Continuing Tales


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 37 of 69

<< Previous     Home     Next >>

Numair gasped as his legs shook in sudden weariness. He fell heavily to the ground in a clatter of sliding scree. The first steps were always the worst and every night they seemed to grow more difficult. He pushed himself upright on arms that were still too thin for his weight and staggered to a rock ledge to sit down. He rested his head in his hands and forced himself to be still, to breathe evenly and feel every part of his body as it shuddered between hawk and human.

He hadn’t been able to turn fully human in the official’s house. He hadn’t cared. It hadn’t seemed important to try, not when he would have to transform again to fly out of the window anyway. He told himself the same excuses he’d managed for every other man he’d killed over the past weeks: 

I only meant to ask a few questions to find out where Daine was. I only meant to scare the man. He provoked me.

Numair knew he was lying to himself. He might blame the hawk for the enraged bloodlust that still made his heart pound, but he’d be lying. The human part of his mind had revelled in revenge just as much as the feral creature.

Especially now. After weeks of ignorance he’d found out what had happened to Daine and in the same racing heartbeat, he’d been told he was too late. Parsey had gloated but it wasn’t needed; the thought made him feel sick and dizzy. My fault, my fault.

He couldn’t think himself back into a human. Not like this. Not when every memory of ripping the cowering human’s throat out made him grin and flex shining claws. He shivered and cradled his head wearily, horribly aware of the rising sun. They’d be missing him soon, and it was getting more difficult to sneak away as it was. He was sure Alanna suspected.

Stilling his racing thoughts, he took a deep breath and held it, then breathed out slowly. He couldn’t quite remember how he was supposed to be. He flitted from thought to thought, and couldn’t catch the shadowy creature that was the human.

The bronze shield that ringed his core was faded, dimmer than it had ever been before, but when he held out a hand to it the light coiled around his claws.

Help me, he whispered, and the fire blazed brighter for a moment. He remembered her then. She wasn’t a creature to be avenged, she was a... a person.

He remembered a person. A girl.

There was a memory of her looking up at him, eyes amused as she thought of an answer to some question. She bit her lip for a moment, the way she always did when she was trying to choose the right words, and he remembered her laughing softly at her own slowness.

He slowly remembered that they had been walking, and his legs and feet shuddered into the right shapes now they knew they should walk that same way. He remembered that they had been wandering aimlessly in the garden, trying to find snowdrops in the melting snow and looking for the first unripe leaf buds on the brittle trees. Yes, and the snow felt dry underfoot and blew off the trees like sifted flour as they passed. The girl’s green cloak was lined in fur the same dark colour of her hair. The melting snow looked like shining gems that nestled almost indecently in the warm fabric.

He remembered that. He remembered that he could barely take her eyes off her, this girl who made him dance in blood every night. She had disappeared and now her name made the Hawk shriek in outrage. She was the promise of violence, the lust for revenge that drove him, and she was not a person any more than he was now. But he remembered her as she was then.

He remembered the feel of her hand in his, and felt his claws fading away. He knew he was not supposed to have claws. He could not hold a person’s hand with claws. What was next?

Words. The memory had words. 

You always ask the strangest questions, she had said, shaking her head in wry defeat. Why would I care where we live?

I thought it was an easy question. He sighed and tweaked her nose. Come on, magelet, I refuse to believe you don’t have an opinion. Would you rather live in a house, or a castle, or the top of a tree?

Oh, a tree! She said quickly, and he remembered the slow smile that had crossed her face. His eyes shrank and warped into the almond-shapes they were supposed to be, because he remembered what the world was supposed to look like.

He remembered her saying: It would be fair wonderful to have the birds around us, and the leaves rustling, and to see the sky wherever we looked...

Serves me right for asking you a sensible question. He muttered, and smiled despite himself. I would fall out of a tree.

We could find a small tree. She waved a hand dismissively. And make sure there are lots of soft leaves at the bottom.

“How do you do it?”

The voice broke him out of his trance with a yelp, and he raised pink, human hands to guard himself from the speaker. Breathing heavily, he recognised the shock of orange hair, and lowered his hands slowly. “Alanna. How long have you been there?”

“You said you would lose yourself. I’ve watched you every night this week and you always bring yourself back in a few minutes.” She persisted, and raised an eyebrow. “So, how?”

“I remember who I was when I was with Daine.” He muttered, made churlish by the idea that he’d been spied on, “Not that it’s your business.”

Alanna uncurled her feet from under her and stood up, pulling a fur more tightly around her shoulders as she left the shelter of the boulder.

“Well, it is my business.” She said, and gestured to his tunic. “Maybe not when you were just sneaking off in the mountains, but if you walk through my camp covered in blood there’s going to be some questions.”

“Am I?” He looked down dully, and took in the state of his clothes. “Ah. It’s not mine.”

“You don’t say!” Alanna’s voice was sarcastic, and she rolled her eyes. “You wouldn’t be using shapeshifting magic if it was your blood. I doubt you’d be breathing. And I imagine that whoever’s blood it is isn’t breathing themselves right now.”

“I tore his lungs out of his chest.” Numair said bluntly, “So, no. He isn’t.”

“Lovely. You really are a charming man.” Alanna said, her voice sharp. “And do you still expect me to believe that you have this under control?”

“No.” He laughed shortly and stood up. “I’m absolutely sure that I don’t. But I’m just as sure that I don’t care. Alanna, I’m so close to...”

“ losing yourself entirely?” Alanna interrupted, and caught his wrist. “Did you forget to shapeshift back, Master Salmalin, or is this something else you don’t care about?”

He blinked and looked down, seeing the rash of feathers that patterned his left arm like a sailor’s tattoo. He flushed and tucked the hand behind his back, not wanting to look at it. “No, I... I...”

“That’s what I thought.” She retorted, and turned away. “We spoke about this, Numair. We agreed that it was a bad idea. I thought you understood that, but clearly you were just humouring me. How many have you killed?”

He thought back to the haze of nights, realising that he could barely remember their faces, just the rush of sick glee when each of them had said the words that released the hawk from its cage.

“All of them. All the ones I spoke to. Some nights I didn’t... didn’t find one, so I just came back.” He looked again at his bloodstained clothes, and his voice grew darker. “This one deserved to suffer.”

“Surely.” Alanna tugged at a lock of her hair in irritation and turned back to glare at him. “That scout of yours spoke to me after you left. We’re digging your tunnels, Numair. I’m not convinced it’s the best idea, but we’re doing it. But there’s a condition. If you want us to continue with your plan then you must stop this. It’s your choice. I know I can’t stop you. But...” she hesitated, and then said bluntly:

“But... every night, I’ve watched the bronze in your gift getting dimmer, and dimmer, and now it’s nearly gone. You know as well as I do what will happen when it disappears. I can’t risk that happening near my men. So, go away and get cleaned up. Think carefully. If you walk back into my camp then I’ll take that as your oath to follow my rules. If not, you will not be welcomed back into our ranks a second time. I will consider you a threat, and if you try to approach us we will defend ourselves. Even if you look human.”

“Alanna...” he whispered, but she had turned on her heel and was striding away, down the mountain. He let his breath out in a rush and sat down heavily.

“You don’t understand!” He yelled petulantly after her, hearing his voice echo against the rocks. Whatever tart reply she shouted back, he couldn’t hear it among the echoes, and he let his breath out in a rush.

I would have lost my control eventually anyway, he thought, bitterly worrying at his gift like a sore tooth. It’s not just using magic that weakens it. Sleeping, being in pain, being worried... or just letting time pass... they all make Daine’s magic drain away. I can’t sit around waiting for the war to start. It will be too late for both of us, by then.

He might have rested his head in his hands again, but for the black feathers which he knew lurked on his left hand, accusing and unyielding. As much as he tried to calm himself down, looking at his right hand and sternly telling the other hand that it should match, nothing happened. It was as if there was no magic at all. It was as if he had been born with the feathered hand, and could no more change it than he could the colour of his eyes.

The hawk was taking payment for his nights of revenge.

“Give me these months.” He whispered, and barely knew if the hawk could even hear his plea. “Just a few weeks of sanity, and then I’ll surrender. Let me finish this. Just a few months. You know her, Hawk. She spoke to you. We can help her. Just a few months, and then you can have this body. Please.”

A strange thrill ran through him and he shivered as if he were too cold. It grew to a buzzing warmth. The word echoed back at him, but whether it was from the rocks or the hawk, he couldn’t tell.

Months. It said.

When he looked at his hand it was human, and only a single feather remained, tattooed into the flesh like a Banjiku’s oath mark.


The deal was made.


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 37 of 69

<< Previous     Home     Next >>