Sanyare: The Rebel Apprentice (Book 3)
Up early, unable to sleep, Rie peered between the cheap plastic blinds of the motel room. Snores resonated behind her.
A single black bird perched on the hood of the dented and scorched semi truck, the vehicle their only option to escape the leaders of the nine faerie realms. The leaders who would have taken Daenor to The Pit and returned Rie to Garamaen’s estate with her tail tucked.
The bird turned its head. One beady black eye glared at her from an impassive avian face. It cawed, the sound eerie in the stillness of the morning. Rie pushed aside the blinds a few inches, letting in the gray light of pre-dawn.
The Pit was no place for a prince of the Shadow Realm. An innocent prince, recently named heir to the shadow throne. No, high king Othin sought to take advantage of the failed tribunal to move against his enemy, and taunt Daenor’s father, King Aradae, into rash action. She’d had no choice but to act against the council and escape with Daenor. He didn’t deserve the punishment, and she wouldn’t spend another minute without him, if she could help it.
A warm hand slid across the back of Rie’s neck, calloused fingers rough on sensitive skin. Rie reached up to cover the hand with her own.
“You’re up,” she said, without turning around. There was no need. Daenor’s touch was unmistakable.
“Did you sleep at all?” he asked.
After the terrifying escape from the tribunal and the relief of living through the transition to a new day without the magic of faerie surrounding her, Rie hadn’t had a chance to lie down, let alone sleep. As a one-hundred-nine year-old changeling from the Upper Realm, the transition from deep dark night to dawn’s first light in a realm that rejected magic should have forced her body to take its ‘natural’ form. She should have aged instantly to become one of, if not the oldest, living human in the realm.
Instead, she gained a few fine lines, but she retained her youthful skin and lustrous hair.
Rie ran a hand through the short dark locks. What once had been so long it was difficult to manage, was now cropped short in a messy bob. A stylist had done her best to make it presentable, but it would be a long time before it could be braided into the tight buns Rie favored.
“I like it,” Daenor whispered, his lips close to Rie’s ear. His warm breath sent pleasurable chills down her spine. “You look fierce. Like a valkyrie from the old legends.”
“You fantasize about the choosers of the slain?”
“One of them, at least.”
“Great, and here I thought I was your favorite lover.” Rie leaned her face into Daenor’s hand, telling him she was only teasing despite the lack of laughter.
Daenor ran his thumb along the edge of her jaw, turning her head to face him. “You’re my only lover. My only desire.” He pressed his forehead against hers. “You are my valkyrie, for you’ve slain me. My heart is yours.”
Rie wrapped her hand around the nape of his neck, pulling him down for a kiss. He didn’t protest. His lips molded to her touch. His arms held her close.
A rustling and a squeak from one of the beds interrupted the moment.
“G’morning,” Morcana croaked, oblivious to the intimacy she disturbed. She rubbed a hand against bloodshot eyes, the pale scales that covered her skin more visible than usual. Morcana was a water fae, a being of both land and sea. But she hadn’t been near the ocean in at least a day. She was drying out.
Daenor stepped away, but kept a warm hand on Rie’s lower back. They had been apart too long, seen and dealt with too much since his imprisonment under King Othin’s care. She didn’t want to separate an inch. Apparently, neither did he.
“What’s that?” Morcana asked, pointing at the window behind Rie.
Rie turned. Gasped.
The bird sat on the window ledge, gaze trained inside in the room. It tapped on the window with its beak.
“Shoo!” Rie waved her hands at the window, as if that would help.
The bird didn’t even flinch. She knocked on the glass. Not a twitch.
Another squeak from a sagging mattress. “That is no mere bird,” Galadir said from the far side of the room. “That’s a raven. We are being watched.”
“Obviously,” Rie replied, sarcasm thick. If only she could have left the insufferable elf behind. Unlike Daenor, he did deserve The Pit. He had been instrumental in the entire scheme to turn innocent fae into unknowing assassins, all to advance his own career. He’d experimented on and killed dozens of men and women of every race.
“Watched, as in spied on. That is Huginn,” he added.
Deanor pulled Rie away from the glass, toward the center of the room.
“What are you talking about?” Rie asked. Galadir couldn’t be trusted, but she would know if he were lying. She hoped. She dropped a hand to the grip of her khukuri blade, willing the enchanted weapon to boost her abilities.
Unfortunately, Daenor spoke first. “Huginn and Muninn are Othin’s spies. The faerie ravens are tied to the king, sent to hunt and track his enemies. If Huginn is already here, the warriors won’t be far behind. Muninn will lead them right to us.” Daenor slid a drawer from a cabinet and smashed the old weak wood to smithereens. He picked through the smallest pieces until he had a few handfuls of fuel stuffed in his pockets. “Gather your things. We must leave.”
“Huginn and Muninn haven’t been seen in centuries.” Niinka yawned, emerging from the shredded pillow nest she and the other pixies had made. Serrated teeth snapped closed while solid black eyes blinked away the sleep. She stretched her arms above her head, translucent dragonfly wings waving slowly as she awoke.
“Maybe not, but do you want to be here if you are wrong?” Galadir replied.
Niinka zipped to the door. “Easiest way to find out is to go out there and see for myself. Besides, I’m hungry.” Without another word, Niinka crawled beneath the doorjamb and was gone.
Already wearing her amlug hide armor and knives, there was nothing left for Rie to gather. The others threw together what little they needed in barely a heartbeat.
Niinka reappeared in the room a moment later.
“Gotta go, gotta go, gotta go,” she said, her tinkling voice harsh with urgency.
Rie opened the motel room door. At least a hundred birds of every conceivable species circled high overhead. A black form sped toward them. Rie ducked, narrowly avoiding a beak to the eye. She scrambled back into the room. Another bird crashed into the door just as it slammed shut.
“They are attempting to corral us. To keep us here until the warriors arrive,” Galadir said.
Rie’s eyes narrowed. “How do you know?” He’d tricked them before, had been trying to manipulate Rie — at times successfully — since they were teenagers in Curuthannor’s training hall. Cruel and calculating. As far as Rie knew, he’d never willingly helped anyone without personal reward.
“It doesn’t matter,” Daenor’s voice settled Rie’s sleep-deprived nerves. “We can’t wait to see what happens.”
Rie took a deep breath, centered herself and prepared to run. “I’ll go first, to clear the way and start the truck.”
“I’m coming with you.” Daenor lit a small fireball in his hand from a splinter of wood broken off the door frame. “I’ve got the fire power.”
Rie hesitated. Not because she didn’t trust him, or didn’t think him a capable warrior. He was the commander of the shadow guard, after all, but because she couldn’t bear the thought of an injury. Or worse. She’d already lost Braegan. She couldn’t lose anyone else.
“We’ll all go,” Morcana replied. “They’re just birds.”
Rie glanced out the window. Birds perched on the truck, on the lamppost, and on the faded motel sign. Small and large, all different species, they lined the window ledge and circled overhead. Hundreds, maybe even thousands, called upon in the span of moments. And more arrived with every heartbeat.
“You’re kidding, right?” Niinka asked. “That many birds could eat a whole swarm of pixies.”
“Only if the pixies didn’t eat them first.” Rie shook her head. “Morcana’s right. If we all go together, we’ll get out of here that much faster.” And if they stuck together, no one would be singled out.
Rie rested one hand on the knob. The other drew the eight inch khukuri knife from the sheath strapped to her thigh. The blade hummed its pleasure, anticipating the battle to come.
When everyone nodded, she threw open the door. A crow swooped low, past her face. Rie flinched, swinging one arm up to block the sharp beak from reaching her skin. The bird bounced off the hardened leather bracer on her forearm.
Rie crouched and ran toward the beat up semi truck. Just fifty yards away. Fifty yards filled with cawing, darting birds intent on preventing Rie and her team from reaching their target. She pulled her second knife.
A cloud of feathered bodies descended on the group. Rie swung her blades, doing her best to keep the birds from getting too close. Daenor unleashed fireball after fireball, but the birds easily avoided the flames. Those few that didn’t were quickly replaced.
Talons grabbed at Rie’s shoulder, but the amlug leather vest prevented the claws from reaching skin. Rie spun her blade, cutting the bird in two and knocking it away.
Morcana screamed. Two birds tangled in her hair. They pecked at the skin of her neck and face, leaving trails of blood running down pale skin.
Niinka and Gikl flew to the rescue, clawing their way beneath feather to get to the meat of the bird. A screech and a frantic flutter, then the birds went still.
“Keep moving,” Rie shouted, pulling on Morcana’s arm while the other woman struggled to remove the dead birds from her knotted hair.
More birds swooped in. A veritable wall of black and gray and brown feathers blocked them from reaching the truck. Only one kept apart, the largest of them all. Huginn.
A blast of orange and red from behind the birds sent a few shrieking away, but Turant’s flame couldn’t reach the majority. He was trapped in the truck’s trailer, a livestock rig with open portholes and a door that latched on the outside. Despite the long prehensile whiskers that could manipulate bolts and latches nearly as well as fingers, the half-dragon half-horse couldn’t reach the latch that would allow him fly out and destroy the psychotic animals. Every time he tried, a cloud of birds would descend upon the sensitive appendage until he screamed and withdrew back into the cage.
Daenor threw more fireballs. The agile birds dodged out of the way without a single singed feather. Meanwhile, the team remained under attack, the birds diving into the group as if on a suicide mission. It was.
Rie’s khukuris sliced out again and again, but there were always more birds ready to take their comrade’s place.
“We need a gap in the wall,” Daenor shouted over the din of the ever-expanding flock of birds.
Morcana’s eyes narrowed in concentration. “Done.”
She pointed her hand at the ground, then reached up to the sky and made a fist. Water burst from the yellow emergency water supply, the cap shooting through the crowded sky with deadly force. Morcana swung her arm toward the whirling throng. The jet of water followed, knocking the birds to the ground and away, clearing the needed path.
Rie dashed for the space, sprinting the last ten yards. She unlocked the passenger door. Jumped in and slid over, making room for Morcana and Daenor to get in while she started the engine.
The pixies dashed in behind Morcana, Niinka bringing up the rear. A crow swooped low, on a collision course.
“Niinka, watch out!” Rie called.
A burst of flame from the trailer charred the bird, narrowly missing Niinka’s tiny form. The pixie grinned as she crossed the last few feet into the cab.
“Nice shot, Turant!” she called.
“Too close,” Rie mumbled, but the door shut and the birds were locked out.
So was the high elf traitor. She released the brakes and shifted into drive. Thanked the gods again for an automatic transmission.
“What about Galadir?” Daenor asked, pointing at the high elf. He struggled with at least four birds, fighting them off despite his lack of weapons.
“Leave him,” Morcana replied from her seat in the back. Rie understood the sentiment. But as much as she wanted vengeance — and death by bird somehow seemed fitting for the traitor — she needed him alive to finish the truthseeking and find the others involved in the scheme to overthrow the nine realms. If he died now, or was captured by Othin, he couldn’t reveal his co-conspirators.
Calling on her own magic, Rie pulled the energy out of the birds still attacking Galadir. One by one, they dropped into sleep, then death, their life force taken to replenish Rie’s own energy.
Galadir ran the last few steps to the truck. Daenor threw open the door, then slammed it shut behind him. Rie disengaged the air brakes, then slowly pushed the gas. The truck groaned, but eased forward.
Birds crashed into the glass around them, breaking their necks with the impact. Rie turned on the windshield wipers to clear away the dead bodies and give enough visibility to drive.
Huginn swooped in front of the truck, shrieking in anger and sounding an alarm for more birds.
“We have to get rid of him,” Rie said. “He’ll just keep bringing more birds.”
“And warriors,” Daenor added.
“Drain him,” Galadir suggested.
Rie stopped the truck and checked the magical plane. Her magic was getting stronger, easier to use, but it still took concentration.
“He’s tied into Othin. I can’t draw enough energy to kill him.”
And if she wasn’t careful, Othin would sense her connection to the bird. If that happened, he could switch the flow of energy, or worse.
“If we do not eliminate him, they will follow us. We will never get away,” Galadir urged.
“Light him on fire,” Rie said, glancing at Daenor, who sat next to her.
“He’ll dodge the blast. He’s dodged them all so far.”
“Don’t feathers burn?” Rie asked.
“All we need to do is disable him enough so that he can’t fly. Focus on the tail feathers. Burn them until he drops. He’ll heal, but not before we’re long gone.”
Daenor nodded. Looked at the giant raven who circled above them, highlighting their location for all to see. Flames burst to life. The bird looked like a meteor falling from space, his black body plummeting while his tail feathers lit the sky with fire.