Wolfcry Page 6

I couldn't remember what it felt like to be that proud and sure. Maybe one could manage it only when caught in the coldness of stone. I stared at the wyvern, envying her, as I let my body shift into my half form.

The wings that tumbled down my back were the same color as the feathers at my nape, varying from gold to rusty red to nearly black; the snakeskin that covered my body from my ankles to my neck was black with a red sheen. My eyes shifted to a deep amber, the whites disappearing and the pupils becoming slit; my fangs were filled with a cobra's poison.

My full wyvern form was similar to the statue, but this was my half form, my monster, a form no one I knew could see without flinching.

I leaned against the cold marble wyvern, putting my arms around her lithe body. In half form, my senses were almost as keen as those of a pure cobra and those of a hawk combined. That was why I heard the sound of bare feet slipping slightly across the rain-slicked marble plaza floor, and why I felt the body heat of several creatures suddenly surround me. I turned to flee or fight, but I had no chance to even recognize my attackers before their hands slammed me back into the statue. One of my wings smacked into the ridge of its back, and I gasped as I felt bones break, my vision wavering so that the figures around me were nothing but vague outlines in the rainy morning.

Before I could recover, one of my attackers grasped my wrists, and others extended my wings without care for the broken bones. The pain made my stomach roll and I choked back bile.

"I'm sorry," said a voice that seemed familiar as I felt a blade begin to cut my long flight feathers.

My gasps were halted as someone put a cloth over my mouth and nose, muffling me and cutting off my breathing until I spiraled into unconsciousness.

Chapter 7

Time passed in an odd, warped way, so that I could not tell how long I was in my strange, rocking prison, less than half-awake. Sometimes I would open my eyes and there would be light; sometimes it would be dark as pitch. Most of the time, my vision was too blurry to tell any more than that.

The first time I woke with any true awareness, I found myself lying on my stomach in human form, though I did not remember returning to it. I tried to shift, and the combination of pain and dizziness forced me to stop and cry out as I clutched at the wooden planks beneath me.

Sometime later I came to again. My world wasn't swaying as badly, but my head was pounding and my mouth felt cottony. People were talking nearby in loud voices, which seemed to warp and waver, swirling in the air. Someone asked, "Can't we let the princess out now?"

"This whole area is infested with wolves," someone else responded. The voice... I knew that voice. "No need to let them see her."

There was a pause; then someone else said, "She's moving around again."

"Bring her something to eat and drink." The speaker was Tavisan, the leader of the lion mercenaries. But why had they done this? Had the wolves hired them? Kalisa wouldn't have; who were her rivals? I did not know what might benefit them. The wall of my tiny little room was peeled back, letting in a bit of light from their fire. The lion who blocked the doorway was broad shouldered, and his gaze never left me as he put a canteen of water and a plate of simple food in front of me.

"Wait!" I called after him as he started to move away. My voice cracked; my throat was so dry. He ignored me and carefully fastened the leather wall back into place.

"Tavisan!"

I could barely speak above a whisper. I grabbed the canteen of water and chugged half of it before I even noticed the smell of roasted meat. Starving, I shoved food into my mouth. I needed strength to...

Needed to...

The thought drifted away. Woozy, I lay down again, and belatedly the word came to mind: drugged.

When I slept, my dreams were hazy visions not just of home but of whatever fate I was going toward. At one point, I woke, screaming, from a nightmare about butterflies.

"Milady, I cannot possibly

- "

"Tavisan, please."

When I fell asleep again, the image changed to Urban, bleeding  -  and then it was Marus instead. Sometimes others; sometimes all of Wyvern's Court. The dancer's nest was on fire. Sometimes there were falcons, and occasionally lions. I knew I had to get away. To run.

Far away, because someone had me, and they weren't afraid to use violence  -  I remembered my wing breaking  -  or to drug my food. The haziness left from the drugs made it impossible for me to concentrate for very long, and I struggled to keep from drowning in fear.

Finally I woke fully enough to realize that I was inside some kind of covered litter. The walls and the top were leather, and they were attached so firmly to the heavy wood floor that in my weakened state I could not pry them away. I still worked at it, trying to ignore the way my stomach rolled with every movement, and I nearly collapsed as the vertigo hit me.

The drugs were in the water, I decided. I had to stop drinking it, to clear my mind so that I could make a plan instead of continuing this useless scratching. Eventually it occurred to me that mercenaries worked for payment. Surely Wyvern's Court could offer the lions more than their current employers  -  and if prizes would not work, a pride of lions was not stronger than the serpiente and avian armies.

"Tavisan!" I shouted again. "You know who I am. Talk to me. We can work something out." I waited but heard no response. "Tavisan, you were in Wyvern's Court the day before I was taken. When my people find that I am gone, they will quickly discover your role in my abduction. Is the payment you have been offered enough to risk the wrath of Wyvern's Court?"

I heard whispering among the lions carrying my litter then.

"Tavisan, she has a point. Wyvern's Court  -  "

"I know what I'm doing." The leader's voice was certain.

"But what if  -  "

"Do not question me," he snapped.

"Tavisan, you are destroying your own people," I argued. I had a vague memory of arguing with him before. How many times had I woken, in my drugged state, and perhaps said these exact words?

"Oliza, I apologize for your rough treatment. I wish it had not been necessary. Even so, you are wasting your breath."

I continued to call to him, alternating between threats and promises, sometimes trying to bargain with Tavisan and sometimes appealing to his people, but I received no more answers. Eventually my throat was again too raw to continue shouting, and I dared not drink to soothe it.

I avoided the drugs long enough to clear my mind, but after two days without water, the cramping in my body became so severe, I knew that dehydration might kill me. I curled up in a ball in the corner of the litter, trying to concentrate on something productive. They had clipped my wings. They had clipped my wings and then fed me a poison to force me back into my human form. I knew the process because it was one of the most severe punishments meted out in avian society.

It permanently locked someone out of both her half-and full-avian forms. Locked me from my wings. My serpiente form would be unaffected, but my hawk was gone. Grounded, forever. There was no cure; there never had been. That was why the avians used it as a final punishment, and only for the most extreme crimes. Stop it, STOP IT!

I tried to force the thoughts away.

Suddenly the ground was tilting, and I heard yelling, mostly in a language I did not know. Howls, shouts, sounds of fighting. My litter swayed again as whoever was holding it stumbled.

Instinctively, I threw myself to the side that was tilting. The impact of my body against the wood made me see stars, but I did it again, and again  -

Until my litter tipped and hit the ground hard, one side splitting as the wood broke with a crack as loud as a thunderclap. I blacked out for a moment but was too frantic to do anything but drag myself up afterward. I crawled through the split, gasping at the cold outside. Instantly soaked, I forced myself to move. Water, on my hands; I licked it off gratefully.

I didn't know who was fighting, and I didn't waste time looking. With the drugs slowing me down, I rose to my feet, sprinted, stumbled, rolled as I fell and fought to my feet again.

Woods.

The forest looked like a haven and I scrambled into it, cutting open my hands, knees and arms on brambles in my mad flight.

Later I collapsed, choking on my own heavy breathing; body cramping, demanding water, food and sleep. I could give it two of those. There was water everywhere; I scooped it up in my aching, frozen hands. Cold.

Sleep.

I hoped I wouldn't be found. I curled up to conserve as much heat as I could, but I wasn't even shivering anymore. That was good, I decided. Not so cold now. Sleep.

It felt as if days had passed, but all I knew for sure was that the sun was out when I opened my eyes and sneezed on fur that was across my face. There was some animal next to me, giving me its warmth. I had enough clarity of mind now to realize that the creature  -  a wolf, I realized as I turned  -  was the only reason I had woken. I must have been on the verge of freezing to death when I had fallen asleep. Snow.

That was why there was water everywhere. I had seen snow once, when I had gone with the Vahamil pack far to the north, but that had been nothing like this. This was deep and thick and still falling from the gray sky above.

I looked at the wolf, not for an instant believing that it was a wild beast, though unable to tell if it was from the pack with which I was familiar.

"Thank you," I said, shivering.

The wolf tilted its head, questioning.

I could feel the human in it  -  in her

-  and I knew that my savior was a shapeshifter. But she was looking at me without any human comprehension. "My name is Oliza. You saved my life, I think." The wolf stood up and started plodding away from me. I stayed where I was, and she paused, looking back. She didn't need to speak; her warm brown eyes seemed to laugh at me, saying,

Follow.

Where was I? I could remember only the last couple of days with the lions, after I had stopped taking the drugs, but the change in weather was drastic enough to make me think that we had traveled weeks away to the north. Weeks that I had been away from home, weeks during which my people should have come after me and found me. I was too lost, and too weak, to travel on my own. So I followed my silent guide, though my steps dragged and my stomach rumbled. The drugs still felt thick in my system; I was perspiring even as I shivered, the winter air slicing through my clothes and freezing my sweat. The world kept turning to fog around me, but whenever I drifted, the wolf was there, bumping into my legs and guiding me in the right direction. When I stopped, unable to move any farther, the wolf nudged me into a hollow where the snow was not so thick and the wind could not reach. She brought down a rabbit and we shared it, the raw meat disgusting to the "civilized" part of my mind but a welcome meal to the sensible, starving one.

My guide did not let me sleep. I suspected that she was worried I would not wake. After our meal I dragged myself back to my feet and we kept walking.

I spoke to the wolf as I walked. My stories were disjointed and often trailed off as I forgot what I had been saying, but my mute guide didn't complain. She made no indication that she understood, but the words helped keep me focused.

"I walked away, that was the last thing I did," I said, thinking of Urban. "He was hurt because of me but... I couldn't stay..."

Why had no one come for me? They had to know that the lions had taken me.

"My Wyverns. Gretchen, and Nicias  -  did I tell you about Nicias?" I thought I had. I had talked about magic... or something, earlier... "My best friend," I whispered. "The only man in Wyvern's Court not related to me who I can be alone with without causing a scandal. Shouldn't be a scandal." I had never been tempted to do anything scandal worthy. Oliza Shardae Cobriana, her mind always on her throne. It might have been nice to be a carefree child for a while, chasing butterflies in the summertime. I envied Salem and Rosalind. What I wouldn't have given to look at someone with  -

"they love each other so much." Had I said the beginning of that thought aloud?

I was getting confused. I was repeating myself at times, but other times, I knew I was saying only fragments of sentences.

"I need sleep," I said. "I'm so tired."

I stumbled, going to my knees in the snow. My legs were numb. At least they didn't hurt.

The wolf nuzzled my shoulder with a whine. I put a hand on her shoulder and pushed myself back to my feet.

"It would be nice to be in the nest now," I mused. "A fire to keep warm. People around. Sometimes it drives me crazy. Serpiente don't believe in privacy, and it gets so that even your thoughts don't feel like your own, but it would be nice to be warm. Nice if Marus and Prentice didn't look horrified when..."

I realized I had stopped walking again only when the wolf bumped against the backs of my knees. She whined, trotted ahead a few paces and tossed her head in a way that made me look at the horizon.

The fires burning in the distance were the sweetest signs I had ever seen. Desperation gave way to hope, and I started moving faster, stumbling forward because I couldn't run with legs that had gone numb hours before.

Someone saw me and called out, and in that moment, my energy fled me. I had held on to it only because the wolf had demanded I keep walking. Poison, malnutrition, dehydration, exhaustion, cold and injuries caught up to me just in time for me to collapse into the arms of a young man I had never seen before.

Chapter 8

I woke warm and dry, if still a little woolly-headed. A fire was crackling, and as I opened my eyes, I found myself inside a small cedar hut decorated with furs, leathers and odd silver and bead ornaments. I sat up slowly, glad that the world did not spin too much, and looked around for the owner.

Prev Next