Things have changed behind the walls of the Coventry, and new threats lurk in its twisted corridors. When Adelice returns to Arras, she quickly learns that something rotten has taken hold of the world, and now Cormac Patton needs her to help him reestablish order.
However, peace comes at a terrible price. As the Guild manipulates the citizens of Arras, Adelice discovers that she’s not alone, and she must let go of her past to fight for mankind’s future. She will have to choose between an unimaginable alliance and a deadly war that could destroy everyone she loves.
Gennifer Albin’s Crewel World series continues in Unraveled, available October 7th from Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Read an excerpt below!
I wake to a darkness that envelops me in comfortable oblivion. My convictions and memories jumble into a snarl of thoughts I can’t quite untangle, so I call for the lights. The bed I’m in is strange and unfamiliar, and I can’t quite sort out where my dreams end and my life begins. Then I remember I’m in Cormac’s quarters on an aeroship bound for Arras.
My hands are in heavy gages, restrictive manacles that prevent me from using my skills. Without access to my hands, I struggle to rise like a bird with broken wings. Through a small round window I watch the crackle of light and energy bursting through the barrier as the aeroship glides smoothly along the Interface, the roughly woven boundary that separates Earth from Arras. Around me is possibility—the luminous pulse of the universe surging through the golden strands. Even though my hands are bound, I feel in control. Being separated from my arguably most powerful weapons reminds me that I have one defense left—one capable of inflicting much more damage: my mind.
Cormac and the Guild have underestimated me. Now as they take me back to the alteration labs and the Coventry looms, I know I have power. I must remember that, especially as I stand alone, torn from my friends, my family, and Erik.
Flexing my fingers against the steel gages that lock them into place, I study these glove-like shackles that are meant to cripple me. The gages look like a series of rings stacked on top of one another and then melded together. They appear simple in construction, but if I press too hard against them a shock of electricity jolts through my skin. On each gage’s cuff a small blue light is illuminated. Taking a deep breath, I raise my hands to my mouth and try to bite down on the latch. The blue light flashes and a stronger bolt knocks the breath from my lungs.
I stop trying to take them off.
They’ve left me in Cormac’s quarters, which are as slick and impersonal as Cormac himself. For a man who oversees a world as opulent as Arras, with its sculpted skyscrapers and cosmetically enhanced population, Cormac’s taste is spartan. In the center of the room wait two ramrod-straight leather chairs with a steel table planted on the slate-tiled floor between them. The bed that I awoke in is perched on a low platform near the window. No artwork graces the walls. A small mirror shows me a girl with strawberry hair sharpening to fiery red, the remains of my cosmetic routine at the Coventry. For the moment, my face is clean, without a trace of cosmetics—pure and pale. But for how long? My eyes reflect the question back at me. They are still the same emerald green as my mother’s.
The door to the corridor slides open and Cormac enters. He’s changed out of the tactical gear he wore during our confrontation on Alcatraz and into his customary black tuxedo, though he’s left his button-down open at the top, not even bothering with a tie. I assume this is what he calls casual wear.
While at first he looks exactly the same in his everyday attire, as he comes closer I notice faint blue circles under his eyes and more gray peppering the hair near his temples.
“I took the liberty of having something sent up for you to eat,” he says.
I’m shocked to see he’s holding the tray himself.
“You know how to lift things?” I ask.
“I do most of the heavy lifting,” he says, setting my food on the gleaming table.
“Poor baby. Want a massage?” I offer.
“That would be lovely.”
I lift my hands to remind him that his men have bound them. “Take these off first.”
“Sure. I’ll go ahead and give you the keys to the cockpit, too. Nice try, Adelice. Those gages are staying on until…” Cormac’s eyes wander to the ceiling as he searches for an answer.
“Until?” I press.
“I’m trying to decide if I’ll ever take them off.”
I plop into one of the chairs near the table. It’s as uncomfortable as it looks. With Cormac everything is about appearance.
I try to ignore the plate of food he’s brought me, but my stomach rumbles angrily. Nearly a day has passed since I ate. The last meal brought to me at Kincaid’s estate had been drugged and I had been warned not to touch it.
In a bid to discover why Kincaid was sedating me at night, I’d discovered the truth. He was using the time to take my measurements, planning to alter me to suit his twisted plans for Earth and Arras. Caught in the rush to get away and find the man responsible for the Kairos Agenda, I’d forgotten to eat.
We’d had no food on our impromptu mission to Alcatraz. I had been too busy trying to rescue the scientist the Guild had imprisoned there, and other than a spot of tea brought to us by Dr. Albert Einstein, my stomach has been empty for hours.
Cormac’s tray is loaded with roasted lamb shanks and buttery hot bread. I assume the cocktail is for him.
Then I realize I can’t eat with these gages on. Cormac can’t hold out forever. If he doesn’t want me to have access to my hands again, there are worse things he could do to me. He needs my ability or he’d have cut them off instead of binding them. I don’t feel any better though. If it’s not gages to control me, it will be a prison cell, or alteration to make me docile, which leaves only one solution: I have to earn his trust back.
“Are you going to feed me, then?”
Cormac’s mouth twists into a grimace at the request and his fingers squeeze the bridge of his nose. “You’re already giving me headaches.”
Apparently he’s not into grand, romantic gestures like feeding the woman he imprisoned. I can see the conflict with each flick of his eyes between the plate and myself, but finally he cocks his head to the side to activate his complant. It’s so like Cormac to call someone else in to do the dirty work.
“Hannox,” Cormac calls, connecting his complant to his right-hand man. He’s been ordering around the mysterious Hannox since the moment I met him. “Take Amie to a secure room and put two armed guards in front of the door. If anyone tries to get in, I want you to kill her.”
There’s a pause.
“Even me,” he confirms. “Assume the possibility of Protocol One until we arrive in Arras.”
“It seems like a bit much to kill someone for entering a room,” I say as his head settles back into a more natural position.
“In your case there’s no such thing as being overly cautious,” Cormac says. “I should have learned that the night I met you. I’ve since learned who you really are.”
I want to tell him that I knew exactly who he was the night he came to retrieve me from my home in Romen. He destroyed my family when my parents tried to run and save me from a life locked in a tower. Since then he’d only succeeded in showing me time and again how big a monster he truly was.
“Does that mean you’re going to take these off?” I ask.
“I don’t see why not.” Cormac relaxes into his chair, smirking. “If you try anything, your sister is dead. You can’t possibly save her.”
Death threats always bring out the twinkle in his black eyes.
“Maybe I’ll leave her behind,” I hedge. “You’ve turned her into someone else. I don’t know who she is anymore or what lies you’ve told her about me.”
“She’s the last member of your family, Adelice. I know exactly what you would do for her.”
“She’s not the last,” I point out. Cormac knows that better than anyone. The Guild altered my mother, removed her soul, and sent her to Earth to hunt me. As a Remnant, she bears only my mother’s face. But she is still alive, no matter what she’s done. I’d recently even met another family member, someone I didn’t know existed: Dante, my biological father, who ran from the Guild so they couldn’t force him to use his alteration skills. His brother, Benn, raised me as his own and died trying to protect me from the Guild. Cormac had taken a lot from me, but he hadn’t wiped away my whole family. And there were other people I loved now, even if things were a bit complicated between us.
But despite my brave face, I try not to think of Amie. She’s close to me at last. With my hands free I have all the weapons I need to reach her. It’s possible I could enter her chambers through a window or an adjacent room. There might even be options for escape that don’t involve walking past the armed guards. But rescuing Amie and returning to Earth won’t get me anywhere. There will be no peace between the worlds—no peace for myself or those I love—until I create it.
“Amie may as well be the last member of your family.”
I ignore Cormac’s comment, focusing on gathering as much information as I can before he clams up again. “What is Protocol One exactly?”
“Don’t tell me you spent all that time on Earth among Kincaid and his Tailors and you don’t know,” he says, licking his lips as though I’ve provided him with something delicious to savor.
“It simply means that no one, myself included, can see Amie until we reach our destination and certain safety clearance has been granted.”
“Why can’t you see her?” I ask. 10
“What do Tailors do, Adelice?” He leans toward me, egging me on.
“They alter objects, and implant and erase memories,” I say.
The answer is so obvious that it hits me like a well-thrown brick. “They change appearances.”
“I don’t know how far you’ve come with your alteration abilities. I know you can unwind,” he says. Cormac witnessed me removing Kincaid’s time strand on Alcatraz, revealing my newfound abilities to him. Now I wish I had let them fight their own battle instead of getting involved.
“I can’t alter my appearance,” I tell him, realizing that Cormac was warning Hannox that I might try to take his appearance and trick them into releasing Amie. “If I could, wouldn’t I have done it before now? To avoid capture?”
“You had access to some of the most talented Tailors we’ve ever lost to the rebellion,” Cormac says with a shrug. “I assumed you were too vain up until now.”
“I think you were stupid. You could have taken anyone else’s appearance.”
What Cormac doesn’t understand is that no good would have come from altering myself to become someone else. Arras’s threat to Earth would still have existed, my sister would still be under Cormac’s control, and I would still be hiding. Right now, being myself is my best asset, because Cormac seems eager to work with me.
“Do you have her bound as well?” I ask, bringing the subject back around to Amie. I picture her locked in a cell deep in the belly of the ship.
“I’m not scared of Amie,” Cormac says. “She won’t even know she’s under safekeeping. I would guess she’s reading the Bulletin or playing with her digifile. There are perks, you know, to being well behaved.”
“I find being well behaved is overrated.”
“Somehow that doesn’t surprise me,” he says. “In any case, she is secure. You can’t reach her without risking her life. Is that clear?”
“Crystal,” I mutter.
Cormac stretches toward me and swipes an access card across the blue light. It blinks red. Cormac removes the gages and tosses them next to my food tray. My dented flesh aches as I splay my fingers wide, cracking and popping the joints in my hands.
This is my chance.
I could run for it. This aeroship will be equipped with tethering gear and rappelling equipment. I could easily take out the guards, even Cormac, now that I have the use of my hands, and there’s a good possibility I could even make it to the surface. I could make it back to Erik.
But returning to Earth only puts everyone I love in more danger. It’s better to stay here and worm my way back into Cormac’s good graces.
“How adorable.” He traces a finger over my techprint. “The mark of Kairos. Souvenir?”
Despite Cormac’s near-constant attention, it’s the first time he’s noticed the mark.
“I’ve had it for a long time,” I say in a measured tone. I could brag more, talk about my rebel parents, but I know that could place Amie in more danger. Cormac is only trusting when he thinks he has total control. I can’t risk that now.
“We’ll have it removed, of course,” he says.
I silently hope that he forgets about it. I don’t want the small reminder of my past stripped from me. I pick up a fork and run it through a pile of mashed yams.
Cormac watches me over the rim of his highball. “This reminds me of our first meal together.”
“Getting sentimental?” I ask, bringing a small bite to my lips and hating myself a little for feeling hungry, hating myself for accepting food from him. Even hunger feels like a weakness. I want him to fear me.
“You barely ate that day either,” he says, swirling the amber liquid. “We had potential then, you and I. I’m afraid only one of us is living up to it.”
I snort and allow myself to take a second, larger bite. My first meal with Cormac was at Nilus Station on the night of my retrieval, when the Guild came to take me away to become a Spinster. He had insisted that I eat that night, too. I hadn’t been sure if Cormac would become a friend or not that night. One moment he seemed to want to earn my trust and the next he was threatening me. Now I knew the truth. Cormac Patton, now the prime minister of Arras, would work any angle he could to get me on his side. He made my own mother into a monster. He altered my friend to follow me. He even brainwashed my sister, Amie, into buying his idea of a perfect world. All while he stripped Earth of its fundamental elements in order to build Arras into an empire. I know he’s going to destroy both worlds unless I can convince him to find a peaceful solution. Or I finally figure out how to destroy him.
Whichever comes first.
“I still have potential,” I say finally. “And I’m ready to use it.”
“A threat?” Cormac raises his eyebrows as he takes a draft of his bourbon.
“A truce.” It sounds strange coming from my lips, but I know this is exactly what he wants to hear. If I’m smart I can use Cormac like he’s used me, but only if I play my cards right.
“You never stop surprising me, Adelice Lewys.” Admiration colors his voice, and I feel dirty.
“I’ve had time to think,” I say, pushing my true feelings aside. “I understand now that compromises must be made to help both worlds.”
“I couldn’t agree more.”
I muster up a smile for him. This is how I’ll get what I need. Earn his trust until he slips up or gives in. I can do this. I have to.
“There’s one last order of business I need to discuss with you.” Cormac reaches inside his tuxedo jacket and I stiffen.
“No need to be afraid,” he says. “You’re right that a truce is exactly what will bring these worlds together. And what better way of sealing our commitment to this compromise than by truly committing to each other?”
A small velvet box rests in his palm and my eyes fly to his, every bit of me willing him not to open it. But his thumb flips up the lid to reveal a ring.
“I told you before that I needed a wife,” Cormac says, placing the box on the table.
“I heard you found one,” I mumble. I abandon my fork and my meal to stare at the delicate curve of the golden band and the overlarge diamond cushioned in the center.
Cormac said we would work together, but I hadn’t thought he meant this. Not after everything that’s happened.
“She was deemed unsuitable in more ways than one.” Cormac leans forward, steepling his fingers thoughtfully. His cold black eyes stay on me.
“Maela?” I assume. She was the person most likely to ascend to the position, and the person most likely to fly into a murderous fit of rage and lose her chance. I’d seen her instability more than once while she lorded over my training at the Coventry. I relied on it during my escape, when I couldn’t reach Erik by myself. I let her push him into the tear I had created. All I had to do was mention kissing him.
“Never,” he said with a groan. “She’s too… eager.”
“She’s too cunning,” I correct him.
“Either way, Maela would be a poor candidate for the position.” Cormac laughs as though we’re playing a new game.
I’d suspected from my interactions with her at the Coventry that something had gone wrong between Cormac and Maela. Now I’m certain I was right. I’d been on the bad end of Maela’s temper while I was under her watch. She had often abused her position training the incoming Eligibles. I can’t imagine the destruction she’d have caused as Cormac’s wife.
But if it wasn’t Maela, that left a frightening possibility.
“Not my… sister?” I ask, dreading his answer.
“Much too young,” Cormac says. It should be reassuring that he sees her this way, but I also know this means Amie is still the same giddy girl who mooned over a bakery cake on my retrieval night. And Cormac has been molding her—altering her—for over a year to trust him and the Guild.
“I had an arrangement with Pryana,” Cormac admits, drawing a long breath that says, I’m guilty. “My men—”
“My Tailors,” he says, barely missing a beat, “thought they could splice her with Loricel’s genetic material. But she’s never shown the natural talent Loricel—or you—had.”
“Pity,” I say carefully. I don’t want him to see I’m upset over what he did to Loricel, the Creweler who guided me during my short time at the Coventry. Cormac collects information the way some men collect old Bulletins. But with him it isn’t a harmless habit. Cormac knows which stories—which inconsequential facts should be held on to—so he can use them against you later.
Cormac’s mind stays on Pryana, though. “I’ve placed her back within the Western Coventry and canceled the wedding.”
“I hope you hadn’t sent the invitations,” I say.
“Would it matter?” he asks with a snort.
Of course not. The Tailors under his command could remove the memory of the invitation, alter the information in the minds of the people fortunate—or rather, unfortunate—enough to have received one. Every action Cormac takes has a built-in fail-safe. He never has to worry about making a policy mistake or averting a disaster because he can wipe the memory of it away.
Tailors were the nightmares you couldn’t remember the moment your eyes opened.
“Well, you are too old for me,” I say, searching for something to talk about that doesn’t revolve around that ring. In the end, I give up. “Why? Tell me why I should accept your… offer?”
“There’s the little matter of your sister. Need I remind you she’s currently in my custody?”
I shake my head. I’m well aware that he has Amie.
“Good. I knew she would come in handy, but there’s more,” he says. He straightens in his chair, ready to talk business. “The reason you should agree to it is fairly simple. There’s trouble in Arras. If we’re going to work together to ensure both worlds survive, we need to give the people something else to think about, obsess over—and what’s better than a celebrity wedding?” He flashes me a blinding smile that’s meant to be charming. Too bad it’s never worked on me. But I know he’s absolutely right. The wedding of Cormac would be the talk of every metro in Arras. It would occupy the Bulletins and the Stream for months, even years, or however long it might take to divert people’s attention from what’s really going on.
“You want to distract them,” I say.
“I need them in their places, Adelice. Our plans won’t succeed if the citizens are scared.”
“Exactly what is happening in Arras?” I ask.
“Nothing that can’t be handled,” he assures me, but he blinks as he says it.
Except he needs a wedding—a huge distraction—to handle it.
I push the plate away from me and rub my wrists. I don’t know how much time I have until he puts the gages back on my hands, now that he’s pitched his idea.
“You’re finished with your meal,” Cormac says. He looks at the gages, and I sigh, raising my hands to him. An aeroship caught in the Interface between Earth and Arras is no place to try to escape. If only Cormac could see that.
“These protect me from you,” he says, picking up the gages. “I saw what you did to Kincaid, which was admirable, but I’m not eager for a repeat performance. Not yet. There is another option, though.”
He glances toward the box on the table. I still haven’t touched it.
“If I say yes, no more gages?” I ask.
“When you put on that ring, Adelice, you’ll be making a commitment. As will I,” he reminds me. “To show you I am serious about our endeavor, as long as you wear that ring, there is no need for these.” He waves the gages around and I look from them to the ring.
It isn’t until I reach out for the blue velvet box that I notice my fingers are trembling. Are all girls this scared of a marriage proposal? It probably doesn’t help that mine comes with a real till-death-do-us-part clause attached. I stare at the ring. It’s flawless, but its loveliness is tainted by what it stands for: control.
“Allow me,” he says, slipping it onto my finger. “I know you think of this as a means to an end, Adelice, but remember, there is no shame in compromise.”
There is shame in lying, I think. But I swallow the words deep inside me with a frantic gulp.
“Perfect,” he says. The ring fits precisely as though it were made for me. It probably was.
I fan my fingers in front of me, noticing the ring’s weight as the stone catches the light and blazes with fiery life, sending flickers like stars around the room.
“Do we have a deal?” Cormac asks.
“The proposal every girl dreams of,” I mutter.
“I’m not getting down on one knee.”
I stare at him. Then I stare at the ring. Cormac needs a wedding to distract the citizens from trouble, whatever that means, but a wedding could buy me time as well. Time to figure out what Cormac is keeping from the people. Time to allow the Agenda on Earth to organize. Because time is a precious thing there, and I need to buy as much of it as I can for my friends.
“Yes,” I say, pushing Erik’s face from my mind and ignoring the twinge of fear I feel.
We regard each other for one wary moment and then I reach out and grip his hand in a firm shake.
“How businesslike,” Cormac says, and he pulls my hand up to his mouth, but before his lips can touch it, the door zips open and Hannox enters. He freezes for a moment, no doubt stunned by Cormac’s romantic gesture. Or maybe by the horror on my face.
“I’m sorry to interrupt, sir.”
Cormac waves it off. “What’s the trouble? Are those Agenda fools coming after us?”
I tug my hand from his at the mention of the Agenda, wondering if he’s referring to Dante, Jost, and Erik.
“The problem isn’t on Earth, sir,” Hannox says, pausing to let this information sink in. “It’s Arras. There’s a blackout over the Eastern Sector.”
Unraveled © Gennifer Albin, 2014