Here's an exclusive short from a secondary character in VALE OF STARS.
A sweet sound. The iron door closed behind me and muffled the mayhem and filth who paid good money to watch men bleed. Just another night in the fighting pits for the drakoros.
Blood-spattered and spent, I marched down stone stairs into the washing chamber beneath the fight floor. I’d done my duty, as always. And my slavemaster would be paid handsomely for it. Violent cheers for carnage, butchery, and more bloodshed erupted from above.
“Another win, Rafe?” Maddox sat on a bench, naked but for a towel tied at the waist, hunched forward with his elbows on knees.
“Aye.” I ambled toward the shower which rained down constantly during the matches. Stripping off my tunic, I stepped in and flattened both palms to the cold stone, letting the hot stream pour down my back. It was scalding. I wanted it hotter. Hot enough to make me feel pain again. Make me feel anything.
“Did you kill him?” asked Maddox.
I washed my opponent’s blood from my face and body then turned to let the water stream over my wings. After stepping from the showers, I flapped them once to shake off the excess water and grabbed a towel from the wall.
“Not this time,” I finally answered, noting that I’d broken the skin on three knuckles.
“Hope Gull or Serbius finish one off. Or we’ll all be in the shit. Kapheus doesn’t like it when they all live. He’s got a rep to keep up.”
I toweled off my head and beard. “Kapheus can suck my dick.”
Maddox laughed. He had a large gash on his right shoulder. The blood had clotted and was no longer seeping from the wound, but it needed tending.
“You need a healer,” I said, tying the towel around my waist.
“The Icewing will be along soon.”
The outer gate through the corridor grated against stone as it slid open.
“That must be her now,” said Maddox.
It wasn’t a white-winged healer that walked through the door but one of the guards, a stout Woodblade. I sneered at the man. I hated him the most, one of my own clansmen who enforced my captivity. For what? Blood and money.
“Beast,” he bellowed with military precision, standing at attention. “You are called for.”
I hated that fucking arena name. Kapheus knew I hated it. And yet, he’d labeled me like his animal, proving who was master.
“Oh, yeah? Who’s calling?”
Maddox tossed his head back with a bark of laughter. “The senator’s wife?”
The guard didn’t answer.
“You always attract the dangerous ones, Rafe,” said Maddox. “Why is that?”
I rolled my eyes with a grunt. “Tell her I’m indisposed.”
“She said she’ll wait,” replied the guard.
“I’m not sure you can blow this one off,” added Maddox. “Not her.”
With a heavy sigh, I walked toward the corridor. The guard blocked my passage with his steel baton and nodded toward the wall of clean tunics. I glanced at his baton then glared at him.
He lowered the rod and cleared his throat. “You must dress.”
“Does it really matter? She doesn’t care if I’m dressed.”
“Dress,” ordered the guard.
I contemplated crushing his skull between my hands then decided I didn’t want to die a slow painful death by whatever means Kapheus would create. Not today.
I dropped the towel and pulled a blue tunic over my head, which was too short and gaped low in a deep V. It wasn’t enough that I was a killer for the rich men of Drakos, now I had to be a whore for their wives.
A roar of cheers echoed from above as I strolled down the torchlit corridor. Through the bars of the gate up ahead stood a vision in an emerald-green gown. A plunging neckline revealed full breasts. A nice handful. Not remotely covered by her black velvet cloak. Long, dark hair fell to one side, exposing her pale, slender neck. Her shiny, black wings were slightly parted at her back. Cat eyes watched me with undisguised lust. I gripped one of the bars and leaned close.
“You’ve called, Mistress. And I have come.”
“So I see.”
“What is your will?” Though I knew exactly what it was.
“You are a fine fighter, drakoros. I admire your style.”
“Do you? And which style is that? The kind where I beat my opponent’s face until it’s unrecognizable? Or where I break his wings and permanently paralyze him?”
The guard at my back tapped his baton on my shoulder. If he touched me again, I was going to shove that rod up his ass.
“Guard, I would like some privacy out here with the Beast.”
“I am sorry, Mrs. Coalglass. We cannot—”
“You must not have heard me.” She cut him off with cold precision. The voice of woman who was accustomed to giving commands and having them obeyed. “I want privacy with the Beast. Right now.”
“Kapheus does not allow the fighters to leave the cell until all matches are done. The other guards must attend the matches, you see—”
“I’m not interested in your problems. I am Senator Titus Coalglass’s wife. I can have your balls cut and skewered for dinner if I so choose. I want the Beast in that private room. Now.” She pointed toward one of the chambers which was kept ready for trysts such as this. Every fight arena had them to please the wealthy women who wanted a more intimate taste of sweat and blood.
Suddenly, I liked this woman. She was about to get me on the other side of these bars before the brawling was over.
Kapheus was relentless in keeping to his rules. It was the only way to ensure his captives remained captive. These underground games for the richest of the rich using slaves as fighters were illegal. But no one cared. Not the clientele at least. We were their darkest entertainment, satisfying their lust for blood as well as the flesh.
I remained still, waiting for the guard to make the wrong decision. Praise the gods, he finally did.
“Yes, Mrs. Coalglass. But the key is kept on your side. Over there on the wall.” He held his baton at the ready, daring me to make a sudden move.
Kapheus wasn’t so stupid to leave keys in the hands of one guard, knowing we could overpower him in the cell. There were guards at another gate outside who would’ve opened this one once the order was given following the final match. Then the troop of guards would escort us out to the armored wagons for departure to the next city and the next fight.
The senator’s wife had used her beguiling charms to bypass them and saunter down here on her own. I’d have to get past them myself somehow. The outer guards carried Volt guns—a human-made weapon which harnessed electric power to kill a Morgon instantly, using his dragon DNA against him. These brutal bastards carried the damn things to ensure no drakoros escaped alive.
But this was it. I’d gladly die trying to get out of this hellhole.
The woman took the keys and opened the gate, standing in the door like a goddess of perfection. I smiled. She smiled back.
“This way, Beast,” she said, handing the keys to the guard.
He followed close behind me. I pretended to be enamored only with my prize for the night, following her like a dog to his bone. Once we were both inside the chamber, which was covered in pillows and sofas and silk draperies, I heard the guard pulling the door closed.
Lightning-swift, I spun, gripped the edge of the door, jerked it wide and grabbed the man’s throat with my other hand. He swung his rod but I caught it in my fist, yanked it from his grip, and slung it to the floor. It bounced and clanged on stone. His eyes rounded with fright. I twisted his body around, curled my arm around his neck in a choke-hold, and squeezed.
“Go to sleep,” I muttered as he scrambled and flailed his arms, unable to reach me. He slapped the air blindly. His wings fluttered, one pinned against his back by my body. Within a minute, his arms went limp then his body. And his wings. Finally unconscious, he slid to the floor. I stood and stared across at the vixen who’d saved me.
She hadn’t moved. Hadn’t even flinched.
“Do you plan to do the same to me?” she asked quietly.
“No.” My chest rose and fell swiftly, not from the exertion but from the adrenaline pumping through my veins at this sudden chance at freedom.
“I could scream for help,” she said.
“Yes. But you won’t.”
“Because I’m going to give you something your senator could never give you.”
“Oh, really? And what might that be?”
“A memory to warm you on cold winter nights. Faustina.”
It was forbidden for us slaves to speak to the aristocracy without being spoken to first. It was also forbidden to ever call an aristocrat by his or her given name. We were instructed to only call our female suitors by “mistress.” But this woman wanted a rough tumble in the dirt and bloody hands on her body. She wanted to break the rules and wanted me to break them for her. I planned to.
I walked toward her with determined steps. She backed away slowly, unpinned her velvet cloak and let it fall to the floor. Her gaze followed my movements as I stripped off the tunic. I could hear her heart pounding and smell her desire.
The backs of her knees hit a chaise sofa where she then sat. She stared up, her eyes devouring every inch of me.
“No. On your feet, Faustina.” I lifted her in my arms and crushed my mouth over hers, licking in with swift strokes.
She gasped when I pulled away abruptly.
I ordered, “Open your wings wide.”
I took one step back. “Turn around and grip the back of the sofa.”
She obeyed instantly. Without hesitation, I lifted the hem of her dress and ripped her pricey silk gown all the way up the back past her ass. Now she was the one breathing fast. Especially when I opened the flaps of her torn garment and slid my palm up her spine till I gripped her shoulder.
“Don’t you move. For now, you’re the slave. My slave. Aren’t you, Faustina?”
She whimpered but didn’t speak.
I slapped her perfect ass. “Who’s the slave, Faustina?”
“That’s right. Now hold on tight.”
Then I gripped her hip and thrust inside her, finding her more than ready for me. She cried out.
“Go ahead,” I said. “Yell all you want, little slave. It doesn’t matter. Right now, you’re mine.”
Then I gave her the ride she came for. Hard, fast, and rough.
The scaly sheen of her black wings glittered under the torchlight as she stretched them wide. I moved my hand from her hip to grip a wad of her silk gown, the fabric tearing more with each pounding thrust. She whimpered each time I hit home until she stiffened and moaned loud and long. I gripped both her hips and held her fast till we were both done.
Afterwards, I pulled away and shouldered on my tunic, then found that fool’s baton on the floor. The senator’s wife had righted herself and was pinning her velvet cloak back on, conveniently concealing the slit up the back from her ankles to her ass.
She angled her cat-eye gaze at me with a satisfied smile.
“Woman, tonight I fly for freedom. If you plan to stand in my way, I will hurt you. Make no mistake.”
“Do not fret, Beast,” she said, stepping close. She spread her palms over my chest and slid one hand under the V of the tunic. “You have earned anything you wish tonight. Kiss me.”
Strange woman. That lusty look told me she was up for more adventure. Perhaps even helping a slave escape. I fisted my hand in her lovely, fine hair and kissed her hard, letting her bottom lip slide out from between my teeth when she pulled away. She licked the spot. And smiled.
I stepped over the unconscious guard and followed her out into the corridor and up the steps to the outer door. She turned and waved for me to duck inside the dark chamber next to the door. I did. She wrapped three times on the square of glass in the iron door. Within a few seconds, it opened.
“Mrs. Coalglass. I hope that you were satisfied with your visit tonight,” said the yellow-winged Sunsting as he held the door open for her.
“Actually, sir. I wasn’t quite as satisfied as I’d hoped.” She leaned against the door frame so that the guard positioned himself with his back to me. “You see, the Beast was a bit tame for my standards.”
She glanced over the man’s shoulders with a wicked look, meeting my gaze. I shook my head.
Tame, my ass.
“I’m still hungry, you see. And I wonder if you and your partner could satisfy my appetite,” she cooed like the beguiling witch that she was.
“Well, I know that I could step away for just a—”
“No,” she said with cold finality, the tone of the senator’s wife cutting like a knife. “I want you both. Now.”
The guard pushed the outer door open and called out, “Tegan! Inside.”
The second guard entered. Volt gun at his waist. Faustina clutched their shirts and pulled them toward the empty chamber directly across from me. I inched into the hall, my heart pounding as the outer door slowly closed. But not slowly enough. I had only seconds before that door would close and my chance of escape would disappear.
Faustina’s giggle carried into the hall as she pulled them farther into the darkened chamber. I leapt on the instant right as the outer door was within an inch of shutting. But it caught on something. I looked down to find a satin slipper blocking the door.
I snatched it up, kissed the damn thing, thanking that wicked senator’s wife before I shot out into the dark. I stood on a mountainous ledge three stories high on the edge of Drakos, the city lights glittering like stars. This underground arena sat right on the edge of civilization in the founding city of the drakoros fighting pits. Our armored carriages awaited departure down below. While Drakos, this pinnacle of Morgon society, went about its business, men without means or family to find them were still being held in captivity, all for the pleasure of the damned aristocracy.
Cursing the past nine years, I spat in the dirt, took three giant steps, and leaped off the edge, stretching my wings, taking me higher into the starry night.
Too long. Too long I’d not felt the exhilaration of the open air, of the wind lifting me into the sky. I banked hard left toward Aria, the land of outlaws. I’d need cold weather gear before entering that frozen wasteland, and I’d have to fight to survive in the most unforgivable of terrains. But at least I’d fight for myself. Not for another man.
As I soared higher still, I opened my arms, smiling at the sensation of my hands cutting the wind. I rubbed the pads of my fingertips together, remembering the silk of Faustina’s gown. And I knew that no matter what happened to me from here, whenever I thought of silk and fine hair and small slippers, I’d think of her…and freedom.
Meet more of Rafe and other characters in the upcoming release DRAGON IN THE BLOOD. Coming July 26, 2016.