Born of Legend
By Sherrilyn Kenyon
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2016 Sherrilyn Kenyon
All rights reserved.
This looked like a damn good place to die. And at least it wasn't blistering hot.
Grimacing in pain, Dagger Ixur pressed his hand against the wound that was slowly killing him and stepped inside the dive hole where some of the worst vermin of the Nine Worlds had crawled to find refuge from the blistering binary suns of Steradore.
His breathing labored, he hid his agony behind a mask of steeled boredom and made his way to a back table where he sat down, making sure to keep his wound concealed. Like rabid animals, the creatures here would attack en masse should they suspect for even the hair of a nanosecond he was incapable of defending himself.
Especially given the massive bounty on his head.
Hell, if he had a brain, he'd turn himself in for that amount of cred. At least it would get him a good meal for the first time in four years.
But then, he couldn't spend it if he was dead.
"There's a thirty crona minimum to occupy this space. You got thirty cronas, slag?"
Dagger sneered at the smug purple-skinned humanoid waitress. She had no idea that she was talking to a former prince who'd once been heir to two of the largest fortunes in the universe.
But that was years ago.
Today, he was heir of shit and shit's second cousin. And if he wasn't on the brink of death, he wouldn't have thirty cronas to waste on the watered-down, fifth-rate, synthetic hooch they no doubt served here.
Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out the coins and tossed them on the table. "Tondarion Fire."
She swept the creds into her palm and examined them to make sure they weren't counterfeit. Then without a word, she went to fetch his drink.
Adjusting his dark red-tinted glasses to make sure they kept his betraying eyes concealed, Dagger expelled an exhausted breath, hoping he lived long enough to taste the knock-off garbage he'd just ordered. At the rate he was bleeding ...
It won't hurt much longer.
Sadly, he didn't know what burned his blackened soul more. The poisoned knife wound or the raw fact that as he sat here bleeding out, he had no one to call and say a final goodbye to. No one who would give a single shit that he would be dead in less than half an hour.
A scuffle to his right drew his attention.
Immediately on alert, he reached with his left hand for his blaster, expecting it to be more enforcers or assassins after him.
He relaxed as he saw nothing more than two filthy humans and an alien hauling a scraggly boy in chains. From the looks of it, the kid was probably a crew member being punished or a prisoner being transferred.
No more than fifteen or sixteen, the boy with white-blond hair jerked away from a much larger and older male. Hissing, he exposed a set of fangs in a specific, insulting manner that was known as fanging someone. Dagger frowned at that particular defiant and aggressive gesture.
The boy was Andarion with that hair color?
For a full minute, Dagger thought he was hallucinating from blood loss as he saw in his mind not the child in front of him, but his own fraternal twin brother, Nykyrian. Though there were legends of other blond Andarions who had existed at one time, Nykyrian was the only white-haired Andarion Dagger had ever seen in the flesh. The rest of that breed had been brutally put to death long before he and his brother had been born. Hunted down and exterminated for that trait and any other ability or skill their grandmother had deemed an inherent threat to her reign and authority.
Because yeah, really, she was that insecure a bitch.
The larger alien slugged the boy.
"Don't bruise my merchandise!" the buyer snarled. "I'll only pay half the creds he's worth if he's damaged."
Dagger winced at those harsh words. Slavers out to make a quick profit off the poor kid's innocence and beauty.
Like the other occupants who didn't seem to care at all, he started to stay out of it. But then, he'd lived his whole life in selfish fear surrounded by those who were only out for themselves. And what had it gotten him?
An early death on a backwater planet, bleeding out alone.
No friends. No family.
Once he was dead and gone, these maggots would raid his corpse for his meager creds, weapons, and ring, and dump his remains like forgotten garbage.
He was going to die. That was a given.
But he did have a choice in whether he went quietly ...
Or fighting his way to the gods, doing some good for a scared child who might have a future out of this. A boy who needed to be at home with his family and friends. Not in the hands of these callous, money-grubbing bastards.
Four years ago when Dagger had finally faced the truth in a broken mirror of a filthy bathroom, and stood sober for the first time in over a decade, he'd seen what a piece of shit he really was. In that instant, he'd forever buried the selfish, terrified prince who'd been bullied and cowed by everyone around him, and been reborn that night as the fearless survivor Dagger Ixur who was done taking orders and trying to please his worthless, back-stabbing family.
Someone who wasn't a total scabbing bastard.
While the chemically-numbed Jullien eton Anatole would have walked away and not cared what happened to the boy, the stone-cold killer Dagger damn sure wouldn't.
Rising to his feet, Dagger slowly slid his coat back, and moved his hand to his blaster grip to show them clearly that the clock on their lives had begun to click down. The only way to stop it now was for them to make the right decision. "Let the kid go."
The larger thug who was planning to buy the boy, turned to sneer at him. "Well ... what have we here? Aren't you a fancy one?"
Dagger arched a brow. "What? Because I bathed a week ago? Really?" He was filthy, sweating and bleeding, and wearing clothes that should have been burned a year ago, at least. He smelled like the back end of something dead and rotten. Disgusting truthfully. Even he was offended by his stench. How in the universe would anyone consider this fancy?
Then again, if one considered the source ...
Yeah, he was rather fancy, after all.
"Just shoot him, Eben, and get it over with."
When Eben moved to comply with his accomplice, Dagger drew his blaster lightning fast and shot first. The blast landed right between the man's eyes with unerring aim.
While Dagger might not be the trained League assassin his brother was, he'd always been an incredibly accurate shot — thanks to too many years of a VR shooter gaming addiction, and a need to feed his obsessive paranoia that one day one of his many obloquious cousins would find the nerve to take aim for his back.
Chaos erupted as patrons screamed and ran, and the owner and bouncers moved in to control them, and disarm Dagger.
Yeah, like that would happen so long as he was alive.
Ducking, he shot three more of them.
The other human attacked. Dagger caught the man and kicked him sideways at the same time their alien rodent- shaped friend came for his back. He knocked him away and quickly unshackled the boy.
Dagger took a second to make sure the kid wasn't hurt before he handed him his link, and wallet that contained his royal Andarion signet ring. It was the only thing of monetary value he had left from his past. The only thing he hadn't pawned or outright sold. He had no idea why he'd kept it — honestly, he wasn't sentimental. Yet he hadn't been able to part with it for some unknown reason.
Lastly, he reached to the holster at the small of his back and gave the kid the one thing he owned that meant anything to him.
His fully charged reserve blaster.
The boy scowled as Dagger closed the kid's hands around the items. He released the biolock on the blaster's trigger so the boy could shoot it if he had to.
Dagger inclined his head to him. "There's enough in there to get you home to your parents. Make sure you call and let them know you're safe. Shoot anyone who tries to hurt or stop you. Anyone. You get home, chizzi. Whatever it takes. Conscience be damned. I mean it. Don't stop for anything. Let no one do you harm."
He saw the others rising to come for them. "Run!" he snapped at the kid before he grabbed a chair and swung it at the smelly rodent.
The boy didn't go far. Rather, he doubled back and grabbed Dagger's coat. "You better follow me or they'll have you for sure."
"What do you mean?"
The boy leaned in to whisper. "I know who you are ... tiziran."
Dagger stepped back out of habit, then caught himself. Why he bothered, he had no idea. There was nothing more the boy could do to him. He couldn't believe he was still alive. Especially given the way his heart was pounding poison through his body and how profusely he kept bleeding.
As they neared the door, another group of outlaws came in, armed and ready for war.
By their gear, they were Tavali pirates. Shit ...
Bad timing and bad luck were still courting him like the last male on an all-matron planet. The Tavali were only about profit. They would gut him even faster than the derelicts in this bar. And there was no telling what they'd do to the chizzi.
Dagger pulled the boy behind him, ready to fight them to the bitter end to keep the kid safe. Even though he doubted he had another charge left on his main blaster, he angled it for their female leader, who took aim at his head.
"Stop! Don't shoot!" Before Dagger could prevent it, the boy ran out from behind him and put himself between them. "He saved me, Mum."
The targeting dot lowered to hover over Dagger's heart, unwavering. "What?"
"It's true." The boy gestured at the bodies on the ground. "He freed me and was helping me escape."
His legs suddenly weak, Dagger tried to stay steady as a loud buzzing began in his ears, but he couldn't. Anymore than he could continue to hold his blaster that had instantly gained a hundred pounds and aim it. Instead, he focused on the only thing that mattered to him. "Are you safe from harm, akam?"
Nodding, he lowered his arm, dropped his blaster, then sank to the floor before everything went dark.
* * *
Relieved to find her son alive, Ushara blinked back tears and holstered her blaster as she saw the huge, muscled Andarion male go down without a fight. She visually checked the remaining threat level, which was currently minimal.
But that wouldn't last. They'd violated too many laws in her quest to find her only child and it could get hot in here fast. Not that she'd cared. Her boy had been threatened — for Vasili's life, she'd violate any law, any where, any time.
And raze this entire planet to a crisp.
Her baby had been all that had mattered to her. And it was still her priority. Vasili's tracker had been on its last bar. Another five minutes and they'd have lost him completely. Had his kidnappers moved him one more time, she'd have never found him.
Tears and panic filled her and threatened to overwhelm her as she realized how close she'd come to never seeing her baby boy again. She still couldn't breathe for it.
But they had to get out of here before they were all taken and jailed. She'd tremble and fall apart later. Right now she had to secure everyone's safety. "Vas! We need to go. Now!"
Her son knelt by the male's side. "Not without him."
Her stubborn little progeny had the audacity to jut his chin out and defy her. "He saved me, Mum. Risked his own life to do it. For no reason at all. We help those who help us. That's what you've always told me, isn't it?"
"Don't you dare throw my words in my face. Not right now."
"It's not enough that we voice good intentions. We must back them with action."
She growled at her child and his stubborn defiance. He had far too much of his father in his blood.
Worse? He had far too much of her in him. A fact brought home as her brother, who stood at her back, dared to laugh at Vasili's defiant stubbornness.
"Fine!" Growling, she gestured at the lump on the floor and ordered her brother to claim it as part of their clean up of this very bad situation. "Drag him to the ship and be quick about it. We don't want to be here when any authorities arrive."
They'd moved so fast to get to this backwoods rock to find her baby, they still wore Tavali markings and gear. As well as had stolen cargo on board the fastest ship that had been docked in their station. When word had come that Vasili had been kidnapped by slavers, she'd recklessly commandeered that ship for this venture. And if they were caught, they could all be executed for it.
For that matter, it wasn't even her ship or crew. Rather, they were a united force of stray Tavali consisting of volunteers from her brothers', cousin's, and sisters' crews and any pirate willing to help rescue her child.
They were far from Tavali friendly territory, and flying with no allies or backup. What the lot of them had done was all kinds of stupid. They hadn't even done preliminary or safety checks on the ship to ensure it was space-worthy before taking off. All they'd known was that Vas was in trouble and they had a sort-of location for him, and a very limited amount of time to find him before he was lost forever.
Yeah, in retrospect, bad idea.
Trajen was right. When it came to her son, she had no common sense.
"Hey!" the owner called as they started for the door. "What about the mess in my bar?"
Ushara turned on the man with a glower, aghast at his indignation. "You allowed those scabs to use your establishment as a place to sell my child, and you think I owe you payment for what happened during his rescue?" She glanced back to her precious blond-haired baby. Barely thirteen, he looked older to those who didn't know better.
Just a child that they had planned to rob of his innocence. Sell for things that enraged her to a level she couldn't even begin to calm down from.
"You're right. I do owe you." She shot him where his heart should have been, then followed after her crew.
Zellen met her at the door with a fierce grimace. "That was unwise."
"Don't you dare lecture me, Gondarion. In the mood I'm in, I'll shoot you, too. Besides, killing anyone who'd sell a child is a public service. I should get a medal."
Her adjutant wisely held his hands up and stepped out of her path. Which wasn't something he did lightly or often. In his late forties, the bald human male was still ripped and physically able to outmaneuver or outfight most anyone half his age — yet not even he wanted to tangle with Ushara when she was this angry and it involved the well-being of her one, sacred child.
The only reason Zellen was grounded these days came from an injury he'd sustained a decade ago that had severely limited his peripheral vision. That single injury kept him from flying. But not from fighting, or being one of her most valued staff members.
Without a word, Zellen followed her back to the bay and on board the ship where Vasili was waiting.
While the crew quickly prepared the launch and stowed the Andarion male in the infirmary, she examined her boy, to make sure no one had harmed him. She hugged him close, then cupped his chin in her palm. "Did they hurt you?"
"Mum, stop! Not a baby. I'm fine. Really. Thanks to the male who saved me. Where is he?"
"Where you don't need to worry about him. You've caused enough stress and problems for one lifetime. Harness yourself in for the launch."
"But, Mom —"
"Don't Mom me, Vas. Get in your seat."
Rolling his eyes, Vasili obeyed while mumbling a complaint under his breath.
Ushara fanged her child behind his back so that he wouldn't know exactly how upset she was at him right now for the dangerous position he'd put them all in.
It was a good thing she'd struggled to birth him, otherwise the urge to strangle him would be enough that she might give in to it. This was the second time she'd almost lost him in his lifetime. The second time her world had tilted on its axis and left her feeling out of control. And she knew for a fact that if something had happened to Vasili, she wouldn't survive it.
As strong as she liked to think she was, she knew the bitter truth. It would emotionally kill her to stand over the grave of her child. Vasili was everything to her. The mere thought of losing him left her in a state of hysteria that terrified her to unspeakable levels.
She was still shaking from the news that Vas had been taken. Honestly, she didn't know if she'd ever stop at this point. She was so glad to have him safe with her again. To know they'd gotten here in time.
Thanks to that unknown Andarion male they now had possession of. A few minutes more and the auction for her son would have been completed — then Vas would have been lost to her forever.
But now to bring a stranger back home with them ...
Trajen's going to kill me.
Her boss didn't like unknown variables of any kind and dragging a guest into any of their bases or territory was definitely a variable that would piss him off to no uncertain end. While necessity and high bounties had taught them all to be extremely xenophobic, Trajen made the rest of them look downright reckless in comparison to his extreme paranoia.
"Admiral? We need you on deck. They're being pissy with us about granting launch clearance." (Continues...)
Excerpted from Born of Legend by Sherrilyn Kenyon. Copyright © 2016 Sherrilyn Kenyon. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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