Continuing Tales


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 22 of 69

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The words stayed with her.

They hurt too much to ignore, even when the rest of the world faded away and the creature known as Daine faded with it.

She drifted, taking on the thoughts and feelings of the cat even as her human ears stayed to listen, hearing every breath the two humans took, and every cursed word that went with them. Every word which stung and burned and twisted something that was brittle inside her heart until she wanted to cry.

It was a curse, but she turned to embrace it. She couldn't escape. The words kept her tied to her mortal shell. They kept some part of her human. But, the more she heard, the less she wanted to stay in this poisonous world. It was unfair, and unkind, and then it simply became unrecognisable. Why should she care about the silly humans when there were birds to hunt, and territories to prowl?

And then she glanced up through the cat's eyes, and she saw the humans lean towards each other, and this time some part of her shattered. She screamed.

The cat yowled back at her, hurt by the sudden violence of the emotion which shrilled in both of their ears, but she couldn't stop the sound. The feral voice screamed inside her, inside both of them, more catlike than human. It was the only part of her that was still the woman called Daine, and it demanded to be heard. Daine clung to it, knowing even as it burned her that if she let go of the pain for a single second she would lose herself, and not know how to come back.

The cat sprang along the path, clawing at its head to force her out, and Daine lurched from its mind on clumsy paws. As a shade no more solid than a glimmer of bronze sunlight she padded through the snow and cried out at the white winter sky. What sobbed in the garden? A ghost, or a demon, or a child lost in the snow. She no longer knew. She no longer cared. She was nothing, and everything, and pain. Every wild creature in the garden screamed back at her in agony.


Searing pain flooded through her, and with it her body returned. Her mind was dragged back into her shell so quickly that she retched, blindly fighting against whatever had hurt her, blinking bronze flares from her eyes and gasping.

"Daine!" The voice was familiar, but she couldn't name it. It was human, she knew that. A man. She didn't know what a Daine was, though.

Her cheek stung. She remembered that she was supposed to have a face. She realised that the human must have slapped her. She wrenched her eyes open and glared blindly forward, her vision filled with copper sparks and black fire. She raised her hands so he couldn't strike her again, panting in terror as a senseless moue of frightened sound escaped from her lips.

To her shock, the human sounded almost as terrified as she felt. "You're awake! You're back! Oh, thank the gods, I thought I'd never find you!"

She gasped in a breath and remembered his name, dragging herself away and retching as the movement made her muscles shudder and her chest hitch. The man caught her wrists and stopped her from moving, holding her still until her shudders faded slightly and she could see again.

Daine could see the man now, but she didn't need to see him to be afraid of him. For all his care, for all his tenderness, she could feel the tense anger running through every muscle of his body. In her half-feral state it was the only thing she could understand, and she shrank from it. It was only a few minutes later before his fury finally burst out.

"Look!" He grabbed her wrist and held her protesting hand up in front of her eyes, letting her take in the elongated claws and fused pads before he shook her and let go. "What the hell did you think you were doing?"

"I..." She gasped, confused, her eyes still unfocused as she scrambled for an answer. Her thoughts retreated, scared of his anger, confused by the human shell they found themselves in. She whined and tried to writhe away from him.

The man cursed and took hold of her chin. His anger was eclipsed by helpless panic as he desperately thought of what to do. He could see her mind slipping away. She dragged away from him and struck out with half-formed claws, struggling and whimpering when he grabbed her wrists.

"No, no... don't..." He pleaded. She shut her eyes, the lids shimmering into feline orbs, and made a sound that was halfway between a sob and a hiss.

"No, no Daine, you can't. Please come back. Please, sweetheart, look at me." He whispered frantically. "Look!"

She raised eyes that held catlike, coppery irises, and met his gaze unsteadily, clearly hardly recognising the human that sat beside her. He smiled shakily and took hold of her hand, knowing that the last thing he should do was scare her again.

"Look at me." He whispered, "Just at me, nowhere else. Don't think about anything else. You're safe. You're safe, and no-one is going to hurt you, and I'm here, and I'm not going anywhere. I'll help you. Look at me. Remember who you are. You're Daine, remember? You were born in Galla, and we met in a prison cell, and you saved my life, and... and you... you don't like the taste of mutton or feeling cold, and you have brown hair and beautiful shining eyes... "

He kept speaking, a long meaningless string of words that stopped her mind from flying away, kept her rooted in her own skin and locked in his black eyes. Each word made her remember a little, and each memory made her feel more like herself again, as if she were a broken puzzle that he had to put together.

Another memory surfaced when he brushed her cheek with his hand. His touch was infinitely tender, and the memory swelled into an emotion so strong it made her heart skip a beat. She remembered what the human girl would do. It was the first thought that seemed to truly fit in her mind. So she did it, leaning forward and kissing him with slow, loving curiosity. The memories flooded back as soft warmth grew in her stomach; his hand felt like velvet brushing against her skin, and when she touched him and each fingertip tingled in odd heat she finally remembered what it was to be herself.

Numair's fingers tightened around her wrist, and she drew away with a suddenly familiar feeling of embarrassment. To her surprise he was smiling: a hesitant, worried expression, but one that glowed with relief when she met his eyes and her shaking lessened. She shut her eyes cautiously, and when she refocused on him they were sea-grey again.

"Well done." He said with relief obvious in his voice. He stroked a strand of hair away from her eyes, and however guarded his expression, his eyes couldn't hide the fear that he'd felt. "That... that wasn't so difficult, was it?"

She blinked, and looked at her hands. They were human again, pink and delicate, and she remembered that she wasn't really a cat. It had been the madness. The madness that she thought she'd left behind her in the prison had come back, and she had let herself be lured into it like a stupid child. She shivered and drew her knees up to her chin, feeling ashamed of herself and, suddenly, violently ill.

"I'm sorry," he said, seeing her whiten. "The barrier broke down in your mind, and I had to... your mind fought me when I tried to fix it."

Now that Daine could see properly she noticed that he was pallid too – not just from the pale fear that had been so obvious in his voice, but a tired translucency that came from using too much magic. He stroked her hair, and his hand was cold. "I'm sorry. I knew it would hurt you but I couldn't think of any other way, and every second that I waited..." he shivered and leaned back against the window, still holding her closely.

"I thought I was too late. I thought I was going to lose you." He said.

Daine shut her eyes and concentrated on his cool hand on her aching head. She wasn't at all sure that she had wanted to be found, and the thought scared her, because she couldn't quite remember why she would think that.

"What were you doing?" Numair started asking, and then stopped when the door of the solar crashed open.

"No, I don't care if you don't want me in here. There's clearly a problem, and obviously you might need all the help you can get..." The bright, breathy voice carried a woman in with it, and Karenna swept into the solar as if she owned it. She took in the scene in an instant and a false smile attached itself to her face. Hazelle trailed in behind her with equally curious eyes, but her expression was thunderous when she looked at the woman.

"Oh, Leto, you had me so worried!" Karenna breathed, fluttering over to the window in a rustle of yellow silk. Numair glanced down at Daine, and then the worry evaporated from his face and the empty smile was back.

"Karenna, my dear." He said brightly. "I did ask you to wait."

"As did I." Muttered Hazelle, looking rather frazzled.

"Well, pardon me for wanting to help after you keep me waiting for an hour." Karenna looked a little put out. "What happened?"

"My niece was taken suddenly ill." Hazelle said stiffly, not looking at anyone in particular. "But she's a little better now, it seems. Is that right, Leto?"

Numair nodded, unable to stop a relieved smile passing between himself and the old woman. Some of the tension breathed out from the air. Hazelle found her chair and sank into it with a barely audible sigh, running a hand through her hair and mouthing a few prayerful words skywards.

Karenna swooped in on Daine. The girl shrank away, but she felt the woman's nails brush her cheek like talons. "You poor dear! Well, you look well enough now. Perhaps you should just go to bed and stop bothering your cousin, hmm?"

"She's not bothering anyone." Numair tried to make the words sound like a joke, but they came out sounding clipped and dangerous. Karenna drew back sharply.

"You shouldn't pander to her. If she's ill she should be in bed, and if not she should stop attention seeking and leave you alone. I've seen her staring after you with those huge doe-eyes every night. I've seen the way she follows you around when she thinks no-one's looking. It's pathetic. She just wants attention. I can't believe you're encouraging her!"

Numair went white. "What makes it any of your concern, mistress Karenna?" he asked coldly.

The woman took a step back, realising she'd said too much, and as if someone had blown out a candle the anger was suddenly gone from her face. The smile returned.

"I'm just looking out for you, dearest. I wouldn't want you to be burdened with someone else's problems."

"Annette will never be a burden." His voice was sharp, and Daine flinched. Her head was starting to pound horribly. She rested it against Numair's shoulder, but when his arm tightened around her she suddenly remembered how he'd been speaking to Karenna in the garden, and felt dizzy rather than comforted.

"Leto and Annette grew up in the same household." Hazelle cut in quickly, her eyes seeking out Numair's with a definite warning even as she invented an explanation. "He's always had a bit of a soft spot for the ladies, has our Leto. You must have noticed, eh Karenna? How he's always so chivalrous and attentive? Well, we've always said in our family that he gets it from looking out for Annette! Always getting into mischief when she was a child. Weren't you, my dear?"

She glared at Daine until the girl nodded, mutely. Hazelle smiled, and her voice became jovial. "Come come now, let's all be friends again. We're all a little shaken up, I think! Karenna is perfectly correct, Leto: Annette should be in bed. And I think you both need to apologise to each other. I won't have raised voices in my home!"

Numair still looked angry, but the fake smile grew on Karenna's face in an instant, and she kissed the man's cheek cheerfully. Her lipstick made a red mark. "There, are we friends again?"

He smiled, but there was little warmth in it. Karenna didn't seem to notice. She tilted her face to one side, and sighed happily when he brushed her cheek with his lips.

"Good." Hazelle said, and rang the bell. "Now let's have no more of this silliness."

The servant carried Daine to her own room, taking her out of Numair's arms tactfully enough that he couldn't object, although Hazelle still had to warn him with a glare not to say anything. Karenna was still there, her eyes sharp after their fight. Her chatter was empty enough, filling the silence after they'd apologised, and Daine could hear the echoes of her high-pitched voice even when the servant had climbed a flight of stairs.

She couldn't sleep, no matter how much her head hurt. The servant pulled the thick curtains shut but left a small triangle open at the top, and Daine stared at the beam of grey light. She felt... trapped. Trapped inside her own head. And as more memories of being human returned to her, so did memories of the madness.

She remembered the last time she had returned to herself. It had been in the jail cell. There the beam of light had been square, sliced into four by the bars which ran across it, and the light had been the sickly yellow of cheap candles. The cell had smelled of sour air and smoke, and she remembered it now that she could smell the lingering muskiness of Karenna's perfume.

She remembered what they'd said in the garden. She remembered wishing that Numair might be happy. The two things didn't seem to fit together.

Were they happy together? She couldn't imagine it, but the things that they'd said to each other... now she could think about them as a human, not as a cat, she blushed. They weren't the sort of words you were supposed to overhear. Numair was probably angry with her. They were friends, but it didn't mean she should pry into his life like a jealous fool. He was trying to make a life outside of what they shared together. Why did she begrudge him that? If anything, she should be happy for him! Hadn't his life been as difficult as her own? If he could move away from it, then of course he would. And, Daine chided herself sternly, Karenna was very pretty, and friendly enough to the right people, and perhaps when she wasn't feeling neglected she was a nice person.

She turned onto her side and curled up, cuddling a pillow. Her headache had faded to a dull pain behind her eyes, and when she shut them it disappeared altogether. She lay with her eyes closed, resolving that when she woke up she would try to be nicer to Karenna. She fell asleep thinking that, and drifted into black, shapeless nightmares.

The door clicked open, and she opened heavy eyes to see that the sun had set, and the triangle of light had disappeared. The maids who had drifted in to build up the fire through the afternoon were almost eerily silent, so she knew this must be someone else. She rubbed her eyes and struggled to sit up. She could hear the cheerful sounds of the banquet downstairs when the door opened wider.

"I thought you might be hungry." Numair said, setting down a tray awkwardly and turning to close the door. His voice was a little over-solicitous. "If you weren't asleep, that is."

"I was, but I am hungry." Daine answered, taking the tray and thanking him. To her relief the food was simple, although it still made her stomach turn. She picked at the bread and sighed, pushing the cup of soup further away. "Well, I thought I was."

"You'll feel better tomorrow." He hesitated, and sat on the edge of the bed. "Daine, why were you spying on me?"

She shredded the bread between her nails. "I wasn't."

"You were that cat." He persisted. "I know it was you."

"No, it was the cat. Just a cat. Nothing magical, nothing... sinister. Just a grumpy, arrogant cat. He let me see through his eyes." She gave up on trying to eat the bread and started dropping the crumbs into the soup. "I wanted to see if I could do it, so I tried."

He was silent for a long time, absently tracing the design of her bedspread with one finger. "I wouldn't let Hazelle know that's what you were doing." He said finally, not looking at the girl. "She would try to use it. I'm sure you could spy on anyone, if you found the right animal to help you, couldn't you? You could hear anything."

"Like what?" She asked, pushing him to actually say what he was hinting at. He shrugged, still awkward, and then looked at her for the first time. To her surprise, his eyes held the same calculated blankness they'd had when he'd spoken to Karenna, and his words were flat.

"You'd... no, not you. Your cat, right? Either way, one of you might overhear things you don't understand."

"I didn't hear anything." She insisted stubbornly.

He stood up, and she couldn't see his face in the shadows. His voice was sharp. "Why are you lying to me? I know exactly what you were doing. I know what you were trying to find out. I don't know why you didn't just ask me. Don't you know I would have told you everything? Everything, Daine. All you ever had to do was ask."

She stared at him, and was suddenly bitter that he could see her expression while she was blind to his. How could she explain to him that finding the words to ask was an impossible task? The thought of his answers terrified her. But he couldn't see that. He gave his own pain words, and they were poisonous.

"You clearly don't trust me enough to believe my answers. Instead, you chose to spy on me. Perhaps that's Hazelle's doing, but it was a low move. It's beneath you, Daine, and so is lying about it. I thought you were better than that. Perhaps I was wrong."

"Shouldn't you get back to the banquet?" She asked, her voice cold. His words burned her, and she couldn't hear the raw pain in them, just the accusation. "Your friends will be missing you. Go and yell at them. No-one gave you the right to yell at me."

"I left early." He said, "because I was tired. I spent all my magic healing you, remember?" he started to leave, feeling sick at making the cheap shot that had made Daine whiten, but his anger was too fierce to stop him from turning back and saying, "I won't do it again. If you ever, ever do that again, you're on your own."

"Who asked you to help me?" She yelled back, but her words were answered with just the click of the door closing behind him. Half furious, half deeply ashamed, she threw a pillow at the door and buried herself under the quilt.


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 22 of 69

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