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Blackbringer, p.17
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       Blackbringer, p.17

           Laini Taylor
 
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  Magpie smiled at that.

  “The faeries needed a new champion, and it wouldn’t be me. Even if I could somehow go back—and I had tried—there was little I could have done. The Tapestry was falling apart and darkness was waiting on the other side, and the Djinn were sleeping through it. The faeries—the world—needed a new kind of champion. . . .” She paused. “So I imagined you.”

  Magpie started, stunned. “What?” she gasped.

  Bellatrix pulled the brush through her hair and went on, her voice rich with feeling. “Don’t you see? The dreams, the shared dreams of the dragon and the Djinn King. At last, their dreams brought new life into the Tapestry.”

  “The Tapestry,” repeated Magpie. “The Magruwen spoke of it. What is it?”

  Bellatrix shook her head sadly. “That faeries have forgotten the Tapestry; that is the greatest tragedy of all. It’s the fabric of all creation and it’s woven of dreams, the dreams of the Djinn. Dreams are real, Magpie. They’re seed and water and sun. They’re everything.” She paused, let Magpie’s hair run out of her hands. “That is what you feel, child, what faeries have lost the power to feel, and what you’ve begun to see in glimpses.”

  Magpie turned to look at her. “The pulse? The light? The—the living light?” she stammered.

  “Aye. Dreams spun in fire in the minds of Djinn. It’s how they shaped a world out of nothing. But the nothing is still out there. You see it through the stars, the blackness of night. The world is just a tiny thing afloat in that sea of nothing and the Tapestry is all that protects it. Now it’s falling apart, and the Djinn are letting it.”

  “But why?”

  Bellatrix shook her head again and said, with an edge of frustration, “I don’t know. Something happened. I believe Fade knows, but he keeps his master’s mysteries close. Whatever it was, the Magruwen had forsaken us. I had no choice but to trick him.”

  “Trick the Djinn King? How?”

  Bellatrix gave a short laugh. “Bedtime stories. For the past thousand years I’ve been telling Fade faerie stories and hoping . . .”

  It finally dawned on Magpie. “Hoping the Magruwen would share his dreams and weave them into the Tapestry!”

  Bellatrix nodded. “It took centuries of trying, and the only way to know if it worked was for the imps and creatures to watch for you in the world.”

  As Magpie’s mind wrapped itself around this notion, it began to trouble her. “So . . . ,” she began, her brow furrowed, “you’re saying I was one of those stories?”

  “Child, you were those stories.”

  Magpie didn’t know what to think or feel. A silence stretched out between them as she waited for the words to sink in. They didn’t, quite. It seemed so absurd. “Me? Then, am I real?” she asked.

  Bellatrix reached her arms out and drew Magpie to her. “As real as anyone. More real! You’re the first faerie in a long, long time who was handmade by the Djinn King! I only fed the idea of you into his mind. Left to himself he would never have dreamed of a faerie as powerful as you.”

  “Powerful?”

  “Oh.” Bellatrix laughed and took Magpie by the shoulders, holding her back so she could look her in the eyes. “Magpie . . . you have no idea. The world has never seen anything like you.”

  Magpie stared at her, trying to take it in. Despite what Bellatrix said, she couldn’t shake the sense of unreality that began to overwhelm her. She was someone else’s dream! Well, she reminded herself, didn’t everything come from the Djinns’ dreams in some way or other? But this dream had been a trick. Her life was a trick.

  “Magpie,” said Bellatrix. “Listen. I know this is hard to understand. I’d thought to wait until you were grown, but the Tapestry is failing faster than I ever imagined. I just couldn’t wait any longer.”

  Magpie stared at her hands and turned them over slowly, thinking how her very skin and bones were spun from a dragon’s bedtime story.

  “Just know you’re real, and you’re yourself, and no one—no one, not me and not even the Magruwen—holds any kind of puppet strings. What you do now will be your choice, but you have more choice than anyone, because you—alone of all faeries, Magpie—you can weave the Tapestry. Like the Djinn.”

  Magpie shook her head, laughing a high thin laugh. “That’s blither! How could I . . . I’m just—”

  Bellatrix took one of Magpie’s hands and opened it and traced her fingertips over Magpie’s palm. “There’s power in you, child, and I know you feel it. I know it’s begun to find its own way out. You’ll see, you’ll learn. And I’m sorry to say, you’ll need to learn fast if you’re going to stop the Blackbringer.”

  That jolted Magpie out of thoughts of her own reality. “I can stop it? The Magruwen said it couldn’t be caught.”

  “He thinks the strength of faeries is gone from the world. Four thousand years’ worth of dreams have sifted through his long sleep, Magpie. It’s likely he doesn’t realize yet who you are or how he’s been deceived.”

  “Won’t he be angry?”

  “Aye, I imagine he will be. I only hope there is in him still the fiery spirit that drove him to create, that won’t be able to watch a devil destroy his world!”

  “Could he destroy the world? What is he, Lady? The stories of the Blackbringer are just nursery tales now. No one even thinks he was real!”

  “He was real,” said Bellatrix in a hard voice. Then she gently touched Magpie’s wings. “He did this to you?”

  “Aye. But my friends weren’t so lucky. . . . Lady Bellatrix, please, what is he? He’s not like any devil I ever saw.”

  “Nay, he was like no other. He was the worst of them all. He was a plague. All through the wars he eluded us, like a phantom, a shadow. How do you capture the dark? He hunted and fed, even in Dreamdark, and night became a horror. All the faeries and imps kept to Never Nigh. Even he couldn’t breach it. It was like a siege town.”

  “Was it you who captured him?”

  “Aye, at last, with the Magruwen and the Vritra at our side. It took all the Djinns’ champions, and not all survived.” Her voice dropped to a husky whisper. “Kipay . . .”

  “Kipepeo?” asked Magpie. “The Ithuriel’s champion?”

  “You’ve heard of him?” Bellatrix’s eyes lit up.

  “I know his name from the ballads of the wars,” said Magpie.

  “I’m glad he is not forgotten.”

  “Did . . . did the Blackbringer get him?”

  Bellatrix nodded and squeezed shut her eyes. When she opened them again they were filled with such sadness and longing that Magpie asked hesitantly, “Did you love him?”

  “He was my husband.”

  After a long pause Magpie said, “I never knew you were married.”

  “No one did. We had eloped. We were married only three days when we met the Blackbringer in battle. After, those of us who remained went back to our home forests with word that the devils were vanquished. I never told anyone I was a widow. They hadn’t even known I was a wife! And, I didn’t want them to try to stop me.”

  “Stop you?”

  Bellatrix smiled, but her smile was bleak. “It wasn’t my time. I knew that. But all I’d done for two hundred years was hunt devils, and now they were gone, and Kipay was too. There was nothing left for me. I just wanted to find my husband. It was wrong; it was too soon. But I went where no one would find me, and I spoke the ancient words, and . . . came here.”

  “And Kipepeo wasn’t here,” Magpie said, and Bellatrix shook her head.

  So that was what had become of her. That was how she had slipped out of history. She had come in mourning to the Moonlit Gardens, unnaturally early. Magpie imagined what it must have been like when she realized Kipepeo wasn’t waiting for her at the riverbank, wasn’t anywhere here, and she couldn’t change her mind and go back to find him in the world. She was trapped. “How terrible, Lady . . . ,” she whispered. Her own feeling of helplessness was nothing next to that. At least she could go back and find out what had become
of the Blackbringer’s victims.

  She looked up at Bellatrix. “I’ll find out what happened to them,” she declared.

  “Aye,” Bellatrix said, and it dawned on Magpie that this was the real reason she’d been dreamed into being, so a mourning widow could learn her husband’s fate at last.

  She was meant to do this.

  She chewed her lip and pondered it as Bellatrix silently braided her hair. She decided finally that it’s not so bad to find out you have a destiny when it’s something you were going to do anyway.

  Bellatrix tucked night-blooming blossoms into the intricate seven-strand braid. “There, perfect! Your foxlick, though . . .” She laughed as the tuft freed itself from the braid. “It won’t be tamed!”

  “Don’t I know!” said Magpie. She inhaled. “Those flowers . . .” It was the fragrance she had already come to associate with the Moonlit Gardens. “What are they called?”

  “Nightspink. They grow everywhere here.”

  “They’re so delicate.”

  “Aye, delicate!” agreed Bellatrix with a sigh. “What I wouldn’t give for a big brash rose now and then, a scent you can drown in! All this tranquility! Give me a thunderstorm! A stampede, an avalanche, a wild red sunset . . .”

  “Sunsets would be something here,” said Magpie, going to the edge and looking out over the dragons’ immense canyon.

  “I miss sunrise even more. The green scent of dawn in the forest? The color blushing back into the world, different every day.”

  Magpie remembered a long winter of night she’d once spent in the northern icelands and how desperately she’d craved daylight. “Why did the Djinn make it like this? Always night?”

  “Ah, well, it suits the seraphim.”

  “Who?”

  “Well, they’re us, really. What we become? There are two parts to a creature, Magpie, the spark and the skin. The longer we’re in the Gardens, the closer we are to our spark, and the more we relinquish our skin and all the drama and fleshly stuff of being alive. Love and anger and jealousy? Our hungers and longings. We couldn’t go on like that for eternity. We’d go mad.”

  “But haven’t you been here twenty-five thousand years?”

  Bellatrix smiled. “I? But I am mad! The Magruwen always said I was the most obstinate faerie who ever lived. Sure he never thought he’d have such proof as this, me clinging to my skin all these thousands of years! This isn’t what it’s meant to be like, child. Everyone I ever knew . . . except Kipay, of course . . . they’ve come and become. And I’ve stayed just the same.”

  “And the dragons?” asked Magpie, looking up at them.

  “Ah, bless the Djinn for giving the dragons the temperament for immortality. They’ve no need to become. They’re perfect just as they are. They’ve been good companions to me these past five thousand years, especially Fade. I visit the seraphim sometimes too, up in the high planes. But I admit I prefer the riverbank, the faeries fresh from life in all their beautiful skins, bursting with gossip of the world! And then there’s you, best of all.” She reached for Magpie’s hand and squeezed it. “Glorious with life!”

  Magpie blushed. Glorious with life. Bellatrix’s words chased away any fancy she still harbored about the darkness and she felt herself, for the first time since falling through the Blackbringer, settle solidly in her own skin. She hadn’t left any piece of herself behind there, and it was a lucky thing. She knew absolutely that there would have been no hope of defeating the devil if she had.

  “You’ve a world to go home to now, and much to do. I wish I could come with you.”

  “I wish you could too,” Magpie admitted, feeling a thrill of fear. Where was she to begin? She snuck a look at her hands, wiggling her fingers, thinking of what Bellatrix had said about the magic that was finding its own way out. Indeed. It was like rescuing a stolen artifact from a plunder monkey’s stash and not knowing what magic lay dormant in it. But it was stranger by far when the mysterious power lurked inside her own skin! “I’m not ready yet,” she said. “I don’t understand what I’m to do—”

  A riffle played suddenly through the air and the hairs on Magpie’s arms stood on end. She had just time to look aside at Bellatrix before that urgent feeling of onslaught invaded her senses. Again something was hurtling toward her fast, and the air crackled like a storm surge.

  Dragon.

  Her first instinct was to take to her wings.

  Her wings hung crushed from her shoulders.

  A single heartbeat passed between her sense’s warning scream and the shuddering of the cliff as a dragon caromed into it, hooking hold with his great claws. If Magpie’s wings had been whole, that heartbeat would have been enough time to leap clear. As it was, her instinct to leap into the air simply plunged her right over the edge of the cliff, and she fell.

  TWENTY-SEVEN

  Again the Magruwen wondered, Who is she? Since the faerie left, he’d been going over the Tapestry, thread by thread and glyph by glyph, finding every moment more of her handiwork. Who was this lass who’d made such tangles in the Tapestry?

  He focused on a new glyph and turned it around in his mind. He winced. Graceless! Fused threads, clumsy stitches, no symmetry, no pattern! When he had first become aware of Magpie’s inexplicable ability to alter the Tapestry, he kept expecting to find devils born of her twisted threads. For so it was in ancient days that the monsters had first been brought into being, by another creature’s artless meddling. Instead, in the faerie’s glyphs, again and again he found new magic. Strange new magic.

  Between the great warp threads of the Tapestry stretched the sheen of countless weft threads, and each one, each fire-bright fiber, represented a dream made real on earth. One for granite and one for salt, one for the tiny biting bugs in the swamp, one for mildew, one for pollen, one for the bees that carried it flower to flower. One for everything, some long, some short, and all connected into a living, shimmering whole. And all across that whole the threads intermingled in patterns. It was in the patterns—the glyphs—that dwelled such of the Djinns’ dreams as love, flight, memory, laughter, invisibility, luck, music, and many, many more. These were the mysteries and complexities of the world and the magicks too, and the faerie, without even knowing it, had been making her own.

  The Magruwen traced the threads of one of her glyphs to their origins and saw what she had done this time. He scowled, and then from deep within him welled up . . . laughter. It was absurd. Henceforth, because of this unlikely clump of threads, a cake with the footprints of a gecko in its frosting would enable any who ate it to walk on the ceiling!

  Surely she had no idea what she had done. What she had was an unconscious intuition about the unweaving, a sensitivity to weakness in the Tapestry. These whimsical glyphs, they didn’t exist for their own sake; they were simply the by-product of something much more profound. Once a thread or glyph failed in the Tapestry, the dream failed too, and the world was changed. And each messy, tangled glyph the lass wove caught the end of some unraveling thread before it could dissolve forever and take a Djinn’s dream out of the world with it. Here: she had tied a jumbled knot in the glyph for invisibility as it unraveled. She had tethered it hastily to other threads, those for the crocus flower and the cinnamon tree, and all were bound tight to the massive warp thread for fire. Now one had only to drop powdered crocus petals into the ashes of a cinnamon wood fire and a new dust spell for invisibility would be born. Just like that.

  The dust spell was new magic in and of itself, but more important, the knot had stopped an ancient art from slipping out of the world, and even more important, it had kept the Tapestry from weakening further. Most of Magpie’s knots were like that. She had saved such glyphs as footprint magic, scrying, fire husbandry, and hypnosis, to name but a handful. She had even rescued the sixth glyph for flight from oblivion, which had resulted in a funny little spell involving eggshells and rain.

  Most of the spells born of the knots relied upon confluences so unlikely they would never be discover
ed by accident, such as this one: playing a harpsichord while wearing emerald rings on every finger would make plants grow at twice their natural speed. What harpsichordist had emeralds enough to stumble innocently upon this spell?

  But the important fact remained: the knots were strong. They would hold. Indeed, they were holding the world together.

  The Magruwen could wish them to be less unlovely, though.

  And so, while he muttered much and sighed long and shook and reshook his great blazing head, he found himself consumed with something he had long forgotten the flavor of: curiosity. He had thought the world empty of surprises and himself past caring. Things had been done that could never be undone, that could never be forgiven, and what had changed? Not much. It was the same world he had turned away from, filled with pettiness and wasted gifts. One intriguing sprout and a few new glyphs didn’t heal all that had passed.

  The Magruwen roared, and a trembling was felt in the fields and dwellings near his well. He paced. He sought the peace of sleep, but it had been stripped from him in that cunning explosion. He was not only curious now; he was alert. He was confounded. And he was impatient. Impatient for the faerie to return. She needed to learn what the clever fingers of her mind were up to.

  In the bottom of the well, his flame undimmed by the cover of a skin, the Djinn King paced and waited, and his cave seemed to grow smaller around him with every turn.

  TWENTY-EIGHT

  Jacksmoke! Magpie thought to herself as she fell, wings fluttering after her as useless as scarves.

 
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