Home > Age of Deception (The Firebird Chronicles #2)(9)

Age of Deception (The Firebird Chronicles #2)(9)
Author: T.A. White

What were they doing here?

They approached with hesitant steps. Joule's gaze came up to meet hers, his expression filling with guilt and something else. Stubbornness. That's what it was.

Well, well, it looked like he'd finally gotten over his hero worship.

Joule's attention slid to where Silas regarded him steadily.

Joule took a deep breath, steeling himself. "We've come to petition to join House Roake. If accepted, we would train there until we pass our adva ka."

Kira started to object.

Liara stopped her with a touch on her wrist. "Don't interfere. This is his choice."

"Who is your sponsor?" Silas asked.

"I am," Graydon rumbled from beside Kira.

Kira fixed Graydon with a hard look. That hadn't been the agreement.

"To gain entrance into Roake, he needs a sponsor. Same with the adva ka. Do you really want him trained by her warriors?" Graydon asked. "I thought you liked the boy. He'll have a far better shot at becoming an Overlord if trained by Roake."

Liara pressed her lips together tight but didn't argue. Kira took that to mean Graydon was right.

"You said they were welcome in your House," Kira told her.

"And they are, but we're stretched thin. We cannot provide the type of training he wants. It is customary for children to apprentice and learn at the feet of other Houses. It's how we keep our skills relevant."

New blood would bring innovation. Humans had had a similar custom in their distant past. Where the sons of knights and lords would foster with another household to learn their skills before going on their way. It was an important apprenticeship and only practiced sparingly now.

Silas's gaze was appraising as he regarded the two young ones still bent in their respectful bows. He glanced at Kira.

She worked to keep her face expressionless, unsure which way she wanted him to decide. The events during the attack had made it clear she had an attachment to the two children. A wise man might seek to use that against her. Himoto certainly would have.

Silas crouched so he was at eye level. "Why do you wish to join the warriors?"

Joule straightened, his gaze steady despite the slight shaking she could see in his legs. He was terrified—whether of Silas or rejection was hard to say.

"House Maxiim was attacked by Tuann pirates, roamers who banded together to bring us down so we couldn’t interfere with them anymore. Most were killed. I am the only one who has a chance of becoming Overlord, but I cannot pass the adva ka as I am."

"And you, young one?" Silas's gaze shifted to Ziva.

She drew herself up, lifting her chin. "I am going to be his first. I'm not going to let anyone hurt us ever again."

Silas made a thoughtful sound. "Put your hand in mine and let me test your resolve."

"Silas can determine a person's affinity and strength with a touch," Graydon told Kira quietly. "Right now, he's determining if they have what it takes to make it through the rigorous training."

"Hmm." Kira couldn't help the skeptical sound. More than a touch was needed to determine something like that.

Graydon's hand was warm on her back. "You forget he was there in the Nexus. He watched them try to defend their companions against the Tsavitee. Many warriors wouldn't have demonstrated the bravery they did. They'll pass his test, but whether he accepts them is still unknown."

"Why?"

Graydon thought a moment. "We're dangerous. The oshota and Overlords particularly so. To develop their talents is a responsibility House Roake takes seriously. Those who pass become weapons. They must make sure those weapons can never threaten them or the Tuann as a whole."

The look he aimed at Raider was significant. "This is the training you and the other humans agreed to undertake."

Now she saw why Graydon was explaining this. It wasn't just a kindness but a warning as well.

She had a feeling that those whose minds cracked or exhibited weakness never left House Roake again.

"Understood," Raider said, his expression slightly grim.

Both of them had seen enough soldiers whose minds or temperament were unsuited to a soldier's lifestyle. Some got off on the power. Some stopped seeing the white and black, only seeing shades of gray. Those were the ones you had to watch out for because they could justify anything. They'd commit unspeakable crimes and never blink an eye.

Power in any form should be carefully guarded because there were always those who would abuse it to prey on the weak.

It made Kira like House Roake just a little bit more to know they were careful about who they let loose in the galaxy.

"Both of you have amazing potential. With the right tools, conquering the adva ka should be no problem." Silas's hands dropped to his side, and he straightened as the children's faces lit up.

Silas's gaze was somber. "The boy can come, but the girl wouldn't be a good fit at this time."

Joule's expression froze, the hope of seconds before fading. Devastation settled on Ziva's face, her gaze going blank.

Silas rested a hand on Ziva's shoulder. "Your goals do you credit and someone as passionate and brave as you would fit in well with Roake. However, I'd be doing your future a disservice by allowing you to attend right now. You're too young, and there are still things you can only learn here."

Ziva's face threatened to crumple. She scrubbed one hand over her eyes, wiping away any tears that might have escaped her iron control. "When I'm older, then? Can I try again?"

Silas's gaze was wise and kind. "It would be my honor."

Ziva's nod was short and abrupt, resolve filling her delicate features.

Silas directed his attention to Liara. "If this is acceptable to you, Overlord."

Liara's smile was faint. "Of course. We're pleased Joule will get this chance. The remnants of their House and I will expect regular reports and visits to ensure their continued wellbeing."

Kira's attention jerked to her cousin. Now she saw why Liara had been willing to let Joule and Ziva make this attempt. It wasn't because she thought they'd be better off—although Kira had no doubt that was part of it. Instead, Liara had neatly managed to come up with a way to keep tabs on Kira.

Respect crept into Silas's gaze, and he inclined his head in a formal bow.

"Well played," Graydon murmured.

There was the slightest quirk to Liara's lips that said she heard and appreciated the compliment.

It left an uneasy feeling in Kira's gut. She didn't like the thought of Joule and Ziva being pawns in a larger game. She'd been in that position too many times to be comfortable sentencing someone else to that fate.

"Ziva," Joule said, sounding lost and shocked. This turn of events had been nowhere in his calculations, Kira was sure. It was a harsh, but necessary, lesson that things wouldn’t always go his way.

"You need to go," Ziva said in a strong voice. She had a cocky smile on her face even as Kira caught the faintest tremble in her hands. "I'll catch up soon enough."

Joule shook his head, the sting of betrayal in his eyes. Kira could see his resolve wavering. She didn't blame him. Both children had lost more than any should have to bear. They'd probably clung to each other harder as a result. Now, their goals threatened to separate them for an unknown length of time.

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