The Queen of All That Lives (The Fallen World Book 3)(5)

By: Laura Thalassa

I give them hard looks. These men might be my rescuers, but they’re also my captors, no matter how agreeable they’ve been.

Jace leans back against the metal wall of the vehicle. “Right now,” he says, “We’re trying to lose the king.”

I lean back against the partition that separates the back of the vehicle from the front, getting nice and cozy myself. “And once you lose the king?” I ask.

“We’ll take you to our compound.”

Just as the Resistance did when they captured me. Yes. This is all very familiar.

“And then?” I ask.

The car rumbles and shakes in the silence.

“And then, once you’re ready, we’ll hand you over to the West, where you belong.”

“Where I belong,” I muse.

It rubs me raw to hear these men talk like they have my best intentions in mind. They have no idea where I belong. I have no idea where I belong.

The only reason these men are even mentioning the West is because they’ve either been hired by them or they’re going to get money from them when they hand me over.

I don’t bother asking if I have any say in these plans. I already know I don’t. Of course they didn’t factor in the possibility that their slumbering queen might not agree with their schemes. That I might, in fact, violently oppose them. I’m sure they didn’t consider that I might have an opinion at all.

But I do.

From the moment my father and I arrived in Geneva all that time ago, I’ve been passed around between men. The king, the Resistance, and now these men. How cruel must I become before people will begin to see me as a formidable opponent?

“One problem with your plans,” I say.

Jace and his men wait for me to speak.

“Every time I’ve slipped from the king’s clutches, he’s retrieved me.” I meet each soldier’s eyes. “Every. Time.”

Perhaps it’s my imagination, but I swear the men shift a little uneasily in their seats.

“With all due respect, Serenity,” Jace says, “we are good at what we do.”

“I don’t doubt that.” The fact that they were able to retrieve me from the king’s Sleeper is proof enough. I’m sure Montes hid me somewhere secure. “But the king I knew never did like it when people took away his toys.” And I am his toy. I always have been.

“Maybe King Lazuli is not the same man you knew,” Jace says.

That, I am certain of. A single year can change a person. A hundred is enough to evolve a man into whatever thing he wants to become. I can’t even fathom the weight of all that time.

“Maybe,” I agree.

It doesn’t matter how much the king has changed; if he didn’t care about losing me, these soldiers wouldn’t be fleeing from him. They know that, I know that, and, unfortunately for them, the king knows that as well.

I fold my hands over my stomach and settle in. Hunting season has begun, and the only creatures that are sure to die are the six surrounding me.

The car falls into silence after that. I have plenty of questions, but I want to sort them out before I voice them.

A hundred and four years went by, and during that time the world still warred, the king still ruled, and while I slept, some portion of the people turned me into a mascot, if the crumpled sheet of paper I saw was anything to go by.

Even now, after all these decades—decades I can’t fully wrap my mind around—people know of me, which means the king has likely spoken about me.

No—more than just spoken. He’s commodified me, turned me into someone larger than life. Someone people can rally behind.

This is pure conjecture, but I know enough about politics and the king to assume my theory is true.

God, when I see that man, I’m going to gut him, navel to collarbone.

“So the world’s still at war?” I ask.

“Off and on for the last century,” one of the other men says. “The West and the East make flimsy treaties every once in a while, but they usually disintegrate after several years. A bad bout of plague swept through both hemispheres at the turn-of-the-century—that also led to a temporary cease-fire.”

War, plague, vigilante organizations—these are things I’m familiar with. Perhaps this world isn’t as different as I assumed it would be. I find that possibility unsettling. I don’t want to fit into this world if it means that everyone that lives here is suffering.

I run a hand through my hair. It might be slightly longer than I remembered, but it’s by no means as long as it should be. Nor are my nails, now that I look at them.

I squeeze my hand into a fist. I’ve been groomed, my body meticulously taking care of. And now I have to wonder: is my cancer gone? After all this time, has the king not found a cure? Or has he abandoned the quest altogether? Have my muscles atrophied?

I don’t feel weak; I feel strong and ruthless.

I won’t get the answers, regardless. These men don’t have them, and the man who does … I don’t want words with him.

Just revenge.

I’m getting restless.

Propped up in the hospital bed as I am, these men don’t see me as a threat. Dangerous, yes, but not a threat.