by Charles Matthias

Elizabeth’s study was warmed by several glowing lamps that radiated as much heat as they did light. Jessica had grown accustomed to visiting Marigund like this, using the large blue gem that Misha possessed, bringing them both together for a few short hours to facilitate her continued training. Misha’s sister was not any kindler or harsher than Wessex had been, but there was a subtle difference in the way she guided her understanding.

They had been meeting like this for nearly a month now. It had begun third week of January, and now they were almost upon the third week of February. Winter in Marigund appeared to be quite beautiful, what little she could see of it. Several times, Elizabeth had allowed her to peer out the window leading to the balcony, and from there she could see broad plains stretching out, low mountains spiking up form them as if they were needles emerging from a cushion. The city beneath them covered beneath the white, quiet and solemn in the downy blanket.

Being Elizabeth’s first hawk student they both were learning new magics. So many of the classical incantations that Jessica learned had to be reworked so that she could cast them. Her wing tips and talons became quite adroit in their motions as she pushed and found new ways to word old spells. It was not easy, but it was what she had to do. At each new discovery, Jessica felt even more pride fill her chest. She even hoped to one day master the one thing Wessex had never even give thought to teach her, ritual magic.

But as she stood there ruffling her feathers a bit to work out some of the tension that had built up over the last few hours, she noticed that the tall woman was twisting some of her long brown hair between her fingers. Jessica’s large golden eyes caught the motion, as they did everything else, and her beak cracked in a bit of an avian squawk. Elizabeth’s eyes snapped up at that, her slender hand slipping down to the middle of her blue gown that was wrapped firmly about her with a resplendent sash of many hues of green.

“You are thinking of something, Liz,” Jessica pointed out. She liked being able to call Misha’s sister in such a friendly manner. At first she had continuously slipped and used her title, but the sisterly friendliness had won in the end. Elizabeth almost always gave her a hug in greeting, although she had not this particular morning.

Elizabeth let a slight blush touch her cheeks, though it was gone just as quickly. “You see very well, Jessica. You are progressing in many ways, not the least of which is magically. I am sure Wessex would be proud if he could see you know.”

Jessica felt her heart twitch at the mention of her former master. The boy mage who had done so much for her, been in many ways her father. He had first shown her that she could still use magic even after the curses had made her a hawk morph and taken away her hands. It had not been easy, but he had always been there to comfort her, even when she had come to him in tears, lamenting her lost dexterity and everything else she had lost. But he was gone now, and gone in a way more foul than she would have ever wished upon even her worst of enemies.

Her distraction lasted only a moment though. She clacked her beak once and scrapped her talon along the wooden perch that Elizabeth had fashioned for her to stand upon. “You have something you do not wish to say, Liz. Is it something about Wessex?”

Elizabeth smiled almost regretfully then and nodded. “Not so much about Wessex, as it is about all that has happened. When I first took you on, there was a moment several hours after midnight, when the world bell tolled.”

“The world bell?” Jessica asked, genuinely confused.

Elizabeth nodded then, stroking her long hair back with one finger. “In the centre of the Guild gardens is a majestic fountain that magic keeps flowing freely all year round. The fountain is made from marble, and it supports a large bell. It is shaped much like a long hollow cone, or a pipe of some kind. It is empty on the inside as well. You can see it through the fountain, but you cannot approach it.”

“Then how could it sound?”

“The guild was built here in Marigund because of the powerful currents of magic that crisscross the area. The world bell was situated at the most powerful nexus in this region. The fountain itself acts as a conduit, funnelling magical activity into the bell itself. The bell will toll when sufficient magic is cast in the vicinity. When you use the gem to meet with me, the bell tolls, but so quietly even my brother Misha would likely not hear it. Were I to use the gem to meet with my brother, as I am closer to the nexus than he, the bell would sound louder, but even I could not hear its chime.”

“So the closer you are to the bell when using any particular magic, the louder it chimes?”

Elizabeth nodded and smiled. “Precisely.”

“And it must take a great deal of magic to make it sound so that a human could hear it.”

“Again, you are correct, Jessica.”

“So you must have heard the world bell toll when the Shrieker was summoned,” Jessica mused.

Jessica was quite surprised to see Elizabeth shake her head. The woman crossed the room, stroking one finger across the bookshelves, as if looking for a particular volume. Her face was obviously troubled, her shoulders tense as she tapped those books. “No, it did not. That is why Master Demarest did not believe a Shrieker had been summoned. Surely the world bell would have at least given off an audible chime as it was done so close by. The breaking through to the Underworld to unleash a Shrieker is not an easy feat in the slightest.”

“So why didn’t you hear anything?” Jessica asked, now feeling very confused. She wondered if ever there would be a time when she could see this strange world bell for herself.

Elizabeth pursed her lips, and then turned to face the hawk fully. “After you showed us the spell used to open that tear, and revealed to us the censer’s involvement, one of the first things we sought to understand was why the world bell did not sound on the Winter Solstice. The reason we have known now for only a few days, but it is one that we should have seen.”

Jessica felt her neck feathers begin to lift and stand out straight. Her mind raced as she tried to discern why it all came out the way it did. She recalled what had been said of the censer, the way it passed in and out of the world, moving as if from behind a veil. The flows of magic in the world were like veins of the earth, and spells acted upon those veins like a rock thrown in a river, reverberating waves along those lines. How then could something magical occur without disturbing the lines of magic?

The hawk blinked after a moment and then looked to Elizabeth. “Is it because of the way Kyia sealed them all in, Liz?”

Elizabeth smiled a bit at that. “You have a good mind, Jessica. Under most circumstances, that would be the answer. But that only happened on the Winter’s Solstice. The tear was formed last Spring as you said. We heard no tolling then either. Can you conceive of why this might be?”

Jessica brought to mind once more the image of the river, and the stone being thrown in, sending out waves. She could not help but imagine the river trickling over rocks, swirls and eddies moving along as it passed on the shore. Clear bubbling sounded, and the spilling of water as it passed overtop of many of the rocks. But no matter how she tried to see something going into the river, she always knew that there would be ripples along the surface to record its entrance.

“I do not see it, Liz,” Jessica said after a moment, her wings held shamefully down at her sides, the tips of the furthest feathers nearly touching her black talons.

Elizabeth smiled then. “Do not feel as if you have failed. It took us three weeks to understand why it was so. You should not feel as if you have failed if you could not replicate our result in five minutes.”

Jessica lowered her beak at that, chagrined. “I just do not see how you can cast a spell without affecting the lines of magic flowing through the world.”

The mage cocked her head to one side. “Tell me, Jessica. Do you imagine these lines of magic that crisscross the world as rivers?” At the hawk’s nod, Elizabeth continued, “So you imagine a spell acts like a stone thrown into the river?”

“That is what Wessex taught me to think of magic.”

“It is the way most beginners are taught,” Elizabeth pointed out, though warmly. “Although what we came to understand is more detailed and satisfying, I think I can construct a parallel to illustrate what has happened with your rivers.”

Jessica shifted uncertainly on her perch, talons digging deeper into the wood. There was a distance to the mage’s voice that left her feeling very uncertain. It was as if she were going to be imparted some terrible secret, and she no longer wished to know it.

Elizabeth pursed her lips thoughtfully for a moment. “Have you ever seen a waterfall?”

“Just the ones in the Keep’s gardens.”

“Imagine a river falling off a cliff, the water raining down upon the landscape below. Now imagine that you are in a boat that is floating towards the waterfall. Will you see anything amiss?”

“There won’t be any more river past the waterfall,” Jessica replied, not yet understanding what this could mean.

“Yes, but before the waterfall itself. Will there be anything amiss with the water?”

Jessica pondered that, trying to remember what the small rivers of water in the gardens did when falling from one channel to another. There certainly would be no ripples moving back up the river. But there had been the sound of the water trickling as it fell. “You could not see anything, I think,” Jessica said at last, her voice slow and uncertain. “You certainly could hear it though.”

Elizabeth nodded. “Let us now imagine that there is a waterfall in one of the lines of magic moving about the world. The world bell itself would not feel anything from the waterfall, because nothing comes back from it. So anything that happens on the other side of the waterfall could not reach the world bell. But to anyone close by the waterfall, the effects are obvious. Even those without any magical capability would see something miraculous.

“And so it was when Kyia sealed off the Shrieker. What she did was in effect create a waterfall in the magical streams. If you are on the bottom of the waterfall, you cannot get back up it. Further, magic will continue to flow to the bottom of the waterfall. That is why the spell was utterly destroyed at the Shrieker’s death, because the amount of magic contained there was too great. And that is why we had no knowledge of any of that. Nobody aside from those who were there could ever have known. Does that make sense to you?”

The hawk stood for a moment trying to pour over all that she had just heard. At last she began to slowly nod. “I believe so, Liz. A waterfall cannot be good for the flows of magic though.”

“No, it is not. But it was likely necessary to keep the Shrieker contained long enough for it to be killed. I will not debate the wisdom of Kyia this day.”

Jessica cracked her beak in a slight avian smile then. “I would never do that any day!”

Elizabeth laughed ever so slightly then, smiling only mildly at the bit of jocularity. “I have no doubt of that. But there is still more to this. I told you this could only explain what Kyia did. The entrance of the Shrieker, and the causing of the tear are matters completely different, and must be explained in a different way. Have you ever watched a fountain drain?”

“No, I have not seen that.”

“Well, let me show you,” Elizabeth said, holding her hands out before her, and speaking words beneath her breath. It was an illusion casting, a fairly simple one at that, Jessica knew. She even knew most of the words that were being spoken. If she knew what it was to be conjured, she could have done it herself in fact.

Before her sprang into being a large basin of water. The basin was some form of brick, completely sealed everywhere except for a small grating in the centre. The water appeared to be a foot deep, while the basin itself was thrice again as long and wide. Suddenly, the top of the water began to turn on itself as if it were a towel being wrung. The middle was pulled down, and the water began to spin about as a clock spins, twisting ever downwards towards that drain. Soon, a long funnel of water was formed over the drain, spinning about, and pulling the rest of the water within it. Jessica stared in disbelief, as it pulled, the mouth growing wider as more and more of the water in the basin was pulled through the grate.

And then the image vanished and she was staring at the lovely carpeting in Elizabeth’s study. Jessica glanced back up to the brown haired woman and blinked her golden eyes. “Was that a whirlpool?”

“You have heard of them then?”

“Yes, I have just never seen one before. I had no idea what they looked like.”

Elizabeth nodded slightly then, her face gone stern. “That is what the tear to the Underworld will do to the flow of magic. And that is why the world bell did not sound at the tearing or the emergence of the Shrieker. It took us quite some time and study to discover the precise relationships. The Underworld is in many ways the antithesis to this one, though even that is a gross mischaracterization. But a tear in this world to that will act as a drain. The magical flow will be drawn down into the tear to disappear into the underworld. Depending on the size of the tear, this flow may be so minor as not to be noticed, or it could be a veritable flood, a whirlpool large enough to swallow any who pass by. Either way, you will never know it is there until you get close.”

Jessica breathed slowly then as she let all of that sink in. It seemed fairly reasonable enough, though she had never heard of anything similar. She could not help but wonder how it was determined that the Underworld acted as a drain on the real world, but knew that she did not wish to truly know the answer. Yet, it still felt to her as if she had forgotten something, as if some piece of information had been lost in all that she had just been told. Something about the world bell itself. And then it came to her.

“But you said shortly after you met me you heard the world bell toll. How many heard it toll?”

Elizabeth appeared to go white then as she leaned against the bookcase with one shoulder. She stared at those books, eyes scanning the covers, not as if she were reading the titles, but as if she were watching the letters form different words entirely. Jessica began to wonder whether Elizabeth was even telling her half the story in what she was saying. What had she discovered in these last three weeks? She knew that if they found Wessex’s murderer that they would tell her, so it could not be that. Maybe it was evidence how all of it was linked together, or even hints?

Her voice was strained when she did speak. “Everyone heard it toll. Everyone in Marigund.”

Jessica stood silent for a moment, trying to understand what that could mean. The city of Marigund was rather large, though not as large as many of the more important cities in the Midlands. What could have been done that would have made the bell toll so loud that all would hear it? If using the gem to bring herself into Elizabeth’s presence made almost no noise – and that was a decently powerful spell – then how great an evocation was this?

“What happened?” she finally managed to whisper in her croaking voice.

Elizabeth breathed heavily, turning back to the bookshelf, eyes distant. “Only this morning did we uncover the secret. Thadeus found it while poring over old tomes and comparing the lay of the fountain with the ancient drawings. When the world bell tolls, if it is loud enough, it will disturb the water in the fountain in certain ways that are used to help us identify the cause. The patterns were unlike any of us could ever remember.”

“If the water was disturbed, wouldn’t it have only lasted a moment?”

“Normal water, yes. But the fountain is suffused with the same magic that the bell is. It holds the pattern for a short period of time. Long enough at least for the artisans that watch the fountain to draw what they see.” Elizabeth stroked one finger down the back of a book. “I will not show you what was seen in the waters, but I will tell you that the casting required death to complete.”

Jessica felt her chest tighten, her heart beat faster. The feathers on the back of her neck crept upright once more, and her plumage began to ruffle of its own accord. Death magic invariably served evil purposes. The only exception was when the caster sacrificed their own life in the casting. Tentatively, she cracked her beak open, “Who was it that died?”

“We believe that three men were killed in this casting. And before you ask, the caster was not amongst those that lost their life. At least we do not believe so.”

Jessica felt herself swaying on her perch, and so dug her talons more firmly into the wood. “What happened?”

Elizabeth let out a long breath, and gazed towards the balcony, out past the snow lined trestles and gambled roofs of Marigund. It was nearing evening there, and long shadows cast spectral fingers to the East. The town lamps were being lit, flickers of orange light that dotted the streets. But Jessica knew that her mentor was not staring at any of that, but at something even further away, terribly distant and beyond the horizon. Something on the other side of the world, or perhaps not even upon the world.

“How much do you know of the Southlands, Jessica?”

The hawk shook her head. “Not very much I’m afraid. We have a few Southlanders at the Keep, but only a handful.” That rat Matthias came to mind. She still did not know whether he was innocent or not of all that he was accused of, but she did know that it was not he who killed Wessex.

“The Southlands are made up of four landmasses, three of which are connected.” Elizabeth turned to her and waved her hand, summoning another illusion. Wavering in the air before coming into focus was a map showing the outlines of the Southlands. In the West there were two landmasses that looked vaguely like crescents, while to the East was a rectangular smear that led down to an archipelago. Just North of the smear was a vaguely circular island that sat off by itself.

“While the three connected landmasses are populated in just about every corner, this island off by itself remains only sparsely populated, and then only along the shoreline.” Elizabeth traced her hand inside the island, and Jessica saw it grow in size, the rest of the map disappearing. Thick vegetation appeared to be abounding within it. “Sheer mountains and thick jungles fill the interior, as well as some of the most unique plants and animals on the planet. It is almost completely inhospitable to human inhabitation. Today it is known as the Island of Manzona.”

“Manzona?” Jessica mused drily, not sure where this lesson in geography was headed. “Is the tolling of the world bell related to this Island?”

“To a particular feature of the Island, yes,” Elizabeth said. “Ages ago, the elves of Carethedor from the mountains to the East built a city there, hidden in the jungles which even in those days were impassable to most. It held many of their magical artifacts, ones that they did not wish to be disturbed. How they were made is lost to history. If even the elves that remain know, they do not wish to speak of it. It may in fact be for the best that such knowledge has passed out of this world. But in those days, the island was called something else. It was known as Ahdyojiak. And so too is everything related to that city.

“Two centuries ago the Guild at Marigund sent a few of our most accomplished wizards to Manzona to see if they could locate the lost city. They used gems such as the one that my brother owns to communicate with those of us here. A week into their journey, after relaying many cartographic and biological details they encountered along their route, they were never heard from again. A second expedition was sent to discover what happened, and while they did return, they were unable to find anything. They spoke of terrible shrieks and frightening sounds that came from the deep interior, but ventured no further than six days inwards at the guild’s behest.”

“So we know nothing about this city? Then how do you know it had anything to do with the tolling, Liz?”

Elizabeth shook her head then, and turned back to the bookshelf. The greyhound she kept for a pet had moved from sleeping underneath the table to nuzzling at her leg, looking up with forlorn eyes at his master. She reached down and gave him a pat on the head, but otherwise paid him no mind. “We know a little about the city from records taken from the ruins of one of the Carethedor cities over a thousand years ago. Most of the records concerned the fashioning and the use of a world bell. The first was built in Carethedor in ages long past. That is how our own was fashioned, from those pages.

“The pages also contained information on how many of the larger effects were determined. Also, a few details on the more dangerous and powerful artifacts of their empire were listed. Included were pictures of what the fountain ripples should look like, and how to interpret the variations that would occur in each. What was seen in our fountain three weeks ago matches one of the pictures from that ancient tome very closely. And the source of that power comes from the lost city of Ahdyojiak.”

“What is it?” Jessica asked anxiously, her wing tips stretching some. Her breath was fast, trying to comprehend the ancient histories. The elves of Carethedor must have lived a very long time ago, as she had never heard of them before. She had always liked reading about the history of the fair folk, but these were a mystery to her.

“Manzona has many lines of magical power crisscrossing it, and we do know that they intersect at the precise centre of the landmass,” Elizabeth waved her hand, and bright blue lines came to life on the illusion, meeting at one bright point in the middle of the jungle and high mountains. At least ten lines crossed there that she could see. That was even more than at Metamor!

“Upon that point three pillars stand, each at the vertex of an equilateral triangle,” Elizabeth’s voice was slow and strained. The greyhound whimpered a bit, feeling the tension in his master’s voice, and wishing to do something. “They are known, when they are known at all, as the Pillars of Ahdyojiak. Only twice in all the time that our world bell has existed has the Pillars been summoned. The first was five hundred years ago, and it was used by a Southern mage to help defeat the hundreds of Shriekers that had been loosed when the dias was last seen. We discussed that before.”

Jessica nodded. “Yes, I remember you telling me that.”

Elizabeth tapped her finger upon the nexus where the Pillars stood. “Nobody knows how it was done, as no records of the Pillars use exist from what we know. We know what it is used for, but not how to use it. It was instrumental in saving the world from that terrible plague five hundred years ago. The second time may prove to be our undoing.”

Jessica took a deep breath, feeling her flesh go cold. “The second time was three weeks ago, shortly after we met,” Elizabeth said, her voice detached, eyes empty. Jessica had known this must be the case, but only felt her body tremble even more at its confirmation. “And in the casting, three people were killed. But I have not yet told you what the Pillars were meant to do.

“When you use the gem to meet with me like this, we are in a sense using a form of illusion. We are casting ourselves upon the flow of magic in the world, and meeting wherever the gem is attuned to be. However, when the spell is over, we go back to where we came from, along with whatever we brought. While we could communicate from any point in the world to any other, we cannot move any material or immaterial object.

“Teleportation spells do exist of course. I’m sure Wessex has instructed you in a few basic cantrips of that sort. But the greater the distance involved, the more powerful the spell is required. And even the most powerful of magics could not take you from here to Metamor in an instant.

“And so it is with the Pillars of Ahdyojiak. They can be summoned from any location in the world, and they can send any material thing to any other location in the world. But the Pillars themselves must be charged with magical power before they can open the gateway from one place to another. And that is why three men were killed, their life essences were used to power the Pillars themselves, in order to move something very powerful and dangerous from one location to another.”

Jessica blanched at what she was hearing. “But I thought you said nobody knew how to use them?”

“Somebody must have unlocked the way. How, we do not know. But we do know a little bit about what happened. Something was moved from Ellcaran to Yesulam. What and by whom we have yet to uncover, but Master Demarest has sent his agents to investigate Ellcaran to see what they can find. If they know who disappeared and who was with them, then it could unlock a great many clues.”

Steeling herself, Jessica asked, “Do you think this has anything to do with Wessex’s death?”

Elizabeth shrugged rather fatalistically. “We do not know. Given all of the strange phenomenon surrounding his death and what he was studying, I believe it is very likely. If the enemy of all creation has found a way to use the Pillars, then they could be in position to drag this world down into darkness before we even understand what is happening.”

Jessica felt as if she should throw up. So much was happening, her head felt like it was spinning, and she felt like she was falling with her wings bound to her back. Her talons gripped the wooden perch more firmly, and her wings pressed outwards against those imaginary bonds as she steadied herself. It was not easy though, as her mind was a whirl.

“What do I do?” Jessica finally managed to ask in a plaintive voice.

Elizabeth sighed heavily then, reaching down to pat her dog’s head once more. “Keep your eyes open, but speak of this to as few as possible. If the enemy knows that we know, they could come after us, just as they came after Wessex.” The tall woman paused a moment, a strand of her long brown hair falling over her shoulders as she stroked the greyhound behind the ears. “You must tell my brother to speak with me as soon as he can. Is he still up North?”

Jessica nodded. “Yes, they have not returned yet.”

Elizabeth nodded, her lips turned down regretfully. There was a bit of wistful sadness in them as well. Though Jessica had only known Elizabeth for less than a month, she felt they had been friends for years. “Tell him I need to speak with him immediately, and that it cannot wait. Do not tell him or any other what I have told you. Until we know precisely what was sent through the Pillars, we can only make wild speculations.”

“And no good has ever come from that.”

The older woman smiled warmly then, staring into the face of the hawk she was guiding. “You are a very apt pupil. Wisdom is one of the most important assets any mage could ever have. But the day wears on, and we both have many things we must attend to. I shall see you again tomorrow, Jessica.”

Jessica nodded, stepping off the perch, and feeling the magic of the gem began to draw her back. The illusion of the map was the first to fade to nothingness, and very soon afterwards, the colours in Elizabeth’s study became distorted. “I shall see you tomorrow, Liz. I wish you the best in your hunt!” Jessica cried out, even as she herself was swept up in a strange swirl, nd the room spun about her. Jessica felt the wrenching sensation of being drawn back through the world, and in another moment she was standing in her own rooms again.

The emptiness of her chambers flooded upon her in that moment and she nearly fell to the ground sobbing. As it was, she only barely was able to maintain her footing. She knew what it was that she needed then, as her heart beat in frustration at her rib cage. Stumbling to her desk, she gave out a quick incantation. The feather pen lifted into the air and dipped itself into a stopper of ink. It was not a simple trick, but one that Wessex had helped her fashion many years ago to compensate for her loss of hands. It would not work in a magical casting for obvious reasons, but for what she intended it was sufficient.

The words she spoke alone were written upon a small piece of parchment. When she was finished, the quill returned to its place, the paper warmed the ink until it dried, and then folded of its own accord. She took the folded paper in her wingtips, and then went to her door. Outside in the hall she walked until she found one of the Keep’s guards, and she handed him the note and told him who it was meant for. She then returned to her room to wait.

It had not taken long before Weyden had arrived and had begun to hold her in his wings. A few minutes later, they were laying together upon her bed, his wings curled around her form, one of his talons stroking the scales of her feet. His beak rested against the side of her head, and every few minutes he would whisper, “I love you.” into them.

He had not once asked what was bothering her. Her note had only said that she needed him there with her, and he had come. Jessica closed her eyes as she lay in his wings, letting his warmth fill her. Images of dread pillars reaching ever upwards into the sky filled with the power of death pranced about in her mind. Strange spectres of her dead master came to her, sights of his neck slit, blood spilled all across his form. That strange Symphony that she had seen in pieces fitted together, glowing bright with magic of a sort that sucked and sucked the life from her.

All of this she tried to push away, but she could not do it. But there in Weyden’s wings, she felt something else pressing into her. There was a comfort, a solace in being held in this way. The words in her ears reverberated through her mind, crashing down those ancient pillars, and shattering that vile Symphony. Her heart was filled with hope at each stroke, and at each touch. The fear that Elizabeth had no choice but to fill her with was gone in this hawk’s presence.

Jessica’s beak opened slightly, and a sigh emerged. Her tongue moved then, and she said, “I love you too.”

She could hear Weyden’s beak crack as well, his wings pressing all the tighter about her, the warmth of his down shutting out any of the winter. “What is the matter, Jessica? You were so buoyant at the Temple yesterday, and now..” His voice trailed off, but he stayed very close to her.

She closed her eyes then, unsure of what to say. She knew that Elizabeth had warned her not to tell any, but this was Weyden. This was the man that she loved, and who loved her back. This was the man who had left the Patildor faith and became a Lothanasi for her. Surely she could confide at least a part of it in him.

Finally, her beak moved again. “Something terrible is happening. Do you know of the Island of Manzona?”

She heard his beak clack together for a moment. “I have heard of it. It is part of the Southlands. What is happening there?”

“I do not know. Something that frightens me.”

His tongue ran over the edge of his beak. “Perhaps you could speak to my master, Ambassador Yonson. He is from the Southlands, and he might know something more than I.”

She shook her head, and pressed her beak into his wing beneath her. “I cannot. I should not have said anything at all. Oh Weyden.” she turned over, her wings pressed firmly against her back. Golden eyes met golden eyes, beak rubbed against beak. “Weyden, please tell me that you will not ever speak of that Island to any? Please?”

Weyden nodded, rubbing one of his talons up along her leg to where the feathers began and the keratin stopped. “I swear to you on my life, my precious Jessica. I shall not utter a word of what you have told me.”

Jessica felt her beak open in an avian grin then. She buried her beak into his chest feathers, trying to wrap her wings about his back as well. Her breath was heavy, the relief in her heart full and true. She stayed there for several moments, his wings wrapped about her, holding her close, his talons continuing to stroke her legs. All the while she just listened to the sound of his breath, warm atop her head.

Finally, she leaned back some, and he let her go. Her eyes filled his, and his face was all that she could see as they lay there side by side. “Would you make love to me, Weyden?”

The hawk morph paused a moment, and then he nodded, his golden eyes a comfort she could not bear to be without.