The cold, heavy metal of the new collar rested heavily against Shey’s neck as the slavers locked it into place. She lifted her hands, pressing her fingers to the thin, rounded collar. The chain on the shackles were shorter now since her escape attempt in Palen, and every slaver on board the ship kept a close eye on her. She wasn’t allowed near water unsupervised anymore, and whenever the prisoners were given their regular ration of food and water, they bound Shey’s hands behind her back and tipped her water into her mouth for her.
Shey glared up at Rashid and he smirked down at her. She’d love nothing more than to take her twin ekret blades, the close combat weapon of the Rangers, and slice them across his throat. However, Rashid had them strapped to his belt, allowing the weapons to clash together like trophies. She was enraged.
The line shuffled along, each new slave being fitted with a collar. As Shey waited in line, she glanced around at the port city of Bakhen, taking in the sights and sounds and smells. She stared at the people in the plaza nearby, who were staring back at her. There was a metal fence between the slaves and merchants. Children had their faces pressed up against the fence, staring at the slaves with sneering faces. Shey allowed her fangs to grow and sharpen, and when she bared her teeth at them and snarled, they screamed and ran away.
There was a stage set up at the end of the yard, where the lines of slaves were being ushered to. Shey glanced around at the other slaves, who had all come in either on her ship or on others. There were around a hundred of them in three separate lines. One line had only women and girls in it, and through the grime and dirt, Shey could see they were very beautiful. In the other line, there was a majority of slaves of all ages, both males and females. There were children clinging desperately to their mothers, or to some small toy they still had with them. Shey’s heart broke at the sight.
She looked at her own line with a frown. There were many men, though there was the occasional woman, Shey included. Everyone in her line was muscular and had harsh looks on their faces. They were the faces of fighters. They were the faces of killers. They were pit fighters.
Shey reached out for Lyssa, grasping at her presence with frozen fingers, searching for some kind of comfort. Her heart raced with fear, and her inner beast raised its sleepy head. Her teeth and gums throbbed, aching to rip and tear into flesh. She growled softly and shook her head. The chill of death crept along her skin, causing her to shiver. She longed to be with Lyssa, to be hunting together in the most remote places of the Eradin Forest. However, her Wolf was very far away, and she could barely feel her. She took what comfort she could from her presence, then turned forward to face the crowd.
The line with men and women went first. Shey watched as, one by one, each slave was sold to some wealthy family to become a kitchen, yard, or housekeeping slave. There was one small girl who was purchased by a couple with a young boy. He had shrieked in glee, speaking in swift Yiddish. Shey wasn’t fluent in the language, but she understood enough to realize that the boy thought the little slave girl to be a pet.
After the first line had all gone, the line with girls and women went next. Shey heard the yells and cheers of appreciation from men as the women were lined up onstage. This line disappeared much faster than the one before—women were purchases in threes and fours, each new slave building up some brothel spread across the country.
As each line and slave went, Shey heard Rashid speaking in dramatic Yiddish, putting on a show for the buyers. She struggled to understand what he was saying, but he was speaking too fast for her. The pit fighter line started moving forward, and she watched as each slave was brought on stage, one at a time. There were cheers and yelling, the pounding of feet against the sand. As Shey watched each slave being sold, a sudden horror dawned on her. She knew Yidda was famous for its fighting pits, and the slaves that died every day. It wasn’t until that moment, however, before she realized that the citizens of Yidda weren’t human when it came to pit fighting. They were animals.
The line crept slowly forward, and her heart began racing and beating faster. Her teeth ached, and she felt her canines sharpen. She groaned, lifting her shackled hands to the sides of her head. It was nearly her turn.
Before she knew it, Shey was up on stage. She stared out at the crowd before her, and they up at her. They had brief expressions of shock on her face, before they suddenly burst into laughter. And really, why shouldn’t they laugh? Shey was small, barely reaching five foot five. Still, heat crept along her neck and cheeks, and she bared her fangs in a silent snarl.
Rashid suddenly stepped ahead of her. Her body trembled with rage at the sight of him, and it took her a moment before she realized he was speaking in the common tongue, not Yiddish.
“Noblemen and ladies!” he cried. “You don’t understand what you see before you.” He turned, smiling as he held an arm out to Shey. “This is no mere little girl. This here is the Ranger named Shey de Luna! The fiercest and deadliest Ranger in the entire Order!”
At her name, the crowd suddenly sobered up. They were staring up at her now, a mixture of hunger and doubt on their faces. Rashid saw this and smiled. “You still don’t believe me? Very well! Perhaps a, ah… a small demonstration will set your minds at ease. Hisha!”
The crowd cheered at the word. Shey frowned, struggling for the translation in her mind. Before she could get the chance, though, the stage shook and rumbled. She looked up, staring in horror at the monstrosity that had just walked onstage.
The man was huge, nearly nine feet tall! He was covered in huge, rippling muscles, and he was dressed in only a pair of trousers. He had a huge broadsword gripped tightly in both hands, and he stared down at Shey with a look of contempt, almost as if she were some bug stuck on the sole of his shoe. For all she knew, she was a bug compared to this man.
Rashid called another command, and a slaver shakily made his way onstage. He was holding Shey’s ekrets in his arms. He trembled violently at the sight of the man before him, then he dropped the ekrets, turned, and fled from the stage.
Rashid laughed. He bent closer to Shey and whispered in her ear, “Go make me a pretty penny, little girl.”
She snarled, turning her head to him. A brief look of fear crossed his face, then he smoothed his expression back into a relaxed, cocky look. Shey glared at him and growled, “I will be free again, mark my words. And when I escape, I’m going to rip your throat out. With my teeth.” She snarled again, baring her fangs for him to see.
He chuckled and said, “With this little demonstration, you’ll be sold to the best fighting pit in the country! There’s no escape from Yin Ha Dan.” He laughed and backed away, smiling as the cheering and calls for blood intensified. Shey glared at him one final time, then turned to face the giant before her.
He released a fierce scream, then charged for Shey. She dodged to the side, her cloak snapping as she moved. He barreled past her, his sword cleaving the floor where she had stood. As he straightened and turned towards her, Shey took off for the other side of the stage, towards her ekrets. She searched for any moisture she could reach, hoping to have a means of breaking the shackles off her wrists. As long as they were there, she would most assuredly die.
The stage rumbled underneath her as the giant charged again. She danced to the side, barely missing the downward strike of the sword yet again. She cursed, stretching her senses out farther. She needed water, or at least the cold. Suddenly, she had a crazy idea.
No, she thought. If it didn’t work and she lost control, chaos would ensue, and people would die. She didn’t mind the slavers being taken by the dead, but there were innocent people nearby. She’d never forgive herself if innocents died, even if they were currently bartering for her life and freedom.
But I have to try. So, abandoning her ekrets on the stage, she turned and threw herself off the stage. The crowd dispersed, the people shrieking in shock as she landed on the sandy floor. Shey spun around, facing the giant as he came to a stop, his tiny heard searching for her. While he was distracted, Shey lowered herself to one knee and touched her hands to the ground. Cold crept across her skin, and for once, she welcomed the call of the dead. She sighed, briefly closing her eyes as she summoned the dead.
The earth shook beneath her, drawing the giants attention. He grunted and roared, then jumped off the stage and hurried towards Shey. Just as he reached her, the earth split open, and three pale, emotionless ghosts emerged from the chasm. They turned to Shey, as if seeking her guidance. She straightened on wobbly legs, pointed her shackled hands in the giant’s direction, and in a cool, calm voice, she said, “Take him.”
The giant screamed as the ghosts turned on him. They surrounded him, their cold, ethereal hands stabbing into his body. He shrieked in pain, dropping his sword as the ghosts carried him to the rift. They looked to Shey once, almost as if they were searching for her approval. Then they turned away and descended into the rift.
Shey collapsed as the chasm before her closed. Two slavers were suddenly on either side of her, tightly gripping her arms. They carried her onstage, dropping her to her knees once they reached the front and center. Rashid spoke in wild, rapid Yiddish, calling out prices and taking buyer’s names. Her ears seemed to be filled with cotton. Everything was muffled, and though she knew the crowd had to be louder than this, she could barely hear them.
Then Rashid was crouching in front of her, smirking. He snapped his fingers, and the fog in her head cleared enough for them to speak.
“I’ll be seeing your first fight,” he said, grinning wickedly. “After that, I will continue my trade, free from you and your kind. Farewell, Shey de Luna. You’re going to Yin Ha Dan.”
He stood, still smiling, and the slavers took hold of her once again. They carried her off stage, down the steps, and through the crowd. They were all chanting Shey’s name, screaming and thirsting for more bloodshed. There was a cart at the back of the crowd, with a giant cage on the back of it. There were three more pit fighters here, each of them heavily chained. They had hard looks to them, but when they glanced at Shey, there was a hint of fear in their eyes.
As her shackles were attached to a chain hooked to the floor, Shey thought about what Rashid had said. Yin Ha Dan was the massive fighting pit in the capital of Yidda, Tien She. Only the fiercest, most bloodthirsty of pit fighters were sold there. It was where one of her best friends, Gavin, had been fighting when his mentor found and rescued him.
Gods almighty, she thought, her heart racing in fear. Her body trembled, spent from summoning the dead. She also shook in terror. How would she ever survive in a place like Yin Ha Dan?
Before long, the cart lurched forward. Rashid rode alongside the cart, smirking at Shey. She glared at him, wishing she had more energy. If she wasn’t so exhausted, she’d summon more dead warriors to destroy him.
As they made their way through Bakhen, Shey reached out one more for Lyssa. To her despair, she found she couldn’t feel her Wolf anymore. She longed to cry out, but she dared not. She was on her own now, and she had to be strong. If the other pit fighters hinted any weakness in her, she’d most assuredly die quickly in her first fight.
Something tickled at the back of her head and a chill crept across her skin. She shivered, ignoring the strange looks the other fighters gave her. She glared at her shackles, tensing her body. She knew this presence well enough by now. Borryn had been trying to contact her ever since she awoke after her capture.
However, this time, he broke through the walls she had put up. She was too weak to keep them up, and he laughed as he slipped through the cracks.
You’ve done well, my Champion, he murmured, his voice cool and soothing. Very well indeed.
Leave, Shey snapped. Begone!
He laughed again. But if I leave, he said, how can I lend you my strength? You’ve done well, yes, but you need my help if you wish to have mastery over the dead.
I do not want to master the dead, she said. I’ve never wanted this power. Now, leave!
He chuckled softly. Very well, my Champion, he said. I shall leave. But you will ask for me to return, and I will gladly do so. You need only ask. Call my name, and I will come.
He drifted away then, leaving Shey even more exhausted. She slumped against the bars of the cage, her limbs slow and heavy. She wrapped her cloak tightly around her shoulders, pulling her hood up to shield her face. Hidden safely within the folds of her cloak, she allowed herself to break apart.