Chapter X: Orchidna (Malediction)
I sat at the table in my would-be kidnappers' kitchen, devouring every scrap of food they brought me. Using my powers always gave me an appetite, and I hadn't had a decent meal since Kyprosa and I left Fir Castle.
Empty plates were stacked all around me, and still I continued to eat. I felt as if no amount of food could satisfy my hunger.
"More food!" I demanded. My pair of unwilling chefs leapt into motion like the puppets they were. Their exhausted limbs jerked unnaturally as they obeyed my command, muscles spasming as the men attempted to regain control of limbs that were no longer their own.
I leaned back in satisfaction and the whispers in my mind caressed me with their approval.
It was almost noon by the time my sister found me. I looked up as she burst into the kitchen.
"Hey Kyprosa!" I said, smiling over a leg of lamb. "You want some breakfast?"
She rushed around the table to embrace me, forcing me to drop the food with a clatter. "I'm fine, I'm fine," I assured her. Then, in a quieter voice: "I didn't hurt them."
She squeezed me tighter for a moment.
"Good girl," she whispered.
Over her shoulder, I saw a young man and a Firran step quietly through the doorway. They shared a look at the sight of two hardened criminals awkwardly making me breakfast, but said nothing. Kyprosa stepped back from our embrace, smoothing down her skirt.
I didn't like Gene much. I could still see the tangled threads of fate I'd noticed in the tavern last night, connecting him to Kyprosa. I could sense the pain that he would bring her. I stared at him coldly as I released my hold on the kidnappers, watching his face as they collapsed in exhaustion on the kitchen floor. He looked from them to me and gave me a slow nod of wary respect.
Gene led us out front while the Firran stayed inside for a moment with the kidnappers. When Kyprosa asked him about it, Gene smirked.
"Tahyang and I are Shadowhawks," he explained. "And this is Shadowhawk territory. Those men shouldn't have tried to kidnap you on our turf. Tahyang is...explaining that to them."
I sensed a burst of pain from one of them inside and hid a small smile of my own. I liked Tahyang.
In the front yard, we were met by an enormous cat whom Gene introduced as Black Night. I sensed the creature's proud spirit and felt the lethal strength coiled in every muscle. He was beautiful.
"Don't touch him!" Gene cried out in panic as I reached out to pet Black Night. "He only responds to Tahyang! Anyone else lays a hand on him and they'll lose it faster than--"
He stopped mid-sentence as Black Night butted his giant head into my hands.
"Pretty kitty," I murmured, running my fingers through his ink-black fur. Gene muttered something and shook his head in disgust.
Tahyang looked surprised when he walked outside to find me petting his Snowlion. But when Gene offered Kyprosa a spot on his horse, Tahyang did the same for me with his feline mount. I could sense the strong bond between Snowlion and Firran, an unspoken partnership built over years in the wild. I wished all relationships could be that simple.
Kyprosa and I were offered rooms in the Shadowhawk House until we found our feet in Delphinad. In exchange, Kyprosa cooked and cleaned for the Shadowhawks in-between her attempts to gain access to the Library.
I'd never been one for cooking and cleaning, so I spent my time following Tahyang and Black Night around Delphinad. Kyprosa had worried at first that I would annoy the solemn Firran, but he didn't seem to mind.
Tahyang was sincere, inside and out. I knew it from the moment I met him. Some evenings, we would patrol his city together, snatching food from the stalls and discussing the mysteries of life. Other times, we were content to share each other's company in silence, slipping through the city's countless alleys like shadows in the night. To this day, those are still some of my fondest memories.
Black Night, too, was a beloved companion during my time in Delphinad. Whereas most animals were fearful or even hostile when they faced me, Tahyang's noble Snowlion was always unafraid. There was no need to shield my true self from him; he understood the way of hidden claws and the urge to go prowling in the dark.
Sometimes, I would sneak out with Black Night when Tahyang and the other Shadowhawks were asleep. The wind on my face as we raced through the night was a feeling like nothing I'd ever known. Somehow, I understood this was a part of me. The freedom, and the danger, and the dark. The voices in my mind sang glorious hymns on those nights, until I was sure all of Delphinad would hear them.
One day, Tahyang brought me a smooth stone with curious holes carved through it. He called it a "windstone."
"Whenever a Snowlion rider holds this up to the wind," he explained. "It makes a unique sound. A song that can only be found by that particular rider and that particular Snowlion. Do you understand?"
He looked at me knowingly, and I had a small twinge of guilt about my not-so-secret outings with Black Night. But then, he handed me the windstone with a smile, and I knew all was well.
That day, he showed me how to play the windstone. With me clinging to his waist, he and Black Night raced through the sunlit fields outside of Delphinad. As the wind rushed all around us, the Firran held up the stone and twisted it this way and that, coaxing music from the wind itself.
Tahyang's song was beautiful. It sounded of birds, and open skies, and the waves of rustling grass upon a bright and endless plain. It was a song of freedom, and hope, and the great wheel of life that all true Firran lived by. It was the sound of Tahyang's soul.
I buried my face in his back, and tried not to cry.
The next time I went riding with Black Night, I took my windstone with me. We rode as we always had, with the wild wind rushing by and only the light of the stars to guide us. But this time, I raised my hand and held the stone aloft.
My song was not like Tahyang's.
My song was a keening cry that filled the night with its defiance. A shrieking, haunting sound that drove the creatures of the field to take cover in their burrows.
It was triumph.
It was outrage.
It was despair.
And every note resonated in my heart until I thought I'd burst.
As we ran, I realized the voices in my mind had joined the windstone's song. They cried out in joy as I flew through the night, singing in tune with my soul's otherworldly music.
"The queen comes," they cried in exultation.
"Our wait will soon be over."
"The dark queen comes, and soon we will be free."
I knew, then, that the queen they spoke of was me.
And I knew that to embrace this freedom--to embrace my power, and my birthright--would be to leave Kyprosa behind forever. She could not follow on the path those voices offered.
I did not sleep well that night.