Reluctantly Saved by Annalise Alexis

CHAPTER 1

Tris

The thick Yevarianblood smelled like piss and the after-char of a plasma weapon that has seen too many wars, but I reveled in the feel of it. Anything to feed the rage thundering inside me.

With one boot as leverage on his face, I ripped my Xebic steel blades from his chest and wiped them on his dust-covered pants. His arms, the ones that had clawed and desperately grasped at me only moments earlier, lay lifeless on the ground, waiting to be devoured by the cremos beetles scurrying toward his flesh.

Like a horde of starving scavengers, they clung to the soles of my boots as I stepped over his remains. Fucking pests didn’t even wait for him to go cold before consuming him.

I feed you, and this is the thanks I get?

The gore of killing was easy to get used to, but I despised the stench of a rotting corpse. My appreciation for decaying flesh had expired alongside my twin, Rovu. I’d found him tied to a chair, baking in the suns of our home planet. The scent now served as a reminder of my oath to avenge his death.

The harsh, sandy winds of Xitra bit at the skin of my face and neck, abrading what wasn’t protected by the scarf I’d stolen from that useless Yevarian fuck.

He was rumored to be traveling with Korthos, the Losi rogue responsible for my brother’s death, but I got nothing useful from his blubbering sobs. Once I had a knife at his throat, he emptied his bowels and cried, offering anything he could in exchange for my mercy, including several captive females set to be sold that evening.

I enjoyed watching the life drain out of him. Any male who abused a female deserved to die screaming.

I had half a mind to give him a slow death, one that left him stewing in his own excrement and tears, but the Xitra heat would make the smell unbearable, and I had more important people to kill. So, I gutted him and moved on.

The trek back from the outlying deserts took longer than I’d have liked. The winds picked up, making it difficult to see through the gritty sand. Once I neared Xitra’s apex city, famous for catering to foreigners and thieves, I tucked my weapons inside my cloak and searched for a place serving anything that resembled braka, my fermented drink of choice.

I settled on the first drink house I saw, pushed through two half-destroyed metal doors, and tried to swallow past the layers of dust and Yevarian remnants I’d managed to inhale.

Judging by the amount of dried blood coating the walls, this probably wasn’t the best choice if I wanted to keep a low profile, but I didn’t care. I was thirsty and hungry and pissed that I’d wasted my time. I wasn’t any closer to finding Korthos or avenging Rovu’s death, and my mother was on the eve of her existence.

I swore to her I would find the beast who murdered my brother, peel the flesh from his bones, and bring her his corpse, so one day she could return to the ground in peace. I couldn’t go home until I did, and Korthos had proven to be more resourceful than I’d expected. Normally, when I wanted to kill something, it died. I tracked it. I killed it. The end. Not this fucker. Every time I’d tracked him down, he’d escaped.

Until I shed his blood, I’d luxuriate in the screams of anyone associated with him and his band of ruthless criminals. My honor demanded it. I’d killed hundreds and would kill thousands more until the bones of everyone connected with my brother’s death were nothing but dust. Assuming they had bones. Some had tentacles…

My gloves were soggy and growing stiff by the time I pulled them off and sidled up to the stone slab bar. The clay-packed walls gave the place an eerie orange glow, and after staring at nothing but pale sand the whole journey back, it was the last thing I wanted to see.

The Grenalian keep hovered near, waiting for me to address him. The depth of my voice would be a dead giveaway to my heritage, so I kept quiet and waited for him to speak first.

“Food or Drink,” he squeaked out, and I fought the urge to laugh. It had been so long since I’d seen a true Gren, I’d forgotten how ridiculously high-pitched their voices were.

A race of colorless giants, most Grenalians stood seven-feet tall and weighed as much as a small transport ship, so to hear them speak was a source of never-ending amusement. It was like a cross between the song of a child’s toy and the sound a male made after getting kicked in the balls. Endless. Amusement.

I bit my cheek and kept my head low to disguise my delight. Even a lip twitch could set him off, and though I could take him, I didn’t have the energy or the desire. Walking for two days with sand in your ass crack tends to take the fight out of a male, no matter how vicious or deadly he is.

“Braka,” I answered gruffly.

As he leveled his pale white hands on the slab, his silver eyes creased and his nose flaps vibrated with his snort. “I’ve made it five Xitra birth cycles here as lead keep and haven’t been asked to serve that putrid, foul-smelling filth. Today you’re the second person to ask.”

He grunted while he filled a glass with a clear, sweet smelling liquid and slid it toward me. “We don’t carry that swamp slush here. And if you don’t want me pulling back that hood of yours and revealing who you are, you’ll take what you’re given and tip well.”

I clenched my jaw and willed my temper to cool. There was a reason my kind were banned from most galaxies and ripping the heads off everyone who looked at me sideways wouldn’t help the bullshit reasoning behind it. Lucky for me, rules were made for people willing to be mastered and I answered to no one.

“And this is?” I asked, taking the glass, still managing to hide in the shadow of my hood.

I must have been doing a poor job of concealing my annoyance because the two males beside me muttered Xitrali obscenities and relocated to a table farther away from the bar.

“Ragis. A more respectable drink. Soft on the palate and less offensive to those sitting near you than what you ordered.”

“Very well,” I managed, then held the drink up in a gesture of good faith and tossed it back. When the Grenalian turned to leave, I slammed the glass down hard enough to chip the bottom, and he stopped mid-stride. He clenched his fists, and the frayed projections that lined his pointed ears shook.

Another thing Grenalians are particular about? They don’t enjoy their things broken. Turned out I had the energy to fight after all. “You said I was the second person to order braka. Who was the first?”

He rattled with rage like a tube of small stones being turned about. “Get out of my bar before I flatten you.”

Using the simple motion of sliding the glass toward him as cover, I grabbed his hands and buried the knives sewn into my sleeves deep into the bundle of nerves at his wrists. He stiffened, and the ridiculous rattling stopped. “Again, I’ll ask you. Who was the first?”

There were only two kinds of beings that enjoyed braka enough to order it in public. Those born of Quaris and those who had grown to love the controversial brew while visiting.

After Korthos decided to make Quaris the new hub of his criminal enterprise, he spent months there building the empire my brother, a Quarisi peacekeeper, tried to dismantle.

If that murderous prick is here, this trip might be worth it after all…

With a shaky, fearful tone that had become commonplace for the beings at the business end of my blades, the Grenalian rushed to answer. “There was a group of them. Heard them talking about grabbing girls for a flesh auction they’re holding tonight and were bitching about their missing interpreter. I’m guessing you had something to do with that?”

“I ask the questions. Or didn’t you notice the knives? Now,” I gestured to the row of unlabeled bottles lining the front of the bar. “Which one of those is the strongest?”

He jerked his chin toward an open red bottle, then groaned as I used his impaled wrists to leverage my weight and grab the bottle with my teeth. After I yanked out the cork and leaned back enough to empty it, the big oaf saw the orange hue of my eyes and paled.

“Look, I don’t want any trouble. Ask what you want and leave. Your kind aren’t welcome here.”

“Be careful. You might hurt my feelings.”

His voice rose even higher as I twisted the knives. “Your kind…don’t have…feelings…just disease-ridden cocks…” he spat and steadied his quivering lip enough to reclaim a smidgen of his honor.

Disease-ridden cocks? Huh. That was a new one.

I shrugged his insult off, then yanked him closer. “Last question, and this one determines what happens after I remove these knives. Where is the auction taking place?”

The Grenalian’s gaze pinged around the room, silently begging for help, but no one answered.

His panic was delightful.

“Maybe you shouldn’t overcharge for drinks,” I whispered. “Your prices are abysmal. Are you ready to answer now or should I take a seat? My legs are feeling a bit fatigued…”

“No, no, no, no,” he said as my sitting put tension on the wounds in his wrists. I stood back up. He was crumpling, sweat dotting his brow, and he wouldn’t last much longer. The big ones never did. “You soulless fuck, they’re going to kill me for this.”

I sighed. “Yes, well. So will I. Get on with it.”

“Across the way, there’s an abandoned fuel station that doubles as an underground bar. It’s there tonight after dark. I don’t know anything else.”

“Was that really so hard?”

I removed the blades, and he fell into a whimpering heap on the floor.

Have some pride for blood’s sake…

Leaning over the bar, I gave him a little wave before stealing another bottle and set off to purchase some new clothes. It was time to kill the monster who took my brother from me, and I was going to look damn good doing it.