Burning Skies Page 12

“No. Sorry,” Rith replied. “Still no follow-up on the original report. But I do think you might prefer this one.” Rith even smiled.

At that Crace stopped striking the strip of metal. Rith intrigued Crace for the simple reason that he didn’t know the man’s thoughts. He had fucking powerful shields. In addition to that, Rith cloaked every facial expression, every tell his body might provide as to a clue to the bastard’s mind. In this Rith was a genius. For all Crace knew the vampire could be happy as sin or in a dry riverbed of despair. There was no way of knowing.

Rith waved a piece of paper in his direction. The forge was probably 130 degrees. Rith remained near the door and held it open with his foot, no doubt enjoying the cool air from the hallway beyond.

“Bring it to me,” Crace stated. He smiled. He liked to think Rith suffered.

Rith didn’t hesitate, though. He moved forward and the door slammed behind him. Nor did he pay the smallest heed to the woman hanging not far from the door, even though she whimpered, hoping to attract his attention. Good thing the bastard walked quickly or Crace would have felt the need to punish.

He shoved the metal back into the coals and took the dispatch. He read the contents in a quick sweep then frowned. The communication indicated that an ascender, Havily Morgan, had just appeared in the future streams as a threat to the Commander’s plans for world domination.

“What do we know of her?” Crace asked.

“She’s a warrior pet, as in Warriors of the Blood, which could mean trouble. She works directly for Madame Endelle as some sort of administrative coordinator, an executive I think. She’s in charge of the Ambassadors Reception as well as the Festival.”

“Really.” Now, that was interesting.

“She used to be a Liaison Officer. She may still serve in that capacity. Her status seems ambiguous at this time. It is well known Madame Endelle dislikes ascender Morgan.”

Crace frowned at the dispatch. “This doesn’t make sense. If she is such a threat, why haven’t we had reports about her? Why now?”

Rith shook his head. “I’m really not certain, although the Seer report on the third page uses the word emergence. She may just be coming into her powers.”

Crace lifted a brow. He knew what that felt like.

Rith continued, “Even Warrior Kerrick only recently developed the power to dematerialize, his new power having emerged after his ritual breh-hedden with Guardian Wells.”

Crace didn’t like to think about Alison Wells. She was one of his stellar failures, which still rankled. The bitch.

Crace continued to read then paused on something else he didn’t get. “What does this mean that her blood mimics dying blood? I’ve never heard of such a thing. You know, these Seers Fortresses are so full of shit.”

“I happen to agree with you about that.”

Crace glared at Rith. “Do you?”

Rith inclined a brow. “Yes. Most function at an accuracy rate of sixty-seven percent. That’s a lot of noise in an orchestra.”

Well, the bastard actually made sense. He turned his attention back to the dispatch. “So, essentially, the Commander wants us looking for this Morgan female, a Liaison Officer of questionable status but whose powers might be emerging and whose blood might mimic dying blood.”

“Yes, master.”

Crace glanced at Rith. This part of Rith’s careful manners Crace approved of, that he called him master.

“The Commander wishes me to request that you make a special effort to apprehend ascender Morgan.”

Crace lifted a brow. “Just apprehend her? So he wants the woman brought in?”

Rith smiled. “His words were colorful. He actually said to bring her in dead or alive, at your discretion.”

At that, Crace laughed. “Very Old West of him.”

“Yes, master.”

* * *

Havily tilted her laptop just a little as she read through the committee reports on the state of preparations for the Ambassadors Reception and Festival. She had persuaded Madame Endelle to hold the combined event in order to boost her administration’s image around the world. Endelle clearly lacked those aspects of political instinctive skill that would sustain the support of her allied Territorial High Administrators.

In this respect, in the war of propaganda, Greaves was winning. So far, 53 of 167 High Administrators had switched allegiance to the Commander, 3 of them in the past four months. If Endelle didn’t find a way to connect more effectively with her Territory governments, she would lose them to the Commander one by one.

From Havily’s dedicated research into the history of the most effective administrations throughout the centuries, those that employed a certain degree of ceremony and ritual tended to endure the longest. The human mind, whether ascended vampire or mortal in nature, bonded through ritual.

Bringing the Territorial ambassadors to White Lake and honoring them with a reception one night and a major spectacle the next was an important step toward binding Madame Endelle’s government. Of course, Her Supremeness had come to the idea kicking and screaming. But once committed, she made no further protests. Havily was saddled with the complete responsibility for the affair. Not that she minded. Event coordinating seemed to be in her blood.

The response to the initial invitations had been positive—and overwhelming. All of the Territories still aligned with Endelle were sending ambassadors to the Festival, a gesture of goodwill that would have strong payoffs in the future.

In a couple of hours Havily would be meeting with her head of security, Colonel Seriffe, a Militia Warrior. He was in charge of securing fifteen miles of lake, desert, and mountain, no small task, but his plans were so thorough she had every confidence in him.

Her final meeting with all of the team leaders wouldn’t take place until tomorrow. As things stood she was very satisfied. All but a handful of the ambassadors had arrived at the White Lake spectacle site, and the numerous hotels that flanked both the east and west sides of the lake were humming with activity.

Her teams had arranged numerous small, private events from boating to teas to guided tours through the famous White Lake gardens for each of the representatives. With a hundred world-class gardens and an equal number of massive hotels, White Lake was the perfect location for every aspect of such a large event.

The Ambassadors Reception would be a formal affair and would be held in three days’ time in the largest ballroom of the Bredstone Hotel, probably the finest hotel in the world. All attending ambassadors would be formally presented to Endelle at that time. The Festival, on the other hand, was open to the public and would include one of the most massive displays of spectacle Second Earth had ever seen. Half a million ascenders were expected to attend the event. Security alone involved ten thousand Militia Warriors and an overall security system, along with a Central Command, the likes of which had never been employed at an event before.

No expense had been spared.

Every potential breach of security had been evaluated by Colonel Seriffe.

A knock sounded. Havily looked up and saw that Alison was in the doorway, smiling. Her bump barely showed behind a loose blouse in lavender silk. She wore soft black pants and flats. Her blond hair was straight and loose, held away from her face with a narrow black velvet band. She was pregnant with Warrior Kerrick’s child, a little girl, and she glowed.

“Do you have a minute?”

“For you? Always.” She closed her laptop.

Alison moved into the room and shut the door behind her. Havily felt a slight rush to her head at this gesture. Alison always left the door open unless the topic was personal … and serious.

“I just returned from seeing Warrior Luken,” she said. “I thought I’d update you. The doctors feel very hopeful about his wings. Did you know they can regenerate in less than a week?”

Havily put a hand to her chest and closed her eyes. “I am so thankful. But are they certain?”

Alison shrugged. “Eighty percent at this point. Thanks to Horace, the scarring on the wing-locks was minimal.”

“That’s very encouraging.”

“Yes.” Alison approached the desk. “In a similar vein, Warrior Medichi asked me to check on you. He said you were at the Superstitions last night.”

“I was. It was … horrible.” A mess, burned feathers everywhere, blood and death. “I tried not to pay too much attention to anything except Luken. He’s such a powerful man but lying there shaking, his eyes wild with pain—”

Alison rounded the desk and put her hand on Havily’s shoulder. Waves of warmth flowed through her and eased her heart.

“Thank you,” she murmured, covering Alison’s hand with her own.

“I’m always here for you,” she said. “I need you to know that. You were a tremendous comfort to me during and after my ascension.”

Havily looked up at her and saw the sincerity in her eyes. She recalled the two of them sitting on Havily’s bedroom floor, weeping together. Alison had thought she would never see Kerrick again, and Havily had wept because Warrior Marcus had left Second Earth with no intention of returning. She shouldn’t have been so upset that he left when he did, since it had been for the best, but the breh-hedden had taken its toll and so she had wept. The women had bonded because of it.

She smiled. “I try not to burden you since you have enough on your plate with Madame Endelle.”

Alison served as Endelle’s executive assistant, a job nobody wanted. She had the good grace to grimace and shake her head. Generally, she was a model of discretion and composure, something she had to be since her boss was a foulmouthed she-devil. But it helped to know that Havily was not the only one suffering at the executive end of the building.

“Regardless,” Alison said, “anytime you need me, I’m here for you.” She then took a deep breath, and her hand slid off Havily’s shoulder. “Now there are a couple of things I’ve been commissioned to ask you.” She moved back to the front of the desk and took up a chair opposite Havily so that they were eye-to-eye.

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