Chapter no 34 – The Northwoods

Red Rising

There is agony.

And claustrophobia.

I am sick and wounded. The pain is in dreams.

It is in darkness. In the pit of my stomach. I wake up and scream into a gentle hand. I glimpse someone.

Eo? I whisper her name and reach up. My muddy hand smears her face. Her angel’s face. She’s come to take me to the vale. Her hair has turned Golden. I always thought she could be Golden. Her Colors are golden wings. No Red sigil on her hands. It took death.

I sweat despite the rains and snows that come. Something shelters me. I shiver. Clutch my scarlet headband. Lost the haemanthus. When was that again? Mud in my hair. Eo washes it away. Tenderly strokes my brow. I love her. Something inside me bleeds. I hear Eo speak to herself, to someone. I haven’t long. Have I time at all? Am I in the vale? There is mist. There is sky and a great tree. Fire. Smoke.

I shiver and sweat. Rot in hell, Cassius. I was your friend. I might have killed your brother, but I had no choice. You did. You arrogant slag. I hate him. I hate Augustus. I see them hanging Eo together. They mock me. They laugh at me. I hate Antonia. I hate Fitchner. I hate Titus. I hate. I hate. I am burning and mad and sweating. I hate the Jackal. The Proctors. I hate. I hate myself for all I’ve done. All I’ve done. For what?

To win a game. To win a game for someone who will never know about anything I do. Eo is dead. It isn’t as if she will ever be coming back to see all I have done for her.


Then I wake. The pain is there in my gut. It goes through me. But I no longer sweat. The fever is gone, and the angry red lines of infection have faded. I’m in a cave’s mouth. There’s a small fire and a sleeping girl just inches away. Furs cover her. She breathes softly the smoky air. Her hair is tousled and gold. She isn’t Eo. Mustang.

I cry silently. I want Eo. Why can’t I have her? Why can’t I will her back to life? I want Eo. I don’t want this girl beside me. It aches worse than the wound. I can never fix what happened to Eo. I couldn’t even run my army. I couldn’t win. I couldn’t beat Cassius, not to mention the Jackal. I was the best Helldiver; I’m nothing here. The world is too big and cold. I am too small. The world has forgotten Eo. It has already forgotten her sacrifice. There’s nothing left.

I sleep again.

When I wake, Mustang sits by the fire. She knows I’m awake but lets me pretend otherwise. I lie there with my eyes closed, listening to her hum. It’s a song I know. It is a song I hear in dreams. The echo of my love’s death. The song sung by the one they call Persephone. Hummed by an Aureate, an echo of Eo’s dream.

I weep. If ever I’ve felt there was a God, it is now as I listen to the mournful chords. My wife is dead, but something of hers lingers still.

I speak to Mustang the next morning.

“Where did you hear that song?” I ask her without sitting up.

“From the HC,” she says, blushing. “A little girl sang it. It’s soothing.” “It’s sad.”

“Most things are.”

It has been four weeks, Mustang tells me. Cassius is Primus. Winter has come. Ceres is no longer under siege. Jupiter’s soldiers sometimes come into the woods. There are sounds of battle between the two superpowers of the North, Jupiter and Mars. Jupiter to the west, Mars to the east. Since the river froze, they’ve been able to cross and raid one another. Our buzzards have risen out of their winter gulches. Hungry wolves howl at night. Crows flock from the south. But Mustang really knows very little, and I grow impatient with her.

“Keeping you breathing was a little distracting,” she reminds me. Her standard lies underneath a blanket near my feet. She’s the last of House Minerva. Yet unbridled. And she didn’t enslave me.

“Slaves are stupid,” she says. “And you’re already a gimp. Why make you stupid too?”

It is days before I’m able to walk. I wonder where those nifty medBots are now. Tending someone the Proctors like, no doubt. I won Primus and they never gave it to me. Now I know why the Jackal will win. They are getting rid of his competition.

Mustang stalks with me through the woods during the next weeks. I move stiffly through the thick snow but my strength is returning. She credits medicine she found lying conspicuously under a bush. A friendly Proctor placed it there. We pause when we spot the deer. I draw the bow, but I can’t get the string to my ear. My wound aches. Mustang watches me. I try again. Pain deep inside. I let the arrow fly. I miss. We eat leftover rabbit that night. It tastes funny and gives me cramps. I always have cramps now. It’s the water too. We have nothing to boil it in. No iodine. Just snow and a little creek to drink from. Sometimes we can’t have fire.

“You should have killed Cassius or sent him away,” Mustang tells me. “Would have thought you nobler than that,” I say.

“I like to win. Family trait. And sometimes cheating is in the rule-book.” She smiles. “You get a merit bar every time you recapture your standard. So I arranged for it to be lost to House Diana by someone else several times. Then rode out to capture it. Got to Primus in a week.”

“Tricky. Yet your army liked you,” I say.

“Everyone likes me. Now eat your damn rabbit. You’re skinny as a razor.”

The winter grows colder. We live in the deep north woods, far north of Ceres, northwest of my former highlands. I have not yet seen a soldier of Mars. I don’t know what I would do if I did.

“I’ve hidden from everyone but you,” Mustang says. “It keeps me alive and ticking.”

“What’s your plan?” I ask.

She laughs at herself. “To be alive and ticking.”

“You’re better at it than I am.” “How do you mean?”

“No one in your House would have betrayed you.”

“Because I didn’t rule like you,” she says. “You have to remember, people don’t like being told what to do. You can treat your friends like servants and they’ll love you, but you tell them they’re servants and they’ll kill you. Anyway, you put too much stock in hierarchy and fear.”


“Who else? I could spot it a mile away. All you cared about was your mission, whatever it is. You’re like a driven arrow with a very depressing shadow. First time I met you, I knew you’d cut my throat to get whatever it is you want.” She waits for a moment. “What is it that you want, by the way?”

“To win,” I say.

“Oh, please. You’re not that simple.”

“You think you know me?” The coals crackle in our small fire.

“I know you cry in your sleep for a girl named Eo. Sister? Or a girl you loved? It is a very off Color name. Like yours.”

“I’m a farplanet hayseed. Didn’t they tell you?”

“They wouldn’t tell me anything. I don’t get out much. Strict father.” She waves a hand. “Anyway, doesn’t matter. All that matters is that no one trusts you because it’s obvious you care more about your goal than you do about them.”

“And you’re something different?”

“Oh, very much so, Sir Reaper. I like people more than you do. You are the wolf that howls and bites. I am the mustang that nuzzles the hand. People know they can work with me. With you? Hell, kill or be killed.”

She’s right.

When I had a tribe, I did it right. I made every boy and every girl love me. Made them earn their keep. I taught them how to kill a goat as if I knew how. I gave them fire as if I had created the matches. I shared a secret with them—that we had food and Titus didn’t. They saw me as their father. I remember it in their eyes. When Titus was alive, I was a symbol of goodness and hope. Then when he died … I became him.

“Sometimes I forget that the Institute is meant to teach me things,” I say to Mustang.

The golden girl tilts her head at me. “Like how we must live for more?”

Her words strike my heart. They echo through time from another’s lips. Live for more. More than power. More than vengeance. More than what we’re given.

I must learn better than them, not simply beat them. That is how I will help Reds. I am a boy. I am foolish. But if I learn to become a leader, I can be more than an agent of the Sons of Ares. I can give my people a future. That is what Eo wanted.

Deep winter. The wolves are hungry now. They howl in the night. When Mustang and I make a kill, we sometimes have to scare them off. But when we kill a caribou at dusk, a pack descends from the northlands. They come from the trees like dark specters. Shadows. The biggest of them is my size. His fur is white. The fur of the others is gray, no longer black. These wolves change with the season. I watch how they surround us. Each moves with individual cunning. Yet each moves as part of the pack.

“This is how we should fight,” I whisper to Mustang as we watch the wolves approach.

“Could we talk about this later?”

We take down the pack leader with three arrows. The rest flee. Mustang and I set to skinning the big white brute. As she slips her knife along beneath the fur, she looks up, nose red from the cold.

“Slaves aren’t part of the pack, so we can’t fight like them. Not that it matters. The wolves don’t have it right either. They take too much from their pack leader. Cut off the head, the body retreats.”

“So the answer is autonomy,” I say. “Maybe.” She bites her lip.

Later that night, she elaborates. “It’s like a hand.” She sits close and cozy, leg touching mine. Close enough for guilt to crawl along my spine. The caribou roasts, filling the cave with a cozy, thick aroma. A blizzard rages outside and the wolf fur dries over the fire.

“Give me your hand,” she says. “Which is your best finger?” “They are all better at different things.”

“Don’t be obstinate.”

I tell her my thumb. She has me try to hold a stick with only my thumb. She easily pulls it from my grasp. Then she has me hold it without my thumb and only the other fingers. With a twist, the stick is free.

“Imagine that your thumb is your Housemembers. The fingers are all the slaves you have conquered. The Primus or whoever is the brain. It all works pretty gory seamlessly. Yeah?”

She can’t pull the stick from my grip. I set it down and ask her the point.

“Now try to do something beyond simply grabbing the standard. Just move your thumb counterclockwise and your fingers clockwise except your middle.”

I do it. She stares at my hands and laughs incredulously. “Ass.” I ruined her demonstration. Helldivers are dexterous. I watch her hands as she tries to do it too. Of course she fails. I understand.

“A hand is like the Society,” I say.

It is the structure of the armies at the Institute. The hierarchy is good for simple tasks. Some fingers are more important than others. Some are better at certain things. All fingers are controlled by the highest order, the brain. The brain’s control is effective. It makes your thumb and fingers work together. But the single brain’s control is limited. Imagine each one of the fingers had a brain of its own that interacted with the main brain. The fingers obey, but they function independently. What could the hand do then? What could an army do? I twirl the stick along my fingers in intricate patterns. Exactly.

Her eyes linger on mine, and her fingers trace along my palm as she explains. I know she wants me to react to her touch, but I force my mind to be lost on other things.

This idea of hers isn’t part of the Proctors’ lesson.

Their lesson is about the evolution from anarchy to order. It is about control. About the systematic accumulation of power, the structure of that power, and then its preservation. It is a model to show that the Rule of Hierarchies is the best. The Society is the final evolution, the only answer. She just slagged that rule, or at least showed its limitations.

If I could earn the voluntary allegiance of the slaves, the army created would look nothing like the Society. It would be better. Like if the Reds of Lykos thought they could actually win the Laurel, they would be so

much more productive. Or if a Praetor on board his starcruiser could utilize not only his own genius, but that of his crew of Blues.

Mustang’s strategy is Eo’s dream.

It’s like an electric shock jolts through me.

“Why didn’t you try it with the slaves you captured?”

She pulls her hand away from mine after I don’t respond to her touch. “I tried.”

She’s quiet the rest of the night. Near morning, she develops a cough.

Mustang takes sick over the next few days. I hear fluid in her lungs and feed her broth made from marrow and wolf and leaves boiled in a helmet I found. She looks like she will die. I don’t know what to do. We’re low on food, so I hunt. But the game is scarce and the wolves are hungry. Prey has fled these woods, so we survive on small hares. All I can do is keep her warm and pray a medBot descends from the clouds. The Proctors know where we are. They always know where we are.

I find human tracks in the woods the next week. A set of two. I follow them to an abandoned campsite, hoping they might have food I can steal. There are animal bones and embers still hot. No horses, though. Probably not scouts then. Oathbreakers, the Shamed who have broken their vows after being enslaved. There’s plenty of them now.

I follow their tracks through the woods for an hour before I grow worried. They circle back around, leading somewhere familiar, leading to our cave. It is night by the time I return. I hear laughter from the home I share with Mustang. The arrow feels thin in my fingers as I nock it on the bowstring. I should kneel to gather my breath. My wound aches. I pant. But I can’t give them more time. Not if they have Mustang. They cannot see me as I stand at the edge of the frozen caribou skin and hardpacked snow that walls off our cave from sight and elements. The fire crackles inside. Smoke seeps out through vents Mustang and I took a day in making. Two boys sit together eating what’s left of our

meat, drinking our water.

They are dirty and ragged. Hair like greased weeds. Stained complexions. Blackheads. Once beautiful, I’m sure. One boy sits on Mustang’s chest. The girl who saved my life is gagged and in her undergarments. She shivers from the cold. One of the boys bleeds from a bite wound on his neck. They are planning on making her pay for that wound. Knives heat till red in the fire. One boy obviously enjoys the

sight of her nakedness. He reaches to touch her skin as though she’s a toy meant for his pleasure.

My thoughts are primal, wolflike. A terrifying emotion sweeps over me, one that I did not know I had for this girl. Not till now. It takes a moment to calm myself and stop my hands from shaking. His hand is on the inside of her thigh.

I shoot the first boy in the kneecap. The second I shoot as he reaches for a knife. I’m a bad aim. I get his shoulder instead of his eye socket. I slide into the shelter with my skinning knife, ready to finish the boys off as they howl in pain. Something in me, the human part, has turned off, and it’s only when I see Mustang’s eyes that I stop.

“Darrow,” she says softly.

Even shivering, she is beautiful—the small, quick-smiling girl who brought me back to life. The bright-eyed soul who keeps Eo’s song alive. I shudder with anger. If I had been ten minutes later in returning, this night could have broken me forever. I cannot bear another death. Especially not Mustang’s.

“Darrow, let them live,” she says again, whispering it to me as Eo would whisper she loved me. It cuts to my core. I can’t take the sound of her voice, the anger inside me.

My mouth doesn’t work. My face is numb; I can’t lose the grimace of rage that controls it. I drag the two boys out by their hair and kick them till Mustang joins us. I leave them moaning in the snow and return to help her dress. She feels so fragile as I pull her animal skins around her bony shoulders.

“Knife or snow,” she asks the boys when she’s dressed. She holds the knives heated in the fire in her trembling hands. She coughs. I know what she’s thinking. Let them go and they kill us as we sleep. Neither will die from their wounds. The medBots would come if that were the case. Or maybe they won’t for Oathbreakers.

They choose snow.

I’m glad. Mustang didn’t want to use the knife.

We tie them to a tree at the edge of the woods and light a signal fire so that some House will find them. Mustang insisted on coming along, coughing all the way, as if she were worried I wouldn’t do as she asked. She was right to think that.

In the night, after Mustang has gone to sleep, I get up to go back and

kill the Oathbreakers. If Jupiter or Mars finds them, then they will spill where we are and we will be taken.

“Don’t, Darrow,” she says as I pull back the caribou skin. I turn. Her face peers out from our blankets.

“We will have to move if they live,” I say. “And you’re already sick.

You’ll die.”

We have warmth here. Shelter.

“Then we will move in the morning,” she says. “I’m tougher than I look.”

Sometimes that is true. This time it is not.

I wake in the morning to find that she shifted in the night to curl into me for warmth. Her body is so frail. It trembles like a leaf in the wind. I smell her hair. She breathes softly. Salt tracks mark her face. I want Eo. I wish it were her hair, her warmth. But I don’t push Mustang away. There’s pain when I hold her, but it comes from the past, not from Mustang. She is something new, something hopeful. Like spring to my deep winter.

When morning comes, we move deeper into the woods and make a lean-to shelter against a rock face with fallen trees and packed snow. We never find out what happened to the Oathbreakers or our cave.

Mustang can barely sleep, she coughs so much. When she sleeps curled into me, I kiss the nape of her neck softly, softly so that she will not wake; though I secretly wish she would if just to know that I’m here. Her skin is hot. I hum the Song of Persephone.

“I can never remember the words,” she whispers to me. Her head lies in my lap tonight. “I wish I did.”

I have not sung since Lykos. My voice is raspy and raw. Slowly the song comes.

Listen, listen Remember the wane

Of sun’s fury and waving grain We fell and fell

And danced along To croon a knell

Of rights and wrongs And

My son, my son Remember the burn

When leaves were fire and seasons turned We fell and fell

And sang a song To weave a cell All autumn long And

Down in the vale

Hear the reaper swing, the reaper swing the reaper swing

Down in the vale Hear the reaper sing A tale of winter long

My girl, my girl Remember the chill

When rains froze and snows did kill We fell and fell

And danced along Through icy hell

To their winter song

My love, my love Remember the cries

When winter died for spring skies They roared and roared

But we grabbed our seed And sowed a song Against their greed

My son, my son Remember the chains

When gold ruled with iron reins We roared and roared

And twisted and screamed For ours, a vale

of better dreams


Down in the vale

Hear the reaper swing, the reaper swing the reaper swing

Down in the vale Hear the reaper sing A tale of winter done

“It is strange,” she says. “What is?”

“Father told me that there would be riots because of that song. That people would die. But it is such a soft melody.” She coughs blood into a pelt. “We used to sing songs by the campfire, out in the country, where he kept us out of …” coughs again “… of the public … eye. When … my brother died … Father never sang with me again.”

She will soon die. It’s only a matter of time. Her face is pale, her smiles feeble. There’s only one thing I can do, since the medBots haven’t come. I will have to leave her to seek out medicine. One of the Houses might have found some or received injectables as a bounty. I’ll have to go soon, but I need to get her food first.

Someone follows me that day as I hunt alone in the winter woods. I wear my new white wolfcloak. They are camouflaged as well. I do not

see whoever it is, but he is there. I pretend my bowstring needs fixing and steal a glance back. Nothing. Quiet. Snow. The sound of wind on brittle branches. They still follow as I move along.

I feel them behind me. It’s like the ache in my body from my wound. I pretend to see a deer and pass quickly through a thicket only to scramble up a tall pine on the other side.

I hear a pop.

They pass beneath me. I feel it on my skin, in my bones. So I shake the branches under my legs. Gathered snow tumbles down. A distorted hollow in the shape of a man forms in the snowfall. It is looking at me.

“Fitchner?” I call down. His bubblegum pops again.

“You may come down now, boyo,” Fitchner barks up. He deactivates his ghostCloak and gravBoots and sinks into the snow. He’s wearing a thin black thermal. My layered fatigues and stinking animal skins don’t keep me half as warm.

It’s been weeks since I last saw him. He looks tired.

“Going to finish what Cassius started?” I ask as I hop down. He looks me over and smirks. “You look horrible.”

“You do too. The soft bed, warm food, and wine giving you trouble?” I point up. We can just barely see Olympus between the skeletal branches of the winter trees.

He smiles. “Readout says you’ve lost twenty pounds.”

“Baby fat,” I tell him. “Cassius’s ionSword carved it off.” I pull up my bow and point it at him. I wonder if he’s wearing a pulseShield. It’ll stop anything short of pulseWeapons and razors. Only recoilPlate can gird off those weapons—and even then, not well. “I should shoot you.”

“You wouldn’t dare. I’m a Proctor, boyo.”

I shoot him in the thigh. Except the arrow loses velocity before it hits the invisible pulseShield, which flickers iridescent, and the arrow bounces to the ground. So they wear it at all times, even when they don’t wear recoilArmor.

“Well, that was petulant.” He yawns.

PulseShield, gravBoots, ghostCloak, looks like he has a pulseFist too, and those famous razors. Snow melts as it touches his skin. He saw me in the tree, so I’m guessing his eyes have injected optics. Certainly thermal scopes and night vision. He has a widget and an analyzerMod too. He

knew my weight. Probably knows my white blood cell count. What about spectrum analysis?

He yawns again. “Little sleep these days on Olympus. Busy days.” “Who gave the Jackal the holo of me killing Julian?” I ask. “Well, you don’t dally away time.”

He did something just as I spoke, and the sound around us localizes. I can’t hear anything beyond an invisible five-meter bubble. Didn’t know they had toys like that.

“The Proctors gave it to the Jackal,” he tells me. “Which ones?”

“Apollo. All of us. Doesn’t matter.”

I don’t understand. “I assume it’s because they favor the Jackal. Am I right?”

“As usual.” His gum pops. “Unfortunately, you’re just not allowed to win, and you were gaining momentum. Sooo …”

I ask him to explain. He says he just did. His eyes are ringed and tired despite the collagen and cosmetics he now wears to cover his fatigue. His stomach has grown. Arms are still skinny. Something worries him, and it isn’t just his appearance.

“Allowed to?” I echo. “Allowed to. No one can be allowed to win. I thought the gorydamn point was to carve our own ladder to the top. So if I’m not allowed to win, that means the Jackal is.”

“Pegged it.” He doesn’t sound very happy.

“Then that doesn’t make any lick of sense. It corrupts the entire thing,” I say hotly. “You broke the rules.”

The best of Gold is supposed to rise, yet they already have chosen a winner. Not only does this ruin the Institute, it ruins the Society. The fittest reign. That’s what they say. Now they’ve betrayed their own principles by taking sides in a schoolyard fight. This is the Laurel all over again. Hypocrisy.

“So this kid is what? A predestined Alexander? A Caesar? A Genghis?

A Wiggin?” I ask. “This is slagging nonsense.”

“Adrius is the son of our dear ArchGovernor Augustus. That’s all that matters.”

“Yes, you’ve told me that, but why is he supposed to win? Simply because his father is important?”

“Unfortunately, yes.”

“Be more specific.”

He sighs. “The ArchGovernor has secretly threatened and bribed and cajoled all twelve of us till we came to agree upon the fact that his son should win. But we have to be careful in our cheating. The Drafters, my real bosses, watch every move from their palaces, ships, et cetera. They are very important people as well. And then there’s the Board of Quality Control to worry about, and the Sovereign and Senators and all the other Governors themselves. Because, though there are many schools, any of them can watch you whenever they like.”

“What? How?”

He taps my wolf ring.

“Biometric nanoCam. Don’t worry, it’s showing them something else right now. I threw down a jamField, and anyway, there’s a half-day delay for editing purposes. All other times, any Drafter, any Scarred, can watch you to see if they would like to offer you an apprenticeship when this is over. Oh, do they like you.”

Thousands of Aureates have been watching me. My insides, already cold, tighten.

Demetrius au Bellona, Imperator of the Sixth Fleet, father of Cassius and Julian, Drafter of House Mars, has watched me kill one son and deceive the other. It takes the wind out of me. What if I had told Titus that I knew he was a Red because I was a Red? Did they notice him say “bloodydamn”? Did I say he was a Red out loud or was that just in my head?

“What if I take the ring off?”

“Then you disappear, except for the cameras we have hidden in the battlefield.” He winks. “Don’t tell anyone. Now, if the Drafters discover the ArchGovernor’s scheme … there will be hell to pay. Tension between the school Houses, certainly. But more importantly, there could be a Blood War between the Augustuses and Bellonas.”

“And you’ll be in trouble if they find out about the bribery?” “I’ll be dead.” He fails in trying a smile.

“That’s why you look like hell. You’re in the middle of a shit storm. So how do I fit into this?”

He chuckles dryly.

“Many Drafters like you. Those of House Mars get to offer you your first apprenticeships, but you can entertain offers outside the House. If

you die, they will be very unhappy. Especially the Sword of House Mars. His name is Lorn au Arcos; no doubt you’ve heard of him. He is prime good with his razor.”

“How. Do. I. Fit. In?” I repeat.

“You don’t. Stay alive. Stay out of the Jackal’s path. Otherwise, Jupiter or Apollo will kill you and there will be nothing I can do to stop it.”

“So they’re his guard dogs, eh?” “Amongst others, yes.”

“Well, if they kill me, the Drafters would know something is wrong.” “They won’t. Apollo will use other Houses to do it or we’ll do it

ourselves and edit out the footage from the nanoCams. Apollo and Jupiter are not stupid. So don’t fiddle with them. Let the Jackal play and you’ll have a future.”

“And so will you.” “And so will I.”

“I understand,” I say.

“Good. Good. I knew you’d see sense. You know, many of the Proctors like you. Minerva even does. She hated you at first, but since you let Mustang go, she’s been able to stay around on Olympus. Much less embarrassing that way.”

“She’s allowed to stay around on Olympus?” I ask innocently. “Naturally. It’s the rules of the Institute. Once your House is defeated,

the Proctor heads home to face the music and explain what went wrong to the Drafters.” Fitchner’s smile contorts when he sees the sudden glimmer in my eyes.

“So if their House is destroyed, they have to leave? And it was Apollo and Jupiter who want me dead, you say?”

“No …,” he begs, suddenly hearing the menace in my voice. I tilt my head. “No?”

“You … can’t!” he sputters, confused. “I just told you, the Sword of the damn House Mars wants you as an apprentice. And there are others— Senators, Politicos, Praetors. Don’t you want a future?”

“I want to rip the Jackal’s balls off. That’s all. Then I will find my apprenticeship. I imagine it will be an impressive one if I do that.”

“Darrow! Be reasonable, man.”

“Fitchner, my friends Roque and Lea died because of the ArchGovernor’s meddling. Let’s see how he likes it when I make his son,

the Jackal, my slave.”

“You’re mad as a Red!” he says with a shake of his head. “You’re screwing with the Proctors’ livelihoods. None are content with their current station. They are all looking to ascend as well. If you threaten their futures, Apollo and Jupiter will come down and they will cut off your head!”

“Not if I destroy their Houses first.” I frown. “Because don’t they have to leave if I do that? Someone reliable told me those were the rules.” I clap my hands together. “Now, I have another friend who is dying and I’d like some antibiotics. It’d be prime if you could give me some.”

He gawps at me. “After this, why would I?”

“Because you’ve been a piss-poor Proctor up until now. You owe me bounties. And you have your own future to look after.”

He snorts a defeated laugh. “Fair enough.”

He takes an injectable from a medcase on his leg and hands it to me. I notice how the pulseShield doesn’t hurt me when his hand touches mine. So they can turn it off. I thank him by clapping his shoulder affectionately. He rolls his eyes. The armor is turned off over the entire body. Then it’s back. I hear the microhum at his waist where the contraption sits. Now that I’ve got Proctors for enemies, it’s a good thing to know.

“So what will you do?” Fitchner asks.

“Who is more dangerous? Apollo or Jupiter? Be honest, Fitchner.” “Both are monsters of men. Apollo is more ambitious. Jupiter is simple

—he just enjoys playing god here.”

“Then House Apollo first. After that, I’ll crush Jupiter. And when they are gone, who will protect the Jackal?”

“The Jackal,” he says dryly.

“Then we’ll see if he really does deserve to win.”

Before I go, Fitchner tosses a small package to the ground.

“Not that it matters now, but this was given to me. I was told to say that you’re to know that your friends have not forsaken you.”


“I cannot say.”

Whoever gave it to him is a friend, because inside the box is my Pegasus, and inside that is Eo’s haemanthus blossom. I put the Pegasus necklace about my neck.

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