Remmikov punched the soldier in the face, instantly felling the male. He could have used his horns to pierce him, but the zyanthan soldiers chasing him weren’t the enemy. Just like he wasn’t the enemy. Except he had to prove his innocence thanks to whoever had framed him for the bombings in the capital.
He didn’t know what game the enemy was playing, only that he was losing. Badly.
Torin and Ruby had fled Zyan two months ago while Remmikov had been helping Havok find his mate trapped beneath one of the buildings that had collapsed. In all likelihood, it was the Brotherhood that had planted the bombs and then blamed Torin, but Remmikov never had a chance to speak with Torin. Or Ruby, the human Remmikov had been guarding.
And he had so many questions. What was Ruby’s real job on Zyan? Not the one she’d been given in security. She had also lied about her name and knowing Torin, about having mated him. She and Torin had a relationship that preceded her arrival on Zyan, though she had pretended otherwise.
All the lies, the deception, made Remmikov madder than being accused of terrorism. He had considered Ruby a friend, but she had turned out to be like the rest of Zyan. She hadn’t trusted him. His status as a warrior meant little against the stain of his family’s shame.
Jade and her youngling had been pulled from the rubble and taken to the med-center. A few days later, as soon as they were discharged, Havok disappeared. Another source of answers gone. Even Jade didn’t know where Havok had gone.
Remmikov hadn’t been actively seeking Havok at that point. He’d stayed away from the couple, giving them time to mend their relationship. It wasn’t until the military splashed Remmikov’s image with the warning enemy agent responsible for capital bombings over every digital feed on Zyan that he started seeking answers.
Branded a traitor. The very idea burned worse than any blaster wound he could imagine.
Remmikov’s comm vibrated. He clicked the receiver. “Your request to speak with First Lead Ossen is denied, Warrior, unless you return to Goji Base. I’ve been assured by the Second Lead that you will be treated fairly and given the chance to defend your name.” Hollow words. This male had no intention of letting Remmikov speak to or see Ossen.
Remmikov ended the call. If he hadn’t been assigned to Ruby, then he wouldn’t be accused of terrorism now. Then again, he knew Ruby hadn’t planted those bombs. She was as innocent as he was. He needed to keep his focus on finding the traitors who framed him, the traitors who killed dozens of people and risked Zyan’s security.
As Remmikov moved through the crowded market, he struggled to keep his horns pitched back when his anger and frustration forced them forward. He had worked too drekking hard through his life, proving himself despite the shame of his father’s treachery, and now because of his assignment guarding Ruby, he’d ended up accused of being the bomber. The ZDC had first accused Torin, but it appears he had been cleared. Had Torin shifted the blame to him or had whoever blamed Torin decided Remmikov was a better target since Torin had fled Zyan?
If he could reach Ossen, he was sure he could clear his name. Unless it was Ossen who ordered his arrest. Remmikov had no one else to turn to, especially with half the military hunting him.
Drekk, he wished he knew what was going on.
Half-way through the market, Remmikov sensed someone following him. The black and dark green uniform he wore identified him as military, which worked to his advantage as zyanthans typically moved aside when the military passed through. But the filed ends of his horns made him stand out as a warrior, even with his tattoos covered by his clothes. If he could keep his horns pointed back in a relaxed position, no one would notice the sharpened ends.
“There he is. The traitor!”
Drekk, nothing was going right lately.
Remmikov raced through the crowd, leaping over a vendor’s table to avoid two soldiers who sprinted toward him. He outran them easily, but one had been talking into his comm, calling in Remmikov’s last position. Of all the drekking misfortune Remmikov had been so close to home.
Even six years after the war ended, the Ministry of Housing remained in such disarray that the military hadn’t found the records listing the house he’d been gifted at the end of the war. He’d been refurbishing the home during his off hours, but he had never dreamed it would become a refuge. The home would be discovered soon enough. He needed to find another place to hide.
He cringed at the thought of hiding on his own world. He’d worked hard to prove himself, to achieve warrior status, and now they all saw him as a criminal. Worse, a traitor.
As he darted between buildings, Remmikov spotted a flash of white hair. No zyanthans had white hair. Except eeshone. And he only knew one eeshone who might have cause to follow him. Havok. The warrior worked with Torin and knew Remmikov was innocent.
Unless he was the one who accused Remmikov, to clear Torin’s name. Havok had no loyalty toward Remmikov. They barely tolerated one another’s presence. The older warrior continually called Remmikov youngling; Havok never saw him as a warrior.
The street filled with tiny but well-kept homes had few people moving about at the late hour. With one quick glance over his shoulders, Remmikov didn’t see anyone, but that didn’t mean Havok wasn’t there. The warrior had a good reputation for a reason.
Remmikov couldn’t run forever. He needed a plan, but first, information.
He doubled back, cutting through an alley. He had grown up in Lenev District, knew it better than most, which was perfect because Havok wouldn’t see him escape into the catacombs beneath the district and come up on the other side, behind him.
When Remmikov emerged, he spotted Havok immediately. That white hair and light blue skin stood out among the deep blue skinned, dark haired zyanthans squeezing through a narrow passageway on his way toward the transport platform. He had to get the warrior alone, to avoid injuring an innocent. And to give Remmikov the opportunity to force the answers from the eeshone.
Remmikov skirted ahead, to the dark recess at the edge of the platform. He forced his horns flat against his head, to enable him to hide beneath the shoulder-high platform.
Havok’s light footsteps barely registered as he ascended the platform, no doubt using the higher elevation to scan the crowds looking for Remmikov. The platform emptied out as people filed onto the transit tube that eased to a stop.
“Krike,” Havok swore on the platform above Remmikov.
As soon as he heard the whoosh of the transit tube leaving, Remmikov reached up, grabbed Havok’s ankles, and pulled the male off the platform. The warrior landed with a hard crash, but he rebounded quickly, kicking Remmikov in the stomach even as Remmikov drew his blaster.
Remmikov sailed back against a concrete wall, but managed to hold onto his blaster and point it at Havok.
“You better be sure what you’re doing before you pull that trigger, youngling,” Havok warned, the anger in his face clear. “I have an entire crew that will avenge my death.”
“They don’t scare me.”
“And a mate who will track you down as well.”
Jade. The human female Havok had rescued from the Coalition on Earth. Not just any human female either. Ruby’s sister. Remmikov didn’t know Jade very well, but he suspected she’d be as fierce as any warrior if pushed too far. And she had a youngling to care for. She and her youngling would be alone, unprotected, if Remmikov killed Havok. He could not do that to the female. She and her youngling were innocents.
“One question, Havok. Did you frame me for the bombings?”
Considering Remmikov pointed a blaster at the warrior’s head, the male’s horns remained relaxed with no shaking or other sign that Havok was forcing them back. The warrior appeared to be telling the truth, but Remmikov knew better than to trust any other being, even a warrior.
“Then where have you been?” Remmikov pressed.
Havok stepped into the blaster until it rested against his head, between his eyes. “Shoot or lower the weapon.”
“Drekk,” Remmikov said as he lowered the blaster.
“Better. We need to talk, youngling. But not here.”
“Here. Now,” Remmikov insisted, with no give to his voice.
“You are difficult, youngling,” Havok said as he grabbed Remmikov by the arm and pulled him into the recess beneath the platform. “This is not the place to discuss this, but time is short. Ossen sent me to Nissiv to track down one of the Brotherhood responsible for the bombings. The male I caught was an innocent. I discovered too late that my orders did not come from Ossen, but from the mole in his division.”
“A mole in Ossen’s command. Torin and I have been trying to reach Ossen to warn him.”
“Who is the mole?”
“We do not know. I only returned to Zyan a few weeks ago. That’s when I discovered you were charged with the bombings and that you had been accused of being the mole. I’ve been searching for you ever since.”
“To turn me in,” Remmikov said through gritted teeth.
“If I didn’t need you alive, I’d skewer you with my horns right now for thinking so low of me, youngling. I may not like you, but you are a warrior.”
A mole? Drekk, but that would explain much. And make reaching Ossen that much harder. “You speak as if you don’t believe I’m guilty.”
Havok raised a brow. “You speak as if I should. Is that because of your father?”
Remmikov shoved the blaster into his holster. “Don’t speak of him. He’s no longer my father.”
“Whether you disavowed him or not makes no difference. He’s the reason you were easy to blame. That and you are from Ossen’s division.”
“As are you.”
“I’m officially retired from the military, at least per my record. Only Ossen knows that Torin and our crew have been working covertly for him.”
“Is that why I was assigned to guard Ruby?”
“I believe so. The only one with all the answers is Ossen. And I suspect he may be in trouble, or the mole is manipulating him and those around him, ensuring I can’t reach him. I don’t even know if Ossen is aware that I’m on Zyan, though he must be aware that Torin was blamed for the bombings and now you. I’ve tried everything I could think of to get onto base, but the guards at Goji block my every attempt. Despite my past military service, despite my status as a warrior.”
That couldn’t be right. Warriors received a level of trust and courtesy not afforded to ordinary soldiers. Havok should have walked onto Goji Base without any trouble. Unless Havok was lying about trying to reach Ossen. He could be lying about everything.
Drekk, Remmikov hated being so paranoid. “Why were you searching for me?” He needed information, not guesses.
“We need to work together, youngling.”
“Stop calling me youngling!” Remmikov snapped. The warrior certainly knew how to irritate him.
“You object to being called Remm or Remmikov—”
“My given name is for friends only.”
“And you would probably gouge me with those obnoxiously filed horns of yours if I call you Bazzok.”
“My family name is as dead to me as my sire. And my horns are tradition for Teekov’s students.”
“So that leaves only youngling.”
Drekk, he had a point. “Call me Warrior. I’ve earned the title and the respect.”
“So have I,” Havok countered.
Remmikov looked at the large eeshone, realizing what he was saying. They were both warriors, despite Remmikov’s relative inexperience or Havok’s light skin and hair. They’d gone through the same training, swore the same oaths to safeguard Zyan and always support one another. And he needed an ally now, more than ever, even in the form of Havok.
“Call me Remmikov, Warrior,” he said, honoring Havok with the title.
“My honor, Warrior,” Havok returned. “We shouldn’t talk here any longer. The next transport is due in any minute. Where is your safehouse?”
He hated to admit it, but he’d never set one up. Zyan didn’t allow traitors or their family to buy property. The only reason he owned the broken down house in this district was because it was in a bombed out section nearly flattened during the war and the owner didn’t want to repair it. He’d given it to Remmikov as a thank you for saving his mate’s life when the Grud attacked.
“I have a house in the northern end of Lenev District, but I fear the soldiers will find it soon.”
Havok pulled out a datapad, tapped in some information, and held it up to scan Remm’s eyes. A few more taps and he turned it around to show Remmikov.
“You now have access to a safehouse Torin and I share. Vary your route each time and use your training to ensure no one follows you. Until we figure out how to get into Goji and expose this mole, we’re all in danger. And I have a family to watch out for now. I will not risk them.”
Remmikov straightened his spine, Havok’s expression putting him on notice. “I won’t go near them, if that’s what you’re saying.”
“Correct, you won’t go near them. Or me. I’ll approach you, when I think it’s safe. Until then, stay hidden.”
“I can’t investigate while hidden.”
“Correct, you can’t. That will be my job. Patience is part of being a warrior, youngling.”
Back to youngling. Drekk. “You’re not my commander.”
“Right now, I’m the only ally you have. We work together, or we part ways here and now.”
“Stronger together,” Remmikov repeated the motto from warrior training.
“Drekking right. Remember that. I’ll find you when I have news.” Havok disappeared into the shadows, down the exact route Remmikov had taken, including the hidden door that led underground. He knew the district as well as Remm. Drekk, the warrior had been baiting him all along.
Remmikov headed in the opposite direction, keeping his horns tucked back and his face hidden in the shadows as much as possible. He’d take Havok’s offer of the safehouse for now, but he would not hide away like a coward. Warriors fought, warriors took action. Warriors never gave up, no matter what the circumstances.
* * *
The zyanthan struck McKenna across the face. The force of the blow sent her crashing into the wall of the cell where he kept Chloe locked up. Pain exploded across her face and body, but she stayed down where she’d fallen. She dared not raise her eyes. Any sign of defiance would only ensure the male struck her again.
McKenna quickly glanced at Chloe, who huddled in the corner, shaking in her tattered and dirty clothes.
“I did not give you permission to come down here.” Voken’s horns stood straight as he towered over her.
“I just wanted to bring Chloe some of my food—”
Voken raised his hand, threatening to strike her again. “She gets enough food.”
Enough? The woman looked emaciated. Voken’s men didn’t feed her nearly enough. “She needs more food,” McKenna pushed, only because Chloe was being starved to death.
“Silence!” Voken grabbed McKenna by her shirt and lifted her off the floor. His silver eyes darkened with anger, lending the soldier’s uniform he wore a more ominous look. McKenna averted her eyes as she submitted. It was the only way to survive his wrath.
Voken yanked her out of the cell by the hood of her cape. The guard who had let her enter reactivated the security field. “You have your own duties, female. And if you fail me—”
“I won’t fail,” McKenna said, with all the certainty in the universe. She’d launch Voken into the sun if she could, but failing him meant failing Chloe, and there was no way she’d fail her friend.
“Deliver the message,” he said, pressing a chip into her hand. “Then return. You have five days to find him.”
“Your soldiers haven’t been able to find the warrior for two months. How am I supposed to find him?”
“You’re crafty and have a way of persuading people to do your bidding. That’s why you’re being given this opportunity.” He stepped forward, his horns, long and sharp, pitching forward as a threat. “I won’t fall for your charms, female. If you fail, you know what will happen to your friend.”
She did. He’d let her starve to death. Or give her to his guards to use. Both even.
McKenna needed to get Chloe away from Voken and his men, but she had no idea how. Until she figured out a plan, she had to do what Voken ordered. Though McKenna had picked up the local language quickly during the four months they’d been on Zyan, she had no allies here, and certainly no one powerful enough to stand up to Voken. The Zyanthan Council perhaps. . . if she could get to them, make them believe her story, and trust that they could take Voken out before he retaliated against Chloe. It just seemed impossible.
Then again, she had never expected to escape the og’dal slavers either.
No, that was Ossen’s doing. Not hers. She’d sat in the cargo hold beside Chloe, convinced she’d never be free again. And the very next day, Ossen’s men attacked and boarded the vessel, rescuing her and Chloe. But she couldn’t depend on Ossen now. The only one she could depend on was herself, McKenna Walsh, a mere seamstress from Earth.