Born of Defiance

By: Sherrilyn Kenyon

Pulling the bloody mask from his face and fang-guard from his mouth, Talyn passed the security agents and headed to his locker room. Unlike Duel’s finery, his was a shithole. The bare-bones, barely furnished back room that was provided for mongrel dogs to shower and dress in. No frills. Utterly hideous.

Just like him.

Ferrick, a grumpy, potbellied, middle-aged Andarion who barely reached Talyn’s shoulders, joined him in the dressing room. He was grinning so wide, his fangs were exposed and his white eyes gleamed with delight. “Next time, kid, I need you to kill your opponent. We’re talking major bonus payout. We’d be rich.”

Talyn snorted. “You’d be rich.”

“Yeah, okay, I’d be rich. But I have four daughters in university with upcoming unification ceremonies. You’ve got to help me. Next fight, rip out the trachea and beat your opponent with it. I can get some serious mileage from that. And credits out my ass.”

Reaching for his towel, Talyn raked him with an amused stare. “How about I make your wife a rich widow instead?”

Ferrick laughed. “That threat would hold more impact if I didn’t know how much you hate dealing with others, and there’s no way in Coreła’s thorny hell you’d ever set your own fights. Or deal with the media.”

“I’m not sure I’d bet my life on that… were I you.” Talyn headed for the showers.

“Think about it, kid! Just one death. One! Slow and painful is better, but at this point, I’d take a quick, painless one.”

Shaking his head, Talyn turned the shower on, and washed off his mask first. After Ferrick left to deal with reporters, he undressed, shoved his shoes and dirty shorts into his duffel, and showered. There was no maid service or attendant on the lower side of the Ring. Everything was self-serve. Which was fine by him. Like Ferrick had said, he preferred solitude to bullshit company.

Or worse, sycophants to his face, assholes at his back.

The water stung against his wounds and bruises. But he was used to that, too.

He’d just finished showering when his military armband went off to let him know that he was due back for check-in. Picking up his jacket, he paused to finger his major’s stars on the epaulette, and the honors and medals he’d won over the last four years. Tomorrow, he’d put in for rank advancement. With a win like this, and given his service record, it should be guaranteed.

If he were a fully Vested Andarion, there would be no doubt.

Four weeks ago, it would have been a damn good probability, too. But that was before Colonel Chrisen Anatole had been transferred in as his CO.


His comm link buzzed with the special armada tone.

Talyn put it in his ear and answered as he finished dressing. “Major Batur.”

“Major? Where are you?” the lieutenant snarled in the snottiest of tones.

Again, fury rose high as Talyn bit back a nasty set-down. A Vested officer would be able to verbally slap the lower-ranking lieutenant. If he tried that, he’d be put on report. It wasn’t his place to question or correct his so-called betters. “On my way back to post.”

“You missed your check-in.”

Talyn choked. “Not possible. My band just went off. I have leave until midnight.”

“No, sir. You don’t. Check your orders.”

Talyn pulled them up on his link, then cursed. “I reviewed them before I left. My curfew was midnight.” He ground his teeth as he saw that Anatole had reset his time after his fight had started, knowing there was no way Talyn could see it until he violated it.

“Regardless, you are now AWOL. Report to Provost on your return.”

“Will do.” Talyn hung up and gathered his gear. So much for celebrating. Violating check-in wasn’t something the Andarion military took lightly. It was one of their strictest policies and held some of the worst punishments for anyone dumb enough to do it.

His rage mounting, he limped his way to a public transport and got in. He swiped his military ID and sat back while it drove him back to base.

Trying to keep his thoughts off what was waiting for him and the boiling anger over the injustice of it all, he watched the small monitor, and listened to the media commentator reviewing the night’s fight results.

“Talyn Batur is not only the youngest to ever win the title, but is the first Andarion in Ring history to take the Zoftiq title in both the Open and Vested leagues. We know the Iron Hammer is celebrating his unprecedented and historic victory tonight. Sources say that he was spotted in his dressing room with a number of beautiful females, all vying for the Hammer’s attention. And I’m sure he’s giving it to them, even as I report this.”

He snorted derisively at the announcer who continued to cover the fight highlights.

Wish I lived the life they think I do…

Honestly, Talyn felt just like he had the very first time he’d ever fought a match. Sick to his stomach. Aching. Tired. Wrung completely out. He’d won that night, too. Only there’d been no reporters to cover it. Rather, he’d walked home afterward, in the rain, to an empty, run-down apartment, and made himself a can of soup. Done his homework and tucked himself into bed before his mother came home and saw the bruises on his face that would have forced him to lie to her about what had caused them.