Continuing Tales


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 7 of 69

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Perhaps I should commence with my name, and my life, and my childhood. That's how these kinds of stories usually work, right? But I can tell you're not interested in that. I wouldn't be either, if I were you. You've heard all the stories about me, all the horrible things they say I've done, and you want to know what made me do them. Or perhaps you're wondering why the stories don't make sense. On the one hand I'm a crazed, mindless psychopath, and on the other, a clever, devious man with some kind of criminal plan. I'd like to say I'm neither, but that's really for you to decide. I will only promise, then, that I will tell you the truth, which the other stories will not. Doubt my actions, little one, but not my words.

Not my childhood, then. Let us start with my name. I was not born Numair, but Arram. Arram Draper, a name that truly instils fear! I almost prefer to be called the Hawk Mage. But no, there it is. Now my name is Numair, and I like it better, but I chose it because it would protect me. I told you about Carthak and its beautiful halls. I did not tell you about the corruption that sits among them like a spider. It hunkers down in the golden halls and lashes out at anyone who speaks against it. And what do you think the charming hero of this story did, little Daine? Yes, you're quite right. I suppose many of my Carthaki friends rolled their eyes at me too, but from a distance, for by then I was across the sea and had fled to Tortall. I made my living as a player. You don't know players? They go from town to town, putting on shows and playing tricks and making people laugh. But that's another story, for another day. Perhaps I'll save it for the next time you're angry with me!

...yes, yes, I am telling it! Shakith's teeth, little one, but that glare of yours could cut through stone! Where was I? Oh yes, so I was in Tortall, travelling the roads and hiding from anyone who looked like they might report back to Ozorne. And I met some people while I was on the road, and they knew some other people, and when we reached Corus I met some more people, who wore shiny pointy hats and gave me a job. Oh, don't look at me like that, you're clever enough to work it out. So, this job was... well, it never really had a name. If things went wrong, or they suspected that someone was plotting against them, or that there was a threat, they would send me to find out more about it. If it was something I could solve myself then I had permission to do so, and if not, then I was to gather information and then report back to the army.

I did that for a few years, and did quite well at it, if I do say so myself! One of the reasons was because I could... well, I have enough magic to shapeshift. I would turn into a bird and listen in to conversations, or fly to places I wasn't supposed to see. You'd be surprised how many people think a washed-out bridge is enough to make us lose interest in their hidden soldiers! And then... then, about six years ago, I was caught. I was held captive, but they didn't kill me, because they knew I was a spy.

Yes, I was a spy. You look surprised? Little one, there's no guarantee that someone with a lot of power, or money, is going to be a good person. Some people are greedy, and they want more, and they don't care who they hurt to get it. You should understand that more than most people. Do you really think the people who run this place would happily tell other Gallans what they're up to? Five miles outside of these walls, people have no idea that this place even exists. I'd never heard about it before I woke up here, and believe me: I ask a lot of questions.

Anyway, I was caught spying, and I thought that would be it for me, but they wanted to find out how much I already knew. So they fed me drugs to make me tell them the truth. I panicked, and changed into a bird to fly away, but I'd drunk far more of their potion than any bird could possibly deal with.

I remember falling. I remember hiding. And I remember darkness, and that's it. After a while I remember waking up and not remembering that I should be human, and not knowing what shape I should be instead. Days passed. It felt right for my face to be human, because I recognised myself in my reflection... but I didn't know the reflected human's name. I didn't feel safe without wings to fly with. I couldn't walk with clawed feet. Half-man, half-hawk, I staggered around the foothills of Galla searching for some clue as to what I was, and never found it. Who would I ask? They ran away screaming. At the time I thought perhaps that they were giving me my answer. When they ran I wanted to hunt them down, because I was more hawk than human, and they were my prey.

I... I don't remember everything I did. I like to think that I didn't kill anyone, because I... I can't remember killing anyone. But I know I could have. I know I was more than capable of it. All I know is that I came back to myself, so slowly I barely realised it was happening. Some months I was a hawk, fully a bird, roosting in trees and mindless. Some months I was a man, with no memory but not a threat. I think that's why I didn't get caught, Daine. They were looking for a creature, not a vagabond stealing crusts of bread from the market. The worst thing any monster can do is look normal. I continued like that for... well, I don't know how long. But a winter passed, and then a summer, and another winter, so it must have been years.

One day... a few months ago... I woke up, and I remembered. Just like that. It was like someone snapped their fingers, and my mind returned. And in the same instant that I knew who I was, I realised what I had become. And I was ashamed, Daine, so ashamed. I knew my friends must have thought me dead long ago. I don't even know if they tried to find me. I expect they did. Perhaps they even knew what I'd become, but... I hope not. I don't think I could look them in the eye.

By then I was so used to being the creature that it was second nature. I'm a powerful mage, Daine. Very powerful. But to use your magic, you have to find your calm centre, and mine is anything but calm! I look into my core and see the hawk bleeding into it. Bronze tendrils in black, so hopelessly tangled that I can't do anything to fix it. I tried. Gods bless it, for months I tried! But even meditating makes me lose my grip on who I am, and I have to fight it. I lost control so many times, and as soon as I lose control I lose... I lose myself again. No memories, no shame, just the hunter and the hawk. It's... terrifying. Not so much losing myself as becoming human again, and feeling the horror that next time, next time I might not be able to come back.

I knew only two things. I couldn't heal myself, and I was dangerous. So I decided to surrender. I told you I wanted to die. It's not wholly true... I'm scared to die. But I couldn't let the monster live. So I turned myself over to the guards. They were supposed to kill me on sight. I made myself threatening on purpose, knowing they could overpower me. I'd not eaten for weeks, to be weak enough to be defeated. And then those... those stupid officials... stopped the execution and brought me here. And they brought you here, and made their threats. And I realised that... that I can't be responsible for the death of another innocent person.

Why am I telling you this? I think you deserve to know... to understand. I'm too weak to hurt you now, but I might... I might, and to be honest I probably will. I won't be able to help it. They knew that too, the officials. I think you know that. But I don't want you to get hurt. I didn't when you were a stranger, and now... well, it's unthinkable.


He's lying. He must be lying.

He looks at me, and I feel something inside me shiver as he meets my eyes with his own piercing dark gaze. "Do you understand what I'm saying, Daine?" He asks, with an insistent note in his voice. "I... I haven't told this to anyone before. But I want to help you. I can't do anything unless you trust me, and I know you won't trust me without the truth. You need to make a decision. I'm offering to take you out of here. Sooner or later I'll have to fight them, and as soon as I call my magic I'll lose control. I won't recognise you. Escaping with me will be as dangerous as staying here with them. But I can't let things carry on as they are. These people are... vile. I have to stop them. But if you know the truth, maybe you won't be... scared, or you'll know to run away, or..."

Ha, does he mean the truth is that he'll try to kill me? No, that's not the truth. I let his voice wash over me as I retreat into my own thoughts. The whole story has to be a vile lie. It's disgusting. He must have spoken to someone, heard a story. He thinks repeating my own life back at me will make me trust him.

I can't even look at him. My life... the memories I guard so closely... they were the only things I had that were mine. They were my secrets. He's just stolen them, as if it doesn't matter. As if the fear of hearing the voice of madness calling was his, not mine. As if he's the one who has to clap his hands over his ears whenever a thunderstorm scares the horses, or when the birds roost in the roofs.

He's offering to help me. The bitter voice in my mind scoffs at the idea. I hate that assumption even more than I hate the lies. He doesn't know what he's talking about. The guards he's seen are the ones who look after us. They break up arguments in the corridors and bring us food when we're locked up. They're not the same as the cold, nameless guards who watch the walls. They're not the same as the mages who never seem to sleep. They're not the same as the prisoners who have been "cured", who lash out with laughing glee at any lurking figure in the shadows.

I tried to escape once. I was fifteen, and the healer had given me the final charm in my chain. I'd thought I could handle what I knew they would do to me, but I couldn't. It was the last time I can remember feeling like a person, like I was actually alive. It was before I learned how to die on the inside, how to let my mind soar away from the shell of flesh that was a novelty for them to abuse. I still thought that the only escape was on foot, and I took it. They left me alone for a few minutes, curled up and weeping in pain, and I heard them laughing in the next room with their friends. The officials don't have bars on their windows, and I climbed down with fingers that barely felt the frozen stone crumbling from the walls. It was the stone that saved me, because it broke off in a chunk suddenly and sent me crashing into the outer-courtyard.

The guard mages thought I'd jumped. If they'd thought I was trying to escape they would have killed me on the spot, and I would have breathed my last breath on the cold stones, barely two feet from the curtain wall.

The sun was setting. I remember that. I hadn't seen the sky in weeks, but the sun painted the clouds pink, and orange, and purple. If I cried it was because of that. I didn't have the tears to waste when they picked me up and slung me over their shoulders, swearing at the extra chore. I had no reason to care that my leg was broken. I didn't show any real reaction when the healer refused to treat it. They strapped it up with a piece of wood and some thick linen, and said I'd be less likely to run away if it healed badly.

I was lucky. Thinking back to that escape, it could not have gone any better. I lived.

I was alive. My leg healed straight and strong, and I learned how to stop caring. But still, I did miss the sky. Sometimes I wonder what it looks like from another window, from marshland or from a field. I long to see the sun setting without thick iron bars across its face... I have dreams about it. My escape gave me that gift, and took my hope in exchange.

That is what escaping is. I realise that even if I had the words to waste, I wouldn't bother explaining that to Numair. He repeats my name in a soft, worried voice. I realise I'm staring blankly into space, not hearing him.

My name is ash in my ears, and I wish I'd never told it to him. I thought perhaps he would bring me back to life. I was wrong. He'll be dead in a week. He doesn't know how to survive.

But he's more alive than I'll ever be.

My throat closes up, and I nearly choke on the burning acid of bile. I can't yell at him for stealing my story. I can't explain his idiocy. I don't want to see those dark eyes again. Their hopeful concern is a lie, a filthy story that I stupidly let into my world.

I stand up suddenly, feeling myself reel dizzily from the sudden movement, and deliberately press down hard on the bandage that covers his wound. He thinks he can escape? He can't even breathe without blood trickling through the cloth. He cries out in agony. I feel no justice in what I do, no revenge, no pity and no regret. I feel nothing. I do it for long enough for it to really hurt, so he'll understand, and then take my hand away and stand, silently looking at him, waiting for his pain to turn against me.

I can't breathe. My eyes meet his, and I feel their darkness tear at my heart so savagely that tears spring to my eyes.

There is no hatred in his eyes.

I see only pity.

I spit bitterly at him and turn away.


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 7 of 69

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