Wolfcry Page 5

She tried to explain. "You are about to do something that changes everything." The sakkri'a'she was one of the more intricate sakkri, which I vaguely knew but had never performed. If one believed the stories, this particular form had been used to ask the future for guidance.

"How can you be warning me not to do what I'm about to do when I don't even know what I'm about to do?" I snapped.

"Your not knowing what the weather will be tomorrow does not change it."

"Presumably my knowing what I'm about to do would affect that" Why was I arguing about this? I didn't believe in prophecy, and even if I had, I wasn't certain I would have trusted a prophecy told to me by my crazy cousin.

"Of course. This is why I came to speak to you." She waved a hand dismissively. "The mind barely comprehends its own yesterday, but sakkri force on it other times, other places, other people, visions it tries to shake away because to hold them all would only court madness. A single soul is not meant to know every is and was and may be and could have been.

What I see is never as clear as why and when and where and how. Just pieces of a memory that aren't meant to be mine. All I know is that within the next few minutes, what you do  -  what you did, or will do, in the future I saw..." She closed her eyes and let out a heavy sigh. "I do not know."

Regardless of whether I believed her, I thought I understood the warning: consider carefully before acting. I needed to calm down so that I could think rationally.

"Thank you for trying," I said. "I will be careful." She shook her head. "I hope so."

I closed my eyes and drew in a deep breath, meditating the way dancers did before a performance. Those mental exercises included envisioning the steps the body would soon take; now I forced myself to think of a plan for Wyvern's Court. Urban was right that we could not put the dancers off for long, but it would be equally dangerous to speak to them without some kind of reassurance.

Damn

Kalisa for calling my parents away. How would I deal on my own with the only suspects we had so far?

Speaking to Marus would be hard enough. After all, he was a longtime friend. Worse, though, would be confronting Prentice. I doubted he would react well to the accusation. Avians considered themselves above the vulgar passions that led to violence; they would not want to believe that an alistair to the royal house could be responsible for such a vicious attack. If Prentice wasn't found guilty but word got to the serpiente that he had been questioned, they might jump to the conclusion that he had been protected because of his position.

There was no good way for this to end.

"Vemka!"

I snarled a curse I had learned in the nest.

Calm down, Oliza. Calm down, and think of a plan.

I opened my eyes. Hai was still there, watching me with an utterly inscrutable expression.

"Hai, thank you for your concern, but would you please leave and let me think?"

"If I thought you were capable of such, I would," she said, "but I live in this place, too, and I would rather it still be here tomorrow."

I needed something to calm my rioting, exhausting thoughts. Prompted by Hai's warning, I chose the sakkri'a'she. You're thinking too much about what you are doing, my teachers always told me.

You aren't comfortable with it yet.

Right then, I needed something that would take all my concentration, something that would force my fears from my mind long enough for me to relax and step back. I took another deep breath, calling to mind what the music would sound like, hearing the rhythm in my head before I began to focus all my attention on the subtle, tricky ripples of the dance. I was vaguely aware of Hai nearby; she sighed, and I remembered that she had once been a dancer herself. She took a step toward me. If I had Hai's power, could I use this dance as my ancestors had, to beg the spirits of the future for guidance?

I felt at peace, as if all the world was held at bay for a moment. But then it was as if I had been struck by lightning, and I found myself with my palms pressed against the ground, tears in my eyes, my whole body shaking, unsure of exactly where or when or who I was.

Hai recoiled from me. "Whatever you have just done, I'll thank you not to do it again," she choked out before stumbling from the room.

Whatever I had done... Thoughts lingered in my mind like a dream. I needed to  -

This is madness-I woke in the Rookery courtyard, to the sound of Nicias calling my name. An instant later he was beside me, whispering something in the old language that had to be a prayer.

"Where am I?"

"Are you hurt?"

"I  -  no. How long have I been  -  "

"Oliza!"

"I  -  what?" Gretchen was with us now, and Nicias sounded slightly frantic. He had put a hand on my shoulder, and I pushed it away. "I'm fine," I said. "I think." My head was spinning. How had I gotten there? I remembered talking to Hai, and then... a vague sense of knowing I had to do something, go somewhere...

"You're pale," Nicias said. "Does anything hurt?" I shook my head and pushed myself up  -

I was standing; we were at the stairs to the Rookery. I was holding Nicias's arm for support.

"Oliza?" Gretchen asked when we paused abruptly.

I felt as if I had been dreaming and was waking up in stages. At least I remembered now when it had begun. "Remind me never to let Hai 'help' me again."

"What about Hai?" Nicias asked.

What about Hai? She had come to the library.

"Sakkri'a'she."

I said. "She was talking about something I was going to do. She wasn't making any sense."

"Sakkri'a'she are rarely worked even on Ahnmik," Nicias explained. "Of all the versions of sakkri, the a'she is among the most difficult. It allows the user to see possible futures, ranging from those that are likely to occur, to those that could occur only if a very unlikely series of events took place. Falcons have been known to go mad struggling to fight Fate to bring about events that they would never have known could occur if they hadn't seen them. And Hai..." He sighed. "She has no way to control it. She has told me that she gets lost in time constantly. The past and the present and the future overlap in her mind, so sometimes she sees the consequences of her actions before she has even decided what to do, and sometimes she sees her own 'free will' as nothing more than a result of the choices of those who came before. You didn't try to perform one in her presence, did you?"

The concept made me shudder. I recalled thinking how valuable it would be to know what the future held, but I would never want to pay that price. The deeper explanation of Hai's madness, though chilling, did not explain the loss of time I had experienced, and my lingering disorientation. As I recalled the strange, painful incident, Nicias went a shade paler.

"The magic that still lingers in the Cobriana line disturbs falcon magic; it acts like a spark," Nicias said, sounding shaken. "If Hai were already half-caught in a sakkri'a'she when you began to dance one, your being there might have triggered something. Or her being there might..." He trailed off. "I have to tell you something I've put off. It can wait until after we deal with Urban, but tomorrow, I need some time."

"Yes, of course."

He shook his head as if to clear it. "Salem, Sive, Prentice and Marus are all here, waiting for us  -  for you. Do you need to rest, or are you ready to speak to them?"

"I'm as ready as I'll ever be."

I wasn't losing time anymore, but the night continued to progress in a kind of haze. I felt as if there was something I

was missing. My sense of frustrated ignorance was not helped by the meetings that followed.

None of the guards had seen anything. Marus and Prentice, both of whom had been pulled from their beds, seemed legitimately horrified as they swore their innocence. Salem first reacted as I feared all the dancers would  -  with pure fury, which he immediately directed toward Prentice  -  but he responded to my appeals that, in this, he needed to be a cobra first and a dancer second. We needed him on our side. We had no proof of guilt, very few suspects and even fewer leads. The only concrete decision that we were able to make involved Urban and the nest.

"Salem and I will help Urban back to the nest and explain that we're doing all we can. We need to make sure that the dancers know we're on their side so no one will think about taking justice into their own hands. We can't afford vigilante retaliation. My parents should be here soon. They..." What could they possibly do to make things right?

Nothing can make this right.

Chapter 6

Urban, Salem and I were welcomed into Wyvern's Nest with anxious eyes and horrified questions. Rumors about what had happened had already reached the southern hills, and the only way we could calm people at all was to beg them to be quiet for Urban's sake, so that he could rest.

Salem helped Urban to a comfortable spot near the central fire as I faced the questions I had anticipated.

Who did it? Were they avians? Was it Prentice? Of course it was Prentice; everyone knows he hates dancers. Was it Marus? Everyone saw him hit Urban earlier. Will the attacker be turned over to the serpiente for nest justice?

Everyone had a theory and a proposed solution. Urban freed me from the interrogation; Salem took over for me, as if he had not nearly come to blows with Prentice in the Rookery just minutes before.

I joined Urban on the pallet of blankets and cushions that the other dancers had put together in front of the fire. Mindful of his injuries, I nevertheless lay as close to him as I could without pressing against him, knowing that he would want that comfort even more after having been denied it among the avians.

Almost immediately, he shifted to close the distance, my warmth and companionship more important than bruises.

I only meant to lie down for a few minutes, but the night had been too long. I didn't even realize I had fallen asleep until a wolf's howl startled me awake. Urban woke when I stirred, and he asked, "Something wrong?"

"No," I answered. "Just the wolves. Go back to sleep; you need the rest."

"I've been 'resting.' " He shifted and winced. "I don't think that doctor remembered that she was talking to a dancer when she told me to stay off my feet for a week. I feel like I'm going to crawl out of my skin if I don't move, and it's only been a few hours." Carefully, I put an arm around him. Worse than the doctor's orders to stay off the injured leg, no doubt, was her warning that it might not heal right if he didn't. He sighed and closed his eyes again to sleep. As I did the same, he ran an idle hand through my hair, tickling the feathers at the nape of my neck. It reminded me of when we had been children, curled together in the nest at the end of a day of mischief. He had always been fascinated by my feathers.

"Oliza?"

"Hmm?"

"I... never mind." He sighed.

I opened my eyes and saw in his gaze something un-childlike.

Abruptly the mood changed. Though I knew that Urban considered himself one of my foremost suitors, I had always seen him as a friend, nestmate, safe companion when the rest of the world was cruel. That safer world fractured into sharp, fragile pieces as he turned my head so that he could steal a very adult kiss.

I pulled away instinctively. "Stop."

I had no doubt that he would, no fear. He smiled sadly, knowing the answer before he asked, "Don't suppose you're just saying that because I'm injured and you're worried about hurting me?"

I shook my head.

"Can't blame me for asking." In the space left between us, the night air suddenly felt colder.

A few minutes crept by in near silence, broken only by the chattering of predawn birds, as we both pretended to return to sleep. I don't think it surprised him when I stood up, saying, "I'm going to see if my parents are back yet." Not far away, Salem was watching us. Rousing Rosalind, who had been curled against his chest, he hurried to meet me before I reached the doorway.

"I need to see if there is any news," I said. "I shouldn't have stayed as long as I did." Salem sighed. "Good luck. Urban's not just any dancer. He grew up in Wyvern's Nest; he's like everyone's little brother."

"Which means he's going to have a lot of big brothers looking for payback," I said. "I know."

"Oliza..."

"Yes?"

"He is a good man. Don't let a bunch of thugs scare you off." If only it was that easy. "I have to go. Take care of him."

"We will."

As I paused at the doorway to glance back, Salem and

Rosalind repositioned themselves so that they bracketed Urban. He wouldn't be alone. Once outside the nest, I walked silently toward town. My parents would have come to the nest if they were back, but I could still go to the Rookery to see if anyone had learned anything. Maybe there had been a witness. Maybe... maybe so many things that seemed unlikely.

I had just needed to get out of there.

I touched a hand to my lips.

My parents had married for politics and then fallen in love. If I had to do the same, would I be as lucky as they were? I wondered how many generations of ruler had made the same decision.

As if to match my bleak thoughts, the clouds opened up and the first spatter of rain landed just as I crossed the market center.

I walked quickly across the green marble plaza in which the symbol of Ahnleh was combined with an equally ancient avian sigil, the Seal of Alasdair, and paused before the white marble statue that stood at the center: a true wyvern, slightly taller than I was, its tail curled around the base, its wings spread proudly, and its head raised as it shouted to the sky. It had been built the year that I had been born, when the idea that avians and serpiente could live together was new and so many had been filled with hope.

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