Chapter no 38

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars

Bullets whined off the sides of the jagged metal, and laser blasts melted finger-sized holes—splattering molten droplets in every direction—as Kira pushed forward into the darkness.

Falconi followed close behind, then Trig, Nielsen, and the rest of the squad. The Marines activated flat, hemispherical glow lights, which they tossed around the perimeter of the space.

The room was huge and deep. Even with the crazed collection of lights, Kira recognized the sweep of the arched ceiling and the pattern of the

tessellated floor. This place she had walked long ago, beside the Highmost, near the end of days.… A graveyard chill gave her pause, and she said, quietly, “Everyone be careful. Don’t touch anything.”

Behind her, Hawes snapped orders, and the Marines took aim at the ragged opening they’d entered through.

“Hold this spot,” said Koyich. “Don’t let a single Jelly past.” “Sir, yessir!”

As Kira ventured deeper into the darkness, Falconi joined her, as did Koyich, Nielsen, Trig, and the Entropists. But they let her take the lead as she headed toward the back of the space.

Now that they were inside the temple, Kira knew exactly where to go. There was no question in her mind; ancient memories assured her that this was the right place and that what she sought was just ahead.…

Gunshots continued to echo through the cavernous chamber, loud and thunderous. How long had the place lain in silence? And now the violence of Jellies and humans fighting had shattered that peace. Kira wondered who the Vanished would fault most if they were still around.

Thirty meters from the entrance, the room ended at an enormously tall, thin pair of outward-curving doors. White and inlayed with fractal lines of blue, they were far more ornate than anything else she’d seen in the city.

Kira raised a hand. Before she touched the doors, a ring of light appeared near the height of her head, overlapping the seam between the two doors. Then they parted without sound, sliding into the walls and disappearing into hidden recesses.

Another room lay before them, smaller than the antechamber. It was heptagonal in shape, with a ceiling that twinkled as if with stars and a floor that possessed a faint, iridescent sheen like that of a soap bubble. At each vertex of the room stood a crystalline obelisk, blue-white and translucent, save for the one opposite her, which was red and black. It, like the others, had a stern look, as if watching over the chamber with a disapproving gaze.

But it was the center of the room that drew Kira’s attention. Three steps

—too high and shallow to be comfortable for human anatomy—led to a dais, also heptagonal. From the dais rose a pedestal, and from the pedestal, a four-sided case that sparkled like cut diamond.

Within the diamond case there hung suspended seven shards: the Staff of Blue, now broken.

Kira stared. She could not bring herself to understand or accept. “No,” she whispered.

Then alerts flashed in her overlays, and despite herself, she looked. A groan escaped her, and it echoed in the mausoleum of the Vanished.

Fourteen more ships had entered the system. Not Jellies. Nightmares.

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