Stormbreak (Seafire #3) - Natalie C. Parker


The fire crawling through Lir’s veins had started hours ago and was only getting worse.

In spite of the cool air piped throughout the ship, sweat itched along his brow and he barely resisted the urge to tap his feet as he joined the long line of Bullets heading into the galley. He’d never needed Silt this badly before. He’d never felt this insistent surging of his blood or this erratic knocking of his heart. But he’d missed his last two doses and the lag was beginning to take its toll.

Lir ground his teeth at the sudden lightness in his head and turned to survey the Bullets lining up behind him until his eyes found the one he searched for: Tassos. The boy was barely a turn older than Lir, but his body told another story. He was broad where Lir was narrow, his muscles stacked like bricks where Lir’s were lean. Like Lir, he was pale as salt but for his dark eyes and twisted red hair, and he always seemed to be smiling at something. Right now, that something was Lir.

Tassos stood with his arms crossed over his chest, his eyes loosely locked on Lir, and a disdainful curl to his lips. He was surrounded by a small swarm of sycophants, every one of them too afraid of his capricious moods to risk standing anywhere but by his side. It was Lir’s recent refusal to similarly acquiesce that had landed him in the too-bright light of Tassos’s attentions.

A sharp-jawed girl named Cepheus leaned up and, with her eyes on Lir, whispered something that made Tassos laugh. Lir glowered, turning away from the sight.

Two doses. Tassos had stolen the previous two doses from Lir by getting ahead of him in line and swiping it from his tray before Lir had even managed to find a seat. It was insulting. Maddening. But the only thing worse than not having his dose of Silt would be admitting to Ballistic Ennick that he’d lost it. Twice. Asking for assistance wasn’t an option. This was a situation he’d have to deal with on his own.

An unfamiliar weakness needled in his muscles and bones, and strength leached from his skin like sweat. But he would not give Tassos the pleasure of seeing him squirm. The rivalry between them was new. Until two days ago, Tassos had never spared a second glance for him. Then Lir made the mistake of taking down Cross in hand-to-hand exercises and suddenly the once-middling Lir of sixteen turns wasn’t so unobtrusive anymore. He was the one everyone wanted at their side.

And Tassos, it seemed, had decided Lir was the one to drive into the ground.

Clenching his fists against a sudden tremor, Lir steadied his breathing and tried to focus on the soothing simplicity of a gun. He ran through each piece, mentally dismantling his preferred sidearm before putting it back together again. At each step, he imagined the unmistakable slide of steel against steel, the sharp click as pins snapped home, the quiet groan as springs depressed. By the time he’d completed the process, the line had coiled into the galley and the smell of fresh bread made Lir’s stomach clench with anticipation. Soon, there was a tray in his hand and his plate was filled with seed brick smothered in gravy, seaweed salad, and that delicious fresh bread.

His blood surged faster, and the fire burned in his veins as he followed the line to the end where Bullet Sanno handed out the evening ration of Silt. Sanno raised one thick eyebrow as Lir approached. It was warm in here, but not warm enough to warrant the beads of sweat sliding from Lir’s temples.

“From Silt comes strength,” Lir said, and it took some effort to keep his voice steady.

“The Father gives you Silt,” Sanno answered, the suspicion in his voice clear, but he handed over a single ration without question.

Lir flicked his eyes quickly down the line as he turned away, spotting Tassos picking up his own tray at the end. Relief washed through Lir. The wait was nearly over. All he needed to do was stay calm, eat his meal, then take his Silt the same way every other Bullet did. After the meal.

His mistake was keeping his eyes on Tassos. He knew that as soon as his shoulder collided with something hard. His tray tipped, the contents spilling to the floor with a clatter.

Lir snapped to attention, instinctively raising his fists for a fight even as Cepheus backed away