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Mad couldn’t spend the day wishing he’d pulled Kenzie into his bed and kept her there. By now, someone had surely told Jadirel about the fight with Tyze, and if he didn’t report to the king soon, he’d be in danger.
He was in danger.
Tyze had been a favorite of the exile king. Killing a favorite came with consequences. But Mad could deal with that. What other choice did he have? He was the only person standing between Kenzie and Jadirel, and he was going to make sure the exile king did not get his hands on her. He’d lie straight to Jadirel’s face and kill anyone the man sent after him.
But why? Some need to protect the human pulsed in him, and Mad couldn’t question it. Something in her called to him. Her energy swirled around in his veins. All he knew was that he needed more from her. And if he could protect anyone from Jadirel, he’d call it a win.
Mad dressed carefully for the meeting. He had to exude strength without posing a direct threat. He put on his leathers and took his axe. Most days he could get away with just a knife, but these days things were too dangerous. More and more people were being exiled, and the streets were getting crowded with wannabe tough guys. Mad didn’t have time to fight. He needed something that could kill in a single blow.
No one bothered him on his walk to Jadirel’s palace, though there were plenty of not so furtive whispers. News of the fight had spread. Mad wasn’t a champion fighter, and if he’d faced Tyze in the pit, the bets would have been against him.
And yet Mad was the one alive right now.
Mad braced himself as he entered. The guards at the door let him through without any issue, and when he made it to the throne room, Jadirel was alone. Mad didn’t know if that was a good thing or a bad thing. Jadirel liked to punish his people in public, but executions were often private.
Had Mad walked to his death?
He took off his axe and placed it near the entrance as a sign of good faith. A Kru’dari could not approach his king armed with a deadly weapon, not unless the king was absolutely sure of his loyalty.
Or unless the Kru’dari had murderous intent.
Not even the chained humans were in the room with Jadirel. This was serious.
Jadirel waved his hand, and the door to the throne room slammed shut. Neat trick. Since telekinesis wasn’t a Kru’dari power, there must have been a hidden sensor or someone waiting for his signal.
“I wanted the human brought to me.” Jadirel’s words cut Mad like glass. “Were you so dull you couldn’t understand a simple request?”
Now was not the time to argue technicalities. Mad went to one knee and bowed his head.
He sensed the blow coming right before Jadirel kicked him in the stomach. Mad refused to fall over. He didn’t know if he was being foolish or not.
“Tyze was an asset, you fool!” The king kicked him again, and Mad couldn’t hold back the grunt of pain. That was what it took to satisfy the king. He stepped back. “Stand up.”
Mad stood, trying not to wince.
“He was an asset,” Jadirel repeated, “and ambitious. My spies say he was getting ready to challenge me. You’ve never wanted the throne.”
“No, sir.” That Mad could admit with absolute certainty. It took a certain level of ruthlessness to rule as an exile king. All he wanted was to go home.
Jadirel clapped once. “Wonderful!” He slouched back onto his throne. “Then let’s make something clear, I own you. When I tell you to bring me a girl, you bring her to me. When I tell you to fight, you fight. When I tell you to kill, you bring me my enemy’s head. Do you understand?”
Mad had to swallow hard before he could force the words out. “Yes, sir.” He hated being here. He hated how small Jadirel made him feel. He was only six steps from his axe. If he was swift enough, he could end this all.
But Jadirel wasn’t a fool. And he wouldn’t be sitting alone with Mad if he didn’t have some sort of extra protection.
“Find the human and bring her to me, is that clear enough?”
Mad stood on a precipice. Before this moment, he’d been able to dodge some of Jadirel’s orders, but he did his best to not outright lie to the king. He didn’t want to be accused of challenging the man in any way.
But this would be a challenge. A Kru’dari more concerned with his own survival would abandon Kenzie to Jadirel.
Mad’s whole soul rebelled at the thought.
“Yes, sir,” he lied. And then another thought occurred to him. He had to be careful. Subterfuge didn’t come easy to him, and Jadirel had been an exile king for a long time. He expected plots. But this was an opportunity to find out more about Carise. “I spoke to Tyze before he died. He said the girl had been ranting about a lost sister.” He sent up a silent apology, as if Kenzie could hear him speaking, but he tried to keep his tone even. “She seemed to think you had her. If you do, I could use her as bait to get the girl to come out of hiding.”
Jadirel gave him a look that Mad couldn’t read. Whatever he was thinking, he didn’t say. “She asked me about the sister. I’ve no need for more humans right now. But it would be convenient to have them both.”
If Mad pushed, Jadirel would want to know why Mad didn’t trust him. And at the moment, the king had no reason to lie.
Before Mad could figure out how to ask for more, Jadirel spoke. “Check with the slave auction. If she came through there, they’ll know. I’ll have eyes out on the streets looking for this girl. How hard could it be to find one human? Bring the fighter in. I’ll find her sister. I’m sure they’ll be happy to be reunited in my cages.”
Mad had to keep his expression aggressively neutral. He had to find Kenzie and Carise before Jadirel’s spies spotted them. And he had to get them off of Guerran before they were dragged into Jadirel’s palace. He had to make sure Kenzie stayed out of Jadirel’s territory, but convincing her of that if there was even a whisper of her sister would be impossible.
That was a problem for later.
“I will check with the auction. I will not fail, sir.” He wouldn’t fail Kenzie.
Whatever it meant, he wouldn’t. He didn’t know why he was so called to her, but Mad couldn’t betray her. He’d face consequences for it, but he’d gladly pay.
He remembered Arbyn’s offer. He had his own way off the planet. Saving Kenzie and her sister could mean he’d have to give up everything.
It was a problem for later.
Mad bowed to Jadirel and retrieved his axe before heading to the auction house. He had a job to do.
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