I killed three guards before they managed to close the collar around my neck. As soon as it snapped shut, a searing pain ran down my spine, making my legs collapse under me. I crumpled to the floor while the guards jeered and laughed.
They were going to suffer. As soon as I got out of here and rescued my mate, I was going to kill them all. Slowly. Taking them apart piece by piece. They would regret attacking my ship and abducting me every painful click until the moment they’d die. And then I would mutilate their corpses and feed them to my hyggena. My beasts would be hungry after my long absence.
They dragged me backwards and propped me against a wall. With the collar doing something to my spine, I couldn’t move. Even snarling at them was almost impossible.
A drone floated into the cell, expanding into a large screen.
The guards left, grunting foul insults as they did, then shut the door, leaving me alone. The collar was still active, forcing me to stay in place and look at the screen. Some sort of torture, most likely. It flickered to life, showing a small figure in a sea of light.
The camera zoomed closer, exposing the figure as a female. She stood on a platform, resembling a version of my cell with the same sort of bed and pisspot, but much smaller. The female wavered on her feet, clearly unsteady, but she managed to stay standing. She blinked into the light, unaware of the drones circling the hovering platform, of the crowd in the distance.
Even though I only saw her on the screen, I knew it deep within my heart. She was mine. My mate. The female I’d scented.
“Welcome to the Trials of Kalumbu.”
The announcement stole my breath.
Kalumbu. Of all the cursed places in this universe. Now it all made sense. Why I was brought to this cell without a word, without a reason for the attack of my ship. Why I could smell my mate.
Kalumbu. This planet has made people rich. It’s changed lives. But most of all, it takes lives. A thousand deaths every rotation. It is said that the plants in the planet’s jungle can no longer survive without blood.
“The bride is Fay Machalin. Welcome her.”
The shouts of hundreds of spectators echoed the announcer’s dramatic voice. They’d paid exorbitant amounts of credits to be here, to witness the Trials in person. Billions more would watch via the black channels on their ships, in their homes. It was illegal to even view the Trials on most civilised planets, but when have laws ever stopped anyone.
The female – my female – turned back and forth on the platform, as if trying to decide what to do. She must not have realised yet that this was Kalumbu. If she’d even heard of the Trials. The show’s audience fell among the very rich – who’d increase their wealth by betting on contestants – and the very poor – who for once could feel like they had it better than the poor sods dying in the Trials. Middle-class society either ignored Kalumbu or had no knowledge of it. I hoped my mate fell into that category. I wanted her to have grown up safe and happy, without the taint of poverty or the arrogance of wealth.
Three of the circling drones shot bright rays at the female. She cried as her clothing dissolved, leaving her naked. I growled, fury filling every cell of my body. They were humiliating her.
I didn’t recognise her species. She was tiny, pale and at first glance lacked any natural defences. Two arms, two legs, no tail, no horns. Her pink skin looked soft and vulnerable. Not a single scale in sight. As much as I craved running my claws over her skin, test just how soft it was, right now scales or armoured plates would have served her better. Her auburn mane was tied into a knot, making it hard to see how long it was. I hoped that she had hidden talons or at least some poisonous fangs. Without them, she’d be dead within ten clicks of the Trials.
“You may not have seen a specimen like this before,” the announcer boomed, sounding excited. “This is a rare Peritan from the planet Peritus. They only recently discovered spaceflight and think they’re alone in the universe.”
Roaring laughter followed his words. It only made me angrier. They’d abducted a female from some primitive backwater planet. She wouldn’t have any experience in dealing with aliens. She wouldn’t even have a universal translator implant. That would explain her confusion. If she knew what was going on, she’d be terrified. Instead, she slowly made her way to the edge of the platform, curiosity mirroring on her fine features. I found it surprisingly easy to read her emotions. Her mimic was not unlike that of my own species, even though she was so much daintier.
I wondered what Peritan males looked like. They had to be enormous to be able to take care of their vulnerable females. Did she have a male? Was there someone waiting for her back on her planet?
That thought made me even angrier.
She was mine.