Read Caged Warrior Online

Authors: Lindsey Piper

Tags: #Dragon Kings#1

Caged Warrior (39 page)

Mal grabbed her hands and pulled her tight against his back. They leaned forward so
far that Nynn grasped the throttle. She could barely see, could only trust and try
to keep them riding straight. Mal balanced, then lifted his arms. The sky shrieked
with a crack of lightning. Another. Then another. He gathered them like the stems
of flowers, then hurtled them like javelins.

Marble with brick underlay shattered out into the snow. Smoke obscured the damage
he’d done. Nynn shuddered against his back as more streaks of lightning cut the deepening
afternoon blue.

The machine guns went silent.

Mal took control of the snowmobile, then throttled it to a stop.

The sudden silence was like pain in Nynn’s ears. She was probably speaking too loudly
when she asked, “How did you know where to strike?”

Removing his goggles again, Mal nodded toward another driver—a woman who’d removed
her helmet. “Indranan. She showed me their minds.”

“And you

The woman scowled, but Mal lifted his hands. His face had hardened in that way she
knew so well. The
expression said argument was no option. “You’d rather I guessed? Or turned the building
to rubble?”

Her spine stiffened, but she managed to propel her frozen body from the seat. “I remember
now, cousin. Everything.”

At least that got to him. He inhaled sharply before his narrow lips softened with
obvious regret. The Honorable Giva, unnerved. “I’m glad,” he replied quietly. “Not
for your suffering, but because you’ve been freed.”

to be free.” The others followed as she picked her way through what Mal had destroyed.

Inside, she was hit by a sudden headache as her brain adjusted to the change from
cold to pleasant warmth. One intake of breath was followed by a flood of bile at the
base of her tongue. Her stomach pitched.

The lab.

She’d been right. Oh, by the Dragon. She was back in hell.

That meant she was only steps away from Jack.

“Prisoners or enemies.” Mal’s voice was authoritative but calm as he spoke to the
Indranan woman. “Can you find any?”

She shook her head, then shuddered so hard that Nynn could see it ripple across the
thick parka. “There’s another Indranan here. More powerful. The best I can do is keep
her distracted.”

Unless the Asters kept another tame Indranan in the complex, Nynn knew it would be
Ulia. So many scores to settle, but her thoughts remained focused.

Save Jack. Keep Leto.

A flurry of guards stormed along the two corridors
that intersected at the building’s destroyed corner. Another Dragon King in a parka—dark
hair tipped with silver, eerily familiar features—shed his winter clothing. Power
bunched up the line of his back. “Giva, you take half. Time for those tempers of ours.”

Stunned, Nynn watched the man flare into a full berserker rage. No weapons. No armor.
Just the ferocity of a Pendray warrior who held nothing back. He tore through the
guards along the left corridor, while Mal strode down the right. Sparks of lightning
shot from his fingertips and pulsed from the walls. She followed the berserker—a living
tornado—because he was mowing through the guards at a quicker clip than her deliberate

The stranger jerked her to the side, just as another stream of napalm bullets shot
down the hall. He moved nearly as fast as Leto, but without the elegance, as if his
Pendray gift made him too angry for physics to restrain. Half of her could relate.

Pinned to the wall, she watched as the stranger kicked two more guards within inches
of death. She slipped free and picked up a discarded napalm rifle. Dragon, she didn’t
know how to shoot the thing. She’d be better equipped with her fists or a dagger.
Funny how what had been important training in the Cages was trumped by how to aim
and shoot.

“Go,” the man shouted.

She saw a clearing between the bodies and hurried through corridors, past rooms that
began to ring with familiarity. She knew this place by its smell. She’d been prodded
down these hallways—and sometimes wheeled by gurney. The surgery theater on the right.
The prep
room on the left. Farther down, the containment cells where she’d been strapped to

She began to scream Jack’s name, although the logical woman at the back of her mind
knew fury and desperation were liabilities. Didn’t matter. Just saying his name with
the knowledge that he might hear was too much to contain.

A shadow in her periphery.

She whirled.

Hark used a flat hunk of sheet metal to knock the barrel of the rifle away, just as
Nynn fired. Green glowed in the austere marble just behind his head. His eyes flared
wide. A quick exhale and a small smile. “That was close.” He nodded toward another
long hallway. “Any clue? Down there?”

“Yes,” Nynn said. “That’s the one.”

Armed, she and Hark hurried on. Every corner was both familiar and disorienting. Pain
ricocheted through her body, as if the rooms she passed could reach out and reenact
the torture. A year lost. A husband lost. But, Dragon-willing, not her son.

The lights snapped off. She and Hark bumped to a stop. What had been disorienting
was terrifying now.

“Firecracker,” Hark whispered. “Do your thing.”

Nynn sparked to life. She glowed with electric energy. Just a lantern given to her
by the Dragon, lighting her way.

She focused. Took two steps. And saw the Pet at the end of the hall.


verything Leto prized was inside a building set to detonate.

He searched outside, with Silence close behind, until he found a service entrance
half-buried by the snow. Here, at least, his body was all he needed. Perhaps another
man’s fingers would have gone numb, but Leto’s sense of touch didn’t wane. He cranked
the service door open with a grunt and a shove.

That smell.
Lab filth.
He nearly coughed on the potent reminder of how Nynn had first come into his care.

Within a supply room, he found repair equipment. Pipes. Hammers. The tools of humans,
perfect in the hands of Dragon Kings. He grabbed one of each, and slung three more
hammers in the belt of his armor. Smiling, Silence snatched a pair as well. Leto adjusted
his grip, but hand-to-hand violence was nothing compared to the blast waiting to take
out the entire building.


He tore down the hallway leading from the service entrance. The three guards he met
were fallen men within seconds. Silence dispatched any who lingered on the bright
side of consciousness when he moved on. She
was a living shadow. Only her white-blond hair gave her away in the half-lit gloom.

They stepped into what must’ve been a main corridor. Dazzling. Sterile. The stink
of fear had nearly been rubbed clean by bleach.

“Can you hear voices?”

Silence tilted her head, her black eyes going distant. Leto felt the touch of her
gift as she soaked up some of his powers—his senses and the strange new currents of
telepathy. She blinked free of her slight trance, then pointed.

Leto nodded. “My thoughts, too.”

They found a hallway that seemed as anonymous as the rest, but it was lined with doors
no higher than Leto’s waist. Each was labeled by metal plates. He used the claws of
the hammer to pry open one of the doors. When it wrenched free, he stumbled back—not
because of momentum, but because of the stench. An inhale from Silence was as compelling
as a cry of indignation.

Inside one room huddled a thin woman, maybe thirty years old. In the next was a robust
man in his fifties, who was completely devoid of clothing and hair. A third revealed
another woman, scarred in patterns that nearly matched those Nynn bore.

All were Dragon Kings. No lustrous skin tone. No superiority. They were not warriors
and would never fight in a Cage, but these abused wretches were his people.

He pried open doors as Silence led prisoners into the light. Most collapsed against
the corridor wall, blinking furiously. He remembered rumors that Dr. Aster kept his
test subjects physically fit. None of the freed
prisoners was too weak to move, although some wore bandages and splints. Instead,
they seemed stunned. Some curled into themselves, as if the open corridor was scarier
than sleeping in metal boxes. Their lethargy made him appreciate Nynn’s fierce attempts
at self-defense. She’d come at him with a chunk of concrete. These people stared with
blank confusion.

His heart beat faster as he neared the last of the doors. The head of one hammer tore
away. He flung it aside and retrieved another from his belt. Pry. Screeching metal.
Pry again. The burn in his muscles was nothing compared to the fear in his heart—that
he would find Jack or Pell, or that he wouldn’t.

“Dragon be!” came a shocked voice.

Leto turned to find a tall blond man in cold weather gear at the far end of the tunnel.
Between them stood Silence, with two dozen of Aster’s test subjects on the floor.
Leto lifted his pipe and half crouched, ready to defend these people. “Who are you?”

“Malnefoley of Tigony.”

“The Honorable Giva,” Leto said slowly.

He could see the resemblance now. Nynn and the Giva shared the same coloring and the
same perfection of features. Only, this man didn’t have Nynn’s freckles or the slight
point to her ears. He was pure Tigony, and he wore the lineage well.

“You must be Leto.”

“I am.”

The Giva gestured to another pair of Dragon Kings, a man and woman, as they flanked
him. “We’ll keep these people safe. Go. Finish your work.”

Leto had started on the next door before the Giva
finished speaking. He should tell them about the detonator. To what end? Two dozen
dazed faces were ready to panic at the smallest threat. Even if five healthy Dragon
Kings managed to get every prisoner outside and away from the building, they would
be stranded on the tundra. And there was no guarantee that the bomb was limited to
the outpost, lab, or arena. The whole underground complex could be wired.

The best he could do was give these people a taste of freedom, for however long they
had left.

He pried open yet another door.


At first he didn’t recognize her. He couldn’t count the years since last seeing her
face. She was on her back, with her head pointed toward the opening. Beneath her was
a rolling pallet. They simply . . .
her in and out of what may as well have been a coffin.

Leto had fought for this travesty.

Some part of him had held out hope that it wasn’t that stark, that brutally true.
But seeing Pell’s etherally still face stole the last of his hope. The Asters were
murderers and liars.

He forced steadiness into his hands as he rolled her pallet into the corridor. He
caressed her brow, half surprised to find she’d matured into a lovely young woman.
The tightness in his chest wouldn’t ease. Her skin was warm, but she didn’t respond
to his touch. She was beautiful and would never awaken. All he’d ever wanted was her
comfort, but now—knowing what had been done to him and to Nynn during their adolescence—he
wanted her well.

If the building didn’t burn around them first.

He kissed her forehead. Silence’s face was etched with sympathy. She touched two fingers
to where Leto had kissed, then nodded. Leto shuddered at what he took to be a wordless

On he went. Three more doors. Three more people to set free. The first after Pell’s
revealed a young boy.

Leto froze.


The boy’s head jerked up. His eyes were Nynn’s eyes. The same brilliance and intelligence,
but tempered with so much fear.

“Come with me, Jack. Your mother is waiting for you.”

The fear, apparently, was only part of what he was capable of feeling. Wariness, then
aggression took its place. He looked more like Nynn with every breath. “What’s her

“Audrey MacLaren.”


“She told you that, did she? Stories in the dark?” The boy nodded, which made Leto
smile. He’d never smiled with more vicious pride. “Your mother is Nynn of Tigony,
and she’s been burning buildings to the ground to find you.”

♦   ♦   ♦

Hark walked cautiously toward the Pet. Nynn could barely keep her gift from obliterating
the corridor. Her light blazed until the marble glowed white and sparkled with snaps
of power.

The Pet leaned against the far wall with her hands at the small of her back. She looked
tidy and small, like a teenage girl who’d accidentally wound up with an ancient
woman’s maturity behind her strange, piercing eyes.

“Hark, who is she?” Nynn asked.

“A soothsayer.” Although he seemed at ease, Nynn noticed the loose bend in his knees.
With any breath, he could spring forward and wield that hunk of sheet metal offensively.
“She sought out Silence. ‘Wait for the living gold’—and believe me, ‘living gold’
is the perfect description for when you two stare at one another. Then we’d know it
was time to go.”

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