Gentle Chains (The Eleyi Saga Book 1) (6 page)

I look up at them, my words echoing in the sudden silence that fills the
tiny spacecraft. I feel, for the first time, the crushing weight of space, the
vastness of it, and the impossible task I have taken on.

How
? I
have promised, and I
will
find Chosi, but the question that begs to be
answered is
how
.

I look at Sadi. She owns me. My life is at her whim, my time is hers—legally,
I cannot even appear in public without her or a written order from her.

But could I use her? Could I play her game and use it to get closer to
Chosi? It would be easy enough to convince her I was a doting lover—I could
make her believe it and use her feelings against her.

It makes me feel sick—but I wouldn’t truly be
fighting
. I’d be manipulating.

And if it makes the difference in getting Chosi, I can live with that.

Sadi clears her throat. It snaps me out of my thoughts, pushes my anger
down, and I reach again for the bottle. I pour two—three—shots, and scoot them
across to Tinex and Sadi. My eyes are placid, showing none of my inner
conflict, as I lift the glass. “To our success.”

 
 
 

Chapter 9

 

Chosi’le

 
 

THE PENTE WHO COMES for me, hours later, is short, with features similar
enough to Henri that I suspect they are brothers. He was here earlier, when
Henri first came and explained things, and eyes me now dispassionately.. “Come
on,” he says, turning without waiting to see if I will follow. I almost
don’t—curiosity and hunger make me move. The hallway is dimly lit, and the
enclosed walls feel suffocating. I hate being enclosed. Small rooms with bad
lighting have always been Juhan’s area. I bite my tongue, and the pain
pushes my brother from my mind.

With so many Eleyi around, and one clearly loyal to Henri, I will have
to guard the memories of my brother. I smile bitterly—mental defense was always
Juhan’s forte. I tend to defend with my fists more than my mind.

He leads me into a large room, where the scent of herbs and baked fish
fills the air and my mouth waters, ravenous despite my grief and fear. My
escort points to a long table, the seats filled with the bewildered faces of
what I can only assume are slaves. Do I look like that, so broken and lost? My
lip curls and I bare my teeth and the escort gives me a sharp shake. “Sit down
and eat. Keep your head down and listen to the rules.”

I hiss and he slaps me, a quick tap. I can feel the strength that he
held back. I touch my cheek, and he stands there, waiting. My face burning, I
go to one of the seats he indicated. A plate of fish and pebbly rice, heavily
seasoned and spicy, is waiting. A small round of flat bread, an empty cup and a
steel pitcher, sweating with cold, sits with it.

I glance around, but my table mates seem unsure, unwilling to eat. Most
are human, or humanoid. A few Eleyi, a few scattered Others. None of them will
look at me. Idly, I tear a tiny piece of bread and nibble it.

It earns me more worried glances from my table mates. I shrug—they
wouldn’t have fed us if we weren’t meant to eat. And if it
is
a test of
some kind, at least I’ll face it with a bit of food in my stomach.

When Henri stands, though, my appetite disappears and I straighten,
looking up at the man who holds my future in his hands.

He’s attractive, in a Pente way. Skin browned from days outside, golden
hair that is cut severely, close to the scalp. And eyes blue as the sky.

Mother used to say that the eyes could tell more about a man than his
words, as much as his aura. Henri’s are blank, cold. As cold and unfeeling as
his mind. And that is terrifying. As he surveys the room, the slaves quiet,
waiting.

“You belong now to the Argot jakta. We will leave for Pente within the
next few days, where you will be trained and assigned tasks based on your
performance. Some of you want to be here—sold yourself for a chance at glory in
the arena and a few creds for your families. Some of you”—he glances at the
Eleyi, and I shift—“are less happy to be here. But it doesn’t change that you
are. And there are rules that will be followed in my jakta.”

“My brother will assign all new slaves to a mentor. You will bunk with,
eat with, and train with your mentor. How you do reflects on them.” Across from
us, at a separate table, a group shift and Argot looks to them, “Likewise, you
will be penalized for how badly your trainee does.  Take this seriously.”
He reaches for a cup of water but he doesn’t drink. “Nutrition and hydration
are important on Pente, especially for the gladiators. When food is put in
front of you, eat it. Every time.” He pauses, watching, and I snatch up the
bread. It’s not as warm now, but it’s still delicious and my action seems to
loosen some of the others, because they begin to eat, cautiously.

Henri’s eyes flick over me, and I meet them, stubbornly refusing to look
away. “When we reach Pente, we will go directly to my jakta. There you will all
be put into training for two sevendays. This will determine your strengths, and
how you can best serve the jakta. I buy slaves with a thought as to their
purpose. Service, spectacle, gladiators, beastboys. Fodder. But until you
train, nothing is certain. That is the only way your place is guaranteed.”

Henri pauses again and then says, his deep voice rolling over the room,
“Life in a jakta is hard and brutal. But if you perform well, if you serve well
and earn the pride of your ja—your owner—it can be a life that is well
rewarded.”

He nods and sits, returning to his dinner and ignoring us completely.

His brother, Prator, stands, wiping his hand on a napkin before he taps
a command into the micro tablet on his wrist.  He calls out, “Lena will
mentor Eleyi Petyr’re.” The Eleyi two seats down startles. A slim woman sitting
at Henri’s table motions impatiently and he stands, scurrying to her side.
Prator continues calling names and I watch disinterestedly, picking at my fish.
Even though I’m hungry, eating because I’m told to grates on my nerves.

“Kristoff will mentor Eleyi Chosi’le.” I glance up as he calls my name,
and look around as voices begin murmuring around me.

My mentor seems to interest the other trainers.

Kristoff is a small human—shorter than I am, with a smirk on his face
that encourages others to laugh at some private joke. He’s young—he looks to be
around my age. His eyes, scanning me slowly as I stand, are shrewd,
professionally assessing, and somehow disturbing—they’re old in a way Kristoff
isn’t and it gives me chills. I clamp my wings tight to my body to keep my
balance and walk to where he sits. He nudges a chair out and I sit stiffly.
Prator finishes calling names and looks around. “Mentors, you have a supply of
creds to outfit your new slave. We leave for Pente in two days. And you will
give your trainee a Pente name.”

I fidget nervously until Kristoff pushes his plate at me as conversation
swells in the room. I shake my head. “You didn’t eat enough to make Prator or
Henri happy. So this isn’t really a request, Eleyi,” he says mildly.

I glance at him and he stares back, impassively. “I’m not hungry,” I
say.

“I don’t believe you were asked,” he says, and I clench my hands, nails
digging into my palms to keep from snapping. He watches me for a moment, then
picks up the round bread, cutting a slit in it to reveal a pocket. He dumps the
pebbly rice and fish into the bread, drizzles a creamy dip onto it all and hands
it to me as he stands. “Come on.”

He leads me back down the dark hallway, and despite the confinement, I
breathe easier out of Henri Argot’s gaze.

“You don’t like being enclosed,” Kristoff says, when my wings twitch
restlessly, the long edges brushing against my legs.

“No,” I say shortly and he glances at me, amused, before we enter a
small bedroom.

There is only one bed, a detail that makes my stomach twist, threatening
to send all I have eaten back up.
I can’t do this.

“You’ll sleep on the floor. Henri doesn’t believe in coddling you.
Tomorrow we’ll get you some gear, and practice a little—I’d like to get a feel
for your strengths before we reach the jakta.”

“Why?” I ask, without thinking.

“Because I want an advantage when we get home. Did he clip your wings? Spread
them; let me see.”

I shake my head, and Kristoff’s eyes narrow. Impatience and disgust fill
his psyche.

Violence doesn’t. Which is why the blow to my kidneys stuns me. I half-crumple
against him, wheezing. “Stand up and spread your wings.”

“No.”

Kristoff sighs, a noise that conveys regret and annoyance, and then he
punches me again.

After each blow—the kidneys, my diaphragm, my ear, my face—he makes the
same demand. I’m wheezing, blood pouring from my nose, and he cocks his head at
me where I’m on the ground. “It’ll be your wings, next. Stand up and spread them.”

I straighten slowly, and this time I let my wings spread. The tips
sting, and I flinch as they bump the door behind me. He watches, surprise
flickering across his face. “Well, you are a rarity—a fighter
and
a le,” he murmurs, taking in my
translucent, blue moth wings. Moth wings are rare—they usually morph into
butterfly at puberty.

And anything rare has more value.

“How much do you know about the Eleyi?” I ask, folding them back and
falling into the only chair.

Kristoff shrugs. “As much as you’d expect for a slave raised in the
jakta. Enough to be knowledgeable, but not dangerous.” He gets a wet towel and
hands it to me before he sits on the bed, watching me. “Do you have a name in mind?”

I shake my head. “I like my name.”

His lips twist, amused, “Your owner doesn’t. And that matters much more
than your opinion.” I glare and he laughs. “You’re going to be difficult to
break, aren’t you? You remind me of a slave we had from Ceren system. No one
expected anything from her. Ja Argot bought her to be beautiful fodder. She was
deadly in the arena, even though she was tiny. We called her Brielle.”

I let the name roll around in my head, taking its place. Except, it
doesn’t.

It feels alien and Other.

It’s not me.

 

Morning comes early in the jakta—or, the boarding house they use. I
blink sleepily as Kristoff dresses. Sitting up hurts. Everything hurts after
sleeping on the ground all night.

Something tickles the edges of my consciousness, the memory of a dream
almost forgotten. Juhan’tr, his spirit brushing mine at a distance that seems
impossibly far. I shove the thought down and stand, shrugging the silver wrap
around me. It’s dirty, wrinkled, bloody from my beatings. But for the moment, it’s
all I have to wear.

Breakfast is less formal than the night before—the new slaves are
mingled in with the mentors, and Argot hasn’t made an appearance. There is more
fish, spicy sausage, and poached eggs with a hearty bread. Fruit from across
the galaxy, glistening on top of a chilled cream. Kristoff quickly makes two
plates—far more food than I could possibly eat—and carries them to a small
table in the corner. A few mentors watch us, and I twitch under their invasive
appraisal.

Kristoff snaps his fingers and I jerk, my eyes darting to him nervously.
I can’t read him well enough to know when he’ll hit me, and it has me on edge.
“Don’t worry about them,” he says, pushing a plate at me. “They’re curious, and
you are being talked about. I’m not often given new slaves to train.
 
And it’s rare to find a le in the auction
house. Ja Argot has a fondness for them. The best way to deal with their
curiosity is to ignore them.”

“Why do you call him that?” I ask, for lack of anything else to say.

“Ja? It’s a title on Pente—only jakta owners are called Ja. The master
trainer is titled Primus.” He grins and nods at my half eaten breakfast.
“Finish and we can get you away from all these voyeurs.”

I tune them out, ducking and picking at my food. I can feel their emotions—disgust,
interest, open lust—beating at me, more insistent than their eyes and I hurry
to finish, trying to ignore my twisting stomach. Kristoff still manages to
finish before I do and he sets his coffee down. “Let’s get you some clothes,”
he says, standing. The idea of being dressed is enough to get me moving. I
follow him quickly out of the room, and release a sigh of relief when we’re out
of the overfull dining hall. I bump into Kristoff when he stops abruptly after
three steps.

“Ja Argot,” Kristoff says, and I go still, my eyes darting up to look at
the man who owns me. Anger makes me shake, and I look down.

His eyes skim over me, and then slide to Kristoff. “What do you think of
her?” he asks.

Kristoff ducks his head, “Pardon, sir, but I have yet to test her. I
haven’t even gotten her clothes yet.”

Argot nods. “And her face?”

“A slight misunderstanding,” Kristoff says. Henri grunts and Kristoff
nudges me aside to let him stride past. I finger the diamond at my throat as he
does, and I can feel amusement rolling off him and hitting me with the force of
a wave. I drop my hand, and follow Kristoff out of the boarding house.

 

“I’m tired of being poked,” I snap as Kristoff steers me into yet
another small, dimly lit shop.

He gives me a sharp look, and I bite my lip, my gaze dropping. “Then
you’ll be happy to know, Brielle, that this isn’t a clothing store,” he says,
his voice mild.

As we enter, I glance at the sign, but I can’t read it. Inside, there
are dusty, antique weapons. Guns, of all sizes and shapes. A knife, with a
steel blade as long as my forearm. A curved blade on a long handle, long flat
swords, heavy axes, darts, bows and arrows, archaic ray guns. So many weapons
on display my fingers spasm with the urge to reach for them, to caress them and
slide a blade into a pocket of my newly purchased clothing.

I clench my hands into fists against the unnatural—
un-Eleyi
—thoughts and follow Kristoff to the counter where a man is
waiting, watching us with shrewd, knowing eyes.

“A new addition to the jakta, Kristoff?” he says in Common and I reach
for his mind instinctively. He’s native Pente. How did he end up here, half a
galaxy away?

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