Fyn heard wings first. He looked up at the sky from where he was staring into the woods. A flash of wings glinted in the starlight, and Cassia touched down in the clearing. So, she would be here to watch the exchange.
She took one look at him and put her hands on her hips. “You are still here. Well then, tell me why you didn’t use the mirror when you had to have seen Iona walk right into the house! I almost got caught because of you!”
“Be quiet,” Fyn told her. He swung his head around and extended a claw to point at Iona’s child, who had just stirred at the noise. “You’ll wake her and she’ll try to run away.”
Cassia’s gaze followed his claw. Her wings flared and her whole body went rigid. She didn’t take her eyes off the child as she spoke. “Fyn. What in darkness did you do?”
Fyn held his ground. This was his mission, not hers. “You were busy. I got what we need to get the Treatise back. Iona will come with it—”
“You took a child?” Cassia had not lowered her voice, and to Fyn’s dismay, the child, who was already stirring, started awake. She rolled onto her side and pushed herself up, rubbing bleary eyes, and looked up at Fyn.
Her dark eyes widened and she fell backwards, trying to scramble away, her voice already echoing in a half-shriek, half sob. “Mommy, mommy, help—ahhhhh!”
She screamed as Fyn shot his claw out and gripped her gently around his waist. She was small enough that he could lift her with one claw, and he did, bringing her face very close to his snout.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” he told her, already irritated at the tears streaking down her cheeks. His mote pulsed in his chest. “Your mom’s coming for you. We’re going to make a trade, that’s all, so stop crying, okay?”
“Listen to me,” he said louder. “If you don’t—”
Fyn caught a glimpse of Cassia moving into his peripheral vision, hands outstretched. Twin jets of light scorched across his snout, searing his eyes and filling his vision with a blinding light. Fyn squeezed them shut and ducked away, hardly registering that he had dropped the human girl. The stabbing pain in his eyes drove up into his skull. He raged blindly, only aware that this was it and Cassia was attacking him. He expected to feel a magical arrow sink into his gut any second now. So much for their supposed partnership.
But no further magic struck him, and when Fyn’s vision cleared moments later he saw that Cassia was standing over the crying human girl with her wings spread, holding a dagger in one hand and her palm outstretched with the other.
“I know what you did in Ashbourne.” Cassia’s whole body was shaking. Fyn could have knocked her over with a breath, but instead he stood there, transfixed at the sight of this radiant angel standing over a human girl as if she would die defending her.
“You wouldn’t tell me, but that was just another kind of gloating,” she continued. “Well, I saw that boy run out of the house. I saw it out the window. He was gasping and clutching his throat, and then you came up and said you knew what to do. Did you think you were being subtle?
“I should have said something then, but I didn’t. Maybe because I was scared. My sister keeps telling me I have to be careful, that you’re going to try to kill me and make it look like an accident. I’d hoped that wasn’t true. I’d hoped you weren’t a monster, like how everyone always says drakes are. Cruel. Arrogant. Brutish. For a few moments, when we were tracking Iona’s family, I thought we could work together.”
“Get out of my way,” Fyn growled, but he was rooted to the ground and even he knew there was no tooth to his threat. He didn’t think angels had deadly enough magic to kill anyone, but if they did, Fyn was certain Cassia would use it on him if he so much as flinched.
“Well, I was wrong,” Cassia said. “You are a monster. You are cruel and brutish. And you are the most arrogant young bastard I have ever had the misfortune to meet. And I refuse to do this for one moment longer. I will not help you. I will not use this child as a pawn. I’ll get the Treatise by myself. And you can go right back to your superiors and tell them—”
But what he should tell them, Fyn never found out. A blast wave ripped through the clearing, slamming into his chest and throwing him bodily across the ground. He skidded to a stop fifteen feet from the edge of the cliff, winded and gasping for breath. A stabbing pain in his ears now matching the lingering pain in his eyes.
A dozen humanoid shapes emerged from the trees, carrying swords and spears. Fyn struggled backed to his feet as the humans surrounded him, cutting him off from the forest and leaving his back to the cliff. Another white-hot pain coursed up his back left leg, though whether it was broken or just twisted, Fyn didn’t know. He couldn’t see Cassia — the treacherous angel must have managed to fly away — but he did see two humans picking up Iona’s little girl and fading back into the forest.
The person in the center of the semicircle stepped forward. It was Iona, wearing simple hunting clothes and carrying nothing but a staff.
“Drake scum,” she said quietly. “You have trespassed on human lands and taken my child. For this crime, and the hundreds of others you and your kind have committed, you will die tonight.”
Fyn lowered his head and snarled into her face. He was trapped, but they were only humans. He opened his jaws, his mote surging with power and fury, and roared fire.
Iona put up a hand and deflected his flame. The blast curved up and away from her hand and hit a tree at the edge of the forest behind her. It crackled and blazed to life.
Fyn roared fire again immediately, almost buckling as he stepped backward on his injured leg, but this too she deflected, this time to her right, and another tree was set ablaze. The light from the fire left her and her warriors as dark silhouettes.
Fyn took another step back, the fury in his veins mixing with panic. They were only humans, but Iona was a mage, and maybe some of the others were too. Fire had worked on that mage he’d fought with Kez and Vaz, but it wasn’t working on her, and now she and the other humans were advancing on him, weapons raised—
A strange calm settled over Fyn. The pain in his leg and the noisy, growing wildfire in the trees faded away. If he was going to die, he was going to do it serving Selach: fighting to the end to take down even one of the ants who mocked his god’s power.
Fyn locked eyes with Iona and lunged.
Without breaking eye contact, she slammed her staff on the ground, and another wave of force blasted into Fyn. This one sent him tumbling through the brush and gravel that lined the edge of the cliff. He rolled over and over, branches and and rocks scraping at his scales.
Then the ground beneath him vanished entirely, and Fyn fell into the valley.
Cassia watched Fyn fall from her perch in the tops of a tree on the very edge of the cliff. The force from Iona’s blast knocked the drake clean over, limbs and tail flailing as he plummeted.
He screamed. His shriek was of pure terror. It cut through the night and over the crackling heat and wind from the rapidly-spreading fire.
Without conscious thought, Cassia sprang from the tree and dove after him.
Smoke clouded the sky, leaving Fyn a hazy shape that was growing larger as she gained on him. Far below, Haven was burning too, but Cassia couldn’t spare a thought for wondering why.
She braced herself, spread Tilana’s wings, and slammed belly-first into Fyn’s neck. The impact nearly left her winded, and she barely managed to get a get a grip on his horn before he thrashed his head and shrieked, nearly throwing her off in a panic.
“I’m trying… to… help you!” Cassia shouted into his ear, beating her wings as hard as she could.
But Fyn’s drake form was the size of a large horse, and the ground was coming too fast. Even if Fyn changed into his human form, he’d still be bigger than her, and Cassia would never be able lift him enough to slow their fall.
Cassia’s grip faltered on his horn. If she didn’t break away now, she wasn’t sure she would even be able to catch herself in time. There was only one way to save them both.
I’m sorry, Ty.
“Take… them!” she shouted.
And she reached one hand behind her, seized her wings where the feathers met her back, and released her mote of Mithrinde. Her wings came off like paper in her hands, and, just like when Tilana had held them out to Cassia, they shrunk instantaneously to a glowing ball of light the size of her fist.
She shoved it into Fyn’s side and prayed. Oh Mithrinde, save us. And forgive me.
A blaze of light burst into Fyn’s mind. It swept away his terror and rage and filled him with a cool heat that coursed through him like lightning. He saw a gleaming pearl — was it in his mind or was it real? — glowing in front of him. Instinctively, Cassia’s words echoing in his ears, Fyn reached out and grabbed it.
The surging power coalesced into his back and broke through his skin, streaming up and into a pair of —
Wings. A new power, cool and bright and wholly foreign to Fyn, had settled between his shoulder blades and was thrumming through his veins. Cassia had given him her mote. And her wings.
And somehow, Fyn knew how to fly. He knew it the way he knew how to walk, or how to breathe. Fyn snapped his wings open and a laugh spilled from his lips. They were white and feathered as Cassia’s had always been, but these were enormous and powerful and perfectly balanced for his drake frame. It should have been impossible, but Fyn didn’t stop to think about it.
Instead, with Cassia clutching at his neck, he beat his wings and flew up, up the waterfall, around the jagged cliffs, and deep into the night, leaving Iona, Haven, and the Treatise behind.
Fyn wasn’t sure how long he flew. He didn’t know what exactly direction he was going, or where he were headed, but the night was clear and cold, the stars glittered like diamonds, and the air was freezing up here. So when Fyn spotted a break in the trees where the little stream that ran past the rebel’s camp intersected with the Haverin River among the miles of forest below, he angled his wings and began to spiral down.
He had never landed before. He thought he was going slowly, but the ground approached faster than he expected, and Fyn’s knees almost buckled when his paws hit the damp earth. The shock sent a jolt of pain up his still-injured back leg. He dug his claws into the earth, and breathed. Sweet, sweet land.
His heart was still racing. It felt like the power from Cassia’s mote was creeping across his body, eating away at his fueling power from Selach and leaving a kind of cool emptiness behind.Where he could feel Selach’s power, it stung and burned and he knew Selach was angry at his failure.
But before he could tell Cassia to get these damned wings off him, he felt the cold prick of metal at his cheek.
“Give them back,” Cassia whispered into his ear, her voice like ice. “Give my wings back, or so help me Mithrinde, I will drive this dagger right through your eye and into your brain.”
Fyn blinked, trying not to look at the sharp point inches from his eye. “How?” he started to say, but he could already feel his grasp on the mote relinquishing, and a second later the power rushed out of him like a dam breaking.
Fyn let out a gasp and sagged to the ground, hardly registering the flash of light as Cassia restored her wings to her own back.
The last thing Fyn remembered was Cassia turning away from him, spreading her wings, and leaping into the sky.
“Wait,” he choked out, but if she heard him she gave no sign of it. Fyn’s head sank, his vision fading, and he was unconscious before his snout hit the ground.