Blackbringer, p.23Laini Taylor
“It will take you years to learn to read it,” the Magruwen went on, plucking each thread and glyph as he named it so it glowed brighter. “Diamond, flamingo, rust, snow . . .”
“But I don’t have years!” she said. “The Blackbringer—”
“Be still. The Tapestry will be no use to you unless you can understand it.”
Unhappily, Magpie listened. “Fig, lava, zinc, spider, teeth . . .” She wouldn’t have thought that here, beyond her body, she would be in danger of getting the wiggles, but she couldn’t help herself. The Djinn’s rasping voice began to wear away like a file at Magpie’s patience. She fidgeted.
He came to a glyph she recognized, and she called out its meaning. “Threshold!” It was part of the spell Snoshti had taught her for traveling to and from the Moonlit Gardens. It hit her how when she’d held that glyph in her mind, this was what she’d called upon, this bright symbol—it was something real—and she began to understand how it all worked. In her excitement, she felt a tingling in her fingertips. She gasped, and froze. Three curls of light were winding away from her like water snakes.
“Stop!” the Magruwen commanded, but it was too late. The threads careened into the Tapestry and sent a ripple through its weave. They burrowed into the fabric and cinched tight, making one more ugly knot.
“I’m sorry!” Magpie said. “I didn’t mean to!”
The Magruwen’s voice seethed through her mind, filling it like the Blackbringer’s had. “You have no control. It’s stronger than you, this gift. It will crush you.”
“Neh, Lord. Please! I can learn.”
“Look what you’ve done!” He guided her eyes closer to the new knot. “Wild faerie feelings set loose? Is that the way to weave the world? There was not even a tear in the fabric here. Do you see what you have done?”
Her new threads had bound the thread for teeth to the glyph for threshold. The Djinn plucked at them and fell suddenly silent. Then, while Magpie watched, the whole of the Tapestry spun with a dazzle of traceries as if the Magruwen were shifting it to see it from below. “Nay . . . ,” he hissed. “Devils?”
“Devils? I made devils?” Magpie cried.
He shifted the Tapestry again, fast. Threads glowed bright as he plucked and tested them. In agony, Magpie waited while he hissed and muttered to himself. Just a few days ago she’d been fretting about turning a queen’s hair into worms, and already she’d moved on to devils? Unable to contain herself, she asked, “Lord? What did I do? Did I make a devil?”
“Nay . . . ,” he said at last. “I thought—but, nay. It is a protection spell. . . . It seems that now, a devil’s tooth embedded in a doorway—threshold, you see?—will prevent other devils from entering.”
“Rather fine, aye,” he interrupted. He was still muttering but his tone had changed. “You’ll want to remember that,” he said. “It may prove useful to you.”
Magpie was already itching to write it down in her book. She thought that if she learned to read the Tapestry, her pages were going to fill up fast. Her parents wouldn’t believe it! She’d need a new book—or ten! “Aye, mad useful!” she agreed. “Of course, it probably won’t work against the Blackbringer, since he’s not a devil.”
“What?” asked the Magruwen sharply.
“Neh, for is he not the Astaroth dressed in shadow?”
No sooner had the words left her lips than the Tapestry disappeared and Magpie found herself shunted back into the sleeve of her body, falling. Some arms caught and held her. She peeled open her eyes, her real eyes, and blinked them back into focus to see a ring of fire racing around her.
“ ’Pie!” Calypso squawked.
The Magruwen’s voice cut in. “What do you know of the Astaroth?” he demanded, abruptly coming to a halt and sucking all his swirling flames together into one blazing beast.
Talon’s arms steadied Magpie on her feet, and she stood as brave as she could on the little island in the smoke, and she said, “I know he’s in Dreamdark right now, masquerading as the Blackbringer!”
“How could you know that?” he demanded, flaring close to her face so she had to close her eyes against the searing heat. “You stink of scavenger imp. And you, crow, of vulture! Who are you? More minions, come for it? No other could have told you. Are you his work after all?”
“Neh!” cried Magpie. “I’m your work!”
A blush came to her cheeks and she cast sidelong looks at Calypso and Talon. She had a sudden thought and pulled the flask of moonlight mist off her belt. “If you drink this, Lord, it can tell you better than I could.”
“Tell me what?”
“How . . . how you dreamed me . . .”
“I? I went to sleep to forget your deceitful race. I would never dream a faerie such as you.”
“I know. That’s just what Bellatrix said.”
He wavered. “Bellatrix?”
“Aye.” Magpie held out the cordial.
“That scent of nightspink . . . ,” he began.
“Please just drink it,” she pleaded. “It helps you remember your dreams. Then you can tell me I haven’t dreamt it all myself!”
The Magruwen was still so close. Magpie, Talon, and Calypso were breathing raggedly, choking the hot air down in gasps and the flavor of their own scorched hair with it. Then the Djinn reached out his arms, took the flask, and tipped it into himself. A hiss of black steam issued forth where liquid met fire. He dropped the flask into the tidal smoke and said, “Moonlight” heavily, before drawing closed his vertical eyes with a sigh.
The Magruwen hadn’t seen moonlight in the four thousand years since he’d buried himself under the earth. The taste of it from the bottle flooded through him and he experienced an intense craving for light, any light—sunset, starlight—and for horizons and wind and a feast of open sky. The cave seemed to be closing in around him.
Then the potion took effect. The first he knew of it was the remembered touch of Fade’s mind curled against his own.
Fade’s was the first life he had ever dreamt, when the world was yet a bare young orb, unpeopled and ungreen. And until the dragon’s terrible death their minds had touched, like two countries with a shared border. After the dragon was ripped away from him—screaming, hot wind and hot blood—one edge of the Djinn’s mind lay ravaged and bereft, a cliff that fell away to nothingness. But in dreams the Magruwen became whole again, for there Fade’s mind met his as it always had, even across the worlds.
So in his fury with this world and its treacheries, he had chosen sleep.
He had dreamed and dreamed, century after decade after day. Now those dreams washed over him anew. Memory opened, and all that had passed lay plain before him. And much had passed. The lass spoke true. He had indeed dreamed her, but the dream, he saw, had come from across that border, somewhere in the deep realms of Fade’s mind. Or rather, he thought, from deeper still. He knew Fade’s dreams. These wild fancies of faeries—a faerie who could weave the Tapestry!—had not been born in a dragon’s mind. In that far moon-washed world there was another mind he knew well, one obstinate soul who wouldn’t shrink from such a trick. He had gone where her imps couldn’t find him, so she had found another way of reaching him.
“Bellatrix,” he said, opening his eyes and blinking down at the lass.
“Aye, and Fade too, Lord,” Magpie said.
“You’ve seen him?”
“Aye.” She twisted around and waggled a finger through the hole in the back of her shift. “This is from his claw. He caught me falling off a cliff when my wings were crushed. Of course, he made me fall in the first place. He gave me a mad shiver. He—” She squinted up into the Djinn’s bright face. “He frets for you, Lord. He about roasted me when he heard the Blackbringer was back.” To the relief of the faeries and the crow, the Magruwen ebbed down to a thin column of flame. Breath came easier, and they were able to relax their squinting eyes.
“Aye,” she admitted. “But he made me think you killed him. But you didn’t, did you? Somehow, he’s the Blackbringer.”
“What makes you think this, faerie?” he asked, sounding more intrigued than angry now.
“He has eyes like yours,” she said. “And he’s not like a snag. And”—she gestured to Talon at her side—“Talon guessed the darkness was a skin, or I don’t reckon I’d have thought of it at all.”
The Magruwen turned to Talon. “What do you know of skins, Rathersting?”
“Er—” he stammered. “Next to nothing—”
“He made one, Lord,” Magpie piped up.
“Aye, he’s got it right here. Would you like to see it?”
Talon blushed around his tattoos, and the Djinn nodded.
Talon fumbled the skin out of his pocket and held it up with trembling hands. Its threads took on the orange glow of the Djinn, but the subtle sparkle of many other colors gleamed in its folds. The Magruwen’s eyes moved over it quickly from top to bottom, then bottom to top, and then, after a glance at Talon, top to bottom again. “Who taught you this?” he asked.
“Orchidspike the healer taught me to knit with the needles her foremother had from you, Lord. But I taught myself to spell a skin together.”
“Do other faeries now craft skins?”
Magpie answered, “None I ever heard of.”
He reached out his hand but stopped and curled his fume fingers into a fist, knowing his touch would burn it. “Won’t you put it on?” he asked.
“Oh—aye, sure!” Talon answered, flustered. He shook out the skin and stepped into it, and Magpie had to reach out to steady him as he caught his foot in his haste. He shrugged it on, visioned it awake, and turned falcon in an instant.
The Magruwen exhaled curls of smoke and stared at him. “Remarkable . . . ,” he breathed. “Does it fly?”
Talon spread his wings and lifted himself into the air, where he wheeled among the stalactites for a moment before landing and peeling the head back from his skin. He was grinning. “It’s not as good as flying on real wings,” he said, “but it beats staying on the ground.”
The Magruwen moved in close, his eyes reading Talon’s skin like a page in a book and pausing only briefly at the flaw in the throat. “Barbules from falcon feathers interknit with glyphs for flight and phantom . . . ,” he said. “Very cleverly done. Did you think of using the glyph for floating as well, so you need expend no energy in staying aloft?”
“I thought of that after I started flying in it,” Talon admitted. “It is some work. But I have another idea, Lord Magruwen. . . . I thought of a way of joining the twelve glyphs for flight into one. I thought I’d try that in my next skin.”
At his side, Magpie’s eyes popped wide open, and she turned to look at him in surprise.
“Join all twelve?” asked the Djinn.
“Aye. Do you think that would work?”
“Can you show it to me? Hold it clear in your mind.”
“Oh, aye.” The new pattern was still turning in Talon’s mind, clear as when he’d dreamt it.
The Magruwen closed his eyes and Talon held very still, hoping the Djinn wouldn’t have to touch his forehead as Magpie had, but he felt only a slight prickle on the back of his neck, and then the Djinn blinked his eyes open again. “Lad,” he said, “have you tried this yet?”
“Neh, I only dreamt it last night.”
“It is a very complex spell.”
Magpie cut in, “I never even heard of a spell that fuses twelve glyphs! The most I ever saw was seven, and even that was only the one time.”
“Truly?” asked Talon, shamefaced. “I didn’t know. . . . I reckon it won’t work.”
“It will work,” said the Magruwen. “It is extraordinary. You dreamt it, did you?”
“Aye, after I tasted that cordial.”
“The cordial was made by a faerie too, Lord Magruwen,” said Magpie. “You see, we are more than butterflies.”
“I begin to see.”
“And the faerie who made it fell to the Blackbringer just days ago, as did Talon’s father, who’s the chief of the Rathersting, and his cousins, and many other faeries and creatures too.”
“I warned you about this foe.”
“What good is a warning? I want help catching him! Can’t you see now that there might be something in the world worth saving? Even Fade thinks so, even after what happened to him!”
The Magruwen sighed heavily, and long plumes of black smoke curled from his fiery horns. “Perhaps,” he admitted at last. “But it may be too late.”
“It can’t be, Lord, it just can’t be!” Magpie cried. “Isn’t there some way to make peace with him?”
“Peace? Nay, he is a force of hate. Even at his best he was fickle and tempestuous. Now? He is wrath. He is fury.”
“What did you do to him?”
“We were divided. Three of the Djinn were for ending him. The other three wanted mercy, something that could be undone one day if ever . . . if ever this world failed. The Vritra was for mercy, and it has been his own undoing. Mine was the deciding vote. I chose . . . mercy. Though now it’s clear death would have been more merciful by far, to him and to the world.
“We met in secret. I reached up into the sky and cut down a swath of night and we plucked out all the stars one by one until absolute blackness was all that remained.”
“The heavens with the stars ripped out!” said Magpie. “That was what he called himself!”
The Magruwen nodded. “Out of the fabric of night we fashioned a skin. We let him discover where we were hiding and we lay in wait for him, and when he came sweeping down to earth we closed it around him and sealed it shut and there he was trapped, within a skin of darkness, his terrible power contained.”
“But—” began Magpie. “He has other powers now. And that tongue—”
“Aye. He wasn’t always so. He was only a shadow without voice or strength. But rage is a colossal force, and what the Astaroth lacked in dreams he made up in sheer, wicked will. He disappeared for centuries and then, when the whole world was the battlefield of the devil wars and the race of faeries was young and strong and the tide of the war seemed to have turned at last, he returned. He hunted the battlefields, devouring the wounded, faerie and devil both, and he grew stronger. That hideous tongue he cleaved from a dying devil and kept for himself. He gave himself a new name. He was the Blackbringer, and every living thing he touched turned to shadow.”
“Until the champions caught him and you sealed him in his bottle.”
“Aye. And now, again, he is returned.”
“What does he want?”
“To free himself and destroy the Tapestry.”
“The Astaroth is the greatest force that ever was. The Tapestry is weak now. Even without him it has nearly fallen apart, and without you, little bird, it would have.”
Talon’s head turned sharply in Magpie’s direction, his eyebrows arching high in surprise.
Magpie asked, “But what about the skin? Could he get out of it?”
“He will never get out of it.”
“Neh? How can you be certain?”
“Of this I can be certain. Only I can release him. And I never will.”
“Oh . . . So that’s why he’s come here, then. Not to kill you, at least not until he gets you to release him.” She paused, thinking. “And the pomegranate, neh? That must have something to do with it.”
The Magruwen flared for a wild instant, then caught himself and sank back into a low burn. “Pomegranate?” he repeated.
Magpie squinted at him. “Aye, the one he sent the imp to you for. I can’t figure what he’d want with a pomegranate.”
“Nor I,” said the Djinn.
Again Magpie squinted at him. It was clear from the way he had flared up that she had caught him off gu
The Magruwen was silent.
Magpie crossed her arms and frowned. “Okay, then. But supposing we can put the Blackbringer back into his bottle, will you make a new seal for it?”
“If you capture him, little bird, I will seal the vessel.”
“Good. Thank you. This seal, though, it will have to hold out humans too.”
“I’ll need something from them to work that magic.”
“Will hair do?”
Magpie turned to Calypso. “Would you mind, my feather, fetching us back a pigtail or two from above?”
He fluffed up his feathers, looking more ragged than ever after his brushes with the Djinn, and grumbled, “I don’t like leavin’ ye, ‘Pie.” He gave the Djinn King a hard look and asked Magpie, “Ye’ll be careful, neh?”
She hugged him around his neck and whispered, “Aye, feather,” and he flew off. She turned back to the Magruwen. “Will it take you long to make it?”
“Will it take you long to catch him?”
Magpie scowled. “Go quicker if you’d help. But there’s something else first, anywhich.”
“Aye . . .” She took a deep breath and blurted, “I’m going to get them back! His victims.”
“Get them back? From where?”
“Well, I don’t know! They never turned up in the Moonlit Gardens, Lord, and . . . I had this dream last night—”
“Quite a night for dreams it was.”
“Aye, and maybe we dream such things each night and don’t remember them. Think of what’s lost! Bellatrix said dreams are how everything begins, and I dreamed I let the darkness overtake me and then, inside, I held up a light—”
“No light can withstand that darkness. It will fade like everything else.”
Blackbringer by Laini Taylor / Fantasy / Young Adult have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes