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Chapter Eighteen

The lounge no longer felt comfortable, its fire no longer as warm and inviting. Niven lay on the couch, stomach pressed against my hip as I stitched a wound Vex had left. Bronte watched on unhappily as he stood leaning against the mantle. When I was finished I tied the knot. Niven looked up at me before gingerly touching my thigh.

"What is wrong? Your...e-expression." His voice was harsher than usual with the pronunciation as if he had never used the word before. "Look in pain."

"My ribs are just sore, nothing to worry about," I admitted, leaning slightly into his warmth. Bronte hissed lowly, rubbing a hand down his snout. Glancing at him, I placed the needle and thread on a side table before addressing him. "I know I spoke out of turn earlier, but if you are angry at me just shout already."

"You are an inconvenience," Bronte spat, taking a step forward. Niven sat up, growling as I clenched my jaw. Bronte's eyes narrowed into slits as his nostrils flared. I flinched as he took another step forward, fist raised. "Your existence means my brother cannot have a proper mate, cannot function like he used to or follow his desired path. just cause problems! Now we have to deal with a mercenary who openly admitted to being slimy like an eel. You are all the same aren't you, a deal and you betray us? You, Colt, will eventually turn on us and break my brother's trusting heart!"

"I-I took a chance when King Levi offered me freedom, but I did not expect myself to be saved," I muttered, lowering my head to hide my frustration. The wooden floor creaked as I waited for Bronte to strike me. Instead, when I glanced up, he was glaring at me with his hands by his sides, tail thumping the floor. Niven touched my knee, ripping my attention back to him.

"Explain, maybe we understand better," He pushed, his own tail coming around to rest on my left thigh as he sat up, shoulder against mine. My ribs throbbed as I leaned forward, elbows on my knees.

"The slavers...they killed my family for the sake of fun. Had their way with my mother and sister before ending it in a house fire. I watched it all as they held me; thought they could have their way with me too until they learned I could fight." Biting my lip, I tried to steady my breathing. "They sold me to the Pits in Talay. On my first day, I was beaten, given nothing to eat or drink and plunged into icy seawater. Vex was there a day before me and helped me get warm after the Taming. We learned quickly after that what we were, knew that if we disobeyed or brought in unsatisfactory results we would be beaten and starved. Sometimes, if the fights kept bringing in displeasing results, we were threatened into becoming sex toys for the VIPs..."

There was a loud knock on the door and a clash of metal, causing me to flinch and cower. Bronte hissed as he strode to the door. Voices were exchanged as Niven tried to comfort me out of the fetal position I had shrunk into. When Bronte was back in front of me, he was carrying a tray with three cups and a teapot.

"Continue," He growled, pouring red liquid into a cup and giving it to me. Staring at the small water reflection of my sullen face, I sighed.

"With the threats in mind, we both pushed ourselves until we became the top fighters in the Talay Pits. The Mercenary Guild decided they wanted trained killers that were young enough to stay within its ranks for as long as possible, and they found two right under their noses. It was a simple act of tossing a few coins for us and we were their property. The same treatment was acted on by different people. That was nearly three years ago. The contract which came to us about two weeks ago caused an upstir that the Master did not like. He wanted it done quickly so he sent me, but seeing that Nomad die for no reason..." Closing my eyes, I swallowed hard. "However, what Vex said earlier confirms what your suspicions were. The contractor was a young man, a half-breed human. You could not mistake that man's face for anyone else besides that of Jacob Lang, Queen Naomi's stepbrother."

"War is imminent then," Bronte muttered, gripping his cup as he rested his hand on his hip. "You trust this Vex person to help us?"

"Yes." Glancing up at Bronte, I waited a bit before asking, "Why is being Niven's mate anger you so much?"

"Being mates takes away both of your abilities to fall in love with another person, human or Lizard Folk, you will only want and have each other. I want my brother to be happy at the end of the day," Bronte explained, finally sitting down in the armchair. "Being mates is a special thing that, unlike human marriages, links two people together. Emotions and sensations are shared. Your ribs, they hurt because Niven was injured there. He felt all your pain while you were sleeping after you came back. That bite wound, I bet it felt like someone set fire to it when he was in danger, yes?"

"Yes. But as soon as I came in contact with him it stopped even while we were still facing a threat. I also feel like I have...I have to be near him, touching him all the time."

"You have a stronger bond than I originally thought," He muttered, resting his cheek against a fist. He looked defeated. Clenching my jaw, I felt helpless. Was the bond similar to that of the elven one? I was going to become more of a problem than I was already. I could not even give something in return besides...

"We rest, go," Niven stated, looking pointedly at his brother. Bronte's cheeks puffed out slightly before he stood and left the room. Niven then touched my hand, taking the cup from me and placing it on the side table. "Stop bad thoughts. Heart is heavy and lump in throat. Not comfortable."

"S-sorry, I can't help it. I just feel useless and like a burden, and I don't know-"

"Colt, stop." Niven grabbed my jaw, forcing me to look at him. His moonstone eyes gleamed with the dancing flames. I felt like cracking right then, and he knew it. He quickly embraced me, pulling me into his lap. The intimacy broke my restraints, causing me to cry uncontrollably as I buried my face in his neck. He rubbed my back as all the stress, self-pity and trauma pushed itself to the surface.

"You okay now, won't let any harm come to you," Niven whispered as I hiccuped and tried to calm down. I flinched when he pulled me back and rested his forehead against mine for a moment. He then picked me up as my eyes began to close. "Sleep, Ebus looks after you."

Waking up, something felt off. Stiffening, I opened my eyes and cautiously began rising only to have an arm tighten around my waist. My breath hitched as I turned my head for me only to see Niven's sleeping face. Sighing, I tried to calm my heart as I investigated the room without disturbing him.

I knew for sure we were not in a normal bed, rather in one of the traditional Lizard Folk ones once I noticed the slight curve of cushions under me. The traditional bed was a shallow hole in the ground filled in with cushions and blankets. Surrounding it was the customary rugs made out of twisted vines and reeds from the Dark Forest. Lifting myself onto my elbows, I could see a low study desk covered in spread scrolls with a cushion tucked under it. Next to it was a small bookshelf adorned with trinkets, scrolls and journals. Inkpots and colourful quills took up one of the corners of the lowest shelf with fresh flat parchment. On the wall was an intricate charm to ward off evil, a glimmering jewel nestled in its middle.

"Stop moving," Niven hissed, pulling me closer to him as he stretched. Snorting, I began to sit up until stilling. Niven's cold nose was in the crook of my neck, inhaling gently before exhaling. His hand flattened against my stomach while his tail wrapped around my calf.

"N-Niven, what are you doing?" I stammered, trying to wriggle out of his grasp. Instead, he pulled me under him and stared down at me as if he were searching for something. "N-Niven..?"

Instead of answering me, he leaned forward and nuzzled my injured shoulder before biting down gingerly. Grunting, I fell back as a weird feeling entered my core and my vision briefly blacked out. Weakly, I pushed against his chest. When Niven pulled back, he pressed his cool forehead against mine, hand coming to hold mine.

"What was that for?" I asked, trying to catch my breath as tears threatened to spill.

"Possessive and instinct combined," Niven stated, hand squeezing mine.

"D-do not do that again, it felt weird," I stated, moving my head to the side as he leaned back. His actions were confusing. If I could read, I would have looked more into the Lizard Folk and their mates. "Please get off now, you're done."

"Make me."
"Never trained with Lizard Folk, can see. Try get me off."

Looking up at him, I frowned. He was hardly putting any weight on my hips and my one arm was free. Clenching my jaw, I tried to pull my arm back from his grasp while trying to aim a punch at his temple. In a matter of seconds, he had both my arms above my head and placed all his weight on me as he leaned forward. My weakened state prevented me from wriggling free and my shoulder throbbed painfully. Niven chuckled, nipping at my other shoulder, tail tightening on my calf. Stuck, I growled out in frustration as I tried to move, but he only gave me enough space to breathe.

"I give up."
"You no fun."
"This was unfair. Give me my daggers and I will show you."

Niven chuckled, slipping off me. In a flash, I pushed him down as I straddled him and pushed my forearm down on his throat. His moonstone eyes were wide and maw slightly open. I smiled, feeling some of my pride coming back to me. Tilting my head, I leaned forward and bit gently on his shoulder as payback before sitting upright.

"Don't trust a mercenary, isn't that what Bronte likes to say?"
"Maybe right. I still win."

Niven chuckled again, sitting up while I was still in his lap and nuzzling my shoulder again. I felt heat go to my face as the weird sensation came back and I found myself leaning fully against him as his arms came around me.

"I made you my mate first."

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