Wolfcry Page 18

Stop fooling yourself.

I've never seen you act that way around a man, Oliza,

Urban had said.

The truth was that I had never ever been tempted, just as I had never felt torn about performing the rrasatoth dances because there had never been anyone I wanted to perform for. Until that day in Obsidian.

I held on to Betia a moment too long, knowing I wouldn't always be able to. I forced myself to focus on the reason we were there. I had to.

"Hai, I'm sorry for what I said yesterday," I began. "I have never thought less of you just because you can't fly, and I  -  "

"It would be hard for you to think less of me, cousin, since you think very little of me in the first place," she said offhandedly, as if she found the whole subject silly. "I'm not a falcon to you. I don't deserve that respect in your mind. And I'm not a cobra, either, not kin to you, not in your heart."

She was right. I

didn't know how to think of her. I found it hard to think of her as family. I acknowledged our shared blood mostly out of a sense of responsibility to her, not out of any genuine affection. The way she drifted into and out of a room, often responding to friendly greetings or questions with an expression that conveyed something close to contempt, had alienated me from the first time we had met.

"I didn't realize you felt that way." Having recognized my mistakes, I wanted to fix them. "I don't know you well, Hai, but  -  "

"I spoke a fact to you, Wyvern," she interrupted, once again snuffing out what might have been some kind of connection before it could be formed. "It was not a plea for compassion. Were I given the choice, I would be in the white city, not here, and I would call Cjarsa my queen, not you. But I do not have a choice. You have come to ask me if I really can fix your wings, or if my offer was just the rambling of a slightly delusional mind. There is no need for this false courtesy before you ask me favors."

"Given how you seem to feel about me, why are you offering to help?" She lifted her cobra eyes skyward. "My loyalty toward the Empress who raised me implies no hatred for you. I do not care what images of me you hold in your head. I will give you back your wings, if I can, because

I of all people know what it is like to have the sky, your future, your place in life all torn from you by the shifting tides of Anhamirak's whims. Now, Wyvern, let us see if I can find your golden feathers."

I looked at Nicias, who shrugged, as if to say,

Your decision.

I stepped closer to Hai, and she moved into the starting position of many serpiente dances.

I raised my hands and crossed my forearms, mirroring Hai, the backs of our hands just touching. Nicias stood behind Hai, as if prepared either to catch her or to push her out of the way.

"You really think you can do this?" I asked Hai. "That, or we could burn down the library."

"Excuse me?"

She gave me an innocent look. "Don't worry. You don't harm Wyvern's Court; your magic isn't that strong."

"Hai, you aren't making any sense."

She leaned back against Nicias, closing her eyes. "You have asked me for my help, and yet still you doubt? Every moment of every day, I touch a thousand different a'she, a thousand possible futures. I know that your magic is not strong enough to really burn."

"If you know these things, can you tell me who hired the mercenaries?" She looked up at me, her eyes like pools of blood. "Now she asks. But no, I cannot see that. The only way I think I can find your wings is by using your control, that overriding control that will forever keep your magic a whisper instead of the whirlwind it could be. Precious control, which I do not have on my own. Relax, Wyvern. This will hurt." I was vaguely aware of Betia's warmth behind me when Hai's power first reached me, but then that faint contact, as well as any awareness of the library we were in, burned away.

If this is what her power feels like, no wonder she is mad.

I would have screamed if I could have found my voice, but it was gone, seared away from me. And then I felt Hai, and the power that was at the heart of this agony. You burn, she whispered in my mind, and in those words I felt longing and envy and fear, all rolled together.

Frozen.

When I reached for Hai, her power was like ice. It wrapped around me, seeping deep into my body, contorting muscle and bone.

The magic I had inherited from my parents accepted the falcon's magic like an old companion, and they fit together until I could feel my hawk form again. It had been broken and buried in pain, but now I knew I would be able to grow my wings. If this could work for one of us... could it work for the other? I was not the only one there whose wings had been lost, the only one longing for the sky. Hai-No.

I had already reached for her. She recoiled, but it was too late. My magic had welcomed hers, but hers  -  Fractured  -

Another power reached forward, something gentler, frightened but soothing: Nicias  -

Someone screamed, maybe me. The sound echoed in my head until it became white noise and then hollow silence, stillness.

Like a feather skimming the surface of a sudden draft, I floated into another world.

Chapter 22

The world seemed to pause. The air felt heavy and expectant; when I turned, I was hardly surprised to find myself no longer in the library but in the woods. There was a stranger before me. Her eyes widened, and her hand flew to a dagger at her waist  -

Suddenly I knew that this had happened before, in some memory I could not quite reach. The instant I became aware of that, I realized that I was not part of this scene. What was happening now was an echo of the past  -  specifically, the moments I had lost after Hai's magic had interacted with mine for the first time. Hai's words echoed in my mind:

A

sakkri isn't neat like a letter. I was never trained; I can't control it. At least I remember mine. Most without training cannot.

Sakkri?

Magic. Vision.

Sakkri'a'she.

You are about to do something that changes everything.

My past self held up her hands in a gesture of harmlessness, and the stranger paused, her blade lowering slightly. "You..." She looked puzzled, and lost. "This... who..." I watched as Oliza-of-the-past spoke softly, facing the confused woman. "You're in the woods near Wyvern's Court," she said. "I am Oliza Shardae Cobriana. Are you a dancer?"

The woman she was facing raised a hand to touch something at her throat: an Ahnleh, like the one I wore.

Exactly like the one I wore. Now I recognized the knife as well; it matched the one my mother had given to me.

"Not a dancer," the not-such-a-stranger sighed.

I understood now, as I had understood then. "The sakkri." I gasped, just as my past self had. Once again I was trapped inside the memory. My sakkri'a'she, meant to distract my mind and calm me, instead had summoned a vision of my future self.

"Sakkri'a'she."

whispered the vision.

She wore the

Ahnleh on a soft leather string. She also wore deerskin boots that went to her thighs, gauntlets of hard leather, and a vest that I now realized was armored. Her face... was mine, but not the one I saw in the mirror every day. The golden eyes were hard, and her expression was painfully controlled. A ragged scar twisted from her left cheekbone, down her jaw, to the edge of her throat  -  a few more inches, and the wound probably would have killed her.

This was a version of me who had seen war, I had no doubt. The sorrow with which she looked upon Wyvern's Court told me more about her life than I wanted to know.

"They aren't ready," the vision said softly. "There is no answer." She swallowed hard and then explained, "I stayed. I stayed, and when pressured I took a mate. Urban." She smiled a little, but her expression was weak. "He was sweet, gentle, you know. And he was dead within a fortnight, killed at my feet in the marketplace with poison so swift no one saw the source. The riots lasted three days."

She held out her hand, and tentatively my past and future selves touched fingertips. Vertigo, as time and Fate swirled around us, future and past and present scattering and mixing together.

Suddenly I was on the green marble of the plaza at Wyvern's Court. Sunrise was painting the hills, but I walked through a silent court. Where were the merchants, preparing to sell their wares? Where were the dancers, giving thanks in the mist? Where were the children, laughing, running?

Someone grabbed me, and I went peacefully. This was a dream. Nothing could be hurt here but my heart and faith.

"What do you want, feathered stranger?"

My captor turned me, and I blinked as I saw the leader of the Obsidian guild.

"Dancer, you aren't welcome here," he said bluntly.

Instinctively, I lifted my hand to the

Ahnleh at my throat, and he smacked it away. "That's the only thing that keeps me from killing you on sight, Oliza Shardae Cobriana." He spat the last two names. "I don't know how you reached our land, but I suggest that you take your wyvern form and fly swiftly and high out of here. Go home to your palace, your forts and  -  " Choking back a cry, I violently twisted the world about me, landing on my knees in the same spot but in another reality.

Here, Wyvern's Court was crowded, despite it probably being the middle of the night. There was a festival air that reminded me of Namir-da, and I sighed in relief, trying to shake off the vision of Obsidian.

I should have stayed to ask him what had happened, but I had panicked. I would not do it again.

Leaving the market, I walked up to the dancers' guild, ever the home of gossips. Searching revealed nothing; Wyvern's Nest was gone in this future. Scanning the market from this distance, I realized that there was not a single dais. I lifted my eyes and saw crows and ravens circling above me, their pattern precise. Guards.

I returned to the market, letting my dream self twist so that I ceased to be Oliza Shardae Cobriana and was instead perceived as a friendly stranger.

"What happened here?" I asked the first passerby I could find. The woman looked at me as if I had lost my mind, and I clarified my question. "I've been away a long time, but when I was here last, there were dancers."

"Oh, well," the woman said, "the dancers all left years ago." Left implied that they had gone peacefully. "Why?"

"There was a lot of trouble for them," the woman explained. "This wasn't really their place, anyway."

"Wyvern's Court was  -  "

"Hush, girl, no one uses that name anymore." The avian shook her head. "No, the dancers knew they weren't wanted even before Oliza decided  -  " She cleared her throat. "Before Oliza decided to do the right thing."

"Which was?" I asked.

"Where have you been, child? Why, she finally picked an alistair. The dancers just got up and left."

Someone behind me spoke up. "Don't let her fool you," the young man said. "The dancers didn't leave. I was part of the crew that took the bodies out of the nest." He swallowed hard. "Someone got it into their heads that Oliza preferred avians, and that they could get away with it. And they did. They say Oliza killed herself, though I don't believe it. I'm more likely to say Prentice killed her."

"Prentice. Sive's alistair?"

"Don't go spreading filthy rumors like that," the woman said.

"Someone killed her," a third person said. "I myself wouldn't accuse the Tuuli Thea's alistair, but someone did it. The wyvern wasn't the sort to take her own life." I was relieved to hear it. My position in this reality shifted, and I was not surprised to see Sive, sitting in the Rookery's conference hall, a queen upon her throne. Where was the young girl I had known? This woman was beautiful in a cold sort of way, her skin as pale and flawless as alabaster, and her golden eyes fierce.

"Well?" she demanded of the three avians who stood before her, Prentice included.

"Milady, the reports were true," her alistair informed her. Sive looked away for a moment. "I knew I shouldn't have let her go into those lands, but she had so much faith. And she loved him so much..." She shook her head. "Why didn't I stop her? What kind of promise is love, to keep a hawk safe?" she cried out, in a shocking loss of control for a hawk.

"Milady  -  "

"I'm sorry," Sive said softly. "It has been a very long day. I had prayed that the rumors weren't true. Danica was almost a second mother to me."

My mother.

They were talking about my mother. What had happened?

"How is my own mother today?" Sive asked. I could see that she was bracing herself for the answer.

"Nacola is not well, milady," Prentice replied. "The poison  -  " Again I pulled myself away, thinking,

Find me a time when there is peace. Please, any god or goddess that exists. Find me a time when I find love, when I take a mate and it does not lead to war. Wyvern's Court was gone. No wreckage remained. Instead, the buildings that stood there glittered with what could only be falcon magic.

I shivered.

A small child ran past me, her long chestnut hair trailing behind her. She laughed and turned; her eyes were as golden as my own.

I saw one of the men from the Obsidian guild  -  the Burmese python I had danced with once  -  following close at her heels. He picked her up, spun her around and then paused when he saw me.

"Is she yours?" I asked.

"Yes," he answered, warily. "Can I help you?"

"Where is her mother?"

"Ooo." The girl struggled to get down. "I want to chase the butterflies." He sighed. "Keyi, there are no butterflies."

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