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On a normal day, Mad would have trouble defeating Jadirel. He was bigger and faster than the exile king, but Jadirel was mean, tricky, and more experienced. He’d been a star in the pit during his rise to power, and Mad had never faced him one on one.
With a Pitcher, Jadirel would be nearly unstoppable.
The mating bond rose in Mad, and he thrust it out toward Kenzie, needing to tie her to him. The energy their lovemaking had given him was strong, but already beginning to fade. If they were fully bound, he would be nearly as strong as he was back on Krudare.
Maybe even stronger than Jadirel.
But he met a brick wall of resistance in Kenzie. She might have given him permission, but she didn’t know what he needed. Physical contact could do the trick, but Jadirel was already coming at him. Mad dropped Kenzie’s chain and hoped she was smart enough to step back.
“This is a challenge,” he declared, just in case Jadirel’s people tried to contest it later or interfere. There weren’t exactly laws on Guerran, but there were customs, and once a challenge was started, it was until the death or submission.
Mad couldn’t submit.
He heard metal fall to the ground and knew Kenzie had undone the chains around her hands. He hadn’t been willing to fully bind her, and though she’d been willing, he’d seen the relief when he showed her the trick to undo the chain.
The energy in Jadirel’s Pitcher teased Mad, but there was no way to take it for himself now that it had been keyed to Jadirel, not without killing the man, which was already the plan.
“You’re a fool,” Jadirel scowled, holding a thick metal chain and twirling it around before whipping it out towards Mad. The man didn’t like blades for some reason. “You’ve thrown your life away.”
Mad didn’t respond. Talking would tire him out faster, and he had to conserve his energy. He tried the mating bond again, but Kenzie still resisted. Was there a way to explain what he needed? He didn’t have the words.
He pulled out his axe in a swift move and swung at Jadirel, even though he had little hope of connecting. The axe was a weapon of fear, and he saw the way the exile king flinched.
If Mad was going to die today, he wanted Jadirel to know fear. But Mad couldn’t die. Not when he was all that was standing between Kenzie and Jadirel’s collar.
Jadirel swung his chain again and it swiped against Mad’s side, dull pain blooming in his muscles. That chain was going to hurt if he got hit somewhere important. Or if Jadirel kept connecting.
Mad swiped out with his axe again and felt a keen sense of satisfaction as the edge kissed Jadirel’s skin.
But the Pitcher around Jadirel’s neck glowed even brighter, and the nick sealed itself like it had never been there.
Stupid waste of power.
But it was an unwelcome reminder that Jadirel had power to spare.
Mad was constantly trying to connect to Kenzie with the mating bond now, and when he spun to avoid a hit from Jadirel, he saw her eyes drawn together in pain. He tried to reach out and touch her, to cinch the bond between them, but Jadirel’s chain wrapped around his arm and he was pulled further away.
Rather than try and untangle it, Mad grabbed onto the chain and dragged Jadirel close. At this range, his axe was useless and he dropped it, going instead for the baton Kenzie had given him.
He struck out with it, making Jadirel groan in pain as blood bloomed on his face, but the man didn’t go down. He wouldn’t until the power of his Pitcher was exhausted. That would take hours if Jadirel kept wasting his power to heal minor wounds, days if he stopped bothering.
Mad had to take him out with one blow, fast and deadly enough that the Pitcher couldn’t heal him.
He whacked Jadirel again, but the exile king still had control of the chain. Mad stumbled and fell.
Time narrowed into a thin sliver, and Mad watched in slow motion as Jadirel came down on him, an evil smile on his face and death in his eyes. Mad rolled out of the way, but still felt the blow of Jadirel’s fist against him.
He was tangled up in the chain, unable to get up. He managed to get one hand free and reached for the Pitcher at Jadirel’s throat, tearing it off with a vicious tug and throwing it across the room. Jadirel was still connected to it, but it would be harder to draw on the energy now.
Mad kicked up and scurried back, freeing himself while Jadirel howled in distraction and looked around for the Pitcher. He got untangled from the chain, but Jadirel was already back and ready to fight, the Pitcher forgotten and Mad’s axe in his hands.
Mad exchanged the baton for a knife. He was going to gut the exile king until there was nothing left inside of him.
Jadirel swung, and it would have connected if Mad didn’t jump a foot back. That was a killing blow, and Jadirel was still fucking strong.
But he couldn’t be cautious. Mad rushed Jadirel, blade out and ready. But his blade glanced against Jadirel’s leathers and didn’t do any damage. He switched tactics, punching at Jadirel’s kidney and taking deep satisfaction when the man grunted.
He couldn’t find a weak spot to stab, but his punches were doing damage. Mad regretted letting the axe go. That would have cleaved through leather armor without issue.
Jadirel figured out the axe wasn’t made for close quarters and dropped it. Then he used the tricks he was famous for, stomping on Mad’s foot, following it up with a knee to the groin, and finishing with a blow to Mad’s head.
Mad didn’t stand a chance, and it was his own damn fault. He fell to the floor, trying to breathe through the pain and get away, but Jadirel gave no mercy, kicking him in the stomach and taking his time in doling out the punishment.
“You insolent whelp,” Jadirel spat. “I’m going to make you hurt before you die. And then I’ll put your head on a pike.” He kicked again, and Mad was almost certain one of his ribs snapped.
He looked over and saw Kenzie standing there, and he reached out with the mate bond one desperate, final time.
Her eyes widened, and she must have realized what he wanted. The bond between them snapped into place and energy rushed into Mad. The pain faded to almost nothing as adrenaline sizzled in his veins.
His fingers brushed against his axe and he grabbed it. And as Jadirel prepared for another kick, Mad surged up, swinging with all his might and cleaving into Jadirel.
The exile king screamed as he toppled to the floor, but the sound faded to almost nothing in a moment as blood gushed out of him and his life poured out around them. Out of the corner of his eye, Mad saw the forgotten Pitcher blaze with energy, but it wasn’t enough to undo Mad’s damage.
Jadirel was dead. Mad was the exile king.
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