Death had taken her entire family from her when she was just a girl, and now that relentless bastard was back, com-ing for her. Stalking her. Dakari Tievel could feel its fetid breath on her neck as she rushed through the dark shad-ows of the vacant alley of this godforsaken outpost, trying her best to elude its hateful agents.
She shivered. Not from fear, as she’d come to terms with the inevitability of death long ago. Honestly, she was more than ready to be with her brother and parents again. She’d more than welcome that long overdue reunion. Rather her tremors came from the frigid cold that had taken all the sensation from her fingertips, while she searched desper-ately for the address she’d been given by one of her former guards.
These people will help you, my lady. It’s what they do.
Dakari wasn’t sure if she believed in heroes anymore. Not of any kind. In this day and age, they were in short supply. Those who were willing to stand up for others and risk their lives . . . they were the stuff of childhood dreams.
Most were too absorbed with their own suffering to care about anyone else’s. She’d learned that when she was six and the people of her world had stood aside and let her family be murdered for no reason whatsoever.
Then they’d embraced their killer without bothering to see him punished for his cruelty and crimes. It sickened her to this day that people could be so blind. So mean.
But no one had cared. No one had stood up and said, this is wrong! The guilty should be punished!
Instead, they’d gone on with their lives, knowing what had been done to her and her family was wrong. Telling her that they were sorry about it. That one day, she’d rise above it and move it. But no one had spoken up or helped. They’d turned their gazes away in fear of that same injus-tice coming for them with the same ruthless vengeance that it used to lay her family low for no reason whatsoever.
Their callous apathy was what had caused the deep, dark void in her soul that had never healed. Too early in life, she’d learned the truth of others.
Everyone was selfish. Only out for themselves.
People would only help when they had something to gain. Either a warm, fuzzy feeling in their belly or applause from those around them.
No one helped because it was the right thing to do. And that included the guard who’d given her this address. Why would he do anything for no reason, at all?
She should have known better.
“I’m a fool for being here.”
In her heart, she believed that. No one had ever once helped her. Why would they start now?
Most likely, this was a fabricated address. The guard had probably sent her to her death. Just for shits and gig-gles.
Like everyone else in her life.
Torture the little girl. Watch her suffer. It was what peo-ple liked to do for entertainment.
For some reason, watching the misery of others seemed to make them feel better about their own pathetic lives. Especially when they thought the person being harmed had something better than them or that they were somehow “blessed.”
But she’d never been blessed. Dakari had been cursed from the moment of birth.
In spite of her “royal” birth, she had risked her life to leave her home. It’d taken every last cred to her name to get here. She’d barely escaped the last assassin who’d been sent to kill her. If these people turned her away . . .
Don’t think about it.
Right now, she couldn’t afford to let her panic override what little courage she had left.
Breathe, Dakaboo. Just breathe. I’m right here with you. I’ll always be with you. Tears filled her eyes as she heard her brother’s voice in her head, whispering the comforting words he’d said to her the night they’d slaughtered their parents.
The night they’d divided them.
Barely six, she’d screamed and kicked, clawing at the soldiers as they brutally pulled her from her brother’s arms. That pain still choked her. Still burned so raw inside at times that she wondered how she’d managed to remain sane.
That night had been so unreal. So traumatic.
Unlike her, her brother had seen their parents’ die. Had witnessed the carnage up close and personal. Then, terri-fied that he would be next and determined to save Dakari’s life, he’d come to her bed and wrapped her in a blanket. “We have to go, Dakari.”
Five years older, Jinx had still been a kid himself. Yet he’d managed to stay strong and calm through the coup that had claimed the lives of everyone they loved.
He’d covered her head to keep her from seeing the bod-ies or blood, but the screams of that night were forever seared into her memory. As was the sound of his strong, steady heartbeat as he carried her through their home to what he’d prayed was safety.
“It’ll be all right. I’m right here. I’ll never let you go.” Words whispered over and over until he’d made it to the hangar bay only to discover it’d been their own half-brother who had torn their lives apart.
Tobin had been waiting in the hangar bay with more soldiers, to cut off Jinx’s escape.
Greedy, selfish, rotten piece of shit. Spoiled beyond spoiled, Tobin had no reason to harm them or their par-ents. He’d lived a lavish, carefree life.
It hadn’t been enough.
He’d wanted everything that wasn’t his.
Even if it meant killing them all to have it.
Now on this cold outpost, Dakari stumbled as the rage and pain washed over her anew. She still wanted his heart in her fist. To this day, she couldn’t understand why he’d spared her when he’d spared no one else his wrath. Not that Tobin hadn’t tried to brainwash her with his lies and excuses. Gaslight her into believing she hadn’t seen what she’d seen.
Or heard the truth with her own ears.
“I was there to rescue you, Dakari. You were too young to remember it! It’s not how it happened at all. I saved you! Not Jinx. He died with your parents.”
As if she could ever forget her real brother’s kindness and care. What it felt like to really be loved.
Like she didn’t know the difference between a hero and a coward.
And now because she wouldn’t fall in line and do what he wanted, Tobin had sicced the League that governed all their worlds on her with the worst sort of kill orders imagi-nable.
It wasn’t just enough to kill her. The assassins were to tear her apart and make an example of her for others.
Just like Tobin had ordered for their father and her mother.
Just like he’d done Jinx.
There was no justice in this universe that was ruled by the League and the monsters it created that preyed on all of them. She knew that better than anyone.
Damn them for it!