Authors: Nazarea Andrews
EVERY INCH OF ME hurts when I wake. I muffle a groan as I sit up, and
fire licks through my chest. I feel a soft touch of concern. -
Not a good
idea to move,-
Chosi’le warns, pulling me back down.
- Now you tell me.-
twist a little, looking at her. Dried tears have left tracks on her cheeks, and
I reach up, touching them softly as she flinches away.
she says, but there is
no heat behind her words, and I push a little at her mental walls, with just a
hint of my strength. She glares at me, shoving her mental walls higher.
She could never keep me out, if I wanted in. But we both know I won’t
-Why are you shutting me out?-
try to keep the question light, my hurt out of it, but from the way her psyche
goes bitter, I don’t succeed.
She leans away from me—as much as possible, while I’m still leaning
against her legs. -
Why not? You haven’t gotten around to it, but eventually
you’ll blame me for this.-
I stare at her in silence, letting her words play through my head. That
last morning at home flashes in my mind—my studies, Mother leaving, Chosi
laughing and bored, her dare. Sneaking out and flying through the treetops.
I shake the memories and frown at my sister. -
I don’t blame you,
Chos. I made my own choices.-
She picks at a stubborn clump of blood on her leg. I catch her hand, and
squeeze, hard enough to make her stop and bring her eyes to me.
-This is no one’s fault,-
We should be able to leave the treetops without fear of being stolen
from our home. That we can’t isn’t your fault.
Frustration and anger simmer in her psyche, and it worries me. -
wouldn’t have beaten you if I had behaved.-
I laugh at that, and pain shudders through me. -
You’ve spent your
life breaking the rules and pushing Papa to his limits. Why do you think being
a captive would change that? I never did.-
She frowns, but I can feel her mind lighten, feel the relief that
courses through her, undeniable and as sweet as spring rain.
-What will happen to us, Juhan? When we reach
the auction houses?-
I pause, and squeeze her hand again. -
We’re going to be fine, little
sister. We’ll be together; most of the Eleyi are bought in lots.-
-Not all of them. And Xtan seems like he’d go
out of his way to make sure we’re separated.-
I shiver. She’s right. And if he does, there is nothing either of us can
do to stop him. Trying will only get her killed.
I shove the thought away, and shake my head, adamant. -
happen. No buyer in their right mind will want you without me,-
-Why is that?-
-You’re a pain in the ass. At least I can
somewhat control you.-
She laughs, a sound that rings across the hold. Several Eleyi lift their
heads to stare at us and I realize then that I will do anything to be with my
Anything to be with the only thing that is making this bearable.
The air shifts, a subtle thickening, and my chest tightens. All around
us, Eleyi go still. Juhan’s eyes widen, and then he heaves, vomiting his meager
breakfast on the ground. I catch him as he begins to collapse, holding him up
through his shudders, a sheen of sweat covering him.
A wave of fear sweeps the hold—we all know our destination: Geurin, the
planet of slave traders and auction houses.
The ship glides smoothly through the atmosphere, and I wish I could see.
I’ve never been anywhere but Eleyiar and I’ve always wondered what other
planets look like—is it a forest submerged in an endless ocean? Are there wild
creatures filling the tree-tops, clouds, fluffy and soft, filling the sky? What
does it smell like—what does it taste like?
I shake the thought, closing my eyes. That world, one of idle
beauty—that’s my home. This one is a nightmare. I can feel it, floating on the
air, without ever seeing the world.
And I hate it.
The slavers separate us, herding the females into a long room with a
grate down the middle and shower sprays every few feet. A Yalten walks through,
barking out, “Strip down and wash. Remember you
to look good—buyers
don’t want to purchase a slave that looks like it will die.”
A spike of loathing fills the psyche of one of the other girls and I
shiver, sending out a thought. -
Use your anger. Use it to stand tall and not
cower. Hiding won’t help, and he has a point. If a buyer spends enough on you,
they will treat you well. It would be a waste of money otherwise.-
-What does it matter? We’re going to die, might
as well do it soon,-
an Eleyi answers me without stepping forward.
-Because we’re alive,-
snap, furious. -
As long as we’re alive, we can fight. There is hope. So,
They all pause, and a few look at me, surprise in their eyes. Fighting
never occurred to them. Without acknowledging the looks, I strip off my clothes
and step under the water. It’s icy cold, and I yelp, and one of the slavers
smirks. An Eleyi hisses at him, a surprising show of temper, and then she’s
stripping and joining me.
I hate that we don’t have privacy. I hate that they watch us without any
expression—and I hate that I can feel the rising arousal and desire. The Yalten
might look like they don’t care, might look impervious, but they
And—at least some—are aroused.
Soap, harsh and chemical, pours with the water and I squeeze my eyes
closed and scrub it into my skin, washing away the blood, the stink of fear and
refuse. My movements are quick, jerky. I’m suddenly desperate to be finished, wrapped
in a towel and clothes—anything that will protect me from the blank eyes and
rising emotions that are choking me.
One of the girls—a tiny Eleyi with emerald butterfly wings—is crying,
fumbling. Her tears stream silently and I can feel her terror.
-They can’t touch us,-
say to her, trying to push my anger aside. -
If they could, they would have.
I know it’s hard, but we can do this. Fight.-
The older Eleyi are talking, thread to thread, calming the younger
girls, quieting their fears. As I rinse the soap from my hair, I can hear the
soft murmur of voices filling my mind. The presence of the guards fades as I
revel in the minds of my people.
As the water slows to a trickle, I step out from the spray. I look for
clothes and a slaver points at a curved tunnel at the end of the room. “Through
We go, most of them huddled together behind me. The tunnel is narrow,
and I’m one of the first to be pushed into the room, urged onward by the Eleyi
at my back.
This chamber is shorter. Female Ceriua are waiting, vibrating with
excitement, their long noses twitching, and big round eyes shiny. As they see
us, their strange, dog-like features light up. One grabs my arm and pulls me to
a low black step. “Stand here, love,” she chitters, my commtrans instantly
translating it to something I understand. Her aura is light, infectiously
happy, and as she picks up shears from a small table, I see her left ankle.
A long number curves around it, the flesh black and smooth—long healed.
“You’re a slave,” I murmur.
The Ceriua grins at me, and begins clipping away at my hair. “We’re all
slaves, love. Everyone on this ship—except the Queen.”
Her words startle me and I twist to look at her. She makes a small
chirrup of distress and I straighten, standing still as she flits around me,
combing and clipping, evening out my hair. “All of the Yalten are slaves. They
serve their queen. It’s a willing servitude, but they are branded just like we
are.” She shrugs and steps back, frowning at me.
“And you?” I ask.
“I’m here to make sure you’re ready for the auction houses,” she says,
and then her eyes brighten and she turns, rifling through a small rolling table
to produce a small jar. She smears the lotion onto my arms, and I sneeze at the
soft tickle of flowers and chemicals.
I don’t ask anything else, and the beauty slave seems content to work
without my input, chittering questions to herself while she scampers around me.
She drapes me in a long swath of silver fabric, twisting and knotting it so
that it covers the more important bits without being restrictive. My wings
flicker in the stuffy room, restlessly. She swats them, looking nervously at
the shining red light in the corner of the room.
“Don’t do that. I don’t need to be punished because you were feeling
restless,” she says under her breath. I almost ignore her—annoying the slavers
is one of the few things keeping me going. Having someone else punished isn’t
Finally, she steps back and nods. “You’ll do. You look lovely.”
The beauty slave provides a small mirror and I stare at myself. I look
different than I ever have—my skin seems to shimmer, and my hair juts out in
deliberate disarray. The silver cloth brings out the luminescence of my wings,
and my wide blue eyes have been highlighted to feign surprise and curiosity.
I don’t know this girl, with rage shining in her pale eyes, staring at
me from my own face. I’ve never looked like this--beautiful and fragile and
I don’t ever want to look like this.
The Yalten clean the slave hold while we’re being washed and dressed.
Stools are lined against the wall, and the females are sitting there, nervous
and beautiful, when I reenter the hold, surrounded by the other males.
I can feel her without even stretching my mind, and I go to her side
She looks uncomfortable, shiny and bright in a way my wild, untamed
sister has never looked. Under other circumstances, I would laugh. But there is
nothing amusing about it. Not this late. Not this close to the auction.
I don’t say anything to her. We sit in silence and I hold her hand as
the spacecraft glides through the atmosphere.
When it finally shudders to a stop, I can taste the spike of fear that
she instantly squelches.
I say, and her eyes
dart sideways to me. -
We’re together. Nothing will change that.-
WE WAIT IN AN empty room, plain and unadorned. This isn’t a room for the
buyer or to impress. It’s a holding cell, with no comfort and a single door
guarded by a Yalten. I wonder what they think we’ll try. It’s not like escape
is an option—not now. Where could we go, branded and stranded on a planet of
I can hear the murmur of the crowd, taste their emotions—fear,
excitement, boredom—mixing in the auctions, rising above the tide of the
slaver’s voice, shouting out prices.
It is only us two, now. All the other Eleyi who were brought with us are
gone, sold in groups and individually. I wonder if there is still someone
looking to buy a pair of mind-reading slaves.
The door swings open, and Chosi looks up. Her teeth clench, her mind
flooding with anger, and I squeeze her hand as Xtan enters the room.
He smiles, a, satisfied smile that wrings a soft growl of anger from
I whisper. -
Don’t let that smug bastard get to
Her psyche is so furious it’s choking me. His is a mix of delight and rage
as he addresses Chosi. “There are still buyers, leech. Get out there.”
I stand and take a half-step after her, and Xtan shoves me, roughly,
back into the holding room. “Just the girl.”
She stops dead at that, and looks back at me. “No. He goes with me,” she
says, and her voice is defiant, with no room for argument.
“You don’t decide these things,” Xtan growls and she smiles, slowly. For
a heartbeat, the only thing I feel from her is triumph.
“You can beat me bloody, but I won’t go without my brother. You need me
clean and whole to fetch a decent price. And we all know it,” she says, her
voice taunting him.
His expression tightens, anger filling his mind before it’s gone, pushed
somewhere that I can’t feel. He shrugs, and jerks me forward. “Doesn’t matter.
He’ll be sold eventually.”
We follow him through the holding rooms of the auction house, and into a
large open hall. Others mill about, sipping a bright red liquor as they talk in
low voices. I can’t understand their thoughts, only feel the buzz of emotion,
and it makes me feel half-blind and nervous—my psychic strength does very
little when I don’t speak the language in which they think. Xtan leads me to
one of several low steps. A bright light illuminates a pedestal, empty except
for a silver pole. Xtan takes a chain from the ground where it is coiled, clips
my wrist cuff to it.
He pulls Chosi’le to another pedestal and chains her quickly before
stepping over to a low couch.
Chosi’s shock hits me even as I feel it myself—the female reclining on
the couch is ornately dressed, a smile on her lips, and undeniably Yalten.
-Is that her?-
Chosi asks, her voice
-It might be,-
. She’d told me what the Ceruian had told her,
about them all being slaves. It makes sense that this elegant, smiling Yalten
would hold some sway over the slavers. And the voice in the hold had been
But I’m more interested in the Others milling around the room. Two have
paused near Chosi’le, openly studying her. There is something about the way we
are displayed, something that makes the hair on my neck stiffen.
I open my mind and emotion floods me. The Others are, as a whole, bored.
One of the two near Chosi is excited in a way that makes my skin crawl, and I
send a flicker of thought at her. She already knows, though, and has turned her
smile on a humanoid buyer. I reach for his mind, startled to realize he’s
Pente. The desert planet was settled by humans, but they specialize in
entertainment and blood sport. Why would he need a slave? He seems amused, and
reaches up to test the muscles in her arms. She tries to pull away, but he
doesn’t release her. “Spread your wings,” he orders, and she bares her teeth,
hissing. The Pente twists his grip, and pain flares across the bond that ties
us together. She barely flinches, though. Just glares, and slowly opens her
pale blue translucent moth wings. The Pente grins, amused.
“I wouldn’t suggest her, darling,” the Yalten says from the couch.
“She’s stubborn and temperamental. Not a very good Eleyi.”
The Pente shrugs, releasing Chosi. “I like challenges, Highness. And
those wings are lovely.”
A new aura touches the room, and I watch as the Queen stiffens, sitting
up slowly on her couch. “We are doing nothing illegal,” she snaps.
The girl who approaches—she is tiny, young, innocent—laughs. “I never
said otherwise. Guilty conscience?”
The slavers around the Queen tense, but she waves them down, studying
the girl curiously. “Why are you here, then?”
“I want to buy a slave,” the girl says, and her words fall into the room
like a bomb. Everything is suddenly very quiet, and then the Queen laughs, a
low throaty noise that makes me cringe.
And what would your father say if he knew?” A predatory gleam
has entered the Queen’s eye.
Excitement buzzes in the girl but she blushes prettily and shrugs.
“That’s my concern, isn’t it? I came here because I heard you had the best
slaves. Or are you not selling these two?”
The queen hesitates for a few heartbeats, and then she smiles, leaning
back. “Money is money. Yours is as good as any. That it comes from your father
will make it spend all the sweeter.”
Anger spikes in the girl’s psyche, but if I wasn’t a psychic, I would
never be able to tell from her bland expression.
-What’s going on?-
I don’t know, so I stay quiet as she and the Pente walk around us. His
eyes are blank, and so is his mind—that worries me. The girl walks around Chosi
a few times, but she keeps glancing at the queen, distracted. I take the moment
to study her, and I’m startled to realize she’s my age—she has to be in her
early twenties, something not immediately evident from her diminutive stature.
And she’s beautiful, with long black hair falling around her shoulders, softly
sun-kissed skin, and brown eyes that seem to gleam with knowledge. Something
about her tickles a memory, but I can’t place her.
The human girl steps away from my sister, and comes to stand in front of
me. A male is at her side, tall, with broad shoulders and short hair, looking
increasingly nervous. “Sadi, we need to hurry,” he murmurs, so low that I
strain to hear him.
“Hush, Tin,” she says, absently. She’s staring at me, and a small frown
furrows her brow. A flicker of alarm is there and gone, so fast I can’t fully
catch it before it’s gone and I am left wondering if I imagined it.
And then, shockingly, I can understand her thoughts, waiting patiently
just outside my mental walls. -
Are those bruises on your face?-
Chosi’le twists in her bonds, jerking to look at the human and me. From
the corner of my eye, I see the queen frowning. I give a miniscule nod.
Apparently this girl is adept at catching such gestures, and she straightens.
“This one,” she says, her voice imperious.
“Are you quite sure?” the queen purrs and the girl—Sadi—narrows her
eyes. “Fine,” the queen sits up, a pouty look on her hard insectile face. “I
suppose you can take the girl, Henri.”
A bolt of alarm goes through me, and I put it together—the thing that
has been bothering me since Xtan chained us separately.
This is an individual auction. There are no groups being sold.
Panic and fear and anger. They swell in us both, choking me, and I see
some of the Others flinch. The human looks fascinated as Chosi’le’s emotions
rage out of control and she shrieks, throwing herself forward until the chain
snaps her short. She gags as it cuts into her throat, and one of the Yalten
guard steps forward.
-No. They can’t,-
screams back. -
They can’t separate us. I’ll die first.-
From the way she’s fighting her chains, I think she’s telling the truth.
What will that achieve, Chosi? You dead,
and me alone in service. With nothing to keep me going. I need you alive.-
She pauses, eyes wide as she looks at me. I look away, hating myself for
saying it, for hurting her. I add, softly,
-Maybe this is for the best,
Chos. They can’t use us against each other.-
whispers, and her emotions—angry and hurt—cut at me.
I shrug, feeling lost, and sigh. -
We’re slaves, sister. What can I
promise to anyone?-
Sadi is watching in interest, and again, her thoughts demand of me, -
everything all right?-
The question is too much, too personal. She has bought me, but that
doesn’t mean she owns this. This goodbye is ours, and I will not share it with
some stupid human who can waltz in and unsettle a queen and buy me, all without
blinking. I look at Sadi, then deliberately look away, and lock eyes with
Chosi, pushing past her fear and misery. -
isn’t forever, Chosi. I swear to you I’ll find you.-
“If you want to step this way, my valet will see to your paperwork,” the
queen is saying, and Sadi motions at Tin. He seems reluctant to leave her, but
I wonder if he’s a slave, too. I wonder who she is.
“One thing, Highness,” the Pente is saying. He stands in front of
Chosi’le, fingering the edges of her wings. She’s shaking, furious and
terrified. “I want her wings clipped.”