.

“But what about during Chancellery Chat?” she pressed. (The road rash really hurt.) “There are cameras then.”

“Prerecorded. They’d never air it.” He waved his hand. “It needs to be live. His death is the signal all the resistance cells will be watching for. The moment you strike is the moment we mobilize.”

This—winning the Axis Tour, attending the Victor’s Ball in Tokyo—was the only way.

Rain smeared Yael’s vision as she watched the box. The Führer’s outline melted, indistinguishable from the glass. All she could see were the colors of the Axis banners, draped over the balcony. Emperor Hirohito’s rising sun, red and white. Hitler’s swastika watched back through the storm, an unblinking eye.

“Welcome!” a male voice belted through the stadium. The crowd’s cheers fell to a chatter, then a hush. Air sizzled with the power of the speakers. The soothe of rain.

“Our honored Führer and the Emperor Hirohito welcome you to the tenth Axis Tour. Ten of the Fatherland’s finest youths have been selected from our most rigorous training programs. They will race alongside Japan’s ten strongest. These racers will endure the desert sands of Africa, the jagged peaks of the Indian subcontinent, the tangled jungles of Asia, the waves of the Pacific. Only the hardiest and purest will survive. Only the strongest will win.”

More cheers. More rain. The medal of Adele’s past victory hung heavy around Yael’s neck. She stood straight, didn’t take her eyes off the Reich banner’s twisted cross.

“Racing in the name of the Fatherland, we have Victor Adele Wolfe.”

Yael stepped forward. She smiled with her cheekbones, the way Adele always did in the newsreels, her right arm hinging up in an automatic “Heil Hitler!” Her fingertips pointed toward the box.

The voice went on, crackling above the roar of the crowd. “Victor Luka Löwe.”

A tall, powerful frame joined Yael’s left side, his own arm snapping into a plank-straight “Heil Hitler!” He’d stood apart from the other racers even before he stepped out. His jacket was brown, where all others were black, and battered, where all others were new. It was the same jacket he’d worn in the last two Axis Tours. His signature look.

Luka Löwe. The boy in the brown jacket. The most threatening of her competition. Yael had spent more than a few weeks mulling over his file. Copies of school records, his birth certificate, his Hitler Youth performance booklet, a complete history of racing times, family genealogy, transcripts of his many Reichssender interviews. Luka Löwe’s life inked onto paper and into her memory.

Name: Luka Wotan Löwe

Age: 17

Height: 185 cm

Weight: 92 kg

Bio: Born in Hamburg, Germany, to Kurt and Nina Löwe. His father served in the Reich’s elite motorcycle troop, the Kradschützen. Luka joined the Hitler Youth at age ten and dedicated his passions to learning all he could about motorcycles. He has competed in the Axis Tour for the past four years, with one win at the age of fourteen. He is the youngest victor in the history of the race.

The boy’s shoulder was mere centimeters away. Though they weren’t touching, Yael could feel the tense of Luka’s muscles. His breath sounded the same: stretched, ready to snap.

“Victor Löwe,” she muttered through the edge of her lips.

Luka did not turn, but she felt his eyes peel over her anyway. “Fräulein.”

Fräulein. That word—the weight behind it—whet Yael’s own blade-breath. Her armband kept slipping down her forearm, sliding over the covered ink wolves. Coming to rest around her wrist. A fabric manacle.

More, victor-less German names were called. As they stepped forward, their files flashed through Yael’s memory. Pages and pages of perfect childhoods. Boys born in the Fatherland. All of them Aryan, most of them fatherless (the cost of victory is always high). Loyal members of the Hitler Youth.

Even their names blended together: Kurt and Karl. Lars and Hans. Rolf and Ralf and Dolf. Only one stood out: Hans Muller: 15. Placed fifth in last year’s Axis Tour. His times have drastically improved in the qualifying races. Possibly dangerous underdog. By the time the final Reich name was called, Yael was only half listening.

“Felix—”

Yael started. That name wasn’t in the racers’ files. Except for…

“—Wolfe, who has recently joined our roster due to Dirk Hermann’s unfortunate accident.”

This time she actually turned her head and looked—down the line of rain-jeweled noses and chins. Felix was staring back. He was the same person from the photographs: square jaw, prism-pale hair, an extra bump on the bridge of his nose. But in those pictures—the ones Adele framed in silver and displayed in her flat—Felix was always happy. Always smiling.

Now his mouth was pinched, the same way his sister’s had been during their standoff the night before. His eyes—the same death-cold Wolfe blue—cut through the rain. Into Yael.

Not without you.

This was why he’d left so easily the night before.…

Yael tore her gaze from his. Back to the wet, wet banners.

The announcer moved on. “Racing for the glory of Imperial Japan, we have Victor Tsuda Katsuo.”

Name: Tsuda Katsuo

Age: 17

Height: 173 cm

Weight: 66 kg

Bio: Sent by his parents to a training camp outside Tokyo once they realized his talent for motorcycle racing. His abilities attracted the attention of his peers and instructors alike. He is rarely seen without a group of followers. Won his first Axis Tour at age fifteen. He is now facing immense pressure in the homeland to win the Double Cross.

Katsuo stepped forward and gave a stiff bow; flecks of rain burst fast from his jet-black hair. His own Iron Cross swung out, landing with an audible thud to his chest when he straightened again.

Katsuo. The third and final victor in this score line. In his final year of racing, vying for the Double Cross and whatever favors Emperor Hirohito dangled before him like a carrot on a stick. He was another racer Yael would have to watch closely.

More names. More highlights from Henryka’s files on files.

Ono Ryoko: 16. The only other girl in the race. Emerged on Japan’s racing circuit after Adele’s victory.

Watabe Takeo: 16. Placed third in last year’s Axis Tour. Attended the same training camp as Katsuo and seems to defer to the victor. Hides a Higonokami blade on his person and has a reputation for slashing contestants’ tires.

Oguri Iwao: 16. Second year in the Axis Tour. Has a fondness for drugging food and drink. Guard your provisions with care. Also attended Katsuo’s training camp and seems devoted to him.

Yamato. Taro. Hiraku. Isamu. Masaru. Norio.

Most of them were younger. First-years. No threat.

“Racers, proceed to your vehicles.”

The Zündapps sat half a field away. Custom-fitted bikes straight from the factory (to ensure quality and prevent any illegal modifications): shiny chrome, slick slate-colored paint, panniers packed with camping supplies for the nights between checkpoints. Yael’s motorcycle was parked ahead of the others, followed closely by Luka’s and Katsuo’s bikes. A head start for the victors. (Nothing more than a formality. A few meters hardly made a difference when one had thousands of kilometers to endure.)

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