If you do whisper, O winds, then whisper to me, of oaks which dwell across the worlds.

They came again, the words Great-uncle Gilbert had scrawled in his precious book. A book written during a time when, perhaps, the oaks had whispered. Maybe that’s what the whispers were, Oliver thought. The sound of the night winds blowing through the oaks, across all the worlds.

Oliver remembered how the wind had sounded in each of the worlds he had seen. He thought of the lush forest of the last world. The howling winds there had been the most powerful that he had ever heard, as they coursed through the branches of the immense, ancient oaks.

He imagined that he could hear them now.

He held his breath and listened.

It wasn’t his imagination. He could hear them.

They were there, far away, deep under the sound of the whispering desert winds, like a river running underneath the world.

Oliver rose to his feet and reached out. They seemed to draw him onward.

He took a step.

Darkness enclosed him, and there was a sudden vertiginous lurch as he balanced on the edge of a void that fell away forever on all sides. He ran forward, eyes closed, clinging to the sound of the night winds from the potent world of one moon.

And then a windburst hit, his breath exploded from him, and he opened his eyes. Above him glowed Aspin, alone. Under his feet lay thick, springy grass. He screamed and fell backward. He landed not on grass but on the rocky ground of the desert crest.

His heart hammered. What had just happened? Had he imagined it?

No, he thought in wonder. He held up one hand, felt the gentle breeze play across his fingers. These were the winds that blew across worlds.

He had to tell Great-uncle Gilbert.




Oliver whipped around. The light from the flashes was already dying, but he could see three black shapes flying against the backdrop of stars.

Three more flashes came, then three more.

Oliver began to run.

The flashes came regularly as Oliver raced toward Great-uncle Gilbert’s new treehouse. In the distance he could see nets going up one after another. Captured hunters were plummeting toward the ground while others flew around them, slashing at the nets with their metal talons. Most of the hunters were freed before they hit the ground. The crimson kite seemed to be everywhere at once, leading hunters into the nets, always one twist ahead of the grasping claws.

Oliver staggered and slid through the sand, shouting, trying to distract the hunters. But they seemed to have no interest in anything other than the kite and Great-uncle Gilbert, who had to be running out of nets. More hunters were flashing in every few seconds.

Oliver reached the treehouse. Great-uncle Gilbert was struggling with a new net, his eyes wide and fierce. “Oliver!” he shouted. “Get that side!”

Oliver grasped the other end of the net.

But the hunters had broken through. One struck at Great-uncle Gilbert’s right arm, talons gripping. Three more landed on his left arm. The hunters shrieked, and to Oliver they had never sounded more like shrieks of pain. The old man flung aside his robe, momentarily freeing himself, but several more hunters attacked, grasping his shirt and oaken armor.

The crimson kite dove, five hunters just behind. Its long tail whipped out and lashed around Great-uncle Gilbert’s waist. The kite heaved, trying to pull the old man free—


but there was a blinding glare as all the hunters flashed away at once. Great-uncle Gilbert and the crimson kite were gone.

Triumphant shrieks came from everywhere. A host of flashes turned night into day, and then the fleet of hunters disappeared.

Only one hunter remained. It circled above Oliver in complete silence. It looked at him with its cold glass eyes, then turned and flew lazily skyward. With a last bright flash, it vanished.

Oliver lowered the net. The hunter had not even bothered with him.

The crimson kite was what Lord Gilbert wanted, and now he had it. He wanted Great-uncle Gilbert, too. But he didn’t want Oliver any longer, and so he had abandoned him in what Lord Gilbert considered to be the hell- world.

But I know something that no one else does. Oliver raced back to the peak.

At first he could hear nothing but the desert wind and the blood pounding in his ears. Calm down, he told himself.

He closed his eyes and listened for the night winds.

He listened to the desert wind, blowing across endless miles to the crest.

Then under it came a deeper sound, rich and full. Whispering through the oaks across all the worlds.

This time he heard another sound within it, a keening cry of pain. A dying voice, a voice that he had heard again and again in one world after another, a voice that had once called to him so strongly that its cry pierced his head like a knife.

The riven oak.

The terrible headache returned, the pain making it almost impossible to listen. He concentrated on the winds, searching through each of them. He heard the hollow howl of winds trapped inside the Crest Wall. He heard again the shout of the winds of the world with one moon.

Then he found what he was searching for. The voice of the winds that he had heard each night of his life. The voice of the winds outside his bedroom window.

He turned to them, and they grew louder. He reached for them, and they blew straight to him.

He did not open his eyes. It was easier to track the voice if he was not distracted. And so he felt rather than saw the limitless darkness around him, felt a thousand, a million, a billion different winds whipping around him, each carrying a cry of confusion and fear. Oliver let them rush past, realizing that if his attention wandered to any of them, he could lose the voice he was following through the void.

He stepped forward, into the winds.


Home, thought Oliver as he ran, throwing himself fearlessly through the night winds, allowing them to hurl him in exhilarating leaps down the crest. He needed their speed—if he wasn’t fast, if his final plan did not work, then it was entirely possible that he was seeing his Windblowne for the very last time.

They went on with the Festival, he thought as he raced through the night. Every oak in Windblowne had the aspect of midwinter, entirely bereft of leaves. Oliver wondered how the townspeople could go on as normal with signs of disaster looming all around them. But go on they had. Just inside the oakline, safe from the night winds, viewing stands were tarped over and strapped securely to the ground. Debris from the Festival—posters, score sheets, tournament results—whipped through the air along with a thick whirl of oak leaves.

Oliver ran through his world, the familiar winds murmuring around him, thinking of his kite, his great-uncle, and so many other beings in so many Windblownes who were all depending on the success of his final plan.

When he returned to the oakline he was panting and sweating and carrying a bulky bundle wrapped in a large

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