I would like to dedicate this story to everyone who has helped me edit and review any of my stories before I put them up. A BIG Thank You to Tara and Luna, for all their advice and encouragement!

I am thinking of a sequel, which encompasses all the fan fiction I have done so far, so if you want any specific character to appear, or if you have suggestions or ideas, (which will be credited to you), please e-mail me at bibliophile88@hotmail.com, but NO flaming please! Oh yes, sorry for the horrible language in my last fic, will try to improve my English.


CHANCE AND COINCIDENCE


Early Spring when Daine was 15
(Same year as Emperor Mage, but before it)
Somewhere in Tortall

"Shush Kit," Daine said, looking at her restless charge who was perched on top of her packs on Cloud's back. "We should be there soon." A casual passerby would observe a brown hair 15-year-old girl travelling on a gray pony. Upon closer inspection, he may notice her big blue gray eyes, accented with dark, long eyelashes and her soft mouth. As well as her stubborn chin which did not seem to hamper young males from noticing her.

A slim creature about 2 feet long from nose to hip, with large amber eyes and a long, slender muzzle, chirped plaintively. She was pale blue with tiny immature wings on her back and was equipped with silver claws.

You shouldn't have brung it along if it was going to be so much trouble! Cloud complained. Tell it to stop squirming before I throw it off.

" She's not an it, she's a she" Daine scolded, "And you'll do no such thing"

Daine sighed. She, Numair and a group of King's Own were presently traveling to a place near the river Drell where killer unicorns had been sighted. She could not remember what the place was called, but it was near Sinthya's lands. Daine's thoughts turned bleaker at that name. Sinthya. The latter had drugged and sent Stormwings after Numair. Luckily, due to Daine's and Ouna's timely interference, Numair, though injured, had managed to escape.

Daine sneaked a look at Numair who was engaged in a conversation with the messenger. Lord Raoul was listening intently and nodded occasionally. Suddenly, Lord Raoul fell back to talk to her.

"How is it going?" He asked.

"Pretty well, sir," Daine said and at Kitten's inquiring chirp, asked, "How much longer is it before we reach our destination?"

"We should be arriving there shortly. We have a change in plans, we will be bunking at Sinthya's keep," Lord Raoul replied.

Portan, a mage of master rank, who was travelling with them, overheard and asked, "Why the sudden change in plans?" Portan was a friendly, plump man. He had grey hair and was balding on the top. His blue eyes twinkled merrily and he smiled often. He looked like someone's favourite uncle.

Raoul explained, "You see, his majesty had confiscated Sinthya's lands, so we are free to use it. It is better this way, rather than imposing on the keep we were originally travelling to. Besides, the unicorns were first sighted near there."

"Oh," Daine said, blinking. "How are we going to deal with the killer unicorns?" she enquired.

"Don't worry youngling, Numair, Master Portan and I have devised a plan to round them up. You just need to help us locate where they are, to make sure we don't miss out any," Lord Raoul assured.

Suddenly, Kitten sat up and trilled. Daine winced, the trilling hurt her ears, "Kit, stop that, I told you already, we…"

Daine stopped mid-sentence, listening intently. Kitten's trilling had received a response. "Horse lords! She exclaimed, as she cast out her magic, trying to sense a roaming immortal.

"What is it Daine?" Numair asked with concern. He had dropped back when Kitten started to trill. "Is it the killer unicorns?"

"No," Daine said, surprised, and pointed with her right hand. "Look."

They all looked. A tall animal, galloped towards them on its hind legs, holding its tail off the ground, kicking up a small cloud of dust.

"Tkaa!" Daine yelled. "It's Tkaa!" She waved energetically at the approaching figure.

"Who?" The messenger asked, who had also dropped back, and when he got a good look at the approaching immortal - it was similar to a lizard walking on its hind legs, with delicate paws, silver talons and pearly dark grey scales- he continued, "Never mind, I don't think I want to know."

**********

Sinthya's Keep

They arrived at the keep and rode up to the entrance of the manor. The keep's seneschal, Sir Hambly, stood in front of the door and frowned at them abdominally.

"Yes my lord?" He asked politely after bowing to Sir Raoul.

"We have his majesty, King Jonathon the third's permission to temporarily stay here until we have rounded up the killer unicorns that have recently plagued the countryside," Sir Raoul said formally.

Daine could tell that Sir Hambly did not take the news well. "You are aware my lord, that we are unprepared for your arrival, I am afraid that things may be inadequate for your stay," Sir Hambly responded.

"It does not matter, we are here on a mission, not to frolic around," Sir Raoul replied sharply.

Suddenly, another man appeared behind Sir Hambly, "Lord Raoul?" he said and his face lit with recognition.

"Baron Javis," Raoul acknowledged.

"You are the first visitors we have since I was appointed by his majesty to look after Sinthya's keep," Javis said. He was a good-looking blonde with sharp blue eyes.

"What are you doing here? How about your lands?" Raoul questioned.

"I left my steward Gabriel to take charge of my keep. Besides, my keep is just next-door. If any problem crops up, Gabriel can come and get me. No harm done. I wanted to make sure that things were running smoothly here," Javis explained. "Come on in," he said with a smile, "this place needs some life here! Let them in Sir Hambly."

"Yes my lord," Sir Hambly did not look any less disgruntled, but nevertheless, he bowed and reluctantly opened the keep's doors.

**********

It is most opportune and coincidental that I have run into you Tkaa said.

Daine looked at Tkaa and replied, Same goes. I am glad that you are helping us out. They talked mind to mind because the adults were presently organising the operation. They were in the hall, seated around the great oak table.

"Alright, listen up," Lord Raoul said. Everyone fell silent. "We will be staging the trap in this valley," he traced out the area on the map, which was spread out on the table, with his finger. Daine inspected the map and saw the gentle sloped valley was shaped like a fat inverted cone with a centre deeper than its rim. "The different groups will be stationed as shown on the map. Some bait will be placed here," he pointed to a spot on the map. "We will be in hiding so that the immortals will not take anything amiss and take the bait. We will wait for the herd to feed on the bait. At my signal, the mages," Raoul nodded at the general direction of Numair and Portan. "will fence the killer unicorns in. Any remaining killer unicorns that were not attracted by the bait will come to the herd's rescue. Try to drive the killer unicorn to where the rest of the herd will be penned. Defend yourselves if necessary and preserve civilians' lives, but do not attack the killer unicorns unless warranted. Is that clear?" the group murmured in accent. "According to Numair," Raoul nodded in Numair's direction. "Once you attack one killer unicorn, the whole herd will launch an attack on you - and that is something we want to avoid. "

Suddenly, the doors were pushed open. Everyone turned to look at the newcomer.

"Alanna," Raoul exclaimed. "I thought you were at Dunlath?"

The champion looked uncharacteristically flustered. "I'm afraid I have some bad news." She announced to the group.

"I was sent to deal with a couple of rogue ogres," Alanna went on grimly, walking towards the table. She looked exhausted, Daine decided. Her red hair was full of dirt and dust from the road and her unusual amethyst eyes were dull and tired. Numair had also noticed and gave up his seat to Alanna who accepted it graciously. "When we were there, we heard by chance that a herd of killer unicorns were spotted travelling in this direction." Everyone started talking among themselves. "I figured that you would need the help, now that there will be two herds of killer unicorns."

"That is strange," Numair brows creased in a frown, as he mused. "killer unicorns are very territorial. They rarely, almost never invade or leave their territory."

"Maybe the books were wrong," Raoul said. "Theoretical versus practical."

Numair sighed, "We really don't know about that, do we? We are currently researching our libraries. I could have sworn there were more books on the immortals and such, but they seemed to have disappeared."

"They were stolen?" Alanna asked, surprised.

"I don't know, it could be that they are in a section that we have not found yet. However, that is unlikely since the librarians have always been very organised. This lack of accessibility of the books have coincided with the first appearance of immortals," Numair said, absentmindedly.

"Let's discuss this mysterious disappearance later, after we deal with the killer unicorns," Portan interrupted, "Only Shakith knows how much damage they could be doing while we are debating here."

Lord Raoul nodded, "Everyone go and put down your packs and gather your weapons. The keep's steward, Sir Hambly will show you to your designated rooms."

Numair and Alanna walked beside Daine. Daine looked at Numair when he said, "You're with me. The mages can manage on their own without me. We will be on the border of the valley. When you sense the killer unicorns, tell me and I'll relay it to the others by magic."

Kitten, who was being cuddled by Daine, tugged on Daine's shirt questioningly. Daine was prompted to ask, "How about Kitten? Do I leave her here?" Kitten chirped unhappily, she really disliked being left behind.

Tkaa overheard. "I can take care of her. I am not actively participating in the round up." He offered.

Numair nodded. Daine thought it over and agreed. Tkaa could turn any creature into stone with his song and kitten would be as safe with him as she would be anywhere else.

Daine smiled, "Thanks, Tkaa".

"Numair! What a pleasant surprise!" a feminine voice greeted. Daine looked her over. She was a voluptuous blonde; blue eyed and was wearing a closely fit dress that hugged her figure. She stood on top of the staircase, where the sunlight filtered down the windows, making her features an interesting contrast of light and shadow. The sunlight shimmered on her hair, making her hair look as if it was spun from gold. This overall effect gave the blonde an ethereal appearance.

"A very planned and strategic position," Alanna remarked quietly.

Daine nodded her head. She was not a gambling person, but she could bet that the woman had timed and planned her appearance carefully. It was no coincidence that the blonde had appeared just as they were passing by the staircase. The blonde hesitated on top of the stairs, 'to let Numair appreciate the scenery,' Daine thought grumpily.

"Lady Regina," Numair greeted.

"I didn't expect to see you here, one of Tortall's most powerful mages in this humble abode," Regina replied, putting a perfectly manicured hand on Numair's arm. She brushed her body against him and smiled flirtatiously at him. 'A calculated move,' Daine thought and scowled.

The simpering blonde irked Daine. She looked at Alanna, who whispered, "Lady Regina is Baron Javis' cousin. She and Numair have a … history."

"You look even lovelier than you did the last time I saw you in court," Numair complimented.

"Flatterer," Regina bashfully, offering him a hand to kiss. "Come, come, let me show you to your room," Regina said, snaking her hand into the crook of him arm. Numair obligingly followed her.

"She is laying it on thick," Alanna remarked to Daine, who agreed. "Any more time around her and I will get a sugar overdose."

**********

"Kitten? Kitten?" Daine called out with her longbow grasped in one hand. "We are going to be late if you don't stop hiding from me."

Daine heard a soft trill and found its source a few metres away from their room. Kitten was sitting on her hind legs, her front paws on the door, closely examining the lock on the door.

"Kit, leave be, you've seen locks like these at home," Daine said impatiently.

Kitten ignored Daine and backed up a few steps, only to slam into Sir Hambly's legs. "Hey you, what do you think you are doing?" Sir Hambly demanded.

Daine quickly got her balance back and went red with embarrassment. "Sorry sir, she's just curious," Daine apologised, quickly picking up Kitten.

"Well girl," Sir Hambly said imperiously. Kitten made a low sound, she disliked Sir Hambly's tone. "Keep your pet in hand or I'll have her thrown outside. Those doors were locked for a reason and you should not meddle with them!"

"Yes sir," Daine replied, avoiding his glare, and quickly made her way to the meeting place. She felt Sir Hambly's eyes follow her and she felt relieved when she moved out of his sight.

**********

Daine, with bow in her hand, listened carefully with her magical senses. Some bushes near the rim of the valley camouflaged Daine, Cloud, Spots and Numair. Men and mounts from the king's own were similarly hidden in the thick lush foliage around them whereas the mages extravagantly used illusion spells. With the presence of an extra herd and the shortage of manpower to keep the killer unicorns in check, soldiers from the keep were "borrowed" to help with the mission and a skeleton crew was left to maintain order in the keep. They too, tried to immerse themselves in the greenery.

Daine looked over at Numair, he was tugging his nose and seemed preoccupied. Normally, Daine would leave him alone when he was in that "meditative" mood, but he looked troubled.

"Numair, what's wrong?" Daine asked. Numair was snapped out of his reverie and he looked at her curiously. She raised an eyebrow at him in a silent query, "Don't tell me that you are worried about what is going to happen."

"No, no, of course not, we have faced worse things than this," Numair replied. "It is just that," he hesitated, and then confided, "I am pondering over the disappearance of the University's books."

Daine looked at him, surprised, "Why?"

Numair tugged on his nose for a while, thinking, then replied quietly, "There was something I failed to mention earlier on because it was confidential." He seemed to focus on something from a distance.

"Which is?" Daine enquired impatiently after a long silence.

"Patience magelet," Numair said, smiling at her. He shook his head, then responded, "When I was captured by Sinthya and in his dungeon. I by chance overheard Sinthya having a conversation near my cell, I couldn't see who he was speaking to, but they were talking about the University books."

"You think Sinthya has a hand in the disappearance of the books?" Daine questioned, surprised.

"Yes magelet, but I am not sure. After all, they were just talking about the books, making no reference about smuggling or transporting them. They could just be mages having a mutual debate on books, as you very well know I always engage in. It is just that the books they were discussing about were the books presently cannot be found."

After Daine digested the news, she asked, "Did you tell the king? Is that why we are staying at the keep instead?"

"No, I didn't tell the king. You see, at that time, I was heavily drugged. It could be a hallucination, but it seemed so real. No, the change of accommodations is not my doing, just a coincidence," Numair replied.

Daine nodded, then announced abruptly, "They're coming, from the west and north."

Numair quickly relayed the message through a speech spell. Around them, people readied their weapons. Daine glanced at Tkaa, Kitten was settled in his pouch and looking very attentive and alert. Daine held her breath as the killer unicorns thundered by, smelling the bloody meat that Raoul had placed as bait.

A horn sounded. "That's our signal," Numair responded. They went on their mounts and set to work. Soldiers used their spears to drive the killer unicorns towards the centre. Mages in the centre were gathering and trapping the unicorn herd with their magic. Daine kept an eye out for any stragglers with a wary hand on her bow.

Suddenly, she heard a maddened bellow - it was the male head of the killer unicorn herd. A couple of soldiers tried to drive it towards the valley's centre. The male buckled and kicked, forcing the soldiers back. Daine tried to get a clear shot, but couldn't, not at the risk of shooting a person by mistake.

In the melee, the male kicked a horse's leg. The horse's leg crumbled beneath it and sent its rider tumbling from its back. A soldier threw his spear at the killer unicorn to prevent it from escaping. The killer unicorn spied the injured soldier on the ground with a red hazed look. Daine could read its intent; it knew that it was going to die, but not without taking as many foes with him as possible. The male charged towards the soldier and scattered a few soldiers that was standing in its way.

Daine, helpless, unable to use her bow, threw up her hand and yelled, "No!" A roaring filled her ears as she gathered her wild magic and slammed it against the enraged killer unicorn. The male dropped abruptly, as if he was an ant that some giant had stepped on. A soldier quickly dragged his comrade to safer grounds. The remaining handful of soldiers warily surrounded the killer unicorn. A brave member of the king's own approached the prone body cautiously. Although the killer unicorn was riddled with three spears, it could still be alive. He prodded it, ready to run in case the immortal would attack. When the killer unicorn did not respond, he looked it over and checked its pulse. "It is dead," he pronounced curtly and the soldiers went back on their mounts.

Horse Lords! Daine exclaimed to Cloud. I KILLED that immortal with my magic!

Get over it. Spots come. Cloud replied.

"Daine, are you alright?" Numair asked, galloping up to her on his faithful gelding, Spots. "That was an interesting aspect of Wild Magic you have shown."

"Interesting?" Daine screeched. Cloud flattened her ears, Daine rarely screeched.

"Well, we have to debate over the use of terms later. I just received a terse message from Alanna that the magical barrier the mages have constructed have suddenly become unstable to some unknown phenomenon. I have to go down to help them," Numair said.

"I'll stay here," Daine interrupted, knowing his imminent question. "I want to go look for Tkaa." At Kumar's frown, she quickly supplied, "Once I find him I should be quite safe. I hardly think that a killer unicorn can stand against a full grown basilisk."

"Very well, but don't get into any trouble," Numair warned.

Daine turned Cloud away before Numair could change his mind. She spread her magical senses out, trying to find Tkaa. "Come on, he's over there," Daine said. Cloud docilely walked in the specified direction.

What were you and Stork man talking about in the bushes? Cloud asked curiously. Before fight, he seem agitated.

Daine explained things to Cloud. There must be someone besides Sinthya in the keep who is working with Carthak. After all, Numair did hear another person besides Sinthya talking.

Cloud harrumphed. Hmm… Daine continued, ignoring Cloud. Could it be Sir Hambly? Besides, he is the steward of the keep since Sinthya's reign.

It could be someone not in the keep, but with easy access to it. Cloud pointed out.

Like a neighbour? Well, there is a neighbour, Baron Javis who is presently looking after the keep and his cousin, Regina…

Just as they were passing a tree, her thoughts were interrupted when her attention was captured by a presence of a nearby immortal.

Cloud, over there. Daine directed.

I thought you looking for Tkaa? Cloud accused Daine.

Yes, but I sense an immortal nearby. I think it is a killer unicorn. Daine replied. Be careful, there's a slope. We wouldn't want to fall down that. Cloud obligingly followed Daine's instructions. Daine readied her bow and looked around warily.

Where is it? I don't see it. Cloud said, she flared her nostrils. I don't smell anything.

Maybe it is downwind. Daine commented. I could have sworn that it was here.

Suddenly, a killer unicorn charged at them out of the bushes behind them. Daine twisted her body and shot at the immortal. Cloud reared in surprise, throwing Daine off her back, whose balance was already unsteady because of her position. Daine shrieked and tumbled down the slope.

Daine! Daine! Wake up! Cloud urgently called.

Daine groaned and blinked at the bright sunlight, she was lying on her back at the foot of the slope. Geese. Daine commented, looking at the flock of geese flying overhead. She looked up and saw Cloud looking worriedly at her. Killer unicorn? she inquired.

Dead, you got a clean shot. I didn't mean to throw you. I was just caught by surprise. Should I get Stork man? Cloud said anxiously.

Daine smiled at the use of Numair's popular nickname among the animals. Never mind. I seem alright. Daine commented, she cautiously moved her body. To her relief, she received no injuries from the fall. Daine got up and dusted herself. Don't come down, Daine ordered. You may break something.

What are you going to do now? Cloud asked. Daine bent and picked up her bow and quivers, finding them no different from the fall.

Daine looked around. The keep is over there. she pointed at the visible edifice. If I am not wrong, this path should take me there. Daine cast her magical senses around warily, finding no immortals in the vicinity, she told Cloud, I am going to contact Tkaa, warn me if any one comes.

With that, Daine sat down, explained, asked, then entered the mind of a friendly squirrel, who hopped down Tkaa's side.

Tkaa. Daine called from the squirrel's body. Tkaa looked awfully big to her, he looked down at the squirrel.

Daine? He inquired and picked up the squirrel gently.

Speak to Numair. Daine said. Tkaa brought them to Numair. Numair was using his magic to close the killer unicorns in.

"Numair," Tkaa interrupted.

"Yes?" Numair said absentmindedly.

"Daine wants to talk to you," Tkaa continued and held out the squirrel. Numair muttered a few words, immediately broke off his magic and gave Tkaa is full attention.

"Daine?" Numair questioned, squinting his eyes at the squirrel.

Nod.Daine instructed.

Like this? The squirrel asked.

Yes, you are one smart squirrel! Daine complimented.

"Where in Shakith are you? You were supposed to be with Tkaa," Numair scolded and added as an after thought, "PHYSICALLY, not mentally."

Through the squirrel and Tkaa, Daine explained her situation. Numair frowned when he heard what happened. "Are you alright?" Numair asked worriedly.

Yes, yes, yes, so should I go back to the keep now? It is visible from where I am. Daine said and Tkaa relayed it to Numair.

Numair thought for a while and said, "We don't need your help presently, I think it be best for you to return to the keep. Besides, by the time you come up here, all of us would be making our way back.." Then he threatened, "Make sure you are careful and not get into any trouble or I'll strangle you myself!"

Daine thought that his threat to silly for comments and instructed the squirrel to nod again. Thanking the squirrel and Tkaa, Daine returned to her surroundings.

Daine groaned as she got to her feet, bruises that she received from the fall was now making themselves known to her. She explained things to Cloud, who still anxiously hovered on top of the slope.

Suddenly, Cloud's ears pricked up and said, Riders, coming this way.

Are they from the King's Own? Daine inquired, unruffled.

No. Cloud said urgently. Hide!

Daine looked around, there was nowhere to hide. Even if there was a place to hide, it was too late. The riders appeared around the corner. A shiver went down her spine. She recognised them from the their clothes and weapons as bandits. They were all mounted and had a wagon behind them. 'Their loot,' Daine thought.

Daine drew her bow and shot one of the riders. Hoof sisters! Daine called to the horses. Help me! Daine glanced at the top of the slope, Cloud was gone. Daine ran away from the bandits, hearing their curses as their horses refused to obey them.

"Get off your horses!" A familiar voice commanded. "YOU FOOLS! It is that girl with wild magic, get her before she tells the others!"

The bandits chased her on foot. Daine's heart pounded, this chase brought back unpleasant memories from the past. Arrows whistled by her. Daine was about to escape into the thick foliage when suddenly, grey magic grabbed her, lifted and slammed her into a cliff face.

"Ugh!" Daine groaned. She looked to where the magic came from. The bearer of the magic let go of her and she hit the ground with a thud.

"I wished it didn't come to this," the voice drawled.

"Portan!" Daine gasped.

"Yes, everyone's favourite uncle," Portan answered sinisterly. His friendly features looked merciless and hardened now.

'Must try to stall him,' Daine thought to herself. Out loud, she asked, "But why?"

"Money, power, knowledge," Portan responded indulgently. "What else? Talk time is over, don't bother to try and stall me. I wouldn't want to risk you getting help from your animal friends. SHOOT!"

Daine panicked and she shapeshifted into the first animal that came into mind. Fire seared up and down her left arm and she honked in pain. She had turned into a goose! If Daine was not feeling so much pain, she would have felt utterly embarrassed and stupid. Daine looked at her left wing, a barbed arrow had cruelly pierced it. Daine felt overwhelmed by fear and pain.

"A goose?" Portan exclaimed, he laughed. "Shakith, what is Salmalin teaching you?" He shook his head, "Is that supposed to scare us?"

"No," came a deep, anger filled voice before an angry Daine could reply. "But this will!" Daine looked up, it was Numair! He threw a bolt of black magic at them and the ground exploded in front of them. Tkaa croaked, turning two bandits into stone. The bandits made a run for it, only to be trapped by a group of King's Own who thundered up behind them. Portan watched in shock at the bandits' abandonment, which quickly turned into anger.

"Come back here you cowards!" Portan screamed after them. Tkaa, Alanna and Cloud scampered to Daine.

"Daine?" Alanna asked tentatively.

"Yes, it is her. Cloud and Kit recognises her. She is in too much pain to respond," Tkaa supplied.

Alanna swore a blue streak when she saw the barbed arrow in the left wing. "Quick, we have to get her to the keep, it is only a short distance away," Alanna ordered. She climbed onto Cloud and holding Daine gently, but firmly on her lap, she stabilised the bleeding. Tkaa guarded their backs, as Cloud ran frantically towards the keep.

Hold on, little sister. Came Tkaa's raspy voice.

Hurt. Daine responded, swimming in pain, her vision was wavering.

I know, but you have to stay awake. Tkaa said steadfastly.

They reached the keep in record time. Alanna placed Daine on the bed and she went into a trance. Daine, Daine. Alanna called.

Hurt, hurt, hurt. Daine moaned, her vision was turning black.

I know, but you have to change back into a human being. I cannot heal you in this form. Alanna said firmly.

Want to sleep. Daine muttered.

Daine. Alanna ordered in a tone which made soldiers jump. Come back here! Turn back into human form, NOW!

Instinctively, Daine jumped to that voice. It was a painful process and Daine had to fight hard to stay conscious.

Good girl, Alanna said grimly. Now you can go to sleep. And so she did.

**********

Daine woke up, feeling dizzy and nauseous. She opened her eyes and blinked to adjust to the brightness of the room. She groaned, her arm ached ! Kitten chirped and Daine sensed her paws clutching her thigh.

"Daine?" Alanna said. Daine heard some rustling and saw Alanna looming over her. Alanna checked her eyes and asked, "How are you feeling?"

"Very bruised and hungry," Daine croaked and tried to sit up. Alanna immediately went forward to help her. "My arm," she groaned.

"Here, drink some water," Alanna offered. She helped Daine grip the glass and drink its contents.

"What happened?" Daine asked. She was in a room, which was much bigger than her designated one. Her packs were shifted into here.

Alanna carefully sat on the bed next to Daine and said, "After you talked to Numair, a few moments later, Cloud came crashing into us, like there were a hundred wolves after her. She was hysterical and practically pulled Numair towards your direction. He summarised that something must have happened and he yelled for me. We followed Cloud to find you cornered by the bandits. I had the wit enough to get some soldiers to follow me. We rushed you back into the keep."

Alanna paused for a breath and Daine looked her, waiting for her to continue.

Alanna added grimly, "I managed to heal your arm, though you almost lost it. You were incredibly lucky, youngling. I recommend that you take things easy. You have lost quite a bit of blood. Don't use your left arm for a week, until the wound heals properly. I can't risk you opening your wound again." Daine looked at her left arm, which was swathed in bandages and was in a sling. Kitten chirped impatiently and butted Daine's right hand.

"Hello Kit, I'm alright," Daine assured her ward, scratching her head gently.

"Ha! You should have seen Kitten. She refused to leave you. I tried to throw her out of the room, but she whistled the locks off," Alanna said with a gentle reprimand in her voice for Kitten, whose scales turned a deep pink in a blush.

"How about Portan?" Daine asked.

Alanna's voice turned bleaker. "Portan was working with Carthak. He smuggled books out of the University to Sinthya, who then shipped it to Carthak. Last year, Portan had gave Sinthya a huge shipment of books to be taken out. Unfortunately, or rather fortunately for us, Numair found out that Sinthya was working for Carthak and Sinthya left in a hurry, leaving the books behind. The killer unicorn herd was meant as a distraction, so that Portan and his hired bandits could smuggle the books out. By chance, we accidentally spoiled his plans when we changed our accommodations to stay here where the books were kept." The vision of Kitten at the locked door swam into Daine's mind. "Portan called ahead to warn the Carthakis. Another herd of killer unicorns were coerced into coming to distract us. Again, their plans were spoiled by my arrival. However, Portan created a diversion when he 'accidentally' made the magic barrier we created unstable. For extra measure, he tore a hole in the barrier to let some killer unicorns escape. That preoccupied everyone for quite some time and gave him time to slip away. Once again, he received an unexpected surprise when you fell onto their laps. The rest, well, you know what happened."

Suddenly, Alanna laughed, slapping her knee and said in defence to Daine's weird look at her, "I just realised that it was all due to chance and coincidence that we managed to foil their plans! If not for that, they would be scott free."

Daine nodded carefully, wary of her aching head, it was true. "How about Sir Hambly?"

"Sir Hambly?" Alanna questioned and shook her head. "No, he is not involved in it. He is just a grumpy old man who likes to be left alone and in peace. He is like Lord Wyldon, resistant to change. Our sudden visit amounted to him as a social blunder."

There was the sound of muttering outside the room. "Speaking of me kicking people out, there is one outside," Alanna commented, smiling. "He was very worried about you, wouldn't stop bothering me. In fact," she laughed. "It is the first time I ever seen someone keep him away from his books." Daine looked at Alanna in surprise. "The bandits were carting away a huge load of books which would normally send Numair spiralling towards ecstasy and you would not see him in weeks. However, he was worried enough about you to keep pestering me about your condition."

"How long did I sleep?" Daine asked curiously.

"About three days, if I am not wrong," Alanna replied, getting up.

"No wonder I am starving," Daine exclaimed.

Alanna nodded, "I guess you can see visitors while you eat. We better put him out of his misery and let him in." As Alanna opened the door, Daine could see a disgruntled Regina flounce down the hall.

Daine raised an eyebrow, Alanna looked at her and grinned, "Numair has been ignoring her."

"Did someone call me?" Numair asked. Alanna took this opportunity to slip out and get a tray for Daine. He saw Daine awake and came in, striding towards her. "Are you alright Magelet?" He asked, his eyes worried.

"Are you going to strangle me now?" Daine inquired.

"Of course not, Silly!" Numair replied and hugged her tightly, but carefully. "But I'll wait till you get better." He deliberately changed the subject by asking, "Is this shapeshift better than your last one?" He was referring to the time she shapeshifted in Dunlath Valley.

"Yes, my bones doesn't ache as much. I seem to have a streak of bad luck in shapeshifting on my own. First hunted by the royal huntsmen, then shot by bandits…" Daine said, her tongue loose in her mouth.

"What?" Numair yelped. "Could you back track a bit? Hunted by royal huntsmen?"

"Did you give me drugs?" Daine accused Alanna, who came back in with a tray of food in her hands. Daine had to struggle not to drool or grab the tray from Alanna.

Alanna shrugged, "It was necessary to numb the pain and stop you from struggling when I healed you." Alanna settled the tray over Daine's lap.

"Ugh. This must be the side effect, a loose tongue," Daine muttered under her breath as she picked up a spoon with her right hand.

"Royal huntsmen?" Numair reminded persistently. "I thought that this was your second shapeshift?"

"Oh, don't worry," Daine said blithely, patting his hand. "Last winter, when you holed up in your workroom, I shapeshifted into a deer. I didn't know that the royal huntsmen were out for game as well. Natural mistake. Oh yeah, this is my third shapeshift."

"Goddess, youngling, you seem to have been through a lot!" Alanna exclaimed.

Daine made a face at the venison on her plate. "I have decided that I will never, never eat wild game again," she announced, then philosophically ignored the meat and settled on the soup. "Being hunted is the worst," Daine continued casually. "I have learnt that you must always check when the royal huntsmen go hunting. Wouldn't do if you become dinner."

"Magelet," Numair said warningly. He forced her to look at him by tilting her head up gently with his right hand. "When were you ever planning to tell me this?"

"Um," Daine replied, trying to look innocent. "Never?"

**********

Note : These characters belong exclusively to Tamora Pierce. Similarly, I was inspired by several quotes which are NOT necessarily linked…

In Wild Magic, Alanna related to Daine and co, "he (Sinthya) fled the minute he knew you were safe…His servants claimed that Stormwings came, with a box, like a sedan chair. They flew off with him in it."
In Wolf Speaker, "I shall visit when things are settled here," Tkaa promised.
In Emperor Mage, Daine said to Kaddar, "Last Spring, we were rounding killer unicorns and bandits cornered me. I've gotten separated from Numair and panicked. I changed into a wild goose…They got me with a barbed arrow but almost lost the arm."
It was mentioned, "Six of them(rats) launched at their face; she slammed them with a power, killing three instantly."

Sparrow : Hi hi! Thank you for reading this fic. I know some of you have been wondering about how Michean knew that Daine had shape shifted and stuff. Well, in order not to spoil it for those who want to work it out with their imagination, I am going to put the answer in the Review section of Daine's Dear Deer Danger. Oh yes, Please Review this fic. Thanx.