The Crime Lord’s Fall by L. P. Peace

Goridin.

Then the hiss of the collar would sound at his neck and steal consciousness from him.

Sometimes consciousness swept him up and dropped him in bright rooms surrounded by laughter and mocking. The fearful faces of slaves, their eyes turned away, their own pain too hard to take to spare empathy for him. The surrounding faces were mainly Huan, but occasionally he would see the tell-tale sign of the Bentari part-breeds. Exiles from a world upon which they lived. Huan society shunned them but didn't have the strength to eject them. These people were criminals. People who thought they were half as terrifying as Adalth actually was. If these males would just let the drugs fade from him, just leave him unattended a few minutes too long.

Again, the collar hissed, and Adalth sank into oblivion.

Between these fleeting and rare moments, Adalth drifted on a sea of nothing. No sight, no sound, no passage of time to tell him how long it had been since he’d first stepped foot onto this accursed planet.

Huan.

There was no life except the Huan, who scratched a living from the harsh surface. They lived underground to avoid the amot particulates that scourged the planet. In ancient times, the Amarans had enslaved the people and damaged their planet beyond repair. When forced to go above ground, the Huan wore heavy duty filter masks over their faces or lived shorter lives as masses grew on their lungs, choking them to death.

These thoughts emerged more coherent than any he'd had in a long time. Slow, lazy, but right.

Around him, voices spoke in hushed tones. Two males, from what Adalth could make out. One was clipped, commanding, and deep. Goridin. The other was annoyed but compliant at the same time. There was respect in that voice. Respect for Goridin.

‘How long?’

‘Any metri now,’ the annoyed and respectful voice answered. ‘He’s probably already gaining consciousness.’

As if on cue, and before Adalth realised he was going to move, his tail twitched.

‘There. See?’

‘How long until I can speak to him?’

Adalth got the impression of the annoyed male shrugging. ‘Twenty metri.’

‘Oh, vrok this. I'm not standing here waiting.’

Adalth heard the two males walk away. A door opened and closed, cutting him off from his captors.

'Just don’t wait too long,' the annoyed voice said, muffled through the door. ‘He’s gaining strength, and his biology means he's breaking down the paralytic with every moment. Wait too long and you're dead.’

Goridin chuckled, his voice fading. ‘You'd like that, wouldn’t you, Cassel? No, don’t worry about me. I won’t wait long.’

No. Please. Do wait long. Come back when the paralytic wears off, and I’ll show you what a Hieladan is capable of.

Adalth lay there, the dim light penetrating his eyelids and casting them in sapphire light. Besides those times where he'd awoken amidst a party or orgy, this was the first light he’d seen since standing atop that cliff. The first light since holding Tara in his arms and vowing the Hinari would never touch her again.

Tara!

Was she alive? Had the Hinari gotten hold of her?

Adalth remembered the first time he’d seen her. Crouched in a small cage. Covered in bruises from those keth Hinari. She’d stabbed one of them, and even though her eyes were surrounded by yellowing bruises, they’d lit up with defiance.

Vrok! How long had he been here? Rotes? A cycle?

A small voice of warning in the back of his mind suggested it was longer. Much longer.

Tara and Adalth were being transported to a prison planet. Adalth because he'd taken Daris’s betrayal so personally. It was rare Adalth let a non-Hieladan into his inner circle, but the Maruzen was fun, charming, and constantly made him laugh. He was also good as an enforcer, and Adalth trusted him. In his anger at Daris’s betrayal, Adalth went after him, only to be caught by the Protectorate and sentenced to Vadal, the prison moon, in Adosian space.

Tara, as a slave, had no right to protect herself from the vicious beating one of her Hinari owners had inflicted on her.

Adalth was determined to protect her, but they were separated almost immediately when they were attacked by other prisoners. Adalth kept them busy, allowing Tara to run. Oddly, it was the Hinari who saved him. They’d come to reclaim their property.

Adalth agreed to help them, but he always intended to betray them. There was no way he'd allow a female to come to harm if he could protect them.

Slowly, pain penetrated Adalth’s awareness. He opened his eyes. They seemed to hurt as well, and when the light hit them, it stung so brightly. He blinked against the light and pain and forced himself to focus.

The room was dark. It was amot, he realised, which meant Adalth was on a ship. Signs of tosa, a bacterium that lived on amot, flecked in blue patches against the walls, giving a mottled effect to the metal. Listening, Adalth realised the ship was quiet. Even when a ship was resting, there was usually the hum of the engine to keep the lights on. Here, there was nothing. No sound except the dinging and thumps of people moving about. Distant voices calling to one another. A female laughing and obvious sounds of vrokking.

Moving his attention from the walls, Adalth looked down at his body. It was hard; as a Hieladan, his body wasn’t restricted by the physics of a humanoid body. So even as he looked down, he became aware that his lower body and tail were twisted mostly out of his sight.

He looked at his torso and was horrified to find the bones of his ribs sticking out against his scaled skin. He turned his attention to an arm and saw the muscles had wasted away, leaving him little more than bones wrapped in sapphire blue scales.

How long have I been on this planet?

The sounds of footsteps coming towards him alerted Adalth to Goridin’s return.

He still couldn’t vrokking move.

The door opened, and Goridin stepped inside.

Adalth looked at the male.

Hundreds of solars ago, some Bentari ship had made an emergency landing on Huan. The populace overwhelmed the ship, killed the males, and enslaved and raped the females before condemning them to prostitution. Males like Goridin were the descendants of those slaves. Shunned by their own people for their tainted blood, blood they’d tainted with their horrific actions. That was the thing the Huan didn’t understand. The mixed-breed males were not tainted by the blood of Bentari. They were tainted by the blood of the Huan who’d committed those atrocities. Though the offspring themselves were innocent of those crimes.

Even all this time later, Adalth’s hearts broke for those females and the things they must have experienced on this world.

It was impossible to rape a female Hieladan. The muscles around their hisit were too strong. Not that any male would do such a thing. Rape was an alien concept to them, which was why it horrified his people so much.

On Goridin, the Bentari ancestry was apparent. His eyes glowed, and he had the fleshy tendrils of the Bentari hanging from the back of his head.

‘Adalth.’

‘Goridin,’ Adalth croaked. It was barely a word, not even a whisper. Adalth cleared his throat, feeling an acute pain in his vocal organ before it faded away. ‘Goridin,’ he croaked again, but there was volume to it now. Strength. ‘How long have I been here?’ His voice was stronger with each word, but they raked over his vocal organ, scratching it until he had to swallow to ease the irritation.

‘A solar.’

Adalth closed his eyes, his mind blanking as he tried to take in those two simple words. Words that had just stolen a solar of his life!

He opened his eyes again and glared at Goridin. ‘You would do well to kill me now, Goridin. Because when I get free, I will destroy your little town, your criminal enterprise and everything else associated with you.’

Goridin crouched on the floor and looked down at Adalth, amused admiration in his eyes. ‘I’m almost tempted, Adalth,’ he said. 'I almost believe you could do it. But that is not what is happening here.’ Goridin looked around and took in a deep breath, letting it out again a moment later. ‘Tara,’ he said, shaking his head.

Adalth was instantly alert.

‘She found out you're here and is angry.’

‘What did you do to her?’ Adalth hissed.

‘Not a thing. She’s mated to a Huan male.’ Goridin saw the look of fury on Adalth's face and laughed. ‘Willingly. They live on Tessa together with his mother and son.’

Adalth remembered the boy and the mother. He hadn’t realised they were among the group walking out of the caves when they discovered Tara’s whereabouts. Fearful the gas they’d used to disable the Huan would make them sick, Adalth had moved them both into some approximation of the Hieladan recovery position. It had taken a few moments, and the Hinari were angry, but Adalth knew he'd never be able to live with the death of an innocent female and young child on his conscience.

‘The Hinari?’

Goridin laughed. ‘The one who hurt Tara, dead by her mate’s hands. The other three had no idea he had hurt the female. They work for me now.’

A knot of anxiety in Adalth’s chest eased. ‘Why are you telling me this?'

‘Because she is the reason I'm here today. Because I like the human, and I know she cares for you, and because if she finds you here when they arrive in a few rotes, she’ll refuse to help me.’

‘You're letting me go?’ Adalth asked. That did not feel right.

Goridin laughed. ‘No. I'm selling you. I have a buyer. Transport is arriving shortly to take you away.’

‘You are making a big mistake,’ Adalth said. ‘I will be free soon, and when I am, I will return here with my people, and we will erase you and your organisation from this rock.’

Everything was quiet as, for a moment, Goridin seemed to take his threat seriously. A smirk lifted the corner of one mouth, and he looked down the length of Adalth's forty fenth. ‘I don’t think you’re going to escape,’ Goridin laughed. ‘I think you’re going to live in slavery or die.’

It was Adalth’s turn to smirk, followed by laughter, which sounded as tosa-riddled as the amot walls. ‘That is what the last two people who sold me into slavery said. Each time I escaped, and each time I killed them.’

Well, not Atashni.

Again, Goridin went quiet. He looked at Adalth, an assessing look on his face, and for a moment, his hand moved, hovering near a weapon he had holstered on his thigh.

For a moment, Adalth thought he was about to die. His thoughts turned to his father, who was murdered when Adalth was only eight solars old, and Tanath, his killer, who promised Adalth he’d never see freedom again. Adalth had brought retribution to that black-scaled Hieladan after the syndicate saved him, not realising the pain it would bring to his world.

He thought of Zarret, the Athon male who was his mentor, and his mother, who had become Zarret’s lover and wife after he'd rescued her from slavery as a gift for Adalth’s loyalty to the syndicate. Unbidden, the image of Atashni running her knife over his mother’s neck flashed before he pushed it aside to remember Keridon. Keridon was Adalth’s brother, and Zarret and his mother’s son. Keridon inherited his father’s wings and the Hieladan lower body and tail of his mother.

Adalth’s mind conjured the image of him holding his newborn brother, his red and white feathered wings cradling his tiny body. Keridon’s long tail was covered in blue scales and was wrapped tight around Adalth’s forearm with a force that had amazed him as Keridon slept in his arms.

The misery he’d cost his homeworld had always haunted Adalth, but Keridon would be the regret he brought with him to the afterlife, that he hadn’t found Atashni and forced her to reveal who she’d sold his baby brother to. That Keridon had lived the last eight solars as a slave because his brother had failed to find him.

It was the reason a winged Hieladan was the sign of the Calidon Crime Syndicate. In hopes that if his brother ever found his freedom, he would see that sign, and it would draw him to the syndicate. Draw him to his people who knew to look for him and to his brother, who would die to protect him.

In a flash, the serious look on Goridin’s face melted away, and he laughed. ‘Don’t worry, Adalth, I’m not going to kill you. If you ever get free, I’ll be here. Waiting.’

With that, Goridin stood and walked out of the cell. ‘Drug him,’ he said as the door closed behind him.

There was a hiss from Adalth’s collar, and, with a roar of frustration, he sank into the oblivion where he'd lost a solar of his life.