Authors: Nazarea Andrews
“That bad?” Sadi teases and the girl’s—her sister’s—emotions swing
abruptly to worry.
“Then you better scoot before he yells at me. Go,” Sadi says, squeezing
her sister again. “We’ll find you after I’m done.”
The sister’s eyes rake over me curiously. But she doesn’t say anything
as she slips away.
“Is he in his office?” Sadi asks Larkin and the assistant bobs his head.
She starts down the hall, and Brando silently shadows us, Tin trailing behind
him. Irritation flashes across her for a heartbeat and she turns, snapping, “I
don’t need an escort.”
Brando doesn’t answer, just stares at her impassively. It’s a silent
battle of wills, and her nails dig in my arm as it stretches on for a long
A door behind us opens, and a quiet, deep voice says, “I’ll take it from
The other man doesn’t even nod, just turns silently and walks back out
the front door. Tin glances at Sadi as he follows.
Sadi stares after them for a heartbeat, and her wave of longing hits me,
hard and fast, gone before I can fully grasp it. My hand tightens around hers
and she looks up, a smile turning her lips.
The Senator clears his throat, and she blushes. I wonder if it’s from
true embarrassment or if she is playing him. Without pushing her, I can’t tell.
I’d bet the latter—I’m beginning to think she’s playing a game as much as I am.
“Sorry, Daddy,” she says, slipping past him and towing me into the
sun-drenched depths of the Senator’s private sanctum.
The bookcases make me stumble. Books—real paper, printed words—have been
obsolete for centuries. It’s a staggering display of wealth: the walls of
books, the leather bindings, the cracked plastics. My fingers itch to touch
them, and I clench them closed, resisting the impulse as I follow her to the
couch and chairs.
The Senator sits in an overstuffed antique chair. A cluttered table next
to it holds a small computer, a comm link, a tablet display. He’s watching me,
and I force a smile. I hope I don’t look as queasy as I feel.
“What did you do, Sadi?” he asks finally, sounding tired.
“Why is it always my fault?” she complains and he arches an eyebrow. She
huffs. “Fine. I met Juhan just before I was to leave Faculatas. He saved me
when I was rock climbing near the Academy and fell. I suppose I fell in love
with him then—although, we have spent a lot of time together since. He even
took me to Eleyiar.”
My gaze drifts over the books as she rattles out the story we have
concocted. Her emotions are still choked off, but I can feel the doubt rolling
off the Senator in waves, and I shift, moving closer to her, perching on the
arm of her chair. Surprise fills him briefly—he’s not as good at guarding his
emotions as his daughter. Or he is deliberately letting me feel them.
“Do you have anywhere to stay, Juhan?” he asks, twisting to look at me.
“Daddy, he’ll stay with me. You know how some of the other politicos and
their staff can be. Power hungry game players, all of them.” Sadi says the
words lightly, but they produce the desired reaction. His emotions darkens.
“And when you go back to the Faculatas? You still have a year at the
Academy.” he asks quietly.
“I’m not sure I’m going back,” she says cheerfully.
Not go back to school? I look at her, shocked. “Sadi, you—”
She squeezes my hand and I go still, following her gaze back to her
father. He is quiet—too quiet for comfort, watching us. He shakes himself very
slightly. “We’ll discuss that later.”
“Or we won’t,” she says, and the humor is gone from her voice. He
Sadi rises, goes to his side, leans down to kiss him. He catches her
gaze, and she goes utterly still, as he murmurs, “I don’t believe you, Sadi. Do
not for a moment think I buy this lie.”
She smiles, tight and challenging. “I’m hurt, Daddy.”
He breathes a laugh and she straightens. “Juhan can stay in the family
wing?” she says, already striding away.
A deep chuckle fills the room as he stands, and he says, amused, “Unless
you want him staying with Brando and Tin.”
The emotions that boil in her make me stumble, a slight misstep. The
Senator grips my arm, steadying me, and I am suddenly flooded with his emotions:
doubt and fear and worry. It happens too fast for me stop it. I can’t break
free as he stares into my eyes. -
I’ll find out what she’s doing. You should
tell me the truth. Sadi may have good intentions, but she always ends up with
Without thinking, I slap his mind down, furious, slamming my mental
I feel him recoil, watch his features tighten, but I don’t care. My
voice is hard as I speak. “I’m not a toy, Senator, not your daughter’s, and
certainly not yours. Keep your mind away from me.”
It’s the truest thing I’ve said since she bought me.
I don’t wait for Sadi to respond, don’t wait for the apology I feel
rising in the Senator—the very least that he can offer after his mental assault—something
that would never have happened if I had my walls in place. I was being lazy,
and I’m not sure if I’m more furious with him for the assault or myself for
allowing it. I stalk out the door, and up the spiral staircase. Distantly, I
can feel Tin’s worry. She’ll want to go to him, confer with him, and I want
desperately to get away from the stifling room behind me.
I can hear her talking to the Senator, almost yelling. Then the rush of
feet, and her mind, calling out to me. I’m tempted to ignore her, but I slow.
she says, soft and
I wonder if she realizes how insulting it is, to have someone shove
their thoughts on me without warning or regard for my mental boundaries. If she
knows how violated it makes me feel. It’s shocking—and it shouldn’t be.
Somehow, I’ve let my slave owner lull me into a false sense of security. She’s
good at this—better than I expected.
Maybe that is what so infuriating.
She places a gentle hand on my arm, pulling me to a stop, and her bright
brown eyes search my face. “Juhan, I am sorry,” she says again, softly. Her
emotions are banked, held off, but I can feel the regret in them.
I let out the breath I’ve been holding and tension eases out of me as well.
“It’s not your fault. And not unexpected.”
Anger flickers in her eyes. “Still not acceptable.”
I nod, and we move forward. “It is what it is. Come on; let’s find Tin.”
WE ARRIVE AT THE jakta the tenth day after the auction.
The entire time we were in space, Kristoff kept me separated from the
others, training me as best he could with limited secrecy and space while the
other mentors put their new slaves through holostims. Each session ended with
me bleeding after balking at some miniscule command.
And when we couldn’t train, he’d remove my
commtrans and talk to me in Pentese until I began to understand. That I can
read his emotion and intent, even without his words, helps. I can hear it in my
dreams, waking Kristoff with my mumbling.
I am sitting on my bunk, polishing the wooden practice sword I’ve been
using when I feel the pressure of the air change. It’s heavy in a way that
space isn’t, thick with minds that are foreign. I take a deep breath,
struggling to push them away, wishing Juhan were here, throwing up next to me
as we entered the atmosphere. Kristoff strides into our little cabin—something
I learned that not all the mentors were given—smiling, and I look at him
“We’re here. Just entered orbit. We’ll eat at the jakta tonight.”
I pause, then resume polishing. “And what happens then?”
Kristoff shrugs. “Training. The conditioning we’ve done will help you
some—you’ll be able to keep up with the other glads.”
I try to ignore his words, extending the wooden practice hurkya.
Kristoff takes it and slides it beneath his bunk then sits next to me as I
begin oiling the whip.
Our first lesson was weapon care. And it’s soothing, handling my
weapons. Repetition calms my mind. “I’ve been thinking about what Deevid said,”
Kristoff says presently, and I swing a glance at him.
“I need more time,” he says, frowning thoughtfully. I roll my eyes and
he nudges my leg. “Put that away—come see the jakta.”
For a moment, I consider disobeying—but I
want to see. I stow the whip with my hurkya and follow my mentor
to the main viewfinder, a massive screen that displays a panoramic view of
Pente. It’s crowded with new slaves and their mentors and one of the new slaves—a
craggy-skinned, hostile Crathian—aims a blow at my stomach as I go by. It’s a
glancing blow but it catches me off balance and I stumble. Kristoff jerks
around, punching him in the throat. The Crathian falls back, gagging.
“Keep your hands off my slave, Josiah,” he snarls at the slave’s mentor.
“Play by the same rules the rest of us do,” the mentor snaps back,
glowering. He’s a big black human, and I wonder how he ended up here, and how
Kristoff laughs. “I don’t play by the rules. I play only to win. Keep
your fodder away from her.”
He tucks me close to him, shielding me with his body as a path to the
viewfinder clears. I want to ask something; so many questions are on the tip of
my tongue that it’s a wonder I don’t choke on them. Kristoff slides a warning
glance at me, and I swallow them. I feel the pressure of other Eleyi in my
mind, demanding and sharp with their probes, and I shove my mental walls
higher, blocking them out.
I force myself to stare out the viewfinder, and it is easy to blank my
mind under the sheer beauty of this stark and savage place. A desert stretches
into the horizon, every shade of brown and gold glinting in the shifting sand.
In the distance, mountains rise, sharp rock jutting from the unbroken
line of desert. A city—Hubri--sprawls to the east, fading as we fly toward the
mountains. “Why is the jakta so far from Hubri?” I ask, softly. He shifts in
the bubble of space the other slaves have given us—something else that sets
Kristoff apart from the mentors. I frown, but he answers before I can really
“Ja Argot values privacy. If no one knows what they’ll fight, it’s
difficult to prepare,” Kristoff answers. “There used to be a few who would
attempt to plant spies or buy our people. But once Argot had a few killed on
the sands, they stopped.”
He says it without inflection, and I blink at the calmly delivered
I glance around, and notice Prator standing behind us, watching the
slaves—watching me. I can feel his curious gaze and cold interest like a wind
ruffling my hair. I twitch my wings, drawing a few angry looks.
“We land in half an hour,” Prator says to the crowd. “Gather your gear
and prepare to disembark.”
He looks at me once as he turns away, his gaze raking over Kristoff and
me. And then he vanishes into the depths of the ship.
I’m not prepared for the heat.
It slaps me in the face, a dry wave that steals my breath and saps my
strength. I gasp and a mentor—a tight faced Pente woman—slams into my back.
I look for Kristoff, who strides across the rocky sand, dust swirling in
his wake. “I can’t breathe,” I gasp, when I catch him. Dust coats my throat,
and I choke.
Without slowing, Kristoff slaps a slimy round hydro-patch to my arm.
Almost instantly the dry, choking sensation fades and I can breathe again.
I suck in air, and glance around. The jakta has high walls of sandstone
surrounding it, three large buildings dwarfing the smaller ones, all light
colored sandstone, in clean straight lines. They are spread out, leaving wide
open areas of sand and stone for practice and sparring.
“Drop our bags here,” he says as we leave the spaceport behind. “We went
over this—assessment first. I can’t help you here, but go for weapons you’re
comfortable with. I know Eleyi are pacifist, but you have to fight.” He glares at
“Has anything in the past ten days suggested I’m pacifistic?” I demand,
and he arches an eyebrow. I catch his arm, staring into his eyes. “We are not
all the same, Kristoff. Remember that.”
He finally nods and I relax, focusing on where we are going. There are
large buildings to the side, and Kristoff nods at them, “Those are the trainers
and glad dormitories. The lowest level is our dining hall. Just past it is the
I nod, and we turn into a narrow corridor, a long tunnel toward a bright
patch of sand. I can feel the minds around me, the angry glads, and terrified
fodder, the service slaves bored as they go about the menial work that keeps
the jakta running. And a few minds, feral and fierce—the heavy minds of the
draken. I shudder away from them, inexplicably afraid of losing myself in their
Kristoff catches my arm, shaking me. “Don’t be afraid, Brielle. You have
the ability to be a champion, but it will all be determined by how you do out
there.” He waits until I nod, and then shoves me into the light.
I spill out onto the sands, blinking in the brightness after the tunnel.
Overhead, the harsh glare of Pente’s twin moons and sun beats on me—on
. There are five other new slaves on
the wide expanse of dark sand. I straighten, looking around me. Two of the
slaves I dismiss easily: the bat-winged Eleyi, Petyr, and a human who has
already pissed himself. The other three—the male with the thick skin and
silence that marks all from Ludie, the Crathian from earlier, and a muscular
human—worry me more, and I wish for a moment that I wasn’t pitted against them.
A tall man, larger than any I have ever seen, steps onto the sands in a
pair of faded trousers. A scar runs down one side of his face and a brand—the
jakta’s sigil in a circle of stars—stands out on his chest. The Primus. “You
have thirty seconds to arm yourself. Then you will fight, and you will continue
until only one of you is standing. We are
looking for kills—merely a show of strength and your ability to disable an
The weapons are piled in a corner by the entrance. I jerk into motion
before Primus finishes speaking, darting past Petyr in my haste. I snatch up
the only hurkya I see as the Luden slams into me, and above us I hear a shrill
whistle. “Disqualification—you must wait for thirty seconds before engaging,”
Primus booms. A high-pitched whine fills my ears and the Luden collapses on me,
a dead weight. I wiggle free and snatch up a broadsword as the clock clicks
down. I can feel Kristoff’s mind, his anger—I haven’t the first clue how to use
a sword, but it will have to do.
The human screams, charging at me as the bell clangs and I jerk the
sword up, parrying the blow from his katana. I stab out ineffectually and he
laughs, sweeping it aside effortlessly and stabbing at my shoulder with a short
dagger. I hiss as it hits home, driving deep. Blood streams down my arm, then
the Crathian is attacking and the human whirls to meet him. I consider going
for another weapon and dart a quick glance at Primus. Unwilling to risk disqualification,
I clench my teeth and jerk the dagger from my arm. For an instant, the edges of
my vision fuzz, going black.
Just a few minutes longer.
I push myself into motion, darting toward the Crathian hunched over the
human. I slash the blade over the soft skin behind his knee and he howls,
dropping like a rock. With one quick motion, I slam the blunt edge of my sword
against his skull and he slumps.
I straighten, wiping my blade clean on my pant leg. The human
fodder has collapsed by the wall, blood oozing from his leg. It’s only me and
the Eleyi who stands watching me warily, weaponless. My hand is shaking, and I
clench my fingers, trying to hide how hurt I am.
“Take the sword,” I rasp, motioning, and his wings twitch.
“Why?” he says, quietly bitter. “You’ll win, if I have a weapon or not.”
I struggle not to flinch at the judgment in his voice and mind.
I growl in frustration and throw the dagger at his feet. He steps calmly
away, his eyes never leaving me. I can feel Primus’ eyes on me, Kristoff
watching, and it makes my anger spike higher.
I know what I have to do—I can feel it in the heavy expectation from my
mentor and the Primus.
I want to force him to fight, turn away, anything but the inevitable.
Instead, I swing out, catching him with my hurkya, yanking him close enough to
elbow him the face. Blood gushes from his nose, staining his shirt and spraying
me. But he drops, and it gives them what they want—a bloody display. I turn,
tilting my head at Primus.
He murmurs something to the boy at his elbow and motions a hand.
“Dismissed. Clear the sands, prepare for the next round!”
I throw down the hurkya and stalk toward the arches. New slaves are
crowded there, but they clear a path as I approach.
Kristoff comes sprinting up, skidding to a stop before he reaches me. He
takes me in, the bleeding wound on my shoulder, the blood drying and flaking on
my skin, my feral expression—I wonder which makes him check his step.
what you had in
mind?” I demand, my voice hoarse.
Kristoff nods and wraps an arm around my shoulder. “Come on, Brielle.
Let’s get you bandaged and settled in.”
The medhall is quiet, and for the first time since arriving on Pente, I
am still. A Pente woman slightly older than me—Jenalle—moves around me with
brisk efficiency as Kristoff leans against the doorframe. “Is Primus doing
assessments?” she asks. I study her—she’s thin to the point of skeletal, her
hair chopped in a severe line around her face, and sharp, but kind eyes as she
works around me, her movement sure and efficient.
She sighs, reaching for a sealing wand to suture my cuts. I flinch as
the soft hum of it fills the room, and she gives me a sympathetic look. “It
won’t hurt. And it’s medicinal—there will be no scar. It’s not like…” Her blue
eyes flick to the brand exposed on my thigh. I nod nervously and she smiles at
me, applying an anesthesia patch to my arm below the cut. It makes my arm feel
strangely removed. She swabs the wound, and I shift, wanting to scratch the
sensation away. There’s a soft buzz, and my skin twitches.
“Be still,” Jenalle snaps, her sympathy gone. Behind her, Kristoff
laughs softly. A few minutes later, she pulls back, a satisfied smile on her
face. “Keep it dry for at least five hours. I’d prefer you sleep on it before
you wash it, but I would have trouble sleeping that covered in blood. Make sure
you keep it covered while you shower. Take these for infection and these for
pain and you should be fine,” she says, handing me two small bags with little
yellow and green pills. “Now, get out of here; I’m going to have my hands
Kristoff straightens as I rise and I follow him out of the medhall. The
corridor is lined with the slaves I fought. I keep my eyes up, my back
straight, and follow Kristoff, skirting the angry Crathian. I can feel his gaze
chasing me, furious and bitter—dangerous. Kristoff leads me out of the
tunnel, across the open courtyard and into the dormitory. The first floor is
open to the elements, a large cavernous place cluttered with chairs and tables
and the lingering smell of food.
“I’m on the third floor,” Kristoff says, excitement spilling from him.
It startles me, feeling his mind. He’s usually closed off.
“My room is secure—but I’m having your retinal scan added to it, so
you’ll have access to it without me,” he says as we pause at a door. His
retinal scan unlocks it, revealing a barren room. A narrow bed stands in one
corner, the blankets a messy pile at the foot. There is a small chest of
drawers, one sticking out like he had closed it halfheartedly. The desk is
covered with weapons and dirty oiling rags.