Edit April 2010: FFN decided to eat all the scene dividers so I'm having to go back and add them all in again. I'm also removing the review responses. NOTHING ELSE HAS BEEN ALTERED; if you've read this story before, you don't need to read it again (although you're more than welcome to).
Author's Note: As the summary says, this is Wild Magic from Numair's point of view. Like many people, I happen to think he's a brilliant character who doesn't get enough screen time (as it were), and you have to admit that a lot of fun stuff happens to him. I will be covering all four of the Immortals books from Numair's point of view eventually. At this moment in time, Wild Magic and Emperor Mage are both complete, and Realms of the Gods is about half-done; I haven't started Wolf-Speaker yet, since it's the one I'm going to struggle most with, but I've just finished re-reading it and I think I know what I'm doing for most of it.
This first chapter is a little clumsy, but it's quite difficult to write from the point of view of someone who was on drugs at the time! I did want to start with Numair's mission to spy on Sinthya, rather than its aftermath, but TP didn't go into much detail and when I tried to make it up myself I couldn't seem to get it right. This is also going to be a very short chapter, since it seemed to make more sense to stop once he'd shifted back; think of it more as a prologue than an actual chapter. I promise, the writing improves when I have actual dialogue to work with!
Obligatory Disclaimer: Not mine. I would hope you already knew that.
He woke as someone slapped his face, hard. I've had better mornings, he thought dizzily, struggling to focus on the man grinning nastily at him. Slowly, details emerged from the fog that filled his head. This man had the Gift, quite strongly. That wasn't good. He felt nauseous and sleepy, which was worse. Also, he couldn't seem to move; a momentary experiment confirmed that he was chained – and naked, incidentally – which meant a dungeon, since his hobbies weren't that exotic. That was very bad indeed.
A few more memories trickled back to him. I'm in Sinthya's dungeons. He remembered now; he'd been on a spying mission, trying to trace rumours that the lord was dealing with Carthak, and he'd been caught – hit with a drug-tipped dart, of all things, as he tried to make a run for it. He had the proof he'd needed, although he couldn't seem to remember the details right now; he'd also learned about these dungeons. No, he really did not want to be here; he had to get away with what he knew. He began struggling in earnest, memories filtering through the haze, remembering the last time he'd been trapped in a dungeon by a sadist. No. No.
There was laughter, and someone holding his head, fingers painfully tight in his hair. Fingers wrenching his jaws apart, the bitterness of more drugs on his tongue as he fought not to swallow. The dizziness and nausea increased and he tried in vain to remember a spell, any spell at all. He had to get away. There was more laughter, and the voice of Sinthya himself, giving a harsh instruction that he couldn't hear.
Someone took a firm grip on his arm, stretching the limb out, and out further, to the point of discomfort. The hands tightened, then wrenched, and he heard a dull snap as his hand went numb; a moment later the pain hit him. He dimly heard his own voice, a strangled grunt; another snap, more pain, a whimper. A third, and the pain was blinding, and he screamed.
Panic took him. He'd been tortured in a dungeon before; he could not go through it again. Have to get away. Have to. The pain had cleared his mind, a little; he could remember some things now. Break the chains? He'd hurt himself, maybe. Someone twisted his broken arm and he screamed again. Escape. He had to shapeshift, fly, there was no other way to get away. A small voice at the back of his mind tried to tell him why it was a bad idea, but he was terrified now and started to shift with the strength of desperation.
The chains wrenched agonisingly at his limbs, but the manacles couldn't hold his altered bone structure. The broken arm was extremely bad, but there was no choice. The dizziness suddenly grew worse as his shape settled, and for a moment he realised why he shouldn't have shifted; too many drugs for a small body and a bird's metabolism. Too late. Everything was swallowed in the rush of fear and he took wing.
The world spun crazily again, the sky flashing strange colours. For a moment he almost thought he was flying under water. The pain was a background pulse now, not important compared to what was chasing him through this nightmare. All he could remember was that these things were hunting him, and that he must not let them catch him, that there were people he had to find. Who they were, why he had to find them and why the monsters were chasing him were details that had long since dissolved in the fizzing mess of his mind. He didn't even know who he was any more.
Flashes of light almost blinded him and he swerved wildly, his hurt wing unable to give the lift he needed and causing him to falter and almost fall. The pursuing wingbeats grew louder, rising to almost a roar, the noise a physical pulse against his body that felt as though it should bruise. Something screamed in a distorted voice; it might have been him, or one of the monsters. How long had he been flying away from them? Years, decades, seconds. Help me! he screamed silently.
Tree branches reached out, long fingers trying to grab him, to hold him for the monsters to eat. Cage bars. He saw clear air and open space; it seemed to be filled with sparkling mist, but he flew that way anyway, bursting out into bright overwhelming light that hurt his eyes and made everything spin until he wasn't sure which way he was going.
A shrill whistling sound cut through the air. Was it more monsters? They were right behind him! The whistle made him remember something, a woman training a dog; he knew the sound and tried to look at it. The monsters had turned, they were looking at the whistling as well, they weren't looking at him; he dropped away from the sparkling air that had held him, fell into the clasping fingers of the reeds and saw darkness, dived into its embrace and collapsed.
He huddled in the darkness, shivering, listening to the monsters screaming as they tried to find him. After a while – a few heartbeats, an eternity – there was silence again, blissful, warm silence that wrapped around him; the monsters had gone and there was only the pain that beat through his body with his blood and a lingering fear.
The silence fractured and broke apart; someone was out there, back in the light. He panicked briefly, but the face that stared into his hiding place wasn't that of the monsters. Was she one of the people he had to find? No, he'd never seen her before. Something strange... He stared at her, trying to make sense of it; he saw a human but felt an animal. She felt... safe. Whoever, whatever, she was, a hawk could trust her.
Meaningless noises reached him, the sounds almost visible as solid safety somehow. She reached out and he let her pull him from his hiding place, shivering as he tried to breathe, staring at her. More sounds, one or two seeming familiar and making him think of the woman with the dog again; he wondered who that was. It seemed he should know. Then it wasn't important, because this one was talking about pain, and he trembled as the message reached him; this was going to hurt, but it wasn't like before, this pain was needed and not enjoyed.
It did hurt, and he shrieked once, a sharp note that hurt his ears even though it was his own voice, but then it was done and the reeds clutched his wing and held it. And she was talking again, and they were moving, pushing through the sunlight to... the woman with the dog. He did know her, or thought he did; there was a very faint echo of the safe feeling he got from the first human. Safe.
Slow movement through the rest of the day, and his mind had calmed a little, enough that he accepted the horses surrounding him and began to remember a few odd details. They didn't fit anywhere yet, but they would eventually. Darkness fell, which was good because the world had been spinning slowly around him and shimmering oddly, and the dog woman made light ahead of her that tugged at him. He knew that light, it meant something important.
Later, the first one spoke to him again, the one who felt so animal. She mentioned the monsters once and made him shudder, but most of what she said was just noise, and that was bad because he almost understood her – almost – but she wasn't speaking properly to him. Or he wasn't hearing her properly, maybe. It made his head ache, trying to listen.
She was trying to give him something now, holding it out to him. He couldn't tell what it was, but something in him made him turn away from it; he knew he'd be ill if he took it, that it would somehow hurt. Everything hurt. She kept trying, and it seemed to be important, but they couldn't understand one another and he didn't know what she wanted.
Darkness and light had blurred together now and he had lost track of what was going on. Vaguely he recalled that monsters had been after him, and that he needed to go somewhere; he didn't know why the dog woman and the one who felt safe were here now. Something wasn't right any more, he couldn't really see them now and the world around him looked so strange that he was sure he wasn't seeing it properly, but he didn't know what was wrong. There was pain, somewhere, but he couldn't feel that either now. Everything seemed too hot or too cold, and very far away.
Someone else was there now, with the other two. This new person touched him, and he stared at her blankly, then blinked as a haze of purple filled his vision. He knew her, he realised, like the dog woman only more so, and he felt pleased to see her in a way he couldn't define.
A voice called him, after a while. Everything was very dark now, and further away than before. He wanted to answer the voice just so it would leave him alone, but he couldn't find his own voice; it was lost in the darkness somewhere with him. He was lost. Trapped, in the dark... The voice sounded again, and something stirred in the dark around him; power. He knew how to answer that, strangely. Wavering, he reached...
The darkness broke up, and sudden awareness crashed down on him, memory of who he was and who everyone else was. Friends, and safety. He smiled with relief, was vaguely aware of saying something, then darkness took him once more.
Well, there you have it. As I said, it's very short and fairly strange, but I promise it gets better from now on. Please review and let me know what you think. I don't know how often I'll be updating, but I swear it won't be too long before the next part is uploaded.