Table of Contents
G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS A division of Penguin Young Readers Group.
Published by the Penguin Group. Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.). Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England. Penguin Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd). Penguin Books Australia Ltd, 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd). Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110 017, India. Penguin Group (NZ), Cnr Airborne and Rosedale Roads, Albany, Auckland 1310, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd). Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa. Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England.
Copyright © 2007 Laini Taylor.
eISBN : 978-1-101-09951-3
In gratitude to my parents
for a childhood of books and journeys,
and to Jim,
for art and gondola rides and more art,
Thanks go out to my helpful readers: Alexandra Saperstein, whose enthusiasm is like magical writing adrenalin; Jim Di Bartolo, my husband, favorite artist, and action scene consultant; Patti Taylor, my mother, who’s just a little too fond of Batch; and Abigail Samoun, whose feedback in the early days was like a map in a labyrinth.
Thanks also to the SCBWI, without which I would never have met my agent, Jane Putch, or my editor, Timothy Travaglini, neither of whom I can ever thank enough for turning my manuscript into a real book. I shall try, on an ongoing basis, to express my gratitude with cookies.
The wolf tasted the babe’s face with the tip of his tongue and pronounced her sweet, and the fox licked the back of her head to see if it was so. For the rest of her life, when this child grew into a faerie with bright eyes and a laugh as loud and unladylike as a crow’s, that spot on her hair would never lie flat. And though she wouldn’t remember the night the creatures had gathered round to look at her and taste and smell her, she would call those unruly hairs her foxlick, without knowing why.
The branches overhead thrummed with birds. They would wait their turn but they wouldn’t be quiet about it. No matter. The creatures weren’t worried about being interrupted by faeries. The imp had smuggled the babe far from home, floating her down Misky Creek on a linden leaf so that this unusual starlight gathering would draw no unwanted notice. The creatures had her for the night, and by morning she would be back snug in her cradle with no one the wiser.
“Shall we begin?” asked the imp, nuzzling the babe’s pink cheeks with her whiskers and making her laugh. “Who’ll go first?”
They all clamored to go first. Fur brushed against hide, tusks clashed with horns as they pressed nearer, eager and gentle. Most of these creatures would be long dead by the time this babe had grown up and taken her place in the world. But they would give her their blessings in turn and hope they helped her make her way.
There would never be another chance. So much depended on this tiny faerie whom dreams had at last made real.
“Devils!” screamed the fishermen, pointing at the sky.
Magpie Windwitch didn’t know many human words, but she knew this one,
in more than twenty of their languages, though this was the first time she’d been called one herself.
“Foolish mannies!” she scoffed, looking down at them from the sky where she was circling their fishing boat amid a swirl of crows.
“Aieeee!” the humans wailed, dropping to their knees to pray.
Certainly it was strange to see crows this far out over the open ocean, but to call them devils, that was going a bit far. Magpie shook her head and signaled to the crows to turn away. This wasn’t the boat they sought anyway. The boat they sought would be empty, forsaken by its fishermen and left to drift.
The boat they sought had met a real devil.
The crows rose up and the West Wind gathered them again into his arms and surged across the sky. Behind them the fishermen lay slouched and gasping against the rails of their boat, their turbans unwinding in the wind. They were right to fear devils. Magpie had a hunter’s respect for fear: it sharpened the senses. But those fishermen, she didn’t doubt, for all their prayers and worry, wouldn’t hesitate to uncork any strange bottle they fished out of the ocean, just to see what was inside. It happened all the time these days, and the devils were just delighted.
She fixed her eyes fiercely on the sea and scanned its breadth between identical horizons, back and forth. It had been days since her grandfather the West Wind had heard the albatross’s rumor of an abandoned boat adrift at sea. In the time it had taken him to find her and bring her here, it could have drifted anywhere. The sea was a vast hunting ground and she was getting nervous. Though the wind held the crows aloft in his airy arms, they weren’t made for such long flight and would still grow tired in time. They needed to find that boat.
“How you holding up, my feather?” she asked the crow she rode upon, stroking his sleek head with both hands.
“Like a leaf on a breeze,” he answered in his singsong voice. “A champagne bubble. A hovering hawk. A cloud! Nothing to it!”
“So you say. But I’m no tiny sprout anymore, Calypso, and sure you can’t carry me forever.”
“Piff! Ye weigh no more than a dust mouse, so hush yer spathering. ’Twill be a sore day for me when I can’t carry my ’Pie.”
Magpie went back to scanning the sea, her chin resting on Calypso’s head. Ever since she was a tiny thing she’d loved riding him, but as she grew up she did so less and less, generally flying alongside him instead. Her own dragonfly wings were sleek as blades, many-paned like stained glass and as swift as any wings under the sun or moon. But she was tired, still drained from a two-day chase in the desert. That scarab devil had given her a time, to be sure, so she hadn’t put up a fuss when Calypso insisted on carrying her.
As far as her keen eyes could tell, the surface of the sea spread out empty all around them. They flew on, deeper into the vastness of it.
An hour passed before at last Magpie spotted a listing, slack-sailed boat. The crows circled, heaving and panting, and dropped out of the arms of the wind to go in for a closer look. Magpie stood up on Calypso’s back. She took one step into thin air and plummeted some thirty feet straight down before flicking her wings open like a fan and coming in for a sharp landing on the boat’s rail. She crouched, paused, then prowled forward like a creature, ready to spring into the air if surprised.
The boat seemed empty. Magpie waved and all seven crows came in to land. Seeing nothing amiss on deck, they cautiously descended into the fishing boat’s small cabin. There they found signs of recent human habitation: tobacco, dirty tin cups, a backgammon board open on the table. On the same table Magpie found just what she was looking for and had hoped
to find. She had hoped this would turn out to be some human mystery of no interest to herself or any of her kind. But that was not the case.
Lying on its side on the table was a tarnished silver flask with a long neck and elegant scrolled handle. Its wax seal had been broken and lay in two pieces beside it. She and Calypso exchanged a somber look.
“Might just be a coffeepot,” the crow offered hopefully. He had a chip in the left side of his beak that made him seem perpetually to grin.
Magpie’s eyes swept over the table and settled on the two halves of the seal. She took it up in her hands and her face paled. “It’s no coffeepot,” she said.
“What is it, ’Pie?” Calypso asked, hopping toward her. The other crows crowded in, curious.
“What ye got, Mags? Eh, Mags?” asked the smallest one, Pup, in a quiver of spasmodic energy.
Magpie held the pieces together. Emblazoned in the wax was a hand in the center of a flame. “It’s the Magruwen’s seal,” she said in a hushed voice.
“The Magruwen?” they all squawked, puffing up their feathers.
“The Djinn King?” gasped Pup’s brother, Pigeon.
“B-but . . . ,” Calypso stammered, “I never heard of him trifling with devils!”
“Nor I.” Magpie was solemn, looking around the small cabin. Aside from the seal, there was no evidence a devil had even been here. The odor was usually overwhelming when a devil had freshly been freed from thousands of years stewing in its own stench, but she smelled nothing. She sat back on her heels.
She’d caught quite a few devils since she got started hunting them eight years ago. The scarab devil had made twenty-three, which was, as far as she knew, twenty-three more than any other living faerie had caught. That was twenty-three ancient bottles fished up by humans and twenty-three broken seals. None of those had borne the sigil of the Magruwen. Magpie knew the legends of the devil wars better than anyone, and in none of them did the great Djinn King himself stoop to wrestling snags into their prisons. That had always been the work of his champion, Bellatrix, the greatest faerie of all legend, and the champions of the other six Djinn.
“What grim beast could need so strong a seal?” Calypso whispered, peering around the cabin. “Think it’s still aboard?”
“Neh,” Magpie said. “It’s gone.” She felt no devilish presence. In fact, but for the missing fishermen there seemed nothing at all wrong. She had seen the aftermath of plenty of devil escapes and they all had two things in common: blood and stench. Here were neither of those and yet a shiver gripped her spine. For here was something she had never expected to see: the Magruwen’s seal upon a snag’s prison. It shivered her to think what could have been inside it.
Something on the floor caught her eye and she leapt down to it. “Flummox me . . . ,” she said. The crows swooped down too.
Four pairs of battered canvas shoes were arranged around the table with their toes pointed inward, as if the fishermen had gathered here to open the bottle they’d pulled up in their nets. Whatever had been inside, it had been there for a long, long time, and it had come out hungry. Calypso whistled low. “Snatched ’em right out of their slippers,” he said.
“Why’d they let it out?” Pup wanted to know. “Why do they