As soon as he was finished eating, he rose and picked up his tray to walk it to the cleaning window. He’d only taken a few steps when Arast slid up behind him and hit him hard on his injured arm.
Nykyrian gasped before the tray and its contents went flying.
“Watch where you’re going, freak.” Arast shoved at him, then laughed before he rejoined Aksel at a nearby table.
The pain on Nykyrian’s face was searing as he knelt down to clean up the mess.
A tall, slender Andarion boy came up to help him. It took her a second to realize that it was Hauk as a young teenager.
Nykyrian shoved his hands away.
“Let me help,” Hauk said, his tone sincere.
Nykyrian raked him with a sneer. “I’m not dumb enough to fall for that trick again. Get away from me.” He finished picking up the garbage and his reader, then rose to his feet. He gave a long, hard glare of hatred to Hauk before he headed to the window.
Hauk watched him leave, his face a mask of sadness.
“What the hell are you doing, Dancer?”
Kiara grimaced at the sight of the crowned Andarion prince and heir. She’d always hated that smug prick. There was something about him that made her flesh crawl.
Hauk bowed low to him. “He saved my life, Highness. I was only trying to pay him back.”
Jullien arched one regal, scathing brow. “You’d better remember where your loyalties lie, pleb. Or else you’ll find yourself sharing his misery.”
Kiara winced as she looked down at the remote in her hand. “Come on. There has to be a good moment in here somewhere.” She skipped ahead to another random file.
This time Nykyrian was older. Maybe fifteen or sixteen. He was entering into an elaborate home with a beautiful older woman by his side. She looked vaguely familiar, but Kiara couldn’t place her.
Again his face was battered and he held his one arm as if it was injured again. There were more bruises on his neck and he looked as if he hadn’t slept for days. As before, his movements were slow and methodical as they’d been last night in her flat. She now realized it was the way he moved whenever he was seriously hurt.
The woman shut the door behind them. “Go upstairs and get showered. I’ll call the doctor for you.”
He gave her a slight, awkward bow. “Thank you, Lady Quiakides.”
Kiara smiled as she realized the woman was his adoptive mother. Kindness marked the woman’s face as she watched him head for the stairs.
Well, at least someone appeared kind to him.
But Nykyrian didn’t make it to the staircase before Aksel and Arast joined him. Aksel from the stairs and Arast from a neighboring room to pin Nykyrian between them.
The look on his face was one of restrained fury.
Aksel popped Nykyrian on the side of the face so hard, Nykyrian’s head snapped back. The bloodlust in Nykyrian’s eyes should have frightened him. But obviously he’d been getting away with years of torturing him so Aksel had learned not to fear his glares. “Well, look what Mom dragged home. What was it like in jail? Huh, freak?”
Nykyrian tried to push past him, but Aksel wouldn’t let him.
He shoved Nykyrian back toward Arast. “C’mon. Tell us. I have to know how many prisoners went deep drilling on you.”
Rage darkened Nykyrian’s eyes at the crude expression. He lunged for Aksel, but only managed two steps before he screamed out.
Arast held a control in his hands and laughed. “I love your shock collar, dog. Bark for me.” He twisted the dial.
Nykyrian fell to his knees, panting and trying to claw the collar from his throat.
“Ari, stop!” his mother shouted, trying to get it out of his hands.
“Lock his limbs!” Aksel shouted with a cruel laugh as he kicked Nykyrian in his injured arm.
Fighting her, Arast did and he turned the shock dial up all the way.
For the first time, Kiara saw tears in Nykyrian’s eyes as he lay on the ground, unable to move. The collar hummed evilly, leaving her to speculate on how much agony it was delivering to a boy who could do nothing more than take it.
Finally, their mother wrenched it out of Arast’s hands and turned it off. The moment she did, the commander came slamming through the front door.
He glared at his wife as if he’d like to beat her. “I told you to leave him in jail. How dare you go behind my back like this!”
“He’s just a boy, Huwin. He doesn’t belong in a holding cell with hardened criminals. My God, you should have seen where they kept him, and nak*d no less. That was completely unnecessary for a child his age.”
“He’s not a child. He’s an animal.” The commander grabbed Nykyrian by his hair and hauled him to his feet as he started searching his clothes. “Where is it?”
“I didn’t take it, sir.”
The commander backhanded him so hard, it split his lip and caused his nose to bleed. “Don’t lie to me.” He seized Nykyrian by the neck and drove his head back against the wall. Four times.
Kiara covered her mouth as a wave of nausea swelled at the horror.
What had he done to cause so much anger?
Nykyrian didn’t respond at all as the commander slung him across the room. The force of it was so great that he tripped and fell through a glass door on the opposite side of the foyer. The glass shattered instantly, spraying fragments over Nykyrian. Blood covered him as he tried to stand.
“Stop it, Huwin!” Lady Quiakides put herself between the commander and Nykyrian, who slowly pulled himself up. Panting, he leaned against the door frame with one bloodied hand.
The commander raked her with a furious glower. “Don’t get in the way, Terraga. I won’t suffer a thief in my home. Ever!”
His wife refused to budge. “Why in the name of the gods would the hybrid steal the ring of a prince? What would he do with it?”
The hybrid. Not even she had a name for him.
“I don’t care why he did it. I will not be embarrassed like this. Not after I took his mongrel ass in and fed and clothed it.”
Nykyrian stared at the commander without a single tear even though he was bleeding profusely. “I didn’t take it, sir. I swear.”
The commander grabbed him, shoved him against the wall and started searching through his clothes again.
Terraga pulled her husband back. “He’s already been given two full body-cavity searches and everything he had was taken and searched. They found nothing.”
“Why would the prince lie?” The commander turned to glare at Nykyrian. “Have you an answer?”
Aksel snorted. “The animal probably gave it to that girl he has a crush on.”
The commander turned to look at Aksel. “What did you say?”
“Ambassador Brill’s daughter. I saw them dancing together when the hybrid was supposed to be on watch duty with her.”
There was no mistaking the terrified panic on Nykyrian’s face.
Or the fury on the commander’s. “Leave us!”
Terraga cast a sympathetic glance at Nykyrian before she made her way to the back of the house. Arast and Aksel looked smug and ecstatic as they made their way up the stairs.
Nykyrian stood there with his gaze on the floor while he cradled his left arm against his side, his face impassive. It was as if he knew better than to beg for mercy since there was no way he’d receive any.
“Is that the truth?”
Nykyrian swallowed. “She only wanted someone to dance with her for one song when she had to have an escort. She knew I wouldn’t touch her inappropriately. It’s the only time I was near her. I swear it.” His voice quivered in panic. “I did my job, sir. I protected her and kept my hands to myself.”
His face contorted by rage, the commander went to the stand just inside the door where umbrellas and three canes were kept. He picked up the thickest cane and turned back toward Nykyrian, who stiffened in response. He beat the large silver ball against the palm of his hand. “What have I told you?”
“I’m an animal unfit to be in human company.”
Those words tore through Kiara as she heard the emptiness in his tone.
“And why do you have no name?”
“I’m not worthy of one.”
The commander nodded approvingly. “Get on your knees.”
Nykyrian hesitated before he complied. He leaned forward so that he was on all fours while trying to keep his weight off the one injured arm.
The commander brutally let fly the cane across Nykyrian’s back. “What else have I told you?”
Nykyrian’s voice was taut with pain. “I’m here only by your good grace and I should be grateful for everything you’ve given a freakish monster like me.”
He lashed him again. “And?”
“I will do as I’m told. I will not bring disgrace to you.”
“Now repeat it all.”
Nykyrian did, but it wasn’t enough to save him from being beaten again and again until he was no longer able to hold himself up.
The commander kicked him over and put his foot on Nykyrian’s throat. “I ever find you with a woman again and so help me, I will finish what they started with you in your orphanage. I am not going to suffer another hybrid dog like you to live. If you ever show such a weakness again, I will geld you myself. Do you understand?”
“Now get up and clean this mess. You have twenty minutes.” He delivered one last kick before he left him there.
Nykyrian was shaking as he pushed himself up. The commander’s wife came in, but said nothing as she watched him clean the mess.
“I can’t call a doctor for you. He won’t allow it.”
Nykyrian inclined his head respectfully. “Thank you, ma’am.”
Her eyes were filled with misery as she brushed past him to head upstairs.
Kiara wanted to cry for the sheer agony of his existence. Afraid of the next clip, she pushed the button and held her breath.
This one stunned her so badly she dropped the remote. It was Nykyrian in his mid-twenties. Stark nak*d. He was in bed with a gorgeous woman. By their flushed skin and ragged breathing, Kiara could tell they’d just had sex.
Lying next to the woman’s side, Nykyrian rolled over to touch her arm. She shoved him away. “You can go now.”
He frowned. “But I thought—”
“What? That we were going to have a relationship?” She laughed. “I was morbidly curious what it’d be like to sleep with a hybrid. Now I know. You’re more human than Andarion—and that’s not a compliment. Now get out and if you tell anyone about this, Commander, I’ll ruin you. Remember who outranks who.”
There was no emotion on his face at all as he left the bed to dress. But his eyes . . .
The hurt there made her want to cry for him.
Kiara bent down to pick up the remote and flip again. This one appeared to go back in time. Nykyrian looked a few years younger than the last one, but it was hard to tell exactly how old. Maybe his late teens. His long hair was braided and he was in full League uniform.
He had that slow methodical walk as he moved in the shadows of a dark alley. It wasn’t until he walked under a lamp that she saw why.
He was bleeding profusely. His face and body looked like he’d been on the bad end of a machete.
Pausing, he leaned against the wall. Another shadow moved. Nykyrian spun on it so fast that Kiara couldn’t even tell what was happening until he had a smaller teenager on the ground pinned under one knee while he held a knife to the kid’s throat.
The boy didn’t even flinch as he stared up at him. “Do it,” he growled.
Dear God, it was Syn . . .
Nykyrian sat back, releasing him. He pulled his wallet out and threw it at Syn. “Take it. You look like you could use it more than me anyway.”
Syn scowled as he held the wallet to his chest and watched him in fear—as if he expected it to be a trick.
Nykyrian moved away and sat down in the shadows.
Syn rolled over, pushed himself to his feet, then started to run away with the wallet in his tight fist. He’d only gone three steps before he stopped to look back at Nykyrian, who now had his eyes closed as blood pooled around him.
The debate in those dark eyes was searing. Finally, Syn slid the wallet into his pocket and went back to Nykyrian. When he reached for Nykyrian, Nykyrian pulled his blaster out and aimed it at his head.
“Get out, rat.”
Syn knocked the blaster aside. “You’re going to die if you don’t get help.”
Nykyrian holstered his weapon. “I don’t care.”
“Normally I wouldn’t either, but you bastard, you did me a favor and I don’t let those go unanswered. You could have killed me and you didn’t. Now get up. I know someone who can help.”
Nykyrian, his head tilted back against the wall, just looked at him with a blank expression. “Just take the money and go.”
But he didn’t.
Instead, Syn helped him to his feet. “C’mon.”