Falcondance Page 3

I hardly knew how to begin. I could not use Lily's command as an explanation, since my father would not even know who she was. I had known that my parents would never trust a falcon as my friend, and so had never mentioned her to them.

"Something strange happened to me today, on my way back with Oliza."

"Strange how?" he prompted when I hesitated, hating to trouble my father.

"I was flying behind Oliza, and suddenly I... fell." I struggled for words that made sense. "I was watching the ground, and then it was like I forgot where I was. I barely managed to land safely, and then I saw something; at least, I think I did. Something that wasn't there."

Sometime during the speech, my mother had joined us at the door, perhaps to see what was keeping my father. He did not seem too disturbed by my words, but my mother's expression was grave.

"Has anything else happened?" she asked. "Strange dreams or nightmares?" I nodded.


she swore under her breath. "Rei, say what you must to Zane and Danica. I'm taking our son home."

"Kel  -  "

"They'll understand; they're parents, too," she argued, never raising her voice from a fierce whisper. "Nicias, let's go. We need to talk."

I followed her from the Rookery to our home on the northern hills. My father caught up with us by wing as we mounted the two steps to the doorway.

Both my parents normally conducted themselves like older-generation avians, controlling their expressions and their voices, but right then they both looked tense and worried. I could not remember another time when my parents had excused themselves from our monarchs to attend to me; their doing so now, when I was almost twenty years old, could not be a good sign.

My mother began to pace in our living room. The restless action was so unlike her that it ripped the question from me: "What is happening to me?"

"When your father and I were exiled from the island," my mother began slowly, "the Lady Araceli, heir to the falcon Empress Cjarsa, bound us into the forms we had used to hide among the avians when we first left Ahnmik. She stripped us of our falcon forms, and took away our magic." She looked to my father for support as she summarized the tale I knew, then moved on. "As you know, falcon magic  -  jaes'Ahnmik

-  is so powerful that the serpiente and avians have feared it for thousands of years. That magic runs very strongly in the royal house of Ahnmik, where your father's mother is heir. It also ran very strongly in me. After our magic was bound..." She swore again in the falcons' language, trailing off with a whispered prayer of


Help me with this.

"That magic should never have showed in you," she continued, "not with both of your parents locked from it. But everything you have been experiencing lately I have seen in others, when they first discovered their power."

Chills ran down my spine. I had suspected something like this from the moment Lily had told me to go to my parents.

"Even if I do have this magic, why does it frighten you so much?" I asked. "I would never use it to harm anyone; you know

I would never use it against Wyvern's Court."

"I know," she said, shaking her head. "But I worry it will use you."

"Kel," my father finally spoke, putting a hand on my mother's arm to still her pacing,

"what if all this worrying is premature? We both left the island when we were younger than Nicias is now, and neither of us ever had a problem." She looked at him as if he had gone mad, then sighed, her gaze turning distant.

"Sebastian of Ahnmik..." He winced when she called him by the name he had once used, as Araceli's son.

"Sebastian would have passed the four summers Trial without effort. He was royal blood, after all  -  "

"As is Nicias  -  "

"It doesn't matter." My mother spoke over my father's protests. "I never knew Sebastian. But I can say with certainty that he had years of training before coming to avian lands. I passed the Trials when I was seven; it was another nine years before I fled. And both of us stole avian forms within a month of arriving, which kept the magic in check until Araceli bound it. Neither of us has the ability to teach our son, or to bind him."

"What do you propose we do, Kel?" my father asked, his voice strained. "I know the danger as well as you do. What I don't know is the solution."

"I might not have been raised on Ahnmik studying this magic," I said in the ensuing silence, struggling to keep my voice respectful despite my irritation, "but I'm not an idiot and I'm not a child. Would one of you please speak to me, instead of arguing as if I am not here?"

My mother looked at me for long moments, then said to my father, "We have to send him to Araceli, ask her to  -  "

"No." My father's response was swift. "Sending him to my mother would be madness. The only reason I got out when I was young was that Syfka convinced Araceli to let me spend some time off the island, and taught me to force-change so I would be able to hide from her  -  "

"Isn't it madness to keep him here?" my mother demanded. "I've known that this might happen from the time he was three and I saw the first silver in his hair. I assure you, I have considered every option."

All that time, and she had never told me, warned me? My father spoke before I could.

"Have you considered that we are both outlaws, Kel? There is no assurance that Araceli will even agree to see Nicias, or that she won't execute him on the spot as the son of traitors. If she does see him, and agrees to teach him... it will be because she sees herself in his face, a pure-blood falcon with his beauty still intact, unmarred by a crow's features. I

am my mother's only child, but I am dead to her. In our son, she may see a villain or she may see her heir.

If she agrees to teach him, it will mean she has no intention of letting him go."

"She won't force him to stay," my mother said. "Nicias will be powerful. If she does not bind his magic, she will need to teach him, and once she teaches him, he will have the strength to resist her."

"I'm not worried she'll force him," he said, though his voice had the tone of one who had given up.

Finally, finally, he turned to me, as if realizing that I deserved to have some part in this conversation about my life.

"Nicias, Ahnmik's magic is powerful enough to destroy its user, if he cannot control it. Most falcons begin to study almost as soon as they can walk, just to keep it from killing them." His voice was level, as controlled as any avian's, but I could see the effort that control took. "Most royal-blood falcons use their magic innately, and so it may be with you... But your mother is right. As a child, even I was given exercises to help me focus my mind and keep me from losing myself in the magic."

"Rei  -  "

He cut my mother off with a look. She sighed, but allowed him to continue.

"It may be that this fall today was a fluke, caused by your magic waking when you weren't expecting it. It may be that this will be all, that your magic has been crippled by the bonds put on your mother and me, and it will never grow stronger; that would probably be for the best. Or, your power may simply have been hidden all these years, and now it will show as true as any falcon's. If it does grow, you may be able to control it effortlessly  -  or you may not." He drew a deep breath and then continued. "If you can't, it will destroy you. It will numb your body and mind, until it drives you into what is called shm

'Ecl. There are rooms on Ahnmik filled with those who have succumbed to it, those who could not learn to control their power. They are neither alive nor dead, neither awake nor asleep..."

His voice wavered, his gaze turning distant. He shook himself, as if to clear away something foul that clung to his skin.

"There are two people I know who are powerful enough to bind a falcon's magic," my mother finished for him. "The Empress herself, and her heir, the Lady Araceli of Ahnmik."

"My grandmother."

She nodded.

My father spoke again. "My mother is a devious woman, Nicias, not a kind one. If you go to her, I don't know what will happen. I worry... I worry you won't return." I could not tell whether he feared that his mother would kill me, or something worse. Did he really think anyone could convince me to abandon my home?

He added, "But you may be in just as much danger staying here. I don't know. But as you've said, Nicias, you're not a child; your mother and I can't make this choice for you."

At once I regretted those words, because now I

wanted to be a child again, so that I would not need to face this decision. Stay here, where I might be fine or I might decline into madness, or go to Ahnmik, where I might be executed or I might finally see and study in the city that had haunted my dreams?

"I need some time to think," I said. "If it's true that today might have been a fluke, can we wait, and make this decision after we see whether it happens again?"

"Maybe," my mother answered. "But if that is your choice, I would recommend you ask for leave from Oliza's guard for a while, until we know whether your magic will interfere with your duty. And, Nicias, please try to avoid activities that could be dangerous if you were... distracted."

Distracted. I remembered falling in the woods, and the time I had lost after watching Oliza dance, when anything could have happened to her without my noticing. Yes, my mother's suggestions made sense.

"Tonight we should all get some sleep," my father said. "Fatigue doesn't help anyone keep alert  -  or make decisions."

I tried to obey, but as I tossed and turned in bed, images from the day and visions spawned by my parents' words kept shifting through my mind.

When I finally did drift into sleep, those visions invaded my nightmares, twisting around everything. I found myself locked inside black ice, frozen and still, unable to escape  -

Garnet cobra's eyes, staring at me with fury. A cobra's fangs, bared and glistening with poison  -

Ice, rippling with white lines like a million silver scars; it cracked and shrieked and bled


My prince, whispered a voice  -  the same one that had shouted at me in the woods, angrily telling me to go away.

You are too brilliant for this dark land...

Then Oliza stood before me. She touched my hand and then there was fire  -

I scrambled away, choking on the smell of burned flesh, and slid on the ice. A black cobra coiled around me, the scales cold against my skin.

Why am I drawn to your dreams?

she asked.

What vows bind you to me?

"You're a cobra," I managed to whisper. "I am sworn to the royal house." My prince, do you think me a fool?

she snarled.

Abruptly the cobra became a python. It wrapped around my body, binding my arms and constricting my chest until I struggled to breathe.

You are the royal house. Your royal blood infects this land like a virus


I woke, gasping and coughing as I tried to draw air into my body. For long moments I could only feel the cold coils of the serpent, pulling me back. Finally I became aware of a gentler voice.

"Nicias, Nicias, come back to me," Lily was whispering. Her hands were warm on mine, which made me realize that I was shivering.

I forced myself to open my eyes, disoriented by her presence as much as by the dream.

"You cried out, with your magic," she said. "I felt you fall, felt you go cold  -  did you speak to your parents?"

"I  -  " The effort of trying to speak made me cough again. My ribs felt bruised. As if reading my mind, Lily placed one hand gently on my chest. "There isn't too much damage," she said after a moment. Warmth seemed to spread from her touch, dispelling the lingering chill from the nightmare. "I was so frightened  -  " The door opened.

"I thought I heard  -  " My mother broke off, looking from me to Lily and then back to me. Her obvious conclusion, though false, made me blush and pull away from Lily slightly.

Lily didn't look embarrassed or bother to explain who she was or why she was there. Her fear for me became anger as she demanded, "You left him alone? The evening after his magic awakened, you let him sleep with no one near to pull him back?"

"I didn't realize there was anyone in the area who  -  "

"You and your pair bond hid for years among the avians," Lily snapped. "You of all people must know that there are at least half a dozen of us in the area  -  "

"And who exactly are you?" my mother finally asked.

Lily drew a deep breath, visibly struggling to control her temper. "A woman who cares about your son," she said softly. "I would think that is something we share." My father joined my mother in the doorway. He glanced at her questioningly, and she shook her head slightly.

"Nicias, I can fly with you to Ahnmik if you would like, to show you the way and keep you safe from your magic over the open seas," Lily said.

My father cleared his throat, attracting our attention. "Have you already made your decision, then, Nicias?"

"What other choice is there?" Lily asked. "I felt his magic clear across Wyvern's Court. Even among your avians and serpents, you will hear people speak tomorrow of their nightmares from this evening. Maybe you don't have the power to sense his magic pressing him, but I can tell you without doubt, if he does not begin studying the jaes

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