Read Caged Warrior Online

Authors: Lindsey Piper

Tags: #Dragon Kings#1

Caged Warrior (38 page)

Sometimes the words that shivered out of his mind, into hers, were as distinct as
if he’d spoken. Sometimes they were just feelings. Did all Indranan work that way,
or was it because he was crossbred? She only felt his desperation. She felt it and
echoed it. They would do what they needed to. Their goals would not waver. Even if
that meant parting. Her heart was as hot as the rock she’d turned into molten slag.

After a curt nod, he turned away and took a breath. The strength of it lifted his
scarred armor. He was a mountain preparing to run—the most impressive thing she’d
ever seen. Nynn had only blinked when Leto and the strange couple churned snow in
their wake.

She stood there. Blank. Frozen. Colorless and bereft. When tightening her fists, she
could still feel the old breaks where her knuckles had been crushed. Escape was not
the same as safety for their loved ones. And as much as she loved Leto of Garnis,
having lost sight of him amid a cloud of powder white, she didn’t need him for exacting
revenge.

THIRTY

L
eto was part of the world rather than trapped beneath it. Tiny shards of ice as small
as grit scored his face and his gloriously bare throat. Inhaling the air stung his
nostrils with pure cold, and he could’ve sworn he could still smell Nynn—her sweet,
feminine scent on the wind. Every time he’d stepped into a Cage, he’d thought his
gift was in full force. Not even close.

This
was what it was to be a Dragon King.

Even with Silence and Hark gathering some of his power for their own, he processed
details at a pace that should’ve made his mind spin. He put each in correct places:
environment, velocity, potential threats, and the effect his run was having on his
body.

That was an unknown. After all, he didn’t know his limits now.

But he realized that his limits didn’t matter. He would do what he’d always done.
He would fight until he emerged victorious. These stakes were the highest of his life.

As the outpost gained shape and size, he signaled to his unlikely companions. They
responded as they would have in the Cages. Instantly. Efficiently. They split away
from Leto to flank the building to his left and right. As long as their goals overlapped
with rescuing Pell and Jack, they would be welcome allies.

The lab was more like a fortress. He circled but could find no way in. He was on the
verge of returning for Nynn—her gift would’ve made fast work of this hellish place—when
his senses sizzled. He sniffed the air. The hair at the base of his skull prickled.
Without diverting power to his conscious mind, he ran based on instinct, following
the path Silence had taken. Around a sharp corner. Down a long stretch of marble and
ice and iron.

The low building they’d assumed to be the laboratory was menacing. It was an eerie
blight on the white landscape, even more pronounced than the hole Nynn and the Sath
had punched out from the ground. This place radiated with screams. Leto couldn’t tell
if he heard the screams with his ears or his brain. His newly freed Indranan powers
almost overwhelmed the senses he’d trusted for a lifetime.

The arena that housed the battle Cage was huge. It looked even more impressive in
its stone housing than from his usual vantage in the center of the action. He veered
away from it, intent on finding the source of his sizzling awareness. The sensation
was hot and sputtering, pressing out from his forehead and temples. Something was
coming. Violence.

The moment he realized Silence’s footprints had gone missing was the moment he glimpsed
the source of that sizzling crackle. A small device on top of a generator at the rear
of the squat building was blinking
red, red, red
. For all his training, he had no idea what it was.
He wanted to strip his armor and beat it against the marble wall. Useless. Being out
in the world was as new as a being born.

Yet he wouldn’t let himself retreat into maudlin. Whether scent or sound, something
gave Silence away. He wasn’t surprised to find her crouched on one of the slim eaves,
two stories up. Any warrior who didn’t admire her elegant balance was a fool. She
was looking down at the explosive device that had skittered cold up Leto’s spine—a
cold very different from the newfound snow and ice.

“What is it?”

Silence shook her head, cracked the knuckle of her right thumb, and mouthed, “Boom.”

♦   ♦   ♦

Tallis of Pendray leaned lower over the handlebars of his snowmobile. Dark goggles
protected his eyes. He left no skin exposed to the elements. Riding three vehicles
deep on either side of him were the Honorable Giva and five members of the nameless
underground. Tallis wasn’t a member of that secret network. He didn’t want to be.
His missions were personal. Perhaps that’s why he pursued them so doggedly.

For more than a year, he’d suffered guilt so strong and potent that sleep was nearly
impossible. The strength to hold back his rage—the berserker rage he’d suppressed
when living among the humans—was beginning to ebb.

He’d killed and he’d done worse. And he regretted none of it.

Except for what he’d let happen to Nynn.

She’d been just another step toward the Sun’s
prophecy of uniting the Five Clans—steps he’d taken since murdering a Pendray priest.
Only after leading the Asters’ guards to Nynn’s home had Tallis realized her identity,
and that some means were too sickening to stomach, no matter the noble ends.

He needed his conscience washed clean of her pain. And he needed revenge against the
Sun, the living goddess whose dreamtime deceptions had guided his life for too long.

The snow was beginning to blend into dreamtime. Predictions and prophecies were streaked
by each new spray of crystals. He shook free of those dreams’ seductive hold, only
to find himself back in the light of a waning sun and surrounded by his own kind.
Despite his appearance at the Council, rumors insisted he was dead or some crazed
myth. That was for the best.

He tightened his mouth. His resolve was unshakable; his course was set as if by the
Dragon. He still had work to do on this earth.

Tallis could barely see the massive complex on the horizon. They had no Garnis among
their number, but that was no surprise. Leto and his siblings were the only ones of
the Lost that Tallis had known, even in his far-ranging travels. They could’ve used
the amplified senses and speed of a Garnis warrior. The elements conspired with the
gathering dusk to obscure even the defined outline of the huge arena’s walls, let
alone potential threats.

The Giva sped to the front of the triangular formation and motioned toward another
distant spot. Not the outpost.

Smoke.

They had no need to signal one another to converge
there first. The seven snowmobiles turned in a wide arc to cover the last few miles
of the loud, chilly trek. Through what must’ve constituted years of work, the rebels
had located this desolate Canadian stronghold. A thousand miles of tundra seemed appropriate
when tasked with hiding the secret of conception.

Dark clouds rising into the snow blue sky reminded him of the day, months earlier,
when Nynn had inadvertently revealed the outpost’s exact location. Nynn had destroyed
part of Dr. Aster’s lab. That had been the proof the rebels had needed to convince
Tallis, and the proof he’d taken to the Giva.

Throttling down his vehicle, Tallis pulled alongside Malnefoley. The man’s hatred
for Tallis had been banked only long enough to rescue Nynn. But they were both caught
up in bigger events than the Giva realized.

A female rebel lifted the visor of her helmet. “What is that?”

They looked at a smoking, blackened swath of earth. Falling snow melted even before
it touched the surface that radiated waves of heat.

“GPS says that we’re above part of the complex,” said another.

He was Pendray, although he claimed no association with any of the Five Clans. It
was the nature of their loose network that those who wished to remain unaffiliated
were allowed that right.

“I recognize this.” The Giva’s words were strong, although blunted by the wind. He
wiped his mouth with the tail of a scarf pulled from his parka. “This is my cousin’s
work. I haven’t seen it in . . . Dragon be, I haven’t seen it since the day Leoki
died.”

“Should we look for an entrance?” Another rebel. Another nameless face. “We know the
Cage warriors live and train in a secret facility. They won’t be at the outpost.”

“But Nynn will be,” said the Giva. “Or else she was killed in creating this. Either
way, the lab is my first priority.”

“What about the Dragon Kings down there?” The Pendray man nodded to the cooling slag.
Only hours before, it must’ve been covered by the same endless snow. “They could be
trapped, collared, and at the mercy of human guards.”

“I’m not the Giva in this place.” Even wrapped in gear to protect against the cold,
Malnefoley’s exposed features were striking. He was as classically handsome as the
gods portrayed in Greek art. Symmetry and strong grace. Optimism and light to Tallis’s
darkness. “If you want to find an entrance and save what warriors you can, the choice
is yours. I’m going to find my cousin and learn what the Asters know.”

With that, he affixed his goggles and sped toward the outpost. Three of the rebels
stayed behind, while the rest followed Malnefoley’s snowmobile. It would remain a
mystery whether they did so by rational choice or because, even there, Malnefoley
was still the Giva.

Tallis revved the machine’s engine and tore through the snow in pursuit.

They closed in on the outpost, which was more like a coliseum of the Tigony’s ancient
reign. Made sense. The men and women who fought in the Cages were latter-day gladiators—just
as powerful and just as powerless. Playthings of the richest people on the planet.

Playthings of the cartels.

Tallis was a man of sideways steps and measured moves. Riding headlong into any situation
was just wrong, and yet he needed to do it. His all-weather suit felt infested with
lice and the slithering tails of rats. He wanted to be gone, but he battled his destructive
temper and stayed the course.

He would atone for the hell he’d brought down on Nynn. And he would have his revenge
against the Sun, who’d convinced him that twenty years of murder was in the service
of a higher calling.

Maybe then he might be able to forgive himself.

And there she is.

Nynn of Tigony was trudging through the blinding white, seemingly alone on the endless,
icy tundra. Dragon save him, his niece was returning to the laboratory where he’d
handed her over to Dr. Aster.

♦   ♦   ♦

Nynn was no more than a quarter mile from the complex when she felt an ominous drone.
She slowed. That same droning hummed beneath her feet. Her vision was whitewashed,
her lungs burned, and sweat glued the protective layer of silk to her skin. Only that
threatening vibration made her stop completely.

Two pairs of snowmobiles roared past her, then circled back in wide symmetrical arcs.
She had no weapon other than her gift, although the thought of using it made her breath
hitch in short, shallow gasps. Not out of fear. Out of pure fatigue. She could gather
and amplify energy, but that process seemed to leave her weaker each time. If the
figures on the snowmobiles had weapons, if they were loyal to the Asters, she would
need to take her chances.

One skidded to a stop ten feet in front of her. She tensed. Every maneuver Leto had
taught her was coiled in her limbs. They could shoot her, or they could fight. She
would win if they chose the latter.

The figure lifted his goggles and threw back the hood of his parka. Bright blond hair
shone bronze and copper and gold in the fading sunshine. He always had seemed like
some creature made of precious, untouchable treasures, with the blue waters of the
Aegean reflected in his eyes.

“Mal!”

She catapulted forward so fast she thought she’d knock him from the seat of his snowmobile.
But he’d always been strong. Despite disagreements, they caught each other in a flurry
of hugs and quick words of explanation.

“Now Leto has gone ahead. We have to go.”

“Who’s Leto?” he asked, frowning.

“He’s . . .” She climbed behind him on the snowmobile and grabbed around her cousin’s
waist. “He’s more than I can explain right now. Mal, just ride.”

Three other people fell in line behind their Giva. They made short work of the distance
remaining to the arena outpost. Hard to believe she’d fought with such gusto and pride
within those high, forbidding walls. Caught in Ulia’s mind trap, she’d wanted to win
so that the Asters would be pleased. The bumping speed of the snowmobile over ice
only added to her distress.

She concentrated until two thoughts remained.
Save Jack. Keep Leto.

Those would be her two most important goals for the rest of her life.

The patter of what sounded like rain arced around them. Sprays of ice shot up from
where bullets struck, some ordinary, some glowing with napalm. One of the snowmobile
drivers was hit dead center in the chest. Whether man or woman, Nynn would never know.
The body swelled green from the inside out where it hit the ground, and would continue
to burn until someone used a Dragon-forged sword to end that misery. The vehicle tumbled
to a sputtering stop, useless.

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