Kerida Nast and her companions have succeeded in finding Jerek Brightwing, the new Luqs of Farama, and uniting him with a part of his Battle Wings, but not all their problems have been solved. Farama is still in the hands of the Halian invaders and their Shekayrin, and it's going to take magical as well as military strength to overcome them.
Unexpected help comes from Bakura, the Princess Imperial of the Halians, whose Gifts have been suppressed. As the Voice of her brother the Sky Emperor she has some political power over the Halian military, and she will use it to aid the Faramans, if Kerida can free her from what she sees as a prison. But whether Kerida can help the princess remains to be seen. If she succeeds, Bakura may prove their salvation. But should Kerida fail, all may be lost....
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KERIDA Nast dried her hands on the front of her trousers and tried to roll the stiffness out of her shoulders. “I don’t know how much longer I can keep this up.” She tilted her head back and squinted, examining the ceiling of the tiny cavern, covered with stalactites, glinting red and gold and frosty white in the light she and Peklin Svann had with them. She could Flash the red jewel in the rock, thick veins closer to the surface here than anywhere else in the Mines and Tunnels. She reached both hands up toward the longest stalactite and concentrated.
“It isn’t working,” she said finally, lowering her hands. “The jewel’s there, but it’s not responding to me. What am I doing wrong?”
“I cannot know.” Svann’s accented voice came from behind her. “In Halia, we Shekayrin inherit our soul stones from those who have died without apprentices. Harvesting the raw stone”— Ker could Flash him shrugging—“I have only read of it, and the documents are very old, copies of items older still, and—”
“And mistakes might have been made.” Ker turned around, not troubling to hide her exasperation.
“You push yourself too hard,” he told her. “There is time—”
“No!” Ker ran her hands through her hair. “Sorry, but there isn’t time. Just think what I might be able to do with a jewel.”
“You have done much already. In tandem with Mind-healers, you have cleared the mist from many who have been touched by a soul stone.”
“What about people who’ve been completely changed, not just misted? People like Jak Gulder? I haven’t done much to help him.”
“You were able to return Tel Cursar to his normal self.”
“Yes, but I had your jewel, the jewel you’d used on him. To fix everyone else, I’d have to chase down every Shekayrin in the Polity and take away their jewels. But with my own . . . it’s worth a chance.”
Svann stood up, neatly folding the old stool he’d been sitting on and leaning it against the rock wall of the small cavern. “Come, let me help you. Perhaps if you were actually touching the rock.” He pulled his jewel out of a pocket on his sleeve and gestured. Ker felt her feet leave the floor and told herself to relax. This wasn’t the first time she’d been lifted by someone’s Gift.
The cavern wasn’t much more than a wide place in a seldom- used tunnel with a rough, uneven floor; nothing was remarkable about it except the stalactites. And the fact that it was the place the Talent High Inquisitor Luca Pa’narion had found the dormant jewel that no one, not even Ker or Svann, could activate. She hoped that finding one for herself would be different.
She drew up her legs and crossed them under her. Somehow hanging in the middle of the air was easier if her body felt like it was sitting down. Ker rubbed her palms together to warm them and reached up again. Now that she was so close, the red glints in the stalactites looked, in a way, as if the stone was bleeding. Though she couldn’t be sure that wasn’t an effect of her own aura, swirling around her in a sphere of movement. All human beings had auras, but only Talents like Ker had an extra stripe of turquoise. Weimerk the griffin had given her others, primarily the one that let her see the auras in the first place. But after she found she was able to use Svann’s jewel, she’d found a thin line of red in herself which had started them all wondering if she could use a jewel of her own.
Focus, she told herself, but the rock stayed rock, and she’d already been Flashing it for hours without finding any loose pieces she could access and tune to herself, the way Svann’s was tuned to him. Even touching the stalactite directly told her nothing new. She signaled to Svann to let her down.
Once on the ground Ker shook her head, shoving her cold fingers into her armpits to warm. “I don’t know what else to try.”
“Perhaps you should try doing nothing.” Svann still looked up at the useless rocks.
Ker bit back the sharp answer that sprang to her lips. “Meaning?”
Svann rested his chin in his hand. “If doing something accomplishes nothing, perhaps doing nothing will accomplish something.”
This time Ker snorted.
“Come,” he said glancing at her. “You believe our magic, our Gifts, came from the griffins. Well, is this not the kind of logic Weimerk the griffin would find amusing?”
Ker opened her mouth and shut it again without speaking. In a crazy way, that made sense. It even sounded familiar. When her Talent had been discovered and she’d gone to Questin Hall to be trained, she’d been told over and over that Flashing worked best if guided but not pushed, not forced. The information to be Flashed was always there, she’d been told. It wants to come to you. Just let it.
She pointed upward. “Let’s try this again.” It took her a few moments to feel balanced, but finally she placed her palms against the large stalactite. Just Flash, she told herself. Go back to basics. What can the stone tell me? When did the red veins form? Who were—griffins, and bone, and blood and—Ker pulled back her hands, feeling suddenly dizzy.
“Sun fall.” Svann cursed softly.
Ker opened her eyes. Right above her hung a smooth red lump where there’d been nothing but rough rock a moment before.
“Take it. It is yours.”
“Right.” At her touch the jewel slipped into her hand.
“It is as the old lore told us.” Svann stared at the raw jewel on her palm, his voice heavy with awe. “The bones of griffins are here in plenty.” The awe was tinted now with something Ker had no trouble Flashing as envy, with a little of greed, and an unexpected dash of hope.
Ker glanced up again. “Not bones, exactly, and not so plentiful as all that.”
“Nevertheless.” Something about Svann’s aura made her think of an excited puppy. If it wasn’t so exhausting, Ker would Flash everyone, all the time. “If you only knew the numbers of us in Halia who are turned away, netted or ‘dampened’ as you call it, because the supply of soul stones is so limited that they are kept for the very few, carefully chosen ones.”
“Seeing the use you’ve put them to, that strikes me as a good idea.” Ker looked from the jewel in her hand to the Shekayrin and back again.
“We are the tools of the Sky Emperor,” he said. “Just as you Talents are the tools of the Luqs. We are none of us free to do as we like.”
“That’s not—” Kerida’s protest died away. There was more truth in what Svann said than she wanted to admit. She’d had her own conflicts with the Halls of Law, before the invasion of the Faraman Polity by the Halians. Life in the Polity hadn’t been all spiced nuts and wine by any means. But it had been better. “Talents maintain the Rule of Law,” she said. “And the Law rules even the Luqs.” An old saying, but she’d always believed it was true.
“That is what Luca Pa’narion tells me. But he also noted that Feelers have not always experienced the evenness of the Rule of Law.”
Ker drew in a breath. She didn’t want to debate Polity history with Svann today. Or ever. “Right now, right here, all of us in the Mines and Tunnels are trying to make things right.”
“And I with you.”
Also true. Since meeting the griffin, Svann had been irrevocably on their side. But, like all Sunflower Shekayrin, he was a scholar, and that meant he didn’t stop asking questions, no matter how unwelcome they might be.
“Do you think you have delayed long enough? Are you now ready to do what you know you must do?”
Ker looked down at the jewel, her mouth twisted to one side. She knew what to do all right. She just wasn’t so sure she wanted to, after all. This would be her last chance for second thoughts. She’d seen how the facets on Svann’s jewel reflected a pattern that appeared in his aura, sometimes as an inner framework, sometimes as an enclosing web—and that’s what made her nervous. She looked at the smooth rock lying in her palm. What formed the facets? And what would it do to her? And what does that matter? She still needed the jewel. She couldn’t let fear stop her.
“Come. You are not afraid.”
“That’s right.” Ker almost smiled. “I’m not afraid.” Before she could talk herself out of it, she raised the stone to her mouth and swallowed. She’d expected it to stick in her throat, but it passed smoothly as though it was no more than the egg it resembled. Hope it’s just as easy coming back up.
Ker was concentrating so much on getting the jewel down that she didn’t immediately notice the change in her aura. The red thread had thickened, become wider and more pronounced, yet softer at the same time, its edges less defined.
Unlike her other colors, which hung in curtains of light around her, the red circled, moving back and forth, crossing over itself, like the ribbons used by rhythm dancers at harvest festivals.
Except here the movement stuttered, threatening to tangle. Ker coughed and shook herself. She reached out, stroking the air, and the ribbon of color relaxed, as if following the motions of her hand. She smiled, watching it respond to her.
“What do you see?” Svann’s voice made her aura shiver, and the red ribbon seemed to tighten as if startled before it relaxed again.
“You’ve never seen this, have you?” she said aloud. “Mother and Daughter, you mages have guts.” Since Shekayrin couldn’t see the auras, they had to swallow their jewels and take the effects on trust, without knowing what was happening.
But she could see. She could shape the jewel herself.
Moving both hands, Ker sketched patterns with the red ribbon in her aura, at first consciously trying to create something that resembled the facets on a cut stone, then relaxing her wrists, letting the patterns emerge as they would. She expected one would feel truer— better fit—than the others, but pattern followed pattern, and each felt right in its own way. Ker sighed. It might have been easier for Svann after all. He hadn’t had to choose.
“Why choose?” Svann said when she’d explained her dilemma. “Why not keep them all? After all, you are not a mage to be bound to one pattern. You are the Griffin Girl.”
The Feelers had called her “Griffin Girl” ever since she’d awakened the newly hatched Weimerk. “Griffin Class” was what particularly powerful Talents were called. But Ker’s title meant far more. Some Feelers thought she was part griffin herself, associated with the great beasts in a way that would only become clear with the fulfillment of the Prophecy that guided their lives.
“All right,” she said. “I don’t choose, I accept all patterns.”
As if the words were a signal, Ker felt the jewel rising in her throat.
“It comes up harder than it goes down.” Svann held her shoulders steady.
Excerpted from "Gift of Griffins"
Copyright © 2018 V. M. Escalada.
Excerpted by permission of DAW.
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