Chapter no 39 – The Proctor’s Bounty

Red Rising

My army sleeps well into the morning. I have no need of rest, though I keep company with Sevro and half a dozen others on the ramparts. They stand close, as though any space might present the Proctors an opportunity to kill me.

Sevro has freed five Mercury students from the Apollo slave groups. They cluster around him on the ramparts playing games of speed, slapping each other’s knuckles to see who can move the fastest. I don’t play, because I win too easily; best to let the children have their fun. After the taking of the castle, even though Sevro and Tactus did the heavy lifting, my boys and girls think that makes me some sort of marvel. Mustang told me it is a rare thing.

“It’s as if they think you’re something out of time.” “I don’t understand.”

“Like you’re one of the old conquerors. The ancient Golds who usurped Earth, destroyed her fleets, and all that. They use it as an excuse not to compete with you, because how could Hephaestus compete with Alexander, or Antonius with Caesar?”

My insides knot. This is but a game, and they love me this much. When the rebellion comes, these boys and girls will be my enemies, and I will replace them with Reds. How fanatical then will those Reds be? And will that fanaticism matter a lick if they have to stand against creatures like Sevro, like Tactus, like Pax and Mustang?

I watch Mustang slink toward me along the rampart. She limps ever so

slightly from a sprained ankle, yet she’s all grace. Her hair is a nest of twigs; circles ring her eyes. She smiles at me. She is beautiful. Like Eo.

From the ramparts, we can see over the Greatwoods and glimpse the beginnings of Mars’s highlands to the north. The mountains glower at us from the west, to our left. Mustang points to the sky.

“Proctor incoming.”

My bodyguards tighten around me, but it’s only Fitchner. Sevro spits over the ramparts. “Our prodigal parent returneth.”

Fitchner descends with a smile that tells a tale of exhaustion, fear, and a little bit of pride.

“May we talk?” he asks me, looking about at my scowling friends.

Fitchner and I sit together in the Apollo warroom. Mustang stokes the fire. Fitchner eyes her skeptically, disliking her presence. He has an opinion on most things, like someone else I know.

“You’ve made such a mess of things, lad.” “Let’s agree that you won’t call me lad,” I say.

He nods. There’s no gum in his mouth. He doesn’t know how to say what he wants to tell me. It’s the worry in his eyes that cues me in.

“Apollo has not left Olympus,” I say.

He stiffens, surprised at my guess. “Correct. He is still there.”

“And what does that mean, Fitchner?” Mustang comes to sit beside me.

“Just that,” Fitchner answers, looking at me. “He has not left Olympus like he ought. It’s all a mess. Apollo was getting a juicy appointment if the Jackal won. Same with Jupiter and some of the others. There was talk of one of the Praetor Knight positions opening up on Luna.”

“And now that choice is slipping away,” Mustang says. She glances over at me with a smirk. “Because of a boy.”


I laugh. The jamField makes the sound echo. “So what is to be done?” “You still want to win, yes?” Fitchner asks.


“And that is the point of all this?” he asks me, though it’s clear there’s something else in his head. “You’ll get an apprenticeship no matter.”

I lean forward and tap my finger on the table. “The point is to show them that they can’t gorywell cheat in their own game. That the ArchGovernor can’t just say his son is best and should beat me just

because he was born lucky. This is about merit.”

“No,” Fitchner says, leaning forward. “It’s about politics.” He glances at Mustang. “Will you send her away already?”

“Mustang stays.”

“Mustang,” he mocks. “So, Mustang, what do you think about the ArchGovernor cheating for his son?”

Mustang shrugs. “Kill or be killed, cheat or be cheated? Those are the rules I’ve seen Aureates follow, especially Peerless Scarred.”

“Cheat or be cheated.” Fitchner taps his upper lip. “Interesting.”

“You should know about the cheating part,” she says. “You need to let Darrow and me have a word, Mustang.” “She stays.”

“It’s okay,” she mutters cryptically. She squeezes my shoulder as she leaves. “I’m bored of your Proctor anyway.”

When Mustang is gone, Fitchner stares at me. He reaches to his pocket, hesitates, then pulls something out. A small box. He tosses it on the table and gestures for me to open it. Somehow I know what is inside. “Well, you bastards do owe me a few bounties,” I laugh bitterly as I slip Dancer’s knifeRing onto my finger. I flex the joint and a blade pops out, extending along the top of the finger eight inches. I flex the joint

again and it slithers home.

“The Obsidians took it from you before you went through the Passage, yes? I was told it was your father’s.”

“Someone told you that?” I pick at the warroom table with the blade. “How very innaccurate of them.”

“You don’t need to be snide, lad.” My eyes flick up to look into Fitchner’s. “You came here to win an apprenticeship. You’ve done that. If you keep pushing the Proctors, they will kill you.”

“I seem to rememember us already having this conversation.” “Darrow, there is no slagging point to what you are doing! It is


“No point?” I echo.

“If you beat the ArchGovernor’s boy, then what? What does that achieve?”

“Everything!” I snap. I shudder with anger and stare at the fire till my voice finds control again. “It proves I am the best Gold in this school. It shows that I can do whatever they can. Why should I even speak to you,

Fitchner? I’ve done all this without your help. I don’t need you. Apollo tried to kill me and you did nothing! Nothing! So what exactly do I owe you? Maybe this?” I let the blade slither out.


“Fitchner.” I roll my eyes.

He slaps the table. “Don’t talk to me like I’m a fool. Look at me. Look at me, you condescending little twit.”

I look at him. His stomach paunch has grown. His face is haggard for a Gold. His hair yellow and slicked back. He’s never been handsome—less now than ever.

“Look at me, Darrow. Everything I have, I’ve had to fight for. I was not born to an ArchGovernor’s household. This is as far as I could ever go, yet I should go so much further. My son should go further, but he can’t and he won’t. He’ll die if he tries. Everyone has a limit, Darrow. A limit they can’t skip past. Yours is higher than mine, but it’s not as high as you’d gorywell like. If you go past it, they’ll knock you down.”

He stares away as if ashamed, glowering at the fire. His son. It’s in their coloring, in the face, in the disposition and the way they speak to one another. I’m a fool for not saying it out loud sooner.

“You’re Sevro’s father,” I say.

He does not respond for some time. When he does, his voice is pleading. “You make him think he can climb higher than he can. You’ll kill him, boyo. And you’ll kill yourself.”

“Then help us!” I urge him. “Give me something I can use against Apollo. Or better, fight them with me. Gather the other Proctors and we will take the battle to them.”

“I can’t, boyo. I can’t.”

I sigh. “No, I thought you wouldn’t.”

“My career would be over in a pinch if I helped you. All I’ve slaved for, all the many things, would be risked. For what? Just to prove a point to the ArchGovernor.”

“Everyone is so frightened of change,” I say before smiling sincerely at the broken man. “You remind me of my uncle.”

“There will be no change,” Fitchner grumbles as he stands. “Never is. Know your damn place or you won’t make it out of this, boyo.” He looks like he wants to reach and touch my shoulder. He doesn’t. “Hell, the trap’s already set for you. You’re walking right into it.”

“I’m ready for the Jackal’s traps, Fitchner. Or Apollo’s. It makes no difference. They won’t be able to stop what’s coming for them.”

“No,” Fitchner says, hesitating for a moment. “Not their traps. The girl’s.”

I answer him in a way he will understand. “Fitchner. Do not play me for a fool with vague, annoying references to duplicity. My army is mine, won in heart and body and soul. They can no more betray me at this point than I can betray them. We are something you have not seen before. So stop.”

He shakes his head. “This is your fight, boyo.”

“Yes. It is my fight.” I smile. Now is the time I’ve been waiting for. “Fitchner, hold up,” I say before he reaches the door. He stops and looks back. I kick back my chair and stride over to him. He eyes me curiously. Then I stick out my hand. “Despite everything, thank you.”

He clasps it. “Good luck, Darrow,” he says. “But take care of Sevro.

The little shit will follow you anywhere, no matter what I say.”

“I’ll take care of him. I promise.” My Helldiver grip tightens on his hand.

For a moment, if only a moment, we are friends. Then he winces at the pressure my hand is putting on his. He laughs at first, then he understands and his eyes widen.

“Sorry,” I say.

That’s when I break his nose and slam my elbow into his temple till he no longer moves.

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