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The Lunar Chronicles 4 - Winter

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Princess Winter is admired for her grace, kindness and beauty, despite the scars on her face. She's said to be even more breath-taking than her stepmother, Queen Levana...

When Winter develops feelings for the handsome palace guard, Jacin, she fears the evil Queen will crush their romance before it has a chance to begin.

But there are stirrings against the Queen across the land. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even find the power to launch a revolution and win a war that's been raging for far too long.

Can Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter claim their happily ever afters by defeating Levana once and for all?
Volume:
4
Year:
2015
Publisher:
Feiwel & Friends
Language:
english
Pages:
833
ISBN 10:
0312642989
ISBN 13:
9780141971858
ISBN:
B00URW6FMI
Series:
The Lunar Chronicles
File:
EPUB, 1.00 MB
Download (epub, 1.00 MB)

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Contents


		 			Book: One

		 			Chapter One

		 			Chapter Two

		 			Chapter Three

		 			Chapter Four

		 			Chapter Five

		 			Chapter Six

		 			Chapter Seven

		 			Chapter Eight

		 			Chapter Nine

		 			Chapter Ten

		 			Chapter Eleven

		 			Chapter Twelve

		 			Chapter Thirteen

		 			Chapter Fourteen

		 			Chapter Fifteen

		 			Chapter Sixteen

		 			Chapter Seventeen

		 			Chapter Eighteen

		 			Chapter Nineteen

		 			Chapter Twenty

		 			Book: Two

		 			Chapter Twenty-One

		 			Chapter Twenty-Two

		 			Chapter Twenty-Three

		 			Chapter Twenty-Four

		 			Chapter Twenty-Five

		 			Chapter Twenty-Six

		 			Chapter Twenty-Seven

		 			Chapter Twenty-Eight

		 			Chapter Twenty-Nine

		 			Chapter Thirty

		 			Chapter Thirty-One

		 			Chapter Thirty-Two

		 			Chapter Thirty-Three

		 			Chapter Thirty-Four

		 			Chapter Thirty-Five

		 			Chapter Thirty-Six

		 			Chapter Thirty-Seven

		 			Chapter Thirty-Eight

		 			Book: Three

		 			Chapter Thirty-Nine

		 			Chapter Forty

		 			Chapter Forty-One

		 			Chapter Forty-Two

		 			Chapter Forty-Three

		 			Chapter Forty-Four

		 			Chapter Forty-Five

		 			Chapter Forty-Six

		 			Chapter Forty-Seven

		 			Chapter Forty-Eight

		 			Chapter Forty-Nine

		 			Chapter Fifty

		 			Chapter Fifty-One

		 			Chapter Fifty-Two

		 			Chapter Fifty-Three

		 			Chapter Fifty-Four

		 			Chapter Fifty-Five

		 			Chapter Fifty-Six

		 			Chapter Fifty-Seven

		 			Chapter Fifty-Eight

		 			Chapter Fifty-Nine

		 			Chapter Sixty

		 			Book: Four

		 			Chapter Sixty-One

		 			Chapter Sixty-Two

		 			Chapter Sixty-Three

		 			Chapter Sixty-Four

		 			Chapter Sixty-Five

		 			Chapter Sixty-Six

		 			Chapter Sixty-Seven

		 			Chapter Sixty-Eight

		 			Chapter Sixty-Nine

		 			Chapter Seventy

		 			Chapter Seventy-One

		 			Chapter Seventy-Two

		 			Chapter Seventy-Three

		 			Chapter Seventy-Four

		 			Chapter Seventy-Five

		 			Chapter Seventy-Six

		 			Chapter Seventy-Seven

		 			Book: Five

		 			Chapter Seven; ty-Eight

		 			Chapter Seventy-Nine

		 			Chapter Eighty

		 			Chapter Eighty-One

		 			Chapter Eighty-Two

		 			Chapter Eighty-Three

		 			Chapter Eighty-Four

		 			Chapter Eighty-Five

		 			Chapter Eighty-Six

		 			Chapter Eighty-Seven

		 			Chapter Eighty-Eight

		 			Chapter Eighty-Nine

		 			Chapter Ninety

		 			Chapter Ninety-One

		 			Chapter Ninety-Two

		 			Chapter Ninety-Three

		 			Chapter Ninety-Four

		 			Chapter Ninety-Five

		 			Chapter Ninety-Six

		 			Chapter Ninety-Seven





			 			For Jesse, who turns every day

into a happily ever after.





BOOK




* * *





One


		 			 				The young princess was as beautiful

as daylight. She was more beautiful 					even

				than the queen herself.





One


		Winter’s toes had become 					ice cubes. They were as cold as space. As cold as the dark side 			of Luna. As cold as—

		“… security feeds captured him 			entering the AR-Central med-clinic’s sublevels at 23:00 U.T.C. …”

		Thaumaturge Aimery Park spoke with a serene, 			measured cadence, like a ballad. It was easy to lose track of what he was saying, easy 			to let all the words blur and conjoin. Winter curled her toes inside her thin-soled 			shoes, afraid that if they got any colder before this trial was over, they would snap 			off.

		“… was attempting to interfere 			with one of the shells currently stored …”

		Snap off. One by one.

		“… records indicate the shell 			child is the accused’s son, taken on 29 July of last year. He is now fifteen 			months old.”

		Winter hid her hands in the folds of her 			gown. They were shaking again. She was always shaking these days. She squeezed her 			fingers to hold them still and pressed the bottoms of her feet into the hard floor. She 			struggled to bring the throne room into focus before it dissolved.

		The throne room, in the 			central tower of the palace, had the most striking view in the city. From her seat, 			Winter could see Artemisia Lake mirroring the white palace and the city reaching for the 			edge of the enormous clear dome that sheltered them from the outside elements—or 			lack thereof. The throne room itself extended past the walls of the tower, so that when 			one passed beyond the edge of the mosaic floor, they found themselves on a ledge of 			clear glass. Like standing on air, about to plummet into the depths of the crater 			lake.

		To Winter’s left she could make out 			the edges of her stepmother’s fingernails as they dug into the arm of her throne, 			an imposing seat carved from white stone. Normally her stepmother was calm during these 			proceedings and would listen to the trials without a hint of emotion. Winter was used to 			seeing Levana’s fingertips stroking the polished stone, not throttling it. But 			tension was high since Levana and her entourage had returned from Earth, and her 			stepmother had flown into even more rages than usual these past months.

		Ever since that runaway Lunar—that 				cyborg—had escaped from her Earthen prison.

		Ever since war had begun between Earth and 			Luna.

		Ever since the queen’s betrothed had 			been kidnapped, and Levana’s chance to be crowned empress had been stolen from 			her.

		The blue planet hung above the horizon, cut 			clean in half. Luna was a little more than halfway through the long night, and the city 			of Artemisia glowed with pale blue lampposts and glowing crystal windows, their 			reflections dancing across the lake’s surface.

		Winter missed the sun and its warmth. Their 			artificial days were never the same.

		 “How did he know 			about the shells?” Queen Levana asked. “Why did he not believe his son to 			have been killed at birth?”

		Seated around the room in four tiered rows 			were the families. The queen’s court. The nobles of Luna, granted favor with Her 			Majesty for their generations of loyalty, their extraordinary talents with the Lunar 			gift, or pure luck at having been born a citizen of the great city of Artemisia.

		Then there was the man on his knees beside 			Thaumaturge Park. He had not been born lucky.

		His hands were together, pleading. Winter 			wished she could tell him it wouldn’t matter. All his begging would be for 			nothing. She thought there would be comfort in knowing there was nothing you could do to 			avoid death. Those who came before the queen having already accepted their fate seemed 			to have an easier time of it.

		She looked down at her own hands, still 			clawed around her gauzy white skirt. Her fingers had been bitten with frost. It was sort 			of pretty. Glistening and shimmering and cold, so very cold …

		“Your queen asked you a 			question,” said Aimery.

		Winter flinched, as if he’d been 			yelling at her.

		Focus. She must try to focus.

		She lifted her head and inhaled.

		Aimery was wearing white now, having 			replaced Sybil Mira as the queen’s head thaumaturge. The gold embroidery on his 			coat shimmered as he circled the captive.

		“I am sorry, Your Majesty,” the 			man said. “My family and I have served you for generations. I’m a janitor at 			that med-clinic and I’d heard rumors … It was none of my business, so I 			never cared, I never listened. But … when my son was born a shell …” 			He whimpered. “He is my son.”

		“Did you not think,” said 			Levana, her voice loud and crisp, “there might be a reason your 			queen has chosen to keep your son and all the other ungifted Lunars separate from our 			citizens? That we may have a purpose that serves the good of all our people by 			containing them as we have?”

		The man gulped hard enough that Winter could 			see his Adam’s apple bobbing. “I know, My Queen. I know you use their blood 			for … experimentation. But … but you have so many, and he’s 			only a baby, and …”

		“Not only is his blood valuable to the 			success of our political alliances, the likes of which I cannot expect a janitor from 			the outer sectors to understand, but he is also a shell, and his kind have proven 			themselves to be dangerous and untrustworthy, as you will recall from the assassinations 			of King Marrok and Queen Jannali eighteen years ago. Yet you would subject our society 			to this threat?”

		The man’s eyes were wild with fear. 			“Threat, My Queen? He is a baby.” He paused. He did not look 			outright rebellious, but his lack of remorse would be sending Levana into a fury soon 			enough. “And the others in those tanks … so many of them, children. Innocent 				children.”

		The room chilled.

		He knew too much. The shell infanticide had 			been in place since the rule of Levana’s sister, Queen Channary, after a shell 			sneaked into the palace and killed their parents. No one would be pleased to know their 			babies had not been killed at all, but instead locked away and used as tiny 			blood-platelet-manufacturing plants.

		Winter blinked, imagining her own body as a 			blood-platelet-manufacturing plant.

		Her gaze dropped again. The ice had extended 			to her wrists now.

		That would not be beneficial 			for the platelet conveyor belts.

		“Does the accused have a 			family?” asked the queen.

		Aimery bobbed his head. “Records 			indicate a daughter, age nine. He also has two sisters and a nephew. All live in Sector 			GM-12.”

		“No wife?”

		“Dead five months past of regolith 			poisoning.”

		The prisoner watched the queen, desperation 			pooling around his knees.

		The court began to stir, their vibrant 			clothes fluttering. This trial had gone on too long. They were growing bored.

		Levana leaned against the back of her 			throne. “You are hereby found guilty of trespassing and attempted theft against 			the crown. This crime is punishable by immediate death.”

		The man shuddered, but his face remained 			pleading. It always took them a few seconds to comprehend such a sentence.

		“Your family members will each receive 			a dozen public lashings as a reminder to your sector that I do not tolerate my decisions 			being questioned.”

		The man’s jaw slackened.

		“Your daughter will be given as a gift 			to one of the court’s families. There, she will be taught the obedience and 			humility one can assume she has not learned beneath your tutelage.”

		“No, please. Let her live with her 			aunts. She hasn’t done anything!”

		“Aimery, you may proceed.”

		“Please!”

		“Your queen has spoken,” said 			Thaumaturge Aimery. “Her word is final.”

		Aimery drew an obsidian knife from one of 			his bell-shaped sleeves and held the handle toward the prisoner, whose 			eyes had gone wide with hysteria.

		The room grew colder. Winter’s breath 			crystallized in the air. She squeezed her arms tight against her body.

		The prisoner took the knife handle. His hand 			was steady. The rest of him was trembling.

		“Please. My little 			girl—I’m all she has. Please. My Queen. Your Majesty!”

		He raised the blade to his throat.

		This was when Winter looked away. When she 			always looked away. She watched her own fingers burrow into her dress, her fingernails 			scraping at the fabric until she could feel the sting on her thighs. She watched the ice 			climb over her wrists, toward her elbows. Where the ice touched, her flesh went 			numb.

		She imagined lashing out at the queen with 			those ice-solid fists. She imagined her hands shattering into a thousand icicle 			shards.

		It was at her shoulders now. Her neck.

		Even over the popping and cracking of the 			ice, she heard the cut of flesh. The burble of blood and a muffled gag. The hard slump 			of the body.

		The cold had stolen into her chest. She 			squeezed her eyes shut, reminding herself to be calm, to breathe. She could hear 			Jacin’s steady voice in her head, his hands gripping her shoulders. It 				isn’t real, Princess. It’s only an illusion.

		Usually they helped, these memories of him 			coaxing her through the panic. But this time it seemed to prompt the ice on. 			Encompassing her rib cage. Gnawing into her stomach. Hardening over her heart.

		She was freezing from the inside out.

		 			 			Listen to my voice.

		Jacin wasn’t there.

		 			Stay with me.

		Jacin was gone.

		 			It’s all in your head.

		She heard the clomping of the guards’ 			boots as they approached the body. The corpse being slid toward the ledge. The shove and 			the distant splash below.

		The court applauded with quiet 			politeness.

		Winter heard her toes snap off. One. By. 			One.

		“Very good,” said Queen Levana. 			“Thaumaturge Tavaler, see to it that the rest of the sentencing is carried 			out.”

		The ice was in her throat now, climbing up 			her jaw. There were tears freezing inside their ducts. There was saliva crystallizing on 			her tongue.

		She raised her head as a servant began 			washing the blood from the tiles. Aimery, rubbing his knife with a cloth, met 			Winter’s gaze. His smile was searing. “I am afraid the princess has no 			stomach for these proceedings.”

		The nobles in the audience 			tittered—Winter’s disgust of the trials was a source of merriment to most of 			Levana’s court.

		The queen turned, but Winter couldn’t 			look up. She was a girl made of ice and glass. Her teeth were brittle, her lungs too 			easily shattered.

		“Yes,” said Levana. “I 			often forget she’s here at all. You’re about as useless as a rag doll, 			aren’t you, Winter?”

		The audience chuckled again, louder now, as 			if the queen had given permission to mock the young princess. But Winter couldn’t 			respond, not to the queen, not to the laughter. She kept her focus on the thaumaturge, 			trying to hide her panic.

		 “Oh, no, she 			isn’t quite as useless as that,” Aimery said. As Winter stared, a thin 			crimson line drew itself across his throat, blood bubbling up from the wound. “The 			prettiest girl on all of Luna? She will make some member of this court a happy bride 			someday, I should think.”

		“The prettiest girl, Aimery?” 			Levana’s light tone almost concealed the snarl beneath.

		Aimery slipped into a bow. “Prettiest 			only, My Queen. But no mortal could compare with your perfection.”

		The court was quick to agree, offering a 			hundred compliments at once, though Winter still felt the leering gazes of more than one 			noble attached to her.

		Aimery took a step toward the throne and his 			severed head tipped off, thunking against the marble and rolling, rolling, rolling, 			until it stopped at Winter’s frozen feet.

		Still smiling.

		She whimpered, but the sound was buried 			beneath the snow in her throat.

		 			It’s all in your head.

		“Silence,” said Levana, once 			she’d had her share of praise. “Are we finished?”

		Finally, the ice found her eyes and Winter 			had no choice but to shut them against Aimery’s headless apparition, enclosing 			herself in cold and darkness.

		She would die here and not complain. She 			would be buried beneath this avalanche of lifelessness. She would never have to witness 			another murder again.

		“There is one more prisoner still to 			be tried, My Queen.” Aimery’s voice echoed in the cold hollowness of 			Winter’s head. “Sir Jacin Clay, royal guard, pilot, and assigned protector 			of Thaumaturge Sybil Mira.”

		Winter gasped and the ice 			shattered, a million sharp glittering bits exploding across the throne room and skidding 			across the floor. No one else heard them. No one else noticed.

		Aimery, head very much attached, was 			watching her again, as if he’d been waiting to see her reaction. His smirk was 			subtle as he returned his attention to the queen.

		“Ah, yes,” said Levana. 			“Bring him in.”





Two


		The doors to the throne room 					opened, and there he was, trapped between two guards, his 			wrists corded behind his back. His blond hair was clumped and matted, strands of it 			clinging to his jaw. It appeared to have been a fair while since he’d last 			showered, but Winter could detect no obvious signs of abuse.

		Her stomach flipped. All the warmth the ice 			had sucked out of her came rushing back to the surface of her skin.

		 			Stay with me, Princess. Listen to my voice, Princess.

		He was led to the center of the room, devoid 			of expression. Winter jabbed her fingernails into her palms.

		Jacin didn’t look at her. Not 			once.

		“Jacin Clay,” said Aimery, 			“you have been charged with betraying the crown by failing to protect Thaumaturge 			Mira and by failing to apprehend a known Lunar fugitive despite nearly two weeks spent 			in said fugitive’s company. You are a traitor to Luna and to our queen. These 			crimes are punishable by death. What have you to say in your defense?”

		Winter’s heart thundered like a drum 			against her ribs. She turned pleading eyes up to her stepmother, but 			Levana was not paying her any attention.

		“I plead guilty to all stated 			crimes,” said Jacin, drawing Winter’s attention back, “except 			for the accusation that I am a traitor.”

		Levana’s fingernails fluttered against 			the arm of her throne. “Explain.”

		Jacin stood as tall and stalwart as if he 			were in uniform, as if he were on duty, not on trial. “As I’ve said before, 			I did not apprehend the fugitive while in her company because I was attempting to 			convince her I could be trusted, in order to gather information for my queen.”

		“Ah, yes, you were spying on her and 			her companions,” said Levana. “I do recall that excuse from when you were 			captured. I also recall that you had no pertinent information to give me, only 			lies.”

		“Not lies, My Queen, though I will 			admit I underestimated the cyborg and her abilities. She was disguising them from 			me.”

		“So much for earning her trust.” 			There was mocking in the queen’s tone.

		“Knowledge of the cyborg’s 			skills was not the only information I sought, My Queen.”

		“I suggest you stop playing with 			words. My patience with you is already thin.”

		Winter’s heart shriveled. Not Jacin. 			She could not sit here and watch them kill Jacin.

		She would bargain for him, she decided, 			though the plan came with a flaw. What did she have to bargain with? Nothing but her own 			life, and Levana would not accept that.

		She could throw a fit. Go into hysterics. It 			would hardly be a stretch from the truth at this point, and it might 			distract them for a time, but it would only delay the inevitable.

		She had felt helpless many times in her 			life, but never like this.

		Only one thing to be done, then. She would 			throw her own body in front of the blade.

		Oh, Jacin would hate that.

		Ignorant of Winter’s newest resolve, 			Jacin respectfully inclined his head. “During my time with Linh Cinder, I 			uncovered information about a device that can nullify the effects of the Lunar gift when 			connected to a person’s nervous system.”

		This caused a curious squirm through the 			crowd. A stiffening of spines, a tilting forward of shoulders.

		“Impossible,” said Levana.

		“Linh Cinder had evidence of its 			potential. As it was described to me, on an Earthen, the device will keep their 			bioelectricity from being tampered with. But on a Lunar, it will prevent them from using 			their gift at all. Linh Cinder herself had the device installed when she arrived at the 			Commonwealth ball. Only when it was destroyed was she able to use her gift—as was 			evidenced with your own eyes, My Queen.”

		His words carried an air of impertinence. 			Levana’s knuckles turned white.

		“How many of these hypothetical 			devices exist?”

		“To my knowledge, only the broken 			device installed in the cyborg herself. But I suspect there still exist patents or 			blueprints. The inventor was Linh Cinder’s adoptive father.”

		The queen’s grip began to relax. 			“This is intriguing information, Sir Clay. But it speaks more of a desperate 			attempt to save yourself than true innocence.”

		Jacin shrugged, nonchalant. “If my 			loyalty cannot be seen in how I conducted myself with the enemy, 			obtaining this information and alerting Thaumaturge Mira to the plot to kidnap Emperor 			Kaito, I don’t know what other evidence I can provide for you, My 			Queen.”

		“Yes, yes, the anonymous tip Sybil 			received, alerting her to Linh Cinder’s plans.” Levana sighed. “I find 			it very convenient that this comm you claim to have sent was seen by no one 			other than Sybil herself, who is now dead.”

		For the first time, Jacin looked off balance 			beneath the queen’s glare. He still had not looked at Winter.

		The queen turned to Jerrico Solis, her 			captain of the guard. Like so many of the queen’s guards, Jerrico made Winter 			uncomfortable, and she often had visions of his orange-red hair going up in flames and 			the rest of him burning down to a smoldering coal. “You were with Sybil when she 			ambushed the enemy’s ship that day, yet you said before that Sybil had mentioned 			no such comm. Have you anything to add?”

		Jerrico took a step forward. He had returned 			from their Earthen excursion with a fair share of bruises, but they had begun to fade. 			“My Queen, Thaumaturge Mira seemed confident we would find Linh Cinder on that 			rooftop, but she did not mention receiving any outside information—anonymous or 			otherwise. When the ship landed, it was Thaumaturge Mira who ordered Jacin Clay to be 			taken into custody.”

		Jacin’s eyebrow twitched. 			“Perhaps she was still upset that I shot her.” He paused, before adding, 			“While under Linh Cinder’s control, in my defense.”

		“You seem to have plenty to say in 			your defense,” said Levana.

		Jacin didn’t respond. It was the 			calmest Winter had ever seen a prisoner—he, who knew better than anyone the 			horrible things that happened on this floor, in the very spot where he stood. Levana should have been infuriated by his audacity, but she seemed merely 			thoughtful.

		“Permission to speak, My 			Queen?”

		The crowd rustled and it took a moment for 			Winter to discern who had spoken. It was a guard. One of the silent 			ornamentations of the palace. Though she recognized him, she didn’t know his 			name.

		Levana glowered at him, and Winter imagined 			her calculating whether to grant the permission or punish the man for speaking out of 			turn. Finally, she said, “What is your name, and why do you dare interrupt these 			proceedings?”

		The guard stepped forward, staring at the 			wall, always at the wall. “My name is Liam Kinney, My Queen. I assisted with the 			retrieval of Thaumaturge Mira’s body.”

		A questioning eyebrow to Jerrico; a 			confirming nod received. “Go on,” said Levana.

		“Mistress Mira was in possession of a 			portscreen when we found her, and though it was broken in the fall, it was still 			submitted as evidence in the case of her murder. I wonder if anyone has attempted to 			retrieve the alleged comm.”

		Levana turned her attention back to Aimery, 			whose face was a mask that Winter recognized. The more pleasant his expression, the more 			annoyed he was. “In fact, we did manage to access her recent communications. I was 			about to bring forward the evidence.”

		It was a lie, which gave Winter hope. Aimery 			was a great liar, especially when it was in his best interests. And he hated Jacin. He 			would not want to give up anything that could help him.

		Hope. Frail, flimsy, pathetic 			hope.

		Aimery gestured toward the door and a 			servant scurried forward, carrying a shattered portscreen and a 			holograph node on a tray. “This is the portscreen Sir Kinney mentioned. Our 			investigation has confirmed that there was, indeed, an anonymous comm sent to Sybil Mira 			that day.”

		The servant turned on the node and a 			holograph shimmered into the center of the room—behind it, Jacin faded away like a 			phantom.

		The holograph displayed a basic text 			comm.

		 			Linh Cinder plotting to kidnap EC 				emperor.

			Escape planned from north tower rooftop, 				sunset.



		So much importance pressed into so few 			words. It was just like Jacin.

		Levana read the words with narrowed eyes. 			“Thank you, Sir Kinney, for bringing this to our attention.” It was telling 			that she did not thank Aimery.

		The guard, Kinney, bowed and stepped back 			into position. His gaze flickered once to Winter, unreadable, before attaching again to 			the far wall.

		Levana continued, “I suppose you will 			tell me, Sir Clay, that this was the comm you sent.”

		“It was.”

		“Have you anything else to add before 			I make my verdict?”

		“Nothing, My Queen.”

		Levana leaned back in her throne and the 			room hushed, everyone awaiting the queen’s decision.

		“I trust my stepdaughter would like me 			to spare you.”

		Jacin didn’t react, but Winter winced 			at the haughtiness in her stepmother’s tone. “Please, Stepmother,” she 			whispered, the words clumping on her dry tongue. “It’s 				Jacin. He is not our enemy.”

		“Not yours, perhaps,” 			Levana said. “But you are a naïve, stupid girl.”

		“That is not so. I am a factory for 			blood and platelets, and all my machinery is freezing over …”

		The court burst into laughter, and Winter 			recoiled. Even Levana’s lips twitched, though there was annoyance beneath her 			amusement.

		“I have made my decision,” she 			said, her booming voice demanding silence. “I have decided to let the prisoner 			live.”

		Winter released a cry of relief. She clapped 			a hand over her mouth, but it was too late to stifle the noise.

		There were more giggles from the 			audience.

		“Have you any other insights to add, 			Princess?” Levana said through her teeth.

		Winter gathered her emotions as well as she 			could. “No, My Queen. Your rulings are always wise and final, My Queen.”

		“This ruling is not finished.” 			The queen’s voice hardened as she addressed Jacin again. “Your inability to 			kill or capture Linh Cinder will not go unpunished, as your incompetence led to her 			successful kidnapping of my betrothed. For this crime, I sentence you to thirty 			self-inflicted lashings to be held on the central dais, followed by forty hours of 			penance. Your sentence shall commence at tomorrow’s light-break.”

		Winter flinched, but even this punishment 			could not destroy the fluttery relief in her stomach. He was not going to die. She was 			not a girl of ice and glass at all, but a girl of sunshine and stardust, because Jacin 			wasn’t going to die.

		“And, Winter …”

		She jerked her attention 			back to her stepmother, who was eyeing her with disdain. “If you attempt to bring 			him food, I will have his tongue removed in payment for your kindness.”

		She shrank back into her chair, a tiny ray 			of her sunshine extinguished. “Yes, My Queen.”





Three


		Winter was awake hours before 					light brightened the dome’s artificial sky, having hardly 			slept. She did not go to watch Jacin receive his lashings, knowing that if he saw her, 			he would have kept himself from screaming in pain. She wouldn’t do that to him. 			Let him scream. He was still stronger than any of them.

		She dutifully nibbled at the cured meats and 			cheeses brought for her breakfast. She allowed the servants to bathe her and dress her 			in pale pink silk. She sat through an entire session with Master Gertman, a third-tier 			thaumaturge and her long-standing tutor, pretending to try to use her gift and 			apologizing when it was too hard, when she was too weak. He did not seem to mind. 			Anyway, he spent most of their sessions gazing slack-jawed at her face, and Winter 			didn’t know if he would be able to tell if she really did glamour him for 			once.

		The artificial day had come and gone; one of 			the maidservants had brought her a mug of warmed milk and cinnamon and turned down her 			bed, and finally Winter was left alone.

		Her heart pounded with anticipation.

		She slipped into a pair of 			lightweight linen pants and a loose top, then pulled on her night robe so it would look 			like she was wearing her bedclothes underneath. She had thought of this all day, the 			plan taking form in her mind, like tiny puzzle pieces snapping together. Willful 			determination had stifled any hallucinations.

		She fluffed her hair to look as if 			she’d woken from a deep slumber, turned off the lights, and climbed up onto her 			bed. The dangling chandelier clipped her brow and she flinched, stepping back and 			catching her balance on the thick mattress.

		Winter braced herself with a breath full of 			intentions.

		Counted to three.

		And screamed.

		She screamed like an assassin was driving a 			knife into her stomach.

		She screamed like a thousand birds were 			pecking at her flesh.

		She screamed like the palace was burning 			down around her.

		The guard stationed outside her door burst 			inside, weapon drawn. Winter went on screaming. Stumbling back over her pillows, she 			pressed her back against the headboard and clawed at her hair.

		“Princess! What is it? What’s 			wrong?” His eyes darted around the dark room, searching for an intruder, a 			threat.

		Flailing an arm behind her, Winter scratched 			at the wallpaper, tearing off a shred. It was becoming easier to believe she was 			horrified. There were phantoms and murderers closing in around her.

		“Princess!” A second guard burst 			into the room. He flipped on the light and Winter ducked away from it. 			“What’s going on?”

		“I don’t know.” The first 			guard had crossed to the other side of the room and was checking behind the window 			drapes.

		 			“Monster!” Winter shrieked, bulleting the statement with a sob. 			“I woke up and he was standing over my bed—one of—one of the 			queen’s soldiers!”

		The guards traded looks and the silent 			message was clear, even to Winter.

		 			Nothing’s wrong. She’s just crazy.

		“Your Highness—” started 			the second guard, as a third appeared at the doorway.

		Good. There were only three guards regularly 			stationed in this corridor between her bedroom and the main stairway.

		“He went that way!” Cowering 			behind one arm, Winter pointed toward her dressing closet. “Please. Please 			don’t let him get away. Please find him!”

		“What’s happened?” asked 			the newcomer.

		“She thinks she saw one of the mutant 			soldiers,” grumbled the second guard.

		“He was here,” she 			screamed, the words tearing at her throat. “Why aren’t you protecting me? 			Why are you standing there? Go find him!”

		The first guard looked annoyed, as if this 			charade had interrupted something more than standing in the hallway and staring at a 			wall. He holstered his gun, but said, with authority, “Of course, Princess. We 			will find this perpetrator and ensure your safety.” He beckoned the second guard 			and the two of them stalked off toward the closet.

		Winter turned to the third guard and fell 			into a crouch. “You must go with them,” she urged, her voice fluttery and 			weak. “He is a monster—enormous—with ferocious teeth and claws that 			will tear them to shreds. They can’t defeat him alone, and if they 			fail—!” Her words turned into a wail of terror. “He’ll come for 				me, and there will be no one to stop him. No one will save 			me!” She pulled at her hair, her entire body quivering.

		“All right, all right. Of course, 			Highness. Just wait here, and … try to calm yourself.” Looking grateful to 			leave the mad princess behind, he took off after his comrades.

		No sooner had he disappeared did Winter slip 			off the bed and shrug out of her robe, leaving it draped over a chair.

		“The closet is clear!” one of 			the guards yelled.

		“Keep looking!” she yelled back. 			“I know he’s in there!”

		Snatching up the simple hat and shoes 			she’d left by the door, she fled.

		Unlike her personal guards, who would have 			questioned her endlessly and insisted on escorting her into the city, the guards who 			were manning the towers outside the palace hardly stirred when she asked for the gate to 			be opened. Without guards and fine dresses, and with her bushel of hair tucked up and 			her face tucked down, she could pass for a servant in the shadows.

		As soon as she was outside the gate, she 			started to run.

		There were aristocrats milling around the 			tiled city streets, laughing and flirting in their fine clothes and glamours. Light 			spilled from open doorways, music danced along the window ledges, and everywhere was the 			smell of food and the clink of glasses and shadows kissing and sighing in darkened 			alleyways.

		It was like this always in the city. The 			frivolity, the pleasure. The white city of Artemisia—their own little paradise 			beneath the protective glass.

		At the center of it all was the dais, a 			circular platform where dramas were performed and auctions held, where spectacles of 			illusion and bawdy humor often drew the families from their mansions for a night of 			revelry.

		Public humiliations and 			punishments were frequently on the docket.

		Winter was panting, both frazzled and giddy 			with her success, as the dais came into view. She spotted him and the yearning inside 			her weakened her knees. She had to slow to catch her breath.

		He was sitting with his back to the enormous 			sundial at the center of the dais, an instrument as useless as it was striking during 			these long nights. Ropes bound his bare arms and his chin was collapsed against his 			collarbone, pale hair hiding his face. As Winter neared him, she could see the raised 			hash marks of the lashings across his chest and abdomen, scattered with dried blood. 			There would be more on his back. His hand would be blistered from gripping the lash. 				Self-inflicted, Levana had proclaimed the punishment, but everyone knew 			Jacin would be under the control of a thaumaturge. There was nothing 			self-inflicted about it.

		Aimery, she heard, had volunteered for the 			task. He had probably relished every wound.

		Jacin raised his head as she reached the 			edge of the dais. Their eyes clashed, and she was staring at a man who had been beaten 			and bound and mocked and tormented all day and for a moment she was sure he was broken. 			Another one of the queen’s broken toys.

		But then one side of his mouth lifted, and 			the smile hit his startling blue eyes, and he was as bright and welcoming as the rising 			sun.

		“Hey, Trouble,” he said, leaning 			his head back against the dial.

		With that, the terror from the past weeks 			slipped away. He was alive. He was home. He was still Jacin.

		She pulled herself onto the dais. “Do 			you have any idea how worried I’ve been?” she said, 			crossing to him. “I didn’t know if you were dead or being held hostage, or 			if you’d been eaten by one of the queen’s soldiers. It’s been driving 			me mad not knowing.”

		He quirked an eyebrow at her.

		She scowled. “Don’t comment on 			that.”

		“I wouldn’t dare.” He 			rolled his shoulders as much as he could against his bindings. His wounds gapped and 			puckered with the movement and his face contorted in pain, but it was brief.

		Pretending she hadn’t noticed, Winter 			sat cross-legged in front of him, inspecting the wounds. Wanting to touch him. Terrified 			to touch him. That much, at least, had not changed. “Does it hurt very 			much?”

		“Better than being at the bottom of 			the lake.” His smile turned wry, lips chapped. “They’ll move me to a 			suspension tank tomorrow night. Half a day and I’ll be good as new.” He 			squinted. “That’s assuming you’re not here to bring me food. I’d 			like to keep my tongue where it is, thank you.”

		“No food. Just a friendly 			face.”

		“Friendly.” His gaze raked over 			her, his relaxed grin still in place. “That’s an understatement.”

		She dipped her head, turning away to hide 			the three scars on her right cheek. For years, Winter had assumed that when people 			stared at her, it was because the scars disgusted them. A rare disfigurement in their 			world of perfection. But then a maid told her they weren’t disgusted, they were in 			awe. She said the scars made Winter interesting to look at and somehow, odd as it was, 			even more beautiful. Beautiful. It was a word Winter had heard tossed around 			all her life. A beautiful child, a beautiful girl, a beautiful young lady, so beautiful, 				too beautiful … and the stares that attended the word never ceased to 			make her want to don a veil like her stepmother’s and hide from the whispers.

		Jacin was the one person 			who could make her feel beautiful without it seeming like a bad thing. She 			couldn’t recall him ever using the word, or giving her any compliments, for that 			matter. They were always hidden behind careless jokes that made her heart pound.

		“Don’t tease,” she said, 			flustered at the way he looked at her, at the way he always looked at her.

		“Wasn’t teasing,” he said, 			all nonchalance.

		In response, Winter reached out and punched 			him on the shoulder.

		He flinched, and she gasped, remembering his 			wounds. But Jacin’s chuckle was warm. “That’s not a fair fight, 			Princess.”

		She reeled back the budding apology. 			“It’s about time I had the advantage.”

		He glanced past her, into the streets. 			“Where’s your guard?”

		“I left him behind. Searching for a 			monster in my closet.”

		The sunshine smile hardened into 			exasperation. “Princess, you can’t go out alone. If something happened to 			you—”

		“Who’s going to hurt me here, in 			the city? Everyone knows who I am.”

		“It just takes one idiot, too used to 			getting what he wants and too drunk to control himself.”

		She flushed and clenched her jaw.

		Jacin frowned, immediately regretful. 			“Princess—”

		“I’ll run all the way back to 			the palace. I’ll be fine.”

		He sighed, and she listed her head, wishing 			she’d brought some sort of medicinal salve for his cuts. Levana hadn’t said 			anything about medicine, and the sight of him tied up and vulnerable—and 			shirtless, even if it was a bloodied shirtless—was making her fingers twitch in 			odd ways.

		 “I wanted to be 			alone with you,” she said, focusing on his face. “We never get to be alone 			anymore.”

		“It’s not proper for 			seventeen-year-old princesses to be alone with young men who have questionable 			intentions.”

		She laughed. “And what about young men 			who she’s been best friends with since before she could walk?”

		He shook his head. “Those are the 			worst.”

		She snorted—an actual snort of 			laughter that served to brighten Jacin’s face again.

		But the humor was bittersweet. The truth 			was, Jacin touched her only when he was helping her through a hallucination. Otherwise, 			he hadn’t deliberately touched her in years. Not since she was fourteen and he was 			sixteen, and she’d tried to teach him the Eclipse Waltz with somewhat embarrassing 			results.

		These days, she would have auctioned off the 			Milky Way to make his intentions a little less honorable.

		Her smile started to fizzle. 			“I’ve missed you,” she said.

		His gaze dropped away and he shifted in an 			attempt to get more comfortable against the dial. Locking his jaw so she wouldn’t 			see how much every tiny movement pained him. “How’s your head?” he 			asked.

		“The visions come and go,” she 			said, “but they don’t seem to be getting worse.”

		“Have you had one today?”

		She picked at a small, natural flaw in the 			linen of her pants, thinking back. “No, not since the trials yesterday. I turned 			into a girl of icicles, and Aimery lost his head. Literally.”

		“Wouldn’t mind if that last one 			came true.” She shushed him.

		“I mean it. I don’t like how he 			looks at you.”

		Winter glanced over her 			shoulder, but the courtyards surrounding the dais were empty. Only the distant bustle of 			music and laughter reminded her they were in a metropolis at all.

		“You’re back on Luna now,” 			she said. “You have to be careful what you say.”

		“You’re giving me 			advice on how to be covert?”

		“Jacin—”

		“There are three cameras on this 			square. Two on the lampposts behind you, one embedded in the oak tree behind the 			sundial. None of them have audio. Unless she’s hiring lip-readers now?”

		Winter glared. “How can you know for 			sure?”

		“Surveillance was one of Sybil’s 			specialties.”

		“Nevertheless, the queen could have 			killed you yesterday. You need to be careful.”

		“I know, Princess. I have no interest 			in returning to that throne room as anything other than a loyal guard.”

		A rumble overhead caught Winter’s 			attention. Through the dome, the lights of a dozen spaceships were fading as they 			streaked across the star-scattered sky. Heading toward Earth.

		“Soldiers,” Jacin muttered. She 			couldn’t tell if he meant it as a statement or a question. “How’s the 			war effort?”

		“No one tells me anything. But Her 			Majesty seems pleased with our victories … though still furious about the missing 			emperor, and the canceled wedding.”

		“Not canceled. Just 			delayed.”

		“Try telling her that.”

		He grunted.

		Winter leaned forward on her elbows, cupping 			her chin. “Did the cyborg really have a device like you said? One that can keep 			people from being manipulated?”

		A light sparked in his 			eyes, as if she’d reminded him of something important, but when he tried to lean 			toward her, his binds held him back. He grimaced and cursed beneath his breath.

		Winter scooted closer to him, making up the 			distance herself.

		“That’s not all,” he said. 			“Supposedly, this device can keep Lunars from using their gift in the first 			place.”

		“Yes, you mentioned that in the throne 			room.”

		His gaze burrowed into her. “And 			it will protect their minds. She said it keeps them from …”

		 			Going crazy.

		He didn’t have to say it out loud, not 			when his face held so much hope, like he’d solved the world’s greatest 			problem. His meaning hung between them.

		Such a device could heal her.

		Winter’s fingers curled up and settled 			under her chin. “You said there weren’t any more of them.”

		“No. But if we could find the patents 			for the invention … to even know it’s possible …”

		“The queen will do anything to keep 			more from being made.”

		His expression darkened. “I know, but 			I had to offer something. If only Sybil hadn’t arrested me in the first place, 			ungrateful witch.” Winter smiled, and when Jacin caught the look, his irritation 			melted away. “Doesn’t matter. Now that I know it’s possible, 			I’ll find a way to do it.”

		“The visions are never so bad when 			you’re around. They’ll be better now that you’re back.”

		His jaw tensed. “I’m sorry I 			left. I regretted it as soon as I realized what I’d done. It happened so fast, and 			then I couldn’t come back for you. I’d just … abandoned you up here. 			With her. With them.”

		 “You didn’t 			abandon me. You were taken hostage. You didn’t have a choice.”

		He looked away.

		She straightened. “You weren’t 			manipulated?”

		“Not the whole time,” he 			whispered, like a confession. “I chose to side with them, when Sybil and I boarded 			their ship.” Guilt washed over his face, and it was such an odd expression on him 			Winter wasn’t sure she was interpreting it right. “Then I betrayed 			them.” He thumped his head against the sundial, harder than necessary. 			“I’m such an idiot. You should hate me.”

		“You may be an idiot, but I assure 			you, you’re quite a lovable one.”

		He shook his head. “You’re the 			only person in the galaxy who would ever call me lovable.”

		“I’m the only person in the 			galaxy crazy enough to believe it. Now tell me what you’ve done that is worth 			hating you for.”

		He swallowed, hard. “That cyborg Her 			Majesty is searching for?”

		“Linh Cinder.”

		“Yeah. Well, I thought she was just 			some crazy girl on a suicide mission, right? I figured she was going to get us all 			killed with these delusions of kidnapping the emperor and overthrowing the queen … 			to listen to her talk, anyone would have thought that. So I figured, I’d rather 			take a chance and come back to you, if I could. Let her throw her own life 			away.”

		“But Linh Cinder did kidnap the 			emperor. And she got away.”

		“I know.” He shifted his 			attention back to Winter. “Sybil took one of her friends hostage, some girl named 			Scarlet. Don’t suppose you know—”

		Winter beamed. “Oh, yes. The queen 			gave her to me as a pet, and she’s being kept in the menagerie. I like her a great 			deal.” Her brow creased. “Although I can’t tell if 			she’s decided to like me or not.”

		He flinched at a sudden unknown pain and 			spent a moment re-situating himself. “Can you get her a message for me?”

		“Of course.”

		“You have to be careful. I won’t 			tell you if you can’t be discreet—for your own sake.”

		“I can be discreet.” Jacin 			looked skeptical.

		“I can. I will be as 			secretive as a spy. As secretive as you.” Winter scooted a bit 			closer.

		His voice fell, as if he were no longer 			certain those cameras didn’t come with audio. “Tell her they’re coming 			for her.”

		Winter stared. “Coming for … 			coming here?”

		He nodded, a subtle dip of his head. 			“And I think they might actually have a chance.”

		Frowning, Winter reached forward and tucked 			the strands of Jacin’s sweatand dirt-stained hair behind his ears. He tensed at 			the touch, but didn’t pull away. “Jacin Clay, you’re speaking in 			riddles.”

		“Linh Cinder.” His voice became 			hardly more than a breath and she tilted closer yet to hear him. A curl of her hair fell 			against his shoulder. He licked his lips. “She’s Selene.”

		Every muscle in her body tightened. She 			pulled back. “If Her Majesty heard you say—”

		“I won’t tell anyone else. But I 			had to tell you.” His eyes crinkled at the corners, full of sympathy. “I 			know you loved her.”

		Her heart thumped. “My 			Selene?”

		“Yes. But … I’m sorry, 			Princess. I don’t think she remembers you.”

		Winter blinked, letting the 			daydream fill her up for one hazy moment. Selene, alive. Her cousin, her friend? 				Alive.

		She scrunched her shoulders against her 			neck, casting the hope away. “No. She’s dead. I was there, Jacin. I 			saw the aftermath of the fire.”

		“You didn’t see 			her.”

		“They found—”

		“Charred flesh. I know.”

		“A pile of girl-shaped 			ashes.”

		“They were just ashes. Look, I 			didn’t believe it either, but I do now.” One corner of his mouth tilted up, 			into something like pride. “She’s our lost princess. And she’s coming 			home.”

		A throat cleared behind Winter and her 			skeleton nearly leaped from her skin. She swiveled her torso around, falling onto her 			elbow.

		Her personal guard was standing beside the 			dais, scowling.

		“Ah!” Heart fluttering with a 			thousand startled birds, Winter broke into a relieved smile. “Did you catch the 			monster?”

		There was no return smile, not even a flush 			of his cheeks, which was the normal reaction when she let loose that particular look. 			Instead, his right eyebrow began to twitch.

		“Your Highness. I have come to 			retrieve you and escort you back to the palace.”

		Righting herself, Winter clasped her hands 			in front of her chest. “Of course. It’s so kind of you to worry after 			me.” She glanced back at Jacin, who was eyeing the guard with distrust. No 			surprise. He eyed everyone with distrust. “I fear tomorrow will be even more 			difficult for you, Sir Clay. Do try to think of me when you can.”

		“Try, Princess?” He 			smirked up at her. “I can’t seem to think of much else.”





Four


		Cinder lay on the ground, 					staring up at the Rampion’s vast engine, its ductwork, 			and revolving life-support module. The system blueprints she’d downloaded weeks 			ago were overlaid across her vision—a cyborg trick that had come in handy 			countless times when she was a working mechanic in New Beijing. She expanded the 			blueprint, zooming in on a cylinder the length of her arm. It was tucked near the engine 			room’s wall. Coils of tubing sprouted from both sides.

		“That has to be the problem,” 			she muttered, dismissing the blueprint. She shimmied beneath the revolving module, dust 			bunnies gathering around her shoulders, and eased herself back to sitting. There was 			just enough space for her to squeeze in between the labyrinth of wires and coils, pipes 			and tubes.

		Holding her breath, she pressed her ear 			against the cylinder. The metal was ice cold against her skin.

		She waited. Listened. Adjusted the volume on 			her audio sensors.

		What she heard was the door to the engine 			room opening.

		Glancing back, she spotted the gray pants of 			a military uniform in the yellowish light from the corridor. That could 			have been anyone on the ship, but the shiny black dress shoes …

		“Hello?” said Kai.

		Her heart thumped—every single time, 			her heart thumped.

		“Back here.”

		Kai shut the door and crouched down on the 			far side of the room, framed between the jumble of thumping pistons and spinning fans. 			“What are you doing?”

		“Checking the oxygen filters. One 			minute.”

		She placed her ear against the cylinder 			again. There—a faint clatter, like a pebble banging around inside. 				“Aha.”

		She dug a wrench from her pocket and set to 			loosening the nuts on either side of the cylinder. As soon as it was free, the ship fell 			eerily quiet, like a humming that became noticeable only after it stopped. Kai’s 			eyebrows shot upward.

		Cinder peered into the cylinder’s 			depths, before sticking her fingers in and pulling out a complicated filter. It was made 			of tiny channels and crevices, all lined with a thin gray film.

		“No wonder the takeoffs have been 			rocky.”

		“I don’t suppose you could use 			some help?”

		“Nope. Unless you want to find me a 			broom.”

		“A broom?”

		Raising the filter, Cinder banged the end of 			it on one of the overhead pipes. A dust cloud exploded around her, covering her hair and 			arms. Coughing, Cinder buried her nose in the crook of her elbow and kept banging until 			the biggest chunks had been dislodged.

		“Ah. A broom. Right. There might be 			one up in the kitchen? … I mean, the galley.”

		Blinking the dust from her eyelashes, Cinder 			grinned at him. He was usually so self-assured that in the rare moments when he was flustered, it made all of her insides swap wrong side up. And 			he was flustered a lot lately. Since the moment he’d woken up aboard the Rampion, 			it was clear that Kai was twelve thousand kilometers outside of his element, yet he 			adapted well in the past weeks. He learned the terminology, he ate the canned and 			freeze-dried meals without complaint, he traded his fancy wedding clothes for the 			standard military uniform they all wore. He insisted on helping out where he could, even 			cooking a few of those bland meals, despite how Iko pointed out that—as he was 			their royal guest—they should be waiting on him. Thorne laughed, 			though, and the suggestion seemed to make Kai even more uncomfortable.

		While Cinder couldn’t imagine him 			abdicating his throne and setting off on a lifetime of space travel and adventure, it 			was rather adorable watching him try to fit in.

		“I was kidding,” she said. 			“Engine rooms are supposed to be dirty.” She examined the filter again and, 			deeming it satisfactory, twisted it back into the cylinder and bolted it all in place. 			The humming started up again, but the pebble clatter was gone.

		Cinder squirmed feetfirst out from beneath 			the module and ductwork. Still crouching, Kai peered down at her and smirked. 			“Iko’s right. You really can’t stay clean for more than five 			minutes.”

		“It’s part of the job 			description.” She sat up, sending a cascade of lint off her shoulders.

		Kai brushed some of the larger chunks from 			her hair. “Where did you learn to do all this, anyway?”

		“What, that? Anyone can clean 			an oxygen filter.”

		“Trust me, they can’t.” He 			settled his elbows on his knees and let his attention wander around the engine room. 			“You know what all this does?”

		She followed the 			look—every wire, every manifold, every compression coil—and shrugged. 			“Pretty much. Except for that big, rotating thing in the corner. Can’t 			figure it out. But how important could it be?”

		Kai rolled his eyes.

		Grasping a pipe, Cinder hauled herself to 			her feet and shoved the wrench back into her pocket. “I didn’t learn it 			anywhere. I just look at things and figure out how they work. Once you know how 			something works, you can figure out how to fix it.”

		She tried to shake the last bits of dust 			from her hair, but there seemed to be an endless supply.

		“Oh, you just look at 			something and figure out how it works,” Kai deadpanned, standing beside her. 			“Is that all?”

		Cinder fixed her ponytail and shrugged, 			suddenly embarrassed. “It’s just mechanics.”

		Kai scooped an arm around her waist and 			pulled her against him. “No, it’s impressive,” he said, using the pad 			of his thumb to brush something off Cinder’s cheek. “Not to mention, weirdly 			attractive,” he said, before capturing her lips.

		Cinder tensed briefly, before melting into 			the kiss. The rush was the same every time, coupled with surprise and a wave of 			giddiness. It was their seventeenth kiss (her brain interface was keeping a tally, 			somewhat against her will), and she wondered if she would ever get used to this feeling. 			Being desired, when she’d spent her life believing no one would ever see 			her as anything but a bizarre science experiment.

		Especially not a boy.

		Especially not Kai, who was smart 			and honorable and kind, and could have had any girl he wanted. Any girl.

		She sighed against him, leaning into the 			embrace. Kai reached for an overhead pipe and pressed Cinder against the main computer console. She offered no resistance. Though her body 			wouldn’t allow her to blush, there was an unfamiliar heat that flooded every inch 			of her when he was this close. Every nerve ending sparked and thrummed, and she knew he 			could kiss her another seventeen thousand times and she would never grow tired of 			it.

		She tied her arms around his neck, molding 			their bodies together. The warmth of his chest seeped into her clothes. It felt nothing 			but right. Nothing but perfect.

		But then there was the feeling, always 			lurking, always ready to cloud her contentment. The knowledge that this couldn’t 			last.

		Not so long as Kai was engaged to 			Levana.

		Angry at the thought’s invasion, she 			kissed Kai harder, but her thoughts continued to rebel. Even if they succeeded and 			Cinder was able to reclaim her throne, she would be expected to stay on Luna as their 			new queen. She was no expert, but it seemed problematic to carry on a relationship on 			two different planets—

		Er, a planet and a moon.

		Or whatever.

		The point was, there would be 384,000 			kilometers of space between her and Kai, which was a lot of space, 			and—

		Kai smiled, breaking the kiss. 			“What’s wrong?” he murmured against her mouth.

		Cinder leaned back to look at him. His hair 			was getting longer, bordering on unkempt. As a prince, he’d always been groomed to 			near perfection. But then he became an emperor. The weeks since his coronation had been 			spent trying to stop a war, hunt down a wanted fugitive, avoid getting married, and 			endure his own kidnapping. As a result, haircuts became a dispensable luxury.

		She hesitated before 			asking, “Do you ever think about the future?”

		His expression turned wary. “Of course 			I do.”

		“And … does it include 			me?”

		His gaze softened. Releasing the overhead 			pipe, he tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “That depends on whether 			I’m thinking about the good future or the bad one.”

		Cinder tucked her head under his chin. 			“As long as one of them does.”

		“This is going to work,” Kai 			said, speaking into her hair. “We’re going to win.”

		She nodded, glad he couldn’t see her 			face.

		Defeating Levana and becoming Luna’s 			queen was only the beginning of an entire galaxy’s worth of worries. She so badly 			wanted to stay like this, cocooned in this spaceship, together and safe and alone 			… but that was the opposite of what was going to happen. Once they overthrew 			Levana, Kai would go back to being the emperor of the Eastern Commonwealth and, someday, 			he was going to need an empress.

		She might have a blood claim to Luna and the 			hope that the Lunar people would choose anyone over Levana, even a politically 			inept teenager who was made up of 36.28 percent cybernetic and manufactured materials. 			But she had seen the prejudices of the people in the Commonwealth. Something told her 			they wouldn’t be as accepting of her as a ruler.

		She wasn’t even sure she wanted to be 			empress. She was still getting used to the idea of being a princess.

		“One thing at a time,” she 			whispered, trying to still her swirling thoughts.

		Kai kissed her temple (which her brain did 			not count as #18), then pulled away. “How’s your training going?”

		 “Fine.” She 			disentangled herself from his arms and glanced around the engine. “Oh, hey, while 			you’re here, can you help me with this?” Cinder scooted around him and 			opened a panel on the wall, revealing a bundle of knotted wires.

		“That was a subtle change of 			subject.”

		“I am not changing the subject,” 			she said, although a forced clearing of her throat negated her denial. “I’m 			rewiring the orbital defaults so the ship’s systems will run more efficiently 			while we’re coasting. These cargo ships are made for frequent landings and 			takeoffs, not the constant—”

		“Cinder.”

		She pursed her lips and unplugged a few wire 			connectors. “Training is going fine,” she repeated. “Could 			you hand me the wire cutters on the floor?”

		Kai scanned the ground, then grabbed two 			tools and held them up.

		“Left hand,” she said. He handed 			them to her. “Sparring with Wolf has gotten a lot easier. Although it’s hard 			to tell if that’s because I’m getting stronger, or because he’s 			… you know.”

		She didn’t have a word for it. Wolf 			had been a shadow of his former self since Scarlet had been captured. The only thing 			holding him together was his determination to get to Luna and rescue her as soon as 			possible.

		“Either way,” she added, 			“I think he’s taught me as much about using my Lunar gift as he’s 			going to be able to. From here on, I’ll have to wing it.” She examined the 			mess of wires, aligning it with a diagram over her retina display. “Not like that 			hasn’t been my primary tactic this whole time.” She furrowed her brow and 			made a few snips. “Here, hold these wires and don’t let them 			touch.”

		Edging against her, Kai took hold of the 			wires she indicated. “What happens if they touch?”

		 “Oh, probably 			nothing, but there’s a small chance the ship would self-destruct.” Pulling 			out two of the fresh-cut wires, she began to twist them together into a new 			sequence.

		Kai hardly breathed until she’d taken 			one of the threatening wires out of his grip. “Why don’t you practice on 			me?” he said.

		“Practice what?”

		“You know. Your mind-manipulation 			thing.”

		She paused with the cutters hovering over a 			blue wire. “Absolutely not.”

		“Why?”

		“I said I’d never manipulate 			you, and I’m sticking with that.”

		“It isn’t manipulation if I know 			you’re doing it.” He hesitated. “At least, I don’t think so. We 			could use a code word, so I’ll know when you’re controlling me. Like … 			what were those called again?”

		“Wire cutters?”

		“Like wire 			cutters.”

		“No.”

		“Or something else.”

		“I’m not practicing on 			you.” Slipping the cutters into her pocket, she finished splicing the rest of the 			wires and relieved Kai of his duty. “There, we’ll see how that 			goes.”

		“Cinder, I have nothing better to do. 			Literally, nothing better to do. My time on this ship has taught me that I have 			zero practical skills. I can’t cook. I can’t fix anything. I can’t 			help Cress with surveillance. I know nothing about guns or fighting or … Mostly, 			I’m just a good talker, and that’s only useful in politics.”

		“Let’s not overlook your ability 			to make every girl swoon with just a smile.”

		It took Kai a moment to hear her over his 			frustration, but then his expression cleared and he grinned.

		 “Yep,” she 			said, shutting the panel. “That’s the one.”

		“I mean it, Cinder. I want to be 			useful. I want to help.”

		She turned back to face him. Frowned. 			Considered.

		“Wire cutters,” she 			said.

		He tensed, a trace of doubt clouding his 			expression. But then he lifted his chin. Trusting.

		With the slightest nudge at Kai’s 			will, she urged his arm to reach around her and pull the wrench from her back pocket. It 			was no more difficult than controlling her own cyborg limbs. A mere thought, and she 			could have him do anything.

		Kai blinked at the tool. “That’s 			wasn’t so bad.”

		“Oh, Kai.”

		He glanced at her, then back to the wrench 			as his hand lifted the tool up to eye level and his fingers, no longer under his 			control, began to twirl the wrench—over one finger, under the other. Slow at 			first, then faster, until the gleaming of the metal looked like a magic trick.

		Kai gaped, awestruck, but there was an edge 			of discomfort to it. “I always wondered how you did that.”

		“Kai.”

		He looked back at her, the wrench still 			dancing over his knuckles.

		She shrugged. “It’s too easy. I 			could do this while scaling a mountain, or … solving complex mathematical 			equations.”

		His eyes narrowed. “You have a 				calculator in your head.”

		Laughing, she released her hold on 			Kai’s hand. Kai jumped back as the wrench clattered to the ground. Realizing he 			had control of his own limb again, he stooped to pick it up.

		“That’s beside the point,” 			said Cinder. “With Wolf, there’s some challenge, some focus required, but 			with Earthens …”

		“All right, I get it. But what can 			I do? I feel so useless, milling around this ship while the war is 			going on, and you’re all making plans, and I’m just waiting.”

		She grimaced at the frustration in his tone. 			Kai was responsible for billions of people, and she knew he felt like he had abandoned 			them, even if he hadn’t been given a choice. Because she hadn’t 			given him a choice.

		He was kind to her. Since that first 			argument after he’d woken up aboard the Rampion, he was careful not to blame her 			for his frustrations. It was her fault, though. He knew it and she knew it and sometimes 			it felt like they were caught in a dance Cinder didn’t know the steps to. Each of 			them avoiding this obvious truth so they didn’t disrupt the mutual ground 			they’d discovered. The all-too-uncertain happiness they’d discovered.

		“The only chance we have of 			succeeding,” she said, “is if you can persuade Levana to host the wedding on 			Luna. So right now, you can be thinking about how you’re going to accomplish 			that.” Leaning forward, she pressed a soft kiss against his mouth. 				(Eighteen.) “Good thing you’re such a great talker.”





Five


		Scarlet pressed her body 					against the steel bars, straining to grasp the tree branch that 			dangled just outside her cage. Close—so close. The bar bit into her 			cheek. She flailed her fingers, brushing a leaf, a touch of bark—yes!

		Her fingers closed around the branch. She 			dropped back into her cage, dragging the branch closer. Wriggling her other arm through 			the bars, she snapped off three leaf-covered twigs, then broke off the tip and let go. 			The branch swung upward and a cluster of tiny, unfamiliar nuts dropped onto her 			head.

		Scarlet flinched and waited until the tree 			had stopped shaking before she turned the hood of her red sweatshirt inside out and 			shook out the nuts that had attacked her. They sort of looked like hazelnuts. If she 			could figure out a way to crack into them, they might not be a bad snack later.

		A gentle scratching pulled her attention 			back to the situation. She peered across the menagerie’s pathway, to the white 			wolf who was standing on his hind legs and batting at the bars of his own enclosure.

		Scarlet had spent a lot of time wishing Ryu 			could leap over those bars. His enclosure’s wall was waist high 			and he should have been able to clear it easily. Then Scarlet could pet his fur, scratch 			his ears. What a luxury it would be to have a bit of contact. She had always been fond 			of the animals on the farm—at least until it was time to slaughter them and cook 			up a nice ragoût—but she never realized how much she appreciated 			their simple affection until she had been reduced to an animal herself.

		Unfortunately, Ryu wouldn’t be 			escaping his confinement any sooner than Scarlet would. According to Princess Winter, he 			had a chip embedded between his shoulder blades that would give him a painful shock if 			he tried to jump over the rail. The poor creature had learned to accept his habitat a 			long time ago.

		Scarlet doubted she would ever accept 			hers.

		“This is it,” she said, grabbing 			her hard-earned treasure: three small twigs and a splintered branch. She held them up 			for the wolf to see. He yipped and did an enthusiastic dance along the enclosure wall. 			“I can’t reach any more. You have to take your time with these.”

		Ryu’s ears twitched.

		Rising to her knees—as close to 			standing as she could get inside her cage—Scarlet grabbed hold of an overhead bar, 			took aim with one of the smaller twigs, and threw.

		Ryu chased after it and snatched the stick 			from the air. Within seconds, he pranced back to his pile of sticks and dropped the twig 			on top. Pleased, he sat back on his haunches, tongue lolling.

		“Good job, Ryu. Nice show of 			restraint.” Sighing, Scarlet picked up another stick.

		Ryu had just taken off when she heard the 			padding of feet down the path. Scarlet sat back on her heels, instantly tense, but 			relieved when she spotted a flowing cream-colored gown between the 			stalks of exotic flowers and drooping vines. The princess rounded the path’s 			corner a moment later, basket in hand.

		“Hello, friends,” said Princess 			Winter.

		Ryu dropped his newest stick onto the pile, 			then sat down, chest high as though he were showing her proper respect.

		Scarlet scowled. “Suck-up.”

		Winter tilted her head in Scarlet’s 			direction. A spiral of black hair fell across her cheek, obstructing her scars.

		“What did you bring me today?” 			Scarlet asked. “Delusional mutterings with a side of crazy? Or is this one of your 			good days?”

		The princess grinned and sat down in front 			of Scarlet’s cage, uncaring that the path of tumbled black rock and ground covers 			would soil her dress. “This is one of my best days,” she said, settling the 			basket on her lap, “for I have brought you a treat, with a side of news.”

		“Oh, oh, don’t tell me. 			They’re moving me to a bigger cage? Oh, please tell me this one comes with real 			plumbing. And maybe one of those fancy self-feeders the birds get?”

		Though Scarlet’s words were laced with 			sarcasm, in truth, a larger cage with real plumbing would have been a vast improvement. 			Without being able to stand up, her muscles were becoming weaker by the day, and it 			would be heaven if she didn’t have to rely on the guards to lead her into the next 			enclosure, twice a day, where she was graciously escorted to a trough to do her 			business.

		A trough.

		Winter, immune as ever to the bite in 			Scarlet’s tone, leaned forward with a secretive smile. “Jacin has 			returned.”

		Scarlet’s brow twitched, her emotions 			at this statement pulling in a dozen directions. She knew Winter had a 			schoolgirl’s crush on this Jacin guy, but Scarlet’s one 			interaction with him had been when he was working for a thaumaturge, attacking her and 			her friends.

		She’d convinced herself that he was 			dead, because the alternative was that he killed Wolf and Cinder, and that was 			unacceptable.

		“And?” she prodded.

		Winter’s eyes sparkled. There were 			times when Scarlet felt like she’d hardened her heart to the girl’s 			impeccable beauty—her thick hair and warm brown skin, her gold-tinged eyes and 			rosy lips. But then the princess would give her a look like that and 			Scarlet’s heart would skip and she would once again wonder how it was possible 			this wasn’t a glamour.

		Winter’s voice turned to a 			conspiratorial whisper. “Your friends are alive.”

		The simple statement sent the world 			spinning. Scarlet spent a moment in limbo, distrusting, unwilling to hope. “Are 			you sure?”

		“I’m sure. He said that even the 			captain and the satellite girl were all right.”

		Like a marionette released, she drooped over 			her knees. “Oh, thank the stars.”

		They were alive. After nearly a 			month of subsisting on dogged stubbornness, finally Scarlet had a reason to hope. It was 			so sudden, so unexpected, she felt dizzy with euphoria.

		“He also said to tell you,” 			Winter continued, “that Wolf misses you very much. Well, Jacin’s words were 			that he drove everyone rocket-mad with his pathetic whining about you. That’s 			sweet, don’t you think?”

		Something cracked inside Scarlet. She 			hadn’t cried once since she’d come to Luna—aside from tears of pain 			and delirium when she was tortured, mentally and physically. But now 			all the fear and all the panic and all the horror welled up inside her and she 			couldn’t hold it back, couldn’t even think beyond the onslaught of sobs and 			messy tears.

		They were alive. They were all alive.

		She knew Cinder was still out 			there—word had spread even to the menagerie that she had infiltrated New Beijing 			Palace and kidnapped the emperor. Scarlet had felt smug for days when the gossip reached 			her, even if she didn’t have anything to do with the heist.

		But no one mentioned accomplices. No one 			said anything about Wolf or Thorne or the satellite girl they’d been trying to 			rescue.

		She swiped at her nose and pushed her greasy 			hair off her face. Winter was watching Scarlet’s show of emotion like one might 			watch a butterfly shucking its cocoon.

		“Thank you,” said Scarlet, 			hiccuping back another sob. “Thank you for telling me.”

		“Of course. You’re my 			friend.”

		Scarlet rubbed her palm across her eyes and, 			for the first time, didn’t argue.

		“And now for your treat.”

		“I’m not hungry.” It was a 			lie, but she’d come to despise how much she relied on Winter’s charity.

		“But it’s a sour apple petite. A 			Lunar delicacy that is—”

		“One of your favorites, yeah, I know. 			But I’m not—”

		“I think you should eat it.” The 			princess’s expression was innocent and meaningful all at once, in that peculiar 			way she had. “I think it will make you feel better,” she continued, pushing 			a box through the bars. She waited until Scarlet had taken it from her, then stood and 			made her way across the path to Ryu. She crouched to give the wolf a 			loving scratch behind his ears, then leaned over the rail and started gathering up his 			pile of sticks.

		Scarlet lifted the lid of the box, revealing 			the red marble-like candy in its bed of spun sugar. Winter had brought her many treats 			since her imprisonment, most of them laced with painkillers. Though the pain from 			Scarlet’s finger, which had been chopped off during her interrogation with the 			queen, had faded to a distant memory, the candies still helped with the aches and pains 			of life in such cramped quarters.

		But as she lifted the candy from the box, 			she saw something unexpected tucked beneath it. A handwritten message.

		 			Patience, friend. They’re coming 				for you.



		She closed the box fast before the security 			camera over her shoulder could see it, and shoved the candy into her mouth, heart 			thundering. She shut her eyes, hardly feeling the crack of the candy shell, hardly 			tasting the sweet-and-sour gooeyness inside.

		“What you said at the trial,” 			said Winter, returning with a bundle of sticks in her arms and laying them down where 			Scarlet could reach them. “I hadn’t understood then, but I do 			now.”

		Scarlet swallowed too quickly. The candy 			went down hard, bits of shell scratching her throat. She coughed, wishing the princess 			had brought some water too. “Which part? I was under a lot of duress, you might 			recall.”

		“The part about Linh 			Cinder.”

		Ah. The part about Cinder being the lost 			Princess Selene. The true queen of Luna.

		“What about it?” she said, 			bristling with suspicion. Had Jacin said something about Cinder’s plans to reclaim 			her throne? And whose side was he on, if he spent weeks with her 			friends but had now returned to Levana?

		Winter considered the question for a long 			time. “What is she like?”

		Scarlet dug her tongue into her molars, 			thinking. What was Cinder like? She hadn’t known her for all that long. She was a 			brilliant mechanic. She seemed to be honorable and brave and determined to do what 			needed to be done … but Scarlet suspected she wasn’t always as confident as 			she tried to appear on the outside.

		Also, she had a crush on Emperor Kai as big 			as Winter had on Jacin, although Cinder tried a lot harder to pretend otherwise.

		But Scarlet didn’t think that answered 			Winter’s question. “She’s not like Levana, if that’s what 			you’re wondering.”

		Winter exhaled, as if a fear had been 			released.

		Ryu whined and rolled onto his back, missing 			their attention.

		Winter grabbed a stick from the pile and 			tossed. The wolf scrambled back to his feet and raced after it.

		“Your wolf friend,” Winter said. 			“Is he one of the queen’s?”

		“Not anymore,” Scarlet spat. 			Wolf would never belong to the queen again. Not if she could help it.

		“But he was, and now he has 			betrayed her.” The princess’s tone had gone dreamy, her eyes staring off 			into space even after Ryu returned and dropped the stick beside his bars, beginning a 			new pile. “From what I know of her soldiers, that should not be possible. At 			least, not while they are under the control of their thaumaturge.”

		Suddenly warm, Scarlet unzipped her hoodie. 			It was filthy with dirt and sweat and blood, but wearing it still made her feel 			connected to Earth and the farm and her grandmother. It reminded her that she was human, 			despite being kept in a cage.

		 “Wolf’s 			thaumaturge is dead,” she said, “but Wolf fought against him even when he 			was alive.”

		“Perhaps they made a mistake with him, 			when they altered his nervous system.”

		“It wasn’t a mistake.” 			Scarlet smirked. “I know, they think they’re so clever, giving soldiers the 			instincts of wild wolves. The instincts to hunt and kill. But look at Ryu.” The 			wolf had lain down and was gnawing at the stick. “His instincts lean as much 			toward playing and loving. If he had a mate and cubs, then his instincts would be to 			protect them at all costs.” Scarlet twirled the cord of her hoodie around a 			finger. “That’s what Wolf did. He protected me.”

		She grabbed another stick from the pile 			outside her cage. Ryu’s attention was piqued, but Scarlet only ran her fingers 			over the peeling bark. “I’m afraid I’ll never see him 			again.”

		Winter reached through the bars and stroked 			Scarlet’s hair with her knuckles. Scarlet tensed, but didn’t pull away. 			Contact, any contact, was a gift.

		“Do not worry,” said Winter. 			“The queen will not kill you so long as you are my pet. You will have a chance to 			tell your Wolf that you love him.”

		Scarlet glowered. “I’m not your 			pet, just like Wolf isn’t Levana’s anymore.” This time, she did pull 			back, and Winter let her hand fall into her lap. “And it’s not that I 				love him. It’s just …”

		She hesitated, and again Winter listed her 			head and peered at Scarlet with penetrating curiosity. It was unnerving, to think she 			was being psychoanalyzed by someone who frequently complained that the castle walls had 			started bleeding again.

		“Wolf is all I have left,” 			Scarlet clarified. She threw the stick halfheartedly across the path. It landed within 			paw’s reach of Ryu and he simply stared at it, like it 			wasn’t worth the effort. Scarlet’s shoulders slumped. “I need him as 			much as he needs me. But that doesn’t make it love.”

		Winter lowered her lashes. “Actually, 			dear friend, I suspect that is precisely what makes it love.”





Six


		“These two newsfeeds 					include statements from that waitress, Émilie 			Monfort,” said Cress, trailing her fingers along the netscreen in the cargo bay, 			pulling up a picture of a blonde-haired girl speaking to a news crew. “She claims 			to be overseeing Benoit Farms and Gardens in Scarlet’s absence. Here she makes a 			comment about the work getting to be a lot for her, and joked that if the Benoits 			don’t return soon she might have to start auctioning off the chickens.” 			Cress hesitated. “Or, maybe it wasn’t a joke. I’m not sure. Oh, and 			here she talks about Thorne and Cinder coming to the farm and scaring her 			witless.”

		She glanced over her shoulder to see whether 			Wolf was still listening. His eyes were glued to the screen, his brow set, as silent and 			brooding as usual. When he said nothing, she cleared her throat and clicked to a new 			tab. “As far as the finances are concerned, Michelle Benoit did own the land 			outright, and these bank statements show that the property and business taxes continue 			to be automatically deducted. I’ll set up payments to go through to the labor 			android rentals too. She missed last month’s payment, but I’ll make it up, 			and it looks like she’s been a loyal customer long enough the 			missed payment didn’t interrupt their work.” She enlarged a grainy photo. 			“This satellite imagery is from thirty-six hours ago and shows the full team of 			androids and two human foremen working this crop.” She shrugged and turned to face 			Wolf. “The bills are being paid, the animals are being tended, and the crops are 			being managed. Any accounts that were expecting regular deliveries are probably annoyed 			at Scarlet’s absence, but that’s the worst of it right now. I estimate it 			can go on being self-sustaining for … oh, another two to three months.”

		Wolf didn’t take his forlorn stare 			from the satellite image. “She loves that farm.”

		“And it will be there waiting for her 			when we get her back.” Cress sounded as optimistic as she could. She wanted to add 			that Scarlet was going to be fine, that every day they were getting closer to rescuing 			her—but she bit her tongue. The words had been tossed around so much lately they 			were beginning to lose their meaning, even to her.

		The truth was that no one had any idea if 			Scarlet was still alive, or what shape they would find her in. Wolf knew that better 			than anyone.

		“Is there anything else you want me to 			look up?”

		He began to shake his head, but stopped. His 			eyes flashed to her, sharp with curiosity.

		Cress gulped. Though she’d warmed to 			Wolf during her time aboard the ship, he still sort of terrified her.

		“Can you find information about people 			on Luna?”

		Her shoulders sank with an apology. 			“If I could have found out about her by now, I—”

		“Not Scarlet,” he said, his 			voice rough when he said her name. “I’ve been wondering about my 			parents.”

		She blinked. Parents? 			She had never imagined Wolf with parents. The idea of this hulking man having once 			been a dependent child didn’t fit. In fact, she couldn’t imagine any of the 			queen’s soldiers having parents, having once been children, having once been 			loved. But of course they had—once.

		“Oh. Right,” she stammered, 			smoothing down the skirt of the worn cotton dress she’d taken from the satellite, 			what felt like ages ago. Though she’d spent a day wearing one of the military 			uniforms found in her crew quarters, a lifetime spent barefoot and in simple dresses had 			made the clothes feel heavy and cumbersome. Plus, all of the pants were way too long on 			her. “Do you think you might see them? When we’re on Luna?”

		“It’s not a priority.” He 			said it like a military general, but his expression carried more emotion than his voice. 			“But I wouldn’t mind knowing if they’re still alive. Maybe seeing them 			again, someday.” His jaw flexed. “I was twelve when I was taken away. They 			must think I’m dead. Or a monster.”

		The statement resonated through her body, 			leaving her chest vibrating. For sixteen years, her father had thought she was 			dead too, while she’d been told that her parents had willingly sacrificed her to 			Luna’s shell infanticide. She’d barely been reunited with her father before 			he died of letumosis, in the labs at New Beijing Palace. She’d tried to mourn his 			death, but mostly she mourned the idea of having a father at all and the loss of all the 			time they should have had to get to know each other.

		She still thought of him as Dr. Erland, the 			odd, curmudgeonly old man who had started the cyborg draft in the Eastern Commonwealth. 			Who had dealt in shell trafficking in Africa.

		He was also the man who helped Cinder escape 			from prison.

		So many things he’d done—some 			good, some terrible. And all, Cinder had told her, because he was 			determined to end Levana’s rule.

		To avenge his daughter. To avenge 				her.

		“Cress?”

		She jolted. “Sorry. I don’t 			… I can’t access Luna’s databases from here. But once we’re on 			Luna—”

		“Never mind. It doesn’t 			matter.” Wolf leaned against the cockpit wall and clawed his hands into his 			unkempt hair. He looked like he was on the verge of a meltdown, but that was his normal 			look these days. “Scarlet’s the priority. The only priority.”

		Cress considered mentioning that 			overthrowing Levana and crowning Cinder as queen were decent-size priorities too, but 			she dared not.

		“Have you mentioned your parents to 			Cinder?”

		He cocked his head. “Why?”

		“I don’t know. She mentioned not 			having any allies on Luna … how it would be useful to have more connections. Maybe 			they would help us?”

		His gaze darkened, both thoughtful and 			annoyed. “It would put them in danger.”

		“I think Cinder might intend to put a 			lot of people in danger.” Cress worried at her lower lip, then sighed. “Is 			there anything else you need?”

		“For time to move faster.”

		Cress wilted. “I meant more like 			… food, or something. When did you last eat?”

		Wolf’s shoulders hunched closer to his 			ears, and the guilty expression was all the answer she needed. She’d heard rumors 			of his insatiable appetite and the high-octane metabolism that kept him 			always fidgeting, always moving. She’d hardly seen any of that since coming aboard 			the ship, and she could tell that Cinder, in particular, was worried about him. Only 			when they were discussing strategies for Cinder’s revolution did he seem 			rejuvenated—his fists flexing and tightening like the fighter he was meant to 			be.

		“All right. I’m going to make 			you a sandwich.” Standing, Cress gathered her courage, along with her most 			demanding voice, and planted a hand on her hip. “And you are going to eat 			it without argument. You need to keep up your strength if you’re going to be of 			any use to us, and Scarlet.”

		Wolf raised an eyebrow at her newfound 			gumption.

		Cress flushed. “Or … at least 			eat some canned fruit or something.”

		His expression softened. “A sandwich 			sounds good. With … tomatoes, if we have any left. Please.”

		“Of course.” Drawing in a deep 			breath, she grabbed her portscreen and headed toward the galley.

		“Cress?”

		She paused and turned back, but Wolf was 			looking at the floor, his arms crossed. He looked about as awkward as she usually 			felt.

		“Thank you.”

		Her heart expanded, ballooning with sympathy 			for him. Words of comfort sprang to her tongue—She’ll be all right. 				Scarlet will be all right—but Cress stuffed them back down.

		“You’re welcome,” she 			said, before turning into the corridor.

		She had nearly reached the galley when she 			heard Thorne call her name. She paused and backtracked to the last door, left slightly 			ajar, and pressed it open. The captain’s quarters were the largest of the crew 			cabins and the only room that didn’t have bunks. Though Cress had 			been inside plenty of times to help him with the eyedrop solution Dr. Erland made in 			order to repair Thorne’s damaged optical nerve, she never lingered long. Even with 			the door wide open, the room felt too intimate, too personal. There was a huge map of 			Earth on one wall, filled with Thorne’s handwritten notes and markers indicating 			the places he’d been and the places he wanted to go, along with a dozen to-scale 			models of different spaceships scattered across the captain’s desk, including a 			prominent one of a 214 Rampion. The bed was never made.

		The first time she’d been in that room 			she asked Thorne about the map and listened, captivated, while he talked about the 			things he’d seen, from ancient ruins to thriving metropolises, tropical forests to 			white-sand beaches. His descriptions had filled Cress with longing. She was happy here 			on the spaceship—it was roomier than her satellite had been, and the bonds she was 			forming with the rest of the crew felt like friendship. But she had still seen so little 			of Earth, and the thought of seeing those things, while standing at Thorne’s side, 			their fingers laced together … the fantasy made her pulse race every time.

		Thorne was sitting in the middle of the 			floor, holding a portscreen at arm’s length.

		“Did you call me?” she 			asked.

		A grin dawned on his face, impishly 			delighted. “Cress! I thought I heard your footsteps. Come here.” He circled 			his whole arm, like he could draw her forward with the vacuum it created.

		When she reached his side, Thorne flailed 			his hand around until he found her wrist and pulled her down beside him.

		“It’s finally working,” he 			said, holding up the port again with his free hand.

		Cress blinked at the small 			screen. A net drama was playing, though the feed was muted. “Was it 			broken?”

		“No, the solution. It’s 			working. I can see”—releasing her wrist, he waved a finger in the 			screen’s direction—“kind of a bluish light. And the lights in the 			ceiling.” He tilted his head back, eyes wide and pupils dilated as they tried to 			take in as much information as they could. “They’re more yellow than the 			screen. That’s it, though. Light and dark. Some blurry shadows.”

		“That’s wonderful!” 			Although Dr. Erland believed Thorne’s eyesight would begin to improve after a week 			or so, that week had come and gone with no change. It had now been nearly two weeks 			since the solution had run out, and she knew the wait had tried even Thorne’s 			relentless optimism.

		“I know.” Crushing his eyes 			shut, Thorne lowered his head again. “Except, it’s kind of giving me a 			headache.”

		“You shouldn’t overdo it. You 			might strain them.”

		He nodded and pressed a hand over both eyes. 			“Maybe I should wear the blindfold again. Until things start to come into 			focus.”

		“It’s up here.” Cress 			stood and found the blindfold and the empty vial of eyedrops nestled among the model 			ships. When she turned around, Thorne was looking at her, or through her, his brow 			tense. She froze.

		It had been a long time since he looked 			at her, and back then they’d been scrambling for their lives. That had been 			before he cut her hair too. She sometimes wondered how much he remembered about what she 			looked like, and what he would think when he saw her again … practically for the 			first time.

		“I can see your shadow, sort 			of,” he said, cocking his head. “Kind of a hazy silhouette.”

		Gulping, Cress folded the blindfold into his 			palm. “Give it time,” she said, pretending the thought of 			him inspecting her, seeing every unspoken confession written across her face, 			wasn’t terrifying. “The doctor’s notes said your optical nerve would 			continue to heal for weeks on its own.”

		“Let’s hope it starts healing 			faster after this. I don’t like seeing blurs and shadows.” He twisted the 			blindfold between his fists. “One of these days, I just want to open my eyes and 			see you.”

		Heat rushed into her cheeks, but the depth 			of his words hadn’t sunk in before Thorne laughed and scratched his ear. “I 			mean, and everyone else too, of course.”

		She smothered the start of a giddy smile, 			cursing herself for getting her hopes up again, for the thousandth time, when Thorne had 			made it quite clear he saw her as nothing more than a good friend, and a loyal member of 			his crew. He hadn’t tried to kiss her again, not once since the battle atop the 			palace rooftop. And sometimes she thought he might be flirting with her, but then 			he’d start flirting with Cinder or Iko and she’d remember that a touch here 			or a smile there wasn’t special to him like it was to her.

		“Of course,” she said, moving 			back toward the door. “Of course you want to see everyone.”

		She stifled a sigh, realizing she was going 			to have to train herself not to stare at him quite as often as she was used to, 			otherwise there would be no chance of hiding the fact that, despite all his attempts to 			persuade her otherwise, she was still hopelessly in love with him.





Seven


		Jacin awoke with a jolt. He 					was damp and sticky and smelled like sulfur. His throat and 			lungs were burning—not painfully, but like they’d been improperly treated 			and they wanted to make sure he knew about it. Instinct told him he was not in immediate 			danger, but the fuzziness of his thoughts set him on edge. When he peeled his eyes open, 			blaring overhead lights burst across his retinas. He grimaced, shutting them again.

		Memories flooded in all at once. The trial. 			The lashings. The forty mind-numbing hours spent tied to that sundial. The mischievous 			smile Winter shared only with him. Being carted to the med-clinic and the doctor 			prepping his body for immersion.

		He was still at the clinic, in the 			suspended-animation tank.

		“Don’t move,” said a 			voice. “We’re still disconnecting the umbilicals.”

		Umbilicals. The word sounded far 			too bloody and organic for this contraption they’d stuck him in.

		There was a pinch in his arm and the tug of 			skin as a series of needles were pulled from his veins, then a snap of electrodes as 			sensors were pried off his chest and scalp, the cords tangling in his 			hair. He tested his eyes again, blinking into the brightness. A doctor’s shadow 			hung over him.

		“Can you sit?”

		Jacin tested his fingers, curling them into 			the thick gel substance he was lying on. He grasped the sides of the tank and pulled 			himself up. He’d never been in one of these before—had never been injured 			enough to need it—and despite the confusion upon first waking, he already felt 			surprisingly lucid.

		He looked down at his body, traces of the 			tank’s blue gel-like substance still clinging to his belly button and the hairs on 			his legs and the towel they’d draped across his lap.

		He touched one of the jagged scars that cut 			across his abdomen, looking as if it had healed years ago. Not bad.

		The doctor handed him a child-size cup 			filled with syrupy orange liquid. Jacin eyed the doctor’s crisp lab coat, the ID 			tag on his chest, the soft hands that were used to holding portscreens and syringes, not 			guns and knives. There was a pang of envy, a reminder that this was closer to the life 			he would have chosen, if he’d been given a choice. If Levana hadn’t made the 			choice for him when she selected him for the royal guard. Though she’d never made 			the threat aloud, Jacin had known from the beginning that Winter would be punished if he 			ever stepped out of line.

		His dream of being a doctor had stopped 			mattering a long time ago.

		He shot back the drink, swallowing his 			thoughts along with it. Dreaming was for people with nothing better to do.

		The medicine tasted bitter, but the burning 			in his throat began to fade.

		When he handed the cup back to the doctor, 			he noticed a figure hovering near the doorway, ignored by the doctors and nurses who puttered around the storage cells of countless other tanks, 			checking diagnostics and making notations on their ports.

		Thaumaturge Aimery Park. Looking smugger 			than ever in his fancy bright white coat. The queen’s new favorite hound.

		“Sir Jacin Clay. You look 			refreshed.”

		Jacin didn’t know if his voice would 			work after being immersed in the tank, and he didn’t want his first words to the 			thaumaturge to be a pathetic croak. He cleared his throat, though, and it felt almost 			normal.

		“I am to retrieve you for an audience 			with Her Majesty. You may have forfeited your honored position in service to the royal 			entourage, but we still intend to find a use for you. I trust you are fit to return to 			active duty?”

		Jacin tried not to look relieved. The last 			thing he wanted was to become the personal guard to the head thaumaturge 			again—especially now that Aimery was in the position. He embraced a particular 			loathing for this man, who was rumored to have abused more than one palace servant with 			his manipulations, and whose leering attentions landed far too often on Winter.

		“I trust I am,” he said. His 			voice was a little rusty, but not horrible. He swallowed again. “May I request a 			new uniform? A towel seems inappropriate for the position.”

		Aimery smirked. “A nurse will escort 			you to the showers, where a uniform will be waiting. I will meet you outside the armory 			when you’re ready.”



		The vaults beneath the Lunar 					palace were carved from years of emptied lava tubes, their 			walls made of rough black stone and lit by sparse glowing orbs. These 			underground places were never seen by the queen or her court, hence no one worried about 			making them beautiful to match the rest of the palace with its glossy white surfaces and 			crystalline, reflection-less windows.

		Jacin sort of liked it down in the vaults. 			Down here, it was easy to forget he was beneath the capital at all. The white city of 			Artemisia, with its enormous crater lake and towering spires, had been built upon a 			solid foundation of brainwashing and manipulation. In comparison, the lava tubes were as 			cold and rough and natural as the landscape outside the domes. They were unpretentious. 			They did not do themselves up with lavish decorations and glitz in an attempt to conceal 			the horrible things that happened inside their walls.

		Even still, Jacin moved briskly toward the 			armory. There was no residual pain, just the memory of each spiked lash and the betrayal 			of his own arm wielding the weapon. That betrayal was something he was used to, though. 			His body hadn’t felt entirely his own since he became a member of the 			queen’s guard.

		At least he was home, for better or worse. 			Once again able to watch over his princess. Once again under Levana’s thumb.

		Fair trade.

		He cleared Winter from his thoughts as he 			turned into the armory. She was a danger to his hard-earned neutrality. Thinking about 			her tended to give him an unwanted hitch in his lungs.

		There was no sign of Aimery, but two guards 			stood at the barred door and a third sat at the desk inside, all wearing the 			gray-and-red uniforms of royal guards identical to Jacin’s but for the metallic 			runes over the breast. Jacin ranked higher than any of them. He’d worried he would 			lose his position as a royal guard after his stint with Linh Cinder, 			but evidently his betrayal of her counted for something after all.

		“Jacin Clay,” he said, 			approaching the desk, “reporting for reinstatement under the order of Her 			Majesty.”

		The guard scanned a holograph chart and gave 			a terse nod. A second barred door filled up the wall behind him, hiding shelves of 			weaponry in its shadows. The man retrieved a bin that held a handgun and extra 			ammunition and pushed it across the desk, through the opening in the bars.

		“There was also a knife.”

		The man scowled, as if a missing knife were 			the biggest hassle of his day, and crouched down to peer into the cupboard.

		Jacin dropped the gun’s magazine, 			reloading it while the man riffled through the cabinet. As Jacin was tucking the gun 			into his holster, the man tossed his knife onto the desk. It skidded across, off the 			surface. Jacin snatched it from the air just before the blade lodged itself in his 			thigh.

		“Thanks,” he muttered, 			turning.

		“Traitor,” one of the guards at 			the door said beneath his breath.

		Jacin twirled the knife beneath the 			guard’s nose and sank it into the scabbard on his belt without bothering to make 			eye contact. His early rise through the ranks had earned him plenty of enemies, morons 			who seemed to think Jacin had cheated somehow to earn such a desirable position so 			young. When really the queen just wanted to keep a closer eye on him and, through him, 			Winter.

		The click of his boots echoed through the 			tunnel as he left them behind. He turned a corner and neither flinched nor slowed when 			he spotted Aimery waiting by the elevator.

		When he was six steps away, Jacin came to a 			stop and clapped a fist to his chest.

		Stepping aside, Aimery 			swooped his arm toward the elevator doors. The long white sleeve of his coat swung with 			it. “Let’s not keep Her Majesty waiting.”

		Jacin entered without argument, taking up 			his usual spot beside the elevator’s door, arms braced at his sides.

		“Her Majesty and I have been 			discussing your role here since your trial,” said Aimery once the doors had 			closed.

		“I’m eager to be of 			service.” Only years of practice disguised how abhorrent the words tasted in his 			mouth.

		“As we wish to once again have faith 			in your loyalty.”

		“I will serve in whatever way Her 			Majesty sees fit.”

		“Good.” There was that smile 			again, and this time it came with a suspicious chill. “Because Her Royal Highness, 			the princess herself, has made a request of you.”

		Jacin’s gut tightened. There was no 			way to stay indifferent as his thoughts started to race.

		 			Please, please, you hateful stars—don’t let Winter have done something 				stupid.

		“If your service meets with Her 			Majesty’s expectations,” Aimery continued, “we will return you to your 			previous position within the palace.”

		Jacin inclined his head. “I am most 			grateful for this opportunity to prove myself.”

		“I have no doubt of it, Sir 			Clay.”





Eight


		The elevator doors opened into 					the queen’s solar—an octagonal room made up of 			windows on all sides. The cylindrical elevator itself was encapsulated in glass and 			stood at the room’s center so that no part of the view would be obstructed. The 			décor was simple—thin white pillars and a glass dome overhead, mimicking the 			dome over the city. This tower, this very room, was the highest point in Artemisia, and 			the sight of all those buildings white and glittering beneath them, and an entire 			jewelry case of stars overhead, was all the decoration the room required.

		Jacin had been there dozens of times with 			Sybil, but never for his own audience with the queen. He forced himself to be 			unconcerned. If he was worried, the queen might detect it, and the last thing he wanted 			was for anyone to question his loyalty to the crown.

		Though an elaborate chair was set on a 			raised platform, the queen herself was standing at the windows. The glass was crystal 			clear and showed no hint of reflection. Jacin didn’t know how they’d managed to make glass like that, but the palace was full of it.

		Sir Jerrico Solis, the captain of the guard 			and technically Jacin’s superior, was also there, but Jacin didn’t spare him 			a glance.

		“My Queen,” said Aimery, 			“you requested Sir Jacin Clay.”

		Jacin dropped to one knee as the queen 			turned. “You may stand, Jacin. How good of you to come.”

		Now, wasn’t that sweet.

		He did stand, daring to meet her gaze.

		Queen Levana was horrifically beautiful, 			with coral-red lips and skin as pristine as white marble. It was all her glamour, of 			course. Everyone knew that, but it didn’t make any difference. Looking at her 			could steal the breath of any mortal man.

		However—and Jacin kept this thought 			very, very quiet in his head—the princess could steal both their breath and 			their heart.

		“Sir Clay,” said the queen, her 			voice a lullaby now compared with the harshness from the trial. “Aimery and I have 			been discussing your surprising yet joyful return. I would like to see you reinstated to 			your previous position soon. Our guard is weaker without you.”

		“I am yours to command.”

		“I’ve taken into consideration 			the comm you sent to Thaumaturge Mira prior to her death, along with two years of loyal 			service. I’ve also had a team looking into your claims about this … 				device Linh Garan invented, and it seems you were correct. He unveiled a 			prototype he called a bioelectrical security device at an Earthen convention many years 			ago. As it happens, this discovery has also solved a mystery that my pack of special 			operatives in Paris had encountered earlier this year. We now know that Linh Cinder was 			not the only person to have had this device installed—but that her longtime 			protector, a woman named Michelle Benoit, had one too. We can only 			guess how many more might still exist.”

		Jacin said nothing, though his heart was 			expanding at this news. Cinder had seemed sure no more of these devices had been made, 			but maybe she was wrong. And if she was wrong … if there were more of them out 			there … he could get one for Winter. He could save her.

		“No matter