Daine is very much not sure what to make of Tortall. It's better than Galla, so far, but that's not saying much, and is probably unfair; the folks in Cria hadn't hunted her like a dog, either. Maybe that was just a Snowsdale problem.
Or maybe it was just what people did, to folks who ran mad with wolves. Maybe she really was no better than an animal, and dangerous like an animal, and should be put down like an animal. (She tries her damndest to bury the image, but in the back of her mind she's remembering the bandits, and how the wolves wouldn't have gone after them without her urging them on. She shivers, and the image sinks away.)
As they approach Corus, Daine slants a look at Onua, wondering how long it will take for the madness to rise up again.
It is NOT madness. For the last time, Daine…
Daine clutches the badger's claw that hangs from her neck and eyes the badger himself suspiciously. "I ran with the wolves," she says, much more calmly than she would have had she been awake. "Cloud had to bite me to make me remember I was human."
The badger sighs gustily. You lost yourself in your magic. You lost track of who you were. That doesn't have to happen next time.
"It's not that easy to keep track of myself, then!" It still isn't a shout, but it's closer to one than she's ever managed in this muted inner space. "And I don't have magic anyway."
The badger cuffs her. Daine. For the last time. You DO have magic, you just don't have the Gift. Your magic is with us, the animals; you can listen and hear us, talk so we can understand, heal us even when we're on the brink of death. It's what I've been trying to get you to DO, these last few weeks.
Daine scowls. The badger, unperturbed, swats her again.
As for your so-called madness, are you the strong-willed girl who walked halfway across Galla during spring thaw for a better life, or are you a mouse?
"There's nothing wrong with mice!" Daine squeals, outraged, and wakes to the bemused agreement of one of the barn cats.
When Onua offered to keep Daine on, Daine was overjoyed. That was exactly the kind of job she'd hoped for, when daydreaming on the road.
The reality of the job is different than she'd hoped. Oh, most of it is fine; Daine gets on well with all the ponies, and has developed her own bellow, and most of the Rider trainees have learned to mind her.
But on the ride to the summer training site, griffins swoop overhead and when Daine screams, outraged, when no one will listen to her - the horses do.
So do the griffins.
The trainees, Buri, Onua, Sarge, Sir Alanna, and the Queen all stare at Daine as she translates what the animals are saying to her. She is blushing hard; so much for her secret.
Finally, Thayet moves to stand in front of Daine. "You had best learn control, mistress," she says, dark eyes hard.
"Why didn't you tell us?" Onua says, cutting the Queen off before she can scold Daine further.
This softly-spoken question stings more than the Queen's hard eyes do. "I didn't know how. I wasn't even sure I really had magic, until now."
Alanna claps Daine on the shoulder. "That's okay," she says, steering the girl back towards the wagon. "You know now, and even if it isn't normal magic, the basics of training it should still be the same."
Hesitantly, Daine smiles.
Daine has never been in a real battle before. The Stormwings before don't count; they were just nuisances, more like eerie bandits than a real battle.
But Pirate's Swoop is under attack by the Carthaki navy, Sir Alanna is gone to fight some ogres at another fief, and a weird fog has rolled in, draining off the Gifts of all the healers and warriors they had left.
The keep's holding out, but it won't forever, not under the onslaught of catapults and blazebalm and sundry immortals, and Daine for the first time since coming south wants to go home.
The animals are all clamoring in her head, and suddenly, something slips deep inside Daine, and she loses herself inside her magic for the first time since the wolves.
The animals, enraged, turn on any enemy they can, drawing on Daine's magic and her mind. The soldiers ringing the Swoop break and run, but they cannot escape the unnatural assault, and even their own horses turn on them, killing and disabling most of the ground troops.
Reinforcements arrive in the form of Sir Alanna and the King's Own, and a bored kraken.
The Ninth Rider Group vanished near Dunlath half a year past. Two months past, twenty soldiers also disappeared in the vicinity. Now, finally, the king sends someone to investigate.
Sir Alanna is possibly not the best person for the job, but she is bored and is also the only one willing to put up with Daine, who is going to Long Lake whether or not anyone else wants her to. The wolves came south, far out of their territory, to seek out her help, and she will not disappoint them.
It doesn't take the two of them long to find the craters filled with the charred remnants of the missing Riders.
It also doesn't take them long to get thrown out of Dunlath by an angry Lady Yolane.
"Hmpf," Alanna says, hustling Daine up a game trail towards the edge of the valley. "I will say, though, that that's the most polite booting-out I've ever received." She grins impishly at Daine's incredulous look.
Alanna crosses out of Dunlath, resettling her sword. She turns back to Daine, who has stopped dead. "Girl, come on. You won't be able to help your wolves alone. We have to call up Raoul."
Daine bites her lip and looks over at the pack.
Alanna reaches a hand back impatiently. "Remember you're human, Daine," she says quietly. "We have to deal with them using human methods."
Daine nods, and steps forward, and slams into empty air.
Alanna's hand shoots out and hits solid nothingness, and Daine can see her straining. Faint multicolored sparks - yellow, pink, brown, orange, red, black - flare to life when Alanna probes the invisible wall with her Gift.
"There's nothing for it," Alanna mutters. She looks at Daine. "Stay here, and stay hidden, and stay safe. I'm going to the City of the Gods for mages; we'll have this down in a week."
Daine nods, and rejoins the pack.
The week goes by rather crazily. Lady Maura runs away and joins Daine in her cave - not entirely willingly, but Daine is not about to let the girl get into trouble, and Maura won't go back and can't leave the valley anymore than Daine can. Some monster tries to track down and kill the wolves when they decide to get creative and start stealing tools; Daine manages, barely, to use her magic on the monstrous beast and redirect its focus onto the battle mages down at the castle.
It irks Daine greatly that she can't persuade the creature to stop hunting the thieves. Tampering with its mind, which is what redirecting that focus amounted to, doesn't sit well with her. When an inhuman shriek echoes through the mountains, followed closely by an explosion, Daine feels even worse.
The week doesn't end on a better note. Alanna does come back, along with the Own and the promised mages, but they are not enough to crack the barrier.
Daine, shakily, volunteers to sneak into the castle and destroy the barrier's anchor. Maura describes for her where the mages' workshop is, then trots off to go "cause a distraction."
Maura's distraction is quite effective, and quite explosive. Everyone's direction focuses outward; Daine, using her newly-mastered ability, scampers up to the turret workshop as one of the castle cats.
She scampers straight into another of the monsters.
Daine has never really tried to use her magic while in a different form; somehow, she doesn't expect it to work. It works fine, though it takes just as much effort to manipulate this monster as it took to manipulate the last one, and soon the beast is thumping off down the stairs to hunt down one of the mages, convinced he is a thief.
The monster makes it to the bottom of the stairs just as Daine makes it to the workshop door. The door, to Daine's great surprise, is not only unlocked but ajar.
The monster sticks its head out into the hallway just as Daine turns back to human and shoulders the door open.
An explosion blows the monster's head off. Daine freezes.
Footsteps start up the staircase. Daine is suddenly thankful it's curved; whoever it is can't see her yet.
She scrambles inside and locks the door behind her. Quickly, she runs over to the crude model of Dunlath on the far table, skirting cautiously around the evil-looking brew bubbling by the window.
Daine hurriedly surveys the model. A dome of black fire glittering with sparks of other Gifts is clearly anchored into two jewels. Looking around, she sees a heavy butcher's knife; she strikes one gem with the tough handle right as the footsteps reach the workroom door.
"I could have sworn I warded this," comes a man's warm voice. The knob jiggles.
The small magical wall is still there, though it looks weaker. Of course both gems have to be smashed, Daine thinks frantically.
Her eyes fall on the bubbling pot. She's seen enough over the last week to know it's far more dangerous than the wall; she has no time to take care of both, but in a split second, Daine decides to gamble on the wall being weakened enough already.
She pushes the pot over right as the lock clicks. She is up on the window ledge by the time the door swings open, and she is already blurring into golden eagle form when the dark eyes register her presence and widen in shock.
It's almost anticlimactic. Alanna manages to take down the broken wall all by herself; the stress of anchoring the whole wall means the anchor can't hold up to extra strain. Yolane, Belden, the mercenaries, and the mages are rounded up without much fuss; the only fuss, really, is Tristan Staghorn, self-proclaimed head of the mission, who tries to blast the whole group of the Own.
Alanna, Daine thinks, looks a bit too gleeful when she skewers that pompous ass.
"I blew up a granary," Maura says when Daine asks, and Daine is so distracted by this answer that she doesn't notice the weird-looking hawk until it is well past them, out of the range of a bow.
Daine gapes, then whirls to stare at the captured mages.
Sir Raoul notices her look. "What?" he asks, shifting to grip his sword.
"Where's that other mage?"
It is strange to be back at the Rider barracks after the month she's had. It's autumn; the trainees are now assigned to groups, and there's a lull while the teachers all catch up on their other work before active recruitment starts again.
Daine is irritated with herself. This is the life she wants, the life she dreamed of even before the bandits, working with horses, valued for her expertise.
She is so bored.
She also can't stop thinking about Carthak - Carthak that sent war barges to assault Tortall, Carthak that unleashed the immortals on Tortall, Carthak that tried to foment rebellion and undermine Tortall from within.
Daine loves her adopted homeland, and each day she broods on this, she grows angrier and angrier.
It doesn't help that she still feels guilty, for letting that mage get away. Who knows what kind of information Carthak has now?
"Daine?" Onua calls, eyes worried.
"The Queen wants to talk to you," Onua says.
Anything would be better than brooding more. Daine puts down her brush and follows her friend.
It's been a year since Dunlath, and though Daine knows, having been somewhat involved in the preparations, just how long it takes to prepare an embassy to Carthak, it still feels like too long.
I want to see this Ozorne for myself, Daine thinks. I want to see this self-important vulture who preys on my home.
The last person she is expecting to see is waiting on the imperial galley, standing just apart from the other mages.
Daine can't quite repress the hiss that escapes her when she sees the missing mage from Dunlath, standing there cool as you please behind the prince, dark eyes glittering with amusement as he takes in the expressions on Daine and Alanna's faces.
"Welcome to Carthak," he says pleasantly enough, when he's (re)introduced to the Tortallans. His eyes linger a moment on Daine's. "You are the one with wild magic," he says, and it is not a question, though no one had mentioned her magic during her introduction. "We should talk later," he adds, moving back slightly at a soft cough from the herald.
Daine's mind reels. To her surprise, she notices the prince is looking at her intently; when he catches her gaze, his eyes flick in an unmistakable warning towards the black-robed mage, who is studiously pretending not to notice. Daine gives him an almost imperceptible nod, and Kaddar turns his attention back to the proceedings.
Arram Draper, Daine thinks to herself. Yes, we should talk later.
She forcibly keeps from clenching her fist, and tries not to think about the havoc her new borrowed power could wreak.
This is a diplomatic conference, after all.