Chapter no 20

Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles, #1)


spacecrafts, except that its body shimmered as if inlaid with diamonds, and a string of gold runes encircled its hull in an unbroken line. The ship was too bright in the afternoon sun and Kai had to squint against the glare. He did not know if the runes were magic or if they were only meant to seem so. He did not know if the ship was made out of some fancy, glittery material, or if they’d just painted it that way. He did know it hurt to look at.

The ship was larger than the personal shuttle the queen’s head thaumaturge, Sybil, had come to Earth on and yet still relatively small for all the importance it carried: smaller than most passenger ships and smaller than any cargo ship Kai had seen. It was a private ship, meant only for the Lunar queen and her entourage.

The ship landed without a jolt. Heat rose up from the concrete in blistering waves. The fine silk of Kai’s shirt was clinging to his back and a trickle of sweat had begun down his neck—in the evening the welcome pad would be sheltered by the palace’s stone walls, but now it was under full assault by the late August sun.

They waited.

Torin, at Kai’s side, did not fidget. His face was impassive, expectant. His calmness only unsettled Kai even more.

On Kai’s other side, Sybil Mira stood dressed in her official white coat with its embroidered runes, similar to those on the ship. The material seemed lightweight, yet it covered her from the top of her throat to the knuckles of each hand, and the flared tails hung past her knees. She must have been sweltering, but she looked fully composed.

A few steps behind her stood the blond guard, hands clasped behind his back.

Two of Kai’s own royal guards stood at either side of the platform. That was all. Levana had insisted that no one else greet her at the pad.

Kai dug his nails into his palms in an attempt to keep the sneer from his

face, and waited while the heat plastered his bangs to his forehead.

Finally, when the queen seemed to have grown tired of making them suffer, the ramp of the ship descended, revealing silver-furnished stairs.

Two men alighted first—both tall, both muscular. One was pale with wildly unkempt orange hair and was dressed in the same warrior-like body armor and weaponry that Sybil’s guard wore. The other man was dark as a night sky, with no hair at all, and wore a coat like Sybil’s with its bell sleeves and embroidery. His, however, was crimson, announcing that he was beneath Sybil, a second-tier thaumaturge. Kai was glad he knew enough about the Lunar court to recognize that, at least.

He watched the two men as they surveyed the pad, the surrounding walls, and the assembled group with stoic expressions before standing to either side of the ramp.

Sybil slinked forward. Kai swallowed a breath of stifling air.

Queen Levana appeared at the top of the stairs. She still wore her long veil, blindingly bright beneath the relentless sun. Her white dress whispered around her hips as she glided down the steps and accepted Sybil’s hand.

Sybil dipped to one knee and touched her forehead to her queen’s knuckle. “Our separation was insufferable. I am pleased to be in your service once more, my Queen.” Then she stood and with a single graceful motion lifted the veil back from Levana’s face.

The hot air caught in Kai’s throat, choking him. The queen paused just long enough to seem as though she were letting her eyes adjust to the bright daylight of Earth—but Kai suspected she really just wanted him to see her.

She was indeed beautiful, as if someone had taken the scientific measurements of perfection and used them to mold a single ideal specimen. Her face was slightly heart-shaped, with high cheekbones barely flushed. Auburn hair fell in silken ringlets to her waist and her unblemished ivory skin shimmered like mother-of-pearl in the sunshine. Her lips were red red red, looking like she’d just drunk a pint of blood.

A chill shook Kai from the inside out. She was unnatural.

Kai risked a glance at Torin and saw that he held Levana’s gaze without outward emotion. Seeing his adviser’s resolve sent a jolt of determination through Kai. Reminding himself that it was only an illusion, he forced himself to look at the queen again.

Her onyx eyes glittered as they swept over him.

“Your Majesty,” Kai said, folding a fist to his heart, “it is my greatest honor to welcome you to my country and planet.”

Her lips curled. A sweetness lit up her face—an innocence to match a child’s. It unsettled him. She did not bow or even nod but instead held out her


Kai hesitated, staring at the pale, translucent skin, wondering if just touching her was all it would take to destroy a man’s mind.

Bracing himself, he took her hand and brushed a quick kiss against her fingers. Nothing happened.

“Your Highness,” she said in a lilting voice that thrummed along Kai’s spine. “It is my greatest honor to be thus welcomed. Might I again offer my sincerest condolences on the loss of your father, the great Emperor Rikan.”

Kai knew she was not at all sorry for his father’s death, but neither her expression nor her tone hinted at a thing.

“Thank you,” he replied. “I hope everything meets your expectations during your visit.”

“I look forward to the Eastern Commonwealth’s famed hospitality.”

Sybil stepped forward, eyes respectfully averted from Queen Levana. “I inspected your quarters myself, my Queen. They are subpar to our accommodations on Luna, but I think they will be adequate.”

Levana did not acknowledge her thaumaturge, but her gaze softened, and the world changed. Kai felt that the ground lurched beneath him. That the air had been sucked from the earth’s atmosphere. That the sun had gone black, leaving the ethereal queen the only source of light in the galaxy.

Tears pricked at the back of his eyes.

He loved her. He needed her. He would do anything to please her.

He jabbed his fingernails into his palms as hard as he could, nearly yelping from the pain, but it worked. The queen’s control disintegrated, leaving only the beautiful woman—not the desperate adoration of her.

He knew that she was aware of the effect she’d had on him as he struggled to soothe his ragged breathing, and though he wanted to detect cold haughtiness in her black eyes, he saw nothing. Nothing at all.

“If you will follow me,” he said, his voice slightly hoarse, “I will show you to your rooms.”

“That will not be necessary,” said Sybil. “I am quite familiar with the guest wing and can take Her Majesty myself. We would like a moment to speak in private.”

“Of course,” said Kai, hoping that his relief didn’t show.

Sybil led the way, the second thaumaturge and the two guards marching behind. They paid Kai and Torin no heed as they passed, but Kai didn’t doubt they would snap his neck in a second if he made any suspicious movements.

He released a shaky breath when they had gone. “Did you feel her?” he asked, barely above a whisper.

“Of course,” said Torin. His eyes were drawn to the ship, but he could

have been staring at Mars for all the focus in his eyes. “You resisted her well, Your Highness. I know it was difficult.”

Kai brushed his hair off his forehead, seeking a breeze, any breeze, but it didn’t come. “It wasn’t so hard. It was only for a moment.”

Torin’s eyes met his. It was one of the few times Kai had seen true sympathy in that gaze. “It will get harder.”

You'll Also Like