Continuing Tales


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 16 of 69

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The note was short, with as many words as possible crammed onto the tiny scrap of paper, but long after they'd both memorised its contents they couldn't help reading it over and over again. It was an address. After it was a short note:

Ask for Lady Hazelle. She'll be expecting you. Wait. Will join you ASAP – month at most. Glad you're okay! – A.

"It's at the other end of the valley." Daine pointed out, recognising the name of one of the larger towns. "Past the checkpoint."

Numair nodded, folding the scrap of paper into his pocket with clumsy fingers. They'd scouted their end of the valley meticulously, looking for any pass through the mountains or any cave network that they might hide in safely. The single troupe of soldiers had missed them, but many more followed in their footsteps. Their sleep was broken three or four times a night as they had to move away, and they hadn't dared risk another fire. They huddled together for warmth, but each hungry night that passed made that shared warmth grew a little colder. The valley was inescapable, and if the ravens hadn't found them on the fourth day they might have lost all hope. Their hands shook from hunger and weariness, and the cold bit at their bare feet and blistered their skin, but they both laughed hysterically when the sky finally filled with wing beats and the ravens swooped down.

"We can get there over the goat trails." Daine whispered, almost to herself. It was how they'd stayed hidden, climbing along treacherous paths which crumbled under their feet. The soldiers in their armour didn't dare risk it. It would be a long and dangerous hike, but no more dangerous than staying here. Some of the soldier-mages had started blasting rocks from the overhanging cliffs and starting avalanches whenever they heard a twig snap. It was only a matter of time before they were found, too weak to fight, and they would be at those same soldiers' mercy.

They started walking straight away, climbing up the nearest trail and helping each other scale the steeper parts of the mountain side. When they were high enough above the ground that a casual glance wouldn't have spotted them, they caught their breath and started hunting for the nearest animal trail.

It was two days before the soldiers caught up with them, and by then they were so tired that they barely noticed the distant sounds of men shouting to each other. The trail they'd found climbed so high that they had to stop and catch their breath, and combined with their half-starved dizziness they had slowed down a lot more than they realised. Daine was trailing slightly behind, her feet dragging on the loose stones of the narrow path along yet another frozen cliff face, when she heard the voices.

She looked around so quickly she was dizzy, and had to wait for her eyes to clear before she could even see the soldiers. Most of them were on a lower trail, but a few had shed their armour and were climbing up the goat trail behind her. When they realised she'd seen them they froze, and then one of them sent a bolt of pure magic darting towards her. It missed, striking the cliff below her, and for a second she could turn and run. Then, weakened by the blast, the rock crumbled under her right foot. She shrieked as she began sliding down the side of the cliff. Scrabbling wildly at the rocks, she grabbed a trailing bramble and held on, gasping, watching as great chunks of the trail that she had just walked over tumbled down into the valley. Her flailing feet found only a small rock, which wobbled when she put some weight onto it, but held enough for her aching arms to have some rest.

"Help!" She cried, coughing back stinging dust from the whipping wind. "Help me!"

Behind her, the soldiers shouted to each other and pointed at her. The section of path they stood on was secure, but many meters away and much further down, and she couldn't hear what they were shouting. She shut her eyes and tried to climb up the bramble, wincing as the hoary barbs bit into her palms. The stone under her foot crumbled away and she shrieked, falling back a few feet as her arms took all of her weight again.

"Daine!" Numair looked down at her from the next section of the trail. She stared up at him wildly, seeing that even if she climbed up he was too far away to pull her to safety. He was doing something with his hands- something that called the black glitter of his gift, but as she breathed in to ask what she should do a massive bolt of lightning struck the cliff near her head. She screamed and clung on to the bramble with shaking arms, feeling it shudder as rocks fell away. The soldiers shouted again, and she heard the unmistakable sound of laughter.

She swung sideways, letting the bramble take her weight as she reached out to another, slightly out of her reach. Another bolt shook the cliff and her bramble ripped away from the stone, giving her the extra few inches she needed to grab the new one. She leapt for it and clung, gasping, to the new handhold.

The vine was thinner than the old one, and she prayed desperately that it would hold. Her hands spasmed and slipped as they bled, but she hauled herself up with new found strength. This time she found a foot-hold and wedged her toes into it, digging into the cliff with her nails and looking back up.

A third bolt screeched through the air towards her, and she flinched and held on grimly, waiting for the shock wave. This one soared past her with a roaring sound. She opened one eye to see the glimmer of black sparks, shielding her from what would have been a deadly attack.

"Can you climb up?" Numair shouted down, his voice over-quick. She tested the bramble and shook her head, feeling it give. He nodded and leaned down, his voice uncertain "I can pull you up but... I'll have to stop shielding you."

"Do it!" She yelled back. He nodded and started making that strange shape with his hands again. The shield faded, and Daine hugged the edge of the cliff and hoped the soldiers wouldn't notice that she was vulnerable again.

The stone quivered under her foot, and tiny sharp rocks rained down from her upper hand-hold. "Hurry!" she cried, looking around desperately for another handhold in the near-sheer cliff.

"Let go!" He held out a hand to her. She laughed wildly, and heard the soldiers' laughter echo her own hysterics.

"Are you crazy?"

"Let go!"

She drew in a deep breath, shut her eyes, and let go of the cliff. For a stomach-churning moment she fell backwards, and felt the sucking roar of the massive drop at her back. And then she was being held by invisible hands, which gripped her wrists and dragged her upwards. The soldiers shouted, pointed, and another bolt of lightning sped towards her as Numair's hands closed around her wrists, and her feet were suddenly on beautiful, sturdy ground.

They ran blindly, dragging each other over jagged rockfalls and jumping cracks in the path for miles until, exhausted, they collapsed in the lee of a tiny copse of dead trees.

"Th...thank you!" Daine gasped, her lungs feeling like they were burning. Numair didn't answer, but drew her into his lap and kissed her cheek, the exhausted action oddly tender.

"You frightened me, magelet." He said, his voice a pale shadow of its normal tone. She stiffened at his kiss, not knowing how to respond, and then caught sight of the hand that rested on her arm.

"Numair... your hand!" She grabbed at it, not letting him drag it away. The nails were quite black, the fingertips swollen. Both of their hands were twisted with the cold, and dark with broken veins, but the shapes of his fingers were more pointed than they had been before, and more horribly familiar. The imprint of a feather ran up the back of one hand, following the artery like a deadly promise. "I thought this had stopped!"

"Well, it went away for a while," he said, his voice guarded.

"Why has it started again?" She rubbed at the nails desperately, as if she could simply clean off the curse. A thought made her stop, and her face turned pale. "Was it because you used your magic?"

He didn't answer, but she could see the darkness now, dancing in his eyes and pulsing in his throat. He tightened his hand around hers and shut his eyes, eyelids flickering as his mind raced.

"Go to sleep," she whispered, not knowing anything else that might help. "I'll find food."

"There is no food." There was gentle mockery in his voice, and he rested his head against her shoulder. His voice was quiet, not quite pleading, "Stay with me, Daine."

"Yes," she whispered, and kissed the crown of his head. "Of course."

He drifted into the uneasy sleep of the feverish, and she kept watch, stroking his hair back from his forehead until, after a few hours, the worry-line faded from between his eyes and he began to sleep peacefully. Only then did she let her own eyes slide shut.

In the early hours of the morning she awoke with a start, because the hand that she held had suddenly turned icy cold. Her fingers constricted around it impulsively, and she felt the flesh move under her fingers. Horrified, she opened her fist to see feathers growing and shrinking in front of her eyes, bursting through his skin like growing flowers and retreating into tiny bumps which ran across both hands. Turning, she could see the same pebbling on his neck, shifting and oozing across his throat and his cheeks as cold sweat beaded his forehead, and he twitched in his sleep.

"Numair..." she whispered, reaching out to touch his cheek and stopping, her hand shaking a few inches from his boiling skin. When she finally found the courage to lay her fingertips on his cheek his eyes flew open, and she gasped. They were black, bead-like, the eyes of a bird, and they stared at her with savage emptiness.

"'re the hawk?" She asked the black eyes, her voice steadier than she felt. The eyes narrowed, not blinking, but kept staring at her. The arms that held her tightened- not in the affectionate way that Numair did, but holding on to her with grim intent.

"I won't try to escape," she told it gently, picturing her window in her mind and letting the copper fire stream towards it like she would with any other bird. "You can do what you like. I wouldn't think of stopping you. I'll not be a threat."

The hawk did blink, then, the rest of the face expressionless as those eyes took on a strange, almost confused mask. She slowly took her hand down from Numair's cheek, feeling the hawk's tense shoulders relax a little as she retreated. It can understand me! He said it didn't understand anyone. But it's just the same as any bird.

She took a shallow breath, knowing not to make any sudden moves, and stared back levelly at it.

It mustn't see me as prey, or as a threat. If it does that it's fair likely to attack! It's confused now. Better keep it that way.

"Can you speak?" She asked it, and when it didn't respond she tilted her head to one side, asking the question like a bird would. It tilted its own head, its confusion turning to frank curiosity as it studied the strange creature it had trapped. Daine could feel the hands on her back shifting from claws to hands and back again, and knew that Numair must be in there somewhere, behind those beady eyes, fighting the creature.

Well, it had seen her now. It was curious, but she was in no mood to answer its questions! She made her voice stern, and chose her words carefully.

"Now, this is fair foolish of you, Hawk. See, you can take over and have fun and all that, but there are soldiers looking for us, and they won't know that you're the hawk. They'll think you're the human they're looking for, and they'll kill you, or lock you up again, like that!" she snapped her fingers, deliberately quick, and the hawk flinched back. The claws dug painfully into her back for a moment, but she leaned closer. "I know you didn't like being locked up before. That chain hurt, didn't it?"

The bird breathed out in a hiss, and the claws moved, scoring lines in her tunic. She gasped and arched away from the pain, and one of the claws moved to grip her upper arm. Sharp talons bit into the muscle there as the creature leaned closer, black eyes dead in Numair's empty face.

"Hurrrrrrt..." It hissed, forcing the word through human muscles that it did not know how to use.

It dragged her so close that she could see red dots in those black eyes, swimming dizzily in the moonlight as the vice-like claws pinched tighter, and tighter, until white hot flashes of pain swam across her sight.

"I'm not your prey." She said coldly, biting the inside of her mouth to keep from crying out. Instead of responding to its attack, she made her voice persuasive and laid every drop her stubborn will into the words.

"I'm not saying you can't have fun, hawk. I just reckon that you might not want to do it now. Who wants to fly in the winter? Now is the time to roost and rest, not peck for pathetic earthworms in the frozen ground."

It paused, and looked around uncertainly, hunching shoulders as if it could ruffle feathers against the winter cold. Daine hid a smile, not knowing if this creature could read the human expression. She had it!

"Give my friend his body back." She ordered, pouring copper fire into every word, and the bird closed its eyes.

"That's right," she whispered, feeling magic drain from her fingertips into Numair's hands. The feathers melted away, and the claws withdrew from her skin. She collapsed forward, energy still flowing from her like pouring water. "Away... Stay away..." she whispered, and shut her eyes.


Numair stirred, shivering in the cold morning air with absolutely no memory of anything that had happened during the night. He couldn't even remember dreaming.

He looked at his hands and saw that they were human again- swollen, chapped fingers topped with chipped nails. He'd not meant for Daine to see the feather marks that had tattooed them the night before. They usually vanished overnight, and left him with nothing more sinister than a pounding headache. But he felt stronger than ever today. The thought made him frown. He moved to pull the fur tighter around both of them, and paused. Daine barely even stirred at the movement.

"Daine?" he asked, stroking her hair back from her temple. Her eyelashes fluttered, but she didn't respond. Panicking, he sat up straighter so that he could see her properly, inspecting her head for bruises from the rockslide, but she was unharmed.

A thought occurred to him, and he shut his eyes tight and meditated. It took him a few frustrating minutes to calm down enough to even breathe evenly, but when he finally managed to look inside his own core he only needed a second's glance to confirm his suspicion. Dragging himself out of his meditation, he blinked to clear his eyes of the glow of copper fire that once again barricaded the hawk into its cage.

"How are you doing that?" He demanded, genuinely baffled.

She didn't move, and he sighed and shifted back into a more comfortable position, letting her head fall back limply against his chest. He didn't mind the chance to lie quietly, stroking her hair as he tried to organise his thoughts. Now that he knew she wasn't hurt, just magically drained, his panicking heart slowed and he was content to simply let her sleep. She cuddled closer to him every time she drifted closer to wakefulness, and he felt his heart turn over.

She had been hurt when he'd turned her down. He'd had to force himself not to call her back and apologise. The words had been so logical, so reasonable in his head. They'd sounded harsh and cruel when he said them out loud. She'd flinched away, and he'd seen some of her thoughts, naked in her eyes.

He'd told himself that he'd had to hurt her, to make sure that she wasn't hurt more brutally in the future. In a few years he hoped she'd be happy, and free, and living her own life without people hunting her down. He knew that he had no role in that life. Every time she looked at him she would remember their escape, and the room they'd been locked in, and what had happened to her in that prison. Over time her affection would turn from love into friendliness, and from friendliness into indifference, but she'd still feel obliged to stay with him out of gratitude, or because she felt she owed him.

So he'd had to hurt her. He could almost convince himself that the nonsense thought was true. Yes, he'd had to turn her down. It was only logical, and it was kinder.

And it didn't matter that he was starting to think he was in love with her.

His initial protectiveness of the strange, ragged stranger had slowly turned into something he'd never thought about before. He'd realised that when he'd pushed her away from him. At that moment he wanted nothing more than to pull her back and kiss her until every confused thought fled from his mind, but still he'd pushed her away. He would rather she was hurt by that than realise that what he had done was a gesture that betrayed how much more he cared about her.

Better she think he wasn't interested.

His thoughts raced on, and he was just concluding that human beings really were horribly complicated creatures when she sighed, and her eyes opened. She sat bolt upright, her eyes searching his face for a split second, but she relaxed as soon as their eyes met.

"Good morning..." she breathed, relief obvious in her voice. He looked at the sky and raised an eyebrow.

"It's more like afternoon, magelet!" he told her, his voice deliberately dry. She frowned and bit her lip, looking up at the sun and then colouring.

"Why didn't you wake me up?"

He didn't answer for a moment, looking down the pass at the town they had to sneak in to. "It's only half a day's walk, and we need to get there after nightfall." He said, voicing one of the plans that had mingled with his spiralling thoughts that morning. "So we don't need to move for a few hours."

She nodded, rubbing at the dark smudges that lined her eyes. "I'm so tired." She admitted, and smiled gratefully when he pulled her close again. "It must have been from climbing that cliff. Sorry."

"You used your magic, didn't you?"

The sharp breath she took confirmed she'd wanted to hide it from him. He wondered why she was lying to him. Part of him wished he could see her expression, but she was cursed good at hiding her thoughts when she wanted to. He laughed shortly, unable to stop himself sounding curt. "Do you think I can't see into my own magic, little one?"

She twisted her hands together. Her voice was very quiet. "You can... see what I did?"

He nodded, and then realised she couldn't see it. She was staring at her hands, at the ground - at anything that wasn't him.

"Yes," he prompted, and she looked up.

"Could you tell me what it is? I don't know. I wanted something to happen, and then it did, and I couldn't stop it. But I don't know what it was that I did!"

"You don't know?" he drew a sharp breath, and this time his laughter was genuinely amused. "That makes two of us, magelet! Well, what happened, then? I suppose I can give it a guess."

She looked at her hands, twisted together, and then back up at him. "You turned into the hawk." She said quietly, and bit her lip when he flinched.

"Did I hurt you?" He asked, eyes intense. She shook her head.

"No. I spoke to you... to it. Numair, that thing isn't you. You were in there, fighting with it, and it was keeping you trapped. I spoke to it."

He blinked, and looked away. The idea that the hawk was not simply a part of his own mind was something that had never occurred to him. It would mean he wasn't responsible for its actions, but at the same time it would also mean that the thing that had controlled his life for so long was actually living his life for him, using his body as a shell of meat to drag around. And since she had decided that the hawk was someone else...

"You said I didn't hurt you." He pressed, his eyes dangerous, "Did the hawk hurt you?"

She smiled too brightly and changed the subject. "I told it that there was no point playing in the winter. Animals don't like this time of year. I don't blame them." She looked at the iron-grey sky and shivered. "And after a while it went away, but I had to push it, and that's where my magic went. Pushing."

"After a while." He echoed.

She tried to ignore him again, so he grabbed her shoulders to make her turn and look at him. "Daine, I'm serious..." he started, and then saw that she had turned white at his touch. He took his hand slowly away from her shoulder, and she raised a shaking hand to the bloodstained fabric without looking at him.

"Like I said," She said stiffly. "It was the hawk, not you. So why should I tell you what happened? You weren't even there."

She stood up and picked up the fur, folding it up and tying it across her back. The movement made her reel dizzily for a moment, and she pressed a hand obstinately over her eyes until the crushing weariness subsided. "We have to get down the cliff before nightfall. Let's go."


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 16 of 69

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