Three nations teeter on the brink of war, and caught in the middle, a brother and sister find themselves surrounded by dangers they never imagined.
Adopted by the Yurha, Toby still struggles to properly fit in. Hunting in the forest, he stumbles across a jeweled cuff that attaches to his wrist and won’t come off. Afraid at first, he is soon thrilled to discover the cuff carries powerful magic. But as he tries to control it, he realizes the cuff is still linked to its original owner – an owner who will go to cruel lengths to get his magic back.
Miles away, Toby’s twin sister Ora struggles with life in a strange city. She and family have fled Yois for Nietza, where Ora will not be arrested for possessing magic. However, Nietza is not the magical paradise Ora had imagined. Despite her new friends, she can’t feel safe in a country where women are little more than pawns.
Secrets, brutal murders and war edging ever closer drive both siblings from their safe places. Failure to stop those who pursue them will mean a fate worse than death.
Toby worked at the wrist cuff, but it hardly budged. It had become something like a piece of his arm.
Leaves shuddered overhead. A pair of squirrels raced over the branches, chittering. Toby sat alone against the bole of a tree, a half mile or so from the settlement. No sign of an oversized hawk, but he had a better idea than scanning the branches. He’d ended up inside the hawk’s mind before. He thought he could do it again.
He stripped away his leggings and loin cloth and laid them beside him. Naked, he shivered, despite the unusual heat of the mid-autumn day. A thrill of fear coursed through him at the other part of his plan. The memory of pale fur sprouting across his arm stuck hard in Toby’s head. If it means what I think it means, the thought drifted as Toby steadied his breathing. He pressed his back against the rough bark and sank into the wrist cuff.
The wellspring of magic nearly swallowed him. He tried to imitate what Kyat had done, pushing his awareness away from the crystals, and into the metal. A different power, with the taste of metal, stung him.
Blackness swallowed him. He fought to stay aware. Everything shifted, spun, and someone else’s mind swept over and around him. He glimpsed scaled claws and dark feathers. The hawk.
He watched through the creature’s eyes, and felt what it felt. Spasms wracked its body. One claw flattened, flexed, the scales melting away to reveal a misshapen foot. Toby cried out at the pain of even that small success. Then the foot twitched and turned back into a claw, and with a strangled cry, the hawk took flight.
Toby was thrown back into his body. He knew the hawk hid somewhere at the north-eastern edge of the pack’s territory, where the hills began to give way to mountains. He’d also learned something else; the feel of a type of magic he’d never experienced before. He sent his mind back into the wrist cuff.
He pushed away the bits of his magic, and other magics he couldn’t name. In the midst of those, the cuff held a bundle of power that curled and writhed. Shifting magic.
To wear fur and run on all fours. To howl and tumble with his brothers. To run with the pack during full moon hunts, and take down a deer with his teeth. To be a wolf, like his family. To be truly one of them.
Toby willed every ounce of those thoughts into the magic and spread it through his body.
A cramp struck his lower belly and doubled him over, then dropped him to his knees. His chest tightened and, for a moment, panic seized him, and he wanted to shove the magic away.
He breathed slowly while spasms wracked his body. The bones in his legs cracked first, shifting, and forcing him to stand awkwardly on his hands and feet. Then his arms and back twisted. His face crunched, stretched. His shoulders popped. Fur grew, like tiny pins bursting out of his skin. The whine of an animal spilled from his throat.
S. M. Pace lives with her husband in the wilds of Virginia, along with a pond full of fish, a turtle and too many squirrels. When she’s not writing, she’s wrangling a dozen pre-schoolers, learning a new recipe or reading.
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