Warlord's Mercy - Cynthia Sax

Chapter One

“I love this planet, but I have no choice. I have to leave it.”

Lea uttered that truth under her breath. She talked to herself. Constantly. That tactic had allowed her to survive four solar cycles of mind-numbing solitude. The long stretches of silence had been unnerving.

She was alone this planet rotation also. Again. Always.

The sole sound she heard was the wind whistling around giant rocks. Those monuments of stone shielded her from the severity of the sun’s rays, concealed her in their shadows.

She crouched on a path only two beings knew about—herself, and Har, the garment merchant she saw briefly every fifteen planet rotations. Sweat soaked Lea’s chest covering. Sand shifted around her booted feet. She gripped garments in her hands.

“I don’t want to go.” Her heart was heavy with grief and regret. “Chamele 4 has become a part of me.”

Its rugged wild beauty called to her. Its unforgiving nature tested her. It had taken everything she had to carve out a life on the planet, to earn her survival. And during that unforgiving process, she’d fallen in love with the harsh terrain.

She now considered Chamele 4 to be her home.

“The time has come to find a new home.” Her words were so softly spoken she could barely hear them. “I’ll die if I remain here.”

Her most recent commission confirmed that sad reality. She skimmed her fingertips over the chest and ass coverings she’d fabricated for her late friend, tracing the flower designs she’d pierced into the soft brown leather.

“You always liked flowers.” She addressed her friend, saying the words she couldn’t relay when Flor was alive.

They’d met solar cycles ago, during the long trip to Chamele 4. Lea had happily allocated her spare time to crafting delicate cloth blooms. Those had been woven into her new friend Flor’s long blonde hair.

“We were all full of hope and excitement then, weren’t we?”

Even her overly serious father sported a glimmer in his eyes and lightness in his tread. Relocating to Chamele 4 had been a dream of his. He’d prepared for it for most of Lea’s lifespan.

Flor, younger than Lea by two solar cycles, had been as excited about new start. She had bubbled over with laughter, brightening the interior of the ship with her smiles.

“Everyone loved you.” Her friend had that way with beings. “Including me.”

Flor had been like the sister she’d always hoped to have…which made her failure to save the female even more soul-crushing.

“When we landed, the situation changed…drastically.” Lea tried to block the images yet couldn’t.

Her father died within mere moments of setting foot on the planet’s reddish-brown sands, his dream snuffed out as soon as it was realized.

Daisun and his band of brutes attacked them, slaughtering the males and enslaving the females.

“He laughed when he killed my peace-loving father—a male who had never intentionally harmed another being in his entire lifespan.”

The Palavian had smiled as he kicked her father’s body aside.

She shuddered.

“We ran as fast as we could.” She and Flor had fled the blood-soaked scene, their visions of sanctuary, companionship, a normal life, evaporating under the hot sun. “You were right behind me.”

She didn’t know the terrain, didn’t know where to go or where to hide. Daisun’s males were bigger, stronger, faster than they were. Their pursuers caught up to them, captured Flor.

Lea would never forget the scream her friend had emitted. The sheer terror in that sound haunted her rest cycles.

“I should have stopped, should have helped you.” She had replayed that moment a thousand times in her mind, dwelling on the many mistakes she’d made. “If I had done that, I would have been taken too, but we would have been together.”

Young, inexperienced, and so scared, her brain had shut down, she hadn’t thought to stop. She had reacted based on pure instinct, and those instincts told her to run, to escape her pursuers.

That simple feat had almost been beyond the range of her abilities. It was mere luck she found the entrance to the underground tunnels. The gap in the rocks was large enough for her to slip into, but it was too small for the male to spot, to follow her.

She had waited in the dark like the scared girl she’d been until the screaming stopped and the attackers left. When she emerged, nothing remained. The ship had been stripped to nothing. Her father’s body was missing. Her friend had been taken.

“I tried to rescue you, Flor. So many times.” Lea sighed. She held as little knowledge about freeing beings and