Darkstalker, p.18
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       Darkstalker, p.18

           Tui T. Sutherland
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  And now that his safety was taken care of, he could focus on a more fun project.

  What could he use to make a soul reader?

  As he began prowling his room, looking for inspiration, another thought occurred to him.

  If I can enchant my entire body like that … what could I do to other dragons?

  Darkstalker had an odd twinkle in his eye when he came to pick her up the afternoon after Clearsight’s vision at North Beach. But he didn’t explain why, and he didn’t have the nervous energy that usually meant he wanted to tell her something, so she ignored it. She had more important things on her mind, such as saving the entire tribe from invading IceWings.

  “Do you really think the queen will listen to me?” she asked him again, fidgeting with her tail. They were waiting outside Queen Vigilance’s throne room. It felt early to her, the sun high in the sky, but Darkstalker assured her that the queen was awake at all hours and especially loved conducting business whenever it might seem peculiar to other dragons.

  “Of course,” he said. He reached over and adjusted the length of the necklace he had given her to wear, which was sweet, but made her feel even more self-conscious. She did know how to wear a necklace, for moons’ sake.

  “I should have enchanted this to make you feel as confident and beautiful as you look,” he whispered in her ear.

  She wrinkled her nose at him. “No, thank you. You wouldn’t really do that, would you? Change my feelings with magic? You know that would be completely not OK with me, right?”

  The doors to the throne room swung open before he could answer. Two guards ushered them inside, and Clearsight saw to her dismay that there were several members of the NightWing court present — including her seer-training teacher, Allknowing.

  Allknowing glittered with poise and diamonds, standing on the dais beside the queen’s throne. Her face was composed, but her nostrils flared slightly when she caught sight of her student waiting to see the queen.

  “Whoa,” Darkstalker said, wincing. “There is a dragon in here who already doesn’t like you very much.”

  “That’s the teacher I told you about,” Clearsight whispered. “The queen’s top seer.”

  “Approach,” Queen Vigilance called out.

  Uh-oh. Her head was starting to pound: visions were coming. Keep it together. Don’t collapse.

  Darkstalker sitting on that very throne, wearing the twisted crown.

  Darkstalker standing over the body of the queen, blood staining his claws.

  She clenched her talons. Those were the dark paths, the violent paths. They didn’t have to happen. They weren’t going to happen; she wouldn’t let them.

  Follow the bright visions instead, the way Darkstalker always tells me to. Like this one of me and Darkstalker presenting our six little dragonets to the queen. The queen’s grandson chasing Eclipse in circles, the two of them giggling, Vigilance cracking a rare smile.

  Slowly Clearsight’s heart calmed down and the visions faded, but her wings were still shaking as she stepped toward the queen. She’d never had so many important dragons looking at her. She’d also never revealed the extent of her power to anyone before, except Darkstalker. But now she had no choice.

  “Your Majesty,” she said with a bow.

  “This is?” Queen Vigilance said to Darkstalker.

  “Clearsight, Your Majesty,” he answered. “She is a very gifted seer.”

  “Ah,” said the queen with a sigh, as Allknowing’s eyes narrowed. “Seers. Always so illuminating. You may speak.”

  “I come with a warning,” said Clearsight, launching into the speech she’d rehearsed all night long. “The IceWings are planning an invasion by sea at the North Beach. I believe they intend to attack very soon — most likely the next time two moons are new at once, when they can slip by under cover of darkness.”

  She paused, realizing the queen was leaning forward with glinting eyes.

  “What is this?” Queen Vigilance said avidly. “Don’t you have a prophecy for me?”

  Clearsight hesitated again. She thought of the lessons she’d had with Allknowing, where they all had to take their visions and contort them into enigmatic rhyming couplets. Should she have done that with this warning for the queen? But there was nothing cryptic about it. The IceWings were coming, and Clearsight knew exactly how and where, along with a few intelligent guesses as to when. Why make that cryptic and confusing? The queen needed to know precisely what Clearsight had seen, in order to protect the tribe.

  “I saw a pair of IceWings scouting the North Beach last night,” Clearsight said. “That triggered a vision of hundreds of IceWings swimming in to invade our territory. They’re coming soon and I knew I had to come tell you.”

  “My, my,” said the queen, shooting a sideways look of suspicion at Allknowing. “How straightforward.”

  “I’m sorry it doesn’t sound fancier.” Clearsight spread her wings. “But I’m sure it’s true. The only futures I can see where they don’t attack are the ones where you find a way to stop them.”

  A curious murmur scurried around the throne room. The queen wasn’t the only one staring at Clearsight like an undiscovered type of gemstone.

  Queen Vigilance tipped her head slowly to regard her own seer. “Allknowing. What have you seen of this?”

  Allknowing bared her teeth. “If you recall my last prophecy, Your Majesty, there were references to waves of ice dragons and a midnight menace.”

  “Yes,” Vigilance said with chilly stillness. “Very poetic. But I don’t recall anything about an underwater attack focused on North Beach in the next month.”

  “That — that —” Allknowing sputtered. “The nature of visions — specific details are not — that’s not how it works.”

  “Maybe not for you,” said Vigilance. “Dragonet.”

  It took a moment for Clearsight to realize she was being addressed. “Yes, Your Majesty?”

  “You work for me now. Move into the palace tonight.”

  “Oh,” Clearsight said, startled. That had been an option in one or two timelines, but she hadn’t taken it seriously. She was supposed to be sent home with a pile of gold, followed by a celebratory dinner with her parents. What had she said to land herself here instead? Or had someone else accidentally tipped the future in this direction? Maybe Allknowing, by annoying the queen somehow? “But — my parents —”

  “Will be amply rewarded.” The queen stood up and spoke to the general on her left. “Call a war council meeting.” She swept down the steps, pausing for a moment beside Clearsight. “I want everything you know about this attack written out by morning.”

  A moment later she was gone, with nearly everyone else in the throne room following in her wake.

  Darkstalker bounded over and threw his wings around Clearsight. “Aren’t you clever?” he crowed. “You were right, that was a genius way to introduce yourself to the queen. Totally worth the wait.”

  Allknowing stalked down from the dais, glowering so fiercely that sparks shot out of her nose. “I knew you were trouble,” she snarled. “But I didn’t realize you were planning to betray me.”

  “Huh,” Darkstalker said thoughtfully. “Sounds like you’re not a very good seer, then.”

  “I’m not betraying you,” Clearsight protested, elbowing him in the ribs. Ow. Why does it feel like he’s wearing armor? “It’s a serious threat, so I had to warn the queen, didn’t I?”

  “Well, enjoy her attention now that you’ve got it,” Allknowing growled. “You’ll soon see what happens to dragons who show off around here.” Casting a withering look at Darkstalker, she slithered out of the throne room, hissing to herself.

  “Oh dear,” Clearsight said, pressing her talons together.

  “Don’t worry about her.” Darkstalker nudged her happily. “I think maybe now you’re the queen’s top seer.”

  “That wasn’t the plan!” Clearsight closed her eyes and tried to study the futures. Was she really going to live at the palace now?
And share all her visions with the queen?

  Not all of them. No way. Not if I want to keep Darkstalker alive.

  She opened her eyes again as they stepped out of the throne room into the central courtyard. Darkstalker had told her this was the heart of the palace: a series of grand ballrooms, gardens, and atriums with tall glass ceilings, where the party had taken place the night before. A few sleepy-looking NightWing servants were climbing around, taking down the decorations and polishing the floors.

  And across the way, four blue and green dragons were gathered around one of the pools, staring down at the darting shapes of the bright gold-and-white koi.

  With her mind more than half in the future, Clearsight saw a familiar SeaWing face and reacted instinctively.

  “Fathom!” she called, bounding over with her wings spread wide to embrace him. “You’re here!”

  One of the other SeaWings leaped forward, fast as a bolt of lightning, flinging herself in front of Fathom. “Stop right there!” she cried. “Don’t touch him!” Her spear came up and nearly caught Clearsight in the throat.

  “Hey!” Darkstalker roared. “Unnecessary!”

  Clearsight yelped, skidded to a stop, and covered her face with her front talons. “Oh no! I’m so sorry!” Galaxies and geckos, what is wrong with me? “Aaargh, I’ve never done that before.”

  “Who are you?” the bodyguard demanded.

  “I’m Clearsight.” She spread her wings, trying to look nonthreatening.

  “She’s with me,” Darkstalker said, frowning.

  Oh, am I? Clearsight thought. I thought I was the queen’s new top seer. “I — I see the future, and I’ve seen Fathom in my visions — but I forgot we hadn’t actually met yet. I’m sorry,” she said directly to Fathom.

  “Me?” said the nervous green dragon. “You’ve seen me in your visions?”

  “Lots of times,” she reassured him. “We’re going to be friends, I promise.”

  The SeaWing brings death. The SeaWing brings salvation. Don’t let him come. He must come, or all is lost.

  She hesitated as the old line from her scrolls chased through her mind. Nice and cryptic. Allknowing would be pleased.

  But she wasn’t going to worry about that now, in her first meeting with Fathom, at long last.

  “Oh!” she said, turning to the bodyguard. “And you must be Indigo.” She’d seen this SeaWing face, too — sometimes fierce and snarling, sometimes crying, sometimes covered in blood. Maybe she shouldn’t look too carefully at those timelines right now. She was already scaring the new dragons enough with all her talk of visions.

  “It’s all right, Indigo,” said Fathom. “Wharf, Lionfish, you may go hunt. We’ll be fine.” He gave Clearsight a tentative smile as the other two SeaWings shrugged and flew away. Oh, she felt like she knew him so well — how shy he was, how uncertain of what to say next. How all the guilt and worry weighed down his wings.

  “Guess what?” she said to him. “I’m moving into the palace, too! We’ll basically be neighbors. You’ve already met Darkstalker, right?”

  “Last night.” Darkstalker leaned over as though he was going to nudge Fathom’s wing with his own, but then he glanced sideways at Indigo and pulled back. “He gave me a great idea, actually. Can I show you guys?”

  “All right,” Fathom said. The way he looked at Darkstalker — as though he so badly wanted to trust him. Clearsight sure recognized that feeling. “We’re not doing anything right now,” the SeaWing went on. “I’m not sure what we’re supposed to do. I’m afraid the queen might have forgotten we’re here.”

  “She’s having a bit of an emergency today,” Darkstalker explained. “And I’m pretty sure your only real mission is to hang out with me, so you’re doing excellent work right now.”

  Fathom’s smile became a little bit more real.

  “Well, you’re also supposed to be teaching him things. Maybe try looking more stern,” Clearsight suggested, grinning at Fathom. “Or a little menacing. Say something wise and insightful now and then.”

  “Um,” Fathom said. “Like, never eat the purple variety of long-legged sea crab?”

  Darkstalker started laughing, and Fathom blinked at him with delight.

  “Just like that,” Darkstalker assured him. “That’s the kind of advice I like.”

  Clearsight tipped her head at him, wondering if that was a dig at her. She knew he didn’t always like the things she had to say about his animus experiments. But too bad; she was also quite sure he needed to be with someone who would say those things, instead of someone who smiled and nodded and had no opinions of her own.

  “Anyway,” Darkstalker said, flipping open his pack. “So I went home and started thinking and ended up not sleeping at all because I was too excited and here’s what I came up with.” He pulled out an odd little contraption that looked like a telescope with a small golden hourglass mounted on the side. “Watch this.” He pointed it at Clearsight, and the hourglass began to spin. Around and around it went, three times. When it stopped, a mountain of black sand was in the bottom half of the hourglass, and a tiny scattering of white sand was in the top.

  “Awww,” Darkstalker said. “Look at how good you are.”

  Clearsight peered closer. None of the sand was moving from one side to the other. Now that it had stopped spinning, the hourglass was perfectly still.

  “What in the world?” she said. “What does it mean?”

  “This is a soul reader,” Darkstalker said proudly. “Point it at anyone, and it’ll tell you what the balance of good and evil is inside them. Think of all the sand as your soul, and this will show you how much of it is evil. Black sand for good, like the NightWings, white for bad, like the IceWings. See, you are almost entirely good, with just little bits of bad.”

  Little bits of bad! Clearsight squinted at the white sand. How am I bad? What have I done? Why do I have any white sand at all?

  “You really made it,” Fathom whispered. Clearsight glanced up at him and saw that the SeaWing looked sick to his stomach. “But didn’t you hear me? I warned you — you have to stop using your magic. Every time you do, it gets worse. You can’t … you can’t just …” He shuddered from head to tail.

  Darkstalker hasn’t told him about the scroll yet, Clearsight realized. She could understand why … but poor Fathom.

  “It’s all right,” Darkstalker said. “Here, look. Clearsight, point it at me.” He handed the telescope to her. She lifted it up and sighted through the eyehole, finding Darkstalker at the end of it.

  The hourglass started spinning … and spinning … and spinning …

  “You’ve confused it,” Clearsight tried to joke.

  “It takes a moment sometimes,” he said with a shrug.

  Finally the hourglass settled. Black sand lay in drifts around the bottom half. A substantially smaller pile of white sand huddled in the top. More than Clearsight had, but not very much, really, she told herself.

  “See?” Darkstalker pointed at the soul reader. “I’m fine. My soul is almost entirely good. Isn’t that cool?”

  Clearsight thought it was pretty clever, actually. This could be a useful device for keeping an eye on other animus dragons. She swung it around toward Fathom.

  “Don’t point that at him,” Indigo objected, blocking the way. The soul reader landed on her, spun, and ended up with a pile of black sand as big as Clearsight’s.

  “It won’t hurt him,” Clearsight said. “You saw, we just pointed it at each other.”

  “But it could be specially enchanted,” Indigo said. “To — to do something to him.” Behind her back, Darkstalker rolled his eyes at Clearsight.

  “Let her do it,” Fathom said, touching Indigo’s tail with his own. “Please? I want to know.”

  Indigo gave him a very concerned look, and Clearsight guessed what she might be really worried about: that Fathom would discover he had more evil than good in him. She’s trying to protect him in more ways than one, Clearsight thought sympathetically.

  But the SeaWing stepped back, and Clearsight lined up the telescope so she could see Fathom’s anxious face on the other end.

  Once again the hourglass spun — and when it came to a stop, the black sand outweighed the white. It looked a lot like Darkstalker’s balance, in fact, with about one-quarter white sand and three-quarters black.

  Fathom stepped hesitantly over to the telescope and touched the hourglass with one claw. “This is real?” he said to Darkstalker.

  “I promise,” Darkstalker answered. “We kind of have matching souls, don’t we? Doesn’t that make you feel better?”

  Fathom stared at the hourglass for another minute, then up at Clearsight. “Yes,” he admitted. He turned to Darkstalker again. “But please, please stop using your magic. My grandfather — I don’t know what it was that tipped him over into madness and evil. It could be anything. One spell might make all the difference.”

  “Fathom,” Darkstalker said gently. “Your power is a gift. You shouldn’t be so terrified of it. You just have to figure out how to use it safely and make it work for you.” He paused, then shot a surprisingly hostile look at Indigo. “It’s not a trick. I just want him to be happy. Don’t you?”

  Indigo looked him directly in the eye. “I believe he can be happy without any magic.”

  Clearsight didn’t like the energy that suddenly vibrated between them. She especially didn’t like the way it spun out into a thread that ended in a world with no Indigo in it.

  Not going to happen, she told herself fiercely. I’ll keep an eye on them. I’ll fix this.

  “It’s a beautiful day for flying,” she said, trying to distract them both. She nudged Fathom. “Why don’t we show you around the Night Kingdom? There’s a great beach not too far from here.”

  Fathom’s face lit up, and Clearsight felt the tension give way a little bit. She would still have to be careful. She didn’t see a clear path to a place where Indigo and Darkstalker could trust each other, but maybe if she kept them apart, everything would be all right.

  The important thing was that Fathom was finally here — their soon-to-be best friend, the future godfather of their dragonets. This was a happy day.

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