Big city, bigger trouble.
After their escape from occupied Lyarne, Mieshka, Aiden, and the rest of their crew can’t wait to touch down in Mersetzdeitz. As the de facto world capital, it holds a neutral position in all global conflicts and its large population of mages, attack-proof shield, and joint military forces make it impossible to penetrate. The city is safe, secure, and promises to get Mieshka started on the one thing she wants most: learning to control her fire element and the Phoenix along with it.
But not all is as it seems in the world’s capital. A deadly plot has dethroned the last Council Head, over half the Council is either missing or murdered, and, with attacks hitting the city daily, security is stretched thin.
Everyone is on edge.
It isn’t long before she is thrown head-long into a race to save the government, the city, her friends, and herself. With the Phoenix burning ever hotter under her skin and enemies moving fast around her, it’ll take every bit of power and cunning her team can come up with to get out alive.
Book 3 of the Mieshka Files.
The floor slanted, vibrating with the quiet hum of the ship’s engines. It reverberated through the stack of boxes Mieshka sat on, as if the ship were a finely tuned, expensive car, rather than something that could out-compete her world’s fastest jets. Even after twenty years of integration, Terran technology had a long way to go before it caught up to the mages’.
It was hard to beat something powered by magic.
She leaned back into the cargo netting and craned her neck to see the main screen, ignoring the queasiness in her stomach as the ship made another one of its eel-smooth turns. Orange light burned sharply in the jet-black interior, courtesy of the fire crystal Aiden had turned into the ship’s power source. It formed the base color of all screens and outlined every key on the dashboard. Only the ship’s running lights, a more recent add-on powered by mundane batteries, differed in color.
A steady bloop came from the front. Aiden, who had the ship hovering on the Westray-Mersetzdeitz border, had been trying to get a hold of mage border authorities for the past half hour.
“You think they’re asleep or something?”
“The Mageguard never sleep.” Gobardon, sitting in the co-pilot’s chair next to the fire mage, didn’t bother to hide the sarcasm from his perfect diction. “It is more likely that they’ve scrambled their ships to shoot us from the sky.”
Mieshka stiffened. They wouldn’t really shoot them from the air, would they?
“It’d be easier for them to just pick up the damn phone,” Aiden grumbled. “What, did they abandon all Lost-Tech comms in the last week?”
Gobardon shrugged. “Like I said before, I’ve been out of the loop for a long time.”
“It was a rhetorical question.” Aiden leaned his head back against the chair with an audible thump. His hair poked up over the back of the seat—bright orange, like hers used to be, though his looked somewhat lacking tonight. Had he picked up some dirt and dust while running through the Underground?
“If that thing can patch to mundane networks, I could try my parents.” Jo, sitting to Mieshka’s right, had a strong voice that punched the quiet air of the cabin. The mercenary twisted to watch the front, wrapping a hand in the cargo net behind her for balance. The light gleamed on the round edge of her empty shoulder holster. “Maybe they’ve heard something.”
The room grew silent. To her left, tension emanated from the back of the ship. In addition to Aiden, Gobardon, Jo, and Mieshka, the ship held another five people. Mieshka’s dad sat on the floor with a brittle kind of stiffness, like an iron rod that had been hollowed out with rust. Beside him, Mieshka’s uncle had an easier, more capable posture, his eyes sharp and practical in the dim light.
They’d reacted to the death of her mother in wholly different ways. While her dad had retreated into a grief-stricken shell, Uncle Alex had signed himself up for boot-camp. That didn’t mean he was necessarily better off than her dad—the way he acted, especially around her, was not reflective of someone who had gotten over his loss—but it had given him a hardness that her father would never manage.
Behind Uncle Alex sat the only three remotely calm people on the ship.
Kitty, leaning against the paneling at the very back, fiddled with a switchblade in her hand. Shorter than the rest of the cabin by at least a head, the electric elemental had a skin tone dark and deep enough to challenge Jo’s. She wrapped her personality in punk-rebel attire, the rips in her skinny jeans and the splatters of neon paint on her sleeves nearly washed out by the mercury-based running lights under the floor grating.
Beside her, Buck and McKay sat cross-legged against the side wall, comically disproportionate. Buck, with his large build and pale Caucasian appearance, sat with a Zen-like calm, placidly taking in the conversation. McKay, who’d swapped out her military fatigues for a pair of weathered khakis and a death-metal T-shirt, was almost waif-like next to him. Her arms looked far too skinny to wield the massive assault rifle propped against the wall beside her, but her eyes held a sharp, feral edge as they watched the cockpit. It hadn’t been long since she’d left the front, and the last twenty-four hours hadn’t been even a little relaxing. For anyone.
The floor shivered. A sense of weightlessness flipped Mieshka’s gut as the ship shifted direction. Again.
“Fuck it.” Aiden reached for the console. “I’m making the jump.”
The screens changed up front, expanding a topographical map across the main screen and pushing the data-log to the left-hand side. The screen to Gobardon’s right continued its attempted comms link, the signature bloop pattern muffled by a flurry of activity as Aiden pushed the ship to other tasks.
Mieshka gripped the edge of her box harder, ignoring the pain that flared under her bandages. This would be her third jump, and she didn’t think she’d ever get used to it. As it had been explained to her, Aiden’s ship—and every other mage ship that had made it to her world—had inter-dimensional capabilities. It was the only reason the mages had managed to escape the deadly fate of Lur, their old home. Mieshka wasn’t sure how they worked, but she knew that the mages’ magic had something to do with it. Their technology far surpassed anything ever invented on Terra.
A shudder rattled the wall panels and her shoulder bumped into Jo’s. They didn’t exactly have seatbelts—only the cargo netting behind them provided any actual support. The boxes they sat on were simply stacked on the floor.
That might have been a problem in an ordinary plane, but Aiden’s ship didn’t obey aeronautical principles. It was propelled, balanced, and managed by magic. It moved like water on a bed of oil.
Her stomach flipped again as it adjusted itself. A heavy, low-pitched keen thrummed through the air as the engines whirred to life.
Nausea pulled at her gut. All the hairs on her skin stiffened upwards in a wave. She swallowed the rolling sensation back as the engines’ whir reached a quiet crescendo.
The screens flickered and blinked out. Her stomach churned. In the dark, she had the distinct, terrifying awareness of the exact moment they jumped, passing from one solid point to the next.
A second later, with an ominous beep, the lights flickered back on. The front screens shifted to a dark, orange-tinted video feed of what Mieshka presumed was the outside.
According to Aiden, they were supposed to be inside Merzetzdeitz’s main hangar—the place the city’s mages stored most of their Lost Tech ships—but the feed wasn’t like any hangar Mieshka had ever seen. The ones back in Terremain had been huge, with room to park twenty fighters in each. Even Aiden’s old Underground hangar had been large enough to fit a small fleet.
This place looked little bigger than an apartment.
“Why’s it so dark?” Jo asked. “Is there something wrong with your camera?”
“They haven’t turned on the lights,” Aiden said. “I expect that will change soon.”
“Oh, hey,” Gobardon’s arm reached into the space between the two pilots’ chairs, fingers pointing to the data stream on Aiden’s left. His tone sounded light, his usual sarcasm lifted by an edge of wryness. “We’ve triggered an alarm.”
Jo sat straighter. “Should I prepare for combat, sir?”
“No. They should know I’m coming. I’ve been in contact with the government for a while.” Aiden ran a hand through his hair. “Besides, there’s nothing you could do. I’d rather you not get friendly-fired for trying to defend yourself.”
The ship shifted, moving slickly over whatever change in atmosphere it had detected. The quiet grew in the cabin, as thick as the muggy air.
Everyone was exhausted. Most had spent the last day and a half without sleep, dealing with the consequences of mass evacuation and guerrilla warfare. Others had added attempted patricide to that list. Mieshka had probably gotten more sleep in the last twenty-four hours than the rest of the cabin combined. Except for Kitty, but being knocked out probably didn’t count.
Movement shifted on the screen. The data-log on the left streamed a little faster.
A second later, the main screen highlighted the two mages that moved into sight, outlining them in orange. They moved with military precision, and the computer picked up the spells they’d already prepared on their skin.
“Are those guns?” Jo asked.
“Yes,” Aiden said. “Probably a mandatory equipment requirement, given their collaboration with mundane forces.”
Jo cocked her head. “They seem kind of… small.”
“Not everyone needs a Mark 57 Combine to feel confident, Jo-Jo.” McKay shifted against the wall, lifting an eyebrow at her comrade.
“Says the woman cuddling an assault rifle,” Jo said. “They’re mages, aren’t they, Aiden?”
“They are,” Aiden said. “Earth and Water, specifically. And those guns are modified. The ship’s picking up some latent magic from them.”
“So,” Kitty said, the switchblade balanced on two of her fingertips. “Are they going to shoot us down or what?”
“No,” Aiden said. “Absolutely not. Even if we weren’t friendlies, this is an historic ship—one of the Ilio class corvettes. Priceless hardware. They wouldn’t lay a hand on—”
Beeps screamed from the dashboard. Orange light flared vividly, followed by a concussion that rocked the ship from the outside.
The floor jerked, tilted. Mieshka scrambled for balance as the cabin shifted, engines whirring hard beneath the floor to regain equilibrium.
A second later, the ship evened out.
“Any other thoughts on what the Mageguard won’t shoot at?” Gobardon asked.
“Shut it,” Aiden grumbled. “You all right back there?”
“Yeah,” Jo said. “No one fell. What’s the plan? I—”
The main screen flared again. This time, the spell crashed into the ship’s cameras.
They slammed back, the ship’s nose tipping up. Magic crackled through the air as the ship tried to right itself, veering sideways like an empty surfboard caught in a wave. Mieshka scrambled for purchase as the cabin jerked and tilted. A mix of instinct and adrenaline already had her climbing with the movement as her box skidded sideways. She scratched at it with her fingertips, searching for an edge to grip.
Pain lanced up from the stitches in her leg and arm as her injuries caught up with her. She missed the edge. Her fingertips smacked against the cardboard and the rest of her slid back. Jo lunged, reaching for her. A hand briefly grasped her shoulder.
A second jerk knocked her to the floor hard.
She wheezed into her throat as pain wracked her body. Blood welled in her mouth. Her jaw went numb where it hit the floor. She flinched down as her suitcase crashed headlong into the paneling next to her, scraped against its side, and careened into the back of the ship. Her fingertips stubbed against the floor grating. Everywhere, sound blared, screamed, roared. Other people were on the floor at the back—Kitty, McKay, Uncle Alex. More things crashed down.
Then the ship evened out. Engines whirred under the floor, fighting for stability.
She pushed herself up.
More people had appeared on the main screen, outlined in vivid orange by the ship’s AI. Labels of text identified and analyzed them in a skeleton-map across their bodies. The magic runes seen on their skin appeared on the right-most screen in real-time.
Mieshka looked up in time to see them launch another spell into the ship’s cameras.
The lights went out.
They dropped like a rock.
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