Authors: Sherrilyn Kenyon
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To the world's best fans! Thank you all for taking these trips with me into so many worlds and realms. To my family and friends for their hours of fun and for putting up with me during those hours when I'm a mindless zombie while lost on deadline. And as always, to Robert, the best agent ever! And to Monique and my entire SMP team and all the tireless hours you put into every book. Thank you so much! I love and appreciate all of you!
“You can't win against Vested, mongrel dog. You might as well go home to your mum and cry like the little bitch you are.”
Talyn Batur barely caught the nasty retort that scalded his tongue. Then wondered why he bothered, since both he and Duel Odelus were fighting to kill each other, anyway.
Yeah, okay. I'm an idiot.
Just not a rude one.
Duel punched and kicked like lightning.
Moving as if he lacked bones
a spine, Talyn dodged and ducked, then delivered a staggering blow to Duel's ribs. Duel stumbled back. Talyn scissor-kicked, turned, and hammered his famous double punch into Duel's face and a head butt to his forehead.
Stunned, Duel reached for him.
By the methodical, sluggish way his opponent reacted now, Talyn knew it was time to finish it.
“Kiss my mongrel ass, Vested,” Talyn growled, then swept Duel's feet out from under him and pinned him to the bloody mat.
Within a few heartbeats, the victory alarm rang, and was quickly drowned out by the thunderous sounds of those cheering his win, as well as those damning him to hell for it.
The ref pulled Talyn up by his arm to present him to the crowd.
The new Zoftiq Vested Champion of 8560! The Iron Hammer! Talyn Batur!”
Drunk on adrenaline and victory, Talyn struck his chest and glared defiantly at the arena that was packed with screaming fans as he fought down the raw bloodlust that was pounding through his entire being. A bloodlust that still wasn't nearly appeased. Over sixty thousand Andarions were here tonight to watch him bleedâand that didn't even begin to count the tens of millions who were watching from home. Some betting that he'd win.
More hoping his opponent would gut him in the goriest way imaginable.
But as his breathing calmed and the pain of his match set in, one reality hit him even harder than the blows of his felled opponent.
Out of all these tens of thousands who surrounded him, not a single one was here for him, personally. While those who were rejoicing his victory would go home to celebrate tonight, he'd take his shower, change clothes, and return to his spartan military barracks. Alone.
Tomorrow, he'd get up and go to work, like any other day.
The unconscious Vested bastard at his feet was right. In all the universe, Talyn only had one person to tell about his win.
His own mother.
How pathetic and worthless was
I really need a life.
Since his mother was off on a summit meeting with the Andarion tadara and under strict comm silence, he'd have to wait until tomorrow night to do even that much. And he knew she wasn't watching or listening to the event. She never did. It wasn't that she didn't care. She just didn't want to know about his fights until she was sure he was still alive, and not lying dead on the Ring floor.
End of the day, Talyn Baturâ
celebrated athlete of his entire generationâhad no one, in this massive arena packed to capacity with Andarions and aliens, who gave a single shit about him, except his manager and his trainer.
It was something he'd lived with and accepted the whole of his life, but never had it burned more than it did right now as he looked out at the thronging mass of Andarions who were here with friends and females. Two things, because of their stringent bloodline laws, he'd never known, and would never have.
The ref finally released his arm as they dropped the barricaded cage walls and carried his opponent away on an air stretcher. They were both bleeding profusely from the wounds they'd given each other over the last three and a half hours. While Duel Odelus had done his best to kill him, Talyn had only fought to win.
That had always been his priority. Screw the carnage. He wanted victory.
Most of all, he just wanted to get laid.
Well, not right now, because he could barely move. But once his mobility was restored, it'd be nice to have a female kiss his boo-boos for once.
Wiping the blood and sweat from his brow with his forearm, he returned to his side of the Ring where his manager and trainer waited to congratulate him. Their words were meaningless. He hadn't gone into fighting for the praise.
Only to advance his military rank as fast as possible, and to keep his ass out of trouble.
He fought because it was all he knew. All he was good at.
The sole thing that gave him any real pleasure. Because
in this Ring, he could unleash the pent-up fury he was forced to bite back whenever he stood on the other side of those cage barriers.
Talyn took the towel from his trainer's hand and dodged the reporters as he made his way through them to his dressing room. He'd let Erix deal with them. His trainer lived for this shit. Talyn would rather have his head split open than skillfully bypass the questions he didn't want to answer, from Andarions he couldn't stand. Andarions who didn't think he was fit to breathe their air.
His manager, Erix, was in his glory as he went from post-fight interview to interview, bragging about his skills in training Talyn over the years.
Yeah, rightÂ â¦
More correctly, it was Talyn's fists and willingness to stupidly open a vein, either his or someone else's, whenever he was under attack.
Pulling the bloody mask from his face and fang-guard from his mouth, Talyn passed the security agents and headed to his locker room. Unlike Duel's finery, his was a shithole. The bare-bones, barely furnished back room that was provided for mongrel dogs to shower and dress in. No frills. Utterly hideous.
Just like him.
Ferrick, a grumpy, potbellied, middle-aged Andarion who barely reached Talyn's shoulders, joined him in the dressing room. He was grinning so wide, his fangs were exposed and his white eyes gleamed with delight. “Next time, kid, I need you to kill your opponent. We're talking major bonus payout. We'd be rich.”
Talyn snorted. “
“Yeah, okay, I'd be rich. But I have four daughters in university with upcoming unification ceremonies. You've got to help me. Next fight, rip out the trachea and beat your opponent with it. I can get some serious mileage from that. And credits out my ass.”
Reaching for his towel, Talyn raked him with an amused stare. “How about I make your wife a rich widow instead?”
Ferrick laughed. “That threat would hold more impact if I didn't know how much you hate dealing with others, and there's no way in Core
a's thorny hell you'd ever set your own fights. Or deal with the media.”
“I'm not sure
life on thatÂ â¦ were I you.” Talyn headed for the showers.
“Think about it, kid! Just one death. One! Slow and painful is better, but at this point, I'd take a quick, painless one.”
Shaking his head, Talyn turned the shower on, and washed off his mask first. After Ferrick left to deal with reporters, he undressed, shoved his shoes and dirty shorts into his duffel, and showered. There was no maid service or attendant on the lower side of the Ring. Everything was self-serve. Which was fine by him. Like Ferrick had said, he preferred solitude to bullshit company.
Or worse, sycophants to his face, assholes at his back.
The water stung against his wounds and bruises. But he was used to that, too.
He'd just finished showering when his military armband went off to let him know that he was due back for check-in. Picking up his jacket, he paused to finger his major's stars on the epaulette, and the honors and medals he'd won over the last four years. Tomorrow, he'd put in for rank advancement. With a win like this, and given his service record, it should be guaranteed.
If he were a fully Vested Andarion, there would be no doubt.
Four weeks ago, it would have been a damn good probability, too. But that was before Colonel Chrisen Anatole had been transferred in as his CO.
His comm link buzzed with the special armada tone.
Talyn put it in his ear and answered as he finished dressing. “Major Batur.”
“Major? Where are you?” the lieutenant snarled in the snottiest of tones.
Again, fury rose high as Talyn bit back a nasty set-down. A Vested officer would be able to verbally slap the lower-ranking lieutenant. If he tried that,
be put on report. It wasn't his place to question or correct his so-called betters. “On my way back to post.”
“You missed your check-in.”
Talyn choked. “Not possible. My band just went off. I have leave until midnight.”
“No, sir. You don't. Check your orders.”
Talyn pulled them up on his link, then cursed. “I reviewed them before I left. My curfew was midnight.” He ground his teeth as he saw that Anatole had reset his time
his fight had started, knowing there was no way Talyn could see it until he violated it.
“Regardless, you are now AWOL. Report to Provost on your return.”
“Will do.” Talyn hung up and gathered his gear. So much for celebrating. Violating check-in wasn't something the Andarion military took lightly. It was one of their strictest policies and held some of the worst punishments for anyone dumb enough to do it.
His rage mounting, he limped his way to a public transport and got in. He swiped his military ID and sat back while it drove him back to base.
Trying to keep his thoughts off what was waiting for him and the boiling anger over the injustice of it all, he watched the small monitor, and listened to the media commentator reviewing the night's fight results.