The day was going to be sunny and warm, and Tyrel and I maintained a less-than-strained cordial silence as we walked toward the city of the Cancelers’ stronghold. Tyrel still hadn’t told me its name, and out of respect for his thoughts on the idea that those who’d raised him were using magic for their own ends and had to be stopped, I left him to turn them over without pressing him.
Abdiel and his growing horde of dark spirits had taken the raven’s body, and it gave the most ear piercing, soul wrenching call somewhere between a squawk and a scream, its body puffing from the displacement until it looked like it was about to pop, the feathers all but standing on end.
It was unpleasant to see, and even more so to hear, but the pain in my shoulder as it gripped me and drew blood, even through my tunic, made me cry out.
It was the fastest way to accomplish things if not the safest. During the process I had to trust Abdiel to keep control of things, and except for the sharp, racing pain of Zephyr’s involuntary clench, he did.
Tyrel looked on with a dispassionate helplessness, knowing he couldn’t help me, and not sure if he would if he could. Now in his presence my stomach was mildly upset as opposed to being in pain when Abdiel occupied me.
I wondered if even the distance now would be enough, as Abdiel’s detection of his presence had grown sharper.
Zephyr’s body slowly deflated, his eyes regained their midnight blackness, but there was blood on his feathers, and some on his beak. I took a small piece of rag of something unimportant at the moment, and used it to clean him as he perched on my arm.
Now that the ordeal was over, Tyrel walked over to us to test things out.
Zephyr watched the Canceler’s approach the way a king watches a beggar about to plead his innocence in murdering the queen.
Tyrel watched him too, but not like a beggar; it was more like an enemy he found in an an empty alley, and only one of them was going to walk out of it. But he spoke to me, never taking his eyes off the bird.
I closed my eyes, took stock of my body, feeling surprisingly whole for a change. I’d thought it would be as if a part of me was gone, a piece of my insides carved away, but all I discovered was that I was hungry.
“No. What about you?”
He shook his head, still watching Zephyr, but now it bothered me to see it.
“What’s wrong, Tyrel. You’re staring at him like he’s an enemy.”
He looked at me then. “I don’t know that he’s not.”
I sighed, my hopes for an absence of conflict as we traveled now dashed. “You’re being ridiculous. He’s just a bird.”
“No he isn’t, or he wouldn’t be able to harbor the spirits in himself, much less shield them from me, and he speaks the human words he knows like one of us. He’s a familiar, Tina, and that doesn’t make him just anything.”
The words, though not said scornfully, stung. But they also gave me pause. Having grown up a witness to Gran’s magic, it was easy to forget sometimes the world around us didn’t see things through our eyes; a raven familiar to one such as Gran would still be…just a bird.
I finished cleaning Zephyr. If blood prices are always part of these things, I can understand the king’s concern…but he’d used the wrong approach, and now we’re all involved in a possible war that didn’t have to happen at all.
No, the king hadn’t seen things like we did, and certainly not the Cancelers, but whereas the king wanted to eliminate the perceived threat, Tyrel and I were on our way to make sure the Cancelers weren’t trying to use the ruse of aiding him in that quest as a means to their own ends.
I smiled at the thought that I was traveling with a Canceler to make sure that all they wanted to do was kill us too.
There was reasons people felt the Great Purge had been necessary, and I would do well to remember them. I’d been tasked with finding the Traitors Guild, and if the Cancelers were indeed hoarding magic in what they claimed was a Void instead of actually purging it, that had to be stopped as well.
How far a Canceler would go with a newly made witch to accomplish those things was an open ended question.
For now he was willing, but I had to think about what I’d be willing to do if, or when, that was no longer true.