|Home > Sherrilyn Kenyon > Born of Shadows|
Caillen Dagan barely got out of the way before three blaster shots whizzed past his head. His heart thumped wildly as he realized he and his father were trapped by what they assumed were loaners out to collect money. It wasn’t the first time his father’s debts had caused them to be chased. The men after them seemed to be everywhere. And they seemed to be multiplying…
Terror made his breathing ragged as tears welled in his young eyes.
What are we going to do?
His dad grabbed him by the front of his shirt and hauled him into the shadows to crouch down behind him.
Caillen looked around, his entire body shaking as he tried to find an escape for them. There didn’t seem to be one, but he had faith. No one was better at getting through tough situations than his dad.
His father shook him roughly to get his attention. “Listen to me, boy. I need you to take care of your sisters. You hear me?”
Even though he was the youngest of the Dagan children and only eight years old, it was something his dad always said to him. “Yeah, I know.”
“No, Cai, you don’t. You’re too young to comprehend what I’m trying to tell you, but you have to try.” There was a sadness in his father’s eyes that scared him. A resignation that had never been there before and it made him want to cry. But Dagans didn’t cry and he wasn’t about to let his dad see him act like one of his sisters.
His father cupped his face in his calloused palm. “It’ll be years before you understand what’s happening—if even then. But I ned you to listen to me and trust me. I won’t be here to protect you anymore.”
Caillen frowned. “What are you talking about?”
“Listen! Don’t speak. We only have a few more seconds. What I need is for you to make sure that you never get into any system for any government for any reason. Keep a low profile. Live off-grid. Don’t let anyone have a way to track you. Ever. Not your address. Your likeness. Nothing. Especially not your retina, fingerprints or DNA.”
His father’s insistence scared him almost as much as the men with blasters looking for them. “Why?”
“They’ll kill you. You understand? Governments use that to track people and they will hurt you if they find you.”
Those words terrified him even more. “Who will hurt me?”
“My enemies. They’ll come for you too. It’s why I’ve never treated you like a kid and why I’ve made you train so hard. I knew this day would come, but I’d hoped it wouldn’t be until you were older. Unfortunately they’ve found me. Just take what I’ve taught you and use it to stay alive. I need you to live, Cai. For me. I’ve risked everything to keep you breathing. Don’t let it be for nothing. Not after all I sacrificed for you. I know I did the right thing. I know it. Now run home. Let no one follow you and keep your sisters safe. Okay? I know it’s a lot of responsibility for a little boy, but I have faith in you.”
“Just do it, Cai.” His dad pulled him tightly to his chest and held him close. “I love you, boy. You’ve been a good son. Better than I ever deserved. Watch over your sisters, especially Shahara. She’d be lost without you. You’re the only one she’ll have to depend on now.” He kissed Caillen on the head before he released him. He pulled out his wallet and handed it to him. “There’s enough money in there to bribe the doctors. Tell them to say I died of pneumonia.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I know, son. Just do exactly what I tell you. Okay? If anyone thinks I died of anything other than a natural cause, they’ll come for your sisters and hurt them. You can’t let that happen. Remember. Pneumonia. You have to keep my face off the news.”
Caillen hated the tears that started falling. He wiped them away with the dirty sleeve of his shirt. His father was right, he didn’t understand any of this, but he would obey. “Okay.”
His father kissed him again. “Now scurry like I showed you.”
“Don’t argue!” His voice shook as tears gathered in his eyes too. “Just stay alive, Caillen.”
Caillen nodded before he darted into a hole in the side of the building to their right. He’d just stood up to run when he heard voices that made him stop and listen.
“Dagan… you treacherous bastard. Where’s the money?”
“I never got the money.”
A blaster shot echoed.
Caillen heard his father cry out. Even though he’d promised not to stay, he crept back toward the hole in the wall to see his father on the ground, cursing the man who’d shot him as he tried to crawl away.
There was a group of men and women behind him who watched with an apathy that was sickening.
The man kicked his father over and held him in place with one foot planted solidly against his father’s bleeding chest. He angled the blaster at his heart. “You’re a crafty bastard. I’ll give you that. Spent six years of my life trying to find you. Now tell me what you did with our package.”
“I don’t know. It got away from me… It-it vanished. I didn’t get the money for it. Someone else took it. I swear to you. Please… I have little girls who—”
The man killed him.
Caillen clapped his hand over his mouth to keep from screaming out as pain racked him.
His father was dead.
Just like his mother.
Tears fell down his face as he wished he was big enough to go out there and kill the ones who’d taken his father from him. But he knew he couldn’t fight them. He was just a kid. And if he tried, his sisters would be alone without a man to watch over them.
“Protect my girls for me…”
He’d promised his dad and he wasn’t about to let him down.
“That was stupid.” A woman moved forward to glare at the man as he holstered his weapon and wiped the blood on his shoes against his father’s pants. The others withdrew, leaving just the two of them to spit on his father’s remains. “You should have made sure he wasn’t lying before you killed him.”
“I doubt he has the money. You saw his ship. He doesn’t live like someone who stole ten million credits.”
She sighed. “That wasn’t the most important part of this and you know it. If—”
“Even if the package escaped him, it won’t last long on the street. Trust me. We eat our young out here. I doubt it’s even around now. Garbage always burns.”
A clap of thunder sounded an instant before the rain that had been threatening to fall all day poured down over them. The man and woman ran off toward the street to seek shelter.
Caillen didn’t move. Not for a long time as he sat there, staring at his father’s lifeless body while the rain pelted it and made the ground run red from his blood.
What were he and his sisters going to do now? They were just kids…
He tightened his grip on the wallet. I will do what Dad said. Even though he didn’t understand the reasons behind his orders. It was to protect his sisters. That was good enough for him. He just hoped Shahara never found out that he’d used money to bribe a doctor ’cause she’d be really mad at the waste when they had so little.
He sniffed back his tears. I’m the man of the house. There was no one else…
“I’ll keep them safe, Daddy.”
His only question though was who would watch after him?
Twenty-two Years Later
“Thank the gods you’re here. I’ve been running arou—”
Without flinching or breaking his stride as he walked down a filthy, dark alley, Caillen jerked his blaster out and fired straight into his sister’s shoulder, cutting her words off before she wasted his time.
Not to kill her or hurt her. Just to shut her up before she made things worse for both of them.
Right now, he didn’t have time to listen to her bullshit. He was here to save her life.
And hopefully his too.
Gasping, she crumpled toward the trash-laden street. In one smooth move that caused his light-armored brown coat to flare out around his feet, he caught her against him and lifted her into his arms. He groaned under her weight. “Damn, Kase, quit working out so much and lay off the frigs. I’ve carried men who weighed less.” Not that he made a habit out of carrying men, but still…
Even though she was six inches shorter, she outweighed him by a good twenty pounds and he carried less than two percent body fat on a lean six-foot-four frame. His muscles screamed out in protest of his heroics as he heard the Enforcers moving in.
This was getting bad.
He glared down at her unconscious body while her brown hair spilled over his sleeve. Her plain features were so peaceful in spite of the hell she’d unleashed that it really made him want to hurt her.
But he couldn’t do that.
Blood was blood.
Sighing, he moved fast to stash her behind a Dumpster and to cover her with his coat. On top of that, he added enough trash to keep the Enforcers from seeing her. Yeah, she’d bitch-slap him later for the stench… and the headache his stun blast would leave her with but it would keep her safe and right now that was all that mattered to him.
Well, there was the urge he had to wring her neck until she turned blue—that mattered to him too, but that could wait.
A beep from his wrist alerted him that his hacked paperwork for her ship and cargo had gone through. Kasen’s IDs were removed from everything and his were registered in her place.
I’m a f**king idiot. By doing all of this, he’d just put his neck in a noose and he knew it.
What the hell? Who wants to live forever?
For the record and in case any higher deity was listening and taking notes, he did. But he was definitely going to cut his life short if he kept rescuing his sisters. Or at the very least cut his freedom down to the size of a ten-square-foot cell.
Yeah well, at least then I’d get three meals a day instead of six a week.
Pushing that thought away, he pulled his blasters out and set them to stun to do what he did best.
Survive and escape.
“Drop your weapon!” an Enforcer shouted from his left.
Yeah, right. Like he’d ever followed orders. Caillen opened fire as he dodged into a vacant alley that was as run down as the one he’d stashed Kasen in. Their return fire and the holes it left in the walls, street and trash around him let him know fast their blasters weren’t set for stun.
They were trying to kill him.
He considered resetting his to return the favor, but he didn’t want to kill the drones out to make rent. They didn’t deserve to die for supporting a corrupt system. Even the mindless needed to eat and it took more guts than most people had to stand and fight against the League and its sycophantic governments. He wouldn’t hold their cowardice against them.
Jerking his head to the right, he felt the heat from a blast that narrowly missed his face. Strangely enough, he was completely calm as he fought. His sister Shahara called him Eritale—a Gondarion term that meant made of ice. And he was. Since the day he’d seen his father killed, he’d never panicked again in a confrontation.
No idea why. It was like the fear inside him had shattered that day and left something freakishly copacetic in its place, something that set in during a fight and left him totally rational.
He shot at three Enforcers before he holstered his right blaster and launched a grappling hook to the roof of a decaying building. The further he could get them from his sister the less likely they were to find her unconscious body and question her.
The hook caught and set.
Caillen pushed the recoil button on the hook’s handle and fired at the Enforcers with his left hand as he sped toward the roof. Return blasts came close to him, but none hit the mark as he quickly zigzagged up the chipped brick wall to the top. Thankfully none of the drones were bright enough to shoot his cord—that would have left an ugly stain on the street and ruined his already screwed up day.
At the topfontrambled over the lip, dislodged the hook, recoiled it completely, then took off running toward the river across the roofs, jumping from one to another with the grace and flexibility of a gymnast—something he trained hard every day to maintain.
The deep whirring of an engine overhead let him know air support was on its way and it was coming in low and fast. From his vantage point, he could see the number of Enforcers after him. And it was impressive. They ran on the streets below and across the rooftops, all trying to get a shot at him.
What? Was it a slow day? Didn’t this place have any real criminals?
No, let’s go after the smugglers ’cause they were so much more dangerous than, say, a ra**st or murderer.
“What the hell was in your ship, Kase?”
He should have checked the manifest because this was looking bad.
More shots rained down as the airlift spotted him and came in as fast as it could fly. Damn the bright daylight of a double sun. It left him totally exposed without a single dark shadow to crawl into.
Ducking the door gunner’s shots, he took off at a dead run as he dodged fire.
Caillen jumped to a roof and rolled to his feet an instant before the door opened and six Enforcers spilled through, aiming and firing at him. He turned to go back, but there were more coming in behind. The gunship was on his right and about to pin him into one seriously nasty situation. Dodging left, he sucked his breath in at the distance to the next rooftop. If he missed that, it was going to hurt.
Who wants to live forever?
Ignoring his favorite motto whenever a dose of extreme stupidity was called for, he pulled his javelin off his belt and extended it so that he could use it to pole-vault over. He held his breath as he soared over the street so far below.