One of the first things Guin and I had learned was a simple hiding spell. Each of us was jealous of her meager treasures: trinkets and scraps the ravens brought us, fleeting perfumes or rare music of the world below. We hid them all from one another in secret caches of enchanted air and stone, and took them out to fawn over in private moments when the other slept. We both were good at it, but only I learned how to hide things in my own skin.
When Tom presented me with the feathers, smoking with his own strange and unsuspected magic, my first concern was to hide them from Guin. I worked the little spell that would bind them in the tender flesh of my forearms. They settled there like hot brands, tattooed on my skin, and I fastened my teeth in the dark wool of Tom’s coat to stop from crying out. The spell had never hurt me before. Even more alarming was my inability to reverse it.
“What villainy is this?” I whispered, when I could catch my breath. “Look at my arms!”
The feathers lay inked in intricate detail, one on each inner arm, from wrist to crook of elbow. They flooded my veins with a sweet, wild urge to cast myself on the surging currents of the night wind, and I trembled violently from crown to toes.
“I’m sorry, my love,” Tom said, and kissed the top of my head. “It will be better in a minute. What is a little pain, a little discomfort, in exchange for the gift of flight?”
I pulled away from him. “I will be able to fly from the tower with you? Tell me how.”
He smiled a thin, secretive smile. “It’s very simple, Bella. You have only to step out onto the air.” His tone was wry. “Of course, it requires tremendous power. There is only one way to generate it.“
“What do I need?”
“One beating heart, forever silenced.” I followed his gaze to where Guin lay in the moon-fired mantle of her hair.
It is no easy thing to kill a witch, even a weakened one, and Guin and I were evenly matched. Tom could not, or would not, help me. It needed guile to see the deed done. My sister would have to assist in her own murder.
One of the few objects we shared was a gold sewing scissors. I went to her and held it out on my palm.
“Sister,” I said, “I think I know of a way to escape the tower.”
She looked into my eyes, hope and suspicion warring in her own. I reached out and touched the combs that held her braid against her head in a great spiral.
“Let down your hair,” I said.
Guin understood as well as I that a woman’s hair shivers and sparks with power. Her hands went to the silver combs, but her gaze never left the scissors.
“What do you plan, Isabella?”
I made snipping motions in the air.
“We are going to cut off our hair and make a magic rope,” I said.
And so, for the second and final time, we combined our powers. We wove the rope of flame and snow, our shorn heads bent together in concentration so that we barely noticed Tom lying silent and feverish, his face turned to the wall.
Guin held up the heavy length of braid, nearly ten feet of twisted hair and magic. The air around it snapped with blue sparks.
“Do you think it will work?” she asked.
“Yes. Tonight, when the moon is high, it will do just as it is meant to do.”
From his nest of blankets, Tom gave a hoarse bark of laughter.
Did I promise the conclusion? Alas, stories take the time they take, and this one will need another night in the workroom for completion. Come to me again, and I will show you the finished pretty. What is one more revolution of shadows in the Palace of Night?