Read Darklands Online

Authors: Nancy Holzner

Tags: #Fantasy, #General, #Fiction

Darklands (47 page)

BOOK: Darklands
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THE WEATHER TURNED BEAUTIFUL FOR FAMILY DAY. IT WAS the kind of spring day—soft air, warm sunshine, scents of grass and flowers—that made people believe the long New England winter might finally be over. After lunch in the park, I sat at the picnic table, talking with Mom and Gwen, watching Nick and the kids kick around a soccer ball. Zack showed off for his baby brother, as Justin stood on the sidelines and watched, his thumb in his mouth. Maria, with her long legs, ran like a gazelle. And it wouldn’t be much longer before she could run
as
a gazelle, if she wanted to.

“Maria had another false-face episode this morning.” Gwen actually smiled as she said it.

“She told me. A walrus, right?”

Gwen nodded. “It was so different from last time. She took a picture of herself right away, so she knew not to be scared. Then she started playing around.”

“She was so funny.” Mom laughed. “She stood in front of the mirror making walrus faces. She got Justin and Zack making them, too. Then suddenly she said, ‘My tusks are gone!’ and asked what was for breakfast.”

“Well,” Gwen said, “it’s hard to eat cereal with tusks, after all.”

I was glad Mom was here. Gwen and Maria were both more relaxed, and I didn’t feel like I was tiptoeing through some minefield between them.

“Look,” said Mom, pointing. “There’s that bird.”

I twisted around to see, then caught my breath. In a tree at the edge of the park perched a large white falcon.

“You’ve seen it before?” I asked.

“It’s been around the neighborhood for the past week or so,” Gwen said. “We thought maybe it was migrating.”

The falcon sat statue-still. It seemed to fix its stare on me.

Could it be the Hellsmoor falcon? Huge white birds of prey aren’t exactly common in the suburbs. Maybe I could buy Kane’s freedom after all.

If only I knew how this bird fit with the prophecies. So far, the book had been silent about that.

“Aunt Vicky!” called Maria. “Come and play. You can be on my team.”

“Okay.” As I stood, the falcon took wing. It circled once over the park, then flew away. The soccer ball rolled my way, and I joined in the game.

FAMILY DAY LASTED THROUGH SUPPER AND INTO THE EVENING. When the kids had gone to bed, I said my good-byes, promising to visit again in a few days. Out in the driveway, I was opening the door of the Jag when a voice said, “That engine is sounding a bit chuggy. When’s the last time she had a tune-up?”

It was my father’s voice. And it was coming from overhead.

I looked up. The white falcon perched on the garage roof. “Hi, Vic,” it said.

I should have been speechless. But I managed one syllable: “Dad?”

The falcon flew down and landed beside me on the ground. He hopped through the open car door and perched behind the steering wheel. Then the bird that sat in the driver’s seat of my car opened his beak and laughed my father’s laugh. “I never thought I’d be sitting here again. Too bad I can’t reach the pedals.” He looked at me with rainbow-colored eyes. Like the eyes of the Keeper who’d been brought back to life by magic. “Let’s go for a ride,” he said. “Just a quick spin around the block.”

The falcon—Dad—hopped over to the passenger seat. I got behind the wheel and started the car. “How…?” I couldn’t even begin to put words to my question.

“Drive, and I’ll explain. I don’t want the family coming out to see why you haven’t left yet.”

I backed the Jag into the street. “Does Mom know?”

“Not yet. Don’t tell her. I want to let her know in my own time.” He shook his head. “I don’t know why you told me she’d gotten old. She’s still a beautiful woman.”

Even to a shapeshifter, this was weird. During a shift, the animal takes over. It has an animal brain; it follows impulses and instincts. It doesn’t hold conversations and try to drive a car.

I steered down the street. “Okay, Dad, we’re driving. Explain.”

“You knew how much I wanted out of that place, Vic. But on my own terms, not as a whitewashed soul poured into some brand-new infant body.”

“A falcon’s body is better?”

“Yes, because I’m still me—my personality, my mind, my memories. I changed bodies, but I kept everything that was important. That’s what I wanted, ever since I landed in the Darklands. So on that first day, when you told me about the Night Hag’s demands, I thought maybe I had a chance. With the cauldron of transformation returned to Tywyll, maybe I could transform myself and hitch a ride out on the white falcon.”

So that was Dad’s theory. It was why he’d insisted on coming with me. He was grasping at a straw that might return him to the Ordinary.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

Rainbow-colored eyes regarded me, then blinked. “I wasn’t sure it would work. And I didn’t want you to worry.”

“Not worry? You left the spring, Dad! I thought you’d died.” Again.

The falcon ducked his head. “Sorry about that. I knew that sooner or later you’d be headed to Hellsmoor, and I had to get there first.”

A realization hit me. “You killed the falcon.”

“Only temporarily. Oh, and I borrowed one of your horses to get back to Tywyll.”

Things were beginning to fall into place. “Arawn told me you made your return. But he said you went into the cauldron of rebirth.”

“That’s where my bridge led to, it’s true. But it’s like I told you, Vic, I had no intention of being reborn. When I went to Resurrection Square, I had the falcon—this body—under my cloak. There was such chaos there, no one noticed. I’d been chosen for rebirth, but the falcon hadn’t. So even though the cauldron pulled me strongly, at the same time it repulsed the bird. The
conflict was enough to keep me from sliding into the rebirth cauldron.”

“So your bridge went there, but you didn’t.”

“Exactly. When I reached the end of the bridge, I waited until the Keeper looked the other way. Then I hopped down onto the platform—the one they’d erected for the ceremony—and jumped into the cauldron of transformation. I don’t know exactly how it happened—it was kind of hazy in there—but my spirit was bound to this bird’s body. The falcon flew out of the cauldron, but its spirit was mine.” We drove in silence for a minute as I processed what he’d said. “After that,” he continued, “you know the rest. I followed you to your meeting with Mallt-y-Nos and handed myself over. And you and I both got out of the Darklands.”

The falcon that was my father preened his feathers.

“Mallt-y-Nos is looking for you,” I said.

“Let her look. I’m faster than she is.”

“She’s not going to give up, Dad. She’s a hunter.”

“So am I, now. This body has amazing instincts. And don’t forget—the white falcon of Hellsmoor can go where others can’t. It’s a useful skill, although I’m still figuring out how it works. The hag won’t get me.”

We’d gone around the block several times by now. I pulled over. “Will I see you again?”

“You bet, Vic. Remember what I said? You can’t get rid of your old man that easily.”

My old man who happened to be a bird.

I got out of the car and opened the passenger door. The falcon flew out, flapping his wings as he climbed. Then he soared like a white shadow across the night sky.

I watched until I couldn’t see him anymore. I was glad for his freedom. Yet the words of the Night Hag were lodged like a knife in my gut:
Bring me the falcon, and I will release the werewolf from his servitude.

My father, or the man I loved.

How could I possibly choose?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nancy Holzner
grew up in western Massachusetts with her nose stuck in a book. This meant that she tended to walk into things, wore glasses before she was out of elementary school, and forced her parents to institute a “no reading at the dinner table” rule. It was probably inevitable that she majored in English in college and then, because there were still a lot of books she wanted to read, continued her studies long enough to earn a master’s degree and a PhD.

She began her career as a medievalist, then jumped off the tenure track to try some other things. Besides teaching English and philosophy, she’s worked as a technical writer, freelance editor, instructional designer, college admissions counselor, and corporate trainer.

Nancy lives in upstate New York with her husband, Steve, where they both work from home without getting on each other’s nerves. She enjoys visiting local wineries and listening obsessively to opera. There are still a lot of books she wants to read.

Visit Nancy’s Web site at
www.nancyholzner.com
.

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