I blink at her, watching her adjust the sleeves of the snug crimson coat, intimately tailored to her form. Her general’s badges are fastened at the collar, three iron squares set in the fabric. There are others on her breast, medals and honors, both metal and ribbon. I doubt they’re real, but they make her look impressive. Clearly Davidson and Carmadon helped her dress for the meeting, working to legitimize the Scarlet Guard through her. Add to that the scar at the corner of her mouth and the hard steel of her blue eyes, and I wonder how any politicians might deny what she asks for.
“General Farley,” I say, offering her a crooked smirk. “Nice outfit.”
“Careful, Barrow, before I force you into one of these too,” she grumbles, fighting her sleeves again. “I can barely move in this thing.” The jacket runs tight across her shoulders, perfectly fitted. But not enough to allow the kind of movement she’s used to. The kind of movement required in a fight.
I glance at her hips, snug in equally tailored pants tucked into boots. “No gun?”
Farley scowls. “Don’t remind me.”
To the surprise of no one, Evangeline Samos arrives last. She glides through the grand oak doors, her Samos cousins flanking her in matching gray coats and black trim. Evangeline’s gown is blinding white fading to deep, inky black at the sleeves and long train. As she grows closer, I realize that the silk of her dress isn’t dyed, but patterned with chips of resplendent, shimmering metal in a perfect shift from pearly white to gray steel to black iron. She approaches with purpose, letting the gown spread behind her, hissing over the green and white stones.
“If only we could replicate such an entrance in the People’s Gallery,” Davidson mutters to Farley and me. He watches Evangeline approach. She squares her shoulders, letting the ramrod of determination mark her steps.
The premier himself keeps to his plain but splendid persona, clad in a dark green suit with white enamel buttons. His gray hair gleams, slicked back against his head.
“Shall we?” he says, gesturing to the arches leading away from the palace.
In our varying colors and varying degrees of readiness, we follow him down the winding steps into the city.
I wish the walk were longer, but the People’s Gallery, the building where the entire Montfort government gathers for matters such as this, isn’t far. Just a few hundred yards down the slope, set onto more terraces cut below the premier’s palace. Again, there are no walls to defend such an important place. Only white stone archways and sweeping verandas surround the domed building overlooking Ascendant and the valley. The sun continues to rise, gleaming off the green-glass dome hundreds of feet across. The glass is too flawed to be Silver-made, but it is more beautiful for the whorls and curves of imperfection, which catch the light in more interesting ways than flat, meticulous panes of pure glass. Silver-barked aspen trees with golden leaves spring up at even intervals, lining the structure like living columns. Those are the work of Silvers. Greenwardens, no doubt.
Soldiers flank each tree, still in their dark greens. Proud, unyielding. We cross the long, marble walkway to the wide-open doors of the Gallery.
I take a breath, steeling myself. This shouldn’t be difficult. Montfort is not our enemy. And our objective is clear. Acquire an army, as much as we can. Overthrow a mad king and his allies, all of them hell-bent on maintaining their power at the cost of Red and newblood life. Agreeing to help should be easy for the Free Republic of Montfort. Isn’t equality what they stand for?
Or so I’ve been told.
Gritting my teeth, I reach out and grab Farley’s hand. I squeeze her callused fingers, just for a second. Without hesitation, she squeezes back.
The first hall is columned, hung with green and white silks gathered with silver and red ties. The colors of Montfort and the colors of both kinds of blood. Sunlight beams down from skylights, filling the space with an ethereal glow. Many chambers branch off, visible through arches between the columns or locked behind polished oak doors. And of course there are people in the hall, clustered together, their eyes on all of us as we pass. Men and women, Red and Silver, their skin a vast array of hues ranging from porcelain to midnight. I try to feel armored in my skin, protected from their gaze.
Ahead of me, Tiberias holds his head high, his grandmother on his right arm while Evangeline takes his left. She is careful to keep in step with his long stride. No daughter of House Samos walks behind. Her gown’s train forces Farley and me to keep our distance. Not that I mind.
Julian walks behind us both. I can hear him muttering to himself as he looks back and forth. I’m surprised he doesn’t take notes.