Home > Red Queen (Red Queen #1)(8)

Red Queen (Red Queen #1)(8)
Author: Victoria Aveyard

“Names,” a gruff voice barks, and Gisa stops short.

“Gisa Barrow. This is my sister, Mare Barrow. She’s helping me bring some wares in for my mistress.” She doesn’t flinch, keeping her voice even, almost bored. The Security officer nods at me and I shift my pack, making a show of it. Gisa hands over our identification cards, both of them torn, dirty things ready to fall apart, but they suffice.

The man examining us must know my sister because he barely glances at her ID. Mine he scrutinizes, looking between my face and my picture for a good minute. I wonder if he’s a whisper too and can read my mind. That would put an end to this little excursion very quickly and probably earn me a cable noose around my neck.

“Wrists,” he sighs, already bored with us.

For a moment, I’m puzzled, but Gisa sticks out her right hand without a thought. I follow the gesture, pointing my arm at the officer. He slaps a pair of red bands around our wrists. The circles shrink until they’re tight as shackles—there’s no removing these things on our own.

“Move along,” the officer says, gesturing with a lazy wave of the hand. Two young girls are not a threat in his eyes.

Gisa nods in thanks but I don’t. This man doesn’t deserve an ounce of appreciation from me. The gates yawn open around us and we march forward. My heartbeat pounds in my ears, drowning out the sounds of Grand Garden as we enter a different world.

It’s a market like I’ve never seen, dotted with flowers and trees and fountains. The Reds are few and fast, running errands and selling their own wares, all marked by their red bands. Though the Silvers wear no band, they’re easy to spot. They drip with gems and precious metals, a fortune on every one of them. One slip of a hook and I can go home with everything I’ll ever need. All are tall and beautiful and cold, moving with a slow grace no Red can claim. We simply don’t have the time to move that way.

Gisa guides me past a bakery with cakes dusted in gold, a grocer displaying brightly colored fruits I’ve never seen before, and even a menagerie full of wild animals beyond my comprehension. A little girl, Silver judging by her clothes, feeds tiny bits of apple to a spotted, horselike creature with an impossibly long neck. A few streets over, a jewelry store sparkles in every color of the rainbow. I make note of it but keeping my head straight here is difficult. The air seems to pulse, vibrant with life.

Just when I think there could be nothing more fantastic than this place, I look closer at the Silvers and remember exactly who they are. The little girl is a telky, levitating the apple ten feet into the air to feed the long-necked beast. A florist runs his hands through a pot of white flowers and they explode into growth, curling around his elbows. He’s a greeny, a manipulator of plants and the earth. A pair of nymphs sits by the fountain, lazily entertaining children with floating orbs of water. One of them has orange hair and hateful eyes, even while kids mill around him. All over the square, every type of Silver goes about their extraordinary lives. There are so many, each one grand and wonderful and powerful and so far removed from the world I know.

“This is how the other half lives,” Gisa murmurs, sensing my awe. “It’s enough to make you sick.”

Guilt ripples through me. I’ve always been jealous of Gisa, her talent and all the privileges it affords her, but I’ve never thought of the cost. She didn’t spend much time in school and has few friends in the Stilts. If Gisa were normal, she would have many. She would smile. Instead, the fourteen-year-old girl soldiers through with needle and thread, putting the future of her family on her back, living neck-deep in a world she hates.

“Thank you, Gee,” I whisper into her ear. She knows I don’t just mean for today.

“Salla’s shop is there, with the blue awning.” She points down a side street, to a tiny store sandwiched between a pair of cafés. “I’ll be inside, if you need me.”

“I won’t,” I answer quickly. “Even if things go wrong, I won’t get you involved.”

“Good.” Then she grabs my hand, squeezing tight for a second. “Be careful. It’s crowded today, more than usual.”

“More places to hide,” I tell her with a smirk.

But her voice is grave. “More officers too.”

We continue walking, every step bringing us closer to the exact moment she’ll leave me alone in this strange place. A thrum of panic goes through me as Gisa gently lifts the pack from my shoulders. We’ve reached her shop.

To calm myself, I ramble under my breath. “Speak to no one, don’t make eye contact. Keep moving. I leave the way I came, through the Garden Door. The officer removes my band and I keep walking.” She nods as I speak, her eyes wide, wary and perhaps even hopeful. “It’s ten miles to home.”

“Ten miles to home,” she echoes.

Wishing for all the world I could go with her, I watch Gisa disappear beneath the blue awning. She’s gotten me this far. Now it’s my turn.

FOUR

I’ve done this a thousand times before, watching the crowd like a wolf does a flock of sheep. Looking for the weak, the slow, the foolish. Only now, I am very much the prey. I might choose a swift who’ll catch me in half a heartbeat, or worse, a whisper who could probably sense me coming a mile away. Even the little telky girl can best me if things go south. So I will have to be faster than ever, smarter than ever, and worst of all, luckier than ever. It’s maddening. Fortunately, no one pays attention to another Red servant, another insect wandering past the feet of gods.

I head back to the square, arms hanging limp but ready at my sides. Normally this is my dance, walking through the most congested parts of a crowd, letting my hands catch purses and pockets like spiderwebs catching flies. I’m not stupid enough to try that here. Instead, I follow the crowd around the square. Now I’m not blinded by my fantastic surroundings but looking beyond them, to the cracks in the stone and the black-uniformed Security officers in every shadow. The impossible Silver world comes into sharper focus. Silvers barely look at each other and they never smile. The telky girl looks bored feeding her strange beast, and merchants don’t even haggle. Only the Reds look alive, darting around the slow-moving men and women of a better life. Despite the heat, the sun, the bright banners, I have never seen a place so cold.

What concern me most are the black video cameras hidden in the canopy or alleyways. There’s only a few at home, at the Security outpost or in the arena, but they’re all over the market. I can just hear them humming in firm reminder: someone else is watching here.

 

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