It’s harder than you might think to find scenes that can stand on their own without much context. But here’s another one from WAR OF MAGIC to whet your appetite for the whole story.
A few days later, they stood at the top of the bluff at the end of the northern headland. They’d last been here when they were helping to unblock the shipping channel following a landslide. It had been hard enough looking down at the turbulent waters at the mouth of the bay then. Now, he was going to actually have to try to fly out over all that water. Vatar swallowed hard.
Thekila patted his chest and held up the metal-studded leather straps she’d had made. “Don’t worry. If anything goes wrong, I’ll catch you by this harness. It worked for Quetza and me. It’s been working for Theklan, by his reports. It’ll work for you, too. I’m very good at distant manipulation, remember?”
Meaning that she would use her magic to keep him from falling into the water if he dropped out of the sky. The harness was necessary because that particular kind of magic didn’t work on living things. “You know I trust you.” Vatar closed his eyes so the abrupt change in height wouldn’t make him dizzy before he even started and concentrated on the form of a white eagle. In his mind, he put himself into that image, pushing through the discomfort of the Transformation.
Thekila slipped the top strap of the harness around his neck. The bits of leather had looked entirely inadequate before, but they were in better scale with him in this form. She knelt down to fasten the belt that ran beneath his wings and paused to stroke his breast feathers. “I never knew how soft those feathers are.” She grinned impishly as he shivered at the touch. “Hard to tell from the inside.”
She double checked the two straps, one in the front and one in the back, which connected the collar and the belt, making a minor adjustment in the back. Then she stepped back. “All right, you’re set. Now all you have to do is spread your wings and step over the edge. Then I can help you learn to fly.”
That’s all, huh? Vatar hopped forward and turned his bird’s head sideways to look down, unsure if he was more afraid of the waves or the drop. This felt like it was higher than the tower prison he’d escaped the first time he used this form. With a deep breath, he spread his wings and launched into the air. He expected the drop this time and was reassured when the warm updraft caught his wings and held him aloft. He tilted one wing downward so he could spiral back up above the level of the bluff top.
Thekila watched him. Good. You soar very well, she said through their bond. Now, let’s try flying.
Vatar started to flap his wings. Just as had when he tried flying . . . soaring over the river during his escape, he dropped, not quite like a rock. He spread his wings again, to regain the updraft. A freak gust of wind pushed him toward the cliff face. He closed his wings to keep from breaking a bird-fragile bone. And then he tumbled downward, spinning dizzily as he fell. Before he could spread his wings again, he jerked to a stop. He could feel the pull on the harness as he rose again. The harness—no, Thekila manipulating the harness—turned him over so that he was looking down into the water instead of at an odd angle of sky and much-too-close cliff-face. Forcing himself to breathe slowly, he started to spread his wings.
No, leave them furled. It will be easier to pull you up without the wind fighting me, Thekila said through their bond. It’s harder to move something that’s moving on its own.
So he lay limp and let her do the work. She lifted him slowly. He knew she could have pulled him up much more quickly, but . . . he was glad she didn’t. Even though he would have been going up, not down, it would have been just a little too much like that helpless fall toward the waves below. He swallowed hard at the thought.
“Well, that didn’t go very well,” Thekila said once his feet were on solid ground again. She started to reach for the harness straps, then paused. “Can you show me what you were doing? Maybe I can figure out how to help you.”
Vatar nodded. As soon as his breathing had slowed, he lifted his wings and flapped rising slightly on his toes.
“Ah, that’s the problem. Birds don’t just flap, there’s a little twist . . . Here, let me show you.” She flowed, from her feet to her head, into the shape of a white eagle of ordinary size and leapt upward, flying circles around Vatar’s much-larger eagle with powerful strokes. Now watch carefully. You have to push back a little on the down stroke—just a little—and fold your wings a little on the up stroke. See how my wing twists a little with each stroke. That’s what you need to do.
I think I see, Vatar responded, starting to raise his wings.
Not yet, Thekila said. Wait until I get back up there, in case I need to catch you. Oh, and watch how I land, too. The first landings tend to be pretty rough, speaking from experience.
With powerful strokes, she rose up a little higher than the cliff face. Then, as she approached the ground, she changed the angle of her wings so that she was nearly upright, rather than horizontal as in flight, and set down lightly on the ground. She shifted back to her normal shape. “Are you sure you want to try anything more today? That was pretty scary.”
Vatar was seriously tempted to agree with her. His heartbeat had still not slowed to its normal pace. But he knew better. It wasn’t any different, really, than learning to ride. When you fell off your horse—unless you were seriously injured—you had to get right back on. Otherwise, if you gave yourself time to think about it too much, it would just be harder the next time. And this time . . . if he waited until tomorrow, he’d never fly. And he was not about to let Thekila fly over ships under Gerusa’s control, ships carrying Exiles, without him to back her up.
That didn’t mean he needed to spend a lot more time in eagle form. But he did have to go off that cliff one more time before he let this shape go. No. Give me a moment. I want to try what you just showed me while it’s fresh in my mind.
It was harder to use the breathing exercises in bird form, but Vatar did his best. After a few moments he hopped back to the cliff’s edge. Taking one last, deep breath, he spread his wings and jumped off. He spread his wings and the rising air current kept him from falling. One more deep breath and he tried the wing movement Thekila had demonstrated. He didn’t fall. He didn’t really fly either. That would imply forward movement and he wasn’t making much of that, either. Still, he was willing to settle for not falling after his last attempt.
Good, come back in, now and try a landing, Thekila told him. You don’t want to overdo it on your first flight. Trust me, even your arms will get tired at first. We’ll try loosening up your muscles by running a little as lions after you land.
That sounded like an excellent idea. Best stay away from the edge of the cliff while we run, he responded to that last comment.
Thekila laughed. Yes, I think so.
Vatar spread his wings to soar again, circled until he was facing the bluff, and tried to copy Thekila’s landing. He pitched forward. All right, he was going to have to work on that, too. At least he was back on solid ground again.
Thekila undid the straps on the harness and stepped back. Vatar released his concentration and returned to his true shape.
Thekila hugged him hard. “I think that may be one of the bravest things I’ve seen you do. And that’s saying something.”