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Red Queen: Chapter 27

Maven has betrayed me. No, he was never on my side at all.

My eyes adjust, seeing bars through the dim light. The ceiling is low and heavy, like the underground air. I’ve never been here before, but I know it all the same.

“The Bowl of Bones,” I whisper aloud, expecting no one to hear me.

Instead, someone laughs.

The darkness continues to lift, revealing more of the cell. A lumpy shape sits against the bars next to me, shifting with every peal of laughter.

“I was four years old the first time I came here, and Maven was barely two. He hid behind his mother’s skirts, afraid of the darkness and the empty cells.” Cal chuckles, every word sharp as a knife. “I guess he’s not afraid of the dark anymore.”

“No, he’s not.”

I’m the shadow of the flame. I believed Maven when he said those words, when he told me how much he hated this world. Now I know it was all a trick, a masterful trick. Every word, every touch, every look was a lie. And I thought I was the liar.

Instinctively I reach out with my abilities, feeling for any pulse of electricity, something to give me a spark of energy. But there’s nothing. Nothing but a blank, flat absence, a hollow sensation that makes me shiver.

“Is Arven nearby?” I wonder, remembering how he shut off my abilities, forcing me to watch as Maven and his mother destroyed their family. “I can’t feel a thing.”

“It’s the cells,” Cal says dully. His hands draw shapes in the dirty floor—flames. “Made of Silent Stone. Don’t ask me to explain it, because I can’t, and I don’t feel like trying.”

He looks up, eyes glaring through the darkness at the unending line of cells. I should be afraid, but I have nothing left to fear. The worst has already happened.

“Before the matches, back when we still had to execute our own, the Bowl of Bones hosted everything nightmares are made of. The Great Greco, who used to tear men in half and eat their livers. The Poison Bride. She was an animos of House Viper and sent snakes into my great-great-uncle’s bed on their wedding night. They say his blood turned to venom, he was bitten so many times.” Cal lists them off, the criminals of his world. They sound likes stories invented to make children behave. “Now, us. The Traitor Prince, they’ll call me. ‘He killed his father for the crown. He just couldn’t wait.’”

I can’t help but add to the tale. “‘The bitch made him do it,’ they’ll gossip to each other.” I can see it in my head, shouted on every street corner, from every video screen. “They’ll blame me, the little lightning girl. I filled your thoughts with poison, I corrupted you. I made you do it.”

“You almost did,” he murmurs back. “I almost chose you this morning.”

Was it just this morning? That cannot be true. I push myself up against the bars, leaning just inches away from Cal.

“They’re going to kill us.”

Cal nods, laughing again. I’ve heard him laugh before, at me every time I tried to dance, but this sound is not the same. His warmth is gone, leaving nothing behind.

“The king will see to it. We will be executed.”

Execution. I’m not surprised, not in the least.

“How will they do it?” I can barely remember the last execution. Only images remain: silverblood on sand, the roar of a crowd. And I remember the gallows at home, rope swinging in a harsh wind.

Cal’s shoulders tense. “There are many ways. Together, one at a time, with swords or guns or abilities or all three.” He heaves a sigh, already resigned to his fate. “They’ll make it hurt. It will not be quick.”

“Maybe I’ll bleed all over the place. That’ll give the rest of the world something to think about.” The bleak thought makes me smile. When I die, I’ll be planting my own red flag, splashing it across the sands of the massive arena. “He won’t be able to hide me then. Everyone will know what I really am.”

“You think that will change anything?”

It must. Farley has the list, Farley will find the others . . . but Farley is dead. I can only hope she passed the message on, to someone still alive. The others are still out there, and they must be found. They must carry on, because I no longer can.

“I think it won’t,” Cal continues, his voice filling the silence. “I think he’ll use it as an excuse. There will be more conscriptions, more laws, more labor camps. His mother will invent another marvelous lie, and the world will keep on turning, the same as before.”

No. Never the same again.

“He’ll look for more like me,” I realize aloud. I’ve already fallen, I’ve already lost, I’m already dead. And this is the last nail in the coffin. My head drops into my hands, feeling my sharp, clever fingers curl into my hair.

Cal shifts against the bars, his weight sending vibrations through the metal. “What?”

“There are others. Julian figured it out. He told me how to find them, and—” My voice breaks, not wanting to continue. “And I told him.” I feel like screaming. “He used me so perfectly.”

Through the bars, Cal turns to look at me. Even though his abilities are far away, suppressed by these wretched walls, an inferno rages in his eyes. “How does it feel?” he growls, almost nose to nose with me. “How does it feel to be used, Mare Barrow?”

Once, I would’ve given anything to hear him say my real name, but now it stings like a burn. I thought I was using them both, Maven and Cal. How stupid I was.

“I’m sorry,” I force out. I despise those words, but they’re all I can give. “I’m not Maven, Cal. I didn’t do this to hurt you. I never wanted to hurt you.” And softer, barely audible, “It wasn’t all a lie.”

His head thunks back against the bars, so loud it must hurt, but Cal doesn’t seem to notice. Like me, he’s lost the ability to feel pain or fear. Too much has happened.

“Do you think he’ll kill my parents?” My sister, my brothers. For once, I’m happy Shade is dead and out of Maven’s reach.

I feel surprising warmth bleed against me, settling into my shivering bones. Cal has moved again, leaning against the bars right behind me. His heat is gentle, natural—not driven by anger or ability. It’s human. I can feel him breathing, his heart beating. It hammers like a drum as he finds the strength to lie to me. “I think he has more important things to think about.”

I know he can feel me crying, my shoulders shaking with every sob, but he doesn’t say anything. There are no words for this. But he stays right there, my last bit of warmth in a world turning to dust. I weep for them all. Farley, Tristan, Walsh, Will. Shade, Bree, Tramy, Gisa, Mom, and Dad. Fighters, all of them. And Kilorn. I couldn’t save him, no matter how hard I tried. I can’t even save myself.

At least I have my earrings. The little specks, sharp in my skin, will stay with me until the end. I die with them, and they with me.

We stay like that for what must be hours, though nothing changes to mark the passing time. I even doze off once, before a familiar voice makes me jerk awake.

“In another life, I might be jealous.”

Maven’s words send shivers down my spine and not in a good way.

Cal jumps to his feet quicker than I thought possible and throws himself at the bars, making the metal sing. But the bars hold firm, and Maven, cunning, disgusting, awful Maven, is just out of reach. To my delight, he still flinches away.

“Save your strength, brother,” he says, teeth clicking together with every word. “You will need it soon.”

Though he wears no crown, Maven already stands with the air of a terrible king. His dress uniform is crowded with new medals. They were his father’s once; I’m surprised they aren’t still covered in blood. He looks even paler than before, though the dark circles under his eyes are gone. Murder helps him sleep.

“Will it be you in the arena?” Cal snarls through the bars, his hands tight on the iron. “Will you do it yourself? Do you even have the nerve?”

I can’t find the strength to stand, as much as I want to rush the bars, to tear away metal with my bare hands until the only thing I feel is Maven’s throat. I can only watch.

He laughs dully at his brother’s words. “We both know I could never beat you with ability,” he says, throwing back Cal’s own advice from so long ago. “So I beat you with my head, dear brother.”

Once, he told me Cal hated to lose. Now I realize the one playing to win was always Maven. Every breath, every word was in service to this bloody victory.

Cal growls low under his breath. “Mavey,” he says, but the nickname holds no love anymore. “How could you do this to Father? To me? To her?”

“A murdered king, a traitorous prince. So much blood,” he sneers, dancing at the edge of Cal’s reach. “They weep in the streets for our father. Or at least, they pretend to,” he adds with a disinterested shrug. “The foolish wolves wait for me to stumble, and the smart ones know I will not. House Samos, House Iral, they’ve been sharpening their claws for years, waiting for a weak king, a compassionate king. You know they drooled at the sight of you? Think about it, Cal. Decades from now, Father would die slowly, peacefully, and you would ascend. Married to Evangeline, a daughter of steel and knives, with her brother at your side. You wouldn’t survive the coronation night. She would do what Mother did and supplant you with her own child.”

“Don’t tell me you did this to protect a dynasty,” Cal scoffs, shaking his head. “You did this for yourself.”

Again, Maven shrugs. He grins to himself with a pointed, cruel smile. “Are you really so surprised? Poor Mavey, the second prince. The shadow of his brother’s flame. A weak thing, a little thing, doomed to stand to the side and kneel.”

He shifts, prowling from Cal’s cell to stand in front of mine. I can only stare at him from the ground, not trusting myself to move. He even smells cold.

“Betrothed to a girl with eyes for another, for the brother, the prince no one could ever ignore.” His words take on a feral edge, heavy with a wild anger. But there is truth in them, a harsh truth I’ve tried so hard to forget. It makes my skin crawl. “You took everything that should have been mine, Cal. Everything.”

Suddenly I’m standing, shaking violently, but still standing. He’s lied to us for so long, but I cannot let him lie now.

“I was never yours, and you were never mine, Maven,” I snarl. “And not because of him, either. I thought you were perfect, I thought you were strong and brave and good. I thought you were better than him.”

Better than Cal. Those are words Maven thought no one would ever say. He flinches, and for a second, I can see the boy I used to know. A boy that doesn’t exist.

He reaches out a hand, grabbing at me between the bars. When his fingers close over the bare skin of my wrist, I feel nothing but repulsion. He holds me tight, like I’m some kind of lifeline. Something has snapped in him, revealing a desperate child, a pathetic, hopeless thing trying to hold on to his favorite toy.

“I can save you.”

The words make my skin scrawl.

“Your father loved you, Maven. You didn’t see it, but he did.”

“A lie.”

“He loved you, and you killed him!” The words come faster, spilling like blood from a vein. “Your brother loved you, and you made him a murderer. I—I loved you. I trusted you. I needed you. And now I’m going to die for it.”

“I am king. You will live if I want you to. I will make it so.”

“You mean if you lie? One day your lies will strangle you, King Maven. My only regret is I won’t be alive to see it.” And then it’s my turn to grab him. I pull with all my strength, making him stumble against the bars. My knuckles connect with his cheek, and he yelps away like a kicked dog. “I will never make the mistake of loving you ever again.”

To my dismay, he recovers quickly and smoothes his hair. “So you choose him?”

That’s all this ever was. Jealousy. Rivalry. All so shadow could defeat the flame.

I have to throw my head back and laugh, feeling the eyes of the brothers on me. “Cal betrayed me, and I betrayed him. And you betrayed us both, in a thousand different ways.” The words are heavy as stone but right. So right. “I choose no one.”

For once, I feel like I control fire and Maven has been burned by it. He stumbles back from my cell, somehow defeated by the little girl without her lightning, the prisoner in chains, the human before a god.

“What will you tell them when I bleed?” I hiss after him. “The truth?”

He laughs deep in his chest. The little boy disappears, replaced by the king killer again. “The truth is what I make it. I could set this world on fire and call it rain.”

And some will believe. The fools. But others will not. Red and Silver, high and low, some will see the truth.

His voice becomes a snarl, his face a shadow of a beast. “Anyone who knows that we hid you, anyone with even a hint of suspicion, will be dealt with.”

My mind buzzes, flying to everyone who knew something about me was strange. Maven beats me there, seeming to enjoy listing off the many deaths. “Lady Blonos had to go, of course. Decapitation deals nicely with skin healers.”

She was an old crow, an annoyance—and she didn’t deserve this.

“The maids were easier. Pretty girls, sisters from Oldshire. Mother did them in herself.”

I never even learned their names.

My knees hit the ground heavily, but I barely feel it. “They didn’t know anything.” But my begging is no use now.

“Lucas will go as well,” he says, smirking with teeth bright in the darkness. “You’ll get to see that for yourself.”

I feel like retching. “You told me he was safe, with his family—!”

He laughs long and hard. “When are you going to realize that every word out of my mouth was a lie?”

“We forced him, Julian and I. He did nothing wrong.” Begging feels so awful, but it’s all I can think to do. “He’s of House Samos. You can’t kill one of them.”

“Mare, haven’t you been paying attention? I can do anything,” he growls. “It’s a pity we couldn’t get Julian back here in time. I would’ve liked to make him watch you die.”

I do my best to choke back a sob, pressing a hand to my mouth. Next to me, Cal growls deep in his throat, thinking of his uncle. “You found him?”

“Of course we did. We captured Julian and Sara both.” Maven laughs. “I’ll settle for killing Skonos first, finishing the job my mother began. You know the story there now, don’t you, Cal? You know what my mother did, whispering her way into Coriane’s head, making her brain crawl.” He draws closer, eyes wild and frightening. “Sara knew. And your father, even you, refused to believe her. You let my mother win. And you’ve done it again.”

Cal doesn’t respond, resting his head against the bars. Satisfied he’s destroyed his brother, Maven turns on me, pacing just beyond my cell.

“I’ll make the others scream for you, Mare, every last one. Not just your parents. Not just your siblings. But every single one like you. I’m going to find them, and they will die with you in their thoughts, knowing this is the fate you have brought them. I am the king and you could’ve been my Red queen. Now you are nothing.”

I don’t bother to brush away the tears coursing down my cheeks. It’s no use anymore. Maven enjoys the sight of me broken and sucks on his teeth like he wants to taste me.

“Good-bye, Maven.” I wish there was more I could say, but there are no words for his evil. He knows what he is, and, worst of all, he likes it.

He dips his head, almost bowing to the pair of us. Cal doesn’t bother to look and grips the bars instead, wearing at the metal like it’s Maven’s neck.

“Good-bye, Mare.” The smirk is gone, and, to my surprise, his eyes look wet. He hesitates, not wanting to go. It’s like he’s suddenly understood what he’s done and what’s about to happen to all of us. “I told you to hide your heart once. You should have listened.”

How dare he.

I have three older brothers, so when I spit at Maven, my aim is perfect, hitting him square in the eye.

He turns quickly, almost running from the pair of us. Cal stares after him for a long time, unable to speak. I can only sit down, letting my rage seep away again. When Cal settles back against me, there are no more words left to say.

Many things led to this day, for all of us. A forgotten son, a vengeful mother, a brother with a long shadow, a strange mutation. Together, they’ve written a tragedy.

In the stories, the old fairy tales, a hero comes. But all my heroes are gone or dead. No one is coming for me.

It must be the next morning when the Sentinels arrive, led by Arven himself. With the suffocating walls, his presence makes it difficult to stand, but they force me up.

“Sentinel Provos, Sentinel Viper.” Cal nods at the Sentinels when they open his cell. They pull him roughly to his feet. Even now, facing death, Cal is calm.

He greets every guard we pass, addressing them by name. They stare back, angry or bewildered or both. A king killer should not be so kind. The soldiers are even worse. He wants to stop to say good-bye to them properly, but his own men grow hard and cold at the sight of him. And I think that hurts him almost as much as everything else. After a while, he goes quiet, losing the last bit of will he has left. As we climb out of the darkness, the noise of a crowd grows steadily nearer. Faint at first, but then a dull roar right above us. The arena is full, and they’re ready for a show.

This started when I fell into the Spiral Garden, a body made of sparks, and now it ends at the Bowl of Bones. I’ll leave as a corpse.

Arena attendants, all dull-eyed Silvers, descend on us like a flock of pigeons. They pull me behind a curtain, preparing me for what’s to come with brisk movements and hard hands. I barely feel them, pushing and pulling, shoving me into a cheaper version of a training suit. This is meant to be an insult, making me wear something so simple to die in, but I prefer the scratch of fabric to the whisper of silk. I think dimly of my maids. They painted me every day; they knew I had something to hide. And they died for it. No one paints me now or even bothers to brush away the dirt from a night spent in a cell. More pageantry. Once, I wore silk and jewels and pretty smiles, but that doesn’t fit Maven’s lie. A Red girl in rags is easier for them to understand, and to kill.

When they pull me back out again, I can see they’ve done the same for Cal. There will be no medals, no armor for him. But he has his flame-maker bracelet again. The fire burns still, smoldering in the broken soldier. He has resigned himself to die, but not before taking someone with him.

We hold each other’s gaze, simply because there’s nowhere else to look.

“What are we walking into?” Cal finally says, tearing his eyes away from mine to face Arven.

The old man, white as paper, looks back on his former students without a flicker of remorse. What did they promise him, for his help? But I can already see. The badge over his heart, the crown made of jet, diamond, and ruby, was Cal’s once. I don’t doubt he was given much more.

“You were a prince and a general. In his wisdom, the merciful king has decided you are to at least die with glory.” He smiles as he speaks, showing sharp little teeth. Rat’s teeth. “A good death, the kind a traitor doesn’t deserve.

“As for the Red girl, the trickster.” He turns his fearsome gaze on me, focusing harder. The stifling weight of his power threatens to drag me down. “She will have no weapons at all and die like the devil she is.”

I open my mouth to protest, but Arven leers over me, his breath reeking of poison. “King’s orders.”

No weapons. I feel like screaming. No lightning. Arven won’t let me go, even to die. Maven’s words echo sharply in my head. Now you are nothing. I’ll die as nothing. They don’t need to hide my blood if they can claim my powers were faked somehow.

Down in the cells, I was almost eager to step out onto the sand, to send my sparks into the sky and my blood into the earth. Now I shake and shiver, wanting to run away, but my wretched pride, the only thing I have left, won’t even allow that.

Cal takes my hand. He quivers like I do, afraid to die. At least he’ll have a chance to fight.

“I’ll protect you as long as I can,” he whispers. I almost don’t hear him over the tramp of feet and the pathetic beat of my heart.

“I don’t deserve it,” I mutter back, but I squeeze his hand in thanks all the same. I betrayed him, I ruined his life, and this is how he repays me.

The next room is the last. It’s a sloping passage, leading up a gentle incline to a steel gate. Sunlight dances through, bleeding down to us along with all the noise of a full arena. The walls distort the sounds, transforming cheers and shouts into the howls of a nightmare. I suppose that’s not far from the truth.

As we enter, I see we’re not the only ones waiting to die.


A guard holds his arm, but Lucas still manages to glance over his shoulder. His face is full of bruises and he looks paler than before, like he hasn’t seen the sun in days. It’s probably true.

“Mare.” Just the way he says my name makes me cringe. He’s another one I’ve betrayed, using him like I used Cal, Julian, the colonel, like I tried to use Maven. “I was wondering when I’d see you again.”

“I’m so sorry.” I go to my grave apologizing, and it still won’t be enough. “They told me you were with your family, that you were safe, or else—”

“Or else what?” he asks slowly. “I’m nothing to you. Just something to be used and cast aside.”

The accusation cuts like a knife. “I’m sorry, but it had to be done.”

“The queen made me remember.” Made. There’s pain in his voice. “Don’t apologize, because you don’t mean it.”

I want to embrace him, to show this was not what I wanted. “I do; I swear, Lucas.”

“His Majesty, Maven of House Calore and House Merandus, the King of Norta, Flame of the North.” The cry rings out in the arena, echoing down to us through the gate. The accompanying cheers make me cringe, and Lucas flinches. His end is near.

“Would you do it again?” The words sting sharply. “Would you risk me for your terrorist friends again?” I would. I don’t say it out loud, but Lucas sees my answer in my eyes. “I kept your secret.”

It’s worse than any insult he could throw at me. The knowledge that he protected me, even though I didn’t deserve it, gnaws at my core.

“But now I know you’re not different, not anymore,” he continues, almost spitting. “You’re the same as all the rest. Heartless, selfish, cold—just like us. They taught you well.”

Then he turns, facing the gate again. He wants no more words from me. I want to go to him, to try and explain, but a guard holds me back. There’s nothing more for me to do but stand tall and wait for our doom.

“My citizens.” Maven’s voice filters through the gate with the daylight. He sounds like his father, like Cal, but there’s something sharper in his voice. He’s only seventeen and already a monster. “My people, my children.”

Cal scoffs next to me. But out in the arena, a dead, haunting silence settles. He has them in the palm of his hand.

“Some would call this a cruelty,” Maven continues. I don’t doubt he memorized a stirring speech, probably written by his witch of a mother. “My father’s body is barely cold, his blood still stains the floor, and I have been forced to take his place, to begin my reign in such a violent shadow. We have not executed our own for ten years, and it pains me to begin that awful tradition again. But for my father, for my crown, for you, I must. I am young, but I am not weak. Such crimes, such evil will be punished.”

Up above us, high in the arena, jeers ring out, cheering for death.

“Lucas of House Samos, for crimes against the crown, for collusion with the terrorist organization known as the Scarlet Guard, I declare you guilty. I sentence you to die. Submit to execution.”

And then Lucas is walking up the incline, to his own death. He doesn’t spare a glance for me. Not that I deserve one. He’s dying, not just because of what we made him do but for what I am. Like the others, he knew there was something strange about me. And like the others, he will die. When he disappears through the far gate, I have to turn away and stare at the wall. The gunshots are hard to ignore. The crowd roars, pleased by the violent display.

Lucas was only the beginning, the opening act. We are the show.

“Walk,” Arven says, prodding us on. He follows as we begin the slow climb.

I cannot let go of Cal’s hand, in case I stumble. Every muscle in him tenses, ready for the fight of his life. I reach out for my lightning in one last attempt, but nothing comes. There’s not even a tremor left in me. Arven—and Maven—have taken it away.

Through the gate, I watch Lucas’s body be dragged away, leaving a streak of silverblood across the sand. A wave of sickness passes over me, and I have to bite my lip.

With a great groan, the steel gate shudders and rises up. The sunlight blinds me for a second, freezing me to the spot, but Cal pulls me forward into the arena.

White sand, fine as powder, slides beneath my feet. As my eyes adjust, I almost forget to breathe. The arena is enormous, a wide gray mouth of steel and stonework, filled with thousands of angry faces. They stare down on us in deafening silence, pouring their hate into my skin. I can’t see any Reds at all, but I don’t expect to. This is what the Silvers call entertainment, another play for them to laugh at, and they won’t share it.

Video screens dot the arena, reflecting my own face back at me. Of course they must record this, to broadcast it across the nation. To show the world another Red brought so low. The sight gives me pause; I look like myself again. Ratty, tangled hair, simple clothing, dirt falling off me in little clouds. My skin blushes with the blood I’ve tried so long to hide. If death weren’t waiting for me, I would probably smile.

To my surprise, the screens flicker, switching from the image of Cal and me to something grainy—security footage, from all the cameras, all the electric eyes. With a shaky breath, I realize exactly how deep Maven’s plan really went.

The screens play it all back, every stolen moment. Sneaking out of the Hall with Cal, dancing together, our whispered conversations, our kiss. And then the king’s murder in its full, terrible glory. Taken together as one, it’s not hard to believe Maven’s story. All of it connects together, the tale of the Red devil who seduced a prince, who made him kill a king. The crowd gasps and murmurs, eating up the perfect lie. Even my own parents would have a hard time denying this.

“Mare Molly Barrow.”

Maven’s voice booms out behind me, and we spin to see the royal fool staring down at us. His own box of seats drips with black-and-red flags, filled to the brim with lords and ladies I recognize. They all wear black, forgetting their house colors in honor of a murdered king. Sonya, Elane, and all the other High House children stare down on me with disgust. Lord Samos stands on Maven’s left, with the queen on his right. Elara hides behind a mourning veil, probably to mask her wicked smile. I expect Evangeline to be hovering nearby, content to marry the next king. After all, she only wanted the crown. But she’s nowhere to be seen. Maven himself looks like a dark ghost, his pale skin sharp against the black gleam of dress armor. He even wears the sword they killed the king with, and his father’s crown nestles against his hair, gleaming in the sun.

“Once we believed you to be the lost Mareena Titanos, another murdered citizen of my crown. With the help of your Red brethren, you deceived us with technological tricks and ruses, infiltrating my own family.” Technological tricks. The screens show me back in the Spiral Garden, rippling with electricity. In the footage, it seems unnatural. “We gave you an education, status, power, strength—and even our love. For that, you repaid us with treachery, turning my own brother against his blood with your deceit.

“We know now that you are an operative of the defeated Scarlet Guard and are directly responsible for the loss of countless lives.” The images flicker to the night of the Sun Shooting, to the ballroom full of blood and death. Farley’s flag, the fluttering red rag and the torn sun, stands out against the chaos.

“Together with my brother, Prince Tiberias the Seventh, of House Calore and House Jacos, you are accused of many violent and deplorable offenses against the crown, including deception, treason, terrorism, and murder.” Your hands are no cleaner than mine, Maven. “You killed the king, my father, bewitching his own son to do the deed. You are a Red devil”—he sweeps his eyes to Cal, now almost igniting in anger—“and you are a weak man. A traitor to your crown, your blood, and your colors.” The death of the king plays again, cementing Maven’s twisted words.

“I pronounce you both guilty of your crimes. Submit to execution.” A great jeer goes up over the arena. It sounds like pigs screaming, howling for blood.

The video screens flip back to Cal and me, expecting us to weep or plead for our lives. Neither of us moves an inch. They will not get that from us.

Maven stares over the side of his box, leering, waiting for one of us to snap.

Instead, Cal salutes, two fingers to his brow. It’s better than punching Maven in the face, and he draws back, disappointed. He looks away from us, to the far side of the arena. When I turn, I expect to see the gunmen who killed Lucas, but I’m greeted by a very different sight.

I don’t know where they came from or when but five figures appear in the dust.

“That’s not too bad,” I murmur, squeezing Cal’s hand. He’s a warrior, a soldier. Five on one might even be fair for him.

But Cal furrows his brow, his attention on our executioners. They come into sharper focus and fear rolls through me. I know their names and abilities, some much better than others. All of them ripple with strength, in armor and uniforms meant for war.

A strongarm Rhambos to tear me apart, the Haven son who will disappear and choke me like a shadowed ghost, and Lord Osanos himself to drown Cal’s fire. Arven as well, I remind myself. He stands at the gate, his eyes never leaving my body.

Don’t forget the other two. The magnetrons.

It’s almost poetic, really. In matching armor, with matching scowls, Evangeline and Ptolemus stare us down, their fists bristling with long, cruel knives.

Somewhere in my head, a clock ticks, counting down. Not much time left.

Above us, Maven’s voice croaks out.

“Let them die.”


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not work with dark mode