Home > Secondborn (Secondborn #1)(14)

Secondborn (Secondborn #1)(14)
Author: Amy A. Bartol

I study his portrait. His hands are crossed on his lap and his Virtue-Fated hologram shines a golden halo for all to see. His dark good looks and sultry, roguish smile used to make many of the secondborn Stone-Fated servants at the Sword Palace swoon. I haven’t seen him in a few years. I wonder how he’s doing—if he’s heard of my trouble at Transition—if he cares.

A sharp rattle of laughter from a small seating area nearby serrates the air. Firstborn officers of the highest military rank—Exos who more than likely live in this building—watch me with amused curiosity. All around us they drink golden alcohol, chatting in low voices. Their dress uniforms, adorned with immaculate black capes, starkly contrast with my detainee garb and the secondborn soldiers’ black combat gear, silver Tree emblems etched on breastplates, and lethal rifles. Each Exo has a fusionblade with an intricate family crest embossed on the hilt. My own fusionblade is probably somewhere in the bowels of Census. Broken as it is, I still long to have it back.

Emmitt sidles up to me. “Feeling left out?” he asks, nodding at the portraits.

I adopt Father’s smile as a defense mechanism. “I’d rather not be in a club that doesn’t want me, Emmitt.”

The quiet soldier who has been with us since the Census cell has his neck craned all the way back, gazing up at the levels above us. His armor tag reads “Edgerton.” “It’s different from our woods,” he says, speaking for the first time.

“How is it different?” I ask.

He scratches his blond scruff of a beard, and I notice that he’s missing a front tooth. “We ain’t got windows in ours—all this here’s concrete.” He waves his arm at the glass shell of the building. His solemn brown eyes meet mine.

“Which one do you like more?” I ask.

He stares at me for a moment, surprised by my question—or maybe it’s more than that. Maybe he’s surprised that I spoke to him? He looks up again and points to a window way above my head where the light of the moon shines through. “It’d be nice to see the night sky once in a while when we ain’t on point.”

“It would,” I agree. He smiles. A fountain in the center dances with water that’s in sync with a lovely concerto playing all around us from some hidden source. I’m familiar with the song and hum along softly.

“Do you know this music?” Edgerton asks.

“I do. Do you?”

He shakes his head and shrugs. “Naw, what’d I know about music? I’ve been Transitioned since I were ten, same as Hawthorne. We come up together.” He shuffles his feet on the marble floor’s inlaid mosaic leaves of orange, crimson, and gold. It’s as if the Tree itself had shed them.

“It’s by Sovenagh—her ninetieth symphony. It’s called The Rape of Reason.”

We enter an elevator car. None of us speak as we rise to somewhere in the center of the trunk. When the doors open, Clara Diamond, Mother’s personal public relations assistant, greets us. “You found her!” Clara bleats to Emmitt with visible relief. “The Sword is threatening to have me killed if I don’t report back to her soon.” She’s not joking. The terror shows on her white-lipped face. Mother’s temper is legendary.

As we exit the lift, Clara reaches for my arm. I allow her to take it because I need her support as much as she needs to assure herself that she won’t be dying today. “We have to get you to the debriefing. We can clean you up later.”

I fall in step with her and Emmitt. The Sword soldiers trail us, rubbernecking in awe. The décor lacks the sophistication that I’m accustomed to, but the carpet is soft beneath my bare feet. Clara leads me down a long hallway that skirts the atrium.

We pass a few gangways that lead to round platforms that hang in the air above the ground many stories below. Clara pauses at the largest. Emmitt shoos me ahead, urging me over a lighted-glass gangplank with glass railings. I stop midway.

Emmitt holds the others back. “She has to go alone. You will wait here.” Hawthorne brushes him aside, but Emmitt manages to get back in front of him. “I’m only trying to save your life. This is a private conversation. You don’t have the security clearance level to attend. I don’t have the security clearance to attend.” He holds his hand on his chest to illustrate his point. “You can protect her from here. She can’t go anywhere, and Clara made sure that we’re the only ones on this entire level.”

Hawthorne gives me a reluctant nod. I turn and follow the gangway, holding its glass handrail until I make it to the rosette-shaped platform. Dangling over the atrium gives me the feeling of floating on air. About a hundred feet away, surrounding me on all sides, are tiers of balconies. As I peek over the railing, it’s as if I’m trapped inside the rib cage of a giant leviathan.

A dome of darkness forms around the suspended platform. I can no longer see the soldiers or the staff from Mother’s Palace. The floor illuminates. I’m now being viewed as a holographic image by whoever’s vetted into our meeting.

A holographic image of an elderly admiral projects before me. His white handlebar mustache is extremely outdated but well groomed. He’s attired in a highly decorated dress uniform. I straighten. He’s a firstborn Sword that I’ve met many times before. His name is Admiral Yarls Dresden. He’s a lecher and an alcoholic. The secondborn Stones of the Palace fear him.

Admiral Dresden doesn’t acknowledge me. I have to hold back a sigh of relief. Another holographic image of a slender woman in a beautiful silver ball gown made of light walks off the adjacent balcony and into the air, approaching my island platform. She wears a half-moon-shaped tiara atop her ebony hair. She stops just feet away from me. I recognize her as Clarity Toussaint Jowell, the leader of the Fate of Moons. She greets Admiral Dresden, and they engage in quiet conversation about the weather, ignoring me entirely.

Someone else winks into view—an attractive older man, maybe in his early forties, with a golden shooting-star-shaped moniker that indicates he’s firstborn Fate of Stars. His long dark hair is held back from his face with a leather tie. No gray taints the ebony of his full beard. He’s not dressed in formal attire, like the other two; rather, he wears a black woolen cloak that would be perfect for a midnight stroll in the crisp air. The Star-Fated man acknowledges the other holograms. “Admiral Dresden.” His accompanying nod is perfunctory.

“Daltrey.” Admiral Dresden spits his name like he has tasted something spoiled.

Daltrey greets the Clarity. “Clarity Jowell.”

“It’s been a trying day for you, I’m sure, Daltrey. Our thoughts are with you,” she says in a sympathetic, yet flirty, way.

“It has. I thank you for your thoughts.”

“Your house still standing?” Admiral Dresden smirks at Daltrey and twists his mustache.

“It is. Thank you for your concern,” Daltrey replies with a cutting glare.

“Pity,” Admiral Dresden drones, “that our assault against your Fate was necessary, but we must rid ourselves of these Fate traitors. The Gates of Dawn seem to like your Fate too well. Or maybe your Fate fosters their particular brand of secondborn rebel.”

“My Fate is comprised of freethinkers. One needs a special sort of mind to harness and engineer power and energy.”

“Too bad it also breeds traitors.”

“Yes. Too bad,” Daltrey agrees, but it rings insincere. I stare at him.

Mother winks in, interrupting any further conversation. She’s elegant in a ball gown of midnight blue with pinpoints of silver that mimic stars in the night sky. A delicate silver tiara is woven in her chestnut-colored hair. She doesn’t acknowledge me but greets each of the other participants with brief exchanges about their health. Her mouth pinches in agitation as she falls silent, scowling at her timekeeper.

Clarity Fabian Bowie’s firstborn son, Grisholm Wenn-Bowie, joins the circle after Mother. I recognize him without an introduction. He’s been to the Sword estate many times in his youth to beat up on Gabriel. He’s only a few years older than me. At twenty-one, he’s passingly handsome but could use a more rigorous training regimen.

Clearly this meeting interrupted some kind of celebration because I don’t think Grisholm wears his golden, halo-shaped crown over his dark, shaggy mane just to tame it. His hair must take him hours of styling, though. Not only is Grisholm’s grooming glorious, so, too, is his evening attire. The firstborn heir to the fatedoms is a contrast in black and white. Skin-hugging black trousers that don’t leave much to the imagination meet the shiniest black boots I’ve ever seen. A golden belt with a halo-shaped buckle gleams at his waist. His silken white dress shirt and an intricately tied cravat are as immaculate as his snowy-white cape.

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