Continuing Tales


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 62 of 69

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"Two murderers are standing in a courtyard," Daine said, her voice a strangled croak. "Who really cares which one of us dies?"

The hawk raised a bloodstained claw and scratched itself absently, leaving a trail of clotted red blood in its greasy feathers. It didn't even notice her words any more, let alone understand them. Still, the noise seemed to confuse it. It had blinked when she had dropped the stone, and now it stared at her with a slightly baffled expression. Raising the claw again, it pressed the sharp edge to her chest and then looked at her quizzically.

"No, I won't scream. I'm not afraid." Daine whispered. "I won't scream. If he... if you are still in there, I don't want you to remember that. Just... just be quick. Please. I don't want it to hurt. I don't... I don't want to die."

She felt a tear fall from her cheek, and the hawk hissed when the water hit its outstretched claw. She didn't move her hand to wipe her face, knowing it would see even her raised hands as an attack, but she looked it directly in the empty eyes. This close, it reeked of blood and of sharp, greasy fear, as if its victims were still clinging to it. She forced herself not to react, not to look away when it snarled at her, not to shudder when flecks of its saliva hit her face.

Still, her words were almost sobs. "I d…don't want to die. I'm afraid of dying. But you? I'm not... not afraid of you, my love. Never."

It opened its pointed mouth and screamed at her, the shrill noise so close to her that she could feel the rush of air on her face. Her ears rang painfully with the sound. Still, she didn't react, and the creature hissed irritably at her. Its claw dug slowly, painfully into her chest, and Daine gasped.

It's going to bait me until I react, 
she thought, I'm its prey. It wants to hunt. It doesn't want carrion, it wants to fight. It's a predator - more animal than human.

"You need me to attack?" She asked it, sudden fire in her voice. "Fine. But it'll be fair difficult for you, I swear it. I won't be your prey."

It hissed, picking up on her changed tone, and raised a clawed hand to strike. She grabbed the creature's wrist, digging her fingernails into the softness between the delicate, hollow bones. She threw herself to the ground. The wrist twisted savagely in her grasp, and the creature cried out in pain and dragged its claw away.

Daine rolled clumsily out of its reach, thanking whatever gods were watching that the hay had softened her fall. She rose to her hands and knees, panting. When the hawk glared down at her its eyes were narrowed, and whatever curiosity had made it take its time before was utterly destroyed. It shrieked and threw itself at her, sending them both rolling through the straw in a tangle of arms and limbs and claws.

The Hawk slammed into a human girl on one side of the bailey, but by the time they crashed into the wall it was grappling with something else entirely. Raising half-human, half-animal claws, the wolf howled and attacked.

Close by, unnoticed by the two creatures, a man struggled to his feet and froze, stunned by the sight in front of him. His hawk... his beautiful, powerful hawk... had stopped using its magic and its soaring wings and was tearing at another creature with pure feral outrage.

The second creature fought back, but there was less fierceness in its assault; several times, when it could have really hurt the hawk, it whined and stopped itself, darting away instead. The second creature's belly hung heavily under it, and with a shock of sickened outrage the man realised who it was.

She's killing my hawk! He raged, still paralysed with shock.

He took a step forward, and then his calculating mind cut in and he watched more closely. The hawk struck out at the wolf violently, which would have sent it crashing into the wall of the tower if the other creature's fierce jaws hadn't closed on the delicate, bird-thin wrist. Those iron jaws could snap closed in a second, mauling the bird and stopping its flight for good, but the wolf let go almost as soon as it had attacked and darted backwards again, panting.

Orsille found himself giggling, muffling the sound against his bruised hands.

She can't kill it! She can't make herself do it! He watched with rising glee, knowing that the Hawk would surely win, and he smirked at the struggling wolf. Goodbye, Annette.

The wolf snarled and leapt at the hawk, and its full weight slammed into the creature's chest. Rather than recoiling, though, the hawk's eyes narrowed with cunning thought, and it rolled backwards through the hay, letting the wolf's momentum carry it past it and over its head. The wolf yelped in surprise, but the sound was cut short in an agonised yip as it crashed into the stone wall and lay still, twitching in pain. The hawk hissed through its teeth, rising painfully to its own feet, and moved towards her.

Orsille laughed. He couldn't help it.

The Hawk's head snapped around, its eyes narrowed, and in that one moment it completely forgot that Daine existed. Suddenly, all it saw was the Official.

Orsille took a step backwards at the hatred in the creature's eyes.

Daine had hurt it, and that was the only thing that kept the official alive as he stared back at the creature in terrified silence. She had made it slow, and clumsy, and that gave Orsille enough time to draw his knife. He could hardly breathe. His heart felt like a solid living lump, pounding in his throat so painfully that tears started in his eyes.

Knife. He had a knife. He had a chance. A weapon. A blade. He gulped and fumbled it in his trembling fingers.

It was still coated with the girl's blood; he could feel the slippery filth of it. The light wasn't gleaming off the stained blade enough to tell the hawk that it was there. He held it carefully behind one arm and waited, breathing shallowly in fear.

The hawk stepped deliberately towards him. It moved suddenly and Orsille gasped as the creature reached down to one clawed foot and yanked something away from its ankle. It hurled the object forwards. It struck the man across the face and he yelped, feeling the warm metal links of the golden slave chain slicing into his skin.

Orsille stared up, and the creature glared back down at him. Its breath was ragged, and it moved its pointed mouth clumsily. The words were as deformed as its face as it leaned closer and closer and said, "I... own... me."

Then, so suddenly that the movement was a blur, one of the vicious claws clamped around the official's neck. He felt himself being lifted bodily into the air, his screams turning into choked cries as air was crushed from his throat. His face flushed with blood and then turned purple as beads of sweat broke out on his forehead.

The hawk laughed and shook him like a rag doll.

Orsille slashed out blindly with the knife. It connected with flesh. The creature screamed, and the man pushed harder, desperately shoving the blade into the hawk's stomach with all his remaining strength.

There was a strange bubbling sound, and the hawk writhed in pain. It didn't let go of the man, but it spasmed in genuine agony as it dragged itself back and away from the biting blade. Then it screamed and fell forwards, crushing Orsille under eight feet of solid muscled flesh. With every flail it slammed its hands into the ground, barely aware that the screaming human still fought weakly from the grip of one clenched claw.

It shrieked so loudly that the cries of the distant soldiers were silenced, and then in a final whirl of claws and feathers it slammed into the ground.

For a long moment there was silence.

Then the hawk groaned, a noise so ragged it sounded as if it had been torn into shreds. Dark liquid pooled around the elongated body as it twitched, but it was not blood. It was too dark to be blood. It was a black liquid that reflected none of the light and didn't bleed into the hay.

The creature twitched in pain, disturbing the liquid, and it burst into the air in a flurry of weightless black. Millions of feathers, so small and dark that they looked like flowing tar when they pooled on the ground, turned into a soot-black snow in the breeze. The hawk shuddered and twisted in them, keening softly, and then it lay still.

The wind whispered over the silent courtyard, and carried away the last of the feathers in a gentle caress. The hawk was gone, carried away on the unfeeling breeze, and all that was left was a naked man. He lay by the tower, curled up in agony, and for a long time it didn't seem like he was breathing. Then he gasped in a harsh, painful breath, and opened his eyes.

"Daine," Numair whispered, and then he doubled over in agony.

He raised a shaking hand to his eyes, and saw the dark red of blood coating every trembling finger. His stomach felt like it was on fire, and when he cautiously took away his other hand a fresh flow of warm blood burst from the deep wound on one side. He sobbed and pressed the hand back, staunching the flow enough to move, and looked desperately around.

Another man was slumped on the ground beside him. He was very dead; his head and limbs had been smashed into a bloody pulp of raw meat against the stone. The sight made bile rise in his throat. Numair couldn't recognise the man from his mutilated remains, but when he unpinned the corpse's cloak he saw the insignia on it and realised who it had been. He froze, looking again at his bloodied hand and the gore which coated the stones and seeped into the hay around both of them.

He tried frantically to work out what had happened... but his mind was blank. He couldn't remember anything that had happened, or why. All he knew was that he was in pain.

He had to take his hand away from his side to tear the cloak into strips, and by the time he had wrapped them tightly around his waist and stemmed the new flow of blood the mage felt dizzy. Even with several layers of bandage he could feel blood seeping through the fabric and cooling against his skin, making him shiver in the cooling night air.

Grimacing in distaste, he pulled the clothes free from Orsille's shattered corpse and dressed himself, trying not to move too much when he pulled the thick tunic over his arms. Still, the movement made him reel in agony, and he rested his head against the cool stone of the tower for a moment.

He felt... empty. Not tired, not injured, although he knew that this wound was far, far worse than the one which had first brought him into the prison. He knew, too, that he had used more magic in his mindless rampage than he had done in years. But neither of those feelings made him feel empty.

What made him pause and open his eyes, pushing back the nausea of pain, was the feeling of being utterly alone inside his own mind.

The Hawk! 
He realised. It's... it's gone...

He probed at his reeling mind like a sore tooth, but there was nothing there except his own core, and the feeble remnants of his own spent magic. There wasn't even...

"Daine!" He remembered aloud, coming out of his meditation so rapidly that he nearly choked on his own word. Now he was beginning to remember. The message from the tearful slave in the depths of the pit, the blinding anger, the Hawk...

"Daine!" He nearly shouted the word the second time, raw panic in his voice.

Orsille had taken her, and now Orsille was dead. Daine had to be nearby. She had to be. 
Numair hadn't realised how used he'd been to finding her through their magical link until now, when it was gone and he had no idea where she was, or if she was even alive. He struggled to his feet, reeling in pain, and stared around frantically.

The courtyard was a mess, with hay dragged in a thousand directions. Cobbles had been physically wrenched from the walls and the ground, some of them with deep claw marks gouged into them. Numair ran his long fingers over one, swallowing rapidly. They fit his hands, as he knew they would. He had done this.

Out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of a shock of brown hair. Biting back a cry, he ran to the unconscious girl, ignoring the shooting pain in his side as he dropped down into the hay beside her.

"Be alive, be alive," he pleaded, reaching out a shaking hand to her naked shoulder and almost sobbing when he felt that she was warm. "Daine, sweetling, please wake up. Please, magelet, don't be dead. Oh gods, Daine, please don't be dead."

She didn't move. Like himself, she was covered in dark blood. It oozed from dozens of deep gouges in her arms, as if she'd raised them to defend herself, and countless shallower slashes on her body where she hadn't managed to. Numair recognised the same claw marks from the stones and this time he was sick, almost passing out in agony as his stomach heaved and stretched the stab wound.

He realised, panting in agony, that Daine had been lying here long enough for her blood to start to dry. Orsille's clothes had still been warm with wet blood. The realisation that he had attacked Daine first made him shudder.

Daine's chest rose shallowly as she drew in a shaking breath. Numair laughed and sobbed and kissed her cheek, feeling his own heart racing as his blind panic ebbed away and was replaced by an urgent sense of imminent danger. He ignored the increasingly close sounds of fighting, the distant crackle of fire, and focused on her.

"Daine, wake up. You have to wake up, sweet, you have to. You can do this, just… just open your eyes, sweet. It's so easy, so simple, you'll see. Just… just wake up, please, please..."
She shifted painfully, slowly opening her grey eyes. She met his gaze for a moment, and then something dark crossed her face and she sat bolt upright, shoving herself backwards and away from him in a blind panic. "No! Get away!"

"It's me!" he whispered, unable to find the strength to stand up and follow her. He looked down at his hands, crossing and uncrossing them in his lap. The feather mark that had tattooed one hand was fading, almost invisible under the drying blood. His words were so soft even he could barely hear them. "It's me."

"Hawk." She spat, grabbing a stone from the ground and raising it warningly in one hand. He shook his head wearily and she hesitated, but still kept the stone raised.

He remembered that same fiery look from a lifetime ago. It was the defensive fury that she'd worn like a cloak when she'd first been told to care for him. He'd thought it had gone for good, but now it shone from her grey eyes like an accusing flame.

Numair shuddered. It felt like, if he dared to meet those blazing eyes, he would see mirrored there all of the terrible things that he'd done.

"I don't know what I did, Daine." He couldn't make himself look up. He couldn't face her hatred, her anger. He couldn't bear her fear. "I can't remember."

She hissed at him, and he looked up in shock. There was something uncanny about her, something feral and wild which wasn't anything to do with the girl called Daine. He struggled to his feet, ignoring her wordless growl, and took a step closer to her.

"Away!" She snapped, and covered her stomach defensively with one hand as she raised the stone. Around the weapon her fingers shimmered, warping from human fingertips to ragged claws, and then he understood.

"Wolf," he said, in the same tone that she had named him the hawk. The girl bared her teeth and took a step forward, fearless, deadly, and inhuman. Numair stood quite still, meeting her fury with exhausted sorrow as he looked at what he'd done to the woman he loved. "Oh Daine, I'm so sorry."

"Sorry." She sneered, raising her head and tilting it to one side. "Sorry."

He pressed his hand to his side, to where the bandage was stiff and cold with his blood and his skin burned with hot pain. It wasn't a mortal wound, not quite – he knew that, and now he realised the Hawk knew it, too.

He could feel the creature. It was waiting, biding its time, ready to pounce and claim his body as payment for the months it had given him. But it was waiting, he was sure of it. He could feel its presence as if it were lurking a few feet behind him. He could almost feel its rancid breath on his neck, making his skin prickle in uncanny fear. But it wasn't in his mind any more. He could control his magic without going mad. It was just… waiting.

What's the point of it possessing a dead body? 
Numair thought callously, almost hating the creature for its cold logic. It's waiting to see if… if Daine will throw that stone.

It's waiting for me to die.


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 62 of 69

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