Now the voices of other authors add their own special touches to the ancient land where Heralds “Chosen” from all walks of life by magical horse-like Companions patrol their ancient kingdom, dispensing justice, facing adversaries, and protecting their monarch and country from whatever threatens. Trained rigorously by the Herald’s Collegium, these special protectors each have extraordinary Gifts: Mindspeaking, FarSeeing, FarSpeaking, Empathy, Firestarting and ForeSeeing, and are bonded for life with their mysterious Companions. Travel with these astounding adventurers in these original stories.
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Feathers in Need
Running, stumbling, looking over her shoulder. Gasping for breath. Monster stalking nearer. Scrabbling at the tree, climbing, escaping. Shuddering with fear and pain. Free? No. It’s coming back. Hunting. Must get higher! Must—
Still seeking escape, Hadara lunged out of her nest, clawing for higher ground. She tumbled forward, falling to the soft Vale earth. Before she gathered herself, realized she wasn’t being hunted and there was no danger, Serta, one of the little hertasi who looked after k’Leysha Vale, was there.
“Hadara?” The little lizard stepped closer.
The gryphon tilted her head, listening to where Serta moved. It was well out of range. Hadara clambered back into her nest and resettled her wings, fluffing her tawny feathers. When she was still, she turned sightless eyes to Serta. “It was a nightmarrre. I wasss being hunted by a monssster. The Pelagirrssss . . .”
“It’s the fallen shield. Many things get in.” Serta stepped closer, noisy for the silent and near invisible hertasi.
Hadara knew it was for her benefit. Part of her appreciated the courtesy. Part of her wanted to clack her beak at the little creature, coming within a whisker of the hertasi to show that, blind she may be, she was not incapable.
Instead, she sighed. “You’rrre rrrright. I mussst be hearrring one of the ssmarrrterr prrrey animalssss out therre.”
“Soon. Soon. The shields will return. The Mage Storms are done. The Heartstone will be refilled.”
“I know.” Hadara crossed her claws before her and rested her chin upon them. It was logical, of course. A Pelagiris creature in danger. Her own strong Animal Mindspeech. The sleeping mind sees much . . .
Still, she couldn’t help but think there was more to this nightmare.
• • •
The next two nights were the same. Dreams of being hunted. Of being lost, hurt, and confused. Almost understanding what had happened, but having no time to think with the monster stalking her every step. More than once, Hadara woke in a wonder of looking down at clawed hands instead of gryphon’s claws. Hands that could almost be human.
It didn’t make sense. There was too much there to be a mere animal. Too much personality beneath the fear and confusion. She—it was a she—needed help. Hadara knew it, and that she was coming toward the Vale.
On the morning of the fourth day, Hadara found herself at the edge of the Vale, straining with all her senses to catch any scent or mind-call. She opened herself as much as she dared in an unprotected Vale on the edge of the Pelagiris. She had to be careful since most of the border guards and scouts were assisting the Shin’a’in back to the Dhorisha Plains. Each dream had gotten stronger and more vivid. Despite the loss of her sight, Hadara still dreamed in vision. For now. Calmwater had counseled her that such dreams would fade in time.
As if summoned by her thought, Calmwater stepped up to her side. The two of them stood in silence. Hadara wondered if he’d been sent by the hertasi.
“Tiron told me you’d not been to see them this morning. I fear you have spoiled them with your attentions. They’ve come to expect your presence.”
The herds of dyheli that lived nearby were great friends. It had been days since she’d gone to visit with them. An unfortunate oversight, so soon after the Mage Storms.
Hadara fluffed her feathers, then let them lay smooth against her head once more. “I have been thinking.”
“About your dreams?”
Lolling her mouth open in a smile, Hadara couldn’t help herself or her sharp tone. “Do the hertasi ssspy for you or do they merrrely gosssssip?”
“A little of both.” Calmwater shifted his stance next to her.
She heard the beads woven through his long hair click against each other in harmony. She was not willing to play the waiting game today. “Therre iss ssomething in trrrrouble out therre.”
“Are you sure that it isn’t your mind still seeking ways to find a cure for your affliction?”
This time, Hadara did clack her beak near him. “I am not helplessss. I am not a mewling crrreature looking for ssssomething I will not find. I am capable. I am . . .” She paused, her beak hovering near his face, smelling his particular scent, “ . . . not making thingsss up.”
For a long moment, Calmwater said nothing as Hadara shifted her attention back to the strange forest beyond the Vale. “I understand all these things. I apologize for giving you the impression that I thought you incapable. Your strength of Animal Mindspeech is unrivaled—”
“Thanksss to my blindnessss,” she interrupted. The bitterness in her voice startled her.
He continued without pause, “—and I wished to see if there is anything I may do for you.”
“No.” Hadara gouged the ground, tearing it with her wicked claws. Despite his protestations and his assurance that he did not believe her incapable, the first thing he did was ask to help her. Calmwater was wise, but, at the same time, he was as blind as she in some respects.
She listened to him leave without another word. Hadara bowed her head. Her blindness was difficult for many to accept. At times, even her. But it was the way of things now. Despite it, she was not crazy. Something out there in the Pelagiris—something sentient—was in trouble.
“You were harsh.”
Serta’s scolding voice came from her left, and again irritation warred with pleasure. Hadara had not heard the hertasi. That meant that Serta hadn’t thought to treat her as an invalid this time.
She raised her beak high. “If I wasss, it wasss because he believed me addddlebrained.”
Hadara turned her head to Serta. “Perrrhapsss. But I am not wrrrong.”
She would have said more, but the vision of running, of fear, of foliage streaming past her face, was there once more in overwhelming clarity. With it came the wordless cry for help. Hadara stumbled as the images of a headlong flight and the sensation of gasping for air assaulted her. She turned her head this way and that, trying to get a sense of where the creature was.
“It’sss back! Sssshe’s in trouble. It will get herrr this time!” Hadara pulled herself to her feet, feeling the panic of the animal in flight. “I have to help.”
“How?” Serta was at her side.
The answer came in the form of a familiar glade not too far from the Vale. Hadara knew it—not from the sight of it but from the plants within, the fallen logs, and the tree at its head.
“The glade of two logsss. Take me.” Hadara was already heading into the forest, her wings out and mantled so she could gauge where the trees were. The trail, while not an easy stroll, was not unfamiliar.
Serta scurried alongside her, near her front left leg. The two moved in unison down one of the worn forest paths. It was too slow. Images of a monstrous creature flashed before her. Black chitin armor on a wolfen back. Two snarling heads where only one should be. Five clawed legs. Snapping teeth came too close.
Hadara stumbled. Serta was there. There was little the hertasi could do except wait for the gryphon to get her feet. “Too ssslow. You have to help me. Guide me!” Hadara rose, bowed her head, and ran. All the while, confused imagery filled her mind. Now the view was one of height, looking down on the changed monster.
“Left!” Serta yelled as she kept pace. Hadara dodged left, bumping her right wing into a tree. “Left,” the hertasi instructed. “Left and then right. Big tree.”
Hadara did as she was told, remembering this path. She walked it on her own when she had time. Half-tripping over some roots, she gave a squawk, and the image in her mind turned from the monster trying to climb the tree toward the trail leading out of the glade.
:Help! Help me!:
The Animal Mindspeech was so strong it almost made Hadara fall again. Instead, she shook her head to clear it, then called with all her strength. :I’m coming. I’m coming. Watch the monster. Watch where it goes.:
Hadara and Serta burst into the glade. Hadara got a good look at what she and Serta looked like, running pell-mell into sight. The cry of a hawk in pain filled the air, and the image shifted to one of the monster’s heads clamped onto a human leg.
“Get help!” Hadara didn’t wait for Serta to answer. Instead, she screamed a battle cry and charged the creature in her mind’s eye. She used the flickering glade images to tell her where the monster was as she leapt. Landing on the back of the two-headed monster, Hadara could see what she looked like from the side as she tore flesh with beak and claw.
:Gryphon . . . ?:
:Keep watching. I need your—: Hadara didn’t get to finish the thought as the wolfen monster spun, throwing her from its back. She landed hard on her side. The snarling, slavering creature was on her before she could bounce to her feet.
It tried for her throat and face, but she kept the two heads from her with her front claws while raking its tender underbelly with her back claws. The chitin kept her from being effective. Hadara stabbed at one face with her beak, drawing blood. The other wolf head howled, and the gryphon threw the monster off her.
The two circled each other—then the image was gone, replaced with foliage. “No! Keep watching!” Hadara cried, even as she was bowled over by the monster she couldn’t see anymore. Snapping jaws bit deep into her chest. As the image returned to the fight, the gryphon had just enough time to block the wolfen claws before they tore into her underbelly.
Then the fight came close as the creature she’d come to rescue in turn rescued her by stabbing the wolfen creature in the hindquarters. The dagger—a human dagger—struck deep into the monster’s haunch. It kicked out at the creature, knocking her back but allowing Hadara to roll the monster off her.
:Keep watching it. Please! I can’t see it if you don’t.: Hadara threw the Animal Mindspeech toward what she now thought to be a mutated tervardi.
Wordless surprise and understanding flooded Hadara’s mind. Then, with a foresight she wouldn’t have thought of, the tervardi moved toward the gryphon but kept her eyes on the monster. Suddenly, it was as if Hadara were seeing it with her own eyes. She mantled her wings and screamed a challenge at the monster.
As she moved, circling, the tervardi moved with her to keep the view consistent. The wolfen creature charged. Hadara met the charge with raking claws and slashing beak, keeping it away from the injured tervardi.
Then a colorful streak of red-tailed hawk ripped fur from the back of one of the wolf heads, and a woman in red and green dove at the side of the monster with biting blades. Her hair, cut short in the style of scouts and warriors, was as red as blood. It was Crimsonstrike, Calmwater’s lifemate. Moments later, Nightclaw and Summerfire were there, and the monster had no chance.
The image of the fight cut off as the tervardi pressed her face to Hadara’s neck, sobbing in bird cries and babbled Animal Mindspeech. :I was caught in the storm. It hurt so much. Then I was lost, confused, and the monster found me. It killed my horse. My poor Rune. It hunted me for days. I don’t understand what’s happened to me.:
All Hadara could do was fold her wings and one claw about the distressed tervardi. She chirped soothing tones. :It’s over. It’s over now. Shhhh.:
But Hadara knew it was far from over. She could smell hawk on the tervardi. And human. Something terrible had happened, but she didn’t understand what until she heard Crimsonstrike murmur, “Change-Child.”
• • •
By the time the group returned to k’Leysha Vale, the hertasi had already created a space next to Hadara’s nest for the Change-Child. Hadara had pried the girl’s name out of her. It was one that made all who heard look closer at her: Kitha shena Tale’sedrin.
No one could part Kitha from Hadara’s side. After the first attempt ended in panic and Hadara flaring in protective anger, no one tried. They left the two alone with Serta lurking on the edges, waiting to be needed.
Kitha whistled, then chirped, each sound more distressed than the last.
:Shh, Kitha. You’re safe.:
:Why can’t I speak? Why does everything look different? My hands have claws. What’s wrong with me?:
Hadara was silent for a moment before she spoke. “I don’t know. I cannot sssee you. I’m blind.”
Kitha’s mind stilled. Then she sent, :But you can speak like this and with your voice.:
“Yesss. But, when I ssspeak mind to mind with you, I’m usssing Animal Mindssspeech.” Hadara tilted her head. Kitha did not respond. “I thought you might be terrrvardi. But, you are Sssshin’a’in. I smell hawk on you, but . . .”
Kitha stood, her hand on Hadara’s wing. :Change-Child. What does this mean?:
Hadara stood by her and realized how small Kitha was. Not much taller than an adolescent Kaled’a’in. “Lend me your eyesss. I will take you to one of the pools. Therrrre we may sssee what we sssee.”
She did not need to see to guide the girl to the pool. But after moons of darkness, she was hungry for color and sight. There was the familiar mental touch that Hadara accepted. With the ease of slipping on a cuff, images blossomed in her mind. She was looking at herself. Her tawny mottled feathers, her white, sightless eyes, her yellow beak and white crest feathers. In Kitha’s eyes, she was beautiful.
“Put your hand on my neck and look forrrward. I will sssshow you.”
Kitha did as she was told. :Change-Child?: she prompted.
Knowing the girl would not be put off, Hadara stepped onto the well-tended pathways, leading Kitha to one of the nearby still pools. :A Change-Child is one who has been changed by magic. If you were Shin’a’in, you are now something more. I do not know what. You may have been caught in a Change Circle.: She paused for a few long moments as they approached the pool. :Look into the pool so I may see.:
Hadara sat as Kitha leaned over the still water and gasped the soft chirr of a bird. Reflected was a small creature: part human, part bird. She had no human hair left; instead, her head was covered in the mottled feathers of a young red-tailed hawk from brow to neck. The left side of her face from cheekbone to brow had the feathered face and golden eye of a bird. Her right half was of a lovely young woman with a green eye the Tale’sedrin were famous for. Her nose and mouth were a blend of beak and lip. From her strong chin down to her neck was human, but Hadara could see feathers peeking out over Kitha’s shoulders.
Kitha slapped at the water with a cry of denial, then ran from the still pool. Darkness descended once more for Hadara. She contemplated what this meant for the girl, but she did not follow. She had something else to do. Raising her head, she asked, “How long have you been therrrre?”
Calmwater stepped forward with silent steps. “Long enough to see what I needed to see.”
“Can sssshe be healed?”
The adept was silent for longer than Hadara liked. “No. Were the Heartstone full, it would’ve been possible to help her in some small way, but now, no. Perhaps not ever, because of the nature of the change. Our far-ranging scouts found a Change Circle. I fear the longer Kitha is like this, the harder it will be to reverse when the magic returns.”
Hadara murred in thought. “K’Leysssha Vale . . . ?” she asked.
“Will accept her as one of their own.” Calmwater’s voice was firm. “We are the best place for her now. We understand magic and Change-Children. If she went back to the Shin’a’in, they’d only send her here.”