Home > Age of Deception (The Firebird Chronicles #2)(8)

Age of Deception (The Firebird Chronicles #2)(8)
Author: T.A. White

"And they're sending you?" Kira didn't bother hiding her skepticism. Raider had never been known for his diplomacy. From what she had seen, time hadn't changed that much.

"They have a version of our waveboards," Raider said. "I'm the best pilot we have, so it made sense."

"Second best," Kira corrected.

"Seven years is a long time. I've improved a lot since the old days." Raider's grin was sly. "And we both know you're not up to your old standards."

Kira glared. “On my worst day, I could still kick your ass on a board."

"Promises, promises."

Jace was well accustomed to their arguing and waited with only the slightest hint of impatience for them to stop before continuing. "Blue and Raider will accompany you to Ta Sa’Riel and participate in joint training. I expect all of you to represent the human race with dignity and poise." He leveled a no-nonsense stare on them, waiting for their grudging agreement before relenting. "Maverick, Tank, and I will escort the ships back to a station of Centcom's choosing."

Kira whistled. "I don't know which of us has the worst task."

Cooped up on a ship with Tuann who didn't like you and saw you as a burden. The end destination a nest of vipers and bureaucracy. She didn't envy him his mission.

"Him, definitely," Raider said.

Jace's expression was pained.

"One of the many perks of not being a rear admiral," Kira teased.

"You'll be among the first humans to ever travel this path," Liara told Raider.

"Lucky me," Raider muttered.

Jace sent him a quelling look. Raider's mouth pulled down on one side even as he straightened and made a half-assed effort to mask his dour expression. Kira should have felt sympathy for him, but found herself amused instead. He never did do well when strange things happened. Raider liked order and the universe obeying the laws he knew.

It made her wonder why he had chosen to accompany her. Jace could easily have sent either Tank or Maverick. Probably should have given the history between Raider and her.

That Raider was here meant he wanted to be here. And that she didn't understand.

"What can you tell me about House Roake?" Kira asked Liara.

If this was really to be her future, it paid to know all she could. Kira was nothing if not a realist. Her goals relied on her being fighting fit. She'd never intended her mission to be a one-way ticket, but she'd accepted that might be the cost. With Roake's help, she could hedge her bets.

She was a person of action. Patience had never come easy. Ever since Rothchild she'd had to take a masterclass in the attribute. Roake's demands were another bump on the way. A delay in a long line of them. A detour—but a necessary one.

Liara hesitated, her gaze going to Silas and Quillon. Warriors, unless Kira's instincts were wrong.

Silas's manner was gentle, quiet, almost unassuming, but she sensed a thread of steel running through him. He wasn't a pushover even if his eyes were kind.

There was a hint of gray in Silas's hair, the finest of lines on his face, but that wasn't what made him seem ancient. It was the years she could feel pressing in his gaze when he looked at her.

Quillon was the same. She knew he was a healer, but the way he moved, like a predator anticipating an attack, made it clear he was a warrior too. And not in charge. That duty lay fully on Silas's shoulders.

It behooved her to learn all she could about them. Their strengths. Their weaknesses. They were the first of House Roake that she'd had contact with. She needed to know what she'd be up against.

"They're a small House. Much smaller than mine, yet they are unchallenged," Liara said in a pensive tone.

"You sound afraid of them," Kira observed.

Raider was attentive beside her. He seemed brash and bold, hotheaded even. He was all those things, but he was also observant and smart when he wasn't letting emotions rule him.

Once, he’d been a good man to have at her back.

Liara shrugged. "It's hard not to respect a lu-ong’s ability to swallow you whole even if you know they have no interest in you."

"You said before my mother married my father to create an alliance. Are your Houses enemies?"

Liara's expression was pensive as she considered Kira's question. "Perhaps once; before the Sorrowing. Everything changed after that."

Kira suspected it had. Losing so many of your people and loved ones to an attack tended to do that. Add in having your children stolen, and Kira thought the Tuann might have reason to be as reclusive as they were.

"Luatha no longer dares be so free with the word enemy. We lost too much during that time, and we aren't as strong as we once were," Liara said.

"The Luatha Overlord plays well with the meaning of words." Graydon strode toward them, his expression arrogant and amused as he regarded them.

Unlike Liara, he'd left off the cape, his footsteps echoing in the large space. He moved with purpose and efficiency. He looked like a knight striding out of humanity's past. Powerful. Brutal. Dangerous.

"The relationship between Luatha and Roake has been—" there was a brief hesitation as Graydon considered the right phrasing. "Fraught with tension since the Sorrowing."

Liara didn't speak, her chin lifting in challenge.

Kira didn't have to ask whether Graydon's assessment was correct or not. She could read the answer in Liara's suddenly smooth expression; all emotion wiped away.

Yup, there was definitely something there.

"If you want to know about House Roake, you should ask the Emperor's Face. After all, he was one of them once," Liara said, her tone cutting.

Graydon's expression remained amused.

Liara flicked a glance at Kira. "Did you ever wonder how they learned about you? That information isn't floating around. Someone would have had to tell them—and it wasn't us."

This wasn't about Kira. This was a power play. Liara was upset with Graydon and still hurting from the attack on her House.

"Sowing dissent, cousin?" Kira asked.

It was to Liara's credit that she flushed at the question.

Kira's smile was soft. "I'm not a tool to be used against others."

It was best Liara learned that now, before she made a mistake she couldn't come back from.

Movement from the doorway attracted Kira's attention as Ziva and Joule appeared. Kira had rescued the two children back on O’Riley Station when the air gondola they'd been riding in had been sabotaged and was in the process of crashing. That one act had set this entire situation in motion, but she found she couldn't regret it.

The two had somehow found a way past her defenses. They were persistent. Joule intent on protecting those he had no business trying to protect. He looked to be in his early teens. Thirteen or fourteen at most.

His face still held the slightest trace of baby fat, but his facial bones were defined. One day he was going to break hearts.

Ziva was an adorable mini-replica, modeling her behavior off the older boy. Several years younger than Joule, she had white-blond hair and eyes of the deepest blue. Her cuteness belied the fighter within. Right now she was small, but Kira knew with the right training and time to grow she'd be fierce. Already she didn't let her young age or small size stop her from throwing herself into the midst of danger.

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