The sky outside Red's window had a decidedly rosy glow. Red shook her head in frustration; she couldn't have been awake that long, dawn couldn't be coming already. If she was viewing the night through the rose colored lenses of love, tomorrow she'd be seeing red through bloodshot eyes. Honestly she was surprised that her vision wasn't tainted green with envy.
The Greeth-Amos betrothal had been beautiful; it needed to be. The first union of the marriage season, and that of a powerful magistrate's daughter deserved an especially extravagant ceremony. Red had been particularly awestruck. Although, at barely fourteen, she wouldn't be eligible till next season, she knew that young people courted beforehand. Indeed, Tanner Amos had been with Pia since she was thirteen, and although they were secretive at first, Red had heard all the whispered details. Pia had been the image of a new bride; all trembling hands and blushing cheeks. Her eyes glittered with unshed tears of excitement as she began her vows. Overall, she had been bewitching. Certainly her young husband thought so; Tanner had never taken his eyes off her. Neither had Red. Red didn't have a boy of her own; so her glances were covetous as well as admiring.
Pia had looked so happy, and Red wanted it. When they were younger, they used to say that they'd be best friends forever. That none would come between them- just like the Manth vows said. Then Pia met Tanner. And although Pia swore that they would still be friends, Red suddenly felt so much younger, inexperienced, worthless. And she hated it. For awhile Pia had suggested that Red meet her older brother, Farlo, but Red knew when there was a lost cause. To make it worse, Farlo was obviously goggle eyed over Kestrel Hath. And so Red suffered alone. Recently though, Pia had told Red to keep her eye on Niko Lith. Occasionally she felt him staring, but she wished that the wheelwright's apprentice would actually talk to her.
Niko had been at the meeting, boasting overloud about revolutionary ideas. All the young people had been with the exception of the young couple. They'd been chaperoned to a small Maroon apartment by the adults. Interestingly the Hath boy had also been absent although his sister had attended. Kestrel had quietly watched the proceedings with Mumpo, scanning the crowd with her wild black eyes as if she'd been listening for something. For a moment Red had wanted to approach Kestrel, she'd wanted to say something although she didn't know what. She felt like that often, but instead of opening her mouth, she turned to listen to Niko.
And now she was laying in her bed, in the middle of the night, overthinking everything. Niko had smiled at her, she was certain of it. And although all the youth affected the same ragged androgynous hair cut and wore similar black robes, Red thought he looked particularly handsome in them. She stared hopelessly at the lightening sky, predicting that she wouldn't sleep after all. Content in her daydreams, she watched the skyline and waited for the bells to call the rest of the city into conscious.
The sun wasn't high enough when they started. And they weren't tolling the normal morning call-they were klaxons of alarm. Red leapt from her bed and was dressed before anyone could come and wake her. She was fastening her salt necklace-a gift from the Chief Examiner when she finished primary school at the top of the class- when her mother's voice entered the room. After tucking it under the neck of her tunic, she bolted into the main room where she nearly collided with her brothers. They were still clad in their nightwear and were being chivvied by a very frustrated Lea.
"Outside, quickly now!"Her father called. He gripped her unprotesting hand and they ran onto the street. A crowd was milling in confusion, but Red's father pulled her forward. Somehow in the chaos they lost sight of her mother and the boys, Miko wouldn't look back. A scream caused Red too though, and she was just in time to watch a mounted man cut down a woman. More cavalry were pouring onto the streets, herding people like sheep. Red knew she would never forget the agonized shouts as loved ones were lost or killed, and underlying that was the crackling of fires. The Grey District was alight. Now uninhabited, the great warehouses were still not far from their house in upper Orange.
Red clung to her father as they were forced out of the city, past the burning Wind Singer, and onto the beach. She shot a look back at the symbol of her people, it was steaming rather than smoking, and there were buckets on the ground signaling there'd been an effort to save it. She squinted against the sunrise as it came up over the ocean, and tried to see her surroundings. All of the survivors were clustered around her, most were weeping, although a few were overcome with shock. Pia was there as was her husband, and they clung to each other like there wasn't anyone else in the world. Her father saw the rest of the family several yards away, and signaled them over quietly.
With the other Manth people, Red watched while wagons rolled between them and the ocean. A handsome young man rode before them. He pointed to Malso Inch, the former Chief Examiner, and the man was brought to the front and caged. "My orders will be obeyed!" Commanded the rider, "at the first sign of disobedience, this man will die!" Red was shocked by the cruelty, but was silenced with the rest of the crowd. She could only watch in horror as Mumpo walked up to the cages and demanded his father was released.
A brazier was lit and brought to the cages. Oil was poured, and Malso Inch, like the buildings of his beloved city, was set afire. He never screamed but Red did. She screamed silently and fingered the necklace around her throat. The immortal man that she respected so much… gone, consumed by fire. "You will be silent," the invader said. "For each who speaks, another will be taken and will die in this way."
No one could disobey, but Red's father whispered to her urgently. "Red, cover your hair." He had seen that the uniqueness of Malso's robes had drawn attention. He knew his daughter's flaming hair could do the same.
"People of Aramanth." The leader was saying. "Your city is destroyed, your freedom is at an end. You are now slaves of the Mastery."