Authors: Nazarea Andrews
What is less obvious is if Brando loves her.
“YOU KNOW WHAT YOUR problem is, Brielle?” Jenalle asks, slapping
medpatches to my skin. I wince. Her bedside manner always sucks, but
today it’s downright hostile.
Without waiting for my answer, she continues, “You have no sense of self-preservation.
You charge a glad better armed and twice your size and then, astonishing!
You end up back here, whining while I stitch you up.”
“I don’t whine,” I object mildly, and she stabs me with a needle—she’s
skipping the anesthesia patches today. She must really be pissed. Muffling my
whine, I lie still and don’t object as she fumes above me, laser-stitching my
newest wound closed.
“What was it this time?” she says finally, her voice more tired than
“Andal,” I say, not needing to expound. A week and a half in the jakta
has landed me in the medhall more often than I’ve liked, but almost everyone
who faces Andal ends up here. At least this was expected, and not just my
abysmal lack of ability. Because what little ability I showed that first day
seems to have vanished.
“I heard you’re doing well. Even if you are in my hall every day,”
“I’m doing better than the fodder; they don’t even try to fight.” I sit
up, glaring. “And it hasn’t been
day. There were those two days
last week I wasn’t here.”
“Those don’t count,” Jenalle says dryly. “No one sparred, so the
opportunity for injury was limited.”
I grunt, taking the customary bag of pills from her, and limping to the
door. With a deep breath, I slide the door open and stride—smooth and
strong—down the hall.
Kristoff is waiting for me by the grand arches. For once the courtyard is
empty—the dust storm blowing in has pushed everyone indoors. I ignore him,
focusing on not stumbling.
“I want you in my room tonight,” he says softly as I reach him.
I frown at him, reaching for his mind. Excitement, but none of the angst
and turmoil I’d expect with that statement.
“Is everything all right with
Kevan?” I ask.
He laughs. “Of course. I just don’t want him asking questions when I
sneak you out.”
I go still, watching him with wide eyes. He leans in, his lips tickling
my ear, as he murmurs, “We’re going to see the draken.”
Jemes is lying across the bed when I come in and throw the pills in a
drawer. He scrambles up and stands there, his big blue eyes wide as he watches
A pang goes through me.
Fodder. He’d be fodder, if he were to face the arena. An easy kill to
ignite the crowds while working my way to the gladiator who was the real
“You should be training,” I say.
“It won’t help,” Jemes says. He crosses his arms, arching an eyebrow as dark
amusement fills his psyche and I turn away, staring into the drawer we share.
Why did I let myself get to know him? After that first night, I had
slept here, giving Kevan and Kristoff as much privacy as I could. Sharing a
small bed with Jemes, living with him—it made it impossible to keep my
Even when I knew I should.
“You’re too nice, Jemes. Did you know that?” I ask without looking at
He sighs, and I almost regret my sharp words. Except that in the jakta,
kindness is rewarded with a sharp knife to the kidneys.
His kindness will kill him here. And I don’t want him dead.
“Kristoff wants me back in his room,” I say, shaking my thoughts. I
rummage through the drawer, pulling my clothes and half a dozen pouches free.
The tiny pills bounce around erratically, and I shove them into a loose pocket
before I turn to Jemes. He’s watching me, and for a moment, his eyes are so
knowing they remind me of Juhan. Of a time I was part of a whole, instead of a
broken girl fighting for one more day.
“Be careful, Brielle,” Jemes says softly, laying my oiling cloth on top
of my bunched up shirt. His eyes dart to my pocket and I can feel his worry,
but he doesn’t push as he steps aside. His quiet acceptance of my mood swings
is one of the things I like about Jemes.
One of the things I can’t afford to like.
I clench my teeth I retreat to the quiet of the other room. I strip
quickly, and curl on the pallet Kristoff has made on the floor. The medpatch
Jenalle used earlier is tugging me down into the oblivion of sleep. And knowing
it is only a brief respite, I surrender.
The night is pitch black as I follow Kristoff through the jakta.
All around us, glads sleep, resting for whatever madness Primus has
planned for the morning. Climbing the mountain the jakta backs up to had been
the test two days ago. It was amusing how many were afraid of something as
inconsequential as heights. Even with clipped wings, the sheer drop didn’t faze
me. The part of me who grew up in the trees—scaling the branches and flitting
through the leaves—made climbing a mountain surprisingly easy.
Kristoff leads me to the far back of the jakta, past the wild beasts
that will fight in the arena, until we finally come up against the stone face
of the mountain, which soars above us in a smooth wall of rock. I glance around
“Where are they?” I ask, nervously.
He points, and as I squint at the darker shadow on the rock, I realize
it’s not a shadow--it’s a tunnel.
They live within the mountain. Kristoff slips me a small knife and
nudges me toward the tunnel. “Go. I’ll be back before first light.
Remember what we decided.”
“Are you sure this is a good idea? I can be a glad.”
“You want to die on the sand? Because the way you’re doing, you will.”
I flush, looking away, and he gives me a light shove. “Go.”
I take a deep breath as I step into the tunnel. I keep one hand pressed
to the side of the rock, the other clenched around my blade, and stumble into
the utter darkness. For a moment, I wish I had a light. It’s a foolish
thought—anything that draws the attention of the draken before I am ready could
This might be anyway.
I smell them before I see the glow of fire. The reek of sulfur, the ashy
scent of smoke, the peculiar feel of burnt air—and softer, almost hidden
beneath the smoke and sulfur, is a spicy scent, a scent that intrigues me and
draws me closer, comforting in a way that I don’t bother to assess.
There is a curve to the tunnel, heat seeping through the stone in waves.
I pull my hand away and cautiously peek around the edge.
Four draken sprawl on hot stones. One is sleeping, but two are fighting
over a bloody chunk of meat while the fourth watches. Above them is a wide
ledge and another draken lies there, watching the others.
At first glance they appear insubstantial, made of nothing more than
shadow and smoke. The longer I watch, the more I realize it’s an illusion and
as I wrap my mind around that, it shatters. I can see them clearly, the long
scaled bodies, short legs, leathery wings. The snap of a jaw on the others
neck, long and curving. The creak of stone as an immense, solid body settles
further into sleep. The sharp eyes of the one on the ledge, too still and
steady to be anything as temporal as smoke.
They’re gorgeous, so breathtaking in their savage beauty that tears
sting my eyes. They could kill me without blinking. I sink down on the stone,
propping my back against it, and slowly lower some of my mental defenses. On
the ledge, the large black draken shifts, as he feels the brush of my mind.
That, more than anything, convinces me they’re psychic. I’m not as
strong as Juhan, but I can test an animal’s psyche without them being aware of
it—unless that creature is also psychic. I wait, holding my breath, until he
relaxes again and then I lean my head back, wrapped in my jacket and their
minds and try to sleep.
My eyes hurt when I drag myself from the draken’s cave. Kristoff is
waiting, looking disgustingly well rested. He grins at my glare, and offers me
a mug of coffee. It burns my tongue as I swallow but the jolt of energy is so
welcome I can ignore a burnt tongue.
“How did it go?” Kristoff asks.
“They’re psychic,” I say, then bite my lip. It’s such a wild theory I’m
not sure how he’ll react.
He frowns, a worried edge seeping into him. Behind me, in the tunnel,
the burst of emotion makes one of the draken shift in its sleep. I pull him
away from the cave, back toward the still sleeping jakta. “Did you Speak to
them? Brielle, you can’t do that. Not until I’ve gotten this cleared by the Ja,
I brush aside his words, and he stops, pushing me into the rock. My
wings crush painfully and Kristoff stares at me, fiercely. “No. Listen to me. I
can’t protect you from him if Catelyn or the others catch you speaking to
anyone psychically. You screw this up, he’ll make you an example as bloody as
the one he made with Kathryn.”
“Who was Kathryn?” I ask softly.
“Catelyn’s sister. A year older, and the Ja’s favorite. He had her
slaughtered on the sands—it was worse than fodder. I won’t be responsible for
I give him my best smile, forced past the sick feeling in my belly.
“Didn’t realize you cared so much, Kristoff.”
“I don’t,” he snaps. “But I won’t be branded as a problem because you
took too many liberties. I have my own problems. You can be a glad and die that
way, or you can keep your thoughts to yourself, and we’ll keep trying this.”
He strides past me, and I stare for a long moment, furious. His psyche
is thick with fear and anger. I should call to him, tell him I didn’t touch the
draken’s minds, much less speak with them. Instead, I let him fume as we cross
the jakta in silence broken only by the hissing of the geysers outside the
walls, and a vulture screaming overhead.
I wonder what carrion it will feast on today.
When we reach our room, I’m in as bad a mood as Kristoff, and I stalk
into the shower as he throws himself down on the bed. I can feel Jemes on the
other side of the door, wondering and waiting—a touch of hope in him tells me
he wants me to come to him, tell him where I’ve been. I
to tell him, a fact that scares me.
I don’t want to need him. I don’t want to need anyone.
I jerk as my name echoes across the sands, and my opponent—an Eleyi by
the name of Lars—punches me in the side of the head, pulling the blow just a
little. Spots blossom across my vision, and without hesitating, I lash out,
catching his jaw with a vicious left hook that sends him sprawling on the
Primus is watching me, and I turn to him. He’s blank—Primus is always
blank. The only time I’ve ever felt a hint of emotion from him was when he
fought Prator in an exhibition match before we began training the day after
arriving. It was a vicious display that makes me queasy just thinking about.
“Prator wants to see you. Kristoff, escort your trainee,” Primus barks
I can feel the gazes of Others as I make my way off the bloody field.
Kristoff is waiting, sweating from where he’s sparred with Kevan.
“What do you think it is?” I ask, and he shakes his head, his mouth
pressed in a grim line.
The noise of the practice field fades as we head to the dining hall,
circling to the back of it to the separate building I have not been inside.
It’s a gorgeous structure, with lean classical lines and vibrant green vines
climbing the columns. Juhan would love it.
A few slave girls are polishing a marble floor. I glance back and
realize it’s real marble they’re kneeling on, not the synthetic substitute that
most use. Another girl—a pretty one with downcast eyes—meets us.
“Follow me, sir,” she says, addressing the floor. I’m not sure how she
sees Kristoff nod, or maybe she just assumes that we will. Either way, she
turns gracefully and climbs a curving stair to a short hall. There are only two
doors here, and she taps on the first. There is a soft murmur of voices, and
then the door slides open.
I’m surprised to see Argot sitting on the edge of the desk. From the
tension that fills Kristoff, he’s just as surprised.
“Ja Argot,” he says immediately, bowing a little. I mimic him, keeping
my gaze on the ground. It’s safer that way. Not that being the object of Henri
Argot’s attention is ever truly safe.
“Brielle has done surprisingly well, Kristoff,” Prator says and I risk a
glance at him. He’s studying something on a tablet. They actually file reports
on the trainees, documenting everything from our injuries to our matches. Henri
is too mercenary to not know, in writing, who will make him the most money, and
who is good for nothing more than fodder.
“She has, sir,” Kristoff says cautiously.
“Primus can’t decide if she’s glad material. And I’m wondering if she’d
be good with the beasts or if she’s too savage. The report says she’s savage.”