Burning Skies Page 41

Endelle huffed a sigh. “Tend to her, Lissy, will you? I’ll behave.” She moved toward the windows that overlooked the eastern desert and waited. She turned, crossed her arms over her chest, and watched the tender scene from afar.

Alison dropped beside Parisa and put her hand on the woman’s forehead. A moment later the fake-mortal awoke and stared first at Alison, then shifted her gaze to Endelle. She struggled to her feet with both women supporting her. Endelle meant to apologize, but Parisa looked back at Alison and asked, “What did I just do to Madame Endelle? How did I send her flying into the windows?”

Alison smiled at her. “You threw a hand-blast, from the palm of your hand.”

Parisa looked at her hand. “I’ve seen this done, in my visions I mean, but I didn’t know I could do it as well. My hand and arm feel a little numb.”

Alison patted her shoulder. “The sensation will pass.”

“What do you mean, your visions?” Endelle called from across the room.

“I don’t know how to explain them exactly. Sometimes I just see things.”

“Huh,” Endelle murmured. She wasn’t sure what to make of this. Maybe the woman had darkening capability, which would again confirm her opinion that she was looking at an ascender and not a mere mortal.

Parisa added, “When I see you in my visions, you’re always in a rage.”

“There, you see,” Alison cried. “We really do need to work on your anger management skills.”

Endelle rolled her eyes then addressed Parisa. “I will try very hard not to yell at you again.”

“And…,” Alison said.

Endelle drew a noisy breath through flared nostrils. “And I apologize if I frightened you.”

Parisa blinked. “What do you want from me?”

“I want to know the truth. I want to know why you’re pretending to be a mere mortal when clearly you’re already ascended.”

Havily put an arm around Parisa’s shoulder. “Show Madame Endelle your fangs. Your vampire fangs.”

Parisa just looked at her then shook her head. “How do I show her something I don’t have?”

“Like this,” Havily said. She smiled very big, pulling back her lips just a little, so that her incisors showed. She lengthened them.

Haltingly, Parisa drew her lips back.

Endelle left her controlled position by the window and moved back to the three women still clustered near the door. She got up close and stared into the woman’s mouth, but there were no fangs. There were no fangs. “Jesus,” she whispered.

“What?” Parisa asked.

“It’s not possible to be ascended and not have fangs. Vampire fangs always come with ascension.” Endelle still didn’t know what she was looking at. “You make no sense to me but I still can’t believe you’re not ascended. Let’s see your wings.”

Parisa looked down at her shirt and shook her head. “I can’t. Not … not like this.”

“Well, take your fucking clothes off.”

The fake-mortal blushed.

Endelle groaned. “Creator, save me from modesty. Parisa, I know this is trying but it would help me a great deal if you would mount your wings.”

Parisa removed her red tank and then her too-tight bra, oh-so-slowly.

“For fuck’s sake, we’re all girls here. Who gives a rat’s ass except, well now, don’t you have the prettiest breasts. I actually think they might be bigger than mine. Huh.”

“You’re not helping,” Alison cried.

Endelle again rolled her eyes.

“Try to ignore Madame Endelle’s lack of manners,” Havily said, glaring at Endelle. “She lost her filters a few millennia ago. Now take your time, and as soon as you’re able, mount your wings.”

Parisa, still wearing her jeans, closed her eyes. After a few minutes, her wings flew through the wing-locks, interfacing at the same time with the mesh superstructure.

Endelle took a step back. She gasped. “Holy shit.” Parisa’s wings were huge, especially for someone who was apparently un-ascended. “You’ve got goddamn royle wings. I’ve not seen these wings on anyone in five, maybe six millennia. Well, have you flown yet, un-ascended ascender?”

“I’ve only jumped from a sixteen-foot railing, but I have longed to fly. I have had such yearnings to take to the skies. But I was afraid to because—”

Endelle nodded, “You were afraid you’d get caught. Well, if you really are what you say you are, that was a smart move. A lot of idiots on Mortal Earth. You would’ve been taken to Area Fifty-one and dissected.” She let her gaze drift over the wings, which were among the most beautiful pairs she had ever seen and that was saying a lot. She glanced at Havily. “And she’s been here how long?”

“Almost eighteen hours now.”

“Wow. Okay. Parisa, this might feel uncomfortable but I need to get inside your head. I need to see exactly what’s going on with you. When I came at you with my mind earlier, you were a wall of shields, which reminded me of Morgan here. But if I’m to know how to act on your behalf, I must see exactly who and what you are, do you understand?”

“No,” Parisa barked, but then her lips curved.

Even Endelle smiled. “Keep doing that. You’re going to need a sense of humor on Second Earth, especially with this level of power. Ready?”

Parisa nodded.

Endelle placed herself within a foot of the mortal and put her hands on either side of her head. “Now you’re going to release your shields so that I can see your life. I want you to relax and just let everything go.”

Endelle closed her eyes and as if by magic the woman’s shields melted away. She eased her mind within Parisa’s; when she felt no resistance or panic, she dove and began a long run through the woman’s head. This would tell her everything she needed to know.

By the end, she pulled out of Parisa’s mind and stared at her. “Well, you are definitely mortal and un-ascended but are you kidding me? Sage? Warrior Medichi smells like sage?”

Steps on the path grow clumsy,

When the shoes outgrow the feet.

—Collected Proverbs, Beatrice of Fourth

Chapter 14

Crace walked in a slow circle all around the patio in the center of the Commander’s peach orchard. He had been in this place many times before. Greaves liked to entertain here.

The hour wasn’t yet noon. He knew Greaves tended to work around the clock so he figured meeting his master here, at this hour, would be as acceptable to the Commander as any other. He still wore his leather kilt and battle sandals but nothing else. He’d thought about changing to something more suitable but he just didn’t give a fuck. He had work to do after this meeting that wouldn’t involve a shirt and tie.

The setting was also symbolic since below the orchard, running for miles under the earth, was Greaves’s compound and Command Center, many stories deep, and the place where he barracked the death vampires he imported nightly from all over the world. Crace was fairly certain Endelle had no real idea of the vast nature of his growing empire or that the compound itself was in a continual state of expansion deep within the earth.

The peach orchard was a calculated work of horticultural advancement and preternatural power. An environmental shield, constructed by Greaves, allowed for a dozen microclimates. Each microclimate created a month of the year and therefore peaches were being grown at every possible stage of the trees’ annual cycles, which meant that fruits were being ripened on the stem every goddamn month of the year. Not only had Greaves won awards, but the sheer power of sustaining these microclimates kept High Administrators around the world in a state of awe. There were so many ways to win a war.

Crace approved of the strategy. Let the sheep be seduced however they may.

On the other hand, with Crace’s evolution of physical and preternatural power, he’d begun to view the Commander in a different and perhaps less exalted light. Some of the glimmer on Greaves’s shining armor had dulled in his opinion.

From the first he’d had a lot to offer and now he had even more, which meant it was high time Greaves allowed Crace some real autonomy and some say in the progress of the war. At the very least, he ought to be able to direct things in Metro Phoenix Two without hindrance from that bastard Rith.

As far as he knew, Rith’s primary function involved surveillance. He was a goddamn spy. Not even a lowly administrator, never mind a High Administrator. So what the hell did the man bring to the table? Squat.

Beyond that, Rith had his own ideas about how the pursuit of the two women should be conducted. He had commandeered critical personnel to perform surveillance at Endelle’s headquarters. Crace knew, he knew, Endelle would protect them. No way in hell would Her Supremeness let Rith or his cronies get within a hundred yards of either the mortal-with-wings or ascender Morgan.

Trying to apprehend them at headquarters was about as useful a strategy as tickling a flea’s balls. He’d argued with Rith, but the vampire had been adamant and refused to be moved from his position. He also had Greaves’s sanction. Rith, in his opinion, was a fucking idiot.

Crace knew exactly where the women were. By an instinct he couldn’t explain, he could sense they were holed up at Warrior Medichi’s villa. Not only did the location make sense because it belonged to a Guardian of Ascension, but the property couldn’t be goddamn located, which meant mist. But not just any mist. Endelle’s fucking mist.

They were there. All he needed was every resource placed in the surrounding vicinity and as soon as either of the women made an appearance, dammit, he’d have them.

But Rith didn’t put stock in Crace’s intuition and he had his forces scattered from Sedona, by Thorne’s house, down to Tucson, where Warrior Santiago had his main residence. So … fuck.

What he needed, therefore, only Greaves could give—permission to redirect personnel.

The air shimmered next to him. A moment later, the Commander appeared, his expression inscrutable, his bald head gleaming, the claw on his left hand snapping once. He looked like a picture out of GQ. He wore, as always, fine-pressed wool, the best of Hugo Boss. His shirt was lavender silk. He smelled, also as always, of lemons and maybe turpentine, a really odd juxtaposition to his suave, immaculate appearance.

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