Waxwing (Part 3)
Mali followed the cormorant into the night sky. Though she grieved the loss of her mother, she relished in the power she’d inherited, her wings beating the air. Ordinarily she would not have been able to see the cormorant’s dark body in the night, but his underbelly was lit up with an orange glow. Mali looked down. Fires burned in the city below. What was going on?
The cormorant winged his way to the outskirts of the city, where the richest made their homes, and roosted on an opulent rooftop patio. He began to change, and Mali averted her eyes, as was custom, before changing herself. When she stood a girl again, she was startled to see the man the cormorant had become watching her as if he had the right.
“Do you like it?” He asked in cultured accents, raising his hands to indicate the property around them. “We call it the Linden Tree. Been in my family for generations.”
“Who are you?” And what do you want from me?
“Why, I’m George Linden, of the Rutherford Lindens. Your mother and I are old friends.” He put a manicured hand on her shoulder and steered her towards a small table overlooking the edge of the rooftop. Meticulously landscaped grounds stretched as far as she could see. From here, one would never know the turmoil of the inner city.
“Please sit. You must be tired and thirsty.” He picked up a carafe from the table and poured her a glass of something translucent that smelled of anise.
“Thank you.” Mali said, taking the chair but not the drink. “I am sorry to say that my mother is no longer with us.”
Linden bowed his head. “I was the shadow of the waxwing slain/ By the false azure in the windowpane.”
Though the words were beautiful, they chilled Mali to the bone. How had Linden known the falcons were coming for her? Perhaps they were working together, the obvious evil pushing her into the arms of the subtle. She rubbed her new tattoo and looked at him, waiting.
“It is a great loss. Your mother was a revolutionary. Truly one of a kind. Did you know anything of her work?”
“She never talked about it. She never talked about anything.”
“Your mother loved you very much. She only wanted to protect you. After you survived the Gundarian epidemic, she swore she would never leave your life to fate again. Thus, I was named your guardian, in the event of her untimely death.”
“Untimely? You make it sound as if she were murdered. She was elderly, Mr. Linden. She’d earned her peace.”
“Elderly?” Linden laughed. “She was thirty-two.”
Mali stared at him in horror. Mother’s skin had been like tissue paper roped with knotted blue veins. Her snow white hair so thin it revealed her scalp. “You lie.”
“Mali your mother sheltered you from some hard truths.”
“Like the fact she was a criminal.” A peregrine stepped out of the shadows, his gun trained on Linden. His face was streaked with sweat, and he smelled of the blood and ashes that stained his clothing.
“You!” Linden rose from his seat, face contorted with fury.
“Sit,” said the kestrel. He turned to Mali. “Your mother went blind because she’d dared look upon what no eyes should behold. She spent years gathering occult powers into herself, heedless of the toll. And when she died she passed those powers into you. And it’s ”
“It’s true,” Linden interrupted, spreading his hands wide. “The city is falling into ruin. It needs a strong leader. With my guidance, you could be that leader.”
“Don’t listen to him, he only wants to use you. He’ll ruin you.”
“And you won’t?”
“Mali, you fell from innocence the moment your mother’s power transferred to you. The corruption can be cleansed; but only by an act of selflessness.”
“What was the very first thing you did as a Waxwing? You shot my brother in the gut. He’s dying.”
Mali gasped. She had. And she’d forgotten. How could she have forgotten?
“You haven’t even thought of him once, have you? If you want to save yourself, you must save him.”