Leaning into him, Cinder sent the messages away. Her hands tentatively made their way to his shoulders, before stringing around his neck.
Then, somewhere in the rush of sensations, Cinder’s attention snagged on the retina display, alone against the darkness of her eyelids. At first, it was only a dim, annoyed awareness. But then—
Her eyes snapped open. She pulled herself away.
Kai started. “Wha—”
She started to tremble, still focused on the newsfeed.
A moment passed in which she was watching the feed with horror, and then Kai cleared his throat. His voice had gone heavy. “No. No, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have—”
“No!” She grabbed his shirt before he could pull away from her. “It’s not—It’s Levana.”
His expression turned cold.
“She’s … she’s retaliated. She attacked…” Cursing, she tore her hands away from Kai, covering her face while she digested the news. A swarm of Lunar soldiers attacked the oasis town not two hours ago, before disappearing into the desert as fast as they’d come. They murdered both the civilians and the Commonwealth soldiers who had been sent to question them.
Pictures flashed across the scene.
Blood. So much blood.
“Cinder—where? Where did she strike?”
“Africa. The town…” She gulped. “The people that helped us.”
Something snapped in her head. Screaming, Cinder reached for the strip of tools, seized a wrench, and threw it at the far wall. It clattered harmlessly to the floor. She grabbed a screwdriver next, but Kai just as quickly lifted it from her hand.
“Has she put forth any demands?” he said, absurdly calm.
She clenched her empty fists. “I don’t know. I just know they’re all dead. Because of me. Because they helped me.” She fell into a crouch, covering her head. Her entire body was burning up with fury.
But mostly at herself. At her own decisions.
Because she’d known this would happen. She’d made the choice anyway.
“This is my fault.”
A hand settled on her back. “You didn’t kill them.”
“I might as well have.”
“Did they know the risk they were taking when they helped you? The danger they’d be in?”
She turned her head away from him.
“Maybe they did it because they believed in you. Because they thought the risk was worth it.”
“Is this supposed to be helping?”
“You want to know another secret? The biggest secret?” She sat, splaying her legs like a broken doll in front of her. “I’m scared, Kai. I’m so scared.” She thought it might feel better, to say the words out loud, but instead they only made her feel pathetic and weak. She wrapped her arms around her waist. “I’m scared of her, and her army, and what she can do. And everyone expects me to be strong and brave, but I don’t know what I’m doing. I have no idea how to overthrow her. And even if I succeed, I have no idea how to be a queen. There are so many people relying on me, people who don’t even know they’re relying on me, and now they’re dying, all because of some ridiculous fantasy that I can help them, that I can save them, but what if I can’t?”
A headache began to throb against her temples, a reminder that she would be crying right now. If she were normal.
Arms wrapped around her.
Cinder pressed her face against his silk shirt. There was some sort of cologne or maybe soap there—so faint she hadn’t picked up on it before.
“I know exactly how you feel,” Kai said.
She squeezed her eyes shut. “Not exactly.”
“I think pretty close.”
She shook her head. “No, you don’t understand. More than anything, I’m afraid that … the more I fight her and the stronger I become, the more I’m turning into her.”
Sitting back on his heels, Kai pulled away just enough to look into her face without releasing her. “You’re not turning into Levana.”
“Are you sure about that? Because I manipulated your adviser today, and countless guards. I manipulated Wolf. I … I killed a police officer, in France, and I would have killed more people if I’d had to, people in your own military, and I don’t even know if I would feel bad about it, because there are always ways to justify it. It’s for the good of everyone, isn’t it? Sacrifices have to be made. And then there are the mirrors, such a stupid, stupid thing, but they—I’m beginning to get it. Why she hates them so much. And then—” She shuddered. “Today, I tortured her thaumaturge. I didn’t just manipulate her. I tortured her. And I almost enjoyed it.”
“Cinder, look at me.” He cupped her face. “I know you’re scared, and you have every right to be. But you are not turning into Queen Levana.”
“You can’t know that.”
“But I do.”
“She’s my aunt, you know.”
He smoothed back her hair. “Yeah, well, my great-grandfather signed the Cyborg Protection Act. And yet, here we are.”
She bit her lip. Here they were.
“Now, let’s never talk about you being related to her again. Because I’m technically still engaged to her, and that’s really weird.”
Cinder couldn’t help laughing, even exhaustedly, even just to cover up the screaming inside, as he bound her up in his arms again. Her headache began to fade, replaced with the strength of his heartbeat and the way she felt almost delicate when she was pressed up against him like this.
Almost like a princess.
“You won’t tell anyone, will you?” she murmured.
“And if it turns out I make a terrible princess?”
He shrugged against her. “The people of Luna don’t need a princess. They need a revolutionary.”
Cinder furrowed her brow. “A revolutionary,” she repeated. She liked that a lot better than princess.
The door zipped open.
Cinder and Kai jumped apart, Kai scrambling to his feet.
Cress, breathless and flushed, paused in the doorway.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “But the newsfeeds—Levana—”
“I know,” said Cinder, forcing herself to stand. “I know about Farafrah.”
Cress shook her head, wild-eyed. “It isn’t just Farafrah. Their ships are swarming Earth, every continent. Thousands of soldiers are invading the cities. Her other soldiers.” She shuddered so hard she had to grasp the door frame. “They’re like animals, like predators.”
“What is Earth doing?” asked Kai, and Cinder recognized his leader voice. “Are we defending ourselves?”
“They’re trying. All six countries have declared a state of war. Evacuations are being ordered, military is assembling—”
Cress pushed her hair off her brow. “Konn Torin has temporarily assumed the role of leader of the Commonwealth … until your return.”
A heavy silence pressed against Cinder’s chest. Then Kai turned to face her, and she could feel the gravity of his emotions without looking at him.
“I think it’s about time you told me about this plan,” he said.
Cinder curled her hands into tight fists. The possibility of their success had seemed so faint that she’d hardly considered what would come next. She’d hoped they would have some time, at least a day or two, but she saw now that there would be no such respite.
War had begun.
“You said yourself that the people of Luna need a revolutionary.” She lifted her chin, holding his gaze. “So I’m going to Luna, and I’m going to start a revolution.”