They say the first of my kind was a woman named Alasdair, a human raised by hawks. She learned the language of the birds and was gifted with their form.
It is a pretty myth, I admit, but few actually believe it. No record remains of her life.
No record except for the feathers in every avian’s hair, even when otherwise we appear human, and the wings I can grow when I choose—and of course the beautiful golden hawk’s form that is as natural to me as the legs and arms I wear normally.
This myth is one of the stories we hear as children, but it says nothing of reality or the hard lessons we are taught later.
Almost before a child of my kind learns to fly, she learns to hate. She learns of war. She learns of the race that calls itself the serpiente. She learns that they are untrustworthy, that they are liars and loyal to no one. She learns to fear the garnet eyes of their royal family even though she will probably never see them.
What she never learns is how the fighting began. No, that has been forgotten. Instead she learns that they murdered her family and loved ones. She learns that these enemies are evil, that their ways are not hers and that they would kill her if they could.
That is all she learns.
This is all I have learned.
Days and weeks and years, and all I know is bloodshed. I hum the songs my mother once sang to me and wish for the peace they promise. It’s a peace my mother has never known, nor her mother before her.
How many generations? How many of our soldiers fallen?
Meaningless hatred: the hatred of an enemy without a face. No one knows why we fight; they only know that we will continue until we win a war it is too late to win, until we have avenged too many dead to avenge, until no one can remember peace anymore, even in songs.
Days and weeks and years.
My brother never returned last night.
Days and weeks and years.
How long until their assassins find me?
Heir to the Tuuli Thea
I took a deep breath to steady my nerves and narrowly avoided retching from the sharp, well-known stench that surrounded me.
The smell of hot avian blood spattered on the stones, and cool serpiente blood that seemed ready to dissolve the skin off my hands if I touched it. The smell of burned hair and feathers and skin of the dead smoldered in the fire of a dropped lantern. Only the fall of rain all the night before had kept that fire from spreading through the clearing to the woods.
From the forest to my left, I heard the desperate, strangled cry of a man in pain.
I started to move toward the sound, but when I took a step through the trees in his direction, I came upon a sight that made my knees buckle, my breath freezing as I fell to the familiar body.
Golden hair, so like my own, was swept across the boy’s eyes, closed forever now but so clear in my mind. His skin was gray in the morning light, covered with a light spray of dew. My younger brother, my only brother, was dead.
Like our sister and our father years ago, like our aunts and uncles and too many friends, Xavier Shardae was forever grounded. I stared at his still form, willing him to take a breath and open eyes whose color would mirror my own. I willed myself to wake up from this nightmare.
I could not be the last. The last child of Nacola Shardae, who was all the family I had left now.
I wanted to scream and weep, but a hawk does not cry, especially here on the battlefield, in the midst of the dead and surrounded only by her guards. She does not scream or beat the ground and curse the sky.
Among my kind, tears were considered a disgrace to the dead and shame among the living.
Avian reserve. It kept the heart from breaking with each new death. It kept the warriors fighting a war no one could win. It kept me standing when I had nothing to stand for but bloodshed.
I could not cry for my brother, though I wanted to.
I pushed the sounds away, forcing my lips not to tremble. Only one heavy breath escaped me, wanting to be a sigh. I lifted my dry eyes to the guards who stood about me protectively in the woods.
“Take him home,” I ordered, my voice wavering a bit despite my resolve.
“Shardae, you should come home, too.”
I turned to Andreios, the captain of the most elite flight in the avian army, and took in the worried expression in his soft brown eyes. The crow had been my friend for years before he had been my guard, and I began to nod assent to his words.
Another cry from the woods made me freeze. I started toward it, but Andreios caught my arm just above the elbow. “Not that one, milady.”
Normally I would have trusted his judgment without question, but not here on the battlefield. I had been walking these bloody fields whenever I could ever since I was twelve; I could not avert my eyes when we were in the middle of this chaos and someone was pleading, with what was probably his last breath, for help. “And why not, Andreios?”
The crow knew he was in trouble the instant I addressed him by his full name instead of his childhood nickname of Rei, but he kept on my heels as I stepped around the slain bodies and closer to the voice. The rest of his flight fell back, out of sight in their second forms--crows and ravens, mostly. They would take my brother home only when it did not mean leaving me alone here.
"Dani." In return, I knew Rei was serious when he lapsed into the informal and used my nickname, Dani, instead of a respectful title or my surname, Shardae. Even when we were alone, Rei rarely called me Danica. It was an entreaty to our lifelong friendship when he used that nickname where someone else could hear it, and so I paused to listen. "That's Gregory Cobriana. You don't want his blood on your hands."
From the Hardcover edition.