Read Caged Warrior Online

Authors: Lindsey Piper

Tags: #Dragon Kings#1

Caged Warrior (37 page)

What he explained was ridiculous. Ludicrous. None of it was possible, and yet Nynn
felt deep inside that this was a strange destiny. That four Dragon Kings with such
compatible skills could come together,
work
together. She could almost feel the tattoo on her shoulder buzzing with excited approval.

“Too bad we don’t have an Indranan with us,” she said. “I’m half Pendray. The Dragon
would be pleased by the cooperation of all Five Clans.”

Don’t be so sure.

Nynn and the other two stared at Leto. He’d spoken right into their minds.

He appeared almost embarrassed. “I’ve always felt it.” His words were halting. “I
could almost see what an opponent was going to do before it happened. The only Dragon
Kings who can fight like that are the Indranan.”

“The Five Clans it is, then. That’ll be nice and all kumbaya.” Hark flicked a glance
at the door. “We’ll sort family trees later.”

“Yes.” Nynn took Leto’s hand. “Let’s do this. Burn it down.”

TWENTY-NINE

L
eto was in pain. He was buzzing. He was furious.

He was
himself
.

Only when he felt the roughness beneath his fingertips did he realize he was touching
his neck. He didn’t even know its contours. Hidden from him for two decades. Although
he would bear those scars until he died, he would never wear a
lonayíp
collar again.

Another surety was harder to accept.

I’m one of the Heartless.

Had his mother been Indranan, or had Dr. Aster done . . .
something
to ensure Leto’s conception and birth? Pell had been incapacitated by her gift. Was
she a crossbreed, too? Nynn was, and she was powerful—so powerful. And her son was
half human. Perhaps that explained some of the Dragon Kings’ trials. Split and segregated,
bigoted and aloof, they’d retreated into tight-knit clans and doomed themselves to
extinction.

“We’re not going die.” Even his voice sounded different. Some combination of his liberated
senses and his voice box free of a permanent metal grip.

There was no more time to delay. He turned to face
Nynn. Their gazes caught. They held hands. At the far end of the disorienting golden
tunnel of light, he found her icy blue eyes. She looked scared, elated, anxious.

“Never let me go,” she said.

“Neither of us is in the habit of letting go of the ones we love.”

She blessed him with a radiant smile that added more gold to their intimate bonfire.
“Be ready to keep up, sir.”

His heart pinched. “Make me proud, neophyte.”

He could only watch as Nynn pulled the golden energy into her body. He couldn’t imagine
what Nynn could do with this much pure energy at her disposal. The Pendray in her
must be the difference. She wasn’t a pure, polite, straight-thinking Tigony. She possessed
a wild touch of berserker.

His job was to keep the berserker calm and speed her to safety just before the full
concussive blast neared its peak. For Hark and Silence, they had the task of channeling
Nynn’s gift. Two wrathful blasts were better than one. For Leto’s peace of mind, he
hoped the split would save Nynn from flat-out exploding. She’d lost control before.

Leto recalled the tattoo on her shoulder, now more a premonition than anything he’d
done to save her from the Asters. It was as if Lamot had uncovered the color and shape
that had already been there. Nynn, who carried a piece of the Dragon.

Did that mean she could succumb to her own inner violence, falling into the Chasm
as the Dragon had done?

The golden energy disappeared. She threw her head
back. Her whole body shook, as if his hands were live wires she’d caught while standing
in a puddle of water. Lightning burst and sparked outward from where they touched.
With his wild senses careening around the arena, collecting information he could barely
process, Leto heard voices, guards, keys.

Hark and Silence positioned themselves before the section of arena wall they claimed
was weakest. Leto found a strange sympathy for them. If no other Dragon Kings existed,
the Sath would be as powerless as humans. No gifts to steal. What would it be like
to only borrow the unfamiliar? They would never know in advance what intensity they
prepared to take into their bodies.

A test,
Hark had said.
Can’t rely on a weak link.

There in the Cage, they’d already tasted a sample of Nynn’s power. Leto’s long games
looked like snap decisions compared to these two.

A tremor in Nynn’s mind, a cry, a truncated scream. Between them had grown a bubble
of fireworks and sputtering light. It doubled in size until its perimeter sizzled
Leto’s skin. His sense of touch was radically sensitive. He jerked back, slipped,
lost her hands.

“Nynn!”

The bubble was as tall as she was.

Just at his peripheral vision, he saw Hark and Silence touch. Just hands. A quick
squeeze. Silence had a lovely smile. He looked away, unwilling to intrude on what
may have been two lovers’ wishes for luck. Or their goodbyes.

The bubble burst in a furious blast of fire and stinging electrical currents. Leto
was faster. No wonder
they’d wanted to restrict what the Dragon had bestowed. He grabbed Nynn around the
waist and pulled her to the far side of the Cage. She was limp in his arms.

The blast was a tidal wave pouring over them in an arc of molten light. The Cage,
which had been the bedrock of his existence, shriveled and burned like paper in fire.
Briefly, the Sath pair was silhouetted against the onslaught. He cringed closer to
Nynn and groaned as his eyes were stabbed by indescribable brightness. Pain ricocheted
between his sockets and the back of his skull.

Leto gave her a shake. Maybe too hard. He couldn’t tell how loud he shouted or how
fast he moved. “Don’t you leave me.”

“Going . . . nowhere.”

The last of what had been forged steel landed in bits and chunks, all brittle and
black like charred wood. Leto realized that much of the training arena looked the
same way. Their insane plan had worked. What looked like singed wood was enclosed
where layers of metal girders and roofing had been. Maybe it still was metal, just
altered beyond recognition.

Light filtered through crags and cracks in the rock, and streamed in great gushes
through a gaping hole where Silence and Hark had stood. The hole was almost as big
as the octagonal base of the obliterated practice Cage.

“You meant it,” he said, pulling her into his arms. “Burn it down.”

“Hell yeah.”

“You’re a wreck.”

“You should see your face.”

“You want a pretty boy instead? Can’t help you there.” He kissed her forehead. “Time
to leave. You promised to show me the snow.”

“What if I killed them, too? Silence and Hark?”

“Then they died on their terms. Free.”

♦   ♦   ♦

Nynn stumbled over the rubble and into the bright glare of late midday on an artic
field. She’d assumed it would be morning, but the artificial markers of time in the
complex didn’t match the turn of the earth. She’d also imagined mountains. This was
just flat. Flatness without end. Features mashed together into a stark wash of ice
on white on blue.

That wasn’t to say it was devoid of life. Hark and Silence stood staring at the white
wasteland. They looked like refugees from a coal mine.

“Where’s your pack?” Nynn called.

Hark looked over his shoulder with a teasing grin. “Someone’s Dragon-damned gift has
a nasty kick. Our packs are ash. On the upside, we thought we’d need supplies for
a long foot trek. I’m glad we can be proven wrong
and
still survive the shame.”

In the distance, maybe two miles away, stood another complex. It was aboveground and
ringed with helicopter pads and smaller buildings that looked like private, individual
villas. Nynn knew without question that the actual game Cage was inside.

Perhaps she and the other warriors had traveled that short distance on some convoluted,
disorienting path, because those two miles could’ve been traversed in mere minutes.
Their bus rides had taken a good half hour. She didn’t trust much about her perspective
from
that time, but she read it as another Aster trick to keep their slaves subjugated.

One long, squat building among the others was lit for business.

That bastard has my son.

Leto climbed out behind her and staggered. He shielded his eyes. Nynn wrapped her
hands around his upper arm, hoping to steady him. She’d never expected to get this
far. The tortures of the previous year—no, the tortures that extended back into her
childhood—had nurtured a fatalistic streak she only recognized now that the cold sun
touched her face.

Training, fighting, hating . . . they’d taken on a numbing cadence. Saving Jack had
become a mantra, not an actual
thing
. No wonder Leto had been able to continue without question for so long. He would’ve
kept fighting forever, to make sure his sisters were safe and that his clan name continued.

But if he
had
continued, he never would’ve seen the sun or the snow.

Eyes shut, he tilted his face up and panned across the horizon until he faced the
sun where it arced toward evening. The thick muscle of his neck was shaded by the
angle of his uplifted chin. Callouses and raw skin were reminders of his captivity,
and of how intensely his freed gift must be amplifying that moment. He swallowed,
opened his mouth, and slowly, slowly, opened his eyes.

The shudder that worked down his body fed into Nynn through her hands, and maybe through
her pores. Intimate and elemental.

Beautiful pain.

Those two words, spoken with his roughened voice, tickled between her temples. Beautiful
pain. Yes, that was it exactly. She looked at the sun, stared at it, dared the elements
to take what remained of her. Nothing could. She wasn’t numb anymore. She was in pain,
the beautiful pain of being awake, finally awake.

“A little help here, firecracker,” Hark said. “We need to clean up our mess. I’d rather
not share this lovely snow-covered holiday with a passel of guards.”

Nynn blinked away from the sun and looked toward Hark. His face was partially obscured
by black dots strewn across her vision. Funny that she could look upon the bright
colors of her own gift, and through the golden tunnel of light she and Leto could
create with their gazes, but the sun was still the sun—more powerful than all of them.
Even Dragon Kings needed humbling.

Nynn gave Leto’s arm another squeeze before joining Silence and Hark around what now
looked like a pit. They’d been living in a pit. Dozens of the Asters’ guards were
trying to climb to the surface.

The Sath must’ve been gaining control of their uninhibited gifts, too, because Nynn
felt as if they were only borrowing her light. They shared it. They weren’t Thieves
but comrades in arms. Nynn concentrated on building her power, layering, gathering
the energy of the sun and the electricity in the cold arctic air into a lethal ball.

An inner confidence told her when it was enough. She was able to disperse the bright
ferocity rather than launch it like a megaton bomb. Silence and Hark shaped it yet
again. Together the three remade the gaping hole. Rock fell and twisted, melting into
fresh lava before
cooling in the frigid air. She staggered back and dropped ass-first into the snow.
What remained of the blasted exit was a giant scar on the ground. Steam poured skyward.

“One door opens,” Hark said, “and another closes. Ta-dah.”

A big hand reached down. Leto helped her creak to her feet. Without speaking a word,
she and the others began a fast trudge to the distant outpost.

A few hundred yards of snow had numbed her feet before she frowned. “Why are you two
coming with us? Do the Asters hold relatives of yours?”

“Nothing so selfless. We can’t walk out of here.”

Leto’s armor clanged because of his fast pace but he wasn’t even winded. Likely he
could travel there and back a dozen times before Nynn and the others ran a quarter
of the distance.

Nynn stopped. “Wait. Leto. I’m slowing you down. All of you.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Just like how they channeled my gift. They can borrow yours. The three of you can
make it to those buildings—fast, together.”

Leto charged into her space in that restrained, angered way of his. “Leave you here?”

“Yes. You could carry me, but that would be three people digging into your strength.
The alarms have already warned the guards at the labs. We don’t have time to let them
fortify. And we need you as strong as possible to take on those who have.”

“You are my partner.”

“But right now,” she said, “I’m your liability. These
two have been lying in wait for months. They helped us get free. You’ll have them
at your back, and they’ll have you at theirs.” She touched his face, ran her thumb
over the scar along his upper lip. Out in the daylight, that streak of silvery pink
was easier to see. “I’ll catch up. Go, please. Find Jack and Pell.”

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