She smiled to herself as the girl took a step back and bowed her head, silver hair falling into her face.
Nor had always loved the sound of her own voice—powerful, yet pure. A voice that brought even the strongest, bravest men to their knees. A voice that could make heads roll, should anyone speak a word against her.
“Apologies, Your Highness,” the girl whispered. She cast her gaze down to her bare toes. “Darai has called upon you, and...”
Nor lifted a hand. The girl’s words stopped at once.
“Take me to him,” Nor commanded.
“He is in his office, Your Highness. I will escort you there, if you should wish it.”
Nor nodded once, and the girl turned, the gears in her metallic chest whining. Human, but barely so.
She briskly followed the servant girl down the tapestry-lined hallways and into the elevator. They stood in silence during the ten-story descent before coming to a halt at the floor that housed her adviser’s office.
Nor brushed past the trembling girl and swept into Darai’s room, not bothering to knock.
Stars winked at her from the inside. Hundreds of thousands painted on the walls, a replica of the sky that Xen Ptera had not been able to see for years. And in the center of the room, seated at his white desk, was Nor’s most trusted adviser.
“You think so highly of yourself, Darai, that you dare summon me to your quarters?” Nor hissed. She approached the pristine white desk.
“Apologies, Your Highness,” he said, standing and giving her a deep bow, gray hair falling across his weathered face. Half of it was mutilated, skin shriveled and burned from a childhood accident, bits of metal poking through where permanent stitches helped hold the skin in place. He rarely spoke of the accident and never gave much detail in response to Nor’s questions about it.
“What is the meaning of this?” she asked.
“I have news regarding the weapon. I just received word from Aclisia that it is in the final stages of development.”
Nor smiled, her mood lifting immediately. For years, she’d been waiting, imagining the glory of her greatest creation. And now it was nearly complete. “Then we should prepare ourselves at once.”
Darai stood from his desk, his long robes sweeping behind him like a curtain. “Nor, if I may suggest...”
“Speak your thoughts now, Uncle, before I grow tired of you.”
His lips pressed together in a thin smile. He was a proud man, but he himself had taught her to wield her rule like a mighty sword. He’d been a part of her life for as long as she could remember. The only surviving member of her family—not by blood, but through his years of loyalty to Nor and her mother before her.
Darai bowed his head and approached her slowly. “The timing, of course, is of the utmost importance. We must remain patient to ensure all of the pieces fall into place before making our move.”
“The final piece is already in place,” Nor said with a wave of her gold prosthetic hand.
Seeing it reminded her of the past. The explosions. The loss. The need for revenge that empowered her.
The past was what fueled her present.
Nor turned away, her spiked collar grazing her jaw. Across the room, the painted stars glared back at her like devil’s eyes.
“When we bring the galaxy to its knees,” Nor said, a smile slowly appearing on her rouged lips, “I’d like to repaint this room. With the blood of every man, woman and child who has ever lifted a finger against my planet.”
Darai swept across the tiled floor to stand at her side.
“My dear.” His voice was slippery, as if drenched in oil. “When we bring the galaxy to its knees, you can paint the entire palace in blood, if you wish it.”
Nor closed her eyes and smiled.
She could see it, taste it.
And it pleased her.
Chapter Twelve (#u2c495123-a205-5bed-8b1b-b7611314f030)
ANDI CROSSED HER arms over her chest, fingers digging into her biceps as she tried to keep her anger in check. She sat in the captain’s seat on the bridge, staring out the viewport of the newly repaired Marauder and into the Tracker ship’s massive cargo bay. The internal damage had been a relatively quick fix, but it was the exterior of the ship that showed the most damage from their fight with the Patrolmen. She’d make sure General Cortas paid for that, too.
Her ship wasn’t a junker. She refused to let it look like one.
Andi spun in her chair to face her crew, giving them each a once-over. No serious injuries, though there was a nasty cut on Gilly’s collarbone and dried blood beneath Breck’s nose. Lira, graceful as ever, perched on her pilot’s seat like a bird.
Andi’s heart unclenched slightly knowing they were all in one piece.
“Are we really going to go quietly into this job?” Breck asked, leaning against the entry door behind her.
“This team is never quiet,” Lira said. “We slaughtered them. I’m still surprised they allowed us to keep our heads after that.”
Breck made a sound in the back of her throat. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the general goes back on his word to pardon us after we deliver his son, safe and sound, back to Daddy. How do you even know he’s going to keep his promise, Andi?”
Andi grimaced as she watched the Patrolmen outside, in their perfectly polished boots, their pristine blue uniforms. “He made the Vow.” All the Patrolmen out there had made vows, too, when they joined the Arcardian ranks. Several of them had followed Dex to their deaths because of those vows. The Arcardian Vow was as binding as two souls becoming one. “He’ll keep his word, as long as I keep mine.”
“Making deals with the devil,” Lira said with a sigh. “Whatever will we do next?”
“Let me shoot the old man, Cap. We can swing over to Arcardius now, and I’ll make it quick,” Gilly whined from beside Breck. Her red braids had come undone, and curls tumbled over her shoulders, making her blue eyes pop. “Then this will all be over. You don’t want to go back to Arcardius, anyways.” She seemed to shrink back into herself for a second as she thought that over. “Right?”
“No one,” Andi said, glaring at Gilly over Breck’s massive form, “is shooting anyone else. Not yet, at least.”
She didn’t answer Gilly’s second question.
She’d already thought about it, imagined all the ways a life back on Arcardius could play out.
Even with a pardon, it would never be the same. When Kalee died, people had looked at Andi as if she were the scum of the planet. As if, by choice, she’d taken a knife to Kalee’s throat and slit it herself. As if she’d wanted to become a traitor.
Pardon on the line or not, Andi knew she wouldn’t be able to get herself and her crew out of this. Right now, they were boxed in like the blue cattle she’d once seen on a farming satellite.
“I don’t like it any more than any of you,” Andi said, “but we don’t have much of a choice. Our ship is in his hands, and he has an entire Tracker full of armed guards surrounding this cargo bay right now.” She tapped her red-painted nails on the armrest. “I don’t doubt he’ll keep the Vow...but that’s not our biggest concern right now. We’re headed to the Olen System.”
“And this is Xen Ptera we’re talking about,” Gilly said. “We’ve never stolen anything from there. We’ve never even been to the Olen System, Cap!”
Traveling to Olen had become a fool’s journey ever since The Cataclysm ended. There was still the peace treaty in place, preventing the massive Olen System, with its capital planet of Xen Ptera, from attacking the other Unified Systems of Mirabel. But those living in the Olen System weren’t exactly friendly with the Unified Systems.
Andi didn’t blame them. It was a miracle anyone had survived the explosive final battle that took place on Xen Ptera in the final days of the war.