Thrax – Christina Bauer

m our rocky past. Plus, the game is extra-fun because Lincoln is ripped in that lean way swordfighters are, and the comforter is pooled around his hips. Yum. My guy is tall and broad-shouldered with wavy brown hair and lips that scream, kiss me without saying a word. Go, honeymoon! For Lincoln’s last turn, he just reminded me how I wore sweats to a formal thrax event as a lame means of protest. I agreed that my attire was not in the best taste. Still, in the end I had to remove said sweats and then wear the ugliest white dress ever. Total mitigating factor. Long story short, Lincoln gave a decent entry, but we still don’t have a winner. “You’re up,” says Lincoln with a sneaky smile. He totally thinks I don’t have a good story for my turn. And he’s way wrong. I am about to crush him like a cute itsy-bitsy-yet-mega-ripped man-bug. “I have such a good one, you’re going to cringe when you hear it.” I really drag out the word cringe.

“You don’t say.” Lincoln rolls over to face me. Now, we’re nose-to-nose under the covers of our incredibly fluffy bed. For the last three weeks, we’ve spent our honeymoon camped out in this fancyshmancy bedroom inside one of Lincoln’s hidden palaces. My guy is the high prince of the demonfighting thrax, and his people have a tradition and glitzy hangout for everything. This particular mansion is just for royal honeymoons. The place is decked out with hefty wooden furniture, tapestries, and porcelain knickknacks. It’s pretty, but I’d happily spend the time in an abandoned truck stop, so long as Lincoln and I were alone. “Oh yeah,” I say. “Prepare to lose.

” “Please continue. The anticipation is almost beyond endurance.” “Anticipation almost beyond endurance? Who talks like that?” “I do. And if you keep stalling, you’ll forfeit the game.” In case you were wondering, Lincoln always uses huge vocabulary words. As a prince, my guy got educated by an entire league of smarty-pants tutors. Meanwhile, I’m a quasi demon—mostly human with a bit of demonic DNA—so my “education” was more of an attempted brainwashing by the ghouls who once ruled my homeland of Purgatory. That said, although being quasi means that my school years were crap, it also means that I have a tail. Every quasi-demon does, only mine is extra great with a side order of awesome. It’s even covered in dragonscales and has an arrowhead-shaped end.

The tail of tails, my friends. As if it knows I’m thinking about it, my tail pops out from under the covers and waves to its imaginary audience in the bedroom. What a ham. Lincoln chuckles. “Is that a sign that you forfeit?” “Never,” I say. “Here’s my turn. I hated you more when you were in the library at the Ryder mansion, and I had to listen to Lady Adair coo all over you.” “She cooed?” I roll my eyes. “Please. She was all Oh, Prince Lincoln, I want to touch your muscle-y muscles.

It was infuriating.” My tail pats Lincoln’s biceps as a demonstration of the action in question. “We recently killed Adair,” says Lincoln. Which is true. Not sure where he’s going with this, though. “Yeah,” I retort. “And she was possessed by the King of Hell at the time. Why bring that up?” “Her death takes some of the bite out of your story, that’s all.” Okay, Lincoln does have a point. Armageddon, the King of Hell, essentially forced us to take down Adair.

I still wish we could have saved her. The whole situation sucked. Hard. Best to skip that entry. However, I still have a long list of “I hate you more” moments. “I get one do-over per turn,” I say. “That is true.” I tap my chin until a better memory appears. “Okay, I’ve got one.” “Enlighten me.

” Amusement dances in Lincoln’s eyes. Like all thrax, Lincoln has one brown eye and one blue. It’s a sign of his dual nature as angelic and human. Like his battle scars, I’ve come to love Lincoln’s mismatched eyes. I stare into them deeply as I drop my verbal bomb. “For my turn, I hereby submit the first time we met.” “No.” Lincoln closes his eyes and groans. “I was such an anti-demon douchebag.” By the way, I’m totally proud of Lincoln for using the word “douchebag.

” I consider it a serious sign of my positive influence on moving him into the current century. When I next speak, I take care to add a mock-nostalgic tone to my voice. “I remember the night so well. It was a formal ball at the Ryder mansion. You approached me.” Lincoln groans again. “I was wearing a tux. Does that change things?” “Nope. Even though you looked cute, you were still all, You should be so grateful that I, the amazing thrax dude, am asking you to dance, you lowly scummy demon you.” “In my defense, my people are demon killers.

” “I’m aware.” “And I live miles under the Earth’s surface in a very traditional society.” “Know that, too.” Lincoln’s people, the thrax, do in fact live deep underground on Earth in Antrum, where they refuse to get television and generally stay stuck in their own version of the Middle Ages. In fact, I’m in one of his underground palaces right now. Plus, it’s true that thrax are part angel and have a mandate from the Almighty to kill demons on Earth. So, yeah, not a lot of quasi-demon awareness there with Lincoln at first. These days, my guy has totally moved beyond the whole quasi-demonloathing thing. Unfortunately, the thrax as a people are still a major work in progress. “Is that your defense—you were just being thraxy?” I ask.

You get one defense per story. “Not much of a defense, is it?” “Nope.” I make sure to smack my lips hard on the P sound. Lincoln shakes his head. “I can still try to top that with my turn.” “Ha!” I grin from ear to ear. “I’m so winning this bet.” Lincoln and I are always turning things into bets. In this case, the winner gets our traditional prize: naming the time and place of our next kiss. Normally, this is a big thing since the winner can call their kiss anytime, anywhere, and the loser has to comply.

When we’re in a formal diplomatic thingy, it can get pretty awkward. But since we’re on our honeymoon, Lincoln could call his kiss anytime, and that’s fine with me. It’s just the principle of the thing. I like to win. “I concede nothing.” Lincoln leans forward and rubs his nose along mine, which sends nice shivers of yummy moving through my insides. “I have the perfect example of when I hated YOU more.” Lincoln rolls onto his back and laces his fingers behind his neck. This shows off his bare chest with all the battle scars that I love. Still, I keep my focus on his face.

I won’t be lured into ogling him and falsely losing. Both parties have to agree who the winner is, and Lincoln’s abs are designed to distract me. And yes, I have serious distraction issues. As a quasi-demon, I get two demonic powers: lust and wrath. Lust is the side of me that wants to stare at Lincoln’s abs. Wrath is the part that likes to win. Guess which one is driving the bus right now? That would be wrath, which is why I’m keeping my gaze locked on Lincoln’s face as I speak once more. “Let’s hear it, big guy.” Lincoln’s sly look returns with a vengeance. “I happen to remember a moment when I was at battle practice, minding my own business and educating some of the nobility on the finer points of swordplay.

” “Oh, I love this story.” “All of a sudden, a woman dressed in a dragonscale fighting suit bursts onto our practice ground —” “I had a very important diplomatic message.” Lincoln keeps right on going. “And flattens every one of my nobles in quick succession.” “I was being viciously attacked.” Not really, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. “One of them did suffer a concussion.” I purse my lips, considering. “A concussion is a serious thing, but the guy in question is a warrior, and he came at me first. I don’t see anything here that beats you being an anti-demon dope.

” Lincoln scrubs his hands over his face. I know that particular move. I’m totally winning. With supernatural speed, I move to straddle Lincoln, pull his hands from behind his neck, and pin them above his head. “Give up, loser.” Lincoln’s gaze moves down my naked torso. My stomach tightens. That’s one hot look, right there. When he speaks, his voice is deep and husky. “I concede.

You win.” “Good.” My voice is a little husky, too. It’s been a few hours since we last had sex, and we quasi demons have a quick recovery time. As it turns out, partly angelic dudes like Lincoln recover quickly, too. Total marital bonus. “So, when are you calling your kiss?” The way Lincoln stares at me, I can tell he’s ready now. For the record, impulse control has never been a strength of mine. But three weeks ago (aka the first time I ever had sex with Lincoln), I became pregnant. Since then, my impulse control issues have no gone from “not so great” to “major disaster.

” In other words, I am absolutely calling my kiss right now. My tail bobs happily behind me. It’s totally on board with this plan. I don’t even bother replying. I just lean down and give Lincoln a deep and soul-satisfying smooch. For one full bliss-filled minute, we’re all about tongues sliding. I’m really looking forward to what comes next when it happens. Ethereal singing echoes through my mind. That would be my igni. And damn, those little magical critters have the worst timing.

Here’s what’s up. I’m a supernatural being called the Great Scala. That means my body can house, process, and direct igni, which are tiny lightning bolts of power that move souls to Heaven or Hell. The actual “moving souls around” part is a real energy-suck, but that’s just one challenge of being the Great Scala. In my opinion, the far trickier bit is what I call “igni management.” Those little lightning bolts are a super-needy bunch. Take now, for instance. Lincoln and I are about to get busy, and the igni decide to start singing inside my head. At least, these are the light igni whose power draws souls to Heaven. That means they’re going “la-la-la” in childlike voices, which isn’t too painful, but it is distracting.

There’s also some indistinct murmuring in the mix. Bottom line? It’s an art form to translate that babble into actual useful communication. “Myla?” asks Lincoln. “Have the igni started talk to you again?” “Why do you ask?” “You stopped kissing me, for one thing.” I roll onto my back and slam my head against the pillow. “Yeah. They’re yodeling away in my brain. They must have a message for me.” Lincoln kisses my cheek and slides away. “Duty calls.

I can wait.” “Bleugh.” At that moment, the lovely music of the light igni is ruined by the cacophony of the dark igni who —you guessed it—send spirits to Hell. Think about a thousand toddlers playing broken recorders, and that’s the general idea behind “dark igni-speak.” This is so not good. My light igni are sweethearts. They’re always jumping into my consciousness to tell me about some new and awesome soul they want sent to Heaven. They also alert me when good things happen, like when Dad proposed to Mom. But my dark igni? They only pop in with bad news. Unfortunately, much of it is misleading.

For instance, they freaked me out once by saying Mom was dead, but they only meant dead wrong about installing a bidet in all the bathrooms in my parents luxury mansion. (I agreed with that call, by the way.) Still, dark tidings and a honeymoon do not mix. And considering how these igni made sure I got knocked up three weeks ago? This could be about some risk to the baby. I really don’t want their bad news. At all. Chapter Two The voices of both the light and dark igni grow louder. Soon, they’re babble-singing inside my brain at an earsplitting volume. Yow. Wincing, I pull the covers over my head.

Listening to igni is like asking a million four-year-olds to name their favorite ice cream: they all talk at once, and it does zero good to tell them to quiet down and choose a spokesperson. My father says it’s because igni have to take a multifaceted form while in the after-realms. I’m not sure what that means, but I believe him. A quick note on my father: Dad’s an archangel named Xavier who’s been alive since the beginning of time. In all those eons, he never fell in love with a woman until he met Mom. Say it with me: awwwww! Trouble was, in order to keep Mom alive, Dad made a pact with Armageddon, the King of Hell, and agreed to be imprisoned in Hell. Not fun. Most of my life, I never knew who my father was. All that changed when I turned seventeen, became the Great Scala, and freed my dad. Go me.

The voices hit a level I like to call double-screech. Yes, I’ve made up my own naming system for their noises, and yes, double-screech is way painful. It’s also nearly impossible to make out anything they’re trying to say. I grit my teeth and hope it all goes buh-bye. It doesn’t. Whatever my igni are worried about, it’s a big problem. I just wish they’d calm down to single-screech level so I could understand them. Within seconds, the noise grows so overwhelming my brain feels ready to burst. Somewhere through the haze of sound, I hear Lincoln’s voice. “What happening?” he asks.

“Are you all right?” I force out words through my clenched teeth. “Igni…still giving…message.” “What are they saying?” “Can’t tell…yet.” Now, I can’t order the igni around, but I can quiet them if I send good images and energy their way. Sweat beads along my forehead as I focus on mental pictures of chubby bunnies. For some reason, the igni love fat rabbits. But picturing this while I’m in major pain? It’s not easy. Eventually, I can make out a single word in their babble: “man.” As terms go, that’s not too helpful, but it is progress. I double down and try adding a few baby seals into my mental bunny images.

It helps a little. I must be picturing stuff for quite some time, because the next thing I know, I’m wrapped in a plush robe and sitting on Lincoln’s lap. My guy has pulled on a pair of jeans, and based on the way his bare chest is soggy, I’ve been crying against his pecs for a while now. Sadly, this isn’t the first time this has happened on our honeymoon. Pregnancy hormones are the worst. Three days ago, I saw a picture from some old movie where an orangutan wears a diaper. I lost it for like five minutes solid. Yesterday, the smell of broccoli with dinner made me puke. I only cried for a few minutes after that, but still. I’m a warrior.

Being weepy makes me nuts. Lincoln rubs my back in soothing circles. “What level is it?” He knows all about my igni rating system. “Double-screech.” Lincoln lets out a low whistle. “And it’s been going on for hours.” “Never this bad…before.” Normally, double-screeching rarely lasts for more than a few minutes. Lincoln’s voice is steady and clam. “You can do this, Myla.

Once you interpret their message, the igni will go away.” I sniffle against his skin and try to concentrate. Hours have passed, and the “bunny and baby seal” combo isn’t working. It’s time to try something new. I decide to tap into my warrior energy, which is part of my demonic wrath powers. Mostly I use warrior mojo to hyper-focus during battle. However, this experience is turning into one of my worst fights yet, so I’m pulling out everything I’ve got. Closing my eyes tightly, I leverage every ounce of my supernatural concentration and go into “warrior mode,” which is when everything else disappears except my opponent. In this case, “warrior mode” doesn’t make the pain go away, but I can move it to the back of my mind. Little by little, my thoughts clear.

Soon I can sift through all the noise, looking for something useful. Finally, four clear words appear within the garbled sounds. “Mirror Man.” “LK Route.” After that, the igni go blessedly silent. I curl into Lincoln’s body and exhale. “You did it,” says my guy. “I knew you would. What did they say?” “It was something about a person and a place. The first is someone called the Mirror Man.

Does that name mean anything to you?” I’ve certainly never heard about him before. “No.” Lincoln kisses the top of my head. “And the place?” “The LK Route. Is that a street or something?” Lincoln’s eyes widen a fraction. For him, that’s as good as a gasp. “It’s a secret spot in Antrum. Not even my mother knows about it.” “Seriously?” Lincoln’s mother, Octavia, has an amazing spy network. I seriously thought she knew everything.

“She doesn’t know about the LK Route,” confirms Lincoln. “Walker found this place when I was a kid. It’s a royal escape path that was built in the thirteenth century. With it, royalty can make a quick getaway in times of trouble. Walker asked me not to tell anyone, and I never have.” “Nice.” Even though he’s a ghoul, Walker’s a super-cool guy, brilliant engineer, and incredibly good liar. If anyone could find a hidden escape route and keep the secret, it’s Walker. “So does the LK part stand for?” “Lime Kiln.” “Wow.

I have no idea what that is.” Insert comment here about ghouls and crap education. “Lime is a stone that’s used in medieval construction. Kilns are little ovens to heat it up. Thrax call those ovens LKs. We have a line of them behind Arx Hall, so we can quickly make repairs to the palace. The last in line is also rigged for an emergency escape. You touch the top, say “in thrax sic hunt,” and it turns from a fiery oven into a mini-Pulpitum transfer station that takes you anywhere you want to go.” My brows lift. “How many does it fit?” “Only one.

Lime kilns aren’t that large.” “Huh.” When it comes to secret passages and escape routes, I’m like a crow with a bright shiny object. I could talk about this stuff all day. “And what if someone tries to follow you?” “I asked Walker the same thing. He thinks it’s booby trapped.” “Since Mirror Man isn’t ringing any bells, maybe we should check out this lime kiln.” Lincoln opens his mouth to answer when a knock sounds on our door. “Hello? It’s me. I came as quickly as I could.

” My eyes widen. My mother’s here. With that realization, all thoughts of the lime kiln evaporate. My father may be an archangel, but my mother is the president of Purgatory. She shouldn’t be zipping over to Antrum to check on me. But lately, that’s exactly what she has been doing. A lot. As I peep at Lincoln, I can’t help but cringe. “You called her again?” Over the last three weeks, I’ve been having mood swings galore, and sometimes a girl just needs her mother. Lincoln’s been really cool about it, but it’s still a little embarrassing.

Okay, a lot embarrassing. Lincoln pulls me closer to him. “You’re carrying a child of incredible supernatural power, right?” I nod into his chest. I’m carrying the Scala Heir, and yeah, that’s a big deal. At any one point in time, there can only be two people in the after-realms with the blood of a human, demon, and angel: the Scala and the Scala Heir. Sadly, there are no real records on Scala Heir pregnancy. My mother is my solo source of information. Unfortunately, finding out that I’m in any way uncomfortable transforms her from the awesome President of Purgatory (which is her new day job) into freaked-out mom (which was how I knew her growing up.) “It’s just embarrassing, that’s all,” I say.

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