Gentle Chains (The Eleyi Saga Book 1) (2 page)

The horde is ignored as the children huddle together, and I watch them
as they swarm in, bee-lining for my brother. Juhan’tr is pulled roughly to his
feet, despite his lack of resistance, ripped away from me. My brother will not
abandon his peaceful ways, even now. A slaver jerks me to my feet, and Juhan’s
eyes narrow an instant before I swing out wildly, hitting the Yalten’s face
with a dull crunch. I shiver as they all seem to go still and then a soft
voice, warm and feminine, says from above us, “Him first. And then her.”

-Chosi!-
he shouts, and I bite
my lip, the cut breaking open as I fight against the Yalten holding me. They
drag us to one end of the hold, the Taken crawling across the rough grating to
get out of the way. I can hear the soft hiss of the thin, unbreakable chains,
even as I scream and curse. It’s a fight I’ve lost before it begins, and I
watch them as they throw Juhan onto a table. I scream out loud as I see the
laser. It’s glowing red, and the tip shimmers with heat.

Juhan’s eyes meet mine. -
Don’t look,-
he whispers.

I shake my head, fiercely and feel a spike of amused approval from above
me.
 
Distantly, I wonder who she is, the
disembodied voice that singled us out.

A thick smell fills the hold, above the fear and rancid odor of unwashed
bodies. The smell of burnt hair and skin, sticky and horrible. Juhan screams,
high and piercing. Inside me, something angry jerks in response to his
suffering and I yank free of the Yalten holding me. I hear my wing rip and feel
a sharp slash of pain, but it’s drowned out by my brother’s agony. Electricity
springs to life, separating Juhan from the rest of the hold before I can touch
him, and I slam my fists into the invisible field, knowing it won’t help. I
batter myself on it, lashing out at anyone who comes close to me. I slam
against the shield until I’m twitching, my whole body shaking with electricity.
Through my hair, I see my brother. Juhan’tr is curled on his side, but I can’t
miss it. The bloody burn on his thigh, a long number that smokes lightly in the
harsh light of the alien ship.

They’ve branded my brother.

The Yalten’s hands tighten on my shoulders, and he leans down to
whisper, “If you learned to leash your emotions, this could be easier. We
aren’t cruel.”

I choke on the bitter laughter rising in my throat. What does he think
they are, if not cruel? When the slavers reach for me, I don’t fight. For the
first time, I’m too numb—and some tiny part of me thinks I deserve this. I
clench my teeth as they hold me down. My breath catches as they reach for the
laser, and I brace myself, expecting the pain.

It’s worse than I can imagine. Fire, liquid hot, fills my veins. Pain
explodes in my vision, screaming through my body. I rear back in the grip of
the slavers, fighting them, almost breaking free. I hear a muffled curse. Rapid
footsteps, and then something slams into my head, and I fall into blessed
oblivion.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Chapter
3

 

Juhan’tr

 
 

THE HOLD SMELLS LIKE burnt flesh and singed hair. Most of the recently
branded sleep, an exhausted stupor brought on by fear and pain. A few Yalten
patrol the edge of the hold, absently prodding Eleyan out of their way.

Chosi is rigid next to me, her back straight. Her eyes are wide, staring
at the empty ceiling, wings tattered, oozing pus from the rip. It worries me
almost as much as the blankness of her psyche.

I feel a curiosity that is different, unfamiliar in the mass of Eleyi
psyches, and I look up, slowly searching. We need to avoid attention, and I
hope Chosi is too lost in thought to notice someone watching us.

A Yalten is staring at us, its black eyes bright and observant. It makes
me want to tense, flee, anything to avoid that stare. I shift, looking down.
Chosi sits up, staring at the slaver. His eyes drop to her, and he leers.

Interest from the normally detatched
 
Yalten is unusual. And unnerving.

-Chos? What’s happening?-
I
ask, nervously.

She doesn’t answer me directly. “The children need food,” she snaps at the
slaver. “And exercise.”

The slaver smiles, a slow grin that makes my skin crawl. “You can hardly
make demands, leech.”

 
“I
have
a name.”

“No,” he drawls, prodding the brand just beginning to scab on her thigh.
She hisses in pain and amusement flickers across his aura. “You have a number.”
He leans down, invading her space, and she flinches against me as he whispers,

Slave.”

She spits, and rage fills him. He lashes out, catching her by the throat
and squeezing. She smiles as he drags her closer, away from me. “I will enjoy
watching you break, leech.”

A low murmur filters through the hold, and I shiver as the disembodied
female voice echoes around us. “Enough, Xtan.”

The slaver drops my sister like he’s been burned, his eyes flicking up
to the ceiling. Chosi’s laughing as she coughs, and rage pours through Xtan.

“Come here,” the voice commands, and Xtan pivots, stalking away stiffly.

Chosi rolls to her knees and hacks, dragging in a deep breath as she
chuckles.

“What are you doing?” I ask, and her eyes dart to me, startled.

I almost never
speak
to her. But now, fear and confusion have me
flustered enough to make it necessary.

-I don’t like him,-
she
says, shrugging.

 
“You don’t have to
like
him, Chosi’le. You have to survive. Angering the slavers isn’t the best way to
do that.”

She snorts, and her voice is so full of bitterness, it doesn’t take a
psychic to feel it. “Why? What’s waiting for us, Juhan? Slavery, and an
unending succession of humiliations? Why survive for that? I can’t live like
that, brother.”

She doesn’t want an answer. Instead, she rolls away from me, curling
around one of the children. Leaving me alone with my thoughts.

 
 

Chosi’le

 
 

I’m waiting for Xtan to return.

It doesn’t occur to me that he might not, that he’ll forget the
slight—especially since it was public. Waiting makes me tense, edgy. Eventually
I roll away from the Eleyi child, and stare at the ceiling again. I wonder who
she is, the one with the voice that so easily stopped Xtan.

I wonder what she’ll do to me, now that I’ve defied one of her slavers.
My lip curls in a bitter smile—there’s nothing she can do that is worse than
this, is there?

They’re feeding us now, a thick, tasteless gruel with chunks of
something unidentifiable and gritty with supplements. It’s keeping us healthy,
and some of the younger children have perked up, and put on weight in the two
weeks since the meals increased. I’m not so sure that’s a good thing. The only
thing that awaits any of us is the auction houses—and slaves fetch a higher
price if they don’t look like they are on death’s doorstep.

Behind me, Juhan stirs. I feel the familiar feathery touch of his mind,
and then the sadness that fills his thoughts when I ignore him.

How long before his anger comes? Before he realizes if it weren’t for
me, we’d be still in the trees, still home with our parents—still safe?

I shiver as fear makes my stomach roil with anxiety. It is easier to be
angry.

-I know you can hear me,-
my
brother says.

I’m so tired of his constant hammering. Why can’t he leave me alone?

-Do you think Mother and Father know?-

The mental image of our parents swims in my memory, summoned
involuntarily by my brother. Mother, with her constant worry and hard eyes and
wings that seemed to shadow every part of my life. Her voice, so sharp and
fierce, was never as fierce as when she was defending us, never too fierce to
answer our questions. She taught me to fight, to question our way of life, to
push the boundaries the Elders imposed. She never made me feel like
less
because I didn’t embrace the
peaceful life that marked our people.

What will she do without her only children?

And Papa—losing us both will kill him, even if Juhan’tr refuses to
believe that. I blink hard. -
They know.-

Juhan pauses, startled that I’ve responded. -
Will they come for us?-

-Papa is a scribe,-
I
say, too irritated to cushion the truth. It is past time for him to face it. -
Even
our ambassadors can’t buy back Eleyi. What do you think a scribe is going to be
able to do?-

He stares at me, and I can feel the hurt in his psyche. -
He’ll come
for you,-
he insists.

I want him to be right. I want there to be some hope for us. But I know
the truth that Mother drilled into us.

Eleyi are too valuable. The Others need us too much as slaves—to spy, to
serve as advance bodyguards, to pick out the truth in another’s thoughts. An
Eleyi whose wings have been cut off can pass as human, and leech anything its
owner needs.

Others never let Eleyi buy each other back. No one is coming to rescue
us.

 
 

Juhan’tr

 
 

The hold is dark when it happens.

All around us, the Eleyi children are sleeping—I’m beginning to suspect
the food is drugged to keep them docile.

Chosi’le is humming tunelessly, her eyes on the ceiling. -
What’s up
there?-
she asks, her tone deceptively mild. A flicker of alarm seeps
through me, and I wonder if the drugs are having a negative influence. My
sister is never mild.

-Nothing good,-
I
say, staring at the blinking red light.

Both of us freeze when it goes out, leaving the hold in utter darkness.
Anticipation spikes in her, filling the thread that ties us. I stiffen, and a
small horde of Yalten descends on us.

Two pin me to the wall, and Xtan steps out of the shadows. Chosi lunges
at him, and he backhands her. She lets out a yelp as she falls against the side
of the hold. He looks at her, his face grim. “I said I would enjoy watching you
break.”

He nods, and two more Yalten flank him, holding clubs. I struggle,
terror flooding through me. “No!” I scream, pulling against the arms
restraining me.

Chosi’le tosses her head, throwing her bangs out of her eyes. “I’ll
enjoy gutting your worthless corpse when I kill you,” she spits, and all of the
Yalten pause for a moment. I can feel their surprise at the violence from
her—from any Eleyi. “Every bruise you leave on me, every cut, will be a broken
bone on you.”

Xtan smiles, leaning down toward her. “You? I won’t touch
you.”

It takes a moment for that to register, and I feel a rush of relief when
I understand.

The first blow takes me in my ribs, and my vision fuzzes. I hear Chosi
shriek, hear a scrabble of feet before the thud of a fist hitting her stomach.
Then the clubs slam into me. I bite down hard on my lip, choking on a scream.
Something gives in my chest—a rib, I think—and I can’t contain a groan.


Stop, stop, please, stop!”

She’s screaming, hysterical, begging. Another blow slams into my temple,
and stars spin in my vision. For a moment, the blows stop, and I can hear Xtan
above me as my sister screams, even though my vision is too blurry to see him.

“No,” he whispers to my twin. Anger and helplessness flood her psyche
and she claws at his face before the other slavers pull her back.

 
And then the beating really
begins.

 
 
 

Chosi’le

 
 

When they finally leave, I’m shaking, furious sobs wracking my body. I
crawl to him, my stomach turning. His face is perfect, untouched, but the aura
wrapped around him is so fragile and shattered I’m afraid to touch it. I cradle
his head in my lap. An Eleyi—one of the older females—scoots over to us, and
examines him with brisk efficiency. Juhan’s breathing is weak against my face,
chilling my tears. I need to ask, and can’t bring myself to. We must be close
to the auction houses, and I can’t face what’s coming without my brother. I
take the coward’s way out and let the question tingle across my psyche,
impossible to ignore.

The Eleyi looks at me, relief flicking through her. -
He’ll live. They
were surprisingly careful. One cracked rib, and plenty of bruises. Maybe a
concussion.-

I gasp with relief and fall onto him, shaking.

Xtan had wanted to break me. Wanted to stop my small acts of defiance.
And I had thought he’d attack me—I’d been prepared for it.

I never dreamed he’d attack my brother. But nothing,
nothing
, could
break me more successfully.

Juhan is unconscious now, his breathing evening a little. The Eleyi
slides back to her tiny spot of ground, and I send a flash of gratitude at her.
She hesitates, and softly, -
You provoke him. Intentionally.-

I stare at her, anger filling me.

-You put us all at risk. This is a horrible
situation. But it’s all we have—do us a favor and accept it.-
Her
presence flares with anger and I lean toward her.

-I’m
not going to lie back and accept this,-
I snap.
-I
can’t.-

 
Her eyes are wide and sad as she
watches me. –
Then you kill us all.-
she says before she slips away and I am left in the dark with my limp, battered
brother and my anger.

 

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