Home > Secondborn (Secondborn #1)(13)

Secondborn (Secondborn #1)(13)
Author: Amy A. Bartol

I walk beside Hawthorne on a path that leads away from the Census bunker. “How long was I in there?”

“Three days and a dozen hours,” he replies. “It took me longer than I expected to get you out, but at least we kept him occupied fighting the petitions and the onslaught of inquiries on your behalf. Agnes threw every legal obstacle she could think of at him.”

“Why would either of you do that?” I ask, stunned by his intervention.

“You’re one of us now. We take care of our own. Isn’t that right, Gilad?”

Gilad looks me over with a sneer. “That’s right. We can mess you up, but no one else gets to. It’s a secondborn Sword code: mess with one of us, and we’ll mess with you.”

“Unfortunately, secondborn Moon-Fates don’t subscribe to the same code,” Agnes says, her hand worrying the band of her wrist communicator. The silver shine of her moniker radiates a small rendition of the moon above our heads. “I’m on my own, so don’t think I won’t call in favors with you if I need them—especially you, Roselle, although I doubt you’ll be in a position even to help yourself when that freak back there comes for you again. The only thing saving you from him is the Diamond-Fated press. They’re rabid for this interview with you.”

“You mean there really is a press conference?” I ask. I don’t know how I’m going to pull myself together to get through dinner, let alone an interrogation and a news conference.

“You think I’d have gone in there if there wasn’t?” Agnes’s green eyes narrow. “Of course there’s a press conference. It was arranged by approaching the right people. We spun it so that they felt the propaganda was necessary. People saw the attack. They want you to reassure them.”

“Why would you help me?” I wonder aloud.

“Your friend asked me to do him a favor,” she murmurs. “Just say thank you.”

“Thank you,” I reply.

We cross a paved courtyard, passing the first of many stone and metal Trees the size and height of skyscrapers. Secondborn Sword soldiers in full combat gear patrol the lighted walkway. A fast-moving military-style hovercar approaches us. As it pulls near, I recognize Emmitt Stone as its sole occupant.

He opens the door and clucks his tongue, his eyes roving over me. “Processing doesn’t agree with you, Roselle,” he says by way of a greeting. “What are you wearing—and your hair—and your fingernails!” He grasps my hand. His disapproval would be comical if I had any sense of humor at the moment. He takes the metallic blanket from my shoulders and hands it to the dark-eyed girl in Hawthorne’s unit. The tag on her uniform reads “Hammon.”

“You couldn’t have given her shoes?” Emmitt scolds Gilad, who growls at him in turn. Emmitt retreats a step, his hand going to the base of his throat in a self-soothing way. “We need to get you camera-ready.” He turns to me and urges me toward the hovercar.

“Mother gave orders on my behalf?” I ask. My heart beats quicker with the thought that she cares enough to rescue me.

“No one wants you to disgrace your family any more than you already have. You’ll be prepped and primped.”

I pause and look at Emmitt’s face. “I disgraced my family?” It’s a crushing blow, more powerful than if he’d struck me.

He puts his hands on his hips and taps his foot. “You broke your moniker. Seville ordered you to remain en route, but you and your mentor exited the Vicolt. You know the drone cameras follow you. Every fatedom witnessed our shame because of you!” It’s on the tip of my tongue to argue with him. Our fatedom was attacked—I was threatened—my moniker would’ve been ruined whether I stayed in the Vicolt or not. Did Mother think she could hide the attack?

“We’re going with you.” Hawthorne shoves Emmitt aside and directs me into the hovercar. He gets in beside me. Gilad slides in as well. Agnes, Hammon, and the other soldier climb into the row of seats behind us.

Emmitt sits in front. As the hovercar moves forward, he looks over his shoulder at us. “This is really unnecessary. I can take it from here. She doesn’t need your help.”

Hawthorne shakes his head. “She’s our responsibility. We’re under orders to secure her until she’s delivered to her unit.” I stare at Hawthorne. His exquisite gray eyes meet my stare.

“She’s my responsibility now,” Emmitt says. “You can come back when she’s done. I have so much to do to get her ready.”

“We won’t interfere,” Hawthorne retorts. “We’ll just observe.”

Emmitt pinches the bridge of his nose. “Secondborn Swords are so tedious. You don’t understand the pressure I’m under to make her perform to The Sword’s exacting standards.”

“Do you want me to rip out his tongue?” Gilad asks Hawthorne.

“Maybe,” Hawthorne replies. Emmitt pouts and turns around, slumping in his seat.

We hover near a large body of water. A sign by it reads: Aspen Lake. Silver moonlight shines off the rippling water. The Trees begin to deviate from stone-pillar trunks to beautiful glass ones the closer we get to the other side of the lake. The glass trunks shimmer in the night, regal and stately rather than utilitarian. Our vehicle pulls up in front of one of the tallest. As I look up through the transparent roof from this angle, the building with its intricate branches seems to have no end. Emmitt emerges from the hovercar and waits for me to exit.

“This way,” he indicates with a gesture. He crosses to the door. I follow him, my escorts behind me. Guards confront us. We’re each made to scan our monikers. A red light flashes when Agnes puts her hand under the beam. The Sword guards draw their fusionblades and move closer, barring her way. “You’re not a Sword or on the approved visitor list. You don’t have authorization to enter. You have to move back.”

Agnes’s eyes lift in frustration to Hawthorne’s. An intimate look passes between them. “This is where I leave you,” Agnes murmurs.

Hawthorne draws her aside. I watch them from the corner of my eye. Though they don’t touch, their eyes caress. I can’t hear what they’re saying, but their body language reminds me of a last dance. The exchange doesn’t last for more than a minute. No kiss good-bye. Agnes simply turns, climbs back into the hovercar, and departs.

Emmitt leads us into the reception area of the glass Tree. Hawthorne catches up and walks beside me. His mouth curves down and his eyes are alert with fresh hurt. He holds his rifle close, clutching it to his chest. I want to say something that will ease his sadness, but I don’t have the words.

Gilad gives a low whistle. “I never thought I’d see the inside of an officer’s oak.”

Hammon flashes him a soft, dimpled smile. “That’s because your family tree is a shrub.”

Gilad details what he’d like to do to her shrub. I feel my cheeks redden. Hammon takes his comments in stride, laughing flirtatiously.

The building absorbs the noise of our boots and voices. The tapered atrium rises above our heads for hundreds of floors. Concrete pillars hold up a labyrinth of glass walkways, concrete ramps, and spiral staircases.

I straighten my neck and gaze at the walls. Enormous portraits of firstborn admirals surround the ground floor. I recognize most of them. I’ve even met a few. They’re leaders from the best families in Swords.

In the center of the gallery is Mother’s likeness. Beside her is a portrait of Gabriel, her heir apparent, and on the other side is one of Father. A golden plaque beneath his frame reads “Kennet Abjorn – The Fated Sword.” He hates the figurehead name for the spouse of The Sword.

Father kept his last name rather than taking Mother’s because his is slightly more prestigious than hers. She didn’t take his name because she’s The Sword—there have always been St. Sismodes—and she would not let the name end with her. Her father stipulated in my parents’ marriage contract that her children would inherit her name. It was a contentious point, one of many they still hurl at each other when they’re forced to interact.

Father is in line to inherit the title of Clarity of Virtues, which he enjoys telling people. He leaves out the fact that there are four heirs in front of him who would all have to die before he could assume the title. However, he loves to rub it in Mother’s face that he’d be the Clarity of Virtues before her. Her family is fifth in line. That had been the idea behind their match. Together, they’re even more powerful.

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