A train wreck outside Hojer injures Jere and Wren, destroying their anniversary bliss, and thrusting them back into the dangers of their home, where slaves like Wren are treated as animals. While Jere struggles for consciousness, Wren is seized with the other slaves. When Jere comes to the rescue he is furious to find Wren kenneled, neglected, and abused.
For the last two years, Jere has been using his status as a healer to protect Wren and his second slave, Isis. Wren’s controversial fire talent is getting harder and harder to hide, Isis is desperate to escape to her family in a free state, and Jere’s compassion is making enemies of powerful slave owners. Meanwhile, upcoming elections are stirring political unrest. Jere supports a reformation that could improve the lives of Arona’s slaves by treating them in human clinics like Jere’s, instead of sending them to animal healers. But the slavers are only motivated by the threat of an untreatable infectious disease spreading inexorably towards Hojer.
The more Jere becomes involved in politics, the more his clinic and his household come under scrutiny, prompting the Arona slave regulation board to harass Jere, questioning his ability to manage his clinic, and threatening to take away Wren and Isis. The two slaves are preparing to be evaluated, when Jere stumbles upon information that could separate the three of them forever.
He spied a slave carrying some medical supplies. “Where am I?” he demanded, frantic. “Where is my slave? Is he here?”
The slave pulled away from him, frightened. “I’m not sure, sir. I’m sorry… can I get the doctor for you?”
Jere scowled. He didn’t want to take his rage out on this slave, but was furious and worried about Wren. “Find me my clothes!” he snapped instead.
“Yes, sir,” the slave agreed, setting down the tray of supplies and pulling out a bag with Jere’s clothes in it. “They’ve got blood on them, sir.”
Jere didn’t respond, he just grabbed them and started changing. He had to find Wren, and he wasn’t about to do it wearing nothing but a hospital gown.
The slave slipped out of the room while Jere was changing, a move Jere couldn’t really fault him for. He stormed around the clinic area until he found a doctor. “Where is my slave?” he asked, no more polite than he had been with the slave.
“Any property that survived the accident would have been taken to see Dr. Karmin Barrett at the local veterinary clinic,” the doctor informed him. “I can get you directions if you’d like.”
Jere felt his anger growing. “What in the hell is he doing at a goddamned vet’s office? And what… wait, what accident?”
The doctor shook his head. “Your speed train derailed. You suffered significant head trauma; it’s no wonder you don’t remember it. I don’t know about your slave. I wasn’t on the train. I just got a bunch of wounded passengers dragged to my door and you were one of them. You’ve been completely healed, but your energy might be a little depleted. You should take it easy for a few days—”
“I’ll settle my account and take those directions, please,” Jere cut him off. “I’m sorry. I’m a little agitated.”
The doctor didn’t respond; he just gave Jere the bill, the directions, and a form to free the clinic of any liability that might occur. Within minutes, Jere was making his way through the unfamiliar streets, intent on finding the veterinary clinic where he hoped he would find Wren. The alternative was too horrific to think about.
Fortunately, the clinic wasn’t far. Jere longed for a speed gift, or even one of the terrifying, polluting cars that were popular before The Fall. Human-drawn carts and bicycles were becoming popular in the cities, but in rural areas, communities were close enough that most people just walked—or ran. Jere was out of breath by the time he arrived, exhausted from his already poor health and anxious to find Wren. He didn’t bother checking in at the reception area, he just pushed through the doors that led to the back room. Jere searched through the psychic energy he could feel, relieved when he felt Wren’s presence. It was strong and steady, if terrified. Jere wasn’t sure whether to be relieved that he was alive or furious that someone had scared him. He followed Wren’s presence until he arrived in a back room, ignoring the protests of the veterinary staff who tried to block him.
When he pushed through the door, he was struck with the overwhelming stench of bodily fluids. Both animal and human, the odor reached Jere’s nose quickly and he tried not to gag. He covered his nose with his bloodstained shirt and pushed forward, relieved when he finally saw Wren.
His partner was alive, but he was caged and chained like an animal, locked inside of a cage barely large enough for an animal. He was injured. Jere didn’t need to use his healing gift to notice it, Wren was covered with blood, whimpering in pain and trembling with fear. Jere wasn’t usually a violent man, but he had to hold himself back from grabbing every free person in the building and stopping their hearts.
Jere whirled on the vet tech who was trying to pull him out of the holding room. “Get him out of there now!”
“Sir, he should probably be treated by the vet,” the tech suggested. “He’s been restrained for his own safety. He’s quite volatile and badly injured—”
“That didn’t seem to matter until I showed up with money, did it?” Jere snapped. “I’m a fucking healer. A human healer, not some inadequate animal healer. Get him out of there!”
“Let me just grab the paperwork.”
Jere didn’t bother to follow, he just grabbed the first chair he saw and turned toward the row of cages, intent on battering them apart.
“Jere!” Wren hissed, growing pale at Jere’s fury. “They’re animal cages. There’s a latch at the top—don’t go breaking things!”
Jere paused, his rage calmed somewhat by hearing Wren’s voice. He set the chair down and made his way over to the cages. He opened the door quickly, then glanced at the restraints encircling Wren’s wrists. Little drops of blood were dripping from them, and he felt the rage returning. He knew Wren hadn’t been any sort of threat, and even if he was, there was no need for this sort of treatment. There was no need for his lover to be in a vet clinic in the first place.