Home > Fated Blades (Kinsmen #3)

Fated Blades (Kinsmen #3)
Author: Ilona Andrews

 

CHAPTER 1

Rituals brought order to the chaos of life. Order was something Matias Baena deeply cherished, and so every Monday, at precisely 7:00 a.m., he entered his office on the top floor of the twisted blade that was Baena Tower and spent the next three hours sorting through the issues that had accumulated during the weekend. He read everything, organized it in order of priority, and formulated an action plan. At precisely 10:00 a.m., the small team of his top people entered his office to offer their insights and receive their marching orders.

Monday morning was sacred. The office door remained shut, the vid display refused incoming calls, and visitors were told to wait, no matter who they were. Nothing short of an attack on the building would warrant an interruption, so when Solei slipped through the door, Matias raised his head from R & D’s progress report and braced himself.

The chief security officer looked unperturbed. Of average height, with the lean, powerful build of a combat athlete, sandy skin, and pale-blond hair, Solei had been a civilian for six years, but his composure had been tempered in hundreds of space battles. He would report a small leak and a planetary invasion with the same controlled calm.

“Yes?” Matias asked.

“Ramona Adler is here.”

He must have misheard. “Define here.”

“She’s waiting in conference room 1A.”

“Waiting for what?”

“She would like to speak with you. Privately.”

If Solei had announced that his dead father had risen from the grave and was waiting outside the door, Matias would have been less surprised.

Of all the kinsmen families Matias disliked in the city of New Delphi, and he detested most of them, the Adlers were the only ones he hated. It wasn’t a personal hate. It was generational. He had inherited it the way he had inherited his father’s black hair and his mother’s hazel eyes. Both the Baenas and the Adlers had arrived on the planet at about the same time, settling in the same province and inevitably doing business in the same city, both possessed about the same amount of territory and resources, and more importantly, both were secare.

The two families had clashed repeatedly over their first 150 years on Rada. The last outburst of violence had taken place when his grandfather was young and ended without any formal ceasefire. The two sides had nearly wiped each other out and simply couldn’t continue to fight. Since then, the Adlers and the Baenas had settled into icy hostility, always watching each other, always ready for the feud to flare into raging violence. The animosity was mutual and deep. And now Ramona Adler waited in his conference room.

What was so important? Their policy of avoidance was working well so far. When forced to be in some proximity in public, he and Ramona painstakingly pretended the other didn’t exist, and the kinsmen society, which had a long memory, enthusiastically supported their strategy of evading a bloodbath. They were never seated near each other. They were never formally introduced to each other. They never had a conversation.

Ramona could have called. Instead, she marched into his den and demanded to see him. She knew he could react with violence.

Normally, he might have called this reckless, except Ramona Adler was anything but. He had studied her since he was in his teens because she was a potential enemy, and he knew her as well as he did his own family. Ramona was like one of the smoke-furred foxes that inhabited the deep woods in the north, careful, calculating, and subtle. She struck only when she had complete confidence in her success, and she was lethal.

He had to know why she was here, and there was only one way to find out.

Matias rose and strode out the door. Solei turned with crisp precision left over from his military days and followed him, a vigilant, silent shadow.

The conference room lay at the other end of the tower, separated from Matias’s office by a hundred meters of hallway. The Baena building borrowed its shape from the unfurling seco blade that gave the secare their name. It began as a wave, a low curve of plastisteel wrapped in panes of dark solar glass, dipped, then suddenly surged upward to the height of seventy meters, expanding into a hard vertical plane. A not-so-subtle warning.

The glass brightened as it climbed, and here, at the very top of the building, the panels were a deep, vivid red. The tinted light flooded the hallways through the translucent ceiling. Normally, he found it soothing, but today the air above the black floor seemed drenched in blood.

Most kinsmen didn’t know where their unique abilities came from. Their beginnings had been lost to centuries of galactic expansion. The secare were different. All of them traced their origins to the Second Outer Rim War, when two budding interstellar empires clashed over a resource-rich cluster of planets. The brutal conflict lasted for sixty-two standard years, and the secare had been genetically engineered for that war.

While massive spaceships collided across the star systems, spitting energy and missile salvos, the secare fought in close quarters with seco weapons embedded in their bodies. A tool like no other, the seco technology allowed its owners to project short-range force fields from their arms that could become a shield or a blade in an instant. A seco shield could absorb an energy blast and stop a stream of projectiles. A seco blade could slice through solid metal like it was warm butter.

The secare had developed their own martial art, shifting between assault and defense in the blink of an eye. They were the silent dagger to the blunt hammer of the space armada, and the Sabetera Geniocracy used them again and again to bleed their opponents dry.

The war was long over, and the few remaining secare had scattered through the galaxy. Once comrades in arms, now the secare avoided each other at all costs. It was one of the universe’s great ironies that after running halfway across the galaxy to get away from each other, both the Baenas and the Adlers ended up in the same sector, on the same planet, and in the same province.

The Baena family was guarded by state-of-the-art security. Matias oversaw it personally, and he hired only the best. All his guards were seasoned veterans with combat implants and skills honed by training and battle. They were well armed and ready. And if he felt like it, he could kill everyone in the building in minutes. It would be a massacre. They would know that he was coming, and all their experience and weapons would do them no good.

If he could do it, so could Ramona. The secare were killing machines, and the six generations separating them from a long-forgotten war had done nothing to change that. If she snapped, he would be the only barrier between her and the slaughter of his people.

Why was she here?

“How did she get into the building?”

“She walked in,” the CSO said. “Our security intercepted her, and she told them that she’d come to see you. They called me. It seemed prudent to control the situation by escorting her to a secure room, away from civilian personnel.”

They both knew that Solei’s control of the situation was an illusion. Ramona could leave that room any moment she wished. And Solei’s people would sacrifice their lives to keep the other employees safe until he got there.

“Good call.”

“Thank you.”

They reached an ornate double door. It whispered open at their approach, and Matias entered a large crescent-shaped room. The wall opposite the entrance was curved red glass, presenting a distant panorama of New Delphi. Between him and the glass wall stood a large oval table, carved from a single massive chunk of Gibirus opal. The mineral inclusions within the stone reacted to light, fluorescing with shifting ripples of color—fiery red, glittering gold, and splashes of intense emerald—setting the table aglow from within. Ramona sat at the table, her back to the window, her face lit up by gem fire.

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