Phantom Warriors: Pit Fighters–Cage
Known for his savagery, Pit Fighter Chrysus doesn’t believe he’s fit for human company. There’s not a gentle bone in his body. But when King Hades gives an order–every Phantom Warrior listens.
Feeling caged on Earth, Chrysus needs a distraction to pass the time until he can return home. He finds it in a small fight club, when he meets ex-Muay Thai champ, Stevie Cash. Stevie is unlike any woman he’s ever known. The fact that she’s able to drop him to the mat within minutes of meeting her only makes Chrysus want her more. Who knew being caged could be so much fun?
Being considered ‘one of the guys’ has its advantages, especially when you run a fight club. Stevie Cash doesn’t have time for emotional entanglements. She’s too busy dodging attempts on her life and struggling to keep her father’s gym afloat. But the scarred warrior with a bad attitude just won’t take a hint. Chrysus seems determined to worm his way into her life. The closer he gets, the harder he is to resist. But when the truth comes out, only one fighter will be left standing.
PIT FIGHTERS: CONTROL (Pit Fighters 2)|PIT FIGHTERS: COMMAND (Pit Fighters 3)| ARRIVAL (Atlantean’s Quest 1)| EXODUS (Atlantean’s Quest 2)| REDEMPTION (Atlantean’s Quest 3)|
ATLANTEAN HEAT (Atlantean’s Quest 3.5)|THE RETURN (Atlantean’s Quest 4)| BACCHUS (Phantom Warriors 1)| SABER-TOOTH (Phantom Warriors 2)| TALON (Phantom Warriors 3)| ARCTOS (Phantom Warriors 4)| LINX (Phantom Warriors 5)| RIOT (Phantom Warriors 6)| THE DARK KING (Phantom Warriors 7)| HAWK’S SLAVE
Fighting with a lion shouldn’t be this easy…
Chrysus, the black panther, dug his paws into the firm soil that packed the Pit floor. Spotting an opening, he lunged at the lion and caught him across the chest with a vicious swipe of his sharp claws.
His opponent roared in anger and surprise, the lion whipping around to swipe at the panther, missing him by a whisker. Chrysus leapt back, slamming into the crude cage that surrounded the fighting arena. The rusted enclosure clanged and groaned, straining metal echoing throughout the amphitheater before being muted by the fortress’s stone walls.
Chrysus snorted. It was a rare day that anyone got a claw on a lion and he intended to relish the moment—from a distance.
He was so focused on the lion that Chrysus didn’t hear the jaguar sneaking up behind him. The other cat grabbed him by the haunches and yanked his legs out from under him. Chrysus went down hard, getting a paw beneath him before his face hit the dirt.
Incensed at the two-against-one tactic, Chrysus twisted and slashed the jaguar’s nose, bisecting his left nostril before the big, spotted cat leapt away. The panther scrambled to his feet and backed up until his tail hit the fence. From this position, Chrysus could keep both beasts in his line of sight. He should’ve known the lion wouldn’t be so easily taken down.
Deep furrows from the panther’s long, deadly claws scored the golden lion’s massive chest. But if he was in pain, it wasn’t obvious. The lion stared at him with unblinking amber eyes. Eyes that told him that he would wait all day and night for his chance at revenge.
The black panther’s gaze moved to the jaguar, prowling from side to side. Blood dripped from his nose, creating a crimson mosaic on the hard ground. Beneath the spots covering his body, the cat’s muscles quivered and its tail swished back and forth, as he searched for an opening.
The panther snarled and hunched down. Chrysus leapt into the air and collided with the two angry felines. They came together in a clash of claws and teeth. Exhaustion rode him hard as all three hit the ground in a heap.
The lion latched onto the panther’s front leg and bit down to the bone. Chrysus snarled, but couldn’t pull away without shredding flesh. When you were a Pit Fighter, embracing pain became second nature. He dug his claws deeper into the lion’s sides, unable to get at the beast’s throat through his thick mane.
The jaguar grabbed him from behind to drop him. A panther was no one’s prey. Chrysus rolled, forcing the other two cats to roll with him. The move broke the lion’s hold, allowing the panther to claw the jaguar across his belly and leap out of the way.
Every muscle in Chrysus’s body hurt as he limped across the fighting field. He could feel blood running down his leg, pooling on his paw. He flexed his claws. Pain seared his flesh. He needed to shift, but the battle wasn’t over yet. He turned in time to see the two cats stalk toward him.
A sudden roar came from the far side of the Pit. A roar that was unexpected, yet instantly recognizable. The sound made the fur rise on the panther’s neck. Chrysus saw the jaguar and lion stiffen, all conflict instantly discarded as they turned to face the new arrival.
Hades, the Dark King, swaggered into the amphitheater and stopped at the entrance to the Pit. His bright blue gaze locked on the three cats, then he signaled for the warriors to join him. As he did so, something squirmed and squealed in his arms. Hades juggled the bundle, then gently clicked his tongue. None of the warriors ever expected to hear that sound come out of their King.
Fur receded from their bodies and their claws retracted. Within seconds, the three predatory cats were gone: exhausted, naked warriors stood in their place. Chrysus, Zeph, and Asher made their way across the Pit, gathering discarded items of clothing as they approached.
The Dark King’s face shifted, the faint markings and features of a liger emerging. The auburn-haired little girl in his arms giggled and reached for his sensitive whiskers. She gave them a hard yank. Hades didn’t even wince. He simply wiggled his nose, then shifted back.
“Peek-a-boo,” he said.
His blue-eyed daughter giggled again and wrapped her tiny hand around his finger. She immediately pulled it into her mouth and sucked on it.
“I have to get you back to your mother,” Hades mused. “You’re hungry again.”
Chrysus watched the exchange, unspeaking. He had little knowledge of Earth children’s dietary needs, but knew that Phantom young ate continuously. Most Phantom Warrior males envied the Dark King for he possessed a well-endowed mate. She’d be able to feed fifty babies with her ample assets. And if the Dark King had his way, the Queen would whelp that many.
As Hades cooed over his little girl, Chrysus’s chest twinged. He rubbed the spot and glanced away. He must’ve hit the ground harder than he realized. The child smiled at her father, causing the discomfort in his chest to increase.
“Are we needed for another mission, Sire?” Chrysus had been on more missions than he could count, but if the King needed him, he’d pull himself together and go.
All male Phantoms were warriors, but these Pit Fighters were in a different league. They’d been handpicked for their ruthlessness and cunning to be part of an elite team of fighters that the King sent out far ahead of his army.
Their motto: Take care of problems before they arise.
“Yes,” Hades said simply. He juggled the baby once more, then settled her against his chest and stroked her back. “Once again, I require your service.”
Chrysus nodded. “When do we leave?” he asked.
“You have two days,” Hades said.
“And our destination?” Zeph asked.
For the first time, Hades’ full attention moved from his daughter to the fighters. “Earth,” he said.
Chrysus glanced at his brethren. Their expressions held the shock that he felt. “You… you want us to go to war with Earth, Sire?”
Phantoms had never invaded a planet without provocation.
“No,” he said, then smiled ruefully. “Though sometimes I think that would make things easier for our people in the long run.”
“Then is there someone on Earth you need us to eliminate?” Zeph asked.
Hades looked at them. “No.”
Chrysus frowned. “Sire, I do not understand. Then what is our mission?”
Hades’s blue gaze roamed over their faces. “I want you to have what I have.”
Chrysus’s eyes widened in alarm. He didn’t mean…surely he wasn’t talking about… He glanced at Zeph, who seemed rooted in place, but looked ready to run. As always, Asher remained cool and calm. Nothing rocked the six foot four, golden-haired lion shifter.
“Sire, what is it you wish us to have?” Asher asked.
Hades grinned. “A chance.”
“At what?” Chrysus asked, more than a little confused.
“Happiness,” Hades said.
Chrysus was suddenly aware of the silence of the pit. He could feel his heart pounding in his ears, and hear the breathing of his fellow fighters. And he knew of himself—as he knew was true of them—they would all rather be back in the throes of the fight than having this encounter with their King. None of them answered. There was no way to do so without ending up in a true Pit challenge. And no one went against the Dark King and lived.
The silence grew. Perhaps only seconds, but it felt like an age. They all knew this was not the way these discussions were meant to happen. The Dark King was accustomed to his fighter’s immediate and enthusiastic obedience.
Instead, in the midst of the standstill, Chrysus heard himself—and could hardly believe hearing himself—begin, “But, Sire…”
A growl rumbled out of Hades’s chest, threatening to morph into a full-blown roar.
His daughter sobbed.
The men took a step back and fanned out, as her wails grew in volume.
Their eyes widened as they glanced at each other.
What do we do? Chrysus mouthed.
Don’t know, Zeph mouthed back. Spots appeared and disappeared on his arms.
Asher gave them a tense shrug.
The Dark King deflated. “Athena, don’t cry. Daddy was just teasing.” The cold gaze he shot to the warriors said otherwise. “You’re going to Earth to look for mates.”
Chrysus’s chest tightened, making it hard to breathe. His two hearts felt like they were trying to break through his ribs. What was happening to him?
“But, Sire, we’re Pit Fighters,” Asher protested.
The lion’s reaction surprised Chrysus. His commander was always the first to follow orders—and give them. He never questioned Hades. Ever.
“There is much training to be done here on Zaron,” Asher continued.
“It can wait until you return,” Hades said. “I’ve already spoken to Helio. He volunteered to fill in while you’re gone.”
Asher frowned. “Helio is a child,” he said. “He’s a good warrior, but the bear is not ready to lead the rest of the Pit Fighters.”
The Dark King’s tawny brow arched. “Then it’s a good thing I’m here,” he said softly.
Chrysus’s feline side bristled.
Asher took a step back and dropped his gaze to the ground. “I meant no disrespect, Sire.”
“I know,” Hades said. “It’s the only reason you’re still standing.”
“I think what the commander meant, Sire, is that we’re needed here,” Chrysus said.
The tightness in his chest got worse. Was he dying? Chrysus didn’t fear death. He considered the goddess a friend. But he’d never felt anything like this. Fear before a mission was normal. Fear kept him alive. But whatever this was, was dangerous. Unpredictable. This kind of emotion could get him killed.
“Breathe, warrior,” Hades said. “The panic will pass in a moment.”
Panic? Was that what this was? If so, Chrysus didn’t like it one bit.
“You need to find mates. This proves it,” Hades said. “Fighting for your people is honorable. You have my loyalty and gratitude because of your willing sacrifice. But you need more.” He bounced Athena until she laughed. “Listen to that sound. It’s the sound of happiness. The sound of contentment. I had no idea it was missing from my life until I met my mate.”
The word ‘mate’ sent a shiver of unease through Chrysus. Normal Phantoms mated. There was nothing normal about the Pit Fighters. Sure, the Phantom people revered them for the sacrifices that they made on their behalf, but they also feared them.
Not even Pleasurers wanted the scarred assassins in their beds. It took double the credits to get them there and most kept their eyes closed during the sex act.
How in the worlds could the Dark King expect them to find mates on Earth? The sight of them would traumatize any female in her right mind.
Chrysus loved his fellow Pit Fighters like brothers. They were his family. The only family he needed. Didn’t the King understand that?
“You have two days to prepare,” Hades said. “I suggest you use them wisely.”
“That’s not enough time, Sire.” There was no use arguing with the Dark King once he’d given an order, but Zeph still tried.
“Would you rather I make it one day?” Hades asked.
“No, Sire.” Chrysus hit Zeph in the arm to silence him. “Two days is perfect. We’ll be ready.”
Hades laughed. “I doubt it,” he said. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go find my mate. My daughter isn’t the only one who’s worked up an appetite.”
The Dark King disappeared down the hall that led out of the Pit area.
Spotted fur sprouted from Zeph’s arms. “What are we going to do?” he asked. “I don’t want to go to Earth. Humans are so…fragile.” He rubbed the newly healed skin on his nose and began to pace.
“What choice do we have?” Chrysus struggled to remain calm. He wasn’t the only one shaken. Even Asher’s hands trembled as he shoved them into his pockets.
“None,” Asher snarled. “We have to go….” He hesitated, then suddenly smiled. “But not all missions end in success.”
Chrysus saw a slow grin dawning on Zeph’s face, and felt his own expression shift. An unspoken understanding passed between them. They’d go, make a show of trying, then return home.
Some of the tension fled from Chrysus. When he’d joined the team, he had accepted the fact that fighting, bleeding, and eventually dying for the safety of his people was the best that he could hope for out of life. Searching for a mate had never been part of the plan. Still wasn’t.
“Do you think he’s told the other fighters?” Zeph asked.
“Not yet,” Asher said. “I’d wager we’re first in line for this particular… privilege.” He spat the last word.
Zeph nodded. “Should we warn them?”
Asher grimaced. “Not unless you want Hades to remove your head.”
Chrysus ignored their bickering. He tried to picture himself on Earth. Tried to picture himself blending in with the human population. He couldn’t. He felt far too savage, too scarred inside and out for that primitive planet. The thought of laying his paws on an Earthling female sent chills up his spine.
What if his claws came out? He imagined a moment’s inattention, the ease and shame of injuring some helpless woman, and his entire being recoiled. For a Pit Fighter, there would be no greater dishonor.
“I’m not touching any of them,” Chrysus said. “I won’t take that chance.”
“What are you talking about?” Zeph asked.
“The women. The Earthlings.” Chrysus held his meaty hands up and slowly unsheathed his claws. “These hands aren’t for touching human skin. They’re for mauling. They’re for killing. Sending us to Earth is a mistake.”
“On that, we’re in agreement,” Asher said.
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