Maven gestures, hands open. His voice is a bucket of ice water. “What is it?”
“We’ve located what you asked for.” I can only see the Sentinel’s eyes beneath his mask, and they flash with fear.
“Are you sure?” The king picks at his nails again, feigning disinterest. This only piques mine.
The Sentinel bobs his head. “Yes, sir.”
With a cutting smile, Maven looks up from his hands and turns, putting his back to the railing. “Well, then, my thanks. I’d like to see it.”
“Yes, sir,” the Sentinel says again, nodding once more.
“Iris, care to join me?” Maven asks, one hand outstretched. His fingers hover half an inch from my arm, taunting me.
Every warrior instinct I have tells me to refuse. But then I openly admit I am afraid of Maven Calore, and give him power over me. This I cannot allow. And whatever he’s looking for on the Piedmont base could be important to the Lakelands. A weapon, perhaps. Intelligence, maybe. “Why not?” I say with an exaggerated shrug.
I ignore his hand, following the Sentinel off the balcony. My dress snaps behind me, cut low to show the whorls of water tattooed across my back.
The base is a good size, though half as big as the major citadels where we house our fleets and armies back in the Lakelands. Wherever we’re going must be close enough to walk, as Maven’s contingent of Sentinels doesn’t bring a transport. I wish they would. Despite the many trees dotting the streets of the base, the shady areas aren’t much cooler than the sunlit streets. As we walk, flanked by a dozen Sentinel guards, I run a hand along my neck. Droplets of water form in the wake of my fingertips, each one running a soothing race down my inked spine.
Maven follows close at the heels of his lead Sentinel, hands fisted in his pockets. He’s eager. He wants whatever we’re about to find.
They turn us onto a street of row houses. At first it seems oddly cheerful. Red brick and black shutters, paved sidewalks, flowers blooming, and columns of pruned trees. But the emptiness is unsettling, like a city block removed of its inhabitants. A dollhouse without dolls. The people who lived here were either killed or captured, or they fled into the stinking, sinking swamps. Perhaps they left something of value behind.
“These were officer homes,” one of the Sentinels explains. “Before the occupation.”
I raise an eyebrow at him. “And after?”
“Used by the enemy. Red rats, blood traitors, newblood freaks,” one of the Sentinels hisses behind his mask.
Maven stops so quickly his leather boots leave black scuff marks on the sidewalk. He turns to the hissing guard, hands still concealed. Despite the Sentinel’s towering height, Maven doesn’t seem at all perturbed. In fact, he wears no expression at all as he stares.
“What was that, Sentinel Rhambos?”
Strongarm. The Sentinel could tear Maven’s arms off if he wanted. Instead his eyes widen behind his mask, a watery brown full of terror.
“Nothing of importance, Your Majesty.”
“I decide what is important,” Maven clips. “What did you say?”
“I answered Her Majesty, the queen.” His eyes shift to me. Begging for some kind of protection, but I have none to give. The Sentinels are Maven’s to command. “I told her Reds lived here during the Montfort occupation. And Silvers. And newbloods.”
“Rats. Traitors. Freaks,” Maven offers, still without any inflection or emotion. I almost wish he would explode with rage. This is far more frightening. A king who cannot be read, a king without anything in him. “Those were your exact words, weren’t they?”