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Authors: Victoria Aveyard

Tags: #Teen & Young Adult, #Romance, #Fantasy, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Two Hours or More (65-100 Pages), #Paranormal & Fantasy, #Sword & Sorcery

Steel Scars (10 page)

BOOK: Steel Scars
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Got you
.

“Assets. People who will be valuable to our cause.”

As I watch, his bright eyes darken.
A trick of the light
.

“And who makes that decision?”

Despite the heat, a finger of cold runs down my spine. Here comes the usual sticking point. “There are operations all over the country seeking out such people, myself included. We assess, propose our candidates, and wait for approval.”

“I assume the old, the sick, and the children set to conscript do not make any of your proposals. No use saving the ones who truly need it.”

“If they have valuable skills—”

“Pah!” Will spits, his cheeks going red. He gulps at his tea with angry gasps, draining the cup. The liquid seems to calm him though. When he sets down the empty cup, he rests his chin on his hand thoughtfully. “I suppose that's the best we can hope for.”

Another channel opened
. “For now.”

“Very well.”

“Oh, and this most likely won't be a problem here, but I'd stay away from any Silvers you see tomorrow. They won't be happy.”

Tomorrow
. The thought of it singes my blood. I don't know what the Colonel and Command have planned, only that it includes my broadcast, and something worth waving our flag for.

“Do I want to know?” Will wonders with a pointed smirk. “Do
you
even know?”

I have to laugh openly. “Do you have anything stronger than tea?”

He doesn't get a chance to answer, as someone starts pounding on the wagon door. He jumps, nearly smashing the cup. I catch it deftly, but my eyes are on him. An old tremor of fear shivers through me and we sit still, waiting. Then I remember.
Officers do not knock
.

“Will Whistle!” a girl's voice says. Will all but collapses in relief, and the cord of tension in me releases as well. With one hand, he gestures for me to get behind the curtain dividing his wagon.

I do as asked, hiding myself seconds before she wrenches open the door.

“Miss Barrow!” I hear him say.

A thousand crowns
. I curse under my breath as I walk back to the roadside tavern.
Each
. Why I picked such an outrageous number, I can't say. Why I even agreed to see the girl
—Shade's sister, that must have been her
—is less puzzling. But telling her I would help? Save her friend, save
her
from conscription? Two teenagers I don't know, thieves who would most likely get their ferriers killed? But deep down, I know why. I remember the boy in Rocasta, dragged away from his mother. The same happened to Shade and his two older brothers in front of that girl who begged me tonight.
Mare, her name is Mare
. She begged for herself and another, her boyfriend most likely. In her voice, I heard and saw so many people. The Rocastan mother. Rasha, stopping to watch. Tye, dying so close to the place she wanted to escape. Cara, Tarry, Shore, Big Coop. All gone, risking their lives and paying the price the Scarlet Guard always seems to collect.

Not that Mare will come up with the money. It was an impossible task. Still, I owe Shade much and more for his service. I suppose getting his sister away from conscription will be a small price to pay for his intelligence. And whatever she does bring me will go straight to the
cause.

Tristan joins me midway between the Stilts and the road tavern. I half expected him to be all the way there, waiting with Rasha, Little Coop, and Cristobel, the only remaining members of our ill-fated team.

“Successful?” he asks, carefully adjusting his coat to hide the pistol at his hip.

“Very,” I respond. The word is surprisingly hard to force out.

Tristan knows me well enough not to pry. Instead, he changes the subject and hands over the Corvium radio. “Barrow's been clicking for the last hour.”

Bored again
. I don't know how many times I've told Shade the radio is for official business and emergencies, not to annoy me. Still, I can't help but grin. I do my best to keep my lips still, at least in front of Tristan, and start fumbling with the radio.

I click the receiver, sending a pulse of seemingly random dots.
I'm here
, they say.

His response comes so quickly I almost drop the radio.

“Farley, I need out.” His voice crackles, tinny through the small speaker. “Farley? I have to get away from Corvium.”

Panic spikes down my spine. “Okay,” I respond, my mind flying at top speed. “You—you can't get out yourself?” If not for Tristan, I would ask him outright. Why can't he jump himself away from that nightmare fortress?

“Meet me in Rocasta.”

“Done.”

    
THE FOLLOWING MESSAGE HAS BEEN DECODED

    
CONFIDENTIAL, SENIOR CLEARANCE REQUIRED

    
Day 56 of Operation RED WEB, Stage 2.

    
Operative: Captain REDACTED.

    
Designation: LAMB.

    
Origin: Rocasta, NRT.

    
Destination: RAM at REDACTED.

    
-Congratulations on ARCHEON bombing.

    
-In ROCASTA to remove SHADOW.

    
RISE, RED AS THE DAWN

    
THE FOLLOWING MESSAGE HAS BEEN DECODED

    
CONFIDENTIAL, SENIOR CLEARANCE REQUIRED

    
Day 60 of Operation SHIELDWALL, Stage 2.

    
Operative: Colonel REDACTED.

    
Designation: RAM.

    
Origin: REDACTED.

    
Destination: LAMB at Rocasta.

    
-Proceed. Send him to TRIAL. Return to RED WEB ASAP.

    
RISE, RED AS THE DAWN.

It took longer to get here than I anticipated. Not to mention the fact that I came alone.

After the bombing in Archeon, travel is difficult, even through our usual channels. Whistle cargo boats and transports are harder to
come by. And getting into cities, even Rocasta, is no mean feat. Reds must present identity cards or even their blood at different checkpoints entering the city, checkpoints I must avoid at all cost. Even though my face was masked, hidden in the video during which I announced the presence of the Scarlet Guard to the entire country, I can't take any chances.

I even shaved my head, parting with the long blond braid clearly visible in that broadcast.

Crance, the Mariner working the supply convoy, had to smuggle me in, and it took a great amount of back channeling to get him to agree. Even so, I managed to get into the city proper in one piece, my radio firmly tucked into my waistband.

Red sector. Marketgrove
.

That's where Shade wanted to meet, and that's where I must get to. I don't dare cover or hood my face, which would give anyone a better clue as to my identity. Instead, I wear shaded glasses, hiding the one part of my face anyone saw in the video. Still, I feel risk in every step.
Risk is part of the game
. But somehow, my fear isn't for myself. I've done my part, more than my part, for the Scarlet Guard. I could die now and be considered a successful operative. My name would go into someone's correspondence, Tristan's probably, clicked out in dots for the Colonel to read.

I wonder if he would mourn.

It's cloudy today and the mood of the city reflects the weather. And the bombing is on everyone's lips, in everyone's eyes. The Reds are a strange mix of hopeful and downcast, some openly whispering about this so-called Scarlet Guard. But many, the old especially, scowl at their children, scolding them for believing our nonsense, telling them it will bring more trouble to their people. I'm not stupid enough to stop and
argue.

Marketgrove is deep in the Red sector, but still crawling with Silver Security officers. Today they look like wolves on the prowl, their guns in hand rather than holster. I heard news of riots in the major cities, Silver citizens going after any Reds they could get their hands on, blaming everyone they could for the Scarlet Guard's deeds. But something tells me these officers aren't here to protect my people. They only want to instill fear and keep us quiet.

But even they can't stop the whispers.

“Who are they?”

“The Scarlet Guard.”

“Never heard of the like.”

“Did you see? West Archeon in flames—”

“—but no one was hurt—”

“—they'll bring more trouble—”

“—worse and worse times—”

“—blaming us for it—”

“I want to find them.”

“Farley.”

The last is a warm breath against the shell of my ear, his voice familiar as my own face. I turn instinctually and pull Shade into a hug, surprising both of us.

“Good to see you too,” he mutters.

“Let's get you out of here,” I murmur as I pull back. When I look at him properly, I realize the last few weeks have not been kind. His face is pale, his expression drawn, and dark circles ring his eyes. “What happened?”

He tucks my arm in his and I let him lead us through the crowd dutifully walking the market. We look like anyone. “A transfer, to the
Storm Legion, to the front.”

“Punishment?”

But Shade shakes his head. “Not for passing information. They still don't know I'm the leak or that I'm bleeding everything to the Guard. No, this order is strange.”

“Strange how?”

“A general's request. High up. For
me
, an aide. It makes no sense. Just like
something else
doesn't make any sense.” His eyes narrow pointedly, and I nod. “I think they know, and I think they're going to get rid of me.”

I swallow hard and hope he doesn't notice. My fear for him cannot be construed as anything but professional. “Then we'll execute you first, say you ran off and got shot for deserting. Eastree can falsify the documents like she does with other assets. And besides, it's high time we moved you anyways.”

“Do you have any idea where that might be?”

“You'll be going to Trial, across the border. That shouldn't be too difficult for someone with your skills.”

“I'm not invincible. I can't jump hundreds of miles, or even, well,
navigate
myself that far. Can you?” he mumbles.

I have to smile.
Crance should work
. “I think I can secure you a map and a guide.”

“You're not coming?” I tell myself I'm imagining the disappointment in his voice.

“I have other business to handle first. Careful,” I add, noting a cluster of officers up ahead. Shade's arm tightens on mine, pulling me closer.
He'll jump if he has to, and I'll get sick all over my boots again
.

“Try not to make me sick this time,” I grumble, drawing his crooked grin.

But there's no need for his trepidation. The officers are focused elsewhere, on a cracked video screen, likely the only one in the Red market. Used for official broadcasts, but there isn't anything official about what they're watching.

“Forgot Queenstrial was today,” one of them says, leaning forward to squint at the picture. It blurs occasionally. “Couldn't get a better set for us, eh, Marcos?”

Marcos flushes gray, annoyed. “This is Red sector, what did you expect? You're welcome to go back to rounds if this doesn't satisfy!”

Queenstrial
. I remember something about the word. In the briefing on Norta, the packet of cobbled-together information the Colonel made me read before I was sent here. Something about princes—choosing brides, maybe. I wrinkle my nose at the idea, but somehow I can't tear my eyes away from the screen as we get closer and closer.

On it, a girl in black leather demonstrates her storied abilities.
Magnetron
, I realize as she manipulates the metal of whatever arena she's been dropped into.

Then a flash of red drops across the screen, landing hard against the electric shield separating the magnetron girl from the rest of the Silver elite watching her display.

The officers gasp in unison. One of them even turns away. “I don't want to see this,” he groans, as if he's about to be sick.

Shade is rooted to the spot, his eyes hard on the screen, watching the red blotch. His grip tightens on me, forcing me to look.
The blotch has a face. His sister
.

Mare Barrow
.

He goes cold against me as the lightning swallows her whole.

“It should have killed her.”

Shade's hands are shaking and he has to crouch in the alley to keep the rest from following suit. I drop to my knees next to him, one hand on his shivering arm.

“It should have killed her,” he says again, his eyes wide and hollow.

I don't need to ask to know he's replaying the scene in his head, over and over again. His young sister falling into the Queenstrial arena. To her death under all circumstances. But Mare didn't die. She was electrocuted on camera, but she didn't die.

“She's alive, Shade,” I tell him, turning his face to mine. “You saw yourself, she got up and ran.”

“How is that possible?”

Now is not the time to appreciate the joke. “I asked you the same thing once.”

“Then she's different too.” His eyes darken, sliding away from my face. “And she's with
them
. I have to help her.”

He tries to scramble to his feet, but the shock has not worn off. I help him back down as gently as I can, letting him lean on me.

“They'll kill her, Diana,” he whispers. His voice breaks my heart. “They could be doing it right now.”

“Somehow, I don't think they will. They can't. Not after everyone saw her, a Red girl surviving lightning.”
They'll need to explain first. Come up with a story. Just like the stories they used to cover us until we made sure they couldn't anymore
. “She planted a flag of her own today.”

BOOK: Steel Scars
6.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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