Home > Red Rising (Red Rising Trilogy #1)(16)

Red Rising (Red Rising Trilogy #1)(16)
Pierce Brown

Dancer goes to Harmony and whispers something, likely telling her that we’re to be friends. We won’t be. But I promise not to choke her and she promises not to stab me.

She is quiet as she guides me from the others through cramped metal hallways to a small door opened by twisting a knob. Our feet echo over rusting walkways. The room is small and littered with tables and medical supplies. She has me strip and sit on one of the cold tables so she can clean my wounds. Her hands are not gentle as they scrub dirt from my lacerated back. I try not to scream.

“You’re a fool,” she says as she scrapes rock out of a deep wound. I wheeze in pain and try to say something, but she jams her finger into my back, cutting me short.

“Dreamers like your wife are limited, little Helldiver.” She makes sure I don’t speak. “Understand that. The only power they have is in death. The harder they die, the louder their voice, the deeper the echoes. But your wife served her purpose.”

Her purpose. It sounds so cold, so distant and sad, as though my girl of smiles and laughter was meant for nothing but death. Harmony’s words carve into me and I stare at the metal grating before turning to look into her angry eyes.

“Then what is your purpose?” I ask.

She holds up her hands, caked with dirt and blood.

“The same as yours, little Helldiver. To make the dream come true.”

After Harmony scours my back of dirt and gives me a dose of antibac, she takes me to a room next to humming generators. The squat quarters are lined with cots and a liquid flush. She leaves me to it. The shower is a terrifying thing. Though it’s gentler than the air of the Flush, half the time I feel like I’m drowning, the other half I find a mixture of ecstasy and agony. I turn the heat nozzle till steam rises thick and pain lances my back.

The pain makes my thoughts of Eo seem like silly things. It gives false perspective. I want to like the pain, but I can only handle so much. The mixture of water and blood pools at my pale feet. The thought of Eo’s feet dangling makes me fall sobbing to the floor. I push my back into the side of the shower till the pain stops my thinking and I bite my tongue bloody. I’m not as tough as I thought I was. No Helldiver really is. No man really is.

I’m a man, I remember, not a boy. A man of sixteen. When I married Eo, I felt so strong and wise. When I buried her, all that went away. Sixteen. Almost seventeen. Only nine years younger than my father when he died at twenty and five. It seems a lifetime.

Clean, I dress in the strange garments they’ve set out for me. It’s not a jumpsuit or homespun weave like I’m used to wearing. The material is sleek, elegant, like something someone of a different Color would wear. It is black, much like a short robe, and does not hurt my back as I slide it on. There’s a high collar and epaulets. The pants are black and tight, the shoes soft and strange.

Dancer comes into the room when I’m half dressed. His left foot drags behind him, almost as useless as his left arm. Yet still he’s an impressive man, thicker than Barlow, handsomer than me despite his age and the bite scars on his neck. He carries a tin bowl and sits on one of the cots, which creaks against his weight.

“We saved your life, Darrow. So your life is ours, do you not agree?”

“My uncle saved my life,” I say.

“The drunk?” Dancer snorts. “The best thing he ever did was tell us about you. And he should have done that when you were a boy, but he kept you a secret. He’s worked for us since before your father’s death as an informer, you know.”

“Is he hanged now?”

“Now that he pulled you down? I should hope not. We gave him a jammer to shut off their ancient cameras. He did the work of a ghost.”

Uncle Narol. HeadTalk, but drunk as a fool. I always thought him weak. He still is. No strong man would drink like him or be so bitter. But he never earned the disdain I gave him. Yet why did he not save Eo?

“You act like my uncle bloodydamn owed you,” I say.

“He owes his people.”

“People.” I laugh at the term. “There is family. There is clan. There may even be township and mine, but people? People. And you act as though you’re my representative, as though you have a right to my life. But you are just a fool, all you Sons of Ares.” My voice is withering in its condescension. “Fools who can do nothing but blow things up. Like children kicking pitviper nests in rage.”

That’s what I want to do. I want to kick, to lash out. That’s why I insult him, that’s why I spit on the Sons even though I have no real cause to hate them.

Dancer’s handsome face curles into a tired smile, and it’s only then that I realize how feeble his dead arm really is—thinner than his muscular right arm, bent like a flower’s root. But despite the withered limb, there’s a twisted menace to Dancer, a less obvious sort than that in Harmony. It comes out when I laugh at him, when I scorn him and his dreams.

“Our informants exist to feed us information and to help us find us the outliers so we can extract the best of Red from the mines.”

“So you can use us.”

Dancer smiles tightly and picks the bowl up from the cot. “We will play a game to see if you are one of these outliers, Darrow. If you win, I will take you to see something few lowReds have seen.”

LowReds. I’ve never heard the term before.

“And If I lose?”

“Then you are not an outlier and the Golds win yet again.”

I flinch at the notion.

He holds out a bowl and explains the rules. “There are two cards in the bowl. One bears the reaper’s scythe. The other bears a lamb. Pick the scythe and you lose. Pick the lamb and you win.”

Except I notice his voice fluctuate when he says this last bit. This is a test. Which means there is no element of luck to it. It must then be measuring my intelligence, which means there is a kink. The only way the game could test my intelligence is if the cards are both scythes; that’s the singular variable that could be altered. Simple. I stare into Dancer’s handsome eyes. It is a rigged game; I’m used to these, and usually I follow the rules. Just not this time.

“I’ll play.”

I reach into the bowl and pull free a card, taking care that only I can see its face. It is a scythe. Dancer’s eyes never leave mine.

“I win,” I say.

He reaches for the card to see its face, but I shove it in my mouth before he can take hold of it. He never sees what I drew. Dancer watches me chew on the paper. I swallow and pull the remaining card from the bowl and toss it at him. A scythe.

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