Read Caged Warrior Online

Authors: Lindsey Piper

Tags: #Dragon Kings#1

Caged Warrior (36 page)

The sound of metal scraping into a lock shocked Nynn back to herself. Leto had jumped
clear of the bed and grabbed his shorts before she blinked. He threw clothes at her
and grabbed a shield and curved sword off his wall. Perhaps he’d been awarded them
as prizes after some victory or another, but he held them now like a man ready to
defend his home.

Maybe he was, because the lock began to turn.

TWENTY-EIGHT

I
f anything proved how weak he was in the scheme of the Asters’ cartel, Leto knew it
the moment his privacy was invaded by three armed guards. The shield and sword he
hefted were no better than toys when the intruders leveled cattle prods and rifles
loaded with napalm bullets. Without his gift, Leto was a medieval knight against an
army from the future.

“Nynn of Tigony,” said one of the helmeted men. “You’re coming with us.”

“Where—?”

The man leveled his prod at her as she yanked her tank top into place. “No talking.”

Another of the guards gestured to the armaments Leto had snatched off the wall. “Put
those down.”

All this time, Leto had believed he was worth more. Now he was staring at faceless
human opponents who aimed rifles at his bare chest. Faceless humans had come to take
Nynn away.

Without his collar, his decision would’ve been simple. Take them out. Three guards
laid out on the ground. With it, however, he needed to gauge the outcome. He
couldn’t be sure that he’d incapacitate the guards before one of them hurt the woman
he loved.

The woman I love.

Dragon damn, that realization had felt so right when holding her close. It had become
a weakness. He would never recover from the pain of losing her.

That won’t happen.

Leto dropped and did a somersault. He thrust his shield between Nynn and the guard
holding the prod. Electricity sparked off bronze and jolted up his arm. He swung the
sword low and took the guard out at the knees. The crunch of breaking bones was muffled
by plastic-bonded armor. Behind his helmet, the guard’s scream was muffled, too.

Angered beyond words, Leto used the language of violence he’d spoken since he was
a child. He thrust the shield into Nynn’s hands and snatched up the fallen prod. Swirling
it like Weil did with her lance, he jammed it into the second guard’s stomach. A buzzing,
gurgling sound was followed by the stench of singed plastic.

Two napalm bullets fired. That premonition feeling he experienced on occasion in the
Cages showed him where to escape the trajectory of the bullets. He used sword and
prod in a one-two attack against the final guard. Another bullet fired into the ceiling.
Its lasting, unnatural green glowed until chunks of concrete rained down.

Leto turned to search for the other two bullets. One sizzled in the middle of the
pillow he and Nynn had shared. The other burned in a pool of green dead center of
the shield.

He ripped the shield away before the bullet ate
through the bronze. Nynn leapt at him with a fierce shriek. Leto’s reflexes and his
Dragon-damned collar saved him from taking a knife to his throat. He used momentum
to roll with her until he lay stretched over her body.

“You
really
wanted to keep that shield.”

She smacked him across the face. “I didn’t know it was you!”

“And this?” He yanked the knife from her hand.

“Guard’s boot,” she said, nodding toward the first man fallen. “Leto, what the fuck
is this about?”

He pulled her to her feet. Efficiently, she grabbed her training gear and strapped
it on. Silk-lined leather wasn’t the same as armor, but it would serve. The set of
armor he retrieved from the wall had been his prize after the last Grievance. Yeta
had miscarried three months later, so he’d never worn it in combat.
Tainted
. Now it was nothing more than a tool. The gilt trim and onyx inlay may as well have
been plain steel.

An alarm sounded.

Nynn flinched mid-motion as she gripped two weapons—the guard’s knife and Leto’s ceremonial
sword. She met his eyes, then tossed him the sword. “Too heavy for me,” she said with
a tight grin.

“You’re learning, neophyte.”

“You really want your ass singed.”

“Not particularly.” He picked up the napalm rifle and checked the ammunition. Seven
left.

“You’re a Cage warrior and you’re amazing—but that looks completely wrong in your
hands.”

“It’s because I’m a Cage warrior and I’m amazing,” he said tightly. “This
lonayíp
toy is for cowards.”

“Then you’re holding it why?”

“Because we’ll be facing off against other cowards.” He nodded toward the first guard.
“Can you handle the prod, too?”

She’d already stripped an ankle scabbard and tightened it around her thigh. Knife
stowed, she took up the prod and accepted the smallest shield from his wall of trophies.
At least the Asters had been trusting enough in his subservience to allow him that.
He’d walked around without manacles and with weapons on his wall because they’d believed
him so neatly broken.

“How many charges does this thing have?” Nynn adjusted her grip on the prod so that
her thumb rested on the trigger.

“I’ve only ever seen it used once at a time. No one gets up afterward.”

The alarm continued to cleave the air. It was all Leto could do to find a balance
between using his senses and protecting them from damage. A Dragon King could lose
a limb and never grow it back. He didn’t want to test whether losing his hearing could
be permanent.

Yet he could always rely on his speed—nearly as powerful as within the Cages. He pinned
Hark to the wall with a rifle before even registering the man’s presence.

“What in the Dragon’s name is going on?” Hark choked out.

“I’d ask the same of you. Wasn’t this part of your plan?”

Hark coughed. “What plan would possibly involve you killing three guards and setting
off alarms?”

“You and Silence wanted a diversion so you could deactivate the collars. This looks
a lot like a diversion.”

“If this was our doing, I’d be holding her hand and we’d be getting the fuck out of
here.”

“Where is she?” asked Nynn.

“Our room, probably grabbing our packs. Do you have cold weather clothing?” At Leto’s
blink of confusion, Hark rolled his eyes. “We didn’t plan this, but we can use it.
Are you coming or not?”

“Really?” Nynn was frowning. “You and Silence planned an escape?”

Silence snuck behind her and grasped Nynn’s head with her hooked forearm. The woman
pressed the tip of a petite dagger at the soft juncture between Nynn’s jaw and ear.

“For six months,” Silence whispered. “Let him go, Leto.”

Despite his renewed surprise at the woman’s voice, Leto assessed her posture. He knew
her affection for Hark and read the determination in her black eyes. Leto backed away.
Hark doubled over to rest his hands on his thighs, coughing the pressure out of his
abdomen.

Leto tightened the last strap of his armor. “We’ll need another name for you now.”

Silence only shrugged and released Nynn.

“I told you, it should be Patience,” Hark said. “You’re lucky she likes you both.
Normally she would’ve cut rather than turn all civil.” Then he spoke directly to her
in what must’ve been some Sath code—or maybe one they’d devised together.

She nodded.

Hark grinned as if they’d agreed to a friendly sparring match. “Now, unless you’re
excessively fond of the
things, it’s time to take off these Dragon-damned collars.”

♦   ♦   ♦

After taking down additional guards, Nynn and the others reached the training Cage
arena. Hark carried two large duffels while Silence and Leto collected what weapons
they could. In a telling gesture, Leto winced and rubbed one ear with the back of
his hand. The alarm must be killing him, even with the collar still active and in
place.

The pair was likely insane—some sort of Sath madness—only adding gasoline to a fiery
situation. Nynn wanted to be the one wielding the lighter fluid and matches. That
meant she needed to take a chance on Silence and Hark. If they could get free of the
dampening field, if they could escape the complex, if they could find her son . . .

And if Pell was being held in the labs, they would find her, too.

During the night, during the last few months, she and Leto had fused. That was the
only way she could explain why the safety of his sister now ranked with saving Jack.

With a ring of stolen keys, Hark locked the arena door behind them. “The others need
to stay out of here when we make with the big bang. If this works, they can fight
their way free.”

From her duffel, Silence produced a small black dragon idol. The tiny hairs on the
backs of Nynn’s hands stood. Why should a little figurine produce such a visceral
reaction?

“Hark was playing with that during my initiation,” Nynn said. “It was in two pieces.”

Silence nodded, turned her around, and placed the idol at the back of the collar.
With a snap and a strange, rusty groan, the steel dropped away. Nynn jumped at the
chance to touch her own skin, which was raw in the center and calloused at the edges.

Then came a flood. Unchecked, her gift surged to life under her skin, even more powerfully
than in the Cages. It seemed that even in providing a measure of freedom to fight
as Dragon Kings, the Asters had discovered a way to keep them small.

“Leto,” she said, catching his gaze. “You’re going to love this.”

He submitted to Silence as she fit the tail of the dragon idol into the hated lock.
“Where did you get that? You’ve been hiding it?”

Hark stood beside his woman. “Half of it was here. Silence found it. Isn’t that cool?
Like any old rock—although, granted, we had an inside track on where to look. Don’t
ask. You wouldn’t believe us if we told you. The other half came with me from Hong
Kong. It’s not just a city of hot prostitutes and really,
really
high buildings.”

While Silence spirited the idol into the folds of her armor, Hark sobered in that
unnerving way of his, turning his jester switch from on to off. “So yes, we’ve hidden
it. And we waited.”

“Dragon-damned Sath with your patience.”

“See?
Patience
. You’re catching on. We have thousands of years of experience keeping our mouths
shut. Something of a clan specialty.” He grinned. “Although I didn’t get the official
rule book.”

The collar unsnapped and dropped with a metallic
thud. Leto gasped, then groaned. He wrapped his hands around the column of his throat.
A manic beauty filled his chocolate eyes. Nynn had seen that expression when he’d
pressed her body into the mattress and strove toward satisfaction, finally overtaken
by the strength of his release.

He looked to the ceiling and roared an unnamable pain.
“Twenty years!”

While Silence and Hark unlocked one another, Nynn found her lover and caught his face
between her hands. He was inhaling short, heavy breaths, his face distorted by anguish.

“I did everything they demanded and more,” he rasped. “They kept this from me.”

Nynn nodded. “They did. Now it’s time to dig those graves.”

They stared at one another. A bright golden glow gathered between their faces. It
had happened before, but never like this. They generated their own energy. Nynn reached
to touch it. Nothing. It was entirely pure. She could see individual molecules as
they shivered with unspent potential.

“That’s it. Living gold.” Hark sounded awed. “That’s what we were waiting for.”

When Nynn blinked away her amazement, she found the couple staring at her and Leto.

“What is it?” Nynn thought her head should hurt. How could something so potent be
without consequences? Yet she felt stronger than ever, and closer to Leto—joined in
new, inexplicable ways.

Hark slugged Leto on the shoulder, which would’ve been a very bad idea under other
circumstances. “Come
back to us, my friend.” He eyed the ceiling where the unseen alarms continued to blare.
“It’s gotta be hell, but we need you.”

Silence led Nynn by the hand until they stood at a far corner. Her eyes were dark
marbles, like the unblinking gaze of a raven. “Weakest right there.”

It was like hearing a cat start talking.

“Weakest?”

The clamor of metal caught her attention. Leto was racing in seemingly haphazard directions,
so fast that her eyes couldn’t follow. Was he testing his powers, or being overwhelmed
by them?

“Leto! We need you!”

He snapped to her side. A huge, unbelievable grin took ten years off his face. The
care and grim thoughts were momentarily lifted. His throat was a column of scars and
overlapping callouses. He would never be rid of that mark, nor his tattoo. Perhaps
having his powers in full—not returned, but for the first time—would be compensation.

“Okay, folks, we have one shot,” Hark said. “And even this is . . . well, let’s say
I’d like to get out of this alive, but I’m not holding my breath.”

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