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Freeing Luka: Chapter 25

The interior of the small building was crowded yet comfortable. A large lavish couch and bed took up most of the small space, leaving only enough room for three or four people to occupy at a time.

Bile rose in her throat to imagine Helas lounging in here comfortably while watching Insurgent members do God knew what to innocent victims.

From the open doorway, Alice peered in and saw Sal directing General Kadion. Pointing at a rough white stone, surrounded by identical stones set into the wall, he explained they’d need to raise Helas’ hand and press it to the exact area.

Strong arms wrapped around her chest, locking her own arms to her sides. The curving black designs along the wrists told her they belonged to Luka. Lifting her, he carried her away from the scene.

She squirmed. “Hey! Luka—”

“No, Alice,” he interrupted, his deep voice rough. “I stood back while you accepted an apology from Sal. I didn’t interfere when you questioned Helas. This is just curiosity, though. You aren’t needed right now, and if Sal is leading us into a trap, I don’t want you anywhere near that hut.”

He was right. Knowing he couldn’t see her childish reaction, she pouted. When he’d judged them to be far enough away, he set her down.

They looked on in silence as both guards and prisoners moved in and out of the cabin, Sal directing and Helas unwillingly following directions.

Now you know how it feels, asshole.

Verakko remained inside. Has he found the computers or systems or whatever they were called yet? Can he see the women? Are they alive?

Alice couldn’t take it anymore. She began walking forward, but Luka stopped her with a hand on her arm.

“I need to know what’s happening,” she begged. “Helas wouldn’t blow up the building with him still inside it. I just want to know if the women are alive.”

Luka’s lips thinned. His brow furrowed as he studied her. Straightening, he surveyed the woods around them. “I will go see what’s happening, and you will stay here. Do you hear me, Alice? You. Will. Stay. Here.”

She frowned, sticking her hands on her hips. “Yes. I understand.”

Stomping away, he leaned into the hut doorway, then waited for the guards and prisoners to clear the room before entering.

As he disappeared inside, a seed of doubt sprouted in her. What if it was dangerous? Had she just risked the man she loved because she couldn’t wait a few minutes? Feeling her heartbeat pick up, she rocked on her feet.

I promised not to move. She hesitated for only a second longer. Fuck it.

She’d no sooner taken two steps toward the house when rustling from above made her stop.

Dropping from the trees in a flash, five winged men rushed Kadion and Traef. Frozen in place, she watched in terror as a pulse of blue light shot from a black glove covering one of the winged men’s palms and hit Traef in the head. He slumped, unmoving at Helas’ feet.

The small door to the hut swung open, and an infuriated Luka stepped into the fray, closing the door behind him. Meeting her terrified eyes, he held up a hand, motioning for her to stay where she was. She dropped into the tall grass, hiding herself as best she could.

A man with yellow wings flying above dove at Luka. She was just about to scream and draw attention to herself when Luka jumped back, out of the path of the diving man.

Reflexes lightning-fast, Luka shot his hand out and grabbed one of the yellow wings. With a roar, he wrenched the man to the ground, punching him hard until he stopped struggling and lay still.

Four left, she thought, feeling more helpless by the minute.

Two of the winged men circled above, shooting blue pulses of light no wider than a quarter. Kadion, Sal, and Luka dodged the shots as they fought to restrain the other two.

Her gaze flashed to the still form of Traef, and she felt herself heave. Helas, hair and eyes wild, was viciously ramming his boot into the unconscious male’s arm. A loud crack rang through the forest, and Helas tried to work the metal band down and off the bloodied, pulverized flesh that used to be the man’s arm.

She needed to warn them, but she couldn’t risk distracting any of them.

Sal tackled Kadion just as a blue shot of light whizzed past, then sprang up and began wrestling another winged man to the ground.

I guess his apology was sincere.

Kadion shot his legs into the air, propelling his body upward, and landed crouched on his feet. Throwing his hand out, he caught one flying man by the throat while mid-dive toward Luka and the entrance to the hut. With a sickening crunch that carried to her, he broke the man’s neck.

Momentarily free of attackers, Sal’s gaze swung to her. She waved her hands wildly and pointed to Helas, who was now pulling a black glove and a gleaming knife off an unmoving winged man.

Sal gave a sharp nod and charged at Helas. Just out of arm’s reach, Sal’s invisible tether to Kadion snapped taut, jerking Sal’s head back.

Momentary shock registered on Helas’ face before a cruel smile curved his lips. In the blink of an eye, he slashed the air with the glimmering blade. Alice shrieked.

Too late. Falling to his knees, blood gushing from a quick strike above the metal collar, Sal choked. Alice’s vision blurred with her tears.

A snarl burst from Luka, his eyes flashing to hers before two of the circling men dive-bombed him from either side. Fighting hard, Luka was a tangle of fists and legs.

Helas dragged each side of his bloodied knife over his pant leg while staring at her, a crazed smile spreading over his face. An icy stab of terror tore through her heart as he started stalking toward her.

Kadion and Luka were now all that stood between the attackers and Verakko. If they broke down the door before he’d freed the women, they might never find another way.

Knowing they couldn’t afford to be distracted again, she turned and ran.

Pumping her arms and legs as fast as she could, she made her way deeper into the forest.

Don’t look back. Don’t look back.

Skidding to a halt, she looked out over a steep cliff leading to a raging river below. She dashed down along the cliff edge. Dodging branches and boulders became more and more difficult as the canopy of leaves above her thickened, swallowing the forest in darkness. Slowing, before she entered into the area of the forest that was completely pitch-black, she ducked behind a grouping of high bushes and willed her breathing to be silent.

Helas was older and stocky, right? He couldn’t possibly be agile enough to sneak up on her without her hearing.

An anguished roar echoed through the trees, and she stifled a cry. Luka!

“There you are!” a croaky voice said from behind a large tree. “You can’t hide, stupid girl. You reek of fear.”

Struggling to keep her legs from shaking, she stood. Now only ten feet away, Helas’ clothing and pale orange hair looked more disheveled than she’d ever seen them. As he glared at her, his eyes glinted evilly.

No weapons. No fighting skills. No protector. Alice was shit out of luck.

Helas wielded the knife in front of him with one hand and wore the black glove on the other. He crept toward her, and panic tangled her thoughts. Rush a gun, run from a knife? But what if he has both?

Behind her lay only black forest. As a Clecanian, Helas had better eyesight and could scent her fear. She had no hope of outrunning him.

The river below churned and flowed, splashing against boulders. Alice knew she’d never survive if she jumped in, and drowning wasn’t a death she was interested in.

If she was going to go out, then she’d go out swinging. For once, she’d fight back.

Before she could reconsider, Helas lunged and swung the knife.

He sliced a shallow bloody line across her abdomen and cackled. She jumped back, falling on her ass. Instead of moving in for the kill, he hovered as if waiting for her to beg for mercy.

Fury flowed through Alice when she realized he was toying with her. Grabbing a handful of dirt, she threw it in his eyes, then tried to run around him.

She felt thick fingers slither into her hair a moment before her head was wrenched back. Twisting in his grip, she turned and kneed him in the balls. He threw her to the ground, ripping out some of her hair as he did. While still doubled over, he aimed a vicious kick at her ribs.

Pain radiated from her side, black spots dancing in front of her. She rolled, dragging her knees to her chest. And spotted her only hope of salvation.

Only feet away was a familiar small, round red object on the forest floor, just behind where Helas stood.

She looked back at Helas to see his face was bright red, the veins around his temple pulsing. Knife raised, he stumbled toward her. “You ruined everything, and now you’re going to die!”

A loud snarl close by made both of their heads turn. Her heart leapt. A bloody, scratched Luka hurdled in front of her.

Luka’s voice was different, deadly. In a calm tone laced with venom, he said, “You’re dead.”

Alice’s lungs froze when Helas raised his black-gloved hand to her mate’s face. Both of Luka’s hands shot out and wrapped around that hand. With a sickening crack, he broke Helas’ wrist.

Helas shrieked and lunged at Luka’s side with the knife. Luka caught his other wrist just as the sharp blade sank into his ribs.

“No!” Alice cried. She tried to rise, but a wave of dizziness made her fall back to the ground. She had to find some way to help, and fast.

“Luka!” Alice yelled and pointed at the red object on the ground behind Helas.

His eyes flashed in the direction she pointed. He used his grip on Helas’ wrist to slide the knife out of his flesh, a cruel smile curling his lips.

Widening his stance, he suddenly released his hold on Helas and stepped back. Bringing his fists above his head and raising one powerful thigh, Luka landed a hard kick right in the center of Helas’ chest.

The man’s eyes widened in shock a moment before he was propelled backward, landing directly on the red ball, and she prayed to the heavens it was what she thought it was.

Luka hobbled over to Alice, and they watched. For a moment, nothing happened.

Helas sat up, nursing his limp wrist and glaring at her and Luka with all of the hate he possessed. Then, a deep whine sounded from the shadows. A wave of small, red, snarling creatures exploded from all around him. They leapt from the trees and emerged from under bushes, swarming their prey.

Bloodcurdling screeches met her ears, and Luka quickly turned her face into his chest. The last thing she saw was a bloody, grasping hand, rising from a mountain of guarsil.


The forest grew quiet, but the sound of his frantic heartbeat pounded deafeningly in his ears. He flexed his fingers and lowered his head to inhale her scent. The moment he’d looked over to see Alice and Helas gone had been the most terrifying moment of his life.

He’d ripped and clawed at the remaining assailants viciously. No longer a civilized male, he’d reveled in the gore that had landed around him because he’d known the sooner these males were dead, the sooner he’d have a clear path to chase after Alice.

Adrenaline still pumping, he lifted her onto his lap, burying his face in her neck. When she let out a small, pained squeak, he loosened his grip. “You’re okay. You’re okay. You’re okay.” Rocking back and forth, he whispered nonsensically into her hair.

Cradling his head in her arms, she scratched her nails over his scalp. “Yes. I’m okay, Luka. Are you okay?”

His purr exploded out of him at the sound of her voice. Gripping her head in his hands, he forced her eyes to his. “You said you’d stay put, love.”

Tears flowed down her cheeks, leaving clean tracks in the grime covering her tanned skin. All at once, an overwhelming urge to get her home and wash all evidence of this night away rushed through him.

He bolted up, still holding her in his arms, then hissed when a sharp pain tore through his side.

“Put me down. You’re hurt.” She wriggled and writhed until he was forced to release her.

Crouching down, she carefully lifted his shirt over his head, then balled the fabric and placed it against the deep slash in his side. Her hands flew to her mouth, and she gasped as she took in the rest of the wounds visible on his chest.

Tears sliding down her face, she spun in place. “We have to get you help.”

“Help is coming,” a deep voice called from the trees.

Luka wheeled around, ready to rip apart the new threat. Black spots danced before his eyes, a wave of dizziness making him stagger. When he made out the features of Kadion, he allowed relief to wash over him, then promptly collapsed.

“Luka!” Alice cried, rushing behind him and laying his head in her lap.

“He’ll be okay. Zed is on the way now with a healer. It’ll keep him stable until we get him to a medbay.” Kadion sank to the ground next to them with a wince.

“And what about you?” she said, eyeing the deep crimson spreading from his torso and staining his shirt.

Kadion chuckled then wheezed.

The male had fought by his side bravely and taken on the last two attackers on his own while Luka had dashed into the forest. His face was covered in gashes and his once sandy-blond hair was dark and coated in blood.

“Oh, I’ve had much worse than this. Hazard of the job.” Kadion shot her a dimpled smile. “Still, it’d be nice to have a mate care for me like that.” One clear and one swollen eye met Luka’s. “I hope you realize how lucky you are.”

He peered above him. Alice’s warm tears were falling into his hair and she ran her hands over his uninjured skin. “I do.”

She gave him a watery smile and leaned down, pressing a wet upside-down kiss to his lips. She let her forehead rest against his and whispered, “I love you so much,” before rising again.

“Any sign of Verakko?” Kadion asked, interrupting the intimate moment.

Alice’s head snapped up. “What happened to him? And Sal and Traef?”

Luka groaned and sat up. “He finally came out and joined in the fight. I didn’t catch everything he said, but it seemed like he’d opened all the cells of the outposts and told the prisoners to run, but couldn’t do much more than that under the circumstances.”

Kadion nodded. “That’s what I recall, as well. Then he started fighting. I’d never seen him fight before. He was vicious.”

“Then what happened to him?” Alice asked impatiently.

“One of the males—a Strigi, I believe—carried him off through the trees and never returned.”

“I hope he’s okay,” Alice said, tears welling anew. “And the others?”

Luka could hear the heartbreak in her voice and knew she’d already witnessed Sal’s fate.

“Traef will pull through, but Sal…” Kadion lowered his head.

A single sob tore from Alice. Luka smoothed her hair back and pulled her onto his chest, letting his low purr soothe her the way it always did. “He redeemed himself, love. Died a proud male.”

Alice clutched at his forearms for a moment and then pulled away, sniffing. “What will you do about Verakko?”

“We’ll send search parties out to look for him, but Swadaeth are notoriously hard to kill. It might be why they took him in the first place. Probably thought it’d be easier if he were carried off and dropped out of the way.”

“And the women? They’re free?” she asked, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand.

“We can only hope. Word will be spread among trusted individuals all over Clecania to be on the lookout for wandering females, but we have to assume not all of them made it out. Speaking of…” Kadion scanned the trees. “Where’s Helas? Did he escape?”

Luka pointed over his shoulder to a bloody clump in the grass, all that was left of Helas.

Kadion peered at them, brows raised.

“Alice was brilliant. She spotted a guarsil.” Luka coughed, feeling his vision waver.

Kadion hissed air through his teeth. “Ouch.”

“I took a chance.” She grimaced. “Let’s all just be thankful it wasn’t a harmless piece of fruit.”

Yells echoed through the trees, and Kadion rose unsteadily to his feet. Auzed and Izor emerged, ready to tend their wounds.

Luka lifted Alice to her feet and gazed down into her eyes. “Don’t worry. I’ve got you.”


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