Authors: Nazarea Andrews
I CAN’T STOP SHIVERING. The slavers are pulling Juhan’tr away,
screaming. Xtan takes my arm, and as I am dragged away, I can hear the tiny
human arguing with the queen and my new owner. She’s trying to negotiate, to
buy me as well.
It would seem she has a heart. Maybe my brother’s life won’t be so
terrible. The thought is a small comfort as I am marched through the halls of
the auction house.
The room he shoves me into is brightly lit, with a surgical table and
various lasers. I gag at the antiseptic smell, and Xtan finally releases me.
“No,” I snap, scrambling up from the floor.
I’m expecting the blow. It catches me high on the cheekbone, strong
enough to throw me against the surgical table. The pain radiates, blurring my
vision and chasing fire through me.
“You’re a slave bought and paid for, leech. And your owner asked for
this service. If you cooperate, we can give you pain management.”
“It’s easier for you, when we cooperate. Most of them don’t even think
to fight back,” I say conversationally, straightening. Xtan watches me, an
anticipatory edge to his psyche—he wants me to fight him.
So I do. I know I’ll lose—even if I were able to escape, there is
nowhere to go. But I fight anyway. It isn’t in me to do less.
Xtan meets every punch, every
wild blow—he’s toying with me. I think he just wants to see how far he can push
me. After a blow that leaves my head ringing, I slump on the floor, trying to
get up. Every inch of me aches.
“Enough,” Xtan says, almost to himself. “Let’s get this over with.” He
pulls me from the ground and I try not to scream as I land on the surgical
table, jarring my bruised ribs. Xtan secures my hands while I reach tentatively
for Juhan’tr. The space where he should be is dull and I wonder if they had to
sedate him after my owner’s demand.
Xtan leans over me, and whispers, soft and menacing. “That pain
management we offer? Your owner didn’t request it—and you were such a little
bitch in space.” Icy terror floods my veins, and he injects something in my
arm. “Just a little agent to keep you awake. Wouldn’t be any fun if you blacked
out, now would it?”
Before I can fully process what is happening, his hand clamps down on my
right wing, stretching it out. Heat—hotter than anything I’ve ever felt, hotter
than the brand—sears into me, and I can smell something burning. Blood and
flesh and the unfamiliar scent that has to be bone. I hear a sick
and then the wing tip clatters down on the ground beside me.
There is a curious delay in the pain. I can actually see the clipping of
my wing—a neat triangle from the bony upper corner—before the pain slams into
Everything around me is hazy from whatever they drugged me with. But I’m
stronger than they think, and I can feel her—the choking terror and then a
blinding pain, so thick she throws up, and it pulls a whimper from me. I reach
for her, but she’s out of focus, a distant pressure. -
Her thoughts are chaotic, horrified and enraged.
“Hurry,” Sadi says to me. Tin strides alongside her, bent around her,
shielding her as I lag behind. “Come
“Why the hurry?” I ask, and Tin throws a quick frown over his shoulder
“Because I’d prefer to get off planet without an assassination attempt,
if you don’t mind,” Sadi snaps. “Now move your ass.”
We’re hurrying through dirty crowded streets, and all around me, I can
taste the fear of the slaves inside the auction houses. So many races—and so
many of my people. I slip in a greasy puddle, and Tin catches me without
stepping away from Sadi. “Focus, Eleyi.”
The space port is crowded, and I am pulled close by the chain Sadi
holds. A bubble of anger settles in my chest—she’s holding a leash, like I’m a
dog. She mumbles, softly under her
breath, and I reach for her mind. Beneath that blank expression, her emotions
churn—anger and fear and so much excitement I feel an echo of it in myself.
She’s nervous though, and something in her brightens as we take another turn.
“There,” she points at a small sleek black ship, the word
painted on the side, obviously a
personal craft, “we’re almost there. I told you—”
Her words are cut off by a sharp whistle. I feel a splash of heat, and
the road explodes, spraying us with shrapnel. It cuts me, and I touch my face
numbly as Tin thrusts my owner behind him with a curse. “Damnit, Sadi.”
“That was hardly
fault,” she says, indignant. Another shot
rings out, and the mass of Others around us skitter away. Tin shoves her, hard,
in the direction of the ship. “Run,” he snarls.
She doesn’t question him, just sprints for the small spacecraft. I’m
jerked after her, and spread my wings for balance as we race through the crowd.
-Why are they shooting at us?-
ask, pushing the thought at Sadi.
She laughs. “Because of my father. They don’t like him.” She hits a
quick sequence in the tiny tablet on her wrist and the ship shivers to life, a
ramp sliding down. Without hesitating, she darts up it and into the cockpit.
“Sit down and stay out of the way,” she says abruptly, dropping into the
pilot’s seat and tapping the screen. “Leen, we need to be off planet. Now,” she
A small green orb appears on screen. “Destination, Sadi?”
“Anywhere but here,” she mutters.
“Not a viable destination,” the computer answers calmly, and she huffs.
“Computing. Will there be another passenger?”
“Tin. He’s coming,” Sadi says, peering over her shoulder.
“Tinex is approximately two minutes from the Leen. Do you wish to leave
“Yes, dammit. Abort safety procedures and get this ship in the air.”
The computer sounds vaguely displeased as it reports back, “Safety
protocol has been aborted. Leen is in hover mode.”
She grins, slaps a button. “Hang on, Eleyi,” she shouts, and the whole
ship shudders as she jerks on the controls.
Holy Elti roots, she’s disabled auto-pilot.
The ship rams into something and Sadi laughs, a breathy noise of sheer
“Please enable auto-pilot.” The computer sounds distressed. I can’t
blame it much.
“Look out the hold—see where Tin is,” Sadi orders me.
“Tinenx is approximately one minute from the Leen,” the computer
She swears at it, and I duck into the back as we lurch again. The
computer is shrill and piercing in my ear. “The Leen is being fired upon.
Evasive maneuvers suggested.”
The other man is running, a flat-out race to the hovering spacecraft.
From within the ship, Sadi shrieks as we get hit again. Tin leaps, a flying,
impossible dive, and I catch him before he falls off the ramp.
“Tinex is aboard,” the ship reports as the ramp slides closed, and Sadi
slams the throttle forward, racing away from the guns and slavers chasing us.
Tin rolls to his feet and goes directly to Sadi. “You alright?”
“I’m fine,” she says, brushing him away. “Leen is about to malfunction,
though. Get autopilot back online.”
The ship lurches abruptly, a sharp jostling that nearly pitches me out
of my seat. Tin casually reaches out and grabs me, jerking me upright.
“Leen is flying on auto-pilot. Destination: Ariede. We will arrive in
approximately seventy-two hours.” It sounds so smug and self-satisfied.
Now, as adrenaline fades, I’m reaching for a familiar presence. -
She’s distant and faint; her psyche is still chaotic. As we gain
altitude, gliding away from the auction houses, I feel a flutter of her
thoughts, the tiny brush so soft it’s almost not even there.
Then, she’s gone. And I am alone.
EVERYTHING IS FUZZY WHEN I wake.
I sit up, my whole body aching from the beating. There’s a constant
throb in the tips of my wings. I fan them slowly, trying to gain my
balance—only to lose it. The edges are wrong, catching the air in a way that
doesn’t support me. I sweep my wings forward, as far forward as I can, and
The tips are blunt, sharply cut, square and rough where they had once
been delicate and lovely.
Angry tears prick my eyes, and I blink, hard. I can feel threads of
psyches all around me, but none of them are familiar. And I can pick no words
from them, only a fluid gibberish mess.
Standing makes me dizzy, pain ricocheting through me, and I pitch
forward, my wings useless to catch me in their altered state. I fall hard
against the room’s single stool, and it crashes to the ground with a massive
clatter. Pain lances through me and I writhe on the dirty floor, choking on my
Along the psychic threads, I can feel a sudden prick of interest. One
seems familiar—Henri, the Pente who bought me.
-If you cooperate, it goes easier.-
The advice comes from a thread so quiet and subdued, I can barely find
it in the mess of Others. But there—another Eleyi. Older than me and
-What do they want with us?-
There is no response—the mind has blocked himself off. I force myself to
stand, and wobble to the single door. It swings open as I approach and an Eleyi
of similar age stares at me, a mixture of curiosity and disdain on her flat
I reach for her thoughts, questioning, -
What are you doing here?-
A delighted smile lights her eyes, and she lifts a tiny silver whistle
to her lips. The sound is piercing, and I flinch as it bores into my pounding
She scampers away without answering my question, leaving only gibberish
in her wake, and it hits me.
I can’t understand her thoughts.
is not her native tongue.
I—any Eleyi—can pick the emotion out of anyone’s aura, Other or Eleyi.
But I can only communicate telepathically with someone thinking the same
language—and most of the time, a mind will think in their native language.
She’s thinking in Pente—the language of the humans who settled the far-flung
desert planet when Earth became too crowded.
I tremble in anger—how young was she when she was Taken?
The Pente who bought me appears in the door and gives me a bland smile.
Another man follows him into the room, leaning against the wall, hands in his
pockets. “Catelyn is upset with me. She wants you punished for using Eleyain,”
The commtrans isn’t in my wristcuff—for the first time, I realize I’m
not wearing it. Instead, a thin chain hangs around my neck, a necklace bearing
three small charms—a commtrans, a silver disk with a simple design, and a
“I am Henri Argot, and I own you,” he says, staring at me, and I take a
deep breath, basking in my anger. “The first thing you need to learn is that
you will speak our language. You are also not allowed to use psychic speech,
unless granted explicit permission to do so for your duties. Which is rare.
Catelyn is good at catching it when it happens. She was raised in my jakta and
is utterly loyal, so don’t think you can play on her ties to Eleyiar.”
“She’s a slave?” I ask, throat dry.
“Of course,” Henri answers, almost surprised. “All of you are.”
A smile turns his lips and he drops onto the stool. “Do you know what
that the Pente are known for?”
I shake my head—aside from the slaver species, we are not taught much of
“Entertainment,” he says, pride gleaming in his eyes. “We provide the
best entertainment in the Interplantary Alliance—and my jakta produces the best
and boldest blood sport. Wrestlers and gladiators and cage fights.”
He owns a jakta—a training camp for gladiators. Disgust wars with my
anger as I whisper, “What do you need Eleyi for?”
“To help with training them. I own you. My brother, Prator, runs my
jakta. My head trainer, the Primus, trains my gladiators. But someone must
train my beasts for spectacles.”
It startles me and he laughs, a surprisingly boyish noise. “When I first
opened my jakta, I wanted to distinguish myself from others. I wanted my
fighters—of any species —to be intelligent enough to survive their matches and
make me more money. But how do you teach a wilding when to duck, how to fend
off a hukron attack? How do you teach them when you can’t communicate?”
I know the answer—use a psychic. It might take a little time, but it
could be done. It was a new reason, an imaginative one, but did that matter? In
the end, didn’t it just mean I was a slave?
“So I am to train your pets to kill?” I say, my voice tight and angry.
The light goes out of his eyes, and he stands. “Your future isn’t
decided. But if you are made a beastboy, yes. You are to train them to win. And
remember, little Eleyi—you share the future of your charges. You will suffer as
they do. So do your job well.”
He stands, and begins to leave the room. He pauses at the door. “You
aren’t chained. I find chains hinder my slaves. You will keep your commtrans
for a sevenday after reaching the jakta before you’re expected to speak Common.
The diamond is a neuro-pulse. If it is removed from your body signature, it
will activate and destroy everything within a fifteen meter radius.”
The diamond feels like ice in my hand, or maybe that is my blood, frozen
in my veins.
“If you try to run while wearing it, I’ll activate the neuro-pulse
For a wild moment, I think he’s bluffing—there is no way he’d throw away
an investment like a slave. A smile flickers in his eyes. “Catelyn had a
sister, once—she died trying to escape.”
He doesn’t bother locking the door behind him as he leaves, trailed by
the brother who still hasn’t spoken, and that infuriates me: that there is no
need for locks. Where can I go?