How could he fight when he was nothing? How could he shout when they’d stolen his voice, when his body was too weak and too mutilated to move?
Hiss, rip, singe.
Then, as if right next to Valen’s ear, the voice screamed, You will never get vengeance if you allow them to have their way. You have to fight, Valen. Fight back!
As if he’d been plunged into arctic waters, a feeling radiated through him, something he had never felt before.
A power, a want, a need.
The crackle of the whip hissed overhead, promising a swift return. He couldn’t take it. He wouldn’t take it.
“STOP!” Valen yelled. His voice reverberated against the room’s obsidinite walls.
He waited for the next slash, but when it didn’t come, he craned his neck to the side. Even that slight movement sent a wave of pain through him, like he was being dragged across a bed of nails. His vision flickered in and out, unconsciousness tugging at him like a welcome friend.
But what he saw puzzled him.
His torturer, a large man with arms the size of Valen’s torso, had paused midswing. The whip still crackled overhead, bathing the room in an eerie, flickering blue.
Valen didn’t have time to make sense of it before the heavy door groaned open, two soldiers standing guard.
Between them, a robed figure glided in.
“Hello, Valen,” the figure said, and Valen gasped as she drew back her hood. Dark ringlets fell across her shoulders, where a collar of ruby red encircled her throat. And her eyes, Valen saw, were a gold so bright that in his delirium, Valen smiled and imagined painting them. She stopped before him, reaching down to slide a lock of hair off his forehead with a golden metal hand. The fingertips were designed to look like delicate claws.
She was an angel of darkness, come to him in the pits of hell.
When she looked down at him, her smile was as bright as fire.
Chapter Sixteen (#u2c495123-a205-5bed-8b1b-b7611314f030)
FROM FAR AWAY the Dark Matter Pub looked like a glowing beacon among the stars. Beside it, a short ship ride away, was Lunamere.
The prison moon was an inky black the color of outer space, pocked with scars from asteroid collisions and impact zones from The Cataclysm. But Lunamere had survived that war, a proud symbol of the system in which almost everything was destroyed.
As the Marauder soared closer, Lira guiding it effortlessly past the few ships that dared come out to this edge of the Olen System, the satellite pub revealed its darker side.
There were entire sections missing, as if a giant mouth had taken a bite out of it, or a series of bombs had simultaneously gone off, ripping it apart from the inside out. Starlight shone through the gaps like winking eyes. It was a wonder the ringed satellite was still in one piece.
Not such a wonder, though, Andi thought, that it’s the perfect place to find Dex’s little friend.
“That can’t be the pub. It’s a pile of space junk,” Gilly said to the crew as they looked out the Marauder’s viewport.
“Wrong, little girl. It has style. Things that have style aren’t junk,” Dex said, looking down at her.
“That confirms my theory then,” Breck said from beside Gilly.
Dex glanced sideways at her, raising a brow in question.
“Since you don’t have any style, you’re clearly just space junk.”
Andi bit back a laugh and turned back to the view ahead of them. The landing dock was loaded with ships of all makes and models. Silver Thrashers with tails like fish, perfect for carving through the stars. Ice-blue Indigos, with four outspread wings like a giant bird. Then a rare beauty, a Red Recluse. Its sleek burgundy frame could become completely invisible to the eye, not just radar. All of the ships were lined up like multicolored gifts, ripe for the taking.
Too bad they didn’t have time for a joy ride.
It was prime-time for Dark Matter, the end of the sun cycle. Everyone from bounty hunters to prison workers frequented the pub, according to Dex.
Dex slipped up beside Andi to stare out the viewport. “We need to talk,” he said. His smell was the same as it had always been. Like Tenebran mountain trees, fresh and strong. Her pulse heightened at his nearness, and for a moment, things between them felt like they used to.
She took a step away, reminding her foolish heart that this man had been the one to break it.
“We don’t have time to talk, Dex,” Andi said with a sigh. “We’re landing soon.”
“That’s exactly my point,” he said. “We’re about to go into this job together, and I’d rather go in as partners, not enemies.”
Andi turned to face him, arms crossed. “You and I will always be enemies,” she said, her voice low.
“You don’t know the whole story, Androma.”
“I know enough.”
He huffed out a laugh and ran a hand through his mussed hair. “Five minutes. Just...five minutes, to let me say my piece.”
Andi opened her mouth to respond, but Gilly’s voice filled the void between them.
“Cap?” She bounded over, her hair freshly braided. “It’s almost time.”
Dex sighed. “Later,” he whispered to Andi. “We’re going to have that talk.”
Andi turned away as Gilly took her hand and hauled her back toward the waiting crew. This was the second time Dex had tried to talk to her about what had happened between them, and while she had no desire to revisit the memories of the past, she couldn’t help being curious about what he had to say.
She shook her head. Now wasn’t the time to be thinking about such things. They had a job to do.
Andi turned her attention back to the view of Dark Matter. She had never been here before, but she could imagine that if anyone found out a girl with her reputation was near, they would happily kill one another to turn her in for the biggest prize. She’d been on Mirabel’s wanted list for years, ever since she’d escaped Arcardius and taken up a life of pirating. Most didn’t even bother looking for her at this point, because too many had already lost their heads trying to chase her down. But here, in a den of enemies, she was walking right into their hands. One would be stupid not to take a chance at capturing her.
She tucked her hair beneath her hood, cloaking her face in shadows.
“You’ll keep a low profile,” Andi commanded her crew. “Eyes on us at all times. You smell trouble, you see anyone step out of line, you sound the alarm and get the hell out. No mistakes.” She glared sideways at Dex as the girls nodded. “No surprises.”
He crossed his tattooed arms and smiled. “I wouldn’t dare.”
He would. Oh, he would. She turned away from him, biting the inside of her cheek to keep from saying another word. “Lira?”
Lira sat in her pilot’s chair, hands loosely gripping the throttle as she guided them closer to the docking bay. “You don’t need to say what you’re thinking. I am fully aware of what must be done in there.”
“Good,” Andi said. “We’ll have to move quickly once we get inside. No more than forty minutes.”