Continuing Tales


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 36 of 69

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“Maybe we did imagine it.”

Rain’s voice was cheerful as he strolled up to the fire, and Numair glanced up at him with a warning look. He knew exactly what the man was talking about. The thought made him grit his teeth. He didn’t know where Daine was and he didn’t know what the damned officials were planning, but he knew what Rain was talking about. After so many frustrating weeks where even the caves were sealed to him the mage’s temper was frayed enough that the fact that Rain was joking and relaxed barely registered with him.

“Don’t you start with that conspiracy rubbish, too.” He snapped, stretching his legs out in front of the blaze. “I still see that damned eye in my nightmares. Don’t tell me I imagined it.”

Rain frowned and absently picked up a piece of firewood, testing the grain with his broken nails. His voice grew more serious, and he ventured the question he’d been longing to ask for nearly a month.

“Does it change your plans, any?” He laughed at the carefully blank expression on the mage’s face, and sat down cheerfully. “Ah, don’t give me the innocent look, Flowers. I know you have a plan. If I got close enough to your head I could hear every part of your brain workin’ overtime.”

“I’m going to discuss it with Alanna tomorrow morning.” Numair admitted, “So it’s not decided yet. But she told me to think of a plan, and this is the best I can come up with. We’re going to dig deeper into the caves, find some way through or just work out where they are in relation to the prison. We can’t be seen again, so we’ll have to work around that... man, or whatever that thing was.” He shuddered and threw a handful of grass onto the fire. “It will be slow work digging through that rock, even with magic. But if we can find a way to sneak in, or perhaps just start an explosion under their feet... well, that’s something for Alanna to decide. I don’t know if it will work, but... as far as Alanna knows... it will keep me busy until the reinforcements get here. It will distract me.”

Rain pulled a whittling knife from his belt and set about carving the stick, not looking up. “And as far as I know?”

Numair looked at him, and his voice was carefully flat when he said, “It’s the same answer as every night. If I’m not back by morning, you know the plan. I’m trusting you to relay it to Alanna, along with my sincere apologies.”

“So sincere that you’re planning to be late? How polite.” The man scoffed, and spat into the fire absently. Numair stood up and brushed dust from his knees.

“I’m not planning it. I hope to Mithros that I am back. But I can’t be sure. I never can.”

“And I can’t ask where you’re going.” Rain jibed, and then looked around in confusion. His words had fallen into the empty air; the other man had vanished.

Several miles to the west, in a large and comfortable bed, another man muttered to an empty room. He had always had a habit of sleeping in his sleep, which he privately blamed for his lack of promotion in the ranks of the officials. As soon as some loudmouthed servant had spread gossip that the up-and-coming Squire Parsey might mutter secrets into the ear of his bed-mate... well, that was it.

And now, decades later, Parsey snored and muttered in his sleep in heedless abandon. Most of the words made no sense, but the snoring was unpleasant enough that Lady Parsey insisted on sleeping in another room, and still complained over breakfast that she could hear her husband’s somnolent sinuses from across the hall.

A cold breeze drifted across the room, and the slow-burning coals in the fireplace spat loudly. Parsey snorted and opened one eye, blearily peering across the room and pulling one of his three blankets further up his body to block the draft. He hated the cold, and the thick curtains and strong panes of his windows stopped any draughts from encroaching into his space. He groaned and buried his face in his pillow, wondering if the melting ice had made a crack in the pane.

I have all the bad luck. He thought bitterly, tucking his feet up more securely under the quilted blanket. I’ll catch cold by morning, I just know it.

Something moved, and someone drew a breath. Parsey raised his head in sleepy confusion, staring around the room with foggy eyes. There was nothing – the shadows were stained dark red by the embers of the fire, and the cold draught made an odd sighing sound every time the wind changed, but there was nothing else in the room. He gasped and clutched the blanket to himself defensively, then laughed shortly when the curtain swung back into place.

“Well at least I know what window’s broken,” he muttered thickly, and burrowed back into the blankets.

His eyes were just sliding shut when icy, skeletal fingers wrapped themselves around his face. The hand pushed down roughly, smothering his petrified cries and cutting off his air.

“Hush.” The whisper was harsh, merciless. “You really don’t want to make a sound, my Lord Parsey. It would be the last thing you ever do.”

Parsey’s eyes opened so wide the reds glowed around the whites, and his nose and eyes dripped as he tried not to sob. The voice sounded human, but the hand was surely a demon’s! Horribly sharp claws cut into one cheek like talons, and the skin felt scaly and icy cold. He shut his eyes for a moment and then, with a huge effort, nodded his head.

“Well, it seems you are capable of intelligent thought.” The voice had lost none of its merciless cruelty as the hand moved away. “Do you know who I am?”

Parsey shook his head, and saw the flash of teeth in the darkness as the man grinned. “Well then, let’s try again. Why do you think I’m here?”

“Robber.” The official whispered hoarsely, and his eyes rolled as he gestured around the room. “Take... take...”

“I don’t want it.” The man interrupted, his voice flat. “I’m here for something else.”

“Assassi...” this time Parsey’s voice faded because he couldn’t force himself to say the rest of the word. The intruder laughed quietly, a strange sound, and ran one talon down the man’s temple.

“Closer. Perhaps I...” the talon pressed harder, and Parsey sobbed when he felt thin, warm blood trickle down his face. The man hissed between his teeth and drew back, raising his claws to his head. “No, no, I’m not here for that either. Stop it.”

“Stop what?” Parsey whispered, but the man ignored him. “Oh, sir, please don’t hurt me. I don’t... I never hurt you...”

“You? You wouldn’t dare hurt anyone unless they were chained up and defenceless.” The man’s voice was suddenly harsher, contemptuous in its sharpness, and in a flash the official recognised him. An icy feeling of horror made him freeze as he looked at the silhouette of the man he had known as a polite, charming nobleman. In the firelight, the man’s eyes were too thin, narrowed to slivers, and they glowed a sick red.

“Hawk... Mage...” he croaked, swallowing bile in his terror. The silhouette’s gleaming teeth widened in a sick grin, and he raised his clawed hands to the light.

“Yessss...” he hissed, leaning closer. “Hawk Mage.”

“You can’t hurt me! You can’t! I took her so you couldn’t!”

The grin disappeared in an instant, and blazing eyes roared so close to Parsey’s own that he felt like he was falling. The hawk’s voice filled with violent emotion. It was the answer to a question which three weeks and tens of officials had failed to provide, although Parsey didn’t know that. He had only heard about their bloody deaths. Shock and disgust snarled from the hawk mage in three spittle-drenched words.

“You took her?”

The official found himself babbling, making himself ridiculous in his gloating fear. “You can’t hurt me! I have her! She’s my protection!”

“Protection.” The mage smiled mockingly and his piercing gaze swept around the room. Was there desperation in his eyes? Hope? Parsey searched desperately for a glint of humanity, but the hawk only betrayed a kind of sardonic hatred. The gaze returned, and it held no pity.

“Where is your protection now? I think you need it, my lord. So where is she?”

“They took her...” Parsey shut his eyes, shivering so violently he could feel his double chin shaking. “They t-took her from me. And told me to... to go home. They... they paid me and said I’d... I’d done it for th-them.”

“But you didn’t, did you?” The skeletal hand pressed against his throat, and Parsey choked as the man kept speaking in a low, accusing hiss. “You took her. You did it because you were frightened. You were terrified that the murderous, bloodthirsty hawk mage would come after you. You had nightmares of the creature slipping through your window like a shadow... like a demon... and slitting your cowardly throat. So you just had to kidnap a defenceless woman. Right?”

“I...” Parsey squeezed his eyes shut, and a tear dripped down his nose.

The loathing in the Hawk Mage’s voice was clear, and the absolute black fury that burned in his eyes promised pain beyond all reckoning. He remembered the girl’s words then. She had held that same fire in her eyes, as if the whole world burned for her to dance in its flames. We will dance in your blood. We will laugh at every scream we rip from your throat.

In the slave’s soft, drugged Gallan voice it had been unsettling enough; now Parsey recalled it with the dull tolling of absolute prophetic truth. Bile rose in his throat and he tasted vomit, trapped behind the crushed bulge of flesh that trembled and sweated greasily beneath the creature’s talons.

“I d-don’t want to die.”

The hand let up for a moment, and the pointed mouth smiled again. There was death in that smile.

“I can help.”

The hawk took his hand away, raising it to his face thoughtfully for a moment, and then moved around the bed so quickly that Parsey could hardly see him moving. Both skeletal hands grabbed the official’s arm at the same time, claws cutting into the flesh above and below his elbow. The man squealed in surprise, then clapped his own hand over his mouth so suddenly it hurt.

“You don’t want to die?” The hawk said rapidly, “Then answer my questions.”

“You’re not the only thing that kills people in this valley.” Parsey snivelled, finding some courage. “If the others found out I’d said anything, then...”

The hawk’s hands twisted, and the official’s neck corded in a silent scream as he felt his elbow snap out of joint. In the haze of pain, he could hear the cold, merciless voice of the intruder saying, “That wasn’t answering my questions.”

“Q...questions.” Parsey agreed, gasping for air.

Again, there was the sick smile, and then the man asked his questions, slowly and carefully, demanding all the details about how the wolf girl had been recaptured. The official twisted the truth as much as he dared, hoping that Orsille would forgive the small truths that slipped past... and that the Hawk would believe they were really treating the girl kindly. When the skeletal hands moved to his wrist, his heart sank.

“Where is she now?” The hawk asked, and for the first time there was some emotion in his voice. Parsey turned his head to hide the fact that he was rolling his eyes.

They owe me more than just money. I was right about this man. He thought, pride mixing with irritation in his terrified mind. He’ll do anything for that girl.

“I don’t know. She could be in either keep, or in someone’s house...” He said, and looked the man straight in the demonic eyes for the first time. “You’re too late. I knew where she was. Then they took her.”

“Who took her?” The hands tightened around his wrist, and Parsey shook his head.

“They pass her around. She could be anywhere. With anyone.” He said the last with idiot bravado, and laughed in terrified shock at his own words. The hands twisted again, and his laughter dissolved into gasping whimpers of agony. When the darkness receded a little, the hands were gone from his arm, and for a shining second he thought the mage had disappeared into the night. Then he heard the words, spoken softly in a voice that held nothing but the cold promise of death.

“Did you touch her? Did you put your filthy hands on her?”

Parsey looked around, but he couldn’t see where the man had gone. All that was left was that poisonous voice, the voice that already knew the answer.

“We all did.” He said, without an ounce of shame or apology in his voice. He raised his chin for the first courageous moment in his life, and made his last confession with sick sadistic satisfaction that his words were causing the Hawk pain. “Every. Single. One.”

The blackest shadows in the corners of the room screamed into an explosion of claws and wings and wrath. The bed slammed against the wall as the creature launched itself at its prey, and tore into the soft white flesh with unrestrained violence until the white walls were bathed in thick, dark blood. The last thing Parsey ever saw was the insane fury of the Hawk’s glaring red eyes.


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 36 of 69

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