Feel the Burn Page 10

It was, perhaps, the first and only time that Egnatius had ever respected his cousin. Seeing the damage he’d done. Smirking at the bodies that had been piled up out of frustration. It had earned Gaius the title Rebel King.

A lot of people thought Gaius had lost his eye during those dark times, but he hadn’t. It had been Thracius who’d ripped the eye from Gaius’s head when he’d still been a hatchling. Thracius hadn’t even blinked when Gaius had screamed in pain, his twin using her own body and wings in an attempt to shield her brother. But it had been too late. While they watched, Thracius had toasted that eye with his flame before gulping it down . . . and smiling. Then he’d gone on with his day.

That was Thracius’s style back then, and it would be Egnatius’s style when he became overlord. He’d lead as his father had. With fear and hatred and a touch of rage.

But first he had work to do. First he had to—

The blade didn’t go all the way through.... It just slammed into his spine, severing nerves, so his legs went out from under him as they lost the ability to feel. But Egnatius didn’t hit the ground; his cousin’s human arm was around him, holding him up.

“Hello, cousin,” Gaius whispered into his ear as his Praetorian Guard attacked Egnatius’s. “It’s been so very long.”

Kachka stared at the four Riders that the Anne Atli had allowed her to have.

After several minutes, while other tribe leaders watched, she finally said to the Anne Atli’s second in command, “You must be joking.”

“I do not know what you mean,” Magdalina Fyodorov replied.

Making sure to sound particularly disappointed—she had a lot to pull off in a short amount of time. She had to handle this just right—Kachka asked, “These are the best you can spare?”

“Watch what you say, Kachka Shestakova,” a voice murmured. “At least my sister wasn’t run out of here by our own mother.”

Kachka didn’t even look to see who spoke. Instead, she kept her focus on Magdalina. For many reasons she did this, but mostly because it was dangerous to turn one’s back on Magdalina.

“My list clearly requested—”

“Your list?” Magdalina asked. “The list where you requested some of our best warriors to go off with you on a suicide mission for some imperialist queen? Did you really think the Anne Atli would give up her best people for something so ridiculous? No. Instead, we give you these. You’ll be happy with them . . . for the short time you will all live.”

“You do know we’re right here?” a male voice asked. “We can hear you.”

“Take what you’ve been given, Kachka Shestakova, and be glad for it.”

Kachka gave a heavy, dramatic sigh, “Fine. If there is nothing else.”

“There isn’t.”

Kachka began to walk away when another of the tribe leaders exited the Anne Atli’s tent and whispered in Magdalina’s ear.

Kachka watched Magdalina’s eyes widen. For Southlanders, it would be a “look of concern.” But for a Daughter of the Steppes, it was more a look of horror.

“Wait . . . wait here,” Magdalina ordered Kachka before returning to the Anne Atli’s tent.

Kachka did wait, unable to hear much beyond the sound of Magdalina’s voice debating something with a much quieter Anne Atli. Because when one ruled the Steppes, there was no need to yell.

As she waited, Kachka looked over at the four warriors she’d been given to work with.

Marina Aleksandrovna. A truly solid fighter who had one major flaw. She questioned the way the Riders lived their lives. Not roughing it on the harsh Steppes. That wasn’t her issue. But the way they treated the males they took, and the harsh way they dealt with the towns and cities outside the Steppes. This particular flaw made her a real pain in the ass to work with.

Then there were the Khoruzhaya siblings. Both excellent trackers and hunters. Better than even Kachka, which she knew was saying much. But they weren’t sisters. They were a brother and sister, born only a year apart, and the boy . . . he thought being born into the tribe made him equal to the women. It didn’t. Even worse, his foolish sister followed along with that thinking, allowing her brother to speak out at tribal events rather than punching him in the mouth to shut him up as Kachka had been known to do to her own brothers and male cousins. She did it to help them. To keep them safe until they were chosen to be husbands. But Yelena Khoruzhaya’s indulgence just made Ivan feel still more empowered. Even worse, she protected him from her sisters and female cousins. In the end, Yelena and Ivan had only each other to rely on.

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