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While Mad was looking into the auction house, Kenzie retreated back to the cafe where she’d first met Layala. Her things were stashed near there, and she was probably safer outside of Jadirel’s territory. He’d be looking for her, and she didn’t want to be caught.
What would Mad tell him?
Kenzie could worry about that all day, or she could push forward. Carise was here. She had to be. Layala had the picture of her. This was the closest Kenzie had come to her sister in years, and she refused to believe that she would miss her again.
She’d come close before. Three planets back, she’d arrived only a month after her sister had been moved on. Sometimes the trail was clear and easy to follow, other times it made no sense. Kenzie would find ownership records or security footage, and then other times, Carise would disappear as if she were a ghost.
Kenzie dreaded what dark place Carise would be dragged to if she left Guerran. There were planets far worse than this one, and she didn’t want her sister on any of them.
Tea steamed in a cup in front of her, floral, fruity, and delicious. The tea was better here than the last hellhole, that was for certain. There was even a certain charm to the chaos and violence of Guerran. Kenzie might have liked it if Carise weren’t in danger.
Layala slid into the seat beside her. Kenzie hadn’t known how to contact her, but she figured Layala would show up eventually.
“You had a busy day,” Layala observed, taking her own tea with a smile from a passing waitress. “Lots of people looking for you after last night. I thought I told you to stay away from Jadirel.”
Kenzie took another sip of tea. “You thought he could have my sister. I had to find out.”
Layala hummed in the back of her throat and tilted her head to the side. “I see.”
“You see what?” She didn’t like Layala’s tone.
Layala didn’t seem to care. “You’re on a crusade. If you die in this holy war, you’ll be absolved from losing your sister in the first place.”
Kenzie automatically reached for her knife and had to stop herself from pulling it. Layala had one hand under the table, and Kenzie would stake everything she owned on Layala being armed. Kenzie put both hands on the table. “If I die, my sister stays trapped in whatever hellhole she’s stuck in. Dying isn’t an option.”
“Has it occurred to you that your sister could free herself? Or perhaps she already has? What if you find her and she’s not what you expect?” Layala sipped her drink as if she wasn’t cutting Kenzie with every word.
Sometimes her dreams of reuniting with Carise turned into nightmares where her sister sent Kenzie away, where she blamed Kenzie for her abduction or for taking so long to find her. Losing her sister was the worst thing that had ever happened to her. If she found Carise and Carise walked away…
Kenzie couldn’t contemplate it. “Carise is a gentle person, she’s never been a fighter.”
“Fighting is not the only path to freedom.” There was a history in that sentence.
“How did you end up here? There aren’t many humans on Guerran.” And there certainly weren’t many humans who could offer the kind of information that Layala seemed to deal in.
“I took a journey of my own. But we’re not here to talk about me. You need to find your sister and get off Guerran. Better yet, you need to just leave. You’ve already made an enemy of an exile king. He has allies and he will use his resources to find you. Rumor has it his second in command was murdered by another one of his soldier,s and now that soldier is after you. Madn Damari.” Layala scowled at the name.
Kenzie’s first instinct was to come to Mad’s defense, but she kept her mouth shut. All she knew about Mad came from what she’d seen and what he’d told her. Layala would have a different perspective. She didn’t need to know what Kenzie knew.
Not yet, at least.
“Tell me.” She made the demand and tried not to feel like she was betraying Mad. That was ridiculous. She barely knew him.
Layala was happy to give her information. “He’s been on Guerran about six years now. Exiled for treason. Something about the deaths of a dozen or more civilians. He has no loyalty to anyone and can’t be trusted. I’ve seen him in the pit. He’s not unstoppable. As a matter of fact, he lost his last fight. But when he’s in a murdering mood, no one stands in his way. If he’s moving up in Jadirel’s ranks, it means he might have his eye on the throne. I don’t know what he’s planning, but I’ll find out soon enough. If you see him, you run. You’re no match for him.”
Kenzie’s knife felt heavy in its sheath. Now wasn’t the time to say she’d already had him at her mercy. Or that he’d killed for her. The man Layala spoke of didn’t sound at all like the Mad she’d met.
“Are you saying he was exiled for murdering civilians?” She didn’t, couldn’t, believe it. The Mad she knew…
But she didn’t know him. Not really.
Layala sipped her tea again and waved at the waitress, motioning for more. “I don’t know. It’s difficult to get information from Krudare, and a lot of exiles try to leave their old lives and old crimes behind. But someone on Krudare wanted people to know what Damari did. Some of the documents from the investigation landed in friendly hands. Damari committed treason and a lot of people died. He’s lucky he wasn’t executed.”
Kenzie wanted to push back from the table and storm out of the cafe… or slap Layala. She wanted to spring to Mad’s defense. Her pulse beat so rapidly she could feel a headache coming on, and she was starting to sweat.
Had he done something to her?
Shit. Having sex with him had been a bad idea.
So why didn’t she regret it?
“Are you alright?” Layala asked. “You seem a bit flushed.”
Kenzie sipped her tea and tried to get her emotions under control. “I’m fine.”
If Layala didn’t believe her, she kept it to herself. “Things aren’t safe on Guerran, especially not for you. If you’re smart, you’ll conclude your business as quickly as possible and get out.”
“I’ll be gone as soon as I find Carise, or find out where her trail leads next.” Kenzie didn’t care about her own safety, not as long as she survived. She could deal with injuries and fear. She just had to survive long enough to get her sister free.
“And what happens when the trail goes cold?” Layala asked the question mildly, as if she wasn’t stabbing Kenzie with every word.
Kenzie didn’t answer. She couldn’t.
Layala sipped her own tea before setting down the empty cup and placing a few credits on the table. “Conclude your business swiftly, otherwise you’re going to start owing favors.” She turned to leave before looking back for a moment. “Good luck.” Then she left Kenzie alone. Good luck. Right. Kenzie was going to need it.
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