Focus

Kitty Ryan


Author's note: It's the big re-write! Believe it or not, Kitty's got off her arse and started to go somewhere with this thing. Chapter six is well in the works, thanks to the support of darling people such as Ali Young, Sarah Parker, Lea Roded, Kat Downward, Anita Law, A Girl Called Candice and all my patient reviewers at ff.net. You've been wonders, all of you.

To the reader, before they begin:

This is a story set in Corus, Tortall, after a certain Wildmage and her teacher have returned from Carthak --six months before they are featured in a book known as The Realms of the Gods. Please, enjoy. And take note of the disclaimer at the bottom.


Prologue:

An awful lot happened, one clear late autumn day.

In the village of Snowsdale, Galla, Iriny Almensri found she was pregnant when she looked into the main well. In the palace of Tortall, a woman with a bet to settle skulked the corridors, and in the Middle City, Corus, a brilliant artist decided to pick up a book on Doi cookery.

And all the while, at the foot of a rickety monolith, there was Numair Salmalìn. Numair Salmalìn, mage to the Tortallan realm, standing out in the cold and the wind - giving a sigh of exasperation. With more than a touch of fear at its centre.

"Daine, if you so much as dream of attempting this…this lunacy ever again then I'll just be compelled to--"

"To what?" Daine, for one of the first times in her almost sixteen years, grinned down at her teacher--instead of up. The reason for this was not because of any growth spurt, but was due to the extra height lent to her from standing on top of Balor's Needle. On top of that structure, anyone could be tall.

Numair groaned, running nervous hands through his mane of black hair, which--if he had to go through anything like this again--would go white. He was certain of that. Daine was standing very high up on the Needle, perched precariously on the dilapidated mistake of an outer staircase, the wind whipping her smoky brown curls into a worse tangle then usual--her face flushed. As Numair stared at her, he felt that white threads were beginning already.

All this for a kitten! He thought despairingly. A none-too-intelligent kitten that decided to climb up the needle, and then decided it couldn't climb down.

Numair remembered the conversation he'd had with Daine that morning. One of the palace's many rat-catchers - in this case a mother cat - had come to her in the middle of a lesson ("Killer Unicorns and their Various Habits") in obvious distress. It seemed that the one of her offspring--the smallest one, and obviously the last in line when the brains had been handed out--had gone exploring. Resulting in its being hopelessly stuck atop Balors Needle.

Of course, Daine had insisted that she had to go after "the poor little thing." That "it would get blown away if nothing was done about it," and, of course, he had tried to dissuade her--saying that she'd be the one 'blown away'; to no avail. That was always how it went.

That cat had seven other kittens! Numair's thoughts flashed angrily across his mind as he watched the girl lurching in the wind. One less wouldn't make that much difference.


Veralidaine Sarrasri swore violently as the wind knocked her sideways, she felt that things were not going very well. The animal was not moving an inch.

Paw brother, Daine called out with her mind. Come out, you won't get blown away. I'm here

Scared! The little grey creature was shaking, meowing pitifully. Its voice, even in her mind, was frantic. If I move then I'll fall! It's too high up! I don't like being too high up! I want my mama!

Daine sighed--It was going to be a long day. If you come to me, then you'll have your Mama, sweetling.

The kitten was crouched, back facing the needle against a railing, wind buffeting it from all directions. The dilemma being that he was on the opposite side of the railing from Daine, only the thin, rotting bit of wood he was standing on keeping him from a dreadful fall and death on the ground.

It would have been a lot easier for Daine if the kitten had plucked up its courage and crawled to the other side of the railing, where Daine would have picked him up and him taken back to the safety and solidarity of the ground. But this kitten wasn't courageous. It was scared, and wasn't going to move.

So, Muttering an oath against all inquisitive felines, Daine slowly got down on hands and knees--wincing as splinters entered her palms.

Don't worry, paw brother, she sent, trying to bathe the kitten in reassurance. I'm coming. Just stay--

"What in the name of Mithros are you doing? A furious voice decided to interrupt her narrative.

A very angry Numair was standing at the foot of the needle--pale and sweating. Daine didn't look up, didn't answer; she couldn't afford to lose her concentration. Slowly, she crawled under the railing, reaching for the kitten…

Numair glared at Daine, feeling horribly frightened. What the hell was she doing up there? Why was she on hands and knees on the other side of the railing, nothing to protect her if she…the horrible thought crept into Numair's mind. If she fell.

Daine, eyes half closed against the wind, grabbed the kitten by the scruff of its neck--and slipped.


The whole thing couldn't have lasted for more then a few seconds. But to Numair at least, looking back, everything seemed tinted green and in some terrible slow motion. There was a scream from above his head, and the next thing he knew, Daine was falling.

Falling.

Falling.

Falling…

The mage threw out a net of his power, desperate, trying to slow her down.

Down.

Down.

Down…

The web tightened, invisible lines connecting him to her, or it might have been her to him. Whatever the case, Daine continued to spiral, a small ball of grey fluff clinging to her arm, its eyes yellow and terrified. Down, they fell.

Stop.

Until Daine drifted gently to the ground at the foot of the needle.

Numair sprinted towards her, cloak flapping. He knelt at her side, and stroked her hair. The kitten, forgotten and bruised, let go of Daine's arm, hissed, bit Numair on the finger, and fled.

"Ungrateful little mongrel!" Numair glared after the animal, nursed his finger, and waited for Daine to wake.


"Wha'--?" The girl blinked stupidly against the light, conscious again. "Numair?"

"Daine?"

Where am I, Numair? Why--? How--?" Remembrance dawned. "Numair! Where's the kitten?"

"The kitten?" Numair couldn't believe his ears. "You're asking about the kitten?" He glared at her, and she noticed that his voice was cracked. You fiend! You little fiend! Is it a hobby of yours to try and give me heart attacks? If it is, then you're a bloody professional, Magelet."

Numair started to pace. "You nearly kill yourself, fall off the Needle, frighten me out of my wits and all you can think off is the kitten, Gods preserve me from," a hundred emotions crossed Numair's face. "From sentimental females!"

Daine glared at him.

"The thing is perfectly safe, Magelet," Numair said, wearily. "It ran off a few minutes ago. And have I mentioned that I forbid you to do anything like this again? If you do I'll-"

"You'll trap me in the deepest glacier known to man and leave me there, Numair." Daine stood up, feeling slightly shaky. "I know you. But, please, could I catch my breath first, before you make me lose it again?"

Numair gathered her up into a hug. His eyes were wet, and he could feel her trembling in his arms; the fall must have shocked her more than he'd realized. I wonder, what if…? No, there were no what ifs here. Numair shoved suddenly treacherous thoughts away. Just a hug between friends. Nothing more, nothing less. He broke the embrace, and looked away. He swallowed, squeezed Daine's hand, and strode off.

Daine watched him go. Now she felt confused and twice as shaky as before. That hug had been unbearably close, yet, somehow, safe. The girl had no idea if she should be insulted, or if she should sing.

Shaking her head over her own foolishness, Daine set off in the other direction. Towards her room.


Fin


Disclaimer: The characters Numair Salmalìn, Veralidaine Sarrassri, Alanna the Lioness, Onua Chamtong, and any other's I shall mention in later disclaimers, are the property of Tamora Pierce. The names and general direction of the characters Perin and Volney Rain belong to Tamora Pierce. Their personalities however - as they most definitely have them, but not in any genuine literary publication - are mine until I am officially notified to the contrary. Tortall and surrounding lands belong to Tamora Pierce, as do any divinities unless stated in future disclaimers. Thank you for your time