Alarms blared and flashed all around him.
Nykyrian ran full speed, trying to get to his ship before the area was sealed off. The blast shield to the bay rumbled as it came down.
Falling into a roll, Nykyrian barely made it under the heavy steel before the huge door slammed shut with a loud crash.
Unfortunately, he stopped rolling right at Aksel’s feet.
“Still predictable,” Aksel sneered, clicking back the release of his blaster as he looked at Nykyrian disgustedly. “I knew one day your sense of valor and fair play would be your death.”
Nykyrian rose slowly to his feet.
“Kiara’s on board and safe,” Darling said in his ear. “Detonation in four . . . three . . .”
Aksel leveled his blaster at Nykyrian’s head. “You’re so disappointing.”
The blaster and dummy charge fired simultaneously.
Nykyrian dodged the blaster’s shot, then rushed Aksel.
Catching Aksel about the waist, they tumbled to the ground. Aksel brought his legs up and kicked Nykyrian back, then threw himself on top of Nykyrian at the same moment Hauk launched his fighter.
Nykyrian took advantage of the distraction and landed a solid fist into Aksel’s jaw. With a curse, Aksel reeled backward.
He extended the blades in his boots and kicked at Aksel, who rolled away. They went at each other with all the years of hatred manifesting in and empowering them. Slashing, punching, they gave it everything they had.
“They’re scrambling fighters,” Darling warned in his ear.
Nykyrian cursed. He had to get to his fighter and provide cover or they were doomed.
Aksel caught him a slice to his shoulder. Whirling around, Nykyrian returned it with a side wound. Then he kicked him back and bolted to the Malia.
As quickly as he could, he climbed up the small manhole underneath the craft.
“Shields up!” Caillen called.
Nykyrian lay on the steel floor, his shoulder throbbing.
Forcing the pain from his mind, he knew he had to launch before Aksel’s men reached Kiara.
Within seconds, he was inside the Arcana, his engines roaring. He launched and flew off in the opposite direction from Hauk.
Darling updated his report. “Fighters are changing course and heading straight for you, Nyk. Three remain after Hauk. It looks clear for us, we’re out of here.”
Nykyrian checked his monitors. He knew Jayne could handle three fighters with little trouble, but his scanners glowed almost solid white from the amount of ships trailing him.
“Surrender.” Aksel’s voice snarled through his link.
Nykyrian slowed his speed so that they could catch him—the longer they fought him, the more chance Hauk would have to get Kiara to safety.
This was what he’d always wanted. A warrior’s death. To go out in a blazing battle. No begging. No compromising. He would die like a man in a single moment of truth.
He’d come into this world alone and that was exactly how he was going to leave it.
Let the dance begin.
“You want me, brother? Come get some.”
Unlike his, Aksel’s voice betrayed his fury. “You’re outnumbered fifty ships to one.”
“Wow, you finally learned to count after all these years. Amazing, truly. Dad would be so proud of you.”
“Why? Irritating you is so much fun.” Nykyrian goaded him intentionally, knowing Aksel would break away from the squadron and engage him one on one.
“Talk about predictable,” Nykyrian whispered as Aksel’s fighter broke formation and dropped in behind him.
He turned his ship around and prepared for the fight. Kiara would be safe by now. Jayne should be running behind them.
By the time he was dead, she’d be home safe with her father. An icy, calm lucidity descended on him as he accepted the inevitable.
Aksel shot first.
Nykyrian barely had time to dodge the blast of color that skidded past his ship into the darkness of space. Three more shots were fired in rapid succession. Space fights were always interesting to watch. It seemed like there should be some sound. But there wasn’t.
All he heard were the sounds in his cockpit and the beating of his own heart. He gripped his throttle tighter, the leather of his gloves creaking ominously.
The other fighters were moving in fast. He had to destroy Aksel first, only then would Kiara truly be safe from the psycho-bastard.
He rolled and tried to come up behind him, but Aksel was smarter than that. He banked and cut, flying out of range.
“Come back here, you wanker . . .” Nykyrian headed after him.
Aksel was headed for his troops.
“C’mon, baby,” he whispered to his ship. “Don’t let me down after all we’ve been through.”
He opened the throttle and let her burn after Aksel. A dozen shots came at him. He did his best to roll through them, but one caught the side of his ship.
Cursing, he heard Aksel laughing over his link.
“We’ve got you now, hybrid! Prepare to die.”
Nykyrian’s blood ran cold as he saw his opening. It was an old trick he hadn’t used in awhile, but as he’d told Kiara in her flat, always do the unexpected.
He gunned his engines, heading straight for the cluster where Aksel was. His men panicked and scattered.
Taking the opening, Nykyrian fired his ion canon.
In one brief flash of orange light, Aksel’s ship disintegrated. His brother’s scream was cut short as he breathed his last.
Nykyrian leaned his head back in satisfaction as he pulled his hand away from his trigger.
Mission accomplished. All that was left now was the dying.
Kiara turned in Hauk’s lap as she tried to see what was behind them. She was desperate to see anything of Nykyrian. “We have to go back. We can’t leave Nykyrian out there.”
Hauk shook his head as he stayed on course. “My orders are to get you to safety.”
She wanted to scream in frustration. “Don’t you care?”
His hand jerked on the throttle, and the ship listed sideways in response. “I care more than you can imagine, but I also made a promise to him, and I’d open a vein before I’d break it.” With another angry jerk, he righted their craft.
Kiara sat back, her tears scalding her cheeks. “He’s out there alone,” she whispered, feeling sick to her stomach.
“Jayne’s gone back for him. He’ll be all right.”
Kiara heard the doubt underlying his words. She prayed as hard as she could. Nykyrian had to come back, he had to. The thought of him dying . . .
It wouldn’t end like this. It couldn’t.
She blinked in semi-relief as Gouran finally came into view.
Hauk set his links to pick up her father’s frequency. It took several agonizing heartbeats before she heard her father’s voice.
“President Zamir, I have your daughter Kiara, but I need a squadron of fighters. One of our pilots is in danger. If I send you the coordinates, will you assist us?”
Silence greeted the request.
Kiara’s anger built to a dizzying height. “Father, if you love me at all, you will do as he asks.”
“Daddy, please,” she begged. A sob cut short her words, but she forced her tears aside. “Please don’t do this. I finally understand why you’ve held on to me so close all these years. Why you locked yourself in your room at night with Mom’s pictures and couldn’t be disturbed. I can’t lose him, Daddy. It’ll kill me. Please don’t make me bury him like we did Mom.”
“Baby, don’t cry. Please . . .” The anguish in his voice made her tears fall even harder. He cleared his throat. “I’ll have a full squadron launched as soon as we can rally them.”
In unison, Hauk and Kiara breathed a sigh of relief.
“Thank you, Daddy.”
Hauk programmed the information into the computer. As they neared Gouran’s bay, they were passed by a squadron of fighters on their way out to help Nykyrian.
Keifer met them in the hangar after they docked.
As soon as she could deplane, Kiara threw herself into his arms, grateful for his support.
Hauk jumped down from his ship and approached her father in steady, predatorial strides. “Sir, I request another ship to join your troops. I haven’t the fuel to return in mine.”
Her father glanced at her, his arms tightening around her shoulders. To her relief, he nodded. “There are three ships fully fueled on the other side of yours.”
Hauk gave a curt nod before heading off to them.
“Hauk?” Kiara ran after him.
He paused and waited until she caught up to him. Her lips trembled as she stared at his Andarion eyes. There was only one thing she wanted, one thing left to wish for. “Bring Nykyrian back to me.”
He looked past her shoulder to where her father stood. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a wedding ring and handed it to her. “Nykyrian wanted me to give you this.”
Kiara bit back her tears as she stared at the beautiful ring Hauk dropped into her palm.
“He also wanted me to tell you that he loves you.”
Her tears broke into a soul-wrenching sob. “Please save him.”
“That’s my plan, princess.” Hauk darted to the nearest fighter.
Kiara slid the cold ring onto her third finger, her fears and worries choking her. The ring was a perfect fit.
Clenching her fist, she turned around and joined her father, wishing she were a little girl again and he could make everything alright just by kissing her hurt and holding her close, but to her deepest regret, those days were long past.
The only one who could kiss away her pain now was Nykyrian.
“Let me take you home,” her father said quietly, draping his arm over her shoulders.
Kiara shook her head. “I have to know what’s going on. Take me to the control room.”
Despite a skeptical look, he did as she asked.
Silently, Kiara sat in a console chair, listening to the pilots’ voices as they engaged Aksel’s men.
Hauk thought he would never get to the battle. In a weird way, he was right. By the time he met up with the squadron, the battle was over.
His heart thundered as he surveyed the ships, looking for Nykyrian’s.
Flicking open the channel to ask Jayne about Nykyrian’s fate, he finally spied the Arcana. Four Gourish fighters surrounded the disabled craft.
“Nykyrian?” His heart lodged painfully in his throat.
“. . . Fine . . . hurt . . .”
Frowning, Hauk surveyed the damage done to Nykyrian’s ship. Sparks popped, only to be extinguished in the vacuum of space. From what he could see, it appeared that only one engine was functioning. And only barely.
He had no idea how Nykyrian could land the ship in its current condition.
“Do you need a tractor beam to help you land?”
“No . . . ship . . . destroy . . .”
Hauk could barely understand the broken garble. He let out a fierce curse, remembering the ship couldn’t be pulled in. If they tried, it would self-destruct.
One of the Gourish fighters almost hit the Arcana as it listed to one side. Hauk clenched his teeth as reality crashed down on him.
Nykyrian wasn’t going to make it back.
Nykyrian remained silent. His communications system was malfunctioning and he could only catch snatches of conversations from the pilots around him. He couldn’t believe he was still alive.
After he’d killed Aksel, the rest of Aksel’s men had blasted a dozen or more holes in his ship.
A strange catharsis had formed in his mind after the battle and, somehow, all his past sins ceased to bother him.
He stared at his control panel, which was lit up with every warning system on board. It was a miracle he even had enough directionals left to fly with.
He thought about Kiara and their baby. If he could have one wish, it would be to see his baby born, to hold Kiara one last time. He sighed, a knot forming in his chest. From the beginning, he’d known some things were not his to have.
Unfortunately, she was one of them.
Gouran loomed before him.
He rubbed his hand down his injured arm. Blood soaked his uniform, but it no longer seemed to ache—the deep cuts had severed his nerves.
Nykyrian stared at Gouran, wondering if Keifer would order him detonated before he neared the bay. Most governments would. It was standard practice to prevent damage to valuable bays.
Sighing, he leaned his head back on the seat as his eye burned. His ears buzzed from the radio’s static, but even so, he could swear he heard the tender, dulcet tone of Kiara’s voice calling his name.
His escorts, Hauk and Jayne, dropped away to allow him to land.
He headed into the bay, his hands automatically running through the landing procedure. Flipping switches and pulling gears, he couldn’t get the fighter to slow down at all. A chill ran over him as he entered the hangar at full speed.
In one last effort to save his life, he pulled the ejection switch over his head. The force of the seat’s propulsion shot him up, but not fast enough for him to clear the rear stabilizer. The impact sent him into blackness.