The white owl and Nyssa de Silva

Her magic interrupted, Nyssa de Silva shot to her feet and pointed imperiously towards the white owl that floated featherlike on the night air.

"Reveal yourself!" she barked, her bare form gilded with the moonlight and fair crackling with magic, but the owl gave a harsh cry of derision. He would not reveal himself to her; there was nothing to be gained from it. His great wings beat the air, driving Donovan away over the treetops.

And then, as though a solid rope had lashed itself around his middle, he could no longer fly freely away but was being drawn back to the camp, drawn by a magic that he could not fight. He had never been much for spells; he left them to Khoreia, enhancing only his shapeshifting; but now he wished he had learned as well as his sister, for she surely would have escaped with no trouble at all.

He was allowed a dignified landing, flapping a little awkwardly onto the rotting stump of what had once been an oak tree, but the magic did not loose its hold upon him and Madame de Silva had no mercy in her silver eyes. She advanced slowly, silver meeting orange as the pair locked their gaze, and halted out of reach of Donovan's vengeful talons or beak. A clever one, taking no chances.

"Who are you, and why do you spy?"

The owl ruffled its feathers, did not answer. Speaking when an animal was difficult; only those most advanced could overcome the problems of beak and vocal cords. Donovan himself could manage only a few words, almost unintelligible; one day he aspired to speak sentences.

The magic tightened around his form, and he squawked in discomfort despite himself.

"If you do not speak, it will be the worse for you," Nyssa said levelly, without emotion. Donovan snapped his beak in frustration, but could see only one way out. Stretching his wings, he shook away his feathery form and regained his human, squatting on the stump, naked and unashamed. But if he desired a reaction he got none; Madame de Silva remained expressionless, unimpressed.

"A Vagari shapeshifter, as the warrior said. But Borysko spoke of a woman, and you are certainly no woman."

Donovan smirked and ran a finger over one silver-lined scar on his arm, affecting disinterest.

"You speak of my sister. I have no quarrel with you myself. "

"So why do you spy?"

"Spy? I was not spying. I was merely...excercising."

"You take me for a fool. Why do you spy?"

"As I said, I was not spying."

"Why do you spy?"

The mage was implacable, convinced; the last enquiry came with a sharp tug on the magic that held him, a tug that drove the breath from his lungs and left him panting. He ground his teeth, eyes flashing.

"I do not spy! It is you who should be spying, spying for the army that comes your way!"

Immediately he regretted the words; he had denied his sister the element of suprise, given her quarry the chance to escape. She would be angry, when she caught him. If she caught him. If she guessed; she had always thought him cautious, silent.

Madame de Silva narrowed her eyes.

"You lie."

Seeing his chance, Donovan shrugged and smiled at her. If she disbelieved for long enough, his sister would still have her chance.

"My lady, I am hurt. I am not a liar."

She fixed him with a look of such hatred that he almost flinched back; but her attention was distracted by a rustle in the bushes, the sound of approaching feet. Soft and silent as the ghost of a shadow, she left Donovan tied with her magic and slid away to discover the source.

The shapeshifter, head cocked, wondering if the army had arrived already, heard her incredulous voice say "Drakon?" and grinned despite himself.

Two birds with one stone.

The End

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