Continuing Tales


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 14 of 69

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The air was heavy with the copper scent of blood, and a strange silence. The echoes of screams still clung to his ears, but the screamers were strangely silent. Despite himself, Numair was afraid. He didn't know what to expect. For all Ronan's conviction that the mage was the person who could convince Daine to stop fighting and leave, Numair had none of the same certainty. He didn't even know what the girl had done to be locked up in the first place, and now she was terrorising an entire castle full of soldiers on her own. He trod lightly, and avoided leaving footprints in the dark pools that spilled out of some of the doorways.

Without the chain around his wrist, his magic seemed to boil in his veins. If he hadn't spent the last eight years forcing himself to control wild surges of magic it would be spilling like lightning from his fingertips. As it was, he was hyper-aware of every magical thing in the world around him. The prison was full of magicked locks, spelled chains and listening spells, but amidst these small magics lurked a larger threat. Ahead, he could feel the glow of bronze magic, but even as his heart raced in relief he felt the darker shining of unfamiliar magic, a viscous green gift that was moving slowly towards her. Other auras were searching through other parts of the castle, but the green gift... that moved with determination. The mage knew where Daine was, and was closing in.

He hurried his steps. The number of dead bodies stunned him, as he ran along the corridors, but some cynical part of his mind chimed in. These couldn't have all been killed by Daine. Some of the doors were blasted open, as if by magic. Some of the corpses lay half-out of their rooms, twisted in tortured poses that spoke of excruciating magical death. Daine couldn't do that. She might have killed the first man, but these people were killed in the panic. Perhaps some of the guards lashed out, but he was starting to think...

A high-pitched laugh rang in the air a few corridors to his right, and he kept running without taking the turn. They had let the other prisoners loose to catch Daine. This was why the other officials were hiding in their safe room. They weren't scared of Daine, they were scared of what the other convicts might do. They probably had some kind of spell attached to their chains which meant that the healer could snap his fingers, and they would all drop down in a deep sleep so they could be taken back to their cells. The officials would be fine. But anyone outside of the safe room- the servants, the stragglers, any other slaves- well, they were easy targets, and the convicts laughed at their suffering.

This was why they'd been told to run, not fight.

Numair shuddered and ran on. The grating laugh kept pace with him in the parallel corridor, but was met by a scream. He hesitated for a moment, and then heard the unmistakable sound of a death rattle. Whoever the other mage had caught, it was too late to help them now. He ran on.

The corridor opened out into an old solar, which was still full of looms even without the courtly ladies to weave on them. Cheap fabric was being crafted in the place of the ornate fabrics those ladies would have made, but it hung in abandoned tatters. The wide windows let in the frozen winter air, and the slim silhouette of a girl stood at one, arms wrapped around herself, staring out at the moonlit clouds. As his eyes adjusted to the light he could see that she was covered in blood, and that her clothes were torn. She stared blankly at the sky, listening to the crashing and screaming in the prison around her, and her fingers clenched and unclenched around a strange, curved blade she held in one hand.

"Daine," he breathed softly, taking a few steps forward. She didn't hear him. Before he could reach her the harsh laughing mage crashed into the room. It was a woman, her hair a wild tangle of flying dreadlocks as she fell to her feet and sprang upright from all fours, agile as a tumbler as she danced from loom to loom.

"Theeeeeere you are!" The mage trilled, only seeing Daine in the moonlit room. She grinned, showing a mouthful of over-bright teeth, and crouched down easily on the floor. The chain she had around her wrist clattered on the tiled floor, and a second one on her opposite ankle answered its chime.

The girl turned around and looked at the woman, her eyes so blank they were nearly empty. "Anja." She said flatly, making the words come to her lips with slow deliberation. "Are they that scared of me?"

"Terrified, my lovely luscious lass! You can taste it!" The mage licked her lips and stood up straight, her locks swinging well past her waist like a cloak. "Which one did you kill?"

"Does it matter?" Daine looked away, pulling her torn tunic across herself as if she could hide the bruises on her throat and chin along with her nakedness. "I wanted to do more. I couldn't. As soon as they found out..." she shrugged and let go of the cloth, not caring any more. "Well, perhaps it was worth it."

"You must learn to sneak, little pet! Sneak! You should have kept your voice silent and let your steps follow it!" The voice came from near the window, and Daine jumped when the woman crawled out of a shadow. She hadn't seen her move. She backed away towards the centre of the room.

"That's your trick. Not mine." She said quietly. "Will you make it quick?"

"Quuiiiick?" The woman drew out the word. Standing up straight, she was almost a foot taller than the girl, and she loomed over her with hunger written in her eyes. "No, my darling dearest dainty duck! Of course not! Little Anja will have more reward with every little squeak the mouseling makes."

"And then they'll throw you back in your hole, to rot." Daine retorted, her voice suddenly heated as she stopped trying to reason with the convict. "Oh, they might give you an extra blanket. Then you can pretend you're back at your laundry, strangling maids with bed sheets. But you'll still be trapped. In a hole. Rotting."

She smiled and raised her hands, seeing how the moonlight danced over her bare wrist, showing the woman that her chain was gone. The mage drew back, hissing through her teeth, and Daine smiled.

"I'd rather die free than buy a day more of their foul life with their twisted coin." She said simply. Then she raised her hand to her neck, and Numair saw the silver glint of the curved knife in her fist as she drew a deep breath, ready to cut her own throat. He cried out and took a step out of the shadows, ready to stop her. Daine looked up.

She gasped, blood draining from her face, and her eyes widened. For a horrible moment he thought she'd cut her throat already, but it was shock which made her stumble backwards and fall to the floor. Anja laughed at her clumsiness, then thought to look around, her own face twisting in glee.

"Ahhhhhhh, the little birdy boy manic mage!" She crowed. "I hoped I might meet you, flappy!"

"Get away from her." He said, letting his gift finally crackle from his fingertips.

Daine made a sobbing sound, hands pressed to her face as she stared at him in shock, and her knife clattered to the tiles next to her. She had tried to muffle the sound, but even with her hands pressed over her mouth it was enough to distract him for a split second.

The witch crowed her grating laugh and sprang, not even bothering to summon her own magic as she leapt at her new prey. Numair turned and put up a shield, cursing himself as he was knocked back under the blow. Getting distracted would get them both killed! He backed away, letting the mocking woman think he was nervous of another attack, while he was really drawing her away from Daine.

"Did you really strangle people?" He asked, breathlessly trying to stall her as he constructed another, stronger, shield. The woman shrugged, not interested in speaking.

"I started by strannnnnngling. Their faces went purple." She grinned, and he saw why her teeth were too bright. They were made of silver, gleaming in the moonlight. "Then I started..."

She didn't finish her sentence, but threw a bolt of greenish magic at him with such sudden speed he had to throw himself to one side to dodge it. It struck a loom, which slowly melted into a strange, viscous liquid.

"Ahhhh, yes. That spell." The woman said dreamily. "Melted the colours right from their booooones. Such pretty colours. I miss using it."

She turned around, looking for Daine, and Numair frantically wondered how he could stop her from casting that spell again. He thought rapidly, but after eight years the spells didn't leap to his mind as easily as they once had. He sprang up and mist streamed from his hands, freezing on her hands and face as soon as it touched her, sealing her mouth shut. She waited for a split second, and then threw herself forward face-first onto the tiles. The ice shattered. Blood streamed from her nose when she stood up, and she wiped it away with the back of one hand.

"Pathetic." She spat blood on the floor, and whipped her head around.

Her locks span around her face, and for a split second there was nothing, and then a shockwave of spiralling wind threw Numair back across the room. He lay there, too stunned to move. Anja prowled towards him, hands raised, but just as the sickening green light was pooling around her hands she fell backwards with a strangled gasp.

Daine was clinging to Anja's back, holding on grimly as she ripped the woman's locks, yanking her head back and holding the knife to her throat. Anja laughed hollowly.

"Are your feet even touching the ground, little mischief of a monkey?"

Daine blinked, and in the same movement as before the witch spun her head, not caring about the thin line scored across her throat as she hurled the girl across the room. She smashed into one of the looms, skidding across the tiles in a tangle of sharp broken wood rotten threads. Anja licked her lips and advanced on her crumpled body, shoulders hunched.

"You never fought for yourself, did you? Little liar of a fake felon that you are. We always despised you. Taking the blame for someone else's battles like a martyr, and wandering around with your head bowed like you deserved it. We... hate... you."

She smiled and looped an arm around Daine's shoulders, taking the knife with something close to tenderness. For a moment she could have been the girl's mother, cradling her in her arms as she struggled back to consciousness.

"I was so happy for you, little darling pet, when I heard you'd ripped that bastard's throat out. I knew it was just a matter of time. But now... you disappoint me, my pet." She span the knife in her fingers, eyes sorrowful. "You were fighting for him, weren't you? For the bird. All along, just another cause for saint Daine to fight for."

"Some things are... worth fighting for." Daine whispered, struggling to open her eyes. Her fingers scrabbled at the floor, finding a broken chunk of loom and holding onto it grimly. The convict laughed and dropped her, not caring that she landed heavily on the tiles. She studied the curved knife for a split second, and then raised it with a grin.

"I'll cut your tongue out fiiiiirst, little lying leech. I know you won't miss it." She started to lean forward, and then stopped, a line appearing between her eyes. "What...?"

Guided by black fire, almost invisible in the darkness, every loom had thrown out hundreds of old tendrils of coarse linen threads. They had gently wrapped themselves around the witch, tangling in her grimy hair and looping around her arms and legs, but it was only when she made the move towards Daine that they were suddenly pulled tight.

The woman screamed out a curse as more and more strands looped around her and she was trapped. If she had moved backwards, away from her prey, then she might have been able to cut the strings with the knife. But she was so irate, so fixed on the girl in front of her, that she never thought to do that. She screamed and green fire poured from one hand, burning through the cords even as thicker strands began to wrap around her throat and squeeze, merciless. Even as she choked out her last breaths she raised her hand, wanting to strike, to kill.

Daine blocked the blow with the piece of broken wood, and then stabbed blindly upwards, desperate to stop the attack from coming again. Warm liquid flowed over her hands and she gasped, pushing herself backwards as the woman bled out onto the floor. The white strands which bound her slowly blossomed red, like a flower, from the gaping wound on her chest. She stared at her, panting, the wood still raised, and nearly screamed when a hand fell onto her shoulder.

"It's okay. You're okay. She's dead. It's over." The man said in a rush, and she blinked a few times to clear her eyes. Her panting turned into great heaving sobs, and she clung to him. He picked her up easily, holding her so tightly she could barely breathe, but she still couldn't stop crying.

"Ssh, ssh, magelet. You're safe." He murmured, and she shook her head through a blur of overpowering emotions.

"You're alive!" She gasped, and dissolved into a new flood of tears.

He held her even closer for a moment, feeling tears sting his own eyes. He wanted to stay there, holding her safely, until her tears stopped and she smiled again. But even as he held her he could feel one of the other mages drawing closer, and he knew that they had to escape quickly. Even the small amount of magic it had taken to bewitch the looms had nearly broken through the copper shield in his mind, and he could tell she was in no state to even think about casting another one.

"Daine," He said quickly, "We have to get out of here. I can't fight another one of them. Not now. We have to get away. Do you understand?"

She nodded, looking up into his eyes with such complete trust that he felt almost uneasy. "You're alive," she whispered again, as if she hadn't heard a word, and raised a hand to touch his face. A slow smile glimmered through her tears, and she abruptly kissed him with such violent tenderness that he was taken aback. Her lips tasted of salt and copper, and his gift burned at the threat of the other mage, but all that fled from his mind as he kissed her back. Even when she pulled away and smiled, even when he put her down, she still couldn't stop staring at him in absolute wonder.

"The windows here are big enough to fit through. Can you climb?" He asked her, his own mind spinning giddily. She nodded, not looking away, and he smiled at her.

It was easy enough to cast a spell on the remaining looms, and make a strong knotted rope from them which embedded itself in the wall. They climbed down onto a shelf of rock and found a goat-path which led them further along the mountain, and just like that, they were free. The rocky outcrops of the pass hid them from the keep within a few miles, and they kept walking off the trail until they found a brook. The sun rose and they kept walking through the brook, knowing they wouldn't leave any footprints, and when it began to set they found a new trail and started to follow it. It led them to the cusp of a small mountain, and there they stopped to catch their breath.

From the top of the hill they could see the keep, grey and looming at one end of the pass. Steep spikes of impenetrable mountains rose up on either side of it, as if the battlements and the land had made a pact to copy one another. And then, closing the walls at the opposite end of the valley, a second keep sat, identical to the first, smugly blocking off the trade route towards Tortall. The valley was vast- at least fifty miles long, but completely locked in by the fortress of stone and iron. The only way to get in or out was through the keeps, by passing through a thick portcullis and being waved through by a soldier.

"We're still trapped." Numair breathed, and then laughed harshly, his breath making a cloud in the cold air. "This whole valley is a cage."

"There're towns," Daine pointed out, seeing the distant glimmers of candlelit buildings. "If we could find someone to help us- to blend in, to look normal, then..."

"Perhaps." He acceded, sighing. He suddenly felt very tired, as the adrenalin of their escape wore off. Daine's eyes were over-bright as she stared down at the valley, hands twisting as if she could shape some bridge across the mountains from the air. Numair knew that even a bird would have trouble flying through those mountains, where glaciers danced with soft snow and even a soft caw would start the heavy ice tumbling down.

"We should find somewhere to sleep before the frost settles." He said, and took hold of her hand. "Come on, magelet, we can make plans tomorrow."


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 14 of 69

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