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Over 2000 years have passed since mankind found its creators, the Pure Ones, and abandoned the world they once destroyed. When they return to Earth to mine its resources, they do so not knowing the multitudes of humans left behind hadn't all died. Life has changed much for the people of Earth by the year 4327.
Tryn Brye Annis, a daughter of her people's guardian clan, is free in her mind even as the invading Madai people keep her enslaved in the mineral mines. Cedrik DeVassi, a young Madai royal, has witnessed the truth of his people's lies first hand. He lives as a recluse, helping slaves whenever he can. His annual trip to the slave market brings him to Tryn.
There is something about her he knows he must set free despite the dangers of doing so. With the help of a little man of the Argel race and an exiled god, Cedrik and Tryn are catapulted into an adventure of danger, discovery, and a quest for freedom-her freedom from the slave mines, his from his secrets.
Don't miss this first book of the Brye Annis and DeVassi adventures full of T.C. McMullen's vivid characters and unique storytelling.
Tryn swung her pickaxe and cut another dart bullet from the air inches from her leg. A fourth hit avoided. She leapt the slight rift and clung to the side of the cold cavern wall with her left hand for only a moment before scaling to the low ceiling. None of the guards could follow her antics, none ambitious or nimble enough to even attempt the climb. She, though, she was their best digger and knew every crease and sharp edge to hold onto or jump from along the ceilings and walls.
Gargan’s fifth shot kicked a puff of dust from the stone she hopped onto.
“When are you going to learn!” Gargan shouted. His growl alone let her know his frustration had peaked beyond where she usually pushed it. “Devil child, the worst in this hole!”
Tryn choked down a laugh. She shouldn’t have found the situation funny, but her blood pumped so hot it warmed her spirit and was gratifying beyond anything she’d felt for months. She wiped the smile from her lips with the back of her filthy hand and rolled to peek over the stone. Below, familiar trodden paths of black dust stretched and vanished in all directions. The all-too-clean guards hovered there, watching with perplexed expressions twisting their pale faces. They nearly glowed in the dark. Four of them. Only Gargan carried a dart shooter in clear view.
Gargan had one shot left. One. It was a good number, yet she had no idea what she planned to do next. Running from Gargan hadn’t been her best choice for the day, but as usual, she hadn’t fully thought the action through. All she knew was that she didn’t want to surface for the market. She was no animal to be sent to field or slaughter or a slave for someone’s household. She was a slave, she couldn’t deny, but she’d been in the mines so long, she taught herself to like it.
She stared at the black ceiling, watching the flickering flame-light lick the cuttingly sharp edges, edges she had created, prying every usable mineral from what the Madai viewed as junk rock. Junk just like her and her kind.
Murmuring hastened below, then one voice rose above the others, ordering them to hush. “Slave girl, may I have a word with you?” the man asked. The newest guard. He had yet to lose his manners.
“I’m listening,” she called down, using Common Tongue just as he had.
“Might I inquire what the problem is? I thought you would be thrilled with the prospect of fresh air and sunlight, not run from it like this.”
“How long have you been down here? Take a guess,” she said. “And what do they call you?”
“Corporal Dagard,” he answered. “I’ve been here for…”
She listened to him count and chuckled. “Seven hours, Corporal Dagard. It’s been seven hours since the last shift change, that’s all. And how do your eyes feel seeing sunlight after those seven hours?”
“Well, I… Ask for some shade. Why this? Do you have any idea the punishment you are inviting by doing these tricks?”
“A beating inches from death? Yes, I know. But I’ve only experienced it twice this month, guess I think I need to step it up to not fall behind my record.”
“See!” Gargan shouted. “Unreasonably stupid, this one. Should leave it here, no one would want to buy it anyway. I tried to tell you.”
“I was told to surface all females of worthwhile age, lieutenant, and this one is of good age and health. I have no intentions of leaving her behind.”
“I have no intention of coming down,” Tryn said.
More murmurs. She laughed again, hearing enough of each word to understand it.
“Your folly is in believing us slaves ignorant, you pathetic imbeciles,” she said, though not too loudly. If they heard, that was well, but if not, it was their loss.
“Your battling days are over young Tryn, you need to let them be in faded memory.”
Tryn rolled onto her shoulder and found old Sarmi goggling her with his one remaining eye from a lower ledge.
“Why must you cause all this ruckus down here? I’m an old man, done with these rebellious things. It no longer amuses me.”
“Nothing amuses you,” she said. “And this concerns you none. Be gone.”
He furrowed his craggy brow, creating gray cracks in the coating of filth across his forehead, but he climbed down from view without argument.
“So, slave girl, how exactly do you see this situation resolving?” Corporal Dagard again. Noisy he was.
“You going away,” she said.
“It is the festival of harvest above,” he said. “A grand thing for the city. And it’s been appointed to me to see you brought above for sale. You may very well find yourself purchased by someone of wealth. I cannot understand this action you’ve taken.”
“I’m not for sale,” she said to the wall. “I’ve never been bought or sold, and I have no desire to start now.”
She tolerated enough auctions over the years, the scrutiny, the snide and ignorant remarks, all buyers looking at her as if she couldn’t understand their fancy words or accents. She endured the last harvest sale a year ago, managing to scare off prospective buyers. The older she got, the more she looked like a woman, not a young boy, and men always believed they could tame a woman, take from her and make her carry children as more slaves. She knew what a precious commodity she was. Good health, perfect child bearing age.
Picks clinked and cracked against the stone below. She peeked down and saw a ladder sliding toward her. She rolled, leaping from her haven. Gargan fired. Mid-air lent her no protection, and the dart pierced her shoulder. She gripped the wall, hearing Dagard scold Gargan. Her vision blurred. She stretched her fingers over her shoulder, felt the dart against her fingernail, too low to grasp before the full dose filled her.
“Get ready to catch her, you ignorant pigs. How dare you risk damaging this one so close to sale!”
Damage? Tryn leapt from the wall, flipping backward and landing on her feet in front of Gargan. She saw two of him, but only one held detail. She swung her closed fist at him, then delighted in the hard hit to her jaw. Perfect. She felt skin break and sweet blood rose to her lip before she fell to the path and sharp stones waiting to pierce her back. Then her muscles refused to obey. She screamed internally, hating the hopeless feeling. Her mind alone remained her own, alert and free of fog. Rope tightened around her wrists and legs. She was theirs to do with as they wanted. Only Dagard’s presence would keep them from abusing her. She was too precious to soil this close to sale. But it didn’t stop them from touching her in places she promised they would pay for when she returned. Rocks had a way of splitting in just the wrong way to collapse on unsuspecting guards, especially under her expert hands.
Cedrik swallowed the sour taste stirred by the forced smile he offered the main gate keeper. He handed over his official badge as his invitation and stepped onto the relatively clear pathways of the slave market. The chaos and ruckus from the city streets he gladly left behind, but what waited ahead tortured him even more. Smoke and boiling berries perfumed the air; all an attempt to cover the sour stench of filthy slaves prepped and polished just enough to look presentable.
Women lined the walls, some in tattered fancy dresses, some shouting offers he didn’t desire to hear or need. All were far too thin. Their eyes shined like black gems as did most all of the Inaut race. It was a race thought of mixed heritages so intertwined the color of their skin had changed from white, red, or black to a kind of pale stone gray. Some said it had to do with how they ate and survived in the forests and mountains of Earth too. Many of his people considered them animals.
He knew different.
He shoved away groping hands and pushed by lines of buyers with eyes full of greed and unrespectable intentions. Some would no doubt give the women a decent home, but it sickened him no less to know they felt the offspring they had with these women were worthy of only servitude, no more valuable than the women surrounding him. Their own children.
He weaved his way through the most popular prospects to the last street, called “Last Level.” It was last because the tired and scarred souls it held were those least expected to please a man for any purpose. The keeper in charge of these slaves bowed his head.
“Good day, Sir Cedrik,” he said.
Cedrik gestured in return and clenched his fists to keep from hammering the man. In all probability, the poor sap had no say in the treatment of slaves. Cedrik chose to give him the benefit of the doubt and believe the man was as troubled by the cages and chains as he was.
He wandered down one path, then the other, not hearing one promise or one beg. These women were aged, deformed, and bereft of spirit. Their eyes watched out at him as empty as split seed pods. He walked here each time he came to see if just one could be saved. As before, he left knowing none there could survive on their own. He would have to try the male level of the sale.
He exited without acknowledging the gate keeper’s apologies for the low quality of the less expensive merchandise. The paths crowded quickly. Cedrik weaved through lines growing long before several exceptionally shaped and enticing slaves. The men nearly seemed to pant before them, shouting competitive amounts, each louder and larger than the preceding offer. He scrubbed his hand over his face to erase the scene around him. None of these girls could be saved because someone would outbid him for certain. He had to be careful with the amounts he spent.
“Robbery that is!” a man shouted. “It’s worth far more than this.”
“Look at it, limp as a dead fish.”
“It’s an act, I tell ya, an act! It doesn’t listen to anything.”
“All the more reason to offer so little. I don’t much care its age or quality if it’s that disobedient.”
Cedrik stopped and fought against the push and shoves of those behind him. He listened for a moment, then headed toward the back path of the front level.
“A month’s worth of calibin can be supplied,” a gruff looking guard shouted at a man beside him. “By then it’s up to you to have it trained. At any rate, this amount you’ve offered is inexcusable and rejected!”
The two men argued from the farthest corner where the gate to the mines held open for the guards to pass through easily. Cedrik weaved his way right then left, feigning interest in several sales going on until the crowd thinned enough for him to see a cage next to the enraged man.
Cages were saved for the last level slaves, the slaves with arms too frail to wrap in heavy chains. The woman in this cage didn’t have that problem and Cedrik was quick to note she was also chained to two heavy rocks behind the pen. The guard acting as her keeper snarled curses at her, but she stared blankly ahead, blinking rarely, sitting limply against the bars despite the pokes and prods of the guard and prospective buyers. He wondered at first why she hadn’t been placed in the last level, her eyes so silver and unmoving, he thought her at least partly blind. One side of her chin and jaw showed bruised and swollen. He scanned the statistics on the sale tag attached to the bars. She was twenty-two years old and just over five feet tall.
“I guarantee you, this is all an act. She wishes not to be sold,” the keeper shouted, sounding far too desperate now.
“One wishes not to be sold from the mines?” A man scoffed. “Who do you expect to believe that?”
A flick of light and Cedrik realized her irises were not clouded with film of eye disease but as bright as polished blue-silver, a hue he’d never seen in Inaut eyes before. Cedrik watched her small face, so beautifully petite he thought his hands would surely cover her cheek from temple to delicate chin. He’d never seen an Inaut quite so—exquisite. He shook his head, scolding himself for such a thought. When he looked to her again, her steel eyes pierced him. She had moved without notice. Her stare still seemed somehow distant, yet slicing, her limbs hung limp, but she pressed her lips firmly together. He moved closer. Her glare deepened then vanished with only the slightest waver. He stooped down next to her between two tall men.
“Sir, please, Sir Cedrik, be careful. This one tends to lash when you least expect it. Don’t be fooled by her appearance.”
Men laughed. Cedrik didn’t doubt the words. She was small but each muscle in her bare forearms and biceps was etched firm with strength. The rest of her would be just as powerful.
“Why?” he said.
She continued to stare ahead at nothing.
“You hear me,” he said.
The muscle from her long neck to the strong shoulder tensed ever so slightly beneath the thin strap of her shirt.
Cedrik stood. “Three hundred tregs,” he said. Gasps surrounded him.
“We’re asking for five,” the guard said.
Cedrik turned, eyeing the six men encircling him. “I don’t see anyone tempted to offer even as much as I have.” He waited for the murmurs and nods of agreement.
The guard squirmed one foot into the dust.
“Would it be better for you to return with her unsold?” Cedrik asked. “You do get some commission, do you not, even from three hundred?”
“And they appoint me this impossible bitch!” The guard kicked her through the bars. She fell to the side, but didn’t show a bit of discomfort.
Cedrik bit back his shout. “Might I suggest not beating my merchandise or I’ll have to lower my bid.” He held out his sack with all three hundred of his tregs. Tension twisted up his spine. If the guard did take the sack, he was out the month’s remaining pay but if the man didn’t accept the bid…. Cedrik couldn’t describe the odd sense of fear creeping from his gut. He had never wanted a purchase to go through quite so badly before.
The man swiped it roughly from his fist, snarling hateful words at the cage the entire time. The other men chuckled at Cedrik’s stupidity or bravery, slapped his shoulder in mock congratulations for at least having a pretty thing to look at, and drifted back down to the main path.
Cedrik turned to follow the guard and discuss the transfer of ownership when her hand snapped out and nearly crushed his ankle. She had twisted in the chains, dragging one stone against the back bars to flip to her stomach so quickly and silently no one noticed. Her stunning eyes roiled with anger potent despite her low vantage point.
“Demand a refund,” she said. “Or for sure you’ll regret it.” Her Common Tongue sounded perfect in his ears, not twisted at all with Inaut accent, just a lusciously smooth sound. But she was Inaut, he didn’t doubt that. The strength of her fingers even through his hard riding boot shook him and proved it. Inauts were fierce with strength.
“Do you know how to ride?” he asked.
She furrowed her brow and narrowed her eyes. “Are you deaf?”
“I’m no more deaf than you are worthless.”
“Ask him where I’m from,” she said. “His answer will match mine, the mines, see here under my nails, the proof. I’ve worked them for years. I’ll kill you the first chance I get. I promise you that.”
Cedrik shook his boot loose of her grip, a little disturbed by how much effort it took, and stooped down eye level with her again. He kept farther back than before, noting well the length of the chains. She lashed at him, straining her powerful arms. Her fingertips clawed the air inches from his throat before she gave up.
“Trust me,” he said, careful to keep his voice low and only for her.
She narrowed her spirit-filled eyes. Cedrik glanced over his shoulder to be sure the guard stood otherwise occupied. Another guard had pulled him into a discussion.
“I realize you’ve probably never been given a reason to trust anyone in your life but I ask you to do so now. To just beyond the city limits. Will you agree to that much?”
She pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them but her sharp gaze never faltered from him. So many questions about her rushed his thoughts, though none included anything about her time in servitude. He doubted she’d been born to it. Not this one.
“If not, just give me the word and I’ll request refund. But I must know now. I must know if my money will be wasted by you trying to run within the city.”
Uncertainty roiled in the stormy sea of her eyes, so visible, so potent. So like someone else he knew.
“I’ll take your silence as agreement,” he said, hearing the crunch of the guard’s boot in the sand behind him. “Unless you have something new to add.”
“I see you’ve made it speak,” the guard said.
Cedrik stood to face the man. “Yes, indeed.”
“So you see I was not telling a lie when I spoke of its act.”
Cedrik nodded. “I thought from the look of you, I could trust you, but from the look of her, how could I be certain.”
The man grinned, falling for the compliment fully. Cedrik couldn’t fault the guard for his weakness. He was told he had a way of making people believe anything.
“What’s your name?” Cedrik asked as he took the electronic tablet and pen. Still so primitive there in the slave shops.
“Lieutenant Gargan, Sir,” he said with a sharp salute of hand to chest.
Cedrik handed him the signed tablet. “Nice to meet you, Lieutenant.”
Gargan unlocked a box he carried on his belt and pulled a thin silver key and a flat shock tag from it.
“Sir, here is the key to the cuffs she will be released to you with. This tag is for your own safety. Just press the center if she runs or otherwise gets out of hand and the cuffs will send a shock up both arms to cripple her for a full minute. I suggest you have restraints ready at all times to slap on her if need be.”
“I don’t believe I’ll have any trouble, Lieutenant, I’ve dealt with my share of difficult animals.”
She hissed from inside the cage, no doubt believing he meant what he called her. Once they were well on their way from spying eyes and ears, he would have to clear up a few things. Cedrik walked leisurely down the slope when he remembered his first concern.
“Oh, Lieutenant, I was hoping you could tell me, is it capable of riding?”
Gargan wrinkled his broad nose. “Excuse me?”
“Riding? I have no transport with me, was just out enjoying the weather before the storms and gathering some supplies. I have only horses. Should I be worried of her ability to stay on one?”
He caught a glimpse of her evil grin but remained focused on the keeper. The lieutenant swallowed deeply, almost a gulp.
“I don’t see why it couldn’t. But I highly suggest you give it a nag or a cripple.”
Cedrik nodded in agreement a little less leery of how he would get the woman from the city limits quickly. Chances were she’d seen a horse before. With her build, she would be able to stay mounted even if she’d never ridden before. The only thing tickling his concerns was if he was ready to lose the steed he had for carrying supplies or if he dare trust the spirited stallion not to harm her.