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Nightbane: Chapter 41

ARMOR

It was time to have armor made for Lynx. She had practiced riding him in the forest, up hills, down steep cliffsides. With every session, his disdain for her dimmed, little by little. He almost seemed pleased that she was now able to stay tethered to him, no matter how fast he ran.

“See?” she had told him the last time. “I can hold on now.”

He had promptly taken a hard turn, which had her falling straight into a stream.

As long as he wasn’t intentionally trying to throw her off, she felt confident she could bring him into battle.

Wren was training with the other Wildling warriors when she found her.

“I want to have armor made for him,” Isla explained. “I was hoping to get your advice on what that would look like.”

Wren frowned. “You don’t need to have it made,” she said.

“I—”

“Lynx already has armor.”

Isla slowly turned to look at the leopard, and he just blinked at her.

“He does?”

Wren nodded. The light in her expression suddenly dimmed. “He fought bravely. With . . . your mother.”

“Fought who?” she asked, bewildered.

The Wildling smiled. “It’s quite a story. I would be happy to tell it to you.”

She wanted to hear it more than anything . . . but not now. Not when every hour mattered. Less than a week remained before the battle. “Another time, I would be very grateful to hear it,” she said. “Do you know where the armor is?”

Wren led her to a store of weaponry. There were dozens of swords, sets of armor, and shields. In the very back were enormous sheets of metal that could only fit a very specific, easily annoyed creature.

Isla had to focus for several seconds before she was able to shakily use her Starling energy to move the armor onto Lynx. It included iron plates down his sides and around his front and neck. It even had small holes for his pointed ears and a place for her to sit. Wren helped her put the piece together, and once they were finished, Isla took a step back.

“Don’t you look menacing,” she said.

Lynx made a sound of approval. He seemed to like being back in his armor. He lowered his head, motioning for her to get on his back, and she did.

“Thank you!” she told Wren, as Lynx took off.

He raced out of the structure, into the forest. Isla gripped the strange saddle, finding it made holding on infinitely easier.

She bent her head down low as they shot through the brush. The first few times, she had felt afraid of being so high up, but now she felt safe. Protected.

Lynx slowed in the middle of a clearing. He bent his head, his silent request for her to jump off. She did.

There was nothing around. What did he want to show her?

Usually, Lynx would have straightened by now, but his head was still bent. She touched between his eyes, silently asking what he wanted, and went rigid.

Her sight was taken away. No—replaced. She was in the same clearing, but it looked different. There were more trees. The grass looked healthier.

There was a girl. Her? It looked just like her. But she didn’t have those clothes . . . she didn’t often walk with her hands on her hips.

The image became clearer, and her voice shook as she said, “Is that—is that . . .”

Her mom.

She had never seen her mom before. There weren’t any paintings of her. Terra and Poppy hadn’t given a description, beyond once commenting that she had her mother’s face.

Now, she saw it clearly. Lynx was showing her.

Her mother was far more beautiful. She had tanner skin and thicker hair. It was shinier. Her eyes were a lighter green. They had the same lips, though. Same high cheekbones. Slightly different noses.

“Lynx, come on,” her mother was saying. “Terra’s going to have both our heads.”

The image disappeared, and Isla started to protest, until it was replaced by another one.

It was her mother again, but this time, there was someone else too. A man with black hair and lighter skin. He was looking at her mother the way Oro looked at Isla. Like he would gladly lay his life down for hers.

The image shifted, and there was crying. Her parents were holding a little bundle between them, looking like they might burst from happiness.

Isla fell to her knees. Tears streamed down her cheeks, into the grass in front of her. She could barely speak. “You—you met me,” she finally said.

Lynx had seen her as a baby.

That was right before her parents were killed. He must not have been there, because Isla knew for certain that he would have done everything he could to protect her mother.

Did he feel shame? Guilt? Had he partially blamed Isla for her mother’s death? Or did he blame her father?

Lynx made a soft sound as he bent down and wiped her tears away with his fur, on the parts that weren’t covered by iron. He ended up swiping his wet nose across her face, and she sputtered.

“Thank you for showing me,” she finally said. She wasn’t sure how exactly the bonded connection worked, but she felt grateful for it. “I never knew her, but . . . I think this would have made her happy. Us . . . finding each other.”

Lynx closed his eyes for a long time, and she could feel his grief like it was her own. She pressed her cheek against his and for a while, it was just them, in the clearing, sharing a memory between them.

When the sun went down, Isla portaled them back to her room. Lynx sat curled in his favorite corner as she stared at her swords, contemplating which ones to bring into battle. There was a whisper of movement behind her, and she turned, mid-sentence.

Only to see that Lynx had been replaced by someone else entirely.


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