Authors: Angela Verdenius
Somehow the thought of Phemar’s rotting flesh sliding through her hair just wasn’t... right.
One of the guards snapped the thick collar around her throat and heavy cuffs snapped around her wrists and ankles.
“Get her up,” Phemar ordered.
When the men stood up the warrior exploded into action. With an almost inhuman speed she was on her feet and only the chains being held by the four guards kept her from lunging at Phemar once again.
She fought the guards and sweat poured down their faces as they fought back to keep their grips on the chains, keeping the tension that prevented her from nearing any one of them.
Breathing heavily, Fredrico watched as they dragged her from the chamber. Not wanting to watch but knowing he had to, he followed them through the corridor to another cell where they dragged the struggling Reeka and chained her to the wall.
Holding the tenlesding thsion of the chains, they looked around for further instructions.
Phemar merely looked at them, and silently cursing the dark mystic, Fredrico strode forward and directed them when to let go and run.
As soon as the tension was released she ran at them, snarling, and only the chains snapping taut to wrench her back prevented serious damage to the guards.
Fredrico sent them out and then stood and gazed broodingly at the Reeka. She leaned against the chains, fighting them, and suddenly she seemed to realize that it was hopeless. Arms by her side, the chains gripped in her fists, she stood with legs slightly apart. Her breasts heaved with every deep breath she sucked in and she held her head high.
“There’s no point fighting the chains,” Fredrico said abruptly. “You can’t get free.”
Her eyes burned with the hellish orange vapour that floated across her irises. Lifting her arms, she snapped the chains taut to her and simply looked at him.
“I know.” And he did. “If you get free, you’ll kill us all. I can’t blame you.”
For a few seconds they simply stood and looked at each other, she glaring, he assessingly. Finally he left the cell to find out what Phemar had planned for her. He felt her burning gaze on his back long after the cell door clanged shut behind him.
Phemar was in the chamber they’d just left. Veknor wasn’t looking impressed.
“You could give us forewarning next time.” Fredrico strode into the chamber.
Phemar shrugged. “It’s a good test of all your reflexes.”
“I am not yours to test.”
Phemar laughed wetly.
Times like this reminded Fredrico that he hated the dark mystic’s guts.
“What are you going to do with her?” Veknor asked.
“You don’t need to concern yourself with that,” Phemar rasped, a spot of blood flying from the depths of his hood to land on the floor. “Just do what I tell you, when I tell you.” He turned away. “This woman is important to all our futures.”
Fredrico looked grimly at Veknor, who shrugged. Dark days were coming and yes, the Reeka was important, but he still wasn’t sure how.
He guessed he’d soon find out...
~ * ~
Bounty Hunters’ Ship
Ceri watched from beneath lowered eyelids as the hunter entered the cabin. Abra, she’d heard him called. Taller than the average man, he was stocky in build. His face was harsh, lines driven deep by the life he led. His black mohawk was clipped close to his skull and fell down his back almost to his waist in a thick plait. Several strands of silver threaded through it, though she guessed he wouldn’t be much over forty years of age. He moved almost silently, alert to his surroundings even in the safety of his own ship.
Mracan. The bounty hunter was a Mracan. Not many of them wandered from their home planet. She wondered what had made this particular hunter leave family and hearth to hunt in a pack.
It didn’t matter. What did matter was the fact that she was a wanted outlaw on board a bounty hunters’ ship. What was weird was that she was in a bed instead of a cell or lying on a floor injured and bleeding from numehe ng fromrous rapes and beatings.
Physically she was still intact, that much she managed to assess upon awakening again. She was in one piece and wearing a shirt which fitted tightly across her breasts, and a pair of panties. Thank the stars for small mercies.
Covertly she watched from beneath the fringes of her lashes as the hunter approached the bed. Keeping her breathing slow and even, she feigned sleep.
“You don’t fool me, Ceri,” Abra drawled.
Well hell, if he already knew her name and that she was awake, why bother playing dead? Ceri lunged up, hands reaching out to grapple him, only to fall straight out of the bunk onto the floor.
Lying on the floor with those big boots planted firmly on the tiles in front of her nose wasn’t quite how she’d planned to handle the matter. The cabin dipped sickeningly in front of her eyes as she pushed upright onto her elbows. Disregarding the queasiness roiling through her belly, Ceri gritted her teeth and tried to lunge upright.
Her body wouldn’t co-operate. Instead, she barely made it to her knees before she tipped forward to land against hard, muscled thighs. Instinctively she gripped the tough material of the hunter’s pants and hung on.
“Unless you’re trying to strip my pants off me,” Abra growled, “I suggest you let go and stop being bloody stupid.”
A muscle jumped in her jaw as she tightened her hold on the material and tried to hoist herself up.
The pants started to give and she could feel the sudden slide downward of them.
“Bloody hell.” Two hands grabbed under her arms and dragged her upright, and she found herself leaning weakly against the hunter’s stocky body as he supported her.
Embarrassment and fury swept through her when her head wouldn’t stop spinning and her knees started to buckle. Sagging fully against the hunter, she felt him brace himself against her weight, his hands settling at her waist.
God, a warrior being supported by a hunter. If Rani saw her, she’d laugh her arse off.
Rani. Where was she? Bracing her hands on the hunter’s shoulders, Ceri pushed back and looked down at him. Being a head taller gave her an advantage but he didn’t seem overly impressed. His expression was dour, his dark eyes wary.
“You quite finished being strong and mighty?” Abra asked harshly.
“Why?” she croaked back, then cleared her throat. “You got other plans for me, hunter?”
“Yeah,” he replied. “Namely getting you back to your people in one piece.”
“My people? One piece?” Fisting her hand in his shirt front, she lowered her face until their noses almost touched. Glaring down at him, she said between clenched teeth, “I won’t lead you back to my people, hunter.”
“Don’t have to. I already know where they are.” His lips twisted a little in a mocking smile and she saw the faint scar puckering at the corner of his eye.
Then it was time he died right now. She might be dizzy and weak, but it only took one punch to the throat to crush the air pipe. Ceri released the front of Abra’s shirt and aimed straight for his Adam’s apple.
Her movements were so off the mark and clumsy that he didn’t have to move very fast to avoid the hit and simply shove her backwards. Ceri fell onto the bunk, cursing. Abra grabbed her legs and und r legs nceremoniously swung her full length onto the bunk.
Her stomach lurched and she had to grit her teeth against the nausea that threatened to overcome her. When she blinked and refocused, he was standing close to the bottom of the bunk, a frown on his face and his arms crossed across his chest. With his legs braced apart, he made a forbidding figure.
Ceri wasn’t impressed. She’d faced down scarier men and lived to tell the tale. If she could only get over this cursed weakness, she could snuff him out.
“Get me a sword,” she snarled, “And I’ll cut your heart out.”
“No doubt.” Abra was as unimpressed as she. “However, I don’t have the patience to fart around. These are the facts. You and your sister warrior were frozen in ice for years. Your sister is missing, you were still there. You thawed out in our freezer. Your leader, Reya, is coming for you. End of story.” He crossed over to the viscomm in the wall. “And because I know you won’t believe a word I say, here’s some history for you and a word from Reya herself.”
“Reya? Reya’s a child.”
“Reya’s a married woman with a child,” Abra said brusquely, touching the screen. “Just watch this. No doubt you still won’t believe, but it’s the best I can do.”
The viscomm flared to life and without a backward glance, Abra strode from the cabin.
“How the hell did she wake up so soon?” someone demanded from the corridor.
“Had to,” came Abra’s reply. “It was either that or starve her to death.”
“You should have waited for one of us to accompany you.”
“She’s weak as a lykitten. No threat right now.”
“Is it wise to leave her unobserved?”
“She’s about to watch a bit of history.” Abra’s voice faded down the corridor.
He was lying. The bastard hunter was playing with her, he— Ceri was diverted by the scene playing out on the viscomm screen.
It looked like a court of some kind, a meeting of many people. A couple she recognized and she pushed herself up weakly into a sitting position, leaning back against the wall. The black-robed, grim-faced man she’d recognize anywhere. Meekta, leader of the Intergalactic Peace Ship Council.
She stiffened suddenly when a door opened and a group of Reeka warrior women walked into the big room. She knew them—the warrior with the red/gold curls, the younger one with the hair like old gold coins and eyes the same colour as her own. Tenia and Reya, the daughters of Karana. Dana, their hot-headed cousin. Connie... so many others she hadn’t seen for a couple of weeks. Tenia she hadn’t seen for a couple of years... But wait. Ceri squinted and then her eyes widened.
These weren’t the young teenagers she remembered. Reya and Tenia looked older, their curves filled out, their eyes harder. Reya’s held a coldness she didn’t remember ever being there and Tenia looked worried. Gone were the carefree young girls she remembered.
What was happening?
Looking down at the date glowing in the corner of the screen, she swallowed. 7006. It couldn’t be 7006. It was 6992.
Heart lurching, she looked back at the happenings on the screen. People were talking, some in uproar. Across the top was printed “Historic Meeting & Pardon of the Reeka Race 6995”
No, this had to be a lie. A trick. But there was no doubting the husky tones of Tenia when she spoke, the defiance in Dana’s eyes, the cold acceptance in Reya’s. The watchfulness of them all. Then, when some man started running and screaming at them the warriors with them slammed back to back in a typical defence pose.
Numbly she watched the play out, saw a recording on a monitor, watched it enlarge to fill the screen. It replayed the slaughter of fellow sister warriors and she saw herself fighting in the distance with Rani by her side.
Bile filled her mouth and she swallowed back the tears that pricked as a young warrior, no more than six years of age, fell in a spray of blood. The sights changed to show the bloody Inka Empire leader, Shari, and her eyes widened when she saw Vulya lying in an ornamental coffin.
Vulya, Karana’s beloved husband. He’d died just before the Reekas were forced to leave their settlement and become nomads. What was he doing with Shari? Shock coursed through her as the scenes continued to unwind before her disbelieving eyes.
The Reekas were pardoned, and then Shari came in firing a laser. A big Daamen trader threw himself in the path off laser fire, saving Tenia, who screamed his name, fell to her knees and cradled him close. She was crying. Mayhem, everywhere mayhem.
The scene unravelled and she didn’t even have time to absorb it properly before there was a full screen image of herself and Rani locked in ice. Her blurred, frozen features stared back at her from the thick depths of the ice, and she remembered...
“Back!” A hunter yelled in panic. “Everyone get out! Now!”
The hunters started to move fast, slipping and falling as the ground beneath them lurched and swelled in a rippling effect that was nauseatingly frightening. It was as though some living, breathing entity was rearing up from the very earth.
Something was wrong, so very wrong. Unnatural.
Ceri looked at Rani and they started forward. Another blast of air shot up from the huge crack, and she felt the ice forming on her face, biting cold, the freezing aching in her bones.
Unable to see properly, Ceri crouched and held her sword in front of her. Swearing, she tried to focus through the cold fog, but then it was too late.
A flash, a cry of surprise, and a split-second of stillness. Heart in her throat, she swung her head around, horror filling her. Horror and fear and despair.
Rani was down on one knee, her sword at her feet and one hand at her throat. Blood spilled down under her palm and between her fingers. She made a choked sound and looked up, her beautiful eyes wide in shock.
Her throat was cut. Her sister’s throat had been cut! Even as Ceri stared, Rani lowered her head, her hand tightening around her throat as though in an effort to stem the lifeblood pumping hotly from beneath her hand to drench the front of her sleeveless vest.
A blast of frigid air burst forth from the crack and Ceri couldn’t move. Still staring in horror at her sister dying before her eyes, she couldn’t reach out, couldn’t touch her—waking up in darkness. Cold air, water, chilled to the marrow. On the floor, ice on the walls. Male voices, hunters waiting for her. Crawling out, so slow, so weak, so sick. She crawled out, and then a hard hand was beneath her chin and through the cold air blasting from the freezer unit she saw the hard eyes looking down at her, the grim face of Abra.
Hot water seeping the chill from her bones, hot drinks being poured into her. Voices, always voices, and sleep. She kept floating away every time she started to stir. Another drink, float away.
Heart pounding a tattoo in her chest, she stared back at the screen as Reya’s face appeared. Older, a mature beauty, her pale green eyes like ice. She had a coldness about her that Ceri didn’t remember, but it was her. Unmistakable, the same features as her mother, the same colour eyes as her father.