Authors: Jordan Summers
“Now I’m going to ask you one more time. Where did Zeth take my cargo?” Hawk raised his arms once more and aimed for the man’s other thigh.
“No!” he shouted. “Please.”
Hawk stopped an inch above his leg and waited.
The drac-shifter took a deep breath. “I can’t say for sure.”
Hawk raised the blade.
“Wait!” the man cried out. “He’s probably taking them to Gar. It’s the closest trading moon for fresh flesh.”
Hawk’s jaw clenched as fear and rage threatened to consume him. Was Opal even alive? He couldn’t imagine Zeth offering so many credits, then turning around and killing her, but it was possible. He kicked the shifter’s frozen leg. The ice cracked and the leg fell to the ground. Hawk brought the sword up and swirled it around in the air.
“That’s all I know. I swear!” the man shouted.
“I believe you,” Hawk said, then sliced the man’s head off his shoulders. He looked at his crew. “Clean up this mess.”
Hawk strode out of the chamber, his body fighting for air. His chest ached at the thought of losing Opal, which only added fuel to his anger.
She was a slave. She meant nothing to him.
He massaged the center of his chest with his palm. It was one thing to lie to his men, it was quite another to lie to himself. Opal was his. He’d claimed her in both forms. He’d even marked her, for Goddess’ sake.
Hawk may not remember much about his world, but he knew enough to recognize a mating when he saw one. He threw his head back and roared. The sound echoed throughout the cargo hold.
Fallon hurried to catch up. “Captain, I’ve set the coordinates, now let’s get that shoulder treated.”
Hawk turned on him.
Fallon raised his hands in the air and took a step back. “I only suggest it because of the battle to come.”
“No one takes what’s mine,” Hawk snarled.
“Agreed,” Fallon said as they reached the transport cylinder. “Medical.”
The cylinder rose to the med deck. Fallon rushed ahead to turn on the chamber. He opened the lid and stepped aside. “You should be completely healed by the time we reach orbit.”
“I will be,” Hawk said. “I have a fire-breather to kill.”
* * * * *
Maintaining her cat form for this long was difficult, but Opal preferred it to the alternative. She couldn’t stand Zeth’s hands upon her bare skin. He seemed to take great pleasure in stroking her every chance he got.
Opal knew he was doing it on purpose. He loved feeling her quiver. Her discomfort amused him. In this form, she could hear the screams coming from below deck as the women met their deaths.
She trembled as she imagined them being fileted and deboned for the sole purpose of selling their flesh. Opal’s stomach wrenched and she fought to keep from throwing up. She couldn’t save them, even if she wanted to.
Opal had to focus on staying alive. She had no doubt that Hawk was searching for them, but by the time he found them—if he found them—it would be too late.
“Come, pet.” Zeth grabbed her collar and walked her toward the transport cylinder. He pulled up just enough to make it difficult to breathe.
Opal hacked, but he didn’t release his hold.
They went down two floors, then exited. Rows of doors lined the walls. Zeth headed to the door at the end of the hall and pressed his palm against a scanner. The door opened with a whoosh.
The moment he stepped inside the lights came on, exposing a mid-sized cabin. A rest pad had been secured against the far wall and took up much of the space. There was a small work area in the corner and another door that she assumed led to a cleansing room.
Zeth pointed to the end of his rest pad. “You will sleep at my feet.” His nails stroked down the center of her back, then he used her collar to pull her onto the rest pad. Once she was on it, he pushed her down until she was prone. “You’ll stay there, unless I require your other form.”
Opal shrunk away from his touch. He’d said he didn’t want her in that way, but she should’ve known that would change. He was a man after all.
“Now sleep,” Zeth said, then strolled into the cleansing room. The door slid shut behind him.
Opal glanced around his cabin but didn’t immediately see anything she could use as a weapon. She stretched out, allowing her claws to extend. They were sharp enough to kill him, if she got close enough, but then what? She’d never make it off this ship alive.
Her best chance was to try to escape once they reached Gar. Opal didn’t want to think about what she’d have to contend with if she succeeded. She could only focus on what she had to do next.
As she closed her eyes, Opal saw Hawk’s shattered expression. He’d been so angry and so
when the alien had taken her. All the time she’d been held on his ship, Opal had wanted nothing more than to escape. Part of her had even hoped that Hawk would sell her to Zeth. What a fool she’d been. She’d traded the devil she knew for one far more dangerous.
Opal wondered where Hawk was, wondered if he was looking for her. Most of all, she wondered what would happen when he found her.
Zeth was a formidable foe. He wouldn’t give her up without a fight. She’d seen the kind of damage his people could do. Opal wasn’t sure Hawk would survive another encounter, especially if he were still recovering from his injuries.
Opal pretended to be asleep when Zeth came out of the cleansing room naked. She didn’t want him to change his mind about taking her.
He stood over her for a minute or two just staring at her. Perhaps he was trying to figure out if she were faking slumber. It didn’t matter. Opal was an expert at deception.
Eventually, he crawled onto the rest pad and closed his eyes.
Opal didn’t move. She had a feeling if she did that he’d be on her in a blink.
* * * * *
Zeth woke Opal after only a few hours of sleep. “Come on,” he said, stroking her head.
Opal forced herself to remain still as he petted her. She even managed to purr.
He grinned at the sound, then grabbed her by the collar and pulled her out of bed. Once again, he walked her down the corridor, holding her high enough that her front feet barely touched the ground.
They went into the food dispensing area. Opal’s stomach growled. Instead of telling her to shift, Zeth poured food into a bowl and set it on the floor.
“Eat,” he said, then dished up a plate of raw meat for himself.
Opal stared at the bowl in disgust but knew she had to keep up her strength. She sniffed the food, drawing the scent into her mouth, but couldn’t identify the source. With a liquid consistency, there was no telling what it was. She sniffed again but didn’t detect any drugs. Cautiously, she took a bite.
She nearly spit it out as the rancid taste hit her tongue. What was this? Opal looked up at Zeth, who was watching her closely.
“I said eat!” He stabbed a knife into one of the chunks of meat on his plate and popped the morsel in his mouth. His sharp teeth made quick work of the flesh.
Opal dipped her head into the bowl and took another bite. Her stomach lurched, but she somehow managed to keep the gray liquid down.
“Good cat,” Zeth said, stroking her spine.
She arched her back so he’d think she enjoyed his touch, when all Opal really wanted to do was lash out. She took a deep breath, then devoured the last of the slop, licking the remnants off her whiskers. When she was done, she looked at Zeth.
“Since you were a good girl and finished all your food, I’ll give you a treat.” He tossed a hunk of meat to her.
Opal caught it automatically. The second the flesh hit her mouth, she regretted it. Unlike the gray slop, she knew exactly what this was. Opal recognized the taste. Though she’d never eaten humanoid flesh before, she’d taken enough bites out of beings to know the flavor.
Once again, Zeth watched her closely, looking for any sign of weakness, any sign of rebellion. Opal forced herself to chew and swallow the lump of flesh.
Zeth grinned. “You’re going to work out just fine.” He scratched her ears, then rose from his seat at the table. “Come.” This time he didn’t grab her collar, but he did pat the side of his thick thigh.
Opal moved to his side, making sure her shoulder bumped his leg with each step. They walked down the hall to the transport cylinder and climbed inside. Opal sat by his feet until the door opened. She waited for Zeth to move, then dropped in beside him again.
He took his seat at the helm, watching as the crew flew the ship. Opal brushed his hand. Zeth absently petted her, before pushing her to the ground.
“How long until we reach Gar?” he asked.
“Seven hours,” one of his crewmen said.
“Any sign we’re being followed?” Zeth asked.
The man scanned the screen, his fingers flying over the instruments. “Nothing, Captain. It’s all clear.”
Zeth smiled. “Good,” he said, then glanced down at Opal. “Guess you didn’t mean much to Hawk after all.” He laughed and pushed her onto her side with his foot so he could rub her belly.
Opal hid her pain and humiliation. Let him think he had the upper hand. There would be time enough to lash out once they reached the moon of Gar.
* * * * *
Hawk gripped the arm of his chair as Fallon and the others raced to catch Zeth’s ship. He tried not to think about what might be happening to Opal. That way led to madness.
“How long?” he asked no one in particular.
“Ten hours,” Reaper said. “Unless we cut through Hath space.”
The Hath were
territorial. They tended to shoot down ships first and ask who they were second.
“How much time will that save us?” Hawk asked. He needed to reach Gar before Zeth disposed of his cargo...if he hadn’t already. No. Hawk shook his head. He’d know if Opal were dead. The collar would stop transmitting.
“Two. Two and a half hours tops,” Reaper said.
“Cloak the ship,” Hawk said. “We don’t want the Hath or the drac-shifters to know that we’re coming.”
“Aye, Captain,” Reaper said. His fingers danced over the navigation console, then he looked back at Hawk. “Course is set.”
They arrived on Gar exactly seven and a half hours later. They’d managed to slip past the Hath and shave off over two hours travel time. Hawk used the chip in Opal’s collar to track the shifters to a small market on the far side of the moon.
“Keep the ship cloaked, Mars,” Hawk said. “I don’t want them to know that we’re here until we’re ready. Suit up.”
They donned the strongest armor they had, then worked their way into the market. The fire-breathing shifters were in the process of selling their butchered cargo when Hawk and his men came upon them.
As soon as Hawk smelled the meat and saw the body parts, a red haze descended over his vision. Claws sprang from his fingertips and he launched himself onto the nearest shifter. Hawk tore into the man.
Yellowish-green blood soaked his armor and splattered his face as he ripped the shifter’s arms off, then sank his teeth into the man’s throat. Screams rang out as the Gar natives grabbed the meat and ran.
Hawk let go of the dead shifter and roared.
The people dropped the parts and scattered.
“Shadow,” Hawk said.
Without another word, Shadow took off after the fleeing group. He spread his arms wide and the symbols on his body began to swirl. Magic poured out of him and surrounded them until they couldn’t move, couldn’t speak.
Hawk jumped onto the next shifter and began to rip him to pieces. By the time he finished with the fire-breather, there was nothing left but a lump of twitching flesh.
His crew caught the last man before he could run back to his ship and warn the others.
Hawk approached the group of buyers. “Bring them here,” he said.
Shadow pulled at something invisible and the people slid across the ground.
Hawk reached the first container of parts and picked it up. His big body trembled as he stuck his nose inside, closed his eyes, and inhaled. His heart pounded as he waited for his senses to identify the women.
A wave of relief struck when he discovered none of them were Opal. Hawk moved onto the next container. Each time he inhaled, his heart threatened to burst, but it had to be done. He had to
“Captain,” Fallon said. “I’m picking up a faint reading.”
“Where?” he asked.
“Far side of the hill,” Fallon said.
“Then what are we waiting for?” Hawk asked, already turning in the direction Fallon indicated.
“Captain?” Shadow called out. “What do you want me to do with them?”
Hawk glanced back. “Whatever you want,” he snarled and kept walking.
Blood magic was some of the strongest magic in the universe. It boosted a Sorce’s power and enhanced their spell-casting abilities. Sorces rarely used it because sacrificing people was frowned upon.
Screams rang out as Hawk and his remaining crew reached the top of the hillside. He looked back in time to see a massive black funnel cloud swirling over what used to be the market.
“We have to move now,” Hawk said.
They sprinted for the fire-breather ship.
“The signal is stronger,” Fallon said.
“Once we get inside, fan out,” Hawk said. “I want her found.”
“Do you want the tracker?” Fallon asked.
Hawk glanced at him without breaking stride. “I won’t need it. Once we get inside, I’ll be able to smell her.”
They hit the ship without any resistance. Hawk was too wound up to consider why that was. “Fallon, you and Reaper take the right corridor. Lex, you’re with me.”
The men split up.
Hawk could smell Opal now. Her scent was strong.
“Where are the other crewmen?” Lex asked.
Hawk cocked his head and listened. “I don’t know. I don’t hear anything.”
“It’s a trap,” Lex said.
He frowned. Were they walking into a trap? How could they be, if the shifters didn’t know they were here?
“This way,” Hawk said, sprinting down the hall in search of the transport cylinder.
The metallic scrape of a hatch caught his attention. Hawk turned into to see Lex sprinting for the door, but he wasn’t going to make it. It slammed shut, cutting them off from one another.