For years, she had been a soldier without a home, always on the run, too afraid to slow down for fear that the past would catch up to her. She’d turned herself into a criminal to survive. Set aside her honor in exchange for her life. Now she had a chance to eliminate the past. To find some honest work and stability for her crew.
“That’s it?” she asked. She crossed her arms over her chest.
The general nodded. “That’s it.”
Andi narrowed her eyes. There had to be a catch, some hidden detail that General Cortas wasn’t revealing. But she was out of choices. Her crew was somewhere in this very ship, surrounded by armed guards. One wrong move, and she’d have their blood on her hands, too.
She wouldn’t be able to come back from that.
“Swear it,” Andi said.
The general raised a brow. His lips tightened together.
“Swear it as you once made me swear,” Andi continued. “The Arcardian Vow.”
For a time, General Cortas simply stared at her. She imagined he was living through the same memory she was. A different time, a very different place, the two of them standing face-to-face inside the Shard—a sharp, crystalline tower that captured the sun and cast it across the room like living fire.
“I vow my life and my blood to protect Kalee Cortas,” Andi said.
General Cortas turned to face her, pride blazing in his eyes. She would not let him down.
The memory faded, and Andi met the general’s eyes as he recited the Vow. “I vow my life and my blood to honor the terms of our deal.”
Andi crossed her arms, cuffs clinking together.
“When do we leave?”
The general signaled for the cyborg woman again, who glided back to his side and straightened his sleek jacket as he stood. “I want my son back as soon as possible.”
“My ship needs repairs,” Andi said. “And we’ll need supplies. Enough for twice the haul to the Olen System and back, just in case we run into problems.” The job wasn’t going to take that long, but she might as well get supplies while she could.
“You’ll have what you need,” General Cortas said with a curt nod.
“I’ll also need more ammunition,” Andi said, remembering her promise to Lira before this all began. They would need it if they encountered the Olen System’s Rover ships. “There’s no telling what Queen Nor will throw at us once we gain entry to her system, let alone when we reach Lunamere.”
At that, the general smiled and looked not at Andi, but at Dex.
“The bounty hunter will take care of that for you,” General Cortas said, his voice dripping with sick satisfaction, “since he’ll be joining you on your mission.”
Chapter Eight (#u2c495123-a205-5bed-8b1b-b7611314f030)
THE GIRL STOOD in her tower, bathed in darkness.
So many years she’d waited. So many dreams she’d endured.
The girl had grown, eighteen years strong. Tonight, she was a willing, worthy sacrifice, with blood the color of the silver weapon hidden in the folds of her cloak.
She could feel, more than see, the other Yielded around her. A trio of bodies each to her left and to her right as they all watched the Conduit swirl far below.
The girl lifted her chin a little higher. She would not tremble, like the Yielded to her left. She would not boast, like the Yielded to her right.
Tonight, she would conquer the Yielding.
And then she would conquer the world beyond this tower, the wind at her back, the fire of hope igniting inside her veins. From the moment of her birth, the girl had known it would be her path to pave.
Her journey to take, through the Conduit.
“When will it begin?” one of the others asked. “When will we be chosen?”
The girl waited, watching the swirling sea below. It spread as far as she could see, a blanket of black, made thicker by the absence of the moon.
She sensed it a moment before it began.
“There,” one of the Yielded whispered. “It begins.”
A single blue flame flickered to life in the center of the sea. The color spread, churning, until the Conduit looked like a raging whirlpool of hues. A sea of darkness transformed into sweeping, glittering light.
Around her, the Yielded shifted. Breaths released. Hands began to shake. But the girl’s heart simply fluttered, as if sensing what was soon to come. She’d already seen it in her dreams.
She watched, eyes unblinking, as the Conduit began to stretch, sending floating orbs of its light into the sky.
They trailed higher, catching the wind. Dancing like souls released to the stars.
Soon, the orbs would shift. Soon, they would choose the one worthy of the journey.
The girl was ready, reaching into the folds of her cloak as the orbs began to form a trail in the sky. They rose, higher, higher, like the tail of a blazing star. When they got high enough, they would reach the top of the tower. And then they would choose.
The girl’s dreams told her it would be her. But she had to be certain. She would not leave the hope of her people up to fate.
As the first orbs began to reach the top of the tower, she slid the blade from her cloak. It was silent, not even a hiss as it grazed across the sleek fabric.
“The dreams are true,” she whispered.
Then she went about the room, sliding her blade across Yielded throats.
Taking precious lives.
It was too easy, just as her dreams had promised. Each year, there would be more Yieldings, more chosen. But she would now be the first.
When the girl was done, crumpled bodies silent at her feet, she stepped over them. As she pressed her bloody palms to the glass of the tower, steam swam across it like a cloud.
Outside, the orbs from the Conduit had gathered in the sky to form an arrow, lighting her up like a beacon. Revealing her to the thousands of beings gathered far below. She could feel them roar, so loudly the glass trembled, as she was chosen.
The Yielding was over.