Wolfcry Page 19

"But..." She started to cry; great big tears trickled down her face. "I want to chase the butterflies."

My eyes widened, and he looked at me with a guarded expression. "Not many people come here," he said. "Did Hai send you?"

"Hai?" I asked, blankly.

He frowned. "You probably shouldn't be here."

"Daddy, let me down!" The girl managed to get free, and she continued running. He hurried to catch up with her and scooped her up in his arms.

"She's a handful, I take it?"

He shook his head. "You really aren't from here, are you?"

"No," I answered.

This time he seemed to look closely at me; he frowned and said, "You seem familiar, but I can't place you." He tensed, holding the girl closer. "You aren't from Ahnmik?"

"The falcons come here often?"

"Look around you," he answered.

"I'm sorry; I have not been here in a very long time. The last time I stood in this spot, Oliza was the heir to the throne."

"No,

I'm sorry," he answered. "If you are looking for Oliza  -  " He turned away, his breath hitching. "Daddy, do you see the rainbow?"

"There is no rainbow, honey."

"Daddy-"

"There is no rainbow."

he said, too sharply. Then he fell to his knees, cradling the girl. Tears stung my eyes. "What kind of future was this?

This was my child; I could feel it. And surely this was the mate I had chosen. But where was everyone else? Where was Wyvern's Court?

What was wrong with the girl?

"Mommy!" the girl shouted, pulling away from her father. She ran to me.

"Not Mommy," her father answered. Looking at me, he said, "I'm sorry, you never told us your name."

"Mommy!" the girl called again. "Mommy, Mommy!" She was crying now, and I could not help going to my knees and putting my arms around her.

"Please don't encourage her," the man said. "Keyi has a poor grasp on reality. These walls keep her physically safe from her magic, but her mind has never been as safe. Please, Keyi, come here."

""Where is everyone else?" I asked over the girl's head. "The rest of Wyvern's Court?" He shook his head. "There is no rest of Wyvern's Court. I'm sorry to have to be the one to tell you. We were warned that Keyi would be born with magic. We were warned that it wouldn't be stable. We tried... we tried, and Nicias and Darien tried, everything, but her magic was too powerful. We had no way to control her and no way to teach her. I know that Oliza wouldn't begrudge her daughter for what she did as an infant, but I think it's probably best that Keyi's mind will never grow beyond what it is." My breath was coming in ragged gasps.

This was the world with peace? Was anyone alive?

"What of Sive? Salem?"

He shook his head. "The falcons came."

"Why..." My throat closed around sobs when I tried to speak.

"Why am I alive?" he asked. "Because someone needed to care for her, because the falcons wouldn't kill a child. Just lock her in this magical prison, where she chases butterflies and sees phantoms of all the people who once lived on this ground. Hai and Nicias help. So do the rest of Obsidian, as many as Araceli allowed to live. The other serpiente and avian children were taken back to the palace and the Hawk's Keep. I suppose the falcons are raising them."

"Dear sky," I prayed, "is this my future?"

His eyes widened. "Who are you?"

"I'm... the past," I answered. For myself more than him, I said, "And I have no daughter. This prison doesn't exist. And Wyvern's Court does."

"Sakkri," he whispered. "Oliza?"

I nodded. He stepped toward me, hand outstretched, and then jerked away. "If none of this exists, then I pray you won't let it.

Ever.

Do we even know each other, in your world?"

"We met," I answered. "I was running from mercenaries. We danced together. That's all."

"I remember that day," he sighed. "Better if that is all." I looked at the daughter I would never have, and held back tears. "When I leave, all this will vanish. She will vanish. And she will never exist."

"And only you will know she could have," he answered. Gods, why? Why do this to me?

If this was what the falcons feared, the reason Nicias believed that they would kill my child if she was born with magic, then this was a possibility with any man I might choose as my mate.

"Did she kill me?"

He nodded.

I pulled away from the vision, letting it dissolve, and ended up on my hands and knees, choking on tears.

Chapter 23

When the visions faded, Betia's arms were around me and I wept. The wings of my Demi form cascaded down my back; I had wanted them so much, but now they were less important.

I wanted both to remember and to forget everything I had just seen; I wanted never to have known. I understood, then, more than I had ever wanted to. I remembered pulling from the trance after Urban was hurt and struggling to act even as the visions continued to barrage me, slipping me from the present to the past so that I spoke and acted in a haze that I later recalled only in my nightmares.

I struggled now to keep my resolve as the memories frayed like dreams.

"Are you all right, Oliza?" Nicias asked, kneeling next to us.

"Keyi..." I tried to hold her face in my mind.

"Hope?" Hai asked, from where she was leaning against the wall. Her skin was flushed, and I could see the sheen of sweat on her brow.

Hope.

That was what the name meant in the old language.

But Keyi didn't exist.

"Please, leave me alone for a moment?" I asked of Hai and Nicias. "Thank you for helping. Thank you. But I need time to think."

Nicias nodded and said, "I will be right outside if you need me." With one last concerned look back at me, he escorted Hai out. I was certain that he had not seen the devastating visions I had seen; I did not know if Hai had.

Betia met my gaze questioningly, and I held her more tightly. I did not want to be alone, not truly. And I couldn't send her away, not when she had been gone in every world I had come across.

"Where were you?" I whispered. "Did I chase you away when I became queen, Betia? I must have... So much death. Where were you?" I sobbed, looking away. "I had a daughter. And she was mad. And she  -  "

I could not say it.

Betia lifted my face and brushed the tears from my cheek. Her voice was hoarse from the long months of disuse as she asked, "Were you in love?" The question, the first sentence she had spoken, made a lump lodge in my throat. Betia kissed my forehead. "I won't leave you unless you ask me to. I  -  " Her lips touched mine, chastely. "The future will come. I will be there, if you want me." She kissed me again, so sweetly that I could not help crying harder. Her lips were warm, her body soft against mine.

"You don't have to speak. Words fade," she whispered. "I know that better than anyone. Words are forgotten; they are regretted. Unnecessary. I know." So in silence, we held each other until my trembling subsided. And when she kissed me once more, I gave in to the temptation, and I kissed her back. "With her presence and her touch, she gave me the hope and the warmth that I needed so much. I don't care what your preferences are. But I know what it is to be a leader. You are the monarch of this land; you are your parents' only child. You need a king, Wyvern. I pulled away from Betia as reality began crashing down around me  -  as I suddenly remembered why she had not been in the future.

Find me a time when I

find love, when I take a mate and it does not lead to war.

I found love. And I took a mate. They just weren't the same person. I looked at Betia and saw the hurt in her eyes. "Betia, I

can't

... "We can't be together. Not while I'm queen. Not while-" A vision of Keyi came to mind, and again the words echoed in my mind: And a royal pair bond has to produce heirs.

"Oliza?" Nicias had entered the room and was standing beside me.

"Nicias, please

-  "

"Oliza, I'm sorry, but a group of our guards just brought the mercenaries in." The lions. I needed to talk to them. Needed...

I want to chase the butterflies.

Again, I struggled to keep the dream in focus. But I also wanted more than anything to forget it, to curl in Betia's arms and pretend that the future was easy.

"I need to talk to the mercenaries," I said.

Betia nodded, her expression resigned. I couldn't help it; I kissed her again, tasting her lips and drawing strength from her embrace for what I needed to do. I didn't care what Nicias thought.

"The lions hunted sometimes with us," Betia said. "They only do their jobs. Don't hurt them?"

I smiled, moved by her protectiveness. The lions had no formal kingdom and had always been at the mercy of the laws of the lands that they visited. The punishment for treason was severe in both courts, but in this case I could promise. "I won't hurt them." Needing her support, I asked, "Would you come with me to speak to them?" Betia hesitated, but then she gripped my hand and helped me stand.

Chapter 24

Tavisan and nine of his people were waiting in the Rookery courtyard, surrounded by my Wyverns and additional members of the serpiente and avian guards. It was the place where I had first met him; it was also the place where I had woken up after the unintended sakkri.

"Let me through," I told my guards as they tried to keep me from getting too close to the lions' leader. Too many people were there. "Nicias, I want to speak to Tavisan alone."

"Oliza  -  "

"Now."

His eyes widened at the command, but nevertheless, he escorted Tavisan from the mass of soldiers to the far edge of the Rookery, where, if we kept our voices down, we would not be overheard. Betia hesitated and then, at my gesture, followed us.

"Betia Frektane, an honor as always. Oliza Shardae Cobriana, I hope you take no offense if I say I had not hoped to see you again." His voice was soft, and his body seemed tired.

Nicias had given us some room, but he didn't move so far back that he could not intercede if Tavisan tried anything.

I didn't have time to argue with him. Voices were echoing in my head, and I grasped at them, needing to remember...

The dancers didn't leave. I was part of the crew that took the bodies out of the nest Tavisan took a deep breath. "I know what you are about to ask, milady, but I cannot tell you the name of my employer. I was instructed not to tell anyone, my own people included, unless my refusal to speak put me in danger."

"You don't think you're in danger here?" Nicias demanded. "You abducted our queen. For a reason I do not comprehend, she is willing to show you lenience. I think it would be in your best interest to answer her."

Tavisan, I need your help.

Milady, what is wrong?

I finally understood the argument that had echoed in my mind frequently since Hai's magic had first triggered mine and I had spun the sakkri'a'she. Oliza, this is madness. There has to be another way.

Almost two months before, I had woken from these visions the same way I had this time, desperate to protect the future from the horrors I had seen. I had gone to the only person I knew who might be able to help me do what Hai had warned me I would: change everything.

There was no time to be subtle. "I hired you."

"What?"

Nicias asked in shock, but I ignored him. No time.

"I know it's the truth. I remember now." More important, I remembered why. I couldn't let the horrors I had seen become reality, and there was one thing they had all had in common.

The one thing I had begged Tavisan to help me remove.

Tavisan hesitated but then nodded. "You told me that you needed to leave Wyvern's Court, but that you feared you would soon lose the knowledge of why. You were the one who ordered me to strip your winged forms, so that you would not be able to return easily." His gaze dropped. "We did not anticipate that the Frektane, whom we have worked with before, would be a problem."

I want to chase the butterflies

"Nicias... release them, all of them. I need to go."

I want to chase the butterflies.

I grasped at the memory but couldn't quite find it. Why did those words bring an ache to my chest?

I

want to chase the butterflies.

I kissed Betia's cheek and whispered, "I will meet you... in the nest. There is something I must do now. I love you."

I needed speed; I needed my wings. I shifted into my wyvern form, nearly shrieking with the relief of finally unfurling my wings again. I would have loved to take to the skies and soar, but in that moment, I had other things to do. I whipped out the doorway, past Nicias, who I knew would follow me as soon as he had changed into his own form for flight.

Sive let out a little gasp as I landed inches in front of her, finding my human form again; I had stopped and shifted so swiftly that she had to grab my arm to steady me. She was alone, luckily. I did not want Prentice as an audience just yet. I swallowed thickly. Could I really do this?

I asked, "Could you do it, Sive? I've heard how highly your people speak of you, and I know that you would treat them well; you think swiftly and are as polished as any hawk ever was. Could you rule if you had to?"

She froze. "Oliza, are you all right?"

"Never mind me," I answered. I couldn't think about myself right then. I couldn't think about how I had always expected to one day be their queen. All my life I had considered Wyvern's Court mine.

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