Resisting Maxu: Chapter 32

Hours later and Meg was sore and tired and hungry. They’d crawled through old malginash feeding troughs, shimmied between sharp unpolished metal beams, and eavesdropped on dozens of conversations. They’d learned that the king was holding the Tremantian party hostage until the Queen stepped down as Intergalactic Alliance representative, but they still hadn’t figured out where Meg’s friends were.

Their rooms, which had been their first stop, were empty. No guards even patrolled the area, leading Maxu to believe Sikthand had moved them for some reason, though he couldn’t understand why. If the humans were being detained, why force them to leave their rooms? It wasn’t like they could fly a malginash to the ground.

The only answer they’d been able to conceive was that Maxu’s absence might have spooked Sikthand, forcing him to hide the women away. Maxu disagreed with that guess, though, claiming the king knew him well enough to know he’d never put his life—or more importantly, his mate’s life—at risk to rescue a group of humans from mere detainment.

Meg’s stomach rumbled loudly, and she squatted down, trying to muffle the sound against her knees.

Since agreeing to rescue her travel companions, Maxu’s energy had shifted to something she hadn’t seen before. He could be aggressive, charming, sweet, ill-tempered. But the cold efficiency with which he’d guided them through the hidden maze of Vrulatica was new.

He didn’t complain or curse when the narrow passages bit into his chest. He didn’t slow to eat or drink, though he made sure she did, feeding her the scraps he’d packed to bring to the desert. He didn’t even appear tired, though they’d spent most of the day searching. Was this what his life had been as a mercenary? Detached and focused at all times.

They crouched in place, awkwardly stuffed together in a crack between walls that opened into a private bathhouse. Meg’s legs burned from her weird squat, her toes cramping. At the end of all this, she’d at least come out with a newfound respect for spies everywhere.

Though Maxu hadn’t revealed any fear and anxiety he might’ve had, Meg noticed a tense twitch in his jaw. Something was bothering him, but as they waited to pounce on a Guild member they’d followed into the bathhouse, she forced herself not to ask.

Another hour passed in which the Vrulan official socialized and gossiped out of earshot. Meg was about ready to tear her hair out when the male moved in close, taking his time redressing and straightening his tunic.

Like a shot, Maxu flashed out from the darkness, wrapped a hand around the man’s mouth, slipped a blade to his throat, and dragged him back into the shadows before anyone had noticed. Meg backed up as quickly as she could as he dragged the Vrulan back, scraping his own elbows against the walls so badly bits of metal chipped off. Finally, they emptied into a wider bit of the passage that was embedded far enough into the city walls that they wouldn’t be overheard.

Meg stayed out of the man’s reach as Maxu had forced her to promise, but she faced him and when he caught sight of her, his dark brows furrowed. The Vrulan’s bronze gaze rose to the small cubby they’d tucked themselves in, and she could tell he was unfamiliar with the area.

“Where are the humans being held?” Maxu questioned, holding the knife tighter to the man’s throat to punctuate his words. The Guild member hissed against Maxu’s hand. When her mate uncovered the man’s mouth, his lips remained stubbornly sealed.

“Tell us where they are,” Meg demanded. “Do you all really think this will make the Queen step down? She won’t. Not for a few humans and their guards.”

The man remained silent, his throat bobbing against the edge of the blade.

Maxu’s forehead tipped down. He ran a tongue over his teeth. When he looked back up, his stern gaze hinted to her she wasn’t going to like whatever he said next.

“Take a walk down that passage, Meg.” He tipped his head in the direction they’d come from. The fingers wrapped around his knife flared and tightened again.

She glanced between the two men, cold understanding turning her stomach to lead. “No…you can’t… It’s not right.”

The man’s gaze flashed into focus, lids widening.

Maxu let out a restrained growl. “We need to know where they are. This male knows and won’t tell us. What do you suggest we do instead?”

“Not torture him,” she hissed, throwing her hands into the air. But even she had to admit she had no other ideas. It wasn’t like they could just push this guy back into the hallway and try again. She could admit she’d been willfully naïve about what they were planning to do once they’d finally caught one of the Guild members they’d been hunting, but this?

Maxu softened his voice. “I’ll be fast, sweetness. He isn’t trained for this. He’ll break quickly.”

Fear was making the steel-gray hood of the man’s face paler and paler.

Maxu’s head tipped toward the man almost too subtly for her to catch, but then he raised a brow and she understood.

“You’ve grown jaded to torture, though. Too many years spent getting information through pain has left you with a skewed sense of how much pain is enough. The things you do now…they’re just cruel.” Meg curled her lip in disgust and wrapped her arms around her waist as though suddenly chilled to the bone. “It’s like you enjoy it or something.”

A tic manifested in the Vrulan’s eye as they spoke. His throat bobbed more frequently.

Just a little more.

“Like you said,” she plodded on, “this is just a politician. He’s not a soldier. Do you really think it’s fair to pull out his fingernails or whatever it is you’re planning? It’s barbaric. Can’t you just punch him or something?”

The man attempted to stifle a whimper.

“We’re in a hurry, love,” Maxu said softly, mimicking the appeasing tone of someone trying to convince their partner to fix their hair more quickly. “Pulling out fingernails won’t work.” The man’s shoulders relaxed for a moment before Maxu added, “It needs to be far more painful than that if we want to get out of here before morning. Sticking slices of metal under the fingernails would be a better option.”

The politician trembled as Maxu pointedly studied the small enclosure.

“What?” Meg asked, hands on hips.

“Now that we’re standing here, I think this space might echo a little too loudly.”

“They’re in the old forum,” the man burst out, breath shaky. Meg held her own smile back as she watched an evil grin split across Maxu’s face.

“Why’s Sikthand keeping them there? What’s the point of this kidnapping?”

Sighing in defeat, the man spoke. “There’s been news going around the world that the Queen has humans hidden in Tremanta. Thousands of them, all asleep in pods.”

“That’s ridiculous!” Meg snorted. “She doesn’t have anyone hidden. Why would he believe that?”

“It came from a reliable source. One of the Tremantian envoy.”

Meg sucked in a breath. One of their envoy? But…it was a lie. It must have been a lie. There were a few humans who were still asleep in pods because the technicians hadn’t been able to crack the encryption for their controls yet, but there were maybe six pods, not thousands. The Tremantian Queen sometimes did things that Meg didn’t fully understand, but she wasn’t the type to do this. Time and time again, she’d fought for them. Kept them from being forced into marriages. Provided safe housing and given them a certain amount of leeway while keeping them safe.

No. If somebody was spreading these rumors, they were either stupid or had an agenda, and the timing told her the latter was far more likely. But who?

Licking his lips, the man whispered, “Everyone thought you’d fled. The king assumed you’d heard the news, took your mate, and ran. You could leave now. Let me go.”

Veins popped along Maxu’s fist as his grip on the blade tightened. He watched Meg, a muscle in his jaw ticking.

Brimming with irritation, he let out a deep groan, then using a hand at the man’s nape and his body weight’s momentum, he spun them both, slamming the Vrulan’s head into the wall.

Their captive crumpled to the floor. Maxu cut a swath of fabric off the man’s cloak, bound his hands and mouth, then flipped the blade, stowing it in a pocket on his side.

He stared down at the slow rise and fall of the unconscious Vrulan’s chest. “He’ll wake up and cause us problems.”

“You’re not killing him,” she argued. “Where’s the old forum?”

He let out another sigh, hefting his bag over his shoulder. Face tipping to the ceiling, Meg watched Maxu’s mind work, his gaze flicking over the metal as if plotting a course.

“We have a few stops to make first, vahpti. I have a plan.”


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