Day who-the-fuck-knows and visit number six with Karnon, the guy who’s beginning to star in all of my nightmares.
When we arrive, the guards drop me unceremoniously on the ground before retreating.
Groaning a little, I push myself onto my forearms, reaching for my blindfold. Lately the guards have stopped binding my wrists and ankles. What’s the point? I’m too weak to escape.
I pull off the cloth around my eyes, blinking against the brightness of the room. I freeze when I take in my surroundings.
The first thing I notice is that I’m not in Karnon’s bedroom. Here, dead leaves are scattered across the floor, and spindly, dead vines cover most of the walls and much of the ceiling. They’re even wrapped around the great antler chandelier ending far above me. This derelict room looks like it’s been left to the elements.
A wild room for a wild, mad king.
My gaze falls to a raised dais at the far side of the room. The massive chair perched in the center of it is a chair made entirely of bones. And sitting on it is Karnon.
He assesses me from his throne. “Precious bird,” he says, “you are dying.”
He stands, and that simple action alone sends a shiver down my spine.
Today won’t be like the other visits.
His footsteps echo as he descends down the stairs in front of him, leaves crunching beneath his boots.
I get a good look at his eyes, and it’s my stepfather all over again. The half-mad lust that looks more animal than man. The trigger-short temper that can veer to anger at the slightest provocation.
He stops less than a foot away from me. It’s just the two of us in this room; whatever guards or aides or officials are normally stationed here are now gone.
Karnon kneels next to me. I try to scramble away, but my limbs are heavy and sluggish. I want to shriek in frustration. I’d vowed long ago to never again be a victim. And here I am, powerless beneath the will of a mad king.
He begins petting my hair. “What a pretty, pretty bird. A shame you cannot fly, trapped as you are in this cage of a body.”
He cups my face. “You are dying because the animal in you is being smothered.”
Riight, that’s why.
“I’m dying because you’re poisoning me,” I say.
He stares back at me, his gaze distant, and I can already tell my words didn’t register with him. He begins petting my hair again. “How can a creature survive when she doesn’t have gills to breathe or wings to fly?”
When I don’t answer, he gives me a look like my silence is making his point for him. His touch moves from my hair down my back.
I try to bat away his hands, my limbs sluggish. It does no good.
“Sweet creature,” he says, stroking my back, “fret not.” He leans in close to my ear. “Today I will set you free.”
I turn to look at him, my gaze locking with those slitted pupils of his. We stare each other for several seconds, his hands laying heavily on my back. His body begins to tremble, and then, all at once, he releases all of his magic right into me.
His magic is like a sledgehammer to my back, driving down into my skin, into my bones with the force of a freight train. The shockwave from it ripples out around us, shaking the very walls of his throne room.
Then comes the pain, pain more vast and acute than anything I’ve ever felt. My siren rises in response.
I open my mouth, my eyes rolling back, and I scream and scream as agony unlike anything I’ve ever felt rips through me. My body feels like it’s unmaking itself, my bones breaking, my muscles ripping, my skin flaying itself.
It’s unending and unfathomable, the force of it pinning me to the ground. I’m helpless beneath Karnon’s grip on my back, a grip that I can’t possibly shake at this point.
The Fauna King laughs himself hoarse as a sound like thunder rumbles in the distance. “My beautiful bird sings best when she hurts.”
He presses down hard against my skin. “Siren,” he shouts, “come forth!”
Another wave of power slams into me.
My screams hit a new decibel, the sound harmonizing with itself.
My spine and ribs feel like they’re cracking, shattering. I’m no longer made of muscle and bone. It’s all been pulverized under Karnon’s magic.
“Yes!” the madman cries. “More!”
My body seems to buckle as another wave of energy floods through me. My skin is burning, burning. And my back!
My back is on fire! It must be; that’s where the worst of the pain is.
Karnon releases me, but the agonizing power he’s shoving into me doesn’t ebb. If anything, it’s getting worse. Because it’s changing course; rather than burrowing into me, it’s now trying to force itself out.
I hunch over, breathing heavy, my hair plastered to my face.
“More!” Karnon shouts.
I’m tearing apart from the inside out. My skin no longer fits my body. It’s much too small. I heave over and over, barely able to endure the pain I’m in.
My screams become increasingly more agonized as his power batters against the inside of my flesh.
All at once my screams cut off and the magic erupts.
My skin splits down either side of my spine, and I hear the sound of wet popping and snapping.
And then … I feel it. Two sticky, wet protrusions push out from my ripped flesh, unfolding down my back.
Then finally, finally, the magic abates.
I collapse in on myself, shivering, shaking.
“Yes! My beautiful bird, you are set free!” Karnon says gleefully.
I can’t move. No energy left. As I lay there, I catch sight of my hands. Where once were nails, now I have sharp, black claws. And my forearms … delicate, semi-transparent scales cover them, glittering gold where blood splatter doesn’t cover them.
I can barely make sense of the sight.
But then I glimpse something over my shoulder. Something dark, something bloody … And there’s a weird weight against my back …
The siren within me is whispering, the worlds curling themselves around me,
I am powerful.
I am vengeance.
I am unleashed.
Karnon’s steps approach me.
He grabs those dark, bloody things behind me, stretching them up and out. I feel my muscles stretch as I extend my arms.
But my arms are right in front of me …
I catch another glimpse of those dark things. And then I understand.
I grew wings.