"I am sorry, Madame."
The Magpie tilted its head and fixed the old healer with a sharp eye.
"Sorry, Quant? What for?"
"For...for trapping you, Madame. Without your permission."
The Magpie preened at a gleaming black-and-white wing, picking over the feathers until every one lay exactly straight as it was meant to. Only then did it look back at Quant with its shining eye.
"I believe I may forgive you, old friend. You had more sense than I did."
Relieved, Quant managed a smile. He had not wanted to offend his old friend, but there had been little choice. She had needed rest, and she would never have agreed to it.
"Thank you, Madame."
"I advise you let me out now, though, or I may rescind this pardon," the magpie informed him, and it look a brief moment for the healer to notice the teasing glint in its small black eye.
Once freed, Nyssa da Silva shimmered back into her human form and stretched luxuriously.
"Shapeshifting grows wearisome after a while," she observed with a smile. Steiffa rustled the straw in the cage and made a rude noise.
"May I come, Madame? I am so tired of the rat-shape."
Madame da Silva raised an eyebrow at her student with a faint smile. "Steiffa, you must learn to appreciate all forms, however long you remain in them. Stay a rat. It would be far too suspicious if both the circus' talking animals left at once, and you would not want suspicion to fall on our healer, would you?"
Abashed, the rat burrowed under the straw and mumbled a negative. Madame da Silva laughed.
"I promise it will not be forever. And you will have your important part, I am sure. I was glad of your company, Steiffa, and you are an intelligent student. I am sure you can learn patience in time."
The rat poked its nose from the straw and twitched its whiskers in pleasure. "Thank you, Madame!"
"It was my pleasure, Steiffa," Nyssa da Silva assured her pupil, and glanced across at Quant.
"What do you think, my healer? The falcon?"
"I believe so. Speed and sharp eyes are just what you need right now, Madame."
"As I thought," the elegant woman smiled, as she checked that the silvering on her body still held strong. She stretched once again, bent her knees-and a shining peregrine falcon launched itself into the air with a harsh cry, and swooped out of the tent. There were brief screams and cries fom outside, from those who had not excpected to have a falcon skimming their hairtops, and then Madame da Silva was gone.
Steiffa and Quant both let out melancholy sighs, although for different reasons.
"I do wish Madame had let me go with her," Steiffa mourned. "I want to find Drakon just as much as she does..."
Quant poked his old finger through the bars of the cage and rubbed the little rattie's head. "I know, Steiffa; but can you become a falcon, as she can? She does not really need a little rattie, as useful as you are in other circumstances."
"I know," Steiffa sighed. "But I am so tired of being stuck in this cage..."
"It won't be for long," Quant assured her as he shuffled away. "Now Madame is out there, I expect it will be wrapped up in fairly short order..."
Far above the circus, a falcon wheeled and cried out its harsh call before veering away towards the mass of trees that stretched to the foothills of the Mountain that towered over all, like an endless sea of green treetops that swayed like waves in the growing wind. The falcon rode the winds, and its sharp eyes saw every leaf on those tossing treetops, and stared through them to see the movement of humans beneath.