Chapter no 24

Red Queen (Red Queen, 1)


time by exploring, even though my mind is elsewhere. The White Flame is older than the Hall, its walls made of hewn stone and wood, rather than diamond glass. I doubt I’ll be able to memorize the floor plan of this entire place. The plan not only contained the royal residence, but many offices and administrative rooms, a dance hall, a complete practice field, and other places I didn’t understand. I think that’s why it took the secretary almost half an hour to find me, walking through the gallery of statues. However, I don’t have time to explore anymore. I have an obligation to fulfill.

An obligation that, according to the king’s loquacious secretary, applies to a range of crimes, beyond simply reading the Terms. As a future princess, I had to meet many people at arranged occasions, make speeches, shake hands, and accompany Maven. That last part doesn’t bother me that much. However, being displayed in a parade like a goat being auctioned off isn’t much fun.

I joined Maven in a vehicle, heading for my first appearance. I’ve been itching for

told him about the list and thanked him for the blood base, but there were too many eyes and ears.

Most of the day passed in a flash of noise and color as we toured various parts of the capital. Pasar Jembatan reminds me of Taman Agung, although it is three times the size. In the hour we spent greeting children and shopkeepers, I saw the Silvers harassing or giving a hard time to dozens of Red servants, who were all just trying to do their jobs. Security guards protected them from total assault, but the words they uttered were just as hurtful. Killer of children, animals, demons .

Maven continued to grip my hand tightly, squeezing it every time a Red was sent crashing to the ground. Once we reached our next stop, an art gallery, I was relieved to escape the public eye, until I saw the paintings. The Silver Artist uses two colors, silver and red, in a collection of horrific images that make me sick. Each painting was worse than the last, depicting the strength of the Silver nation and the weakness of the Red nation with every stroke of his brush. The final painting depicts a grey-and-silver figure, almost ghostly, with a crown on its forehead dripping with red blood. I feel like I want to bang my head against the wall.

The square outside the gallery was noisy, busy with the hustle and bustle of city life. Most people stopped to stare, glaring at us as we walked towards the vehicle. Maven waved with a practiced smile, drawing the crowd

cheering his name. He was good at this; after all, these people were his subjects. As he bent down to talk to a number of small children, his smile brightened. Cal may have been born to lead, but Maven was destined to do so. And Maven is willing to change the world for us, for the Reds. Even though he was raised to spit on us.

I silently tapped the list in my pocket, thinking of the people who could help Maven and me change the world. Are they like me, or are they as diverse as the Silvers? Shade is the same as you. They found out about Shade and were forced to kill him, just as they couldn’t do to you. My heart hurts thinking about my dead brother, thinking about the conversations we should have had. In the future that we should forge together.

However, Shade has died, and there are other people who need my help.

“We have to find Farley.” I whispered into Maven’s ear, barely audible to myself. However, he heard me and raised his eyebrows in silent question. “I have to give him something.”

“I’m sure he’ll find us.” He muttered back. “If he hasn’t been watching.”

“How to-?”

Farley spying on us ? In a city that wants to tear itself apart? It seems impossible. But then I noticed the Silver crowd pressing in on us, and the Red servants far behind. A few people stayed to watch us, their arms covered in red bracelets. Any of them can

just worked for Farley. They all can . Even with the Sentinels and Security officers all around us, Farley was still with us.

Now it’s a question of finding the right Reds, saying the right things, finding the right places , and doing it all without anyone realizing that the prince and his future daughter are communicating with a wanted terrorist.

This wasn’t the same as the crowds back home, which I still easily squeezed through. Now I was conspicuous, the future princess surrounded by bodyguards, with rebellion resting on her shoulders. And maybe even something more important, I thought, remembering the list of names inside my jacket.

As the crowd pressed in, craning their heads to look at us, I took my chance and slipped away. The Sentinels piled up around Maven, still unaccustomed to guarding me as well, and with a few quick turns, I was out of the circle of guards and onlookers. They continued walking around the square without me, and in case Maven noticed I was gone, he didn’t stop them.

The Red maids didn’t recognize me, their heads were lowered as they busily went back and forth in the shops. They stayed in the alleys and shadows, trying to stay out of sight. I was so busy looking through the Red faces that I didn’t notice someone near my elbow.

“Lady, you dropped this,” said the little boy. He was probably ten years old, one arm encased in red rubber. “Ladies?”

Then I realized the piece of paper he was holding out. It was nothing, just a crumpled piece of paper I didn’t remember having. Still, I smiled at the kid and took the paper from him. “Thank you very much.”

He grinned widely at me, smiling in the way only a child could, before bounding off into an alley. He jumped with every step. Life hasn’t dragged him down yet.

“This way, Lady Titanos.” A Sentinel was standing near me, looking at me with even eyes. My plan has failed . I let him lead me towards the vehicle, suddenly feeling sad. I can’t even run away like usual anymore. My skills are getting weaker .

“What happened just now?” Maven asked as I took my seat again in the vehicle.

“It’s nothing,” I sighed, glancing out the window, as we left the square. “I thought I saw someone I knew.”

When we had turned a corner in the road, it occurred to me to look at the small piece of paper. I unfolded it in my lap, hiding it in the folds of my sleeve. There were words written across the top, so small I could barely read them.

Hexaprin Theatre. Evening show. Best seats.

It took me a moment to realize I only understood half the words, but that didn’t matter at all. Smile,

I handed the paper into Maven’s palm.

It only took a Maven request to get us to the theater. The theater was small but very grand, with a green domed roof topped by a black swan. It was an entertainment venue, showing plays or concerts or even some historical films on special occasions. A play, Maven told me, is when people, actors , act out a story on stage. In my hometown, we don’t have time to listen to bedtime stories, especially with a stage, actors and costumes.

Before long, we were sitting in a covered balcony above the stage. The benches below us were full of people, mostly children, all Silvers. A handful of Reds wandered between the rows and aisles of seats, serving drinks or taking tickets, but no one sat down. This is not a luxury they can afford. Meanwhile, we sat in velvet chairs with the best view, with the secretary and the Sentinels standing right outside our curtained door.

As the theater darkened, Maven put his arm around my shoulders, pulling me close so I could feel his heartbeat. He grinned at the secretary, who was now peeking through the curtains. “Don’t bother us,” Maven said quietly, and he pulled my face to his.

The door closed with a click behind us, locked, but neither of us pulled away. Either a minute or an hour passed, until the voices on stage threw me back to reality. “Sorry,” I muttered to Maven, rising from my chair to put some distance between us. No time

to make out now, however much I might want to. Maven just grinned, looking at me instead of the show. I tried my best to look away, but for some reason my attention was always drawn back to him.

“What should we do now?” He laughed to himself, his eyes glinting mischievously.

“That’s not what I mean.” However, I couldn’t help but smile with him.

“Cal cornered me before.”

Maven’s lips pursed, frowning at the thought. “So?” “It seems that I have been saved.”

His smile that followed could light up the whole world, and I was overcome by the urge to kiss him again. “I told you, I’ll take care of it,” he said, his voice hoarse. When his hand reached for mine, I accepted it without asking.

Before we could continue, the ceiling panel above us slid open. Maven jumped to his feet, more surprised than I, and peered into the dark space above us. Not a whisper could be heard below, but still, I knew what I had to do. The training session had made me stronger, and I pulled my body up lightly, disappearing into the darkness and cold. I couldn’t see anything or anyone, but I wasn’t afraid. Passion overcomes me now, and with a smile, I extend a helping hand to Maven. He rushed up into the darkness and tried to find out his surroundings. Before our vision adjusts, the panel

the ceiling slid closed again, obscuring the light, the play, and the people beyond.

“Hurry up and shut up. I will guide you from here.”

It wasn’t the voice I recognized, but the smell: a strong mix of tea, old spices, and the familiar blue wax.

“Will?” My voice almost broke. “Will Whistle?”

Slowly but surely, the darkness became easier to overcome. His white beard, shaggy as usual, appeared in dim focus. His figure was very clear now.

“There’s no time for a reunion, Miss Barrow,” he said. “We have work to do.”

I don’t know how Will came here, wandering so far from the Stilts, but his intimate knowledge of the theater was even more surprising. He guides us through the ceiling, down a series of ladders, steps and trapdoors, accompanied by theatrical echoes from above. Before long we were underground, with a brick frame and iron bars stretched high above us.

“You guys really like being dramatic,” Maven muttered, looking at the darkness around us. This place looked like a dungeon, dark and dank, where every shadow seemed terrifying.

Will just chuckled softly as he pushed open an iron door with his shoulder. “You guys just wait.”

We moved down a narrow passage, the further it went the further it sloped down. The air smelled faintly of sewage. Unexpectedly, the path ended with a small platform, lit only by the flames of torches. The torch cast a strange shadow

on the remains of a collapsed piece of wall with cracked tiles. There were black scribbles on the wall, letters, but they weren’t from any language I could read.

Before I could ask about that, a shrill creaking sound shook the walls around us. The sound came from a circular hole in the wall, rumbling from a deeper darkness. Maven grabbed my hand, startled by the sound, while I was as scared as he was. Iron scraped against iron, a deafening noise. Bright lights streamed out of the tunnel and I could feel something approaching, something big, electric, and powerful.

An iron carriage appeared, slowing down until it finally stopped in front of us. The sides are completely iron, connected by welds and bolts, with windows in the form of slits. A door slid open on a screeching track, spilling warm light onto the platform.

Farley flashed us a smile from a bench behind the door. He waved, inviting us to join him. “Please come up.”

“The techies call this the Subway,” he said as we sat shivering. “Extraordinarily fast, and it traveled along ancient paths ignored by the Silvers.”

Will closed the door behind us, throwing us into what felt like nothing more than an oblong tin can. If I hadn’t been so worried about this underground thing having an accident, I would have been impressed. Instead, I tightened my grip on the bench beneath me.

“Where did you make this?” Maven asked loudly, his eyes sweeping over the dilapidated cage. “Gray City is overrun, the techies are working to—”

“We have our own techies and tech cities, Mr. Prince,” said Farley, looking very proud of himself. “What the Silvers know about the Red Guard could not fill a cup of tea.”

The carriage lurched beneath our feet, nearly throwing me off the bench, but no one even seemed bothered. The train kept going until it reached a speed that made my stomach churn. The others continued to chat, mostly Mavens asking questions about the Underground Railroad and the Red Marches. I’m glad no one asked me to talk because I would’ve thrown up or passed out if I’d done more than sit still. However, not Maven. Nothing can deter him.

He looked out the window, observing something on the rock we passed. “We’re heading south.”

Farley leaned back in his seat, nodding. “Correct.” “The South is irradiated,” he exclaimed, glaring at Farley. Farley just shrugged his shoulders.

“Where are you taking us?” I muttered, finally finding my voice.

Maven wasted no time, moving towards the closed door. No one tried to stop him because there was nowhere for him to go. There is no way to escape.

“You know what the consequences are, right? Radiation?” Maven sounded genuinely scared.

Farley began to count a number of symptoms on his fingers, a maniacal smile still on his face. “Nausea, vomiting, headaches, convulsions, cancer, and, oh yes, death. What a terrible death.”

Suddenly I felt very nauseous. “Why are you doing this? We are here to help you.”

“Mare, stop the train, you can stop the train.” Maven dropped down in front of me, gripping both of my shoulders. “Stop the train!”

To my surprise, these tin cans screeched around us, suddenly braking suddenly. Maven and I stumbled to the floor with our arms and legs intertwined, hitting the hard metal deck with a painful thud. Light fell on us from the open door, revealing another platform lit by torches. The platform was wider and extended far beyond the line of sight.

Farley stepped past the two of us without even looking back and walked towards the platform. “Aren’t you coming?”

“Don’t move, Mare. This place will kill us!”

Something rang in my ears, almost drowning out Farley’s cold laughter. When I sat up straight again, I could see he was waiting patiently for the two of us.

“How do you know the southern region, the Ruins, is still irradiated?” Farley asked with a wild smile.

Maven slipped his own words. “We have machines, detectors, that tell us—”

Farley nodded. “And who makes those machines?”

“Techies,” Maven said hoarsely, “Reds.” Finally, he understood what Farley was implying. “The detectors are lying.”

Grinning, Farley nodded and held out his hand, helping himself up from the floor. Maven kept his eyes fixed on Farley, still wary, but allowed himself to guide us out onto the platform and up a series of metal steps. Sunlight filtered in from above, and fresh air swirled down, mingling with the murky water vapor from underground.

Then we opened our eyes in the open air, looking up at the low-hanging mist. Walls rose all around, supporting a ceiling that no longer existed. Only bits of it remained, bits of turquoise and gold. Once my eyes adjusted, I could see the shadows high in the sky, their peaks disappearing into the mist. The roads, wide rivers of black asphalt, are cracked and grow hundreds of years of gray wild grass. Trees and bushes have grown into the concrete, reclaiming the few existing nooks and corners, but more have been pruned away. Shards of glass crunch beneath my feet and clouds of dust drift in the wind, but somehow this place, a picture of abandonment, doesn’t feel abandoned. I know this place from history, from books and ancient maps.

Farley put his arm around my shoulders, his smile wide and showing off his white teeth.

“Welcome to the City of Ruins, to Naercey,” he said, using an ancient name long forgotten.

This ruined island has special markers around its borders, to deceive the radiation detectors that the Silvers use to survey old battlefields. This is how they protect it, home of the Red Front. In Norta, at least. That’s what Farley said, implying on more bases across the country. And soon, this place would become a place of asylum for any Red refugees fleeing the new punishments imposed by the king.

Every building we passed looked dilapidated, covered in ash and weeds, but on closer inspection, there was something more hidden behind them. Footprints on the ground, lights in the windows, cooking smells wafting from the drain. The people, the Reds, had their own city right here, hiding out in plain sight. Electricity is scarce, but smiles are not.

Farley led us into a half-collapsed building that must have been a cafe, judging by the rusty tables and torn-backed benches. The windows were long gone, but the floor was clean. A woman swept the dust out the door, into a neat pile on the side of the broken sidewalk. I would have felt overwhelmed by such a task, knowing there was still so much left to sweep up, but he smiled anyway, humming to himself.

Farley nodded at the woman cleaning, and she hurried away, leaving us in peace. How happy I was when I realized the table closest to us held a familiar face.

Kilorn, safe and sound. He even had the audacity to wink. “Long time no see.”

“There’s no time for being sweet,” Farley snapped, sitting down next to him. He motioned for us to follow and we did, scooting onto the creaky stools. “Surely you have seen villages on your journey along the river?”

My smile quickly faded, as did Kilorn’s. “Yes.”

“And the new law? I know you guys have heard.” His eyes sharpened, as if it was my fault for being forced to read out the Terms.

“This is what happens when you threaten a beast,” Maven muttered, quickly defending me.

“But now they know our names.”

“Now they’re hunting you,” Maven snarled, slamming his fist on the table. The impact shook off a thin layer of dust, sending clouds of dust flying into the air. “You wave the red flag in front of the bull’s face, but don’t do much other than poke it.”

“But they’re scared,” I said. “They become afraid of you. That certainly means something.”

“It’s meaningless if you sneak back into your hidden city and let them gather strength. You give time to the king and his army . My brother is already on your trail, and it won’t be long until he succeeds in hunting you down.” Maven looked down at his hands, looking furious. “Soon enough just staying one step forward won’t be enough. That wouldn’t even be possible.”

Farley’s eyes gleamed in the light as he studied the two of us, thinking. Kilorn was quite content drawing circles

in the dust, it looked undisturbed. I fought the urge to kick his feet under the table to get his attention.

“I don’t care at all for my own life, Mr. Prince,” said Farley. “It’s the people in the village, the workers and the soldiers, that I care about. They are the ones being punished now, and cruelly.”

My thoughts drifted to my family and Jangkungan Village, remembering the blank stares of thousands of eyes as we passed. “What did you guys hear?”

“Nothing good.”

Kilorn’s head snapped straight up, even though his fingers were still spinning on the surface of the table. “Doubled work schedules, hangings on Sundays, mass graves. It’s not good for people who can’t keep up with the pace.” He remembers our village, just like me. “Our people on the battlefield report that conditions are not much different there. Those aged fifteen and sixteen were drafted into their own legions. They won’t be able to last long.”

His fingers drew an X in the layer of dust, furiously marking his feelings.

“I can drag that out, maybe,” Maven said, pouring out his idea aloud. “If I can convince the war council to detain them before going into battle, make them undergo additional training.”

“That’s not enough.” My voice is soft but firm. The checklist burned my skin, begging for release. I turned to Farley. “You have men all over the place, right?”

I didn’t miss the shadow of satisfaction that swept across his face. “Correct.”

“Then give them these names.” I took Julian’s book out of my jacket, opened it to the beginning of the list. “And find them.”

Maven slowly took the book, his eyes scanning the list. “There must be hundreds of them,” he muttered, not taking his eyes off the sheet. “What’s this?”

“They are just like me. Red and Silver at the same time, and the stronger of the two.”

It’s my turn to feel proud. Even Maven’s jaw dropped. Farley snapped his fingers, and Maven passed it without thinking, still staring at the little book that contained such a powerful secret.

“However, it won’t take long for the wrong people to find out about this,” I added. “Farley, you have to find them first.”

Kilorn glared at the names as if they were mocking him. “This could take months, years .”

Maven snorted. “We don’t have that much time.” “Exactly,” Kilorn agreed. “We must act now .”

I shook my head. The revolution cannot be rushed. “But if you wait, if you find as much as you can

—You can form one army.”

Suddenly, Maven slammed his fist on the table, making us all jump. “But we do have troops.”

“I have a lot of men under my command here, but not that many .” Farley argued, looking at Maven like he was crazy.

However, Maven grinned instead, seething with hidden fire. “If I could get one army, one legion in Archeon, what could you do?”

Farley just shrugged his shoulders. “Not much, actually.

The other legions will destroy them in the field.”

Suddenly a bolt of lightning seemed to hit me, and I finally realized what Maven meant. “But they won’t fight on the field,” I whispered. Maven turned to me, grinning like crazy. “You mean a coup.”

Farley frowned. “Kude-what?”

“Coup, coup d’état . It is a historical problem, a problem from an earlier era.” I explained, trying to dispel their confusion. “A coup is when a small group quickly overthrows a large government. Sound familiar?”

Farley and Kilorn exchanged glances, eyes narrowed. “Continue,” Farley said.

“You know the way the Archeon was built, with the Bridge, the West side, and the East side.” My fingers raced along with my words, drawing a rough map of the city in the layer of dust. “Now, the West has the palace, the command, the finances, the courts, the entire government . And if we could somehow get in there, cut him off, go to the king, and force him to agree to our demands—it would all be over. You

He said it himself, Maven, you can run the whole country from Caesar’s Square. All we have to do is grab it.”

Under the table, Maven patted my knee. He was so proud. Farley’s usual look of suspicion was gone, replaced by real hope. He moved his hand to his lips, mouthing the words silently as he studied the plan drawn in dust.

“This may just be my opinion.” Kilorn started to say, returning to his usual sarcastic tone. “But I’m not sure how you plan to get enough Reds in there to fight the Silvers. You need ten of our men to defeat one of theirs. Not to mention there are five thousand Silver soldiers serving your brother ”—he glanced at Maven—“all trained to kill, all trying to hunt us down right now.”

My spirits deflated, falling back onto the bench. “It was difficult.” Impossible.

Maven brushed his hand across my dust map, erasing Western Archeon with a slight sweep of his fingers. “Legions serve their generals. And I happen to know a girl who really knows a general.”

When his eyes met mine, all the fire disappeared, replaced now by cold bitterness. He smiled wryly.

“You were talking about Cal.” The soldier. The general. Prince. His father’s son. I thought back to Julian, to the uncle Cal would kill for his warped version of justice. Cal would never betray his own country, not for anything else.

When Maven answered, it was a firm statement. “We’re going to give him a tough choice.”

I could feel Kilorn’s gaze on my face, gauging my reaction, and it was a pressure I was barely able to bear. “Cal would never betray his throne, his father. 

“I know my brother. If he had to choose between saving your life or saving his throne, we both know what he would choose.” Maven strikes back.

“He would never choose me.”

My skin burned under Maven’s gaze, with the memory of one secret kiss. He was the one who saved me from Evangeline. It was Cal who saved me from running away and causing more pain on myself. Cal who saved me from the traps of war. I’ve been too busy trying to save the others to realize how often Cal saves me. How much love he has for me.

Suddenly it was very difficult to breathe.

Maven shook his head. “He will always choose you.”

Farley scoffed. “You want me to base my entire operation, this entire revolution , on a love story of two teenagers? I can’t believe this.”

Across the table, a strange look swept across Kilorn’s face. When Farley turned to face him, looking for some kind of support, he got none.

“I can,” Kilorn whispered, his eyes never leaving my face.[]

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