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Exile’s Hunter Chapter Eleven: Free Sci-fi Romance

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“Jaek!” Mad called again, surprised to see his friend in the marketplace. Jaek hated market days and did his best to avoid them, usually paying one of the children milling around the territory to purchase things he needed and deliver them to him. And yet here he was, gazing at figurines like he’d never seen anything more interesting.

Jaek finally turned around and grunted a greeting.

Ah, yes, Jaek was in a characteristically sour mood. Wonderful. “Did you get my message?”

Jaek shrugged and turned from the figurines to face the market. As Mad looked at him, he noticed that Jaek looked different than normal. Not cleaner, exactly, but more groomed. As if he’d taken time to tame his beard and his braids and chose a tunic that hadn’t been once spattered in blood. Interesting.

Mad spotted Tyze walking among the crowd and hoped Tyze didn’t see them. He turned so he was facing the figurines, right beside Jaek, and kept sneaking glances over his shoulder back at Jadirel’s lieutenant.

At least Mad could try to fulfill his other job right now. “Jadirel’s looking for you. Did you make him angry?” Mad knew he’d said the wrong thing when Jaek glared at him, but his friend didn’t say anything. “Is everything alright?” Jaek was normally in a bad mood, but this was sour, even for him.

“Need to go home,” he said, hand hovering over a figurine before pulling it back. The small statues really weren’t his style. “Prom—” He cut himself off.

Mad could follow that thought, but he decided to play nice. “Did you need to get something from the market? I could deliver it for you.” Jaek hated crowds, especially since his height and breadth made him a target for exiles who wanted to prove themselves. Taking on an exile of Jaek’s size would prove to everyone that a man meant business.

But Jaek never lost a fight, no matter how much he wanted peace. Guerran made brutes out of everyone.

“It’s fine,” Jaek mumbled, and jerkily turned away from the table. “See you later.” He melted into the crowd before Mad could stop him. And he still didn’t know if Jaek was going to give in and go see Jadirel.

Everyone was running away from him today.

Kenzie couldn’t have gotten far. Her clothes hadn’t told him much, except that she was even more dangerous than she first appeared. He hadn’t realized you could hide a weapon in the sleeve of a shirt, but he’d pulled on a thread and realized it could be used as a garotte.

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She was ready for action, no matter what.

And Tyze was looking for her.

Mad had to find her first. Tyze wouldn’t show mercy, and Kenzie was no match for him, no matter how many weapons she had. Tyze was a merciless butcher. He’d either slaughter her or drag her back to Jadirel half-broken. Even having seen Kenzie fight in the pit, she didn’t stand a chance.

Mad had to stop that from happening.

But where was she?

Someone would have noticed a naked human running through the streets, so he assumed she’d found clothing somewhere. And since he wasn’t the tidiest of Kru’dari, it was perfectly possible the clothing had come from his floor before she ducked out of his quarters. He’d found one of her knives, but he knew she’d had at least two. So she was armed.

But where?

A wave of awareness pulsed through the crowd around him, and Mad looked around. He didn’t see Tyze. No one was screaming.

But something was happening.

People didn’t scream on Guerran if they could help it. That only brought down the vultures. And everyone loved a fight.

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Some extra sense he’d developed during his six years of exile tugged him into the makeshift alley between two rows of tents. A few exiles stared into the gloom, and it was quickly apparent why.

Tyze had someone cornered.

Tyze had Kenzie cornered.

Mad was moving before he could think better of it. The only thought in his head was that he had to protect his woman. Energy burbled within him, stronger than it should have been. He could think about the why of it later, but right now he stalked towards the fight with an unholy determination.

Kenzie had her back to a building, her knife out in front of her and a violent light in her eyes. She was wearing one of his tunics, and at another time, Mad would have let himself enjoy the thought of his woman in his clothes.

He grabbed his axe and stepped into the fight. This was no time to fight fair, and if it weren’t for the crowds and the bunched up stalls, he might have been able to get behind Tyze and take him out before the exile knew he was there.

Mad swung his axe, and Tyze tipped his head back and laughed. “You utter fool,” he spat at Mad. “You’re throwing away your life.”

Mad didn’t speak. Tyze had a short sword and he knew how to use it. He loved taunting his opponents into making mistakes. The only way to beat him was to ignore every word he said.

Even if he was right.

Word would get out about this fight. No one would blame him for killing Tyze. But doing it to save Kenzie might cost him everything.

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Mad didn’t care. Every one of his instincts screamed at him that Kenzie was important, was worth it. His instincts had steered him wrong before. They were the reason he’d ended up on Guerran in the first place.

But that didn’t mean instinct should be ignored.

He fell into the fight, dodging Tyze’s blows and swinging his axe with the kind of fury that only came from knowing he was in a fight for the death. Tyze was just as skilled as he was, and meaner too. But Mad was motivated.

Tyze couldn’t have Kenzie.

Tyze came at him in a flurry, but it only took one lucky blow of Mad’s axe to end it all. Tyze fell to his knees, and the energy within him swirled close to the surface, beginning to drain out with all of his lifeblood.

He wasn’t dead, not quite yet, but he wasn’t going to make it.

His eyes locked with Mad, and there was only confusion and anger. Tyze hadn’t gone out today thinking he would die.

But that was life on Guerran.

Mad kicked Tyze’s sword to the side and grabbed the leather strap around Tyze’s chest, yanking him up. He held Tyze close and breathed in his energy. He noticed the acrid smell of death as Tyze’s life seeped out of him, but his energy was what nearly overwhelmed Mad. Some of it was lost through his wound. If Mad were desperate, he might have smothered himself in the blood to collect as much as he could.

As the energy abated, Mad let Tyze fall. The crowd around them had dispersed. Someone was bound to tell Jadirel sooner or later, but Mad would deal with that then.

He turned around and saw Kenzie right where Tyze had cornered her, a hand around her knife and a heated glare on her face.

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