Wolfcry Page 4

"I know," he answered, "but it's not a safe joke to make, even in frustration. There are too many people who would take you seriously."

Too many people, in these woods? What had happened to the days when we could share our dreams and he didn't chastise me about the shadows overhearing us?

I frowned, hurt. I knew what would happen if I

did take a falcon for my mate. Both serpiente and avians would probably rebel. I would have a civil war on my hands. Even if that wasn't the case, everyone knew that a falcon couldn't take a pair bond from another breed without the risk of having a child whose magic was too strong to control. Hai was a vivid example of that madness. The impossibility was what made my friendship with Nicias safe. There had never been a chance for a relationship between us, so we could both tease and not worry about it going further.

I supposed he had stopped teasing after his trip to Ahnmik. I hadn't noticed until just then.

"It's late," Nicias said softly, "and it has been a long day. Maybe it would be best to face these questions in the morning."

I nodded. "You're right. It's too late tonight to make any decisions anyway, too late to do anything but turn over the same fears."

We said our farewells, and I changed shape and stretched my wyvern's wings, circling once over my home, as if to bid it good night. The dancers would keep the southern hills bathed in light and music until nearly dawn, but the rest of my world was quiet and peaceful.

Almost. Shifting shadows drew my attention to something out of place in the avians'

northern hills, a figure lying on the ground, curled on its side on the cobblestone path between the houses. My pulse sped as I dove toward the unusual sight. It was common for people to sleep outside on the southern hills in good weather, but it was unheard of there, on the hard cobbles of the north.

I fell into human form near enough to make out dark hair. Fair skin. Clothes that could pass for acceptable in either court. A

melos tied around his waist, with a fringe of silver thread. A dancer. Urban.

I tumbled to his side, skinning one knee when I saw the blood on him.

"Urban!"

I shouted, but was afraid to touch him. He was curled in a protective ball, one arm over his head, his hair in his face so I couldn't see it.

Please don't let him be

... "Urban, please

Tentatively I touched his shoulder and turned him toward me, and though it made me cringe, the pained sound he let out was the sweetest thing I had ever heard. Thank the gods at least he was alive.

"Urban, it's me, Oliza. How badly are you hurt?" I was torn between wanting to stay with him and wanting to take to the skies to drag back a doctor right then. A doctor, and guards. If someone had done this to him, it had happened just moments before. Whoever was responsible had to be nearby still. I couldn't leave Urban alone, unprotected.

"Oliz  -  " He hissed in pain and then slowly, agonizingly, tried to lift his head.

"Don't move yet," I told him. "I'll be right back." I rose to my feet and shifted back into my wyvern form, propelling myself into the air, with one eye still on Urban. As I shot above the mist, I let out a shriek capable of shattering glass.

Within seconds, two of my avian guards took to the sky. Other avians rose from their beds and came to doorways. All the serpents who were celebrating in the southern hills, including Gretchen, looked up.

Half a minute had passed since I'd left Urban, but by the time I landed beside him again, I had six of my guards with me.

Nicias took charge. "Get to the Rookery and bring back a doctor now; I don't care who you have to wake up," he ordered two of the avians, who instantly returned to the sky. "The rest of you, spread out, try to find sign of who did this. Try not to panic people." Meanwhile, he knelt by Urban to assess the damage. By this time, Gretchen had reached us, her face flushed from the run. "Oliza, what's  -  " She went pale when she saw Urban, but her first question was for me. "Oliza, are you all right?"

I nodded sharply, even though I understood why I had to be her priority. "I found him. I wasn't here when it happened."

"It's all right," Nicias was saying to Urban. "You're going to be all right." He lifted his gaze to me, and I could tell he was worried.

"Is there anything you can do?" I asked.

"I'll try."

He brushed the hair out of Urban's face, revealing bruises and a long cut down his cheek. One of Urban's eyes was swollen shut, but the other eventually focused on Nicias, and Urban cringed, perhaps anticipating the touch of what the serpiente considered falcons' black magic.

"It'll be all right," Nicias said again before he closed his eyes, drew a breath, and then went impossibly still.

By the time the doctor arrived a few minutes later, Urban's eyes had closed again, but he was breathing regularly. Nicias looked up, finally releasing the long breath he had held, and reported, "I can't do any more. I don't know how. I managed to stop the bleeding inside, but he has broken bones, things  -  " He pressed a hand to the ground as if to steady himself. "I'm not a trained healer."

The doctor, an avian named Rian, nodded. "I'll take care of him." The next two hours were torture. I waited in the Rookery library, my head in my hands and my body shaking with adrenaline, while the doctor tended to Urban.

"Oliza?"

I looked up when I heard Gretchen. "Urban is awake. He wants to speak to you."

"How is he?"

"The doctor is... optimistic." The careful words made me pale, and she quickly clarified, "He'll live. But the doctor is avian. I do not think she understands that Urban is more concerned about the broken leg and the dislocated knee than he would have been about a potentially fatal injury."

"Gods," I whispered. Gretchen was not exaggerating. A dancer's craft was his life. Who had done this?

I stood to go, and Gretchen added hesitantly, "Urban also wants us to speak to the nest and bring a serpent here to stay with him."

I began to nod, surprised that Gretchen had even bothered to pass that request by me instead of simply fulfilling it, and then it hit me. When the dancers heard about the attack on Urban, they would be furious and assume that avians were to blame. We needed to find out who had done this before word got out, or the dancers might take matters into their own hands.

"I'll speak to Urban," I said, "and then we'll figure out the rest."

Chapter 5

"How is he?" I asked the doctor as she stopped me in the doorway of Urban's room.

"He'll make it," Rian said, "but not thanks to any craft of mine. Nicias minimizes his skill. Judging by the injuries I saw, if the falcon hadn't been on the scene, I'm not certain I would have been able to do anything. I know you'll need to talk to Urban, but make it quick. He needs rest now."

I didn't bother to try to explain that Urban would not be able to rest well until he was back in the nest and safe in the arms of his fellow dancers. That would be my problem.

"Can he be moved?"

"If he must be, but he won't be able to walk. He'll need to stay off that leg for a week at least if he wants it to heal right."

She left the room, and I went to Urban's side. I had to bite my lip to keep from cursing when I saw him. I wanted to weep; I wanted to scream.

What kind of monsters could have done this?

I forced myself to remain calm when I said, "I hate to have to question you so soon, but I need to know what happened, before the rumors start."

"You mean," Urban said, "before the dancers learn that one of their people was jumped by a group of avians?"

I winced. "You're sure they were avian?"

"Yes."

"What happened?" I didn't want to know, but I needed to. Urban shut his eyes and took a shaky half breath. "I'm not sure. A little while after you left, I walked over to the northern hills. Figured I should go by Marus's house to see if he was still awake, and apologize."

"Apologize?" I asked, impressed but surprised that he would have decided to do such a thing, especially since Marus had hit him first.

"I might have baited him  -  just a bit," Urban admitted.

"So you walked to the northern hills."

"There isn't much more to tell," he said. "I thought I remembered where Marus's house was, and I was on my way there. It was dark. I felt a couple of people nearby  -

avians." He didn't need to clarify how he knew they were avians. Serpiente were coldblooded; if he had felt their body heat, they couldn't have been serpiente. "Someone hit me with something... I don't know. I don't remember much more. I remember someone saying..."

"Go on."

"Just, 'Stay away from her,' " he mumbled. "I'm sorry."

"You're sorry?" I whispered. "Urban, this is my fault if  -  "

"It's not your fault. It's their fault." He coughed before muttering, "And they call us violent."

"Do you remember anything else about the people who attacked you?" He shook his head and then cringed as if the movement hurt. "I don't remember. There were two. Maybe three, but I think two."

"Marus?" I asked hesitantly. An even worse possibility... "Prentice?" Both had been directly involved in the violence earlier.

He started to smirk. "I'd love to say yes, but I don't know."

"I need to talk to my parents."

Had anyone sent for them? It had been only a few hours since they had left, but it would be difficult for even an avian to locate them until the sun was up. Had any night ever been longer than this one?

"If the doctor says it's all right, I'd like to go back to the nest... but I'm going to need help."

I hesitated a little too long and saw his eyes widen.

"Oliza  -  "

"Will you wait until I talk to my parents?"

"Oliza, I've done nothing wrong."

"Of course you haven't  -  "

"If the nest learns that you refused to let one of their dancers go home  -  if you lie to them..."

I pressed a hand to my forehead. "You've done nothing wrong, and I have no intention of holding you against your will or lying to anyone. I am asking you to please wait until I have spoken to my parents and the Wyverns, so that I will have something to tell people."

"That wasn't meant to sound like a threat," Urban assured me. "I'm on your side. I'd like to wring the necks of the mangy fowl who hit me, but I can't stand the idea of letting them create a rift in the nest. Salem Cobriana was the first member of the royal house to join us in twenty generations.

Don't betray that  -  not to protect a bunch of birds too cowardly to even show their faces."

He was right. As much as I would have liked to keep this quiet until I had more answers, serpiente did not tolerate deception from their royal house. Too many people had seen me shout for help. Too many people would notice that Urban was missing, and would start asking about him, if they hadn't already.

"I won't." I stood up, touching his cheek gently on one of the few unbruised spots. "I'll be back as soon as I can, and I'll help you to the nest. In the meantime..." The promise that there would be guards on the door would be of little comfort. They weren't his nestmates, the people a serpent went to when hurt or scared.

"Hurry back."

"Gretchen, I want to see all the guards who examined the scene earlier," I told the python after I left Urban's room. "We need to get Urban back to the nest as soon as possible, and I want to know something before we do. I need to talk to Salem right away," I added. I would need him to help keep the dancers calm in the next few hours.

"And then I'm going to need to speak to Marus and Prentice." That was going to be unpleasant. "And please get someone with wings who can find my parents." Now,

I wanted to add, or better yet,

Yesterday.

As Gretchen jumped to respond to my commands, I walked with rapid strides to one of the empty classrooms. I needed to get myself under control, needed...

I screamed, muffling the sound with a cushion so that my guards wouldn't come running once again. There was no way to beat down this horror, this fury  -  this terror. My fault, my fault. I wasn't the one who had hit Urban, but I was the one who had insisted he come to Festival. I was the one who had laughed and assured him he would be fine.

I screamed again. I felt blind, and helpless.

"Don't do it."

The voice from the doorway made me jump. Hai. I turned toward her with a glare hot enough to melt steel. She looked back at me with an absolute lack of concern.

"Don't do what?" I asked when she did not speak again.

"I don't know. What are you about to do?"

I struggled to compose myself. "Hai, can you act sane for just a moment  -  please? I don't have it in me right now to play riddles."

"How nice for you."

"Hai  -  "

She made an abrupt motion, cutting me off. "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?"

I knew of them from my studies in the dancer's nest. The various forms of sakkri performed by serpiente were the remnants of ritual dances that had once been used to conjure powerful magic long ago. Some sakkri had called the rain; some had been used to create illusions; some had been prayers for divine assistance and some had summoned spirits of the past and future. There were dozens of varieties, some of which I had performed and many that I would not even begin to study for years yet. Unlike the serpiente, the falcons had never lost their magic. My cousin, despite her cobra features, claimed to wield a falcon's ancient power. "Magic. Vision. Sakkri'a'she."

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