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The Boi of Feather and Steel


Tav was dreaming.

The river was frozen over with thick black ice. When they knelt down, they could see blue-and-white flames trapped under the surface. They placed a palm over the ice, feeling the cold burn like fire. The flames flickered wildly, trying to reach their hand.

A hairline crack snaked its way between their feet. Tav stepped back, uneasy. As they watched in horror, the river tore itself in two, ice and water and earth splitting apart. Tav stumbled and fell, narrowly avoiding the spears of ice stabbing the air like a fractured bone puncturing skin.

A great chasm stretched across the frozen river. Tav found themselves on one side of the fierce water, which gushed through a cracked mirror of black ice.

A boy climbed out of the depths of a world splintered by frost and starlight.

Cam. Eyes like stone, hard and cold. Blue veins glistening on exposed skin.

Cradled in his arms lay the crumpled body of a girl, a sprig of hawthorn growing from her chest.

She was dying.

“I brought your heart,” he said, stepping onto Tav’s side of the river. The curve of his smile was a fishhook. He stopped an arms’ length from where Tav crouched, their fingernails etching lines into the crystalline landscape. He waited.

Tav rose slowly, unsteady on their feet. Sweat dripped down their neck. They could smell rot.

Pain surged through their shoulder blades. They cried out as great feathered wings burst from their back. The wings were black as ink, with an oily lustre of gold and purple and green. As the pain began to subside like a waning crescent moon, Tav found Cam’s eyes and forced the breath from their lungs into the shape of a single command.

“Give her to me.”

“You’ve left me no choice,” he said. His fingers curled around hawthorn, twisting brutally. The girl whimpered.

“Let her go!” Tav beat their wings and white flames burned through the ice at their feet. The ice floe was unstable, and one wrong move could lead to hypothermia and drowning. The stars glittered overhead, their lights reflected in the dark mirror. The universe was burning.

The branch snapped, and the girl screamed, a body made of bone and glass crying out in agony.

Tav lunged, nails like talons curving around Cam’s throat.

When it was over, Tav was on all fours, frost licking their knees. Blood everywhere. Body parts were scattered across the ice. Tav wetted their lips and looked down, catching a glimpse of their reflection —

the face of a witch

Tav woke suddenly and found themselves back in their apartment, the sheets soaked through with sweat. In the dim room lit only by distant streetlights, the shadows looked like blood. Tav fumbled for the bedside lamp. When the yellow pool of light showed no evidence of a crime scene, the anxiety curling its claws around their wrists and ankles released its hold. It was just a dream; already it was fading. Tav listened to the sound of their pounding heart, waiting for the rhythm to slow. Proof that they were human.

Tav closed their eyes against the pain of sudden brightness, but it was too late. Already a headache was spreading through their temples and pushing into the corded muscles of their neck.

They switched off the light and lay back down, opening their eyes to the dark. In the distance sirens sang out, the clear, sharp pitch breaking through the dull roar of engines that never ceased. Threaded through the darkness was the magic of the Heart, which wound its way through walls and doors and flesh and bone. Tav fought the urge to reach out and grab it, to make themselves strong, to heal their pain, to take that power all for themselves and use it.

Use her.

Eli was sleeping on the couch with only a wall between them. The thought sent another shiver of excitement through Tav’s body, but of a different kind. They kicked off the lounge pants they’d fallen asleep in and lay back in their boxers. Eli’s hair would be messy, her body tangled in the blanket. Tav remembered her body; they had followed the path of her collarbone with their mouth, traced the curve of her waist with their hand …

Tav rolled their face into the pillow to stifle a moan. They lost themselves to fantasy before sleep finally returned for them.

In the morning they had forgotten about the dream.

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