Unformatted text preview: DEDICATION
To my grandparents, here and there. You are always home. CONTENTS
Excerpt from Queen Song
Excerpt from Steel Scars Back Ads
About the Author
Books by Victoria Aveyard
About the Publisher ONE
I flinch. The rag she gives me is clean, but it still smells like blood. I shouldn’t care. I already
have blood all over my clothes. The red is mine, of course. The silver belongs to many others.
Evangeline, Ptolemus, the nymph lord, all those who tried to kill me in the arena. I suppose some
of it is Cal’s as well. He bled freely on the sand, cut and bruised by our would-be executioners.
Now he sits across from me, staring at his feet, letting his wounds begin the slow process of
healing naturally. I glance at one of the many cuts on my arms, probably from Evangeline. Still
fresh, and deep enough to leave a scar. Part of me delights in the thought. This jagged gash will
not be magically wiped away by a healer’s cold hands. Cal and I are not in the Silver world
anymore, with someone to simply erase our well-earned scars. We have escaped. Or at least, I
have. Cal’s chains are a firm reminder of his captivity.
Farley nudges my hand, her touch surprisingly gentle. “Hide your face, lightning girl. It’s
what they’re after.”
For once, I do as I’m told. The others follow, pulling red fabric up over their mouths and
noses. Cal is the last uncovered face, but not for long. He doesn’t fight Farley when she ties his
mask into place, making him look like one of us.
If only he was.
An electric hum sets my blood on fire, reminding me of the pulsing, screeching Undertrain. It
carries us inexorably forward, to a city that was once a haven. The train races, screaming over
ancient tracks like a Silver swift running over open ground. I listen to the grating metal, feel it
deep in my bones where a cold ache settles in. My rage, my strength back in the arena seem like
faraway memories, leaving behind only pain and fear. I can scarcely imagine what Cal must be
thinking. He’s lost everything, everything he ever held dear. A father, a brother, a kingdom. How
he’s holding himself together, still but for the rocking of the train, I do not know.
No one needs to tell me the reason for our haste. Farley and her Guardsmen, tense as coiled
wire, are enough explanation for me. We are still running.
Maven came this way before, and Maven will come again. This time with the fury of his
soldiers, his mother, and his new crown. Yesterday he was a prince; today he is king. I thought
he was my friend, my betrothed, now I know better.
Once, I trusted him. Now I know to hate him, to fear him. He helped kill his father for a
crown, and framed his brother for the crime. He knows the radiation surrounding the ruined city
is a lie—a trick—and he knows where the train leads. The sanctuary Farley built is no longer
safe, not for us. Not for you.
We could already be speeding into a trap.
An arm tightens around me, sensing my unease. Shade. I still can’t believe my brother is
here, alive and, strangest of all, like me. Red and Silver—and stronger than both.
“I won’t let them take you again,” he murmurs, so low I can barely hear him. I suppose
loyalty to anyone but the Scarlet Guard, even family, is not allowed. “I promise you that.”
His presence is soothing, pulling me backward in time. Past his conscription, to a rainy
spring when we could still pretend to be children. Nothing existed but the mud, the village, and
our foolish habit of ignoring the future. Now the future is all I think of, wondering what dark
path my actions have set us upon. “What are we going to do now?” I direct the question at Farley, but my eyes find Kilorn. He
stands at her shoulder, a dutiful guardian with a clenched jaw and bloody bandages. To think he
was a fisherman’s apprentice not so long ago. Like Shade, he seems out of place, a ghost of a
time before all this.
“There’s always somewhere to run,” Farley replies, more focused on Cal than anything else.
She expects him to fight, to resist, but he does neither.
“You keep your hands on her,” Farley says, turning back to Shade after a long moment. My
brother nods, and his palm feels heavy on my shoulder. “She cannot be lost.”
I am not a general or a tactician, but her reasoning is clear. I am the little lightning girl—
living electricity, a lightning bolt in human form. People know my name, my face, and my
abilities. I am valuable, I am powerful, and Maven will do anything to stop me from striking
back. How my brother can protect me from the twisted new king, even though he is like me,
even though he’s the fastest thing I’ve ever seen, I do not know. But I must believe, even if it
seems a miracle. After all, I have seen so many impossible things. Another escape will be the
least of them.
The click and slide of gun barrels echo down the train as the Guard makes ready. Kilorn
shifts to stand over me, swaying slightly, his grip tight on the rifle slung across his chest. He
glances down, his expression soft. He tries to smirk, to make me laugh, but his bright green eyes
are grave and afraid.
In contrast, Cal sits quietly, almost peaceful. Though he has the most to fear—chained,
surrounded by enemies, hunted by his own brother—he looks serene. I’m not surprised. He’s a
soldier born and bred. War is something he understands, and we are certainly at war now.
“I hope you don’t plan to fight,” he says, speaking for the first time in many long minutes.
His eyes are on me, but his words bite at Farley. “I hope you plan to run.”
“Save your breath, Silver.” She squares her shoulders. “I know what we have to do.”
I can’t stop the words from bursting out. “So does he.” The glare she turns on me burns, but
I’ve dealt with worse. I don’t even flinch. “Cal knows how they fight, he knows what they’ll do
to stop us. Use him.”
How does it feel to be used? He spit those words at me in the prison beneath the Bowl of
Bones and it made me want to die. Now it barely stings.
She doesn’t say anything, and that is enough for Cal.
“They’ll have Snapdragons,” he says grimly.
Kilorn laughs aloud. “Flowers?”
“Airjets,” Cal says, his eyes sparking with distaste. “Orange wings, silver bodies, single pilot,
easy to maneuver, perfect for an urban assault. They carry four missiles each. Times one
squadron, that’s forty-eight missiles you’re going to have to outrun, plus light ammunition. Can
you handle that?”
He’s met only with silence. No, we can’t.
“And the Dragons are the least of our worries. They’ll just circle, defend a perimeter, keep us
in place until ground troops arrive.”
He lowers his eyes, thinking quickly. He’s wondering what he would do, if he were on the
other side of this. If he were king instead of Maven. “They’ll surround us and present terms.
Mare and I for your escape.”
Another sacrifice. Slowly, I suck in a breath. This morning, yesterday, before all this
madness, I would have been glad to give myself over to save just Kilorn and my brother. But now . . . now I know I am special. Now I have others to protect. Now I cannot be lost.
“We can’t agree to that,” I say. A bitter truth. Kilorn’s gaze weighs heavy, but I don’t look
up. I can’t stomach his judgment.
Cal is not so harsh. He nods, agreeing with me. “The king doesn’t expect us to give in,” he
replies. “The jets will bring the ruins down on us, and the rest will mop up the survivors. It will
be little more than a massacre.”
Farley is a creature of pride, even now when she’s terribly cornered. “What do you suggest?”
she asks, bending over him. Her words drip disdain. “Total surrender?”
Something like disgust crosses Cal’s face. “Maven will still kill you. In a cell or on the
battlefield, he won’t let any of us live.”
“Then better we die fighting.” Kilorn’s voice sounds stronger than it should, but there’s a
tremble in his fingers. He looks like the rest of the rebels, willing to do anything for the cause,
but my friend is still afraid. Still a boy, no more than eighteen, with too much to live for, and too
little reason to die.
Cal scoffs at Kilorn’s forced but brazen declaration, yet he doesn’t say anything else. He
knows a more graphic description of our impending death won’t help anyone.
Farley doesn’t share his sentiment and waves a hand, dismissing both of them outright.
Behind me, my brother mirrors her determination.
They know something we don’t, something they won’t say yet. Maven has taught us all the
price of trust misplaced.
“We are not the ones who die today,” is all she says, before marching toward the front of the
train. Her boots sound like hammer falls on the metal flooring, each one smacking of stubborn
I sense the train slow before I feel it. The electricity wanes, weakening, as we glide into the
underground station. What we might find in the skies above, white fog or orange-winged airjets,
I do not know. The others don’t seem to mind, exiting the Undertrain with great purpose. In their
silence, the armed and masked Guard looks like true soldiers, but I know better. They’re no
match for what is coming.
“Prepare yourself.” Cal’s voice hisses in my ear, making me shiver. It reminds me of days
long past, of dancing in moonlight. “Remember how strong you are.”
Kilorn shoulders his way to my side, separating us before I can tell Cal my strength and my
ability are all I’m sure of now. The electricity in my veins might be the only thing I trust in this
I want to believe in the Scarlet Guard, and certainly in Shade and Kilorn, but I won’t let
myself, not after the mess my trust, my blindness toward Maven got us into. And Cal is out of
the question altogether. He is a prisoner, a Silver, the enemy who would betray us if he could—if
he had anywhere else to run.
But still, somehow, I feel a pull to him. I remember the burdened boy who gave me a silver
coin when I was nothing. With that one gesture he changed my future, and destroyed his own.
And we share an alliance—an uneasy one forged in blood and betrayal. We are connected,
we are united—against Maven, against all who deceived us, against the world about to tear itself
Silence waits for us. Gray, damp mist hangs over the ruins of Naercey, bringing the sky down so
close I might touch it. It’s cold, with the chill of autumn, the season of change and death. Nothing haunts the sky yet, no jets to rain destruction down upon an already destroyed city.
Farley sets a brisk pace, leading up from the tracks to the wide, abandoned avenue. The
wreckage yawns like a canyon, more gray and broken than I remember.
We march east down the street, toward the shrouded waterfront. The high, half-collapsed
structures lean over us, their windows like eyes watching us pass. Silvers could be waiting in the
broken hollows and shadowed arches, ready to kill the Scarlet Guard. Maven could make me
watch as he struck rebels down one by one. He would not give me the luxury of a clean, quick
death. Or worse, I think. He would not let me die at all.
The thought chills my blood like a Silver shiver’s touch. As much as Maven lied to me, I still
know a small piece of his heart. I remember him grabbing me through the bars of a cell, holding
on with shaking fingers. And I remember the name he carries, the name that reminds me a heart
still beats inside him. His name was Thomas and I watched him die. He could not save that boy.
But he can save me, in his own twisted way.
No. I will never give him the satisfaction of such a thing. I would rather die.
But try as I might, I can’t forget the shadow I thought him to be, the lost and forgotten prince.
I wish that person were real. I wish he existed somewhere other than my memories.
The Naercey ruins echo strangely, more quiet than they should be. With a start, I realize why.
The refugees are gone. The woman sweeping mountains of ash, the children hiding in drains, the
shadows of my Red brothers and sisters—they have all fled. There’s no one left but us.
“Think what you want of Farley, but know she isn’t stupid,” Shade says, answering my
question before I get a chance to ask. “She gave the order to evacuate last night, after she
escaped Archeon. She thought you or Maven would talk under torture.”
She was wrong. There was no need to torture Maven. He gave his information and his mind
freely. He opened his head to his mother, letting her paw through everything she saw there. The
Undertrain, the secret city, the list. It is all hers now, just like he always was.
The line of Scarlet Guard soldiers stretches out behind us, a disorganized rabble of armed
men and women. Kilorn marches directly behind me, his eyes darting, while Farley leads. Two
burly soldiers keep Cal on her heels, gripping his arms tensely. With their red scarves, they look
like the stuff of nightmares. But there are so few of us now, maybe thirty, all walking wounded.
So few survived.
“There’s not enough of us to keep this rebellion going, even if we escape again,” I whisper to
my brother. The low-hanging mist muffles my voice, but he still hears me.
The corner of his mouth twitches, wanting to smile. “That’s not your concern.”
Before I can press him, the soldier in front of us halts. He is not the only one. At the head of
the line, Farley holds up a fist, glaring at the slate-gray sky. The rest mirror her, searching for
what we cannot see. Only Cal keeps his eyes on the ground. He already knows what our doom
A distant, inhuman scream reaches down through the mist. This sound is mechanical and
constant, circling overhead. And it is not alone. Twelve arrow-shaped shadows race through the
sky, their orange wings cutting in and out of the clouds. I’ve never seen an airjet properly, not so
close or without the cover of night, so I can’t stop my jaw from dropping when they come into
view. Farley barks orders at the Guard, but I don’t hear her. I’m too busy staring at the sky,
watching winged death arc overhead. Like Cal’s cycle, the flying machines are beautiful,
impossibly curved steel and glass. I suppose a magnetron had something to do with their
construction—how else can metal fly? Blue-tinged engines spark beneath their wings, the telltale sign of electricity. I can barely feel the twinge of them, like a breath against skin, but they’re too
far away for me to affect. I can only watch—in horror.
They screech and twist around the island of Naercey, never breaking their circle. I can almost
pretend they’re harmless, nothing but curious birds come to see the obliterated remnants of a
rebellion. Then a dart of gray metal sails overhead, trailing smoke, moving almost too fast to see.
It collides with a building down the avenue, disappearing through a broken window. A bloom of
red-orange explodes a split second later, destroying the entire floor of an already crumbling
building. It shatters in on itself, collapsing onto thousand-year-old supports that snap like
toothpicks. The entire structure tips, falling so slowly the sight can’t be real. When it hits the
street, blockading the way ahead of us, I feel the rumble deep in my chest. A cloud of smoke and
dust hits us head-on, but I don’t cower. It takes more than that to scare me now.
Through the gray-and-brown haze, Cal stands with me, even while his captors crouch. Our
eyes meet for a moment, and his shoulders droop. It’s the only sign of defeat he’ll let me see.
Farley grabs the nearest Guardsman, hoisting her to her feet. “Scatter!” she shouts, gesturing
to the alleys on either side of us. “To the north side, to the tunnels!” She points to her lieutenants
as she speaks, telling them where to go. “Shade, to the park side!” My brother nods, knowing
what she means. Another missile careens into a nearby building, drowning her out. But it’s easy
to tell what she’s shouting.
Part of me wants to hold my ground, to stand, to fight. My purple-and-white lightning will
certainly make me a target and draw the jets away from the fleeing Guard. I might even take a
plane or two with me. But that cannot be. I’m worth more than the rest, more than red masks and
bandages. Shade and I must survive—if not for the cause, then for the others. For the list of
hundreds like us—hybrids, anomalies, freaks, Red-and-Silver impossibilities—who will surely
die if we fail.
Shade knows this as well as I do. He loops his arm into mine, his grip so tight as to be
bruising. It’s almost too easy to run in step with him, to let him guide me off the wide avenue
and into a gray-green tangle of overgrown trees spilling into the street. The deeper we go, the
thicker they become, gnarled together like deformed fingers. A thousand years of neglect turned
this little plot into a dead jungle. It shelters us from the sky, until we can only hear the jets
circling closer and closer. Kilorn is never far behind. For a moment, I can pretend we’re back at
home, wandering the Stilts, looking for fun and trouble.
Trouble is all we seem to find.
When Shade finally skids to a stop, his heels scarring the dirt beneath us, I chance a glance
around. Kilorn halts next to us, his rifle aimed uselessly skyward, but no one else follows. I can’t
even see the street anymore, or the red rags fleeing into the ruins.
My brother glares up through the boughs of the trees, watching and waiting for the jets to fly
out of range.
“Where are we going?” I ask him, breathless.
Kilorn answers instead. “The river,” he says. “And then the ocean. Can you take us?” He
glances at Shade’s hands, as if he could see his ability plain in his flesh. But Shade’s strength is
buried like mine, invisible until he chooses to reveal it.
My brother shakes his head. “Not in one jump, it’s too far. And I’d rather run, save my
strength.” His eyes darken. “Until we really need it.”
I nod, agreeing. I know firsthand what it is to be ability-worn, tired in your bones, barely able to move, let alone fight.
“Where are they taking Cal?”
My question makes Kilorn wince.
“Hell if I care.”
“You should,” I fire back, even as my voice shakes with hesitation. No, he shouldn’t. Neither
should you. If the prince is gone, you must let him go. “He can help us get out of this. He can
fight with us.”
“He’ll escape or kill us the second we give him the chance,” he snaps, tearing away his scarf
to show the angry scowl beneath.
In my head, I see Cal’s fire. It burns everything in its path, from metal to flesh. “He could’ve
killed you already,” I say. It’s not an exaggeration, and Kilorn knows it.
“Somehow I thought you two would outgrow your bickering,” Shade says, stepping between
us. “How silly of me.”
Kilorn forces out an apology through gritted teeth, but I do no such thing. My focus is on the
jets, letting their electric hearts beat against mine. They weaken with each second, getting farther
and farther away. “They’re flying away from us. If we’re going to go, we need to do it now.”
Both my brother and Kilorn look at me strangely, but neither argue. “This way,” Shade says,
pointing through the trees. A small, almost invisible path winds through them, where the dirt has
been swept away to reveal stone and asphalt beneath. Again, Shade links his arm through mine,
and Kilorn charges ahead, setting a swift pace for us to follow.
Branches scrape against us, bending over the narrowing path, until it’s impossible for us to
run side by side. But instead of letting me go, Shade squeezes even tighter. And then I realize
he’s not squeezing me at all. It’s the air, the world. Everything and anything tightens in a
blistering, black second. And then, in a blink, we’re on the other side of the trees, looking back
to see Kilorn emerge from the gray grove.
“But he was ahead,” I murmur aloud, looking back and forth between Shade and the
pathway. We cross into the middle of the street, with the sky and smoke drifting overhead. “You
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