Chapter no 16

Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles, #1)


Prince Kai barreled through the corridor. He had run all the way from his bedroom on the sixteenth floor of the palace’s private wing, pausing to catch his breath only when he was forced to wait for the elevator. He burst through the door to the visiting room and came to a halt all at once, still gripping the door’s handle.

His mad eyes found Torin, arms crossed as he leaned against the far wall. The adviser tore his gaze from the glass window and met Kai’s panicked expression with one of resignation.

“I heard—” Kai started, pulling back his shoulders. Wetting his dry mouth, he came into the room. The door clicked behind him. The small sitting room was lit only by a table lamp and the bright fluorescents in the quarantine.

Kai peered into the sickroom just as a med-droid pulled a white cloth over his father’s closed eyes. His hammering heart plummeted. “I’m too late.”

Torin stirred. “It happened only minutes ago,” he said, forcing himself away from the wall. Kai took in the adviser’s lined face and sleepless eyes, and a cup of untouched tea that sat beside his portscreen. He’d stayed late to work, rather than return to his own home, his own bed.

The exhaustion caught up to Kai all at once and he pressed his burning forehead against the cool glass. He should have been there too.

“I will set up a press conference.” Torin’s voice was hollow. “A press conference?”

“The country needs to know. We will mourn together.” Torin seemed shaken for a rare moment—he covered it with a measured breath.

Kai squeezed his eyes shut and chafed them with his fingers. Even knowing that it was coming, that his father was sick with this incurable disease, it still made no sense. All that had just been lost, taken so quickly. Not just his father. Not just the emperor.

His youth. His freedom.

“You will be a good emperor,” said Torin. “As he was.”

Kai flinched away from him. He did not want to think about it, all of his own inadequacies. He was too young, too stupid, too optimistic, too naive. He couldn’t do this.

The screen behind them pinged, followed by a sweetly feminine voice: “Incoming communication for Crown Prince Kaito of the Eastern Commonwealth from Queen Levana of Luna.”

Kai spun toward the netscreen, blank but for a spinning globe in the corner, signaling an available comm. Any threat of tears vanished into an oncoming headache. The air thickened, but neither of them moved.

“How could she know? So soon?” said Kai. “She must have spies.”

From the corner of his eye, he saw Torin level a glare at him. A warning not to start in on the conspiracy theories just yet. “Perhaps the thaumaturge or her guard saw you,” he said. “Running through the castle in the middle of the night. What else could it mean?”

Locking his jaw, Kai drew himself to his full height, hailing the screen like an enemy. “I guess our mourning period is over,” he murmured. “Screen, accept comm.”

The screen brightened. Kai bristled at the sight of the Lunar Queen, her head and shoulders draped in an ornate cream-colored veil, like a perpetual bride. All that could be seen beneath the shroud was a hint of long dark hair and the ghost of her features. The explanation told by the Lunars was that their queen’s beauty was a gift not to be seen by undeserving Earthens, but Kai had heard that in reality the queen’s glamour—her ability to make people see her as divinely beautiful by manipulating their brain waves—could not translate over the netscreens, therefore she never allowed herself to be seen over them.

Whatever the reason, looking at the white-swathed figure for too long always made Kai’s eyes sting.

“My dear Prince Regent,” Levana said in a saccharine voice, “may I be the first to offer my condolences on the loss of your father, the good Emperor Rikan. May he forever rest in peace.”

Kai cast a cool glare at Torin. Spies?

Torin did not return the look.

“Though the occasion is tragic, I do look forward to continuing the talk of an alliance with you, as the new leader of Earth’s Eastern Commonwealth. As I see no reason to defer these conversations until your coronation, whensoever that shall be, I do think it appropriate to plan a meeting as soon as is convenient in your time of mourning. My shuttle is prepared. I can depart as soon as your next sunrise and come to offer both my sympathies and my

congratulations in the flesh. I will alert my thaumaturge to expect my arrival. She can ensure that accommodations are adequately prepared. I ask that you do not concern yourself with my comfort. I am sure you will have many other concerns during this tragic time. My sympathies are with you and the Commonwealth.” She finished her message with a tilt of her head and the screen blackened.

Jaw hanging, Kai faced Torin. He squeezed his fists against his sides before they could start to shake. “She wants to come here? Now? It hasn’t even been fifteen minutes!”

Torin cleared his throat. “We should discuss this in the morning. Before the press conference, I suppose.”

Kai turned away, thunking his head against the window. Beyond the glass, the peaks of his father’s body were obscured beneath the white sheet, not unlike the queen and her veil. The emperor had lost so much weight in the past weeks that his form seemed more like a mannequin’s than a man’s.

His father was no longer there. Unable to protect Kai. Unable to offer advice. Unable to lead his country ever again.

“She thinks I’m weak,” Kai said. “She’s going to try and persuade me to accept the marriage alliance now, while everything is in chaos.” He kicked the wall, biting back a cry of pain when he remembered he wasn’t wearing shoes. “Can’t we tell her no? Tell her she’s not welcome here?”

“I’m not sure that would be the indication of peace your father had been striving for.”

She’s the one who’s been threatening war for the last twelve years!”

Torin pursed his lips, and the haunting worry in his gaze quelled Kai’s anger. “Discussions must go two ways, Your Highness. We will listen to her requests, but she must listen to ours as well.”

Kai’s shoulders drooped. He turned around, craning his head back and staring at the shadowed ceiling. “What did she mean, her thaumaturge will prepare her accommodations?”

“Removing the mirrors, I suspect.”

Kai squeezed his eyes shut. “Mirrors. Right. I forgot.” He massaged his forehead. What was it about the Lunars? And not just any Lunar. Queen Levana. On Earth. In his country, his home. He shivered. “The people aren’t going to like this.”

“No.” Torin sighed. “Tomorrow will be a dark day for the Commonwealth.”

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