Burning Skies Page 64

Greaves wasn’t happy. He glanced first at Endelle then at Alison behind her. Marcus thought there was fire in his eyes. The Commander’s left hand, bent slightly at the wrist, trembled as he put it back on the podium. He tried to argue that Parisa had indeed answered her call to ascension when she first mounted her wings.

Harding consulted with two men behind him. One brought forward a large book, which he opened and pointed with his finger to a particular passage. When Harding turned around, his complexion had paled; even at this distance Marcus could see a distinct sheen on his forehead.

He addressed Greaves. “There are strict rules about this, Commander, as my esteemed colleague has reminded me by referring to the committee inception documents of 1901. Responding to a call to ascension must always occur at one of the Borderlands. This has been the tradition since ancient times and it is written into COPASS law. I fear … Madame Endelle in this particular has the law on her side.”

Murmurs went round the room.

The warriors cheered.

Marcus could see the factions clearly, and those ascenders not yet belonging to Greaves sat with arms folded over chests and expressions resolute.

Harding mopped his brow with a hastily folded kerchief as he further addressed Greaves. “Because the mortal has not answered her call to ascension, there can be no rite of ascension. The laws do not apply.” He swallowed visibly.

Someone’s ass was going to hurt like hell later.

“I believe I must apologize,” Greaves said, “for taking up the committee’s time. I was gravely misinformed.” He turned to Endelle and bowed to her. “I do apologize.”

“Oh, eat shit and die, you fucking asshole.”

Marcus grinned. It was moments like these that Endelle’s rough-hewn exterior made him happiest. She was totally out of order, but since Greaves simply lifted his arm and vanished, taking his ass-lickers with him, well, no harm, no foul.

She turned back to the warriors and lifted her fist in victory. There was only one response: The warriors as one raised their arms and gave a powerful shout in return.

Even the most careful plan

Succumbs to the power of the unforeseen.

—Collected Proverbs, Beatrice of Fourth

Chapter 21

Later, at the villa, Marcus watched Havily once more work with Parisa on her flying skills. The air temp was in the hundreds and he was sweating, but he didn’t care. The women had changed into their flight suits. Both were a pleasure to watch. Both were perspiring as well and also didn’t seem to care. Havily looked happy.

This time, however, Medichi was the one to set up a lawn chair on the front patio. He reclined, albeit scowling, as the women went through their various maneuvers.

Marcus stood beside him for half an hour, his heart weighted. His gaze rarely left Havily’s brown-spotted wings and flame of hair. She was as beautiful in flight as on the ground.

He physically ached to be with her.

He wanted to complete the breh-hedden, but Havily held back. He could feel it, see it in her eyes. He knew her thoughts, that she feared loving him or any man because of the losses she had endured. She was close, though. When he’d been making love to her, she’d almost told him she loved him, stopping just short of the words flowing through her head.

But what would it take for her to be ready to commit to him? Did she still see him as unreliable because he’d lived in exile on Mortal Earth? And was he truly ready to take this step?

“Why are you shaking your head?” Medichi asked.

“Because that’s the only thing I can think to do.” His voice sounded hoarse, low, lost. Shit.

Medichi grunted his understanding.

“There’s something I need to do,” Marcus said. “I’ll be gone about half an hour. Can you guard Havily as well?”

“Sure. Heading back to Mortal Earth?”

Marcus glanced down at him. He heard Medichi’s tone. “Now, why the hell would you say that?” Yeah, he was a little touchy on the subject.

Medichi folded his hands behind his head. “Thought you might be anxious to check up on your empire, get back to business.”

“No,” he responded. The funny thing was, he meant it. “Back in thirty minutes.”

He went to his room and folded on battle gear, a black leather kilt, weapons harness, black leather shin guards, wrist guards, and heavy sandals. He also sported Ray-Ban Predators. Where he was headed, the sun would be setting and in his eyes.

He called Jeannie and got a fold to the spectacle landing platform, that place designated for all security and performance personnel. An event this size limited the places for dematerialization arrivals and departures. The rest of the land was crisscrossed with anti-dematerialization grids that prevented folding, real high-tech shit. It was just common sense with so many death vampires in the Metro Phoenix area.

When he arrived, four Militia Warriors, swords at the ready, faced him. A few feet more, and a dozen waited as backup. He lifted his hands palms-up. If any of the pretty-boys showed up, they’d face an army.

“Warrior Marcus,” the officer in charge called out. Marcus was still surprised he was so easily recognized, which of course meant that his reputation was alive and well in the ranks, even after two centuries of absence.

“I’m looking for Colonel Seriffe.” The colonel was in charge of security as he had been at the Ambassadors Reception.

Marcus was sent in the direction of a massive white tent at the south end of the White Tanks, which he could only reach by way of another landing platform. The officer made a call and Marcus entered a second platform designed just for departure. The whole system was simple, sensible, easily controlled. Part of the tension he was feeling dissipated, at least a little, and he thought the thought.

A moment later he materialized on another platform. Seriffe was right there to greet him and shook his hand.

When he explained what he wanted to do, Seriffe nodded, spoke a few words to his second-in-command, then met his gaze in a hard stare. “The assassination attempt at the reception has us all troubled. We’re doing everything we can to get the security locked down tight for the Festival.”

“I didn’t come to bust your chops,” Marcus said. “Greaves was at the reception. He has enough power to bypass any security system.”

“But he wouldn’t have done that, not without repercussions. We think he had an accomplice, someone other than the death vamp who threw the blade.”

Marcus felt all his tension return, focus, sharpen. He nodded. “I would have to agree. Did Madame Endelle or Thorne mention a death vampire by the name of Crace? Madame Endelle fired on him with a hand-blast.”

He nodded. “She thinks he might have been powerful enough to bring a death vampire in without our security system picking it up. You know what this means?”

“Yeah. We’ll have to be on our guard tonight.”

Seriffe nodded. “Yes, we will.”

“In the meantime, I want to have a look at your setup. Do you have someone who can give me a tour? I’d like to go all the way north.”

“Mind if I go with?” he asked. The man was a bruising warrior and had seen some eight hundred years in the Militia ranks. He’d always been just short of Warrior of the Blood status but he didn’t seem to mind. He had a wife and young children. He liked his position just fine.

He excused himself, moved to the landing platform, and dematerialized. A minute later he appeared on the arrival platform wearing a flight jumpsuit that teed at his shoulders and ran in a thick strip down his back to allow for full-mount. The fabric was black and military grade, just short of battle gear. He was fit as hell.

He met Marcus’s gaze and sent, You good with telepathy?

Marcus nodded.

Seriffe drew in a deep breath and mounted his wings, a powerful silver pair. Marcus followed suit.

Within seconds they were airborne.

Once in the air, at full-mount, Marcus had a unique view of the staging area for the spectacle. A good square mile below was nothing short of a fairground designed to house the spectacle performers. Enormous generators looked like a line of tanks on the southern border, providing much-needed air-conditioning for all the temporary housing. A hundred and five degrees made for dangerous conditions, even for ascended vampires. The necessary blue castles sat clustered in elegant circles throughout hundreds of tents.

How many performers? Marcus sent.

About four thousand. The squadrons of performance birds are in the range of ten times that.

One last glimpse and he turned north, flying beside Seriffe as they passed over the White Tank Mountains just to the east of the massive White Lake Resort Colony, the name given to the fifteen-mile stretch of hotels and public gardens on both sides of White Lake. In terms of spectacle sites, the place had no equal, not anywhere else on Second Earth.

But none of that mattered to Marcus. He just wanted to see and understand the entire security system so that once Havily was on the ground, anywhere, he’d have the best chance of keeping her safe.

Seriffe guided him in flight, directly over the fireworks battery sites. In quick succession, as he plowed his wings swiftly through the air, the enormous fireworks stations came into view. Seriffe sent, The Hummers belong to security. I have two at each site. Every ascender working the batteries is checked and rechecked at twenty-minute intervals per the warnings from your undisclosed source.

Leto’s warning.

Good. Marcus flew in deep thrusts of his wings, his legs angled back in the natural flight position. He flew the entire distance to the very end of the mountain range then made a wide sweeping turn to the left to inspect the barge landings. So, the ambassadors finish here?

We have heavy security checkpoints and strong anti-dematerialization grids set up throughout. Do you want to have a look at the North End Command Center?


Marcus landed with Seriffe at a separate location designated for anyone in flight. He drew in his wings, as did Seriffe, who led him into the command center.

The tent had guards surrounding it, every four feet, armed Militia Warriors, swords drawn. Nothing was being left to chance.

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