Continuing Tales


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 63 of 69

<< Previous     Home     Next >>

"Daine," Numair said quietly.

The feral girl growled softly and raised the stone a little higher, but hearing her name made her eyes focus, briefly, on the man in front of her.

He leapt for the moment, ordering in a quick but stern voice: "Daine, look at your hands."

She looked down automatically, and saw the dried blood that covered one hand.

“You’re standing on the gallows.” Numair said, forcing himself to be cruel. “They killed Cloud. Don’t you remember?”

For a heartbeat she swayed, and gasped in something close to human comprehension. The rock fell from her trembling fingers.

It was just a moment of emotion in the feral blankness. Just a second, but it was enough. The girl’s eyes narrowed in anger and were almost feral again by the time Numair grabbed her wrist, but the wolf was too late. He seized her hand and reached out for her mind in the same breath, shoving the snarling creature back from her core with so much brute force that it reeled away.

The wolf spun, growling, sinking savage bronze claws into the glowing white ground. Numair looked around, almost gasping at the sudden absence of pain now he wasn't in his physical body, and realised that he was inside the glowing white core of Daine's magic.

The wolf slashed at her core in a show of fury, ripping great chunks of light into the air. As soon as they were torn away they faded, growing dark and lifeless and dissolving into ash. It was horrifying to watch. Each glimmer of fading light was something that made Daine human- a memory, a fear, a skill – all scattered in the same violent attack.

Standing in her core Numair could feel her presence, but the shade of the human called Daine wasn't anywhere to be seen. That fact alarmed him far more than the immense wolf in front of him: this was Daine's battle, not his. The slightest magical attack could destroy her mind forever. He had to find her, not fight.

"I don't blame you. I'd be hiding too," he muttered, and then laughed ruefully to himself when he thought of the Hawk. "Well, I suppose I did. For years! But it's no way to live, magelet. Trust me on this one."

There was silence, as if the air was holding its breath. Numair studied the wolf. It had stopped its furious rampage but was still keeping its distance, wary of the mage after that first attack. It was strong here, and it knew it. Numair crouched down, keeping eye contact.

"I let it in." The voice was soft, sorrowful.

A tiny child sat on the ground beside him, her arms wrapped defensively around her knees as she stared, wide-eyed at the creature.

“You did?” He asked the girl, sitting down beside her. “Why?”

She didn't look around, but sighed and curled up more tightly. "I had to. It roared so much, and so loudly, and it was fair angry, but I thought maybe it was my friend. But now it won't leave." She leaned her head against the mage's shoulder. Her voice was confiding, as if she was telling him a secret when she admitted, "It doesn't like me very much."

"Daine?" He asked cautiously, reaching out to touch her. She blinked, and although her weight against his shoulder was warm and solid, his fingertips passed through her cheek like mist. The girl giggled at his expression and vanished.

"Perhaps I can talk to it," this voice was older, less self-assured.

The brown-haired girl was more like the Daine he knew, although her face still had a childlike roundness and her clothes were ragged and stained. Her hair wasn't shorn but hung down her back in knotted, unheeded locks.

She didn't look at the man. Her worried eyes were fixed on the wolf. She raised her hands towards it, walking forwards. Her steps were awkward as heavy chains around her ankles slowed her down. The wolf growled at the shine of the iron manacles on her wrists and snarled at the chain that clanked loudly in the soft silence.

"They said that I imagined you. They said you would go away. They said it was all my fault." Daine's voice grew more bitter as she sped up, talking angrily to the wolf. "If you leave they'll unlock the door. They'll let me go free. I can leave this place. They won't call me mad any more. They won't. I'm not. I'm not!"

"Daine, don't…!" Numair started reaching out for the girl, but she was already too far away. She raised her hands, lifting the heavy iron chain to strike out with it. The wolf howled and bounded forwards. It leapt to knock her to the ground, but its paws passed through her like the mage's hand had passed through the first girl, and it landed with a yelp.

Memories. The man thought, staring around him with wide eyes. They're memories. That was Daine as a little girl, and… and the older one must have been from when they first locked her up, I guess.

In front of him the wolf shook its ragged head and regained its feet. It was clearly confused, snarling at anything that glittered around it and flinching away from its own tail. For a second the tiny child appeared again, catching at the creature's soft tail and giggling at her own private joke.

"I was lost in the forest, and you led me home," She grinned, petting the creature's fur. As suddenly as she'd appeared she was gone again.

"I was lost in the forest, and I heard the howls, and knew the wolves would help me." The older Daine reappeared. She had a new expression on her face, one that looked unbearably sad. "I knew they would help me find the bandits. You helped me to find the wolves. You helped me learn how to kill."

"The Hawk tried to kill me, and you protected me." The last voice made Numair shudder. He couldn't bear to look up at this Daine. Her soft voice was sharp, accusing more than one monster. He tried to cover his ears.

Daine’s sending these memories to fight the wolf. She tries to attack it, to force it out, and then the other voices try to coax it into staying. But she's here, and fighting it. These words will get her nowhere. I need to… need to…

"I gave you your words, Veralidaine Sarrasri" he whispered, pressing the palm of his hand to the white ground and letting himself sink into a peaceful stillness. A note of command, thick with power, rang through his words. "I gave you your voice. I reclaim it! Give it back."

A throng of stubborn girls folded their arms and glared at him.





He looked at the last speaker, hearing the same strength in her voice that the others had used to refuse his order, but also a frank curiosity. It was the child, the youngest Daine. Suffering had never touched her. She smiled openly with a gap between her front teeth and an unruly mess of sun lightened hair throwing wisps against her unlined cheeks.

"It's for a game." He said, smiling encouragingly back at her. "I want to chase the wolf!"

"Chase?" She looked up, biting her lip, and a slow frown crossed her face. "That's nasty. Animals have feelings too, you know!"

"I know! So don't you think he'd want to play with me? I like chase games, don't you?"

"Ooh, yes! If it's a game! Can I play too?" She asked, breathless in her excitement. He nodded, and she made a little squeal of excitement and clapped her hands. Then she flushed and covered her mouth, her eyes laughing. "Do I be quiet now, mister?"

"Please." He smiled again, holding out a hand towards her.

She hesitated, looking up into his eyes, and then she took his hand. This time her skin was warm and living.

As soon as he touched her he released the surge of magic he'd been storing, shielding her and linking her to him with an unbreakable cord of black fire. Unlike the twisted mess of gift they had shared before, Numair deliberately constructed a link that he knew would not fade, or break. It couldn't, not now the Hawk had left him.

He had asked for the girl's voice and that’s what he took. He knew that the small glimmer of bronze fire she surrendered was enough for him to tease out the strands of her gift and link his own magic to it. As soon as the link was sound he pushed his magic through it, feeling the strength leeching from his shade as he gave all the magic and her voice back to her.

The child gasped, breathing in an impossibly deep gulp of air that seemed to pull all the other memories of Daine towards her. When they touched their fellow shade they vanished, blending into the child's glowing skin as she burned first with bronze fire, then with black.

Numair held her hand tightly, feeling it grow and twist in his grasp until, with a final sob of air, the girl froze. Now she was older, more a woman than a girl. She shivered and stared at him with wide eyes.

"I remember you now," she whispered.

Numair smiled, willing his dizzy eyes to focus after spending so much magic. He wanted nothing more than to drift off to sleep, but he didn't dare while the wolf was still growling in the far corner. This shade was beautiful, her rags replaced with a dress embroidered with green leaves. She wore an intricate belt and her hair tumbled down around her shoulders. This shade was the Daine he'd feared he'd never see again: the strong, fearless woman who he had fallen in love with.

"There you are," he murmured. She blinked a few times, reaching up to trace the shape of his face as if she didn't quite believe that she was awake.

"Are we dead?" Her stunned words were so matter-of-fact that the man laughed. He shook his head.

"I'm too tired to be dead."

She looked confused, opening her mouth to ask a question, and then stopped herself and glanced at the glowing walls. "That's magic, isn’t it? We're inside... what, my gift? Why?" She looked around and tensed. "The wolf is here. Is the Hawk here too? They were... they were fighting. I think I remember... I... “ She looked down at her hands, looking horrified for a moment as they flickered between her ghostly wholeness and her physical body’s scarred flesh. “Numair, what happened?"

"I can't remember either." He said quickly, "But the Hawk is gone, sweetling. I think it's because... no, forget that." He didn't want her to know that he was hurt. He corrected himself quickly, "I don't know why it's gone. But the wolf is here."

Daine looked like she understood but she still repeated his last few words with a nervous tremor in her voice, "The wolf is here?" She turned the statement into a question with a definite challenge in her eyes.

He nodded, barely able to speak, and she raised an eyebrow. "So, clever clogs, how am I thinking straight? This is the middle of my gift. If the wolf is in here then I should be barking at kittens right now."

"I gave you my magic. Nearly all of it, this time. It's shielding you." He swayed, and bit the inside of his cheek so he could stay awake. "So you can fight. So you can win."

"But..." she started, looking worriedly at him. "You gave me all of your magic? Don't you need it to..."

"I'll explain later." He cut her off, and then laughed shortly at the stubborn expression on her face. "Oh, I didn't give it to you so you could waste it fighting me, Daine. If you're going to argue so much I'll just take it back!"

She still looked worried, so he kissed her forehead gently. "It's a gift, little one. For both of you. It's the only way I can protect you, now I..." he blanched and laughed shortly, humourlessly, hoping she hadn't noticed the slip. Still, his hand crept to his stomach. Now that he was weak his shade was starting to feel echoes of pain. He made himself smile. "Please don't argue, Daine."

Daine tilted her head to one side, birdlike in her silent question, but before she could voice it the wolf growled behind her. She turned to glare at it with sudden fury in her gaze.

"No." She said stubbornly, "You won't hurt him. Don't even think it."

"Don't reason with it, Daine." Numair whispered, "Kill the damn thing. It's been... tearing up your... your mind. It's trying to kill you, not protect you. It's not your friend. It's not... not worth saving. Kill it."

The wolf howled in fury at his words, clearly understanding every single one. Daine's eyes narrowed, and she carefully helped Numair to his feet. She led him to where he would be safe at the farthest wall. Then she turned to face the creature. It whined, faking a limp, then it shivered pathetically. Daine shook her head. There was absolute hatred in her gaze, not pity, and the wolf's show of pitiable weakness didn't sway her for a second.

"No, he's right." She spat. "You have to die."

She took a threatening step towards it, and then changed her mind. Kneeling down, she reached through the glowing floor as if it were smoke, gathering up more memories. They pooled in her hands and slowly became solid. The white magic stretched and darkened, forming the shape of a weapon.

"That's your bow!" Numair was stunned. "How did you do that?" He shook his head. "I don't know if that will work, magelet. The other memories couldn't touch it, so..."

"It's not a memory. It's my bow." She told him shortly, and hefted it. A quiver of arrows formed against her shoulders, and she smiled. "It's as real as I am."

"But... how...?"

"Let a lady have some mysteries, my love." She said tartly, and then smiled brilliantly back at him. For the first time she met his eyes fully, and in that moment her eyes burned with fierce loving wonder that told the man how much she'd never expected to see him again. Then, with an effort, she tore her gaze away and rounded on the wolf.

It growled, and she shook her head. So quickly that her hands were a blur she drew an arrow and notched it onto her bow, drawing the string back and holding it as steady as if she'd practiced every day of her life.

"I don't miss." She said, and if there was a tremor in her voice it was barely noticeable. The wolf whined and ducked its head down, trying to slink away from her. She followed it calmly with the point of her arrow.

“Please shoot it. Why are you waiting?”

"It’s difficult. I can’t make myself… I can feel it, trying to get inside my thoughts." Daine said, her voice distant. Her voice tailed off. The wolf realised that its wild voice wasn't being listened to, and instead began to shiver. A dim greasy light grew around it for a moment, and then it was looking up through the wide innocent brown eyes of a cub. It whimpered softly. The girl's hands shook, and for a moment she lost her aim.

"Kill it, Daine." Numair said with a warning note in his voice. She took a step back and stared at the creature's frail, trembling shape.

"But..." She whispered, almost pleading. "It... can't I just let it leave? It won’t hurt me. Look at it."

"Do you think that's the shape it'll take when it controls our baby's mind?" He didn't mean his words to come out as harshly as they did, and the sting of them made Daine stare at him in horror.

White, shaking but silent, she raised the bow and loosed the arrow in a single shot. It struck the creature between the eyes. For a heartbeat it staggered back in death-like throes, but then it made a sound worryingly like a snigger and stood upright, still in a sweet, innocent cub-form as its claws elongated and its eyes narrowed.

Daine drew a breath and stood in between the creature and Numair, drawing another arrow but aiming it with far less confidence than she had before. The creature took a step forward, and another. It scraped a claw viciously along the glowing ground, and Daine cried out in pain and clutched her head as a great swathe of her memories was savagely torn away.

“Why can’t I hurt you?” she whispered, and her fingers spasmed against her forehead. The wolf snarled in fury, and she straightened up with another arrow ready to fire. Her shoulders set in fatalistic determination.

Then... the creature paused, reaching up uncertainly to the arrow which pierced its flesh. It looked as if it was only just beginning to feel it.

The bolt shimmered, and then it started to glow in earnest with a light so pure that it made the white core of Daine’s magic seem dull. Brighter and brighter it shone, until Daine had to turn away and shield her eyes from the light. She ducked down next to Numair, and they clung to each other blindly as the creature started to scream. It was as if it were being burned alive, but there was no heat. There was only the light, roaring through space and time like a shrieking absence of sound.

And then there was nothing. Daine found herself curled up in a defensive ball, fingers tightly enmeshed with Numair's. He moved strangely, and it took her a moment's panic before she realised that he was choking back laughter.

"Gods, Daine, where did you get that arrow?" He demanded, almost hysterical now as relief and shock poured out of him in wordless laughter. She smiled feebly.

"Well, the gods might be the right people to ask." She suggested tentatively, and then realised that the quiver that had been slung across her shoulders had faded into nothing. She shrugged. "They might want to keep their own secrets."

"Then I say we let them." He stood up with a weary groan and helped her to her feet. "And when we get out of here I swear we'll be burning so much incense to thank them that they'll be coughing in the divine realms for a month."

She giggled and joined him, letting him lean against her shoulder wearily as she looked around. Her head swam for a moment, and she pressed cool 
fingers to her forehead in wonder. "I... I really killed it? It's really gone?"

"Forever." He replied, and touched her cheek lightly. "Are you alright?"

"It's been with me for so long, I feel almost lost. Or at least, I feel strangely lonely without it constantly prowling around my mind." She smiled shakily and shook her head. Her fingers crept back up to her head again, and when she rubbed her temples the skin turned white as she pressed hard against the skin. "I can't describe it."

"No, I understand." Numair remembered the eerie emptiness he'd felt when the Hawk had gone and embraced her for a moment. He didn’t like to be reminded of why the Hawk had left him. The thought made him shiver, and he faked a yawn to pretend it was from weariness. Daine hadn't noticed his involuntary movement, but she was frowning at something, and when she turned to him there was an odd question in her eyes.

"Did you see that?" She asked, pointing to a corner where the light formed the memories of trees. He squinted and shook his head apologetically, and she bit her lip. "I thought I saw... it was a lady. It was my ma. I really thought I saw..."

"This place is made up of your memories," he explained gently, "So you probably did see her."

Daine shuddered and looked at the ground. There were memories she never wanted to see again, and if they were going to jump out at her like that uninvited she wanted to be as far away from here as possible. It didn't matter if the real world was full of officials and fighting, she thought, she wanted to be in a place where she had the choice of fighting back.

"Speaking of getting out of here..." she started. Numair shook his head.

"I don't know, sweet. It's your mind. You're the one with all the magic."

"Well, that’s simple enough! Last time I imagined a window. This time I'm fair certain we need a door." She smiled mischievously at him, and shut her eyes for a moment. When she opened them and looked past the man's shoulder she giggled and pressed her hand to her lips.

Numair turned and saw what she was laughing at. Instead of a door she had summoned a palatial portal, thronged by ornate pillars and shining marble statues. It was bordered by gold leaf and precious gems, but throughout the whole thing there was a sense that it was a forest, full of leaves and animals and life. All the stones were shades of green, and the marble was so softly carved it almost seemed to breathe.

"If a god is in here helping us, he deserves to leave in style." Daine said, and then laughed out loud. "Oh, but I didn't expect it to work! Your magic is so much stronger than mine. I think I overdid it."

He grinned. "After everything, magelet, I think we deserve to leave in style! You couldn't conjure up a cheering crowd and some Yamani fireworks, could you?"

"And a band of minstrels?" She teased, and looped her arm around his waist. He leaned against her gratefully. She frowned at his tiredness. "I'd rather just give you your magic back, Numair."

He was silent for a moment, pretending to study the shapes carved into the door frame. When he finally spoke his words were carefully chosen. "Keep it away from me. No matter what happens. If you have it, the Hawk can't use it."

"You can't use it either." Daine pointed out, and he shrugged. She opened her mouth to ask something, and when he tried to step away from her she shook her head and caught her shoulder. "Numair, I know something's wrong. What do you mean, 'no matter what happens'? What's happened? Where’s the Hawk? Why are you being so... odd?"

"Daine!" The voice was shrill, terrified, and it shook both of the mages out of their own thoughts. It was Karenna's voice, coming from the real world beyond the door, and it was thick with fear. Daine looped her arm back around Numair's waist, her question forgotten, and together they hurried through the door towards their mortal world.


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 63 of 69

<< Previous     Home     Next >>