Kingdoms

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Chapter Seventeen

Waking up with a jolt, I felt an intense pain coming from the wound in my shoulder. It felt like the fiery poison from Fendrick’s dagger had collected there as I had slept. Desperately, I reached back for Niven only to have my hand grasp empty air.

“N-Niven?” Gritting my teeth, I forced myself to sit up and look for him. I was still in the lounge, but he was gone. Staggering to the window, I yanked the curtain back to see the two moons hovering high in the night sky. Dinner was definitely over, so where was he? My wound burned even hotter, searing pain making its way down to my fingertips. Something, a voice maybe, urged me to find Niven and the horrid feeling would disappear.

Taking a deep breath, I knew one place he might have been. Even with that thought in my mind, I still kept my eyes open for a servant as I rushed through the house towards the main door. With no luck, I exited the house and headed straight to the prison, relying heavily on the motions of when I was first there and escaping to guide me. The closer I got, the more my shoulder pulsed with heat and pain.

Something felt wrong as soon as I reached the front door. When I went to push the door open a groan came from the other side. Slipping through the slimmer of give, I found a Lizard Folk guard on the floor with her back against the wood. Slick, black blood pooled around her right leg while a wound on her temple was slowly scabbing. Crouching at her side, I tried getting her attention.

“Is Niven and Bronte here?” She groaned, squinting her eyes at me.

“Y-yes, were at cellblock with old Thane of Lorcan,” She answered, taking a deep, rasping breath before coughing and holding her side. She blinked at me, her hand grabbing something. “Take, don’t know if still here. Protect self.”

In her hand was a beautiful long-bladed dagger, much like the ones I used to have before being imprisoned. Taking it, I thanked her and promised to come back as soon as I had found the brothers.

The cellblock, unlike the torture cells, was downstairs. The stone stairs jutted out the rock in true Lizard Folk fashion, a stone wall causing a claustrophobic space. The sounds of steel on steel and grunting echoed lightly up to me. The closer I got to the end of the staircase, the louder it became, giving way to a shout and thump as well as a cynical laugh. Steeling my nerves, I readied myself for a gruesome scene. What I eventually saw as I glanced around the corner made me freeze.

Fendrick stood above Niven who was on his knees. Bronte was leaning against the wall, a knife to his throat by a cloaked figure. Blaze was on the floor, unconscious. The brothers were breathing heavily. Fendrick smiled menacingly as he grabbed Niven’s snout, his hands weakly lifting to grasp the man’s wrist.

“You should be in a cell,” I growled, gaining Fendrick’s and the mercenary’s attention. Gritting my teeth, I recognised the dark, scarred face and marsh-green eyes glaring at me. Vex.

“You have finally come to play,” Fendrick stated with a snort. Vex kept silent, pushing his dagger closer to Bronte’s neck while Bronte gave me a slight nod. “Better let me pass before-”

In one swift movement, I launched myself forward at the same time Bronte toppled Vex. I drove my blade down towards Fendrick’s thigh as Niven ducked to the side. The old Thane barely evaded my attack. In the corner of my eye, I saw Vex scramble to his feet, trying to come towards us only to be blocked off by a murderous-looking Bronte. Niven was hissing gutturally, tail flicking side-to-side as he stood close to me. Smirking, I stood up straighter, feeling my old fighting style easing into my limbs.

“Better get back into that cell or else,” I growled, lowering my chin, waiting for Vex to strike while Fendrick stood glaring at us. The old Thane snorted, lifting up his hands in surrender.

“Just kill me now, I am not telling you idiots anything,” He stated, taking a step towards Niven and me. Raising a brow, I snickered. Vex looked at me knowingly as he dropped his blades. Niven bristled, readying himself to attack.

Everyone has a breaking point,” I stated with a smirk. He faltered as realisation hit him. The moment he let his guard down, Niven tackled him, knocking the old Thane unconscious as they collided with the stone floor. Bronte had grabbed Vex by his throat, lifting him in the air. His feet kicked out to no avail. His eyes made contact with mine, causing me to sigh. “Drop him.”

Bronte spat but did so. Vex fell onto his knees, coughing and holding his throat. He glanced up at me, his hood falling back to reveal his shaved head and pierced ears. A scabbed wound ran the length of his eyebrow.

“Who sent you, Vex?” I asked, taking a step forward to stand next to Bronte. I pointed the blade at him. My smile was gone, a blank expression sure to be on my face.

“You know who…”
“Same person, who offered the contract?”
“Yes. Just kill-”
“You want to strike a deal?”

Vex eyed me while Bronte side-glanced me in scepticism. I heard Niven dragging Fendrick into a cell before hearing it click shut and the lock turned.

“What deal?” Slowly, Vex stood up, head tilted and eyes flashing. If he had been a pure-blooded Kin, his ears would have flicked forward and tail swishing in his curiosity. With mercenaries, especially the ill-treated ones, there was always one way to get them on your side with ease. Friend or not, a deal meant freedom of sorts.

“Come work for Mirk, work for the Crown.”
“Catch?”
“These two have to agree to it as well.”
“Benefits of me agreeing?”

Looking Vex up and down, I gave him a knowing smile. Letting my arm fall to my side, I took a step forward on unsteady legs. Niven growled lowly at my actions, making sure to follow to stand directly behind me as Bronte moved closer to a groaning Blaze.

“You weren’t much of the family type, but you would be free to join one or make one. You’d get a decent pay all to yourself and maybe finally look at going back home to Replic.” Lowering my eyes, I touched my stomach. “I know you are skin and bones under that cloak, bruised and breaking, just like me. What do we have to lose by pledging allegiance?”

“Nothing,” Vex muttered, glancing away as he held himself. When he looked back at me, his eyes were hard. “The Guild will know I failed, Colt. The Chief will beat me ’til my bones break. What do I do?”

“You tell them Fendrick was killed in the torture chambers before you even stepped foot in Mirk,” Bronte stated, grabbing Vex’s shoulder tightly. “Better be a good rat or we break the deal with your life, got it?”

“Yes, sir,” Vex mumbled with a roll of his eyes. “Colt knows how slippery I can be, but I owe him too many favours. I will be a good rat.”

“Yes, you will,” I snorted, tightening my grip on the dagger. “Go now before the Master wakes. Send a raven as soon as you know what their next move is and get your ass back here.”

Vex nodded, retrieving his dagger as soon as Bronte let go of him, and gave it to me. He glanced at Niven and Bronte before running out of the prison. I let out an exhausted laugh as I leaned against Niven. Turning around, I grabbed his snout and brought his head down so I could rest our foreheads together and closed my eyes. The pain in my shoulder was gone. At Bronte’s mutterings, I opened my eyes, I let Niven go.

“You have a lot to explain,” Bronte growled as he picked up Blaze as if the man was a sack of feathers. Looking at them made me jolt.

“There’s a woman upstairs who needs help.” Struggling to push away from Niven, I showed them her dagger. Niven examined it before shaking his head, Bronte shared the same action.

“There is no guard or woman here. It was just us,” Bronte said, walking past me. “Brother, your mate is going insane.”

Keeping quiet, I let Niven guide me up the stairs in anticipation. When we got to the top, there was no one there. The door was wide open, with no pool of black blood or Lizard Folk guard to be seen. Gritting my teeth, I held myself as we exited the building.

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