Continuing Tales


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 68 of 69

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There was only light.

There was no magic, and no Hawk circling around a bright, shining core. All that Daine could see, for miles in any direction, was the kind of soft sunset-gold light of hazy reflections on lazy streams. She could almost hear water trickling past, and hear the birds singing to each other in the woods.

"Perhaps I did die," She whispered, and took an experimental step forward. The ground didn't look like it could hold her weight, but it felt firm underfoot, like walking on a blanket of young grass. She took another step and then stopped, looking around at the complete lack of anything.

"I thought the Dark God's realms would be more interesting," she muttered, and then added, "And be darker, I guess."

"I can't tell you what they're like," The answering voice was soft, lilting, and Daine looked up to see a vague figure shimmering in the light. She squinted, working out the shape of a veiled woman who carried on speaking, "But… they aren't actually dark. That would be fair silly, don't you think?"

"I don't know." Daine took a step towards the woman, trying to work out why her voice was so familiar, but however many steps she took the woman seemed to stay the same distance away. She stopped and said, very carefully, "I think I'm in the wrong place, ma'am. I'm trying to help my friend, you see. He's sick."

"He’s not sick; he’s fighting off a demon. That's why I came." The goddess pushed back her veil, and for a moment her features blazed so brightly that Daine had to look away. Then the light faded. The goddess smiled, and her voice was quick and confiding when she said, "But if anyone asks, darling, I'm here to help you with the baby."

"M…" Daine could barely breathe as she looked up in frank disbelief. "Ma?"

The goddess smiled and nodded encouragingly. Closing the gap between them with a few easy steps, she rested a tapering hand on the girl's stomach and her smile widened. "You don't need my help with this, Daine. She's healthy and happy, and you'll be fine. I'll keep an eye on you, but I promise you won't need my help. But I had to wait, you see. We can only cross the realms when there's a reason. And since they made me a goddess of childbirth…"

Daine couldn't make her whirling mind believe it. "A goddess?"

"Yes, yes. The Green Lady, goddess of childbirth and consort of Lord Weiryn. There, that's all you need to know at the moment. Stop gaping like a goldfish, Daine. Your face will stick like that! You have to make a decision."

Daine closed her mouth automatically but she couldn't make herself stop staring. Her spinning thoughts settled on a phrase, and she blurted out, "Wha… what decision, ma?"

Sarra shrugged, and then looked around again. "Well. Your friends are right to break the link between you, but that's only half of it. When it's severed your Numair has to decide whether to follow it back to the mortal realm, or to let the Dark God take him. He's being punished, you see. He broke the rules and he's paying for it now. Mithros was especially angry. He doesn't understand love. Well, not how we would think of it. Love to him is fighting everything that opposes you, but never, ever destroying yourself."

Daine shivered and wrapped her hands around herself. She didn't like the idea of the gods being angry at Numair, any more than she could comfortably accept that her mother was a goddess. "If it's Numair's choice, then why are you telling me this?" She whispered. Sarra shook her head. Her voice grew very hesitant.

"It's your choice. Daine, you… your father is a god. You've got divine blood in your veins. The higher gods have been watching you. Divine children can disturb the balance, you see! They…we… the gods… have seen the way you've been treated. The way you've been fighting. They want to give you the choice to… to stay with us, in the Divine Realms, and be with your father and I. Or you can choose to stay in the mortal realms. Your… Numair, they say, caused too much trouble. He broke the rules. He can only be allowed to return to the mortal realms if he's watched carefully. That's the choice. If you agree to stay with him for the rest of his life, to stay linked to him and keep his magic at bay, then he can return. If not, they think he's too dangerous to risk. They'll send him to the dark realms."

"What?" Daine gasped, "But none of it was his fault…! He…"

Sarra's eyes hardened, and for a moment she looked angry. "He willingly chose to surrender to a demon. He let it possess his mind, knowing what it would do, knowing how many innocent people it would kill. He allowed an agent of chaos to have all of his magical power and all his mortal strength."

Light glowed around the goddess's body, and her voice took on the odd deep echoes of divine power as if a score of gods were speaking through her. "It doesn't matter why he decided to do it. The only reason we kept him alive was because, in the end, he destroyed himself to kill the demon. He tried to make it right. But we find it harder to forgive than mortals, because we know more what is at stake. Two people don't matter; the divine war is everything."

Daine blanched. "You're scaring me, ma." She whispered. Sarra blinked, and looked down at her shimmering hands as if they were alien to her. For a moment she shuddered, and then the light faded a little and the pressure in the air seemed to ease.

"You have to choose." The goddess said shortly, not apologising. Daine took a step back and then asked, her voice slow.

"Ma, if you were…were watching me all this time, then why didn't you help me years ago? Why did you just leave me there? Was I being punished, too?"

"I'm helping you now." She said, and for the first time Daine heard guilt and uncertainty in the goddess's voice. She took another step away, and her voice was hostile.

"You could have done something. Anything. I thought I was mad, mama. I thought they were right to do what they did. You're telling me I'm a… the child of a god, and there was still nothing you could do?"

Her mother didn't answer, and Daine found her silence infuriating. She finished her bitter thought in a low hiss, "Oh, I see. It's because two people don't matter. Is that right, Ma? I didn't matter to you then and I don't matter to you now. And neither does Numair. Is that it?"

Sarra whitened, and opened her mouth to say something before looking upwards and snapping it closed again. It was as if someone had ordered her to be silent. Daine was too furious to curb her words, but she was aware that the other gods must be listening, and raised her voice to shout to them.

"My decision is easy. He may not matter to you, but he means everything to me. I don't want you to take him. And I don't want to go with you and be a goddess who… who only cares about things that are so big that everything important just gets ignored. That's horrible. You can't have him, and you can't have me."

There was a crash of light, and for a moment Sarra's face was almost human again. She looked up at the growling sky, and the furious divine mask seemed to crumble away. A watery smile wavered across her face and she reached out to touch Daine's cheek.

"I'm glad." She whispered. "You could have been more tactful, baby girl, but I wish you all the happiness in the world."

"I'm sorry, ma." Daine felt suddenly small and guilty. "I didn't mean you're…"

"It's alright. At the solstice I can ask your father to…" The goddess looked up, frowning, and then her eyes narrowed when the sky started to tear apart in black scorch-marks. "What's this?"

Daine took a step back and stared up at the scorch marks, which grew and started reaching down like savage briar thorns, bristling into feathers when they got closer to the two women. "It's Numair." She said, her voice suddenly wary.

"But…" Sarra blinked, and then looked furious. "Mithros! Damn it, you said you agreed!" She shut her eyes for a moment, listening intently, and then they flew open and she glared around at something Daine couldn't see. "She made her choice, you insufferable, meat-headed…"

"Get out of the way, Ma." Daine spread her hands wide, still looking upwards at the tendrils. Sarra glared at her daughter.

"Don't you dare talk to me like that, young woman! I am your mothe… I am a goddess!"

"Yes, and you're in the way." The girl's mouth quirked in a wry smile. "Is that shiny magic good for anything except glowing, ma?"

"Babies," the goddess admitted. She looked up and shuddered. "It won't work against that thing. And I can't interfere in mortal battles. The rules here are fair unkind, sometimes. But I don't think that you should…"

"Well, if you could keep my baby safe for me while I do this, I'll burn you some incense or something." Daine shot her a grin, and then looked up with complete focus at the sharp feathers. "Numair!" she shouted, "I'm here!"

The vines twisted and shrieked, a noise like the creaking death of an ancient oak ripped from its roots in a storm. The girl gasped and clapped her hands over her ears, feeling warmth where the sharp noise had made them start bleeding. She shook her head dizzily and glared up, calling on her magic. The nucleus of the thorns rumbled and shook the soft sky, noxious with oily colours and jagged shapes. She caught sight of movement, a tiny writhing life in the grotesque mass of looming death, and braced herself.

"Did you miss the part where I said I'm a goddess?" Sarra demanded. "That means you should listen to me! Daine, that is chaos swirling around up there, and if Mithros isn't going to help…"

The life in the storm screamed and leapt towards them, wings bursting forth from its formless, emaciated shape. It reached out and suddenly had fingers, then claws, then great talons which warped into knife-like sharpness. It shrieked in a horribly familiar tone and dropped like a stone towards the two women.

"It's not just chaos." Daine set her chin stubbornly, "It's Numair, and he needs my help. I'm not afraid. I love him. I really do. And besides, I made my choice. I promised, didn't I?"

The figure cackled loudly and drew itself up. It hovered a few metres above them, laughing, the noise coming from its featureless face. Daine wondered why it hadn't attacked, and then saw the dark vines which burst from the end of every finger, the edge of every feather on its wings, from its stomach and from its legs and from its heart. They grew sinuously, the thorns melting into needle points and then bursting into knife edges.

"Daiiiiiine…" the creature gurgled a laugh as it reached out towards her.

"I'm not afraid of you." She whispered, and ducked under the first vine just as it slashed at her. The second caught her across the cheek, scoring a line of blood before she rolled away. By the time the creature flailed at her a third time she had regained her balance, and jumped. Bronze sparrow-like wings burst from her shoulders and she sped towards it, weaving around the vines until she was close enough to reach out, to strike, to attack…

She reached out her hand and wrapped it around the creature's wrist, shuddering. The creature's flesh felt slimy and icy cold against her skin. As soon as she touched its arm the creature keened and hurled itself sharply backwards. It was as if it were afraid to touch her. The vines that whipped around her hissed and dissolved into smoke. Daine bit her lip, flying closer to the creature, but with every beat of her wings it faded away, its shadow-like shape drifting aimlessly, unconsciously, as if there was a breeze in the breathless land.

"Mama?" She asked uncertainly, still tensed for an attack that never came. She looked back, and saw that the goddess looked just as confused as she did. She looked back at the creature and had to look away in quick shock. Instead of a monster there was a light, almost blinding after the darkness.

"Well fought! Now I believe you will keep your word, Weiryn's daughter. You can go home now." The voice was deep, male, and held a note of approval.

Daine blinked and shielded her eyes, but she couldn't make out the form of the speaker. She chewed the inside of her lip in confusion, and then tentatively asked, "Lord Mithros?"

There was no answer. The light grew brighter, and brighter, and Daine felt her wings crumble away as if they were burned by that pure, white beauty. She gasped as she fell to earth, but the soft warm ground opened up to let her pass, and when she tore her eyes open she was back in her own body, back in Corus, and the icy hand she was clinging to was suddenly warm in her grasp.


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 68 of 69

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