Winter(8)

By: Marissa Meyer



But no one mentioned accomplices. No one said anything about Wolf or Thorne or the satellite girl they’d been trying to rescue.

She swiped at her nose and pushed her greasy hair off her face. Winter was watching Scarlet’s show of emotion like one might watch a butterfly shucking its cocoon.

“Thank you,” said Scarlet, hiccuping back another sob. “Thank you for telling me.”

“Of course. You’re my friend.”

Scarlet rubbed her palm across her eyes and, for the first time, didn’t argue.

“And now for your treat.”

“I’m not hungry.” It was a lie, but she’d come to despise how much she relied on Winter’s charity.

“But it’s a sour apple petite. A Lunar delicacy that is—”

“One of your favorites, yeah, I know. But I’m not—”

“I think you should eat it.” The princess’s expression was innocent and meaningful all at once, in that peculiar way she had. “I think it will make you feel better,” she continued, pushing a box through the bars. She waited until Scarlet had taken it from her, then stood and made her way across the path to Ryu. She crouched to give the wolf a loving scratch behind his ears, then leaned over the rail and started gathering up his pile of sticks.

Scarlet lifted the lid of the box, revealing the red marble-like candy in its bed of spun sugar. Winter had brought her many treats since her imprisonment, most of them laced with painkillers. Though the pain from Scarlet’s finger, which had been chopped off during her interrogation with the queen, had faded to a distant memory, the candies still helped with the aches and pains of life in such cramped quarters.

But as she lifted the candy from the box, she saw something unexpected tucked beneath it. A handwritten message.

Patience, friend. They’re coming for you.

She closed the box fast before the security camera over her shoulder could see it, and shoved the candy into her mouth, heart thundering. She shut her eyes, hardly feeling the crack of the candy shell, hardly tasting the sweet-and-sour gooeyness inside.

“What you said at the trial,” said Winter, returning with a bundle of sticks in her arms and laying them down where Scarlet could reach them. “I hadn’t understood then, but I do now.”

Scarlet swallowed too quickly. The candy went down hard, bits of shell scratching her throat. She coughed, wishing the princess had brought some water too. “Which part? I was under a lot of duress, you might recall.”

“The part about Linh Cinder.”

Ah. The part about Cinder being the lost Princess Selene. The true queen of Luna.

“What about it?” she said, bristling with suspicion. Had Jacin said something about Cinder’s plans to reclaim her throne? And whose side was he on, if he spent weeks with her friends but had now returned to Levana?

Winter considered the question for a long time. “What is she like?”

Scarlet dug her tongue into her molars, thinking. What was Cinder like? She hadn’t known her for all that long. She was a brilliant mechanic. She seemed to be honorable and brave and determined to do what needed to be done … but Scarlet suspected she wasn’t always as confident as she tried to appear on the outside.

Also, she had a crush on Emperor Kai as big as Winter had on Jacin, although Cinder tried a lot harder to pretend otherwise.

But Scarlet didn’t think that answered Winter’s question. “She’s not like Levana, if that’s what you’re wondering.”

Winter exhaled, as if a fear had been released.

Ryu whined and rolled onto his back, missing their attention.

Winter grabbed a stick from the pile and tossed. The wolf scrambled back to his feet and raced after it.

“Your wolf friend,” Winter said. “Is he one of the queen’s?”

“Not anymore,” Scarlet spat. Wolf would never belong to the queen again. Not if she could help it.

“But he was, and now he has betrayed her.” The princess’s tone had gone dreamy, her eyes staring off into space even after Ryu returned and dropped the stick beside his bars, beginning a new pile. “From what I know of her soldiers, that should not be possible. At least, not while they are under the control of their thaumaturge.”

Suddenly warm, Scarlet unzipped her hoodie. It was filthy with dirt and sweat and blood, but wearing it still made her feel connected to Earth and the farm and her grandmother. It reminded her that she was human, despite being kept in a cage.

“Wolf’s thaumaturge is dead,” she said, “but Wolf fought against him even when he was alive.”

“Perhaps they made a mistake with him, when they altered his nervous system.”

“It wasn’t a mistake.” Scarlet smirked. “I know, they think they’re so clever, giving soldiers the instincts of wild wolves. The instincts to hunt and kill. But look at Ryu.” The wolf had lain down and was gnawing at the stick. “His instincts lean as much toward playing and loving. If he had a mate and cubs, then his instincts would be to protect them at all costs.” Scarlet twirled the cord of her hoodie around a finger. “That’s what Wolf did. He protected me.”

She grabbed another stick from the pile outside her cage. Ryu’s attention was piqued, but Scarlet only ran her fingers over the peeling bark. “I’m afraid I’ll never see him again.”

Winter reached through the bars and stroked Scarlet’s hair with her knuckles. Scarlet tensed, but didn’t pull away. Contact, any contact, was a gift.

“Do not worry,” said Winter. “The queen will not kill you so long as you are my pet. You will have a chance to tell your Wolf that you love him.”

Scarlet glowered. “I’m not your pet, just like Wolf isn’t Levana’s anymore.” This time, she did pull back, and Winter let her hand fall into her lap. “And it’s not that I love him. It’s just…”

She hesitated, and again Winter listed her head and peered at Scarlet with penetrating curiosity. It was unnerving, to think she was being psychoanalyzed by someone who frequently complained that the castle walls had started bleeding again.

“Wolf is all I have left,” Scarlet clarified. She threw the stick halfheartedly across the path. It landed within paw’s reach of Ryu and he simply stared at it, like it wasn’t worth the effort. Scarlet’s shoulders slumped. “I need him as much as he needs me. But that doesn’t make it love.”

Winter lowered her lashes. “Actually, dear friend, I suspect that is precisely what makes it love.”





Six

“These two newsfeeds include statements from that waitress, Émilie Monfort,” said Cress, trailing her fingers along the netscreen in the cargo bay, pulling up a picture of a blonde-haired girl speaking to a news crew. “She claims to be overseeing Benoit Farms and Gardens in Scarlet’s absence. Here she makes a comment about the work getting to be a lot for her, and joked that if the Benoits don’t return soon she might have to start auctioning off the chickens.” Cress hesitated. “Or, maybe it wasn’t a joke. I’m not sure. Oh, and here she talks about Thorne and Cinder coming to the farm and scaring her witless.”

She glanced over her shoulder to see whether Wolf was still listening. His eyes were glued to the screen, his brow set, as silent and brooding as usual. When he said nothing, she cleared her throat and clicked to a new tab. “As far as the finances are concerned, Michelle Benoit did own the land outright, and these bank statements show that the property and business taxes continue to be automatically deducted. I’ll set up payments to go through to the labor android rentals too. She missed last month’s payment, but I’ll make it up, and it looks like she’s been a loyal customer long enough the missed payment didn’t interrupt their work.” She enlarged a grainy photo. “This satellite imagery is from thirty-six hours ago and shows the full team of androids and two human foremen working this crop.” She shrugged and turned to face Wolf. “The bills are being paid, the animals are being tended, and the crops are being managed. Any accounts that were expecting regular deliveries are probably annoyed at Scarlet’s absence, but that’s the worst of it right now. I estimate it can go on being self-sustaining for … oh, another two to three months.”

Wolf didn’t take his forlorn stare from the satellite image. “She loves that farm.”

“And it will be there waiting for her when we get her back.” Cress sounded as optimistic as she could. She wanted to add that Scarlet was going to be fine, that every day they were getting closer to rescuing her—but she bit her tongue. The words had been tossed around so much lately they were beginning to lose their meaning, even to her.

The truth was that no one had any idea if Scarlet was still alive, or what shape they would find her in. Wolf knew that better than anyone.

“Is there anything else you want me to look up?”

He began to shake his head, but stopped. His eyes flashed to her, sharp with curiosity.

Cress gulped. Though she’d warmed to Wolf during her time aboard the ship, he still sort of terrified her.

“Can you find information about people on Luna?”

Her shoulders sank with an apology. “If I could have found out about her by now, I—”

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