War Storm Page 1

Author: Victoria Aveyard

Series: Red Queen #4

Genres: Fantasy , Young Adult

ONE

Mare

We drown in silence for a long moment.

Corvium yawns around us, full of people, but it feels empty.

Divide and conquer.

The implications are clear, the lines sharply drawn. Farley and Davidson regard me with equal intensity, and I stare back at them.

I suppose Cal has no idea, no inkling, that the Scarlet Guard and Montfort have absolutely no intention of letting him keep whatever throne he wins. I suppose he cares more about the crown than about whatever any Red thinks. And I suppose I shouldn’t call him Cal anymore.

Tiberias Calore. King Tiberias. Tiberias the Seventh.

It’s the name he was born with, the name he wore when I met him.

Thief, he called me then. That was my name.

I wish I could forget the last hour. Fall backward just a little bit. Falter. Stumble. Enjoy one more second of that strangely blissful place where the only thing I felt was the ache of tired muscles and repaired bones. The emptiness after battle’s adrenaline. The certainty of his love and support. And even through the heartbreak, I can’t find it in myself to hate him for his choice. The rage will come later.

Concern crosses Farley’s face. It seems strange on her. I’m more accustomed to cold determination or red anger from Diana Farley. She notes my stare with a twitch of her scarred mouth.

“I’ll relay Cal’s decision to the rest of Command,” she says, breaking the silent tension. Her words are low and measured. “Just Command. Ada will carry the message.”

The Montfort premier ducks his chin in agreement. “Good. I think Generals Drummer and Swan may have an idea of these developments already. They’ve been keeping tabs on the Lerolan queen since she came into play.”

“Anabel Lerolan was in Maven’s court long enough, at least a few weeks,” I reply. Somehow, my voice doesn’t tremble. The words come out evenly, full of force. I have to look strong, even if I don’t feel it right now. It’s a lie, but a good lie. “She probably has more information than I ever gave you.”

“Probably,” Davidson says with a thoughtful bob of the head. He narrows his eyes on the ground. Not searching, but focusing. A plan spirals out in front of him. The road ahead won’t be easy. A child would know that. “Which is why I have to get back up there,” he adds, almost in apology. As if I could be angry with him for doing what he must. “Ears and eyes open, yeah?”

“Ears and eyes open,” Farley and I respond in unison, surprising each other.

He steps away from us, backing out of the alleyway. The sun flashes in his glossy gray hair. He was careful to clean up after the battle, washing away the sweat and ash, replacing his bloodstained uniform with a fresh one. All to present his usual calm, collected, and strangely ordinary demeanor. A wise decision. Silvers devote so much energy to their appearance, to the false pride of visible strength and power. And none so much as the Samos king and his family in the tower above us. Next to Volo, Evangeline, Ptolemus, and the hissing Viper queen, Davidson barely registers. He could blend into the walls if he wanted to. They won’t see him coming. They won’t see us coming.

I take a shaky breath and swallow, forcing the next thought. And Cal won’t either.

Tiberias, I snap at myself. One fist clenches, digging nails into flesh with a satisfying sting. Call him Tiberias.

The black walls of Corvium feel strangely silent and bare without the siege. I turn away from Davidson’s retreating form to eye the parapets ringing the inner ward of the fortress city. The shiver attacking snowstorm is long gone, the darkness lifted, and everything here seems smaller now. Less imposing. Red soldiers used to be herded through this city, most on the march to inevitable death in a trench. Now Reds patrol the walls, the streets, the gates. Reds sit alongside Silver kings and speak of war. A few soldiers with crimson scarves walk back and forth, their eyes darting, well-used guns ready in hand. The Scarlet Guard will not be caught unawares, though they have little reason to be so on edge. For now, anyway. Maven’s armies have retreated. And not even Volo Samos is bold enough to attempt an attack from the inside of Corvium. Not when he needs the Guard, needs Montfort, needs us. And especially not with Cal—Tiberias, you fool—and all his empty talk of equality. Like us, Volo needs him. Needs his name, needs his crown, and needs his damn hand in that damn marriage to his damn daughter.

My face burns hot. I feel embarrassed by the plume of jealousy rising up inside me. Losing him should be the least of my worries. Losing him shouldn’t hurt as much as the possibility of dying, of losing our war, of letting everything we’ve worked for be in vain. But it does. All I can do is try to bear it.

Why didn’t I say yes?

I walked away from his offer. From him. I was torn apart by another betrayal—Cal’s betrayal, but also mine. I love you is a promise we both made, and we both broke. It should mean I choose you above all else. I want you more. I need you always. I cannot live without you. I will do anything to keep our lives from parting.

But he wouldn’t. And I won’t.

I am less than his crown, and he is less than my cause.

And less, far less, than my fear of another cage. Consort, he said, offering me an impossible crown. He would make me a queen, if Evangeline could be pushed aside again. I already know what the world looks like from a king’s right hand. I don’t care to live that life again. Even though Cal is not Maven, the throne is still the same. It changes people, corrupts them.

What a strange fate that would have been. Cal with his crown and his Samos queen and me. In spite of myself, a small part of me wishes I’d said yes. It would have been easy. A chance to let go, step back, win—and enjoy a world I never could have dreamed of. Give my family the best life possible. Keep us all safe. And stay with him. Stand at Cal’s side, a Red girl with a Silver king on her arm. With the power to change the world. To kill Maven. To sleep without nightmares, and live without fear.

I bite my lip sharply to drive away the want. It seduces, and I almost understand his choice. Even ripped apart, we suit each other.

Farley shifts loudly, drawing my attention. She sighs as she puts her back to the alley wall, arms folded across her chest. Unlike Davidson, she hasn’t bothered to change out of her bloody uniform. Hers isn’t as disgusting as mine, free of mud and muck. There’s silver blood on her, of course, now dried black. It’s only been a few months since Clara was born, and she wears the lingering weight around her hips proudly. Whatever sympathy she had disappears, replaced by a rage sparking in her blue eyes. Not directed at me, though. She looks skyward, at the tower above us. Where the strange council of Silvers and Reds now tries to decide our fates.

“That was him in there.” She doesn’t wait for me to ask who. “Silver hair, thick neck, ridiculous armor. And somehow still breathing, even though he put a blade through Shade’s heart.”

My nails dig deeper at the thought of Ptolemus Samos. Prince of the Rift. My brother’s killer. Like Farley, I feel a sudden rage too. And an equal burst of shame.

“Yes.”

“Because you made a bargain with his sister. Your freedom for his life.”

“For my vengeance,” I mumble in admission. “And yes, I gave Evangeline my word.”

Farley bares her teeth, her disgust evident. “You gave a Silver your word. That promise is less than ash.”

“But a promise still.”

She makes a guttural sound deep in her throat, like a growl. Her broad shoulders square and she turns her body to face the tower fully. I wonder how much restraint it’s taking to stop her from marching back up there to rip Ptolemus’s eyes out of his skull. I wouldn’t stop her if she could. In fact, I’d pull up a chair and watch.

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