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Reaver’s Prize: Chapter Nine

Hannah

The despair in his voice tore at me.

“Isn’t there any way out of this all?”

“Not for us.  But for you.” Khelos pointed off into the night, towards where the last bit of daylight had disappeared. “That way lies the mountains of the Sen’ki.’

His brow knitted. 

“It may take some time, but I will find a way to return you to your clan.”

Just the thought brought tears of relief to my eyes.

We’d still be stranded on this world, but I’d be out of this nest of vipers, back with my friends.

Kyla was there.

And maybe Sarah. And Masie and Allison and …

Wait.

“If I’m gone, what is Isar going to do to you?”

“It will not matter. I will be fine.”

His voice was even, his thoughts resigned.

But I’d seen the cruelty in Isar’s face, could imagine what other horrors would wait for Khelos in the pit as a punishment.

No.

Not acceptable.

“Come with me,” I pleaded. “Get out of this place.”

His arm tightened around my shoulders, and I leaned my head on his chest.

For a long moment we stayed like that, the only sound the waves far below, crashing into the walls of this horrible place.

“I cannot leave Evras. You have seen what would happen.”

“We can take him with us!”

His hand stroked the soft fuzz of my sweater, as if calming a wild creature.

“It is not possible for him to live without his ‘medicine.’  I have seen what happens when it is withheld. His muscles grow even weaker, until breathing itself becomes nearly impossible.”

Chewing my lip, I let my thoughts wander.

There had to be a way.

Even when the board was stacked against you, there was always a move to make.

Maybe not a straightforward one, but something you could do to change the game.

Bitterness clawed at my stomach.

I’d spent so long carefully putting my past behind me. Creating this new, perky, friendly Hannah.

Convinced myself there was no need for my old life.

My old skills.

Everything had been neatly planned out for a shining, straight future. 

Put up with this job.

Finish school with glowing references.

Never look back.

But then my plans quite literally exploded all around me.

“If we had the formula, do you think Evras could make the medicine himself?”

Khelos pulled back, startled. “I do not know. The opportunity to find out has never occurred.”

“I think it’s time we made some opportunities, then.”

“Hannah.” 

I shivered, not from cold, but from his voice. Still raw and rough, it slid down my spine, did interesting things deep inside my belly.

“It is not safe for you here. I cannot let you stay.”

Turning towards him, I traced the faint scars that criss-crossed his chest. 

“It’s not exactly safe for you either.”

He puffed, almost a laugh, if any of this was in the least bit funny.

“I was made as a Beast for the pits. My life was never going to be safe.”

As if touching glass, he brushed the curve of my cheek with his hand.

“But you… you are different.  I do not want the muck of this place to touch you.”

My breath caught in my throat.

His touch was like fire on my skin. 

In that moment all I could think about was leaning forward, just enough to touch my lips to his.

And then I pulled myself together.

Lacing my fingers together firmly in my lap I shoved my mind back to the real problem at hand.

“How far away are those mountains you were talking about?”

Khelos turned his head to stare out across the water. “I do not know. Many days of travel, if we are on foot.”

I nodded sharply. “I’d never make it on my own.” Holding up a hand I stopped his arguments. “I know you said you would take me, but it sounds like you’d be gone for too long. Isar would notice, and do something terrible to Evras.”

His shoulders stiffened. “It is possible.”

“Then our only option is for all of us to escape. And to do that, we need to steal that formula.”

Rocking back as if I’d pushed him, he was silent for a moment before softly chuckling, and for a change, the sound wasn’t bitter, or mocking. 

“Your body looks so soft and weak.  But your mind is as sharp as any blade, isn’t it?”

Before I could answer, a huge yawn stole my words.

“Right now my body is soft and weak and tired,” I announced. “Let’s go back in. We have a lot of planning to do.”

As he led the way back down the shafts and tunnels, he silently argued with me. 

It is not safe.

“Neither is staying here,” I whispered back. Dammit, if he could speak so clearly in my head, why couldn’t I do the same back?

Then let me take you to the Sen’ki. I will return here as quickly as possible to protect my friend.

“If you think I’m going to run away, knowing what those assholes are going to do to Evras, you haven’t spent enough time in my mind.”

He was quiet the rest of the way down.

I tried keeping track of the maze, but I was going to need a map of this place, sooner rather than later.

We must’ve come back through a different way because this time when we emerged from behind the wall we were back in the cavernous room where I’d woken up.

Metal boxes piled high all around us, making a different sort of tangled path that led deeper into the warehouse.

“Is Evras going to be okay without us?”

Khelos nodded.

“He prefers for others not to see him when he is so weak.” His lips quirked up at the side. “Of course, there are instances that he is too ill to send me away. But this is not one of those times.”

There wasn’t much to say to that. 

Before long we arrived at a smaller chamber walled off from the larger room. I was relieved to see a replicator set into the wall, and a panel that looked just like the door to the privacy room at Evras’s lab.

Then I froze.

There was no bed. No place that Khelos could rest other than a pile of ragged fabric.

Nothing to soften his life, nothing that made this place his own, other than just a smaller cage set into a larger one.

The whole setup was screwed up.

I mean, from the very beginning.

Cities that wanted to go to war but didn’t want to put their own families on the line so they genetically engineered their own little soldiers to fight it out for them.

Big soldiers.

Whatever.

And then even when those jerks had disappeared, the warriors they’d left behind didn’t know anything else to do other than keep fighting.

And now we have king asshole, Isar. 

Not content to just keep battling out of nostalgia, it sounded like he wanted to bring back the full scale wars, to take over the mantle of the Makers who had engineered this cluster fuck to begin with.

“You are angry. Your thoughts are too fast. I cannot tell what has angered you so much.”

I spun to gape at Khelos, shock and fury tangling so tightly in my chest I could not speak.

He stepped back quickly. “We should discuss this more after you have rested.”

Then his face suddenly shuttered, blank and cold.

“But this is not suitable for you.”

“I thought this was where you lived?” I asked, surprise knocking the wind out of my outrage.

At least, just a little bit.

I didn’t exactly have a great track record of dealing with my anger in healthy ways.

“There are better rooms in the facility. Surely we can find one that Isar’s followers have not claimed. I will guard it, make sure you are not disturbed.”

“Only if you’re carrying me there.” I scrubbed at my eyes. “I’m tired enough I can just curl back up in my pod. It’s here, it’s easy, it’ll work.”

It wasn’t exactly the most comfortable option, but the bench was padded, and that was about where I had dropped the emergency blanket anyway.

Actually…

I eyed Khelos’s arms. Muscled like, well, like really strong muscley trees. If trees had silver scales. Or muscles.

Good grief, girl. Time to crash.

“Can you help me with something?

Fifteen minutes later I curled up on the cushions Khelos had ripped out of the escape pod, with the emergency blanket tucked in tightly around me.

“Aren’t you going to get any sleep?” I asked drowsily.

He sat upright, his back against one of the wall, long legs stretched out before him.

“In time.”

Hmph. I didn’t like the sound of that, but honestly there wasn’t a thing I could do about it right then.

I couldn’t even keep my eyes open, lids getting heavier and heavier while I watched him.

As I drifted off into the dim light, he pulled a thin rectangle out from between two boxes.

A faint glow lit the planes of his face, and I realized what the mystery object was.

My Khelos, my Beast, who’d torn his opponents apart in the pit, was quietly reading on a tablet.

Sliding into dreams, I wondered what sort of bedtime tales he’d prefer.

Something with lots of adventure, maybe. Perhaps he wanted something totally different from this place, with fluffy bunnies having a party.

The image of him sitting by a tree trunk covered with tea cups and pots and slices of cake, surrounded by rabbits in little costumes, made me smile.

Then I jolted, almost awake again.

My Khelos?

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