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Blackbringer, p.12
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       Blackbringer, p.12

           Laini Taylor
 
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  “Devil? Foolish faerie, Skuldraig is the blade itself! It is cursed to slay any who wield it but the one for whom it was forged.”

  “B-but . . . ,” Magpie stammered, “I have wielded it!”

  The Djinn’s flame eyelids drew together in a vertical blink. “Have you indeed?” he breathed. Magpie nodded. He asked, “And pray, what happened when you did?”

  “It . . . it sang.”

  The Magruwen guttered like a wind-licked candle. “It sang for you?” Again he demanded, “Who are you, faerie?”

  “Magpie Wind—”

  “Nay, but who are you? Who made you?”

  “What do you mean, Lord?” Magpie asked, pushing away from him on her wings as he flared bright and hot once more.

  “You weave the Tapestry, and you wield the champion’s blade and it sings for you when it should slay you? Faerie, you too should be a skeleton with a knife in its back. Why do you live?”

  Magpie heard all he said, Tapestry and skeleton and all, but one word caused her to gasp. “Champion?”

  “I forged this blade for Bellatrix and no other!” His voice seethed and gusts of heat crackled around him.

  Awestruck and shaking, Magpie carefully set the blade on the cavern floor and backed away, Calypso at her side. “I’m sorry, Lord Magruwen,” she said. “I should never have taken it—”

  “You mistake me, little bird,” he said. “Pick it up. Skuldraig has suffered you to live. It’s yours, should you risk the use of it again. Many devils has it subdued in its day.”

  Magpie picked the knife back up and looked at it, in awe of it and afraid. Bellatrix had held it, aye, but how many spines had known it since? She slid it warily into its sheath. “Lord Magruwen,” she said. “Will it subdue this devil?”

  “I told you. He is beyond you!”

  “The trees are calling him the Blackbringer—”

  “Blackbringer! Call him what you choose, he will devour you just the same. Go now, faerie.”

  Magpie hung her head unhappily. She wanted to ask him more questions but he was withdrawing deeper into his cave and she sensed she was dismissed. “Thank you, Lord,” she said, bowing deeply before turning to Calypso to go.

  She had reached the door when the Djinn said, “Wait.”

  Magpie turned back, hopeful.

  “You may choose a treasure,” he said.

  “Oh.” She couldn’t hide her disappointment. She looked at the glittering trove scattered across the cavern floor. Maybe there was some magical thing among the jewels that could help her, but if she had days she wouldn’t know how to choose! “Thank you, Lord,” she said, taking a halting step toward the treasure. A spiral of light caught her eye then, and as she turned, it seemed to sink and disappear into the sparkling piles. Magpie felt the air pulse and urge her forward. She went where it took her and knelt over a spilled coffer of gold pieces. She dredged through them and came up with a familiar thing grasped in her hands.

  She smiled, well pleased. “My Lord?” she asked, holding it up for his approval. It was the acorn he had spit from the cake. “You said there was no thousand years in this nut. There surely won’t be unless I get it in some good ground.”

  Those vertical eyes drew together like a serpent’s as the Magruwen blinked. He nodded.

  Magpie and Calypso backed out the door and bowed again, calling, “Thank you!” as they left.

  Long did the Magruwen stare after her, watching with his inner eyes as radiant traceries unfurled in her wake, rampant as vines. The treasure had been a final test. It had always been a test, even in the long-gone days of visitors. Those through whom the Tapestry sang true chose well, much as long ago the healer Grayling had chosen her knitting needles from among the gems and flashier things. Those corrupt of spirit called down false notes from the Tapestry, and they chose ill. The sword Duplicity, for instance, doubled everything it cut, even enemies, so that where one devil stood, once slashed with Duplicity, there stood two. And sorrow to the swords-man who multiplied his foes even as he smote them!

  The lass, Magpie, had chosen true. He hadn’t doubted she would. But he hadn’t guessed . . . She had made his test look like a sprout’s game! What she had shown him, drawing that common acorn out of a spill of gold, would vibrate through the Tapestry for ages to come—if the Tapestry survived that long. Even as he watched, her traceries wove and pleached their way through the ancient threads like something living, sending out many roots, curving and coiling inextricably through the warp and weft.

  He saw it plain as a picture.

  There was not a thousand years in the acorn, because in three hundred the massive oak that was to spring from it would be struck by lightning and charged through with mystery. The Djinn squeezed shut his inner eyes, thinking sure he read wrong the new magic the faerie was even now weaving, unaware of it though she might be.

  But there it was. Flutes carved of the oak’s heartwood would sing directly to the Tapestry. They would sing like many pure, interlacing voices, working upon the threads in a way no faerie could when visioning glyphs. They would draw down from it such complex magicks as the Magruwen himself had never gifted to faeries, that would humble the power of those of the Dawn Days as greatly as a single sprout’s voice is humbled beside a choir of seraphim.

  Such power for faeries . . . The Djinn had an impulse to stop her from planting the nut, to unweave the threads before it was too late, but something stilled his fingers, some hint of familiarity, like a forgotten dream.

  In all the dreams of his long slumber, coming one upon the next like waves upon a shore, had he dreamed a new golden age for faeries? Had he dreamed to life this one who would bring it? He couldn’t remember. He couldn’t believe it. How could he have forgiven in his dreams the faerie betrayal he had never ceased mourning in his heart?

  Watching the mesmerizing dance of new threads in the Tapestry, the Magruwen was sure of only one thing. He wasn’t tired. For the first time in a long, long time, he wasn’t tired at all.

  SEVENTEEN

  “If she hollers, let her sing . . . ,” whispered Batch, eyes agleam as he peered out of the shadows. “The lovely song of a faerie scream . . .” A thick rope of yellowish drool dangled from his lip. Slowly he sucked it back up into his mouth and savored it, his eyes never shifting from the wings that fanned gently before him in the late golden light. He felt like an impkin at a sweet shop window with a pocketful of gold.

  He’d never seen finer wings.

  He wanted to taste them. He wanted to wear them.

  He crept closer. The faerie was a lass, kneeling in her garden murmuring to the flowers. He didn’t care a twitch for her. In the grip of his obsession, she was truly no more to him than a bit of stuff attached to his new wings, something to be rid of.

  He launched himself at her and saw her start to turn just before his weight slammed her to the ground, facedown. She screamed, and Batch did nothing to stop her. There was no one near to hear. He’d made sure of it. He wound his tail round her ankles, braced his long pink feet against her back, and reached for the solid joints where her wings met her shoulders.

  She screamed and screamed. Many voices joined hers, earthy voices and wispy, rough as bark and soft as moss, and their screams radiated into Dreamdark as more flowers joined in, and more trees. But it little mattered. Batch didn’t hear it, and nor did anything else not rooted to the earth. The only faerie alive in the world who could hear those voices was pinned facedown with an imp on her back. His fingers curled lovingly around her wing joints, and he began to pull.

  “I think he liked ye, ’Pie,” Calypso told Magpie as they flew above the forest.

  Magpie snorted. “Sure, he just adored me. Remember that part when he said I should be a skeleton? That was sweet.”

  “Ach, well, count yer blessings. Ye’re alive.”

  “Aye, for true.” She spoke of it lightly, but Magpie was shaken and shivered by her ordeal in the Djinn’s cave. She wished she had time to write a letter to her par
ents, but time was something she didn’t have.

  “What next?” asked Calypso.

  “That Rathersting lad said his kinsmen disappeared at Issrin. I reckon that’s our best lead. We’ll go see what we see.”

  “But darlin’, ye heard all the Magruwen said, neh, ’bout this thing being beyond ye?”

  “Aye, I heard. I’m just thinking to spy, try and get a look at the skiving thing at last. I won’t go take him on, I promise.”

  Uneasily, Calypso said, “All right, all right.”

  “I want to see Poppy first, so she knows we’re not scorched. And give her this acorn to plant.”

  Afternoon was just beginning to fold into evening as they spiraled in toward the Manygreen lands. Just seconds before her feet set down, Magpie heard the scream. She landed in a crouch and swept the garden with a searching look. Calypso likewise went on alert. The muffled cry came again from beyond a frill of ferns and in that instant Magpie was airborne again, rocketing through the lacy fronds.

  She saw the creature standing on Poppy for only the briefest moment before she somersaulted in the air and crashed feetfirst into it, sending it sprawling. The impact spun her aside but she landed neat as a cat on all fours, her eyes flashing at the thing that tumbled into a heap, crushing ferns beneath it. She knew it at once by its long rat’s tail and its soft reek of decay. A scavenger imp.

  Poppy jumped to her feet and fluttered her wings wildly. “Magpie!” she cried.

  “Poppy! Are you okay?”

  The imp cowered beneath the wild wing beats and squawking descent of Calypso, and Poppy fluttered her wings again, trying to look at them over her shoulder. “I think so . . . ,” she said, distraught. “He . . . he was trying to take my wings!”

  “Take them?” Magpie repeated.

  “He was trying to rip them off!”

  Magpie turned to the imp, her chin lowered and eyes glinting dangerously. “Trying to mutilate a faerie?” she cried.

  “Neh!” He was wailing in his desperate wheeze of a voice and trying to squirm away from Calypso’s sharp talons. “I just wanted to fly away! Don’t take me back to master!”

  “Cussed vermin!” the crow croaked, and Magpie saw the imp peer up at him with one squinting eye, then fall limp with relief.

  “Blessings!” Batch whimpered. “I thought ye was the vultures!”

  “Vultures?” Magpie demanded, remembering the lad had mentioned vultures. “And master? What master?”

  The imp looked at her, snuffled, and gave her a meek, imploring smile. “Missy faerie call off the bad birdy?”

  Calypso was standing on Batch much as Batch had stood on Poppy, and Magpie knelt in front of him. She smelled scorched fur and saw how his whiskers were frizzled like burnt broom straws. In the scamper language she’d learned from Snoshti as a babe, she asked, “What happened to you, imp? Fall in a fire?”

  “Fire fell on me!”

  She gave him a penetrating look, remembering how the Magruwen had accused her of being a treasure-hunter. “First an imp and now a faerie,” he had said.

  “You been to the Magruwen!”

  “The who what?” Batch asked. But Magpie had seen his eyes jump open at the mention of the Djinn’s name, and she knew. Vultures, master, and a trip to the Magruwen? It added up to one thing: this imp was in the middle of her mystery.

  She nodded to Calypso to let him sit up. “Bold caper, imp,” she said, musing. “The Djinn King himself!”

  “I don’t know what yer talking about!”

  “However did you find him?” Magpie asked with a hint of admiration. “He’s been missing for ever so long! Sure someone must’ve told you where he was. A faerie told you, I guess.”

  “Faerie!” he scoffed. “Faeries couldn’t find yolk in an egg! I found him!”

  “For true?” Magpie asked with apparent delight. “You found the Magruwen? That’s a . . . a miracle!”

  “It’s a gift,” Batch told her with a dignified sniff.

  “Aye, I’ve heard tell. What’s it called, the . . . serenity?”

  “Serendipity!” he corrected.

  “Aye, that’s it!” Well Magpie knew what it was called: the serendipity, that gift of the scavengers that looked like eerie good luck. Batch and the scant handful of imps like him possessed the uncanny ability of finding just what they needed, just when they needed it. Reliably. That should have made them worthy allies in these times, but unfortunately they were also heartless, reclusive, nasty, and obsessive to the point of madness. They couldn’t even stand each other, which accounted for the very small number of them in existence.

  On occasion faeries had tried to bend the serendipity to their purposes. Even Magpie’s parents had once enlisted a scavenger imp named Lick to help them find Amitav Ev, the lost temple of the Ashmedai. And he had found it. And looted it. And disappeared. To this day they had no idea where the ruins lay. They had learned the hard way that, whoever else might claim the title, a scavenger imp has but one master: itself.

  But they were quite susceptible to flattery. Continuing in her innocent way, Magpie remarked, “I guess your master knew you were the only one who could do it, neh?”

  “The only one!” he boasted. “There are ballads, ye know, missy, about the emperor of lost things! Sure ye’ve heard ’em? That’s me, Batch Hangnail, king of scavengers!”

  “Well, I sure hope you got your share of the treasure!”

  She wasn’t sure what response she expected, but it wasn’t the imp dissolving into a lump of moaning, sloppy woe. “T-t-treasure . . . ,” he stuttered with trembling lips, then started to bawl, his great nose leaking syrupy streaks down his snout.

  Enough of this, she thought. “All right, you.” She shoved him with her foot. “I want some answers, d’you hear me?”

  He went on bawling.

  “Who’s your master? What is he? And where?”

  His bawling intensified. He groped for the tip of his bejeweled tail and shoved it into his mouth, making little mew-ling noises as he sucked at it, like a kitten at its dam’s teat. Magpie exchanged looks of disgust with Calypso and Poppy, and then she just stood there, uncertain what to do next.

  “Look . . . Batch . . . ,” she said finally. “Sure you had no choice. The hungry one made you help him.”

  He cracked open one eye to peer at her, still snuffling wetly.

  “And I’ll do what I can to help you—”

  “Ha!” He gave a high, crazed laugh. “What could a twig like ye do? He got them warriors like a snack!”

  “The Rathersting! With the tattoos? Imp, what did he do to them?” she demanded. “What does he do to them all?”

  “One by one into the dark!”

  Magpie sighed. Dark. Aye, dark. Hadn’t she seen plenty of dark in plenty of memories? “But what is he?” she cried in frustration.

  Batch just shook his head and whispered, “Beast of night with flesh of smoke, wearing darkness like a cloak . . .”

  “Jacksmoke,” she snapped. “Poetry. That’s about as helpful as nursery tales. At least tell me what he sent you to the Magruwen for. I know you went for treasure. What did your master want?”

  A glint of malice lit Batch’s pathetic, slobber-slicked face. “Nasty cheat,” he muttered. “Cheating nasty meat . . . A turnip!”

  “A turnip,” Magpie repeated flatly.

  “A measly scorched nasty turnip! Waste of a treasure!” His eyes squeezed shut and his little fists clenched and unclenched, and he was such a picture of misery that Magpie found she believed him.

  To Calypso she muttered, “What would a devil want with a turnip?”

  Calypso shrugged. “Why would the Magruwen have a turnip?”

  “Flummox me! Look, feather, let’s take the imp with us. I’m not through with him yet, sure he knows more than he’s saying, but if we don’t fly it’ll be dark before we can reach Issrin—”

  “Neh, not Issrin!” cried the imp with such terror that Magpie knew Issrin was indeed the place. “Not t
here! Don’t take me there!”

  “Why? Is he still there?” she demanded.

  “Until the dark comes and frees him from the shadows . . . But the night is like a sea to him, to swim where he will.”

  “Then we’d better hurry—” Magpie suddenly tensed, listening. Calypso knew the look, so he wasn’t surprised—but Poppy was—when Magpie suddenly whirled around and flicked herself fast toward the bushes. They heard a cry of “Miminy!” in a gent’s voice, and a tussle, and then a figure tumbled from the underbrush with Magpie leaping out nimbly behind. “Spy!” she growled.

  “Poppy!” gasped the gent, and they all saw who it was.

  “Kex!” Poppy cried. “What were you doing there?”

  Kex Winterkill got to his feet, glared at them all, and brushed moss off his satin breeches, grimacing to see stains. “Ahem—” he said. “M’lady calls for you, cousin.”

  Poppy let out a hiss of exasperation. “Tell her I’m busy!”

  “Indeed?” he said, eyeing Batch with undisguised contempt and flicking unloving looks at Magpie and Calypso too. “Do you imagine she’ll be pleased to learn you prefer the company of low creatures to her royal self?”

  “I don’t care what pleases her! Tell her I’ve no more potions for her!”

  “Ach,” said Magpie. “Is her hair still—?”

  “Aye.” Poppy nodded. “That spell’s pulled tight. I’ve done all I know how. Kex, it’s beyond me! Call for Orchidspike!”

  Kex stiffened. “You well know Orchidspike refuses to attend my lady.”

  “Aye, I know. And now, so do I.”

  Kex reddened. “Think hard on your choice of friends, Poppy. After all, these . . . actors . . . are surely soon to grace Dreamdark with the priceless gift of their departure, and then you may find yourself quite . . . unwelcome . . . in polite society.”

  Poppy looked him boldly in the eyes and said, “I want nothing to do with Queen Vesper’s society! I never did!”

  Before Kex could reply, they were all distracted by a chortle that burst from Batch. “Queen Vesper, did I hear you say?” he asked. “Queen Vesper?”

 
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