Home > War Storm (Red Queen #4)(2)

War Storm (Red Queen #4)(2)
Author: Victoria Aveyard

I let my fist open a bit, putting away the slice of pain. Quietly, I take a step forward, closing the space between us. After a split second of hesitation, I put a hand on her arm. “A promise I made. Not you. Not anyone else.”

Farley stills a bit, and her snarl becomes a smirk. She turns to look at me head-on, her eyes brightly blue as they catch a shaft of sunlight. “I think you might be better suited to politics than war, Mare Barrow.”

I offer a pained smile. “They’re the same thing.” A hard lesson I think I’ve finally learned. “Do you think you can do it? Kill him?”

Once, I would have expected her to scoff and boldly sneer at the implication she couldn’t. Farley is a hard woman with a harder shell. She’s what she needs to be. But something—Shade probably, Clara definitely, the bond we now share—affords me a glimpse past the general’s stony and sure exterior. She falters, her smirk fading a little.

“I don’t know,” she murmurs. “But I’ll never be able to look at myself, look at Clara, if I don’t try.”

“And neither will I, if I let you die in the attempt.” My grip tightens on her arm. “Please, don’t be stupid about this.”

Like the flip of a switch, her smirk returns in full force. She even winks. “Since when am I stupid, Mare Barrow?”

Looking up at her sends a twinge through the scars at the back of my neck, scars I almost forgot about. The pain of them seems small compared to everything else. “I just wonder where it will end,” I murmur, hoping to make her understand.

She shakes her head. “I can’t respond to a question with too many answers.”

“I mean . . . with Shade. Ptolemus. You kill him, and then what? Evangeline kills you? Kills Clara? I kill Evangeline? On and on, with no end?” I’m no stranger to death, but this feels oddly different. Calculated endings. It feels like something Maven would do, not us. Even though Farley marked Ptolemus for death long before, when I masqueraded as Mareena Titanos, that was for the Guard. For a cause, for something other than blind and bloody revenge.

Her eyes widen, vibrant and impossible. “You want me to let him live?”

“Of course not,” I almost snap. “I don’t know what I want. I don’t know what I’m talking about.” The words tumble over one another. “But I can still wonder, Farley. I know what vengeance and rage can do to a person, to the people around you. And of course I don’t want Clara to grow up without her mother.”

She turns away sharply, hiding her face. But not quickly enough to hide a sudden surge of tears. They never fall. With a jerk of her shoulder, she shrugs me away.

I push on. I have to. She needs to hear this. “She already lost Shade, and if given the choice between revenge for her father and a living mother—I know what she would choose.”

“Speaking of choices,” she grinds out, still not looking at me. “I’m proud of the one you made.”

“Farley, don’t change the subject—”

“Did you hear me, lightning girl?” She sniffs and forces a smile, turning back around to reveal a now very red and splotchy face. “I said I’m proud of you. Write that down. Commit it to memory. You probably won’t hear it again.”

In spite of myself, I chuckle darkly. “Fine. Proud of what exactly?”

“Well, besides your fashion sense”—she dusts off my shoulder, brushing away a bit of bloody dirt—“and of course your kind and calm disposition . . .”

Another chuckle.

“. . . I’m proud of you because I know what it’s like to lose the person you love.” This time she takes me by the arm, probably so I can’t run away from a conversation I don’t think I’m equipped to have.

Mare, choose me. The words are only an hour old. They haunt me so easily.

“It felt like a betrayal,” I whisper.

I focus on Farley’s chin so I don’t have to look into her eyes. The scar at the left corner of her mouth is deep, pulling her lips to the side a little. A clean drag. Knife work. She didn’t have it when I first met her, by the light of a blue candle in Will Whistle’s old wagon.

“From him? Of course—”

“No. Not from him.” A cloud crosses the sky overhead, sending shifting shadows across us both. The summer breeze blows oddly cold. I shiver against it. As if on instinct, I wish for Cal and his warm presence. He never let me get cold. My stomach lurches at the thought, sick to think of what we both walked away from. “He made promises to me,” I continue, “but I made promises to him too. I broke them. And he has other promises to keep. To himself, to his dead father. He loved the crown before he loved me, whether he knows it or not. And in the end, he thinks he’s doing the right thing for us, for everyone. How can I really fault him for that?”

With a will, I meet Farley’s eyes and search. She doesn’t have an answer for me, at least not one I would like. Her teeth worry at her lip, biting back whatever she wants to say. It doesn’t work.

She scoffs, trying to be her version of gentle. As prickly as ever. “Don’t apologize for him and what he is.”

“I’m not.”

“It certainly sounds like it,” she sighs, exasperated. “A different king is still a king. He might be a brick, but he knows that much.”

“Maybe it could have been the right thing for me too. For Reds. Who knows what a Red queen could have done?”

“Very little, Mare. If anything at all,” she says with cold surety. “Any change that might come from putting a crown on your head would be too slow, too small.” Her voice softens. “And too easily undone. It wouldn’t last. Whatever we accomplished would die with you. Don’t take this the wrong way, but the world we want to build has to outlive us.”

For the ones who come after.

Farley’s eyes bore into me, intense with her almost inhuman focus. Clara has Shade’s eyes, not Farley’s. Honey, not ocean. I wonder which pieces of her will one day belong to Farley or to Shade.

The breeze rustles Farley’s freshly shorn hair, dark gold in the shadow of the clouds. Beneath the scars, she’s still young, just another child of war and ruin. She’s seen worse than me, done more than I ever have. Sacrificed and suffered more too. Her mother, her sister, my brother and his love. Whoever she dreamed of being when she was a little girl. All gone. If she can keep pushing forward, still believing in what we’re doing, so can I. For as much as we butt heads, I trust Farley. And her words are an unfamiliar but needed comfort. I’ve already spent so much time in my own head, arguing with myself, that I’m beginning to get sick of it.

“You’re right.” Something inside me lets go, allowing the strange dream of Cal’s offer to spiral into darkness. Never to return.

I will not be a Red queen.

Farley gives my shoulder an almost painful squeeze. Despite the healers, I’m still sore, and she still has a wickedly strong grip. “Besides,” she adds, “it wouldn’t be you on the throne. The Lerolan queen and the king of the Rift were very clear. It would be her, the Samos girl.”

I snort at the notion. Evangeline Samos made her intentions obvious enough back in the council chamber. I’m surprised Farley didn’t notice. “Not if she can help it.”

“Hmm?” Her gaze sharpens and I shrug.

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