Burning Skies Page 66

“I’d love to,” she murmured. Only then did Marcus take her hand.

“Come on,” he said. “These events don’t happen every day and I haven’t been to a spectacle in decades. And no, Alison’s arena battle does not count.”

She glanced at him. “Okay. For a little while. Seriffe, I’ll be just outside the tent if you need me.”

He waved a hand but didn’t take his eyes off the monitors.

Once outside, Havily set her gaze to the skies. With the last of the sun’s rays setting a golden glow on the performances, she didn’t have the heart to move from the spot. Spectacle performers had the courage of the warriors matched with tremendous artistry to do what they did while in full-mount. Their elegant tumbling maneuvers through the air as well as their ability to handle squadrons of DNA-enhanced swans, geese, and ducks was beyond comprehension.

In addition, each act that passed by included a light show executed mostly from the ground but occasionally with floating robotics. Accompanying music blasted from speakers all along the lake route.

After a few minutes, she started to relax as she applauded one performance after the next. A few minutes more and Marcus had his arms around her waist from behind. She didn’t hesitate, but leaned into him. Nothing was settled, of course, nor was their situation in any way simple, but for this moment they were together and, oh, damn, she loved him.

She also suspected that though Marcus had tried to force the breh-hedden, his heart wasn’t in it. He was just a warrior trying to do the right thing. For that, she could admire him and appreciate his most basic character, but she wasn’t persuaded to go any farther than this.

As she waited for the next act to appear, Marcus leaned low and planted a kiss on her neck. An accompanying swell of fennel sent shivers over her shoulders. She turned into him and his lips met hers.

“We need to talk,” he said. “I came off like a Neanderthal earlier. I’m sorry, Havily.”

She met his light brown eyes, glittering in the fading sunlight. “What I said, Marcus, I don’t believe of you, I really don’t. I fell back into an old pattern.”

“I would never abandon you. What happened two hundred years ago—” He broke off, took a deep breath. “How can I explain it? I’d served in the war for almost four millennia and when Helena died, my heart broke. I just couldn’t go on and I would have hurt Kerrick. I need you to understand that. I completely blamed him for my sister’s death and the deaths of their children. I … I still haven’t truly forgiven him.”

She searched his eyes. “I believe you. I’m not that old, but what I’ve experienced of life in only a century has made me wary. Four millennia? Maybe my actions wouldn’t have been so different from yours.”

Applause and cheers erupting from the south indicated another act nearing the Bredstone.

He squeezed her again. “When we’re done here, we’ll go back to the villa and talk. How does that sound?”

“I’d like that.”

He growled softly. “If I can keep my hands off you.”

Since clouds of fennel now enveloped her, she said, “Well, maybe we can talk after.”

He growled and hugged her harder.

She laughed then released another deep sigh.

At last the flight performances ended and the final act of the spectacle began—the fireworks.

But Havily felt compelled to rejoin Colonel Seriffe. As much as she would have loved to watch the skies light up, this was the section of the program that concerned them all the most. Bottom line, the fireworks display would provide the best cover possible for the use of incendiary bombs. If Greaves or his minions intended to disrupt the Festival, now would be the time.

However, watching the display from the enormous monitor, and all the monitors below, became an event in itself. Colorful dragons, whales, schools of fish formed above the mountains and dipped as though flying over the waters. This was one of Second Earth’s finest advances. The fireworks were amazing. The cheering from the crowds had never been louder.

As minute succeeded minute, Havily had to remind herself to breathe. She didn’t know what she expected to happen but her fingernails were pressed into her thighs through the thin silk of her dress.

Fifteen minutes passed.

Half an hour.

Forty-five minutes.

Only fifteen minutes left to go.

Ten. Nine. Eight …

She started to breathe. Was it possible all their worrying was for nothing?

The grand finale began to form on the screen. The fireworks opposite the Bredstone suddenly shot up great walls of color that took a new shape in the form of brilliant blue and green flames topped with pink and lavender. They almost glittered. “That’s magnificent,” she cried. And … familiar.

“Something’s not right,” Marcus said.

Havily suddenly recognized the flames from the night Luken had been burned in the air by an incendiary bomb!

Colonel Seriffe shouted, “Those aren’t fireworks!”

The entire sky over the lake was on fire in a several-hundred-yard arc directly in front of the command center. The incendiary device had just arrived. What had started as an astonishing display became a nightmare of showering sparks and fire.

Explosions followed and Havily watched in horror as the monitors showed people scattering everywhere, whether escaping from the grandstands or racing away from the banks of the lake. Even the hotel balconies were deserted in no time flat as fiery particles rained down from the sky. The screams came from everywhere.

“What do we do?” she cried.

Colonel Seriffe was talking madly into his mouthpiece.

But before another question could rise to her lips, dozens of fireboats raced across the waters. Within seconds of the call to arms, massive amounts of water were propelled from the boats to douse the flames. Several of the major gardens were on fire.

“Thank God,” she murmured, but tears rolled down her cheeks. “I can’t believe this is happening.”

“Believe it.” The words were spoken so softly that Havily didn’t know the source. She whirled around. Marcus’s arm fell away from her shoulder.

“Did you hear that?” she asked.

“Hear what?”

“A voice, a man’s voice, said, Believe it.”


“Greaves?” she asked as Marcus also turned in a circle.

“I want my sword but there are too many people around.”

A loud explosion outside the tent on the south side sent Havily running with Marcus to the door flaps on the north side. Once again, people scattered, running madly every which way.

“We can’t fold out of here,” Marcus cried. “Security has everything locked down. I’m calling Jeannie. She’ll fold us back to the villa.”

“I should stay here.”

But he met her gaze. “The hell you should. Trust me, Seriffe will take care of business.”

She nodded, but she hated the thought of leaving. The Festival had been her idea. Yes, the colonel was in charge, but she’d put him in charge, which made her responsible.

As Marcus released her to retrieve his phone, a different arm surrounded her neck from behind and choked her. “Hello, Havily,” a heavily masculine voice said into her ear. “Miss me?”

She recognized Crace’s voice, but she didn’t understand what was happening or why Marcus didn’t do anything to help her. Instead he stood in front of her, not two feet away, as though paralyzed, his phone in his hands. He stared up and to the right of her at some object she couldn’t see.

She craned her neck, a hard thing to do because Crace had her trapped, but she now saw what Marcus was looking at. Crace had a bomb in his hand, which he held high overhead. It was a strange-looking cylinder with an old-fashioned lit fuse. The length had already burned down to within three inches. Two-and-a-half. Two. She couldn’t breathe. She felt light-headed. Her vision sparkled.

“Bye-bye, Warrior.” Crace laughed.

Everything happened so fast. Marcus took off at preternatural speed in the direction of the lake, which was away from crowds. Crace threw the bomb straight for him.

Havily saw the explosion, as flames in red and yellow rising to green and lavender spread over her vision. At the same moment, her world turned to black.

When a sword falters,

The brotherhood gathers.

—Collected Proverbs, Beatrice of Fourth

Chapter 22

Havily awoke to searing pain around her wrists, both wrists. Her neck hurt and her back. Her shoulders were killing her. In addition, sweat poured off her forehead into her eyes. The combination of the salty perspiration and her makeup made her eyes burn.

She was in a sitting position, sort of draped with some kind of see-through gauze-like fabric. Underneath, she was naked. Something supported her but it was very hard, like a low wooden bench.

She had trouble forming thoughts, and her eyes felt so heavy. She wanted to open them so that she could figure out why she hurt so much, but she couldn’t.

And why was it so hot?

Her neck felt bruised and raw. She wanted to rub her neck, ease some of the pain away, but she couldn’t move her arms. She must be restrained in some way.

She was so weak.

With great effort she opened her eyes, the barest squint. She couldn’t make sense of what she was seeing. A kind of rope or plastic tube was attached to her left forearm, and where it was joined, it hurt. She lifted her head and saw that an IV dripped into the tubing.

Oh. She was being cared for. Had she been in an accident? Was that why she hurt so badly? Why couldn’t she think, and why did her right forearm burn in exactly the same way as her left forearm?

With great difficulty, she turned her head in the other direction. More clear tubing, only it was red this time. A transfusion? She followed the line of the tube. It didn’t go up, however, but down, and the bag holding the blood sat on the floor, a stone floor, a dirty stone floor. What kind of hospital was this and why was she sitting on a bench so near the floor?

She leaned forward but she couldn’t get far. She was restrained around her waist.

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