46. Secret

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It was the first time I truly regretted the tether between us. I wanted nothing more than to leap onto the back of a Gryphon and fly straight to Shade where I could shake some answers from the shapeshifter. Not that I needed to. Little Rabbit was more than willing to explain how she did it. Each word caused my panic to rise just a little higher.

"When I failed last time, I remember wishing that I could make them stop noticing where we were. Then I remember the dragoessa saying that m—the Silver Sorceress could control the senses. Well, that meant what they smelled, too, right? So when the wind changed, I thought about foxes. As clever and cautious as they are, they would not scare off most things. Then it worked!"

She was so excited, she was practically bouncing at my side as we waited for Cardan to return with Kiethe. I did my best to appear curious and encouraging, but my stomach knotted as I prepared for what was coming next.

"And then, because I made that work, I thought, why would it not work if I made the doe believe the wound was fatal? If I imagined that it had sunk in all the way into the heart, then would she believe it? If I imagined there was blood pouring out of her, would her body believe it? Then it happened! It was only when it came to her dying that I thought I might fail. If I stopped making her believe she was dying, would she realize it was not real? Then she gave her last breath and I had to make sure. But then she was gone, and I had done it."

Oh yes, she had done it. She just had not done it in the way Cardan or I was trying to teach her. Instead, she had taught herself something that scared the wits out of me. For the first time, I could understand why the dragon had wanted to kill a child. If she could do this at the age of seven, what would she be capable of at the age of fifteen? Twenty? Fifty?

I hated the thought of curbing her excitement, but if there was one thing I could not allow, it was word of this to spread. Dropping to my knees, I quickly took Little Rabbit's hands in my own and smiled at her.

"I am proud of you, my child," I assured her. "You used this tremendous Ability you have to put food in our mouths, and that is a skill that should not be ignored."

As soon as I began speaking, I could feel her excitement fading. Then she looked at me with open wariness as she asked, "What is it? Just say it."

Nodding, I said, "You must not tell anyone of this triumph, my child. Not even Mana or Raydin."

"Why? You said you were proud! You said I did well!"

"And you did, Little Rabbit! And I am. But I am also scared. This is a powerful gift. You know it is, little mage." At those words her back straightened. I pressed on, "It is tremendous magick you have used, but it is frightening. If word were to spread throughout the tribe of what it is you can do..."

Taking a deep breath, I tried to think of a way she would best understand. "If this is what your Ability can do, Little Rabbit, I am afraid others may see you as a threat. One that it is best to eliminate early, before you gain full use of your powers."

At once, her face blanched and her eyes widened. "Like the Dragon," she whispered.

"Yes. Like the dragon."

The minute she nodded and whispered that she would not tell, relief coursed through me and I pulled her into a tight hug. She was trembling and I held tighter to her. Stroking her hair, I whispered, "I am not banning you from your magick, little one. You should use it. It will protect you. All I am asking is that we keep it our secret. And once we reach the desert, you will have more privacy to practice your talents."

While the idea did not seem to comfort her in the moment, I knew it was important to make the distinction now. I would not have her resent me for something she was born with. And if there were others out there willing to kill her for being able to do it, then I would do my best to make sure she knew how to use it. She was my child, and I would protect her with every weapon at my disposal. Even if it meant teaching her to protect herself.

It was still a thought pulsing in my mind when we heard Kiethe flapping his wings as his paws hit the ground. Instead of dismounting, Cardan waved us over. Even over the sound of Kiethe's landing, Cardan's shouts were clear.

"Hurry! Ryin has returned!"

He had made the trip in nine days.

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