Chapter no 21

Red Queen (Red Queen, 1)

BACK IN MY ROOM , I TORN the torn dress, letting the silk fall to the floor. The king’s words replayed in my head, coupled with flashes of the events of that terrible night. Kilorn’s eyes stood out the most amidst all the flashes, the green flames burning through me. I have to protect him, but how? If only I could trade myself for him again, my freedom for his freedom. If only things were still that simple. Julian’s lesson has never felt so firmly embedded in my mind: the past is far greater than this future.

Julian. Julian.

The halls of the residence were filled with Sentinels and Security officers, each of them extremely alert. But I’d long since perfected my sneaking skills, and Julian’s door wasn’t that far away. Even though it was late at night, he was still awake, devoted to his books. Everything looked the same, as if nothing had happened. Maybe he doesn’t know. But then I noticed a bottle of brown liquor on the table, taking up the space usually reserved for tea. Of course he knows.

“Considering recent events, I assume our lessons will be canceled for the time being.” He said over the pages of his book. Still, he closed it with a bang, turning his full attention to me. “Not to mention it’s so late now.”

“I need you, Julian.”

“Does this have anything to do with Shooting Sun? Yes, they have come up with a clever name.” He pointed towards a dark video screen in the corner. “That broadcast has been on the news for hours now. The king will address all the people of the country in the morning.”

I remembered the fluffy-haired news anchor woman who reported on the bombing of the capital more than a month ago. There were only a few injuries at that time, but there was still chaos in the market. What will they do now? How many innocent Reds will have to pay for it?

“Or is this about the four terrorists currently locked up in the cells of this building?” Julian continued to press, gauging my response. “Sorry, I meant three. Ptolemus Samos has certainly made his mark.”

“They’re not terrorists,” I answered calmly, trying to keep myself under control.

“Shall I show you the definition of terrorism , Mare?” His tone was sharp. “The goals they strive for may be right, but the means… after all, your opinion is not important.” He pointed again at the video screen. “They have their own version of the truth, and that’s all people will hear.”

My teeth chattered loudly, bone on bone. “Are you going to help us or not?”

“I’m a teacher and you could say an outcast, in case you haven’t noticed. What could I possibly do?”

“Julian, please.” I could feel my last chance slipping through my fingers. “You’re a hummer, you can order the guards— make them do whatever you want. You can release the prisoners.”

But he didn’t move, taking a slow sip of his drink. He didn’t frown like a normal man would. The bite of alcohol was familiar to him.

“Tomorrow they will be interrogated. And no matter how strong they are, no matter how long they persist, the truth will come out.” Slowly, I took Julian’s hand, holding the fingers that had become rough from the paper. “This is my plan. I am part of them.” He doesn’t need to know about Maven. That will only make him more angry.

Half the lies worked. I could see it in Julian’s eyes.

” You? You did this?” He stuttered. “Shooting, bombing—?”

“The bomb…was not expected.” The bomb is a horror.

He squinted, and I could see the gears turning in his mind. Then he exploded completely. “I told you, I told you not to expect much!” He slammed his fists on the table, looking angrier than I’d ever seen him before. “And now,” he said,

looked at me with so much pain that it made my heart ache, “now I have to watch you drown?”

“If they succeed in freeing themselves 

He drank the rest of his drink in one gulp. With a flick of his wrist, he threw the glass so it shattered onto the floor, making me jump. “And what about me? Even if I remove the cameras, the guards’ memories, anything that could implicate each of us, the queen will know.” Shaking his head, he sighed. “He’s going to rip out my eyes for this.”

And Julian will never be able to read again. How could I ask for that?

“Then let me die.” The words got stuck in my throat. “I deserve it as much as they do.”

He can’t let me die. He won’t allow it.

I am the lightning girl, and I will change the world.

When Julian spoke again, his voice sounded hollow.

“They called my sister’s death a suicide.” Slowly, he trailed his fingers down his wrist, thinking about an old memory. “That’s a lie, and I know it. She was indeed a sad woman, but she would never do something like that. Not when he had Cal, and Tibe. He was murdered, and I said nothing. I was afraid, and I let him die in humiliation. And since that day, I have been trying hard to fix that, waiting in the shadows of this terrible world, waiting for the time to take my revenge.” He picked up

his gaze towards me. Those eyes were teary. “I think this would be a good time to start.”

It didn’t take long for Julian to come up with a plan. All we needed was a magnetron and some blind cameras, and fortunately, I could provide both.

Lucas knocked on my door two minutes after I called him.

“What can I do for you, Mare?” he said, more nervous than usual. I know the time he spent monitoring the queen’s interrogation of the servants must not have been easy. At least his mind would be too distracted to notice my shaking.

“I am hungry.” The rehearsed words came out more easily than they should. “You know, dinner never happened, so I wanted to know—”

“Do I look like a chef? You should call the kitchen maids, that’s their job.”

“I just, well, I don’t think this is a good time for servants to be hanging around. People are still wary, and I don’t want anyone to get hurt just because I didn’t get dinner. You just need to guard me, that’s all. And who knows, you might even get a piece of cake afterward.”

Sighing like an annoyed teenager, Lucas stuck out his arm. As I reached for it, I glanced at the cameras in the hallway, turning them off. Get ready.

I should have felt guilty for taking advantage of Lucas, realizing firsthand how it felt when our minds

being toyed with, but this is for Kilorn’s life. Lucas was still babbling when we turned the corner, colliding with Julian.

“Lord Jacos—,” Lucas exclaimed, moving to lower his head. However, Julian pulled his chin, moving faster than I thought he could. Before Lucas could respond, Julian looked him straight in the eye and the struggle died down before it even started.

His words that were as sweet as honey, as smooth as butter and as hard as steel, fell on open ears. “Take us to the cells. Use the valet aisle. Keep us away from the patrol officers. You won’t remember this.”

Lucas, who was always smiling and joking, fell into a strange, semi-hypnotic state. His eyes were blank and he didn’t notice when Julian reached out to take his rifle. But he kept walking, leading us through the labyrinth of the Hall. At every turn, I expected the presence of electric spies, shutting down everything in our path. Julian did the same to the guards, forcing them to forget about us as we passed. Together, we became one invincible team, and before long we were standing at the top of the dungeon ladder. There will be a number of Sentinels down there, too many for Julian to handle alone.

“Don’t say a word,” Julian hissed at Lucas, who nodded in understanding.

Now it’s my turn to guide. I thought I would be scared, but the dim lighting and late night felt so familiar. This is my specialty, sneaking around, cheating, and stealing.

“Who’s that? State your name and business!” One of the Sentinels shouted upwards at us. I recognized the voice—Gliacon, the freezer who tortured Farley. Maybe I can convince Julian to sing until he pushes himself off a cliff.

I straightened up, even though my voice and tone were what mattered. “My name is Lady Mareena Titanos, Prince Maven’s fiancee,” I shouted, as I descended the stairs as gracefully as possible. My voice was cold and sharp, imitating Elara and Evangeline’s voices. I also have strength and power . “And I will not tell the Sentinel of my business.”

Upon seeing me, the four Sentinels exchanged glances, questioning each other. One of them, a big guy with pig eyes, even looked me up and down in a rude manner. Behind bars, Kilorn and Walsh were immediately alert. Farley didn’t move from his corner, his arms wrapped around his knees. For a moment I thought he was asleep, until Farley stirred and his blue eyes reflected the light.

“I need to know, Lady,” Gliacon said, sounding apologetic. He nodded to Julian and Lucas, who came down with me. “Applies to both of you too.”

“I want to talk to myself with”—I threw as much disgust into my voice as I could; it wasn’t difficult, with the pig-eyed Sentinel standing so close—“these creatures. We have questions that demand answers and crimes that must be atoned for. Isn’t that right, Julian?”

Julian grinned scornfully, acting cleverly. “It would be easier to force them to sing.”

“No way, Lady,” snorted Pig Eyes. His accent was thick and rough, from Harbor Bay. “We were ordered to stay here, all night. We will not leave under anyone’s orders.”

Once, a boy in Stilts called me a great tempter because he managed to persuade him to hand over a pair of nice boots. “You understand my position, right? Soon I will be a princess, and a princess’ request is a very important thing. After all, those Red rats needed to be taught a lesson. Which hurts.”

Pig Eyes blinked lazily at me, thinking about it. Julian stuck close to my shoulder, ready with his sweet words if I needed them. Two heartbeats passed before Pig Eyes nodded, waving towards the others. “We can give you five minutes.”

My face hurts from smiling so widely, but I don’t care. “Thank you very much. I owe it to you, to all of you.”

They walked away in single file, their boots scraping the floor. Once they reached the top of the landing, I allowed myself to hope. Five minutes is more than enough.

Kilorn nearly jumped over the bars, impatient to be released from his cell, while Walsh pulled Farley to his feet. But I didn’t move an inch. I have no intention of releasing them, not yet. “Mare—,” Kilorn whispered, confused at my hesitation, but I

silenced him with sharp eyes.

“The bomb.” Smoke and fire filled my mind, throwing me back to the moment the dance hall exploded. “Tell me about the bomb.”

I expected them to fall to their knees to apologize, to beg for my forgiveness. But instead, the three of them exchanged blank glances. Farley leaned against the cell bars, his eyes burning.

“I don’t know anything about that,” he hissed, barely audible. “I never ordered anything like that. The attack should be organized, with specific targets. We do not kill randomly, without purpose.”

“The capital, the other bombings—?”

“You know, those buildings are empty. “There were no casualties there, not because of us,” he said flatly. “I swear to you, Mare, it wasn’t our doing.”

“Did you think we would try to blow up our greatest hopes?” Kilorn added. I didn’t need to ask to know he meant me.

Finally, I nodded over my shoulder to Julian.

“Open the cell. Quietly.” Julian muttered, both hands on Lucas’ face.

The magnetron complied, forcing the bars to curve into an O shape that was wide enough to pass through. Walsh was the first to come out, his eyes wide in amazement. Kilorn was next, helping Farley slip through the bars. His arm still dangled helplessly—the healer must have missed a spot.

I pointed at the wall, and they moved silently, like mice crawling over stone. Walsh’s eyes swept over Tristan’s body, still lying lifeless in the cell but he remained unmoved by Farley’s side. Julian pushed Lucas to their side before taking

the place was next to the foot of the stairs, in front of the released prisoners.

I took a position on the opposite side, squeezing myself next to Kilorn. Even though he had spent the night in a cell, with corpses for company, Kilorn still smelled like home.

“I knew you would come.” He whispered into my ear. “I know it.”

But there was no time for pleasantries or celebrations. At least until they leave safely.

Across from under the stairs, Julian nodded at me. He’s ready. “Sentinel Gliacon, can you come here? I want to talk.” I shouted up the stairs, throwing the bait for our next trap. Sound

the shuffling of feet told me he had taken the bait. “What is it, Lady Titanos?”

The moment he reached the floor, his eyes immediately darted to the open cell room and he gasped behind his mask. But Julian was too fast, even for a Sentinel.

“You go out for a while. You go back and find this. You don’t remember us. Call one of your other friends.” He mumbled, his voice humming a bad song.

“Sentinel Tyros, you are needed here,” he said flatly. “Now you will sleep.”

She almost fell before the last words left her lips, but Julian caught her waist and lay down gently behind her. Kilorn let out a breath of amazement, impressed by Julian’s abilities, who allowed himself a small, satisfied smile.

Tyros came down the stairs next, confused, but eager to serve. Julian repeated it, singing his command in a few seconds of whisper. I didn’t think the Sentinels would be this stupid, but it makes sense. They had been trained from childhood in fighting skills; logic and intelligence are not their highest priorities.

But the last two Sentinels, Pig Eyes and Healer, weren’t completely stupid. As Tyros called out, ordering the Skin Healing Sentinel to come down, they muttered to each other.

“Are you done, Lady Titanos?” Pig Eyes called, his voice full of alertness.

Thinking quickly, I shouted back at them. “Yeah, we’re done. Your comrades have returned to their positions, I want to make sure you do too.”

“Oh, is that true? Is that true, Tyros?”

As fast as lightning, Julian knelt beside Tyros who had fallen unconscious. He opened his eyes, holding his eyelids open. “Say you’ve returned to your position. Tell Lady Titanos it’s finished.”

“Return to my position.” Tyros rambled. Hopefully the long stairs and stone walls would distort the sound. “Lady Titanos is finished.”

Pig Eyes grumbled to herself. “Okay.”

Their boots hit the steps, both of them descending at the same time. Two. Julian can’t handle both of them alone . I felt Kilorn stiffen behind me, his fists tightening as he prepared himself for anything. With one hand I pushed him back against the wall, while the other turned white with sparks.

The footsteps stopped, just outside the opening. I couldn’t see them, and neither could Julian, but Pig Eyes was breathing like a dog. The healer was there too, waiting just beyond our reach. In complete silence, it was hard not to hear the click of the rifle being cocked.

Julian’s eyes widened, but he restrained himself, one hand gripping his stolen rifle. I didn’t even want to breathe, realizing the edge of the cliff we were all standing on. The walls seemed to shrink, locking us into stone coffins with no way out.

I felt very calm as I slid out onto the front steps, my fire-sparking hand hidden behind my back. I expected to feel a bullet shot at any moment, but the pain never came. They won’t shoot me, at least until I give them a good reason.

“Is there a problem, Sentinel?” I grinned, furrowing my eyebrows like I’d seen Evangeline do hundreds of times. Slowly, I took a step up, bringing the two of them into view. They stood side by side, fingers itching on the twin triggers. “I’d prefer if you didn’t aim your rifles at me.”

Babi’s eyes glared at me sharply, but that didn’t deter me at all. You are a noble woman. Act like that. Fake it for your life . “Where is your friend?”

“Oh, he will follow soon. One of the prisoners had a sassy mouth. He needs extra attention .” That lie

appeared so easily. Practicing really makes us more skilled.

Grinning, Pig Eyes lowered his rifle slightly. “That injured bitch? I’ll have to slap him myself.” He chuckled. I laughed with him as I imagined what a lightning strike would do to his pale, flesh-colored eyes.

As I moved closer, the Skin Healer placed one hand on the iron railing, blocking my path. I did the same thing. The fence felt cold in my hands, and hard. Relax, I thought, pushing enough energy into my spark. Not enough to burn, not enough to hurt, but enough to overcome them both. It was like moving a needle through a stitch, and for once, I was the sewing expert.

Above me, the healer didn’t share his friend’s laughter. His eyes were bright silver, and, with his mask and fiery robe, he looked like a demon from a nightmare.

“What’s behind your back?” he hissed through his mask.

I shrugged, allowing myself to take another step forward. “It’s nothing, Sentinel Skonos.”

His next words were sharp. “You are lying.”

We reacted at the same second, launching an attack. The bullet hit my stomach but my lightning burned the iron fence, penetrated the skin and entered the healer’s brain. Pig Eyes shouted, while firing his own rifle. The bullet stuck into the wall, missing me by inches. But I didn’t miss it, when I hit a ball of fire sparks from behind

my back. Both bodies collapsed past me, their muscles twitching from the shock.

Then I fell.

I briefly wondered if the stone floor would crush my skull. I guess that would be easier than bleeding to death. Instead, long arms caught my fall.

“Mare, you’ll be fine,” Kilorn whispered. His hand covered my stomach, trying to stop the bleeding. His eyes were as green as grass. That pair of eyes stood out amidst the world fading into darkness. “The wound is nothing.”

“Wear that,” Julian snapped at the others. Farley and Walsh ran past me to take off their fire-red cloaks and masks. “You too!”

Julian pulled Kilorn from my body, almost throwing him across the room in his haste.

“Julian—” I choked, trying to reach for him. I have to thank him.

But he was out of my reach, kneeling at the healer’s side. Julian forced open the Sentinel’s eyelids and sang, ordering him to wake up. The next thing I knew, the healer was looking down at me, both hands on my wound. It only took a few seconds before the world shifted back to normal. In the corner, Kilorn breathed a sigh of relief and pulled his cloak over his head.

“He also.” I pointed to Farley. Julian nodded and directed the healer to come over to him. With an audible pop , Farley’s shoulders snapped back into their sockets.

“I owe you a lot,” Farley said, pulling his mask over his face.

Walsh stood before us all, his mask still in hand. He looked at the fallen Sentinels, mouth agape. “Are they dead?” he asked, whispering like a frightened child.

Julian looked up from Pig Eyes, stopping his humming at him. “Absolutely not. They’ll be awake in a matter of hours, and if you’re lucky, no one will know you escaped until then.”

“A few hours is enough for me.” Farley slapped Walsh, bringing him back to reality. “Clear your mind, kid, we have a lot of running to do tonight.”

It didn’t take long to sneak them through the last few passages. Even so, my fear grew with each heartbeat, until we found ourselves in the middle of Cal’s garage. Lucas, with his empty thoughts, tore a hole in the iron door as if he were tearing a piece of paper, revealing the darkness of the night behind it.

Walsh hugged me, surprising me. “I don’t know how,” he muttered, “but I hope you’ll be queen someday. Imagine what you could do at that time? The Red Queen.”

I couldn’t help but smile imagining that impossible thought. “Go away, before your bullshit gets to me.”

Farley wasn’t one to give hugs, but he patted me on the shoulder. “We will meet again, soon.”

“Hopefully, it won’t be like this.”

His face broke into a rare, toothy smile.

Despite her injuries, I realized she was actually very beautiful.

“Not like this.” He repeated, before sneaking out into the night with Walsh.

“I know I can’t ask you to come with me.” Kilorn muttered, moving to catch up with them. He looked down at his hands, examining wounds I knew better than my own mind. Look at me, idiot .

Sighing, I forced myself to push him to freedom. “This fight needs me here. You need me here too.”

“What I need and what I want are two very different things.”

I tried to laugh, but couldn’t find the strength to do so.

“This is not the end of our struggle, Mare,” Kilorn muttered, hugging me. He chuckled to himself, the laugh vibrating in his chest. “Red Queen. It sounds good.”

“Go away, you fool.” I’ve never smiled so widely, but still felt so sad.

He gave me one last look and nodded to Julian, before stepping out into the darkness. The metal reintegrated behind him, obscuring my friends from sight. Where they went, I don’t want to know.

Julian had to pull me away, but he didn’t reprimand me for my long goodbye. I think he was more busy paying attention to Lucas, who, in his unconscious state, was starting to drool.[]

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