When our ancestors first came to Eleyiar, they lived on the water and the Eleyi trees never slept. That was lifetimes—dozens of lifetimes—ago. Now, no one is brave enough to venture into the water. No one will risk being found by the slavers without a way to escape.

The thought makes my wings twitch. I can’t fly until they dry. -I’m going deeper,- I say impulsively, and feel Juhan’tr hesitating behind me. -It won’t take long.-

-We have to get back before Mother realizes we’re gone,- he reminds me, but he dives, following me deeper.

One of the trees is waking, slowly. The leaves and submerged branches stretch gradually. Silt bursts upward in plumes as the roots shift, obscuring the planet floor. A sentient presence—vast and gentle—brushes my mind. I glance at my brother. -How long has it been, since we lived in the water?- I ask him.

-Since the first great Taking—a hundred and fifty years. No one left the treetops after that,- he answers, awe filling his eyes again.

This is why he came—not because I wanted to swim, something we have never done. He came for the chance to see the roots, to feel their thoughts drifting on the orange waves. I smile at him and go through a curve of root, brushing aside a weave of moss.

I feel the sharp spike of fear from my brother a heartbeat before the net snaps closed around me.

Juhan’tr

We shouldn’t have come.

I knew better than to listen to her; she’s always too damn impulsive. I glance around as she screams, a wash of bubbles obscuring my sight. They could be anywhere—or nowhere. Slavers are adept at traps.

-Calm down,- I snap. Her panic is spilling out of her, slamming into me, shattering the mental walls that have never kept her out. She thrashes against the net, but I can see it’s useless—it gleams silver in the water, strangely foreign in the undisturbed nature. I’d bet my wings the metal is an alloy neither of us can break.

-Can you get me out?- she asks, the forced calm she’s always assumed when she was falling apart settling over her.

I shake my head and she inhales sharply—behind her mental walls, her mind is a jumble of fear and panic. I force myself to ignore it and grasp the root, frantically looking for the trap’s trigger, anything that can help me free her. I can feel the slavers, their psyches a dark spangle of stars clustering into us like the inevitability of a black hole.

-Juhan, you could get me out,- she says, and I follow her mental trail to the idea. Me, using my abilities to control the slavers. I recoil, jerking from her mind, shocked. Using my gifts against someone is so anathema to who I am, it’s impossible to entertain.

Gentle ChainsWhere stories live. Discover now