Vezon opened his eyes, astonished to still be alive. The last thing he remembered, he was surrounded by Zyglak, who seemed immune to his wit and charm. Then there was a flash, the sensation of being grabbed by someone far stronger than he, a weird sensation of travel, and darkness.

He looked around. The room he occupied was a large cell and he wasn’t in it alone. Vezon didn’t recognize any of the other four occupants, all of whom stood well away from the others. By reflex, he started calculating how long it would take to disable them and how quickly he could pick the lock of the cell door.

Vezon’s musings were interrupted by the appearance of a sixth figure outside the cell. He was tall, lean and strong, wore a domed helmet, and carried a wicked double-bladed sword. The newcomer looked over the five prisoners as if they were cargo-hauling Ussal crabs up for auction.

“My name is Brutaka,” the visitor said. “I know you have questions – I’m not here to answer them. Where you are, who I work for, what this place is – you don’t need to know. What you do need to know is that there are two, and only two, ways you can get out of here.”

A Xian female stepped up to the bars and said in a dangerously soft voice, “And they are?”

“You can walk out, Roodaka, under your own power, and carry out a mission for some friends of mine,” Brutaka replied. “Or I can carry you out, plant you in a hole outside, and we’ll see if anything grows.”

Brutaka turned his attention to the others. “All of you have something in common – you have all had dealings with the Brotherhood of Makuta. Roodaka, here, betrayed them to the Dark Hunters, then betrayed the Dark Hunters as well – now both sides want her dead. Takadox and Carapar over there are Barraki, whose armies were crushed 80,000 years ago by the Brotherhood. The Makuta in the corner is Spiriah, who fouled up an experiment on the island of Zakaz so badly that his own people marked him for death.”

Vezon timidly raised a hand. “Excuse me, oh brutal, blade-wielding, lover of gardening. I have never met any Makuta face to mask and wouldn’t know one if he stepped on me and ground me into the dirt. I think maybe you wanted someone else… I’m Vezon with an ‘n,’ you see, not Vezok with a ‘k,’ and –”

The crab-like Carapar loped over, picked up Vezon by the neck, and bounced him off the back wall. “You talk too much,” the Barraki growled.

“Oh, yes,” Brutaka muttered, shaking his head. “This is going to work out just fine.”

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