Chapter 1: Falcon's Wing and Pony's Hoof

Note: Words in bold are Daine's thoughts. Words in underlined script are Numair's. Words in italics are animals and/or Daine talking with one another. Words in all three are someone else's thoughts.

Disclaimer: I own none of the characters (they're Tamora Pierce's) except some new animals and people. I also own none of the places (like Tortall).

Daine smiled to herself as she soared above the clouds. The wildmage was in falcon form, her favorite of all bird shapes to take. The open blue skies gave her a sense of freedom and belonging, as did the flock of assorted birds that joined her. They called Daine, asking and coaxing her to play in the winds.

She gave a falcon's call for some other time, and dove down towards the earth.

She landed on the windowsill of her room in the Tower. Tap, Tap, Tap at the glass. A small blue shape, about the size of a cat, opened the window. Daine flew into the room and, hovering above the floor, slowly changed to human shape. She spoke to the dragon that had handled the window as she dressed.

"Where are we going now, Kit?" Kit (the dragon) shrieked a reply.

"Palace, huh? Glad I already saddled Cloud n' packed. Numair will kill me if I'm any later than I am now." So saying the girl scooped up Kit and walked to the staircase.

She smiled at the dragon. "Dare I slide?" She nodded her head toward the curved banister that went all the way down the staircase. A loud whistle was answer enough. Taking a seat on the banister, Daine adjusted her charge so she wouldn't slip. Carefully pushing off the wall, she began to slide. Slow at first, than faster and faster! It reminded her of flying. You could feel the breeze, and your feet never touched the ground. She loved the loops, and didn't mind that her hair got mussed when she slid. Seeing the end was near, she hopped off and nearly crashed into the wall.

"You're late."

Daine jumped. "Don't do that!" Her voice was angry, but her blue gray eyes were filled with mirth.

Numair Salmalin shook his head at the girl, but couldn't help but grin. His student's smoky brown hair was a mess. It looked as though bird had built a nest in it. They probably did at one point, he thought to himself.

It was a difficult feat not to laugh. He managed to hide his grin behind one hand, but Daine didn't help by tripping over her own feet. Finally, he could stand it no more. He let laughed; loud and real. Daine glared at him and stuck her tongue out at the mage.

"If you could see yourself," he managed between laughs.

"Wonder what would happen if your hair was a horrible mess when got back to Corus," she retorted, standing up. Kit looked from girl to man, unsure of what was going on. The mage's eyes widened and he stopped laughing.

"You wouldn't dare." Numair took a great pride in appearance, and for good reason. He was about six foot five, with a swarthy complexion. He had a long nose, and deep, shadowy brown eyes, framed by long lashes. He kept his hair pulled back in a horsetail, and worked hard to get it to behave just so.

Daine smiled at him with a look of pure mischief in her eye. "I would and you know it."

"Um, let's get going, shall we?" Daine laughed and ran out the door to where her gray-white pony Cloud waited.

Took you long enough.

Let's just go?

Fine, but you're slow for a two legger.

Am not.

Are too.

Not.

Are.

You win. It was no use arguing with Cloud. She was always right, and, impossible though it may seem, was more stubburn than Daine.

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They had barely been on the road two hours when Daine sensed Stormwings. They were near, she could tell. The stench of old blood and rust filled her nose as she brought Cloud to a halt.