We were racing directly behind the lousy wagon. Desmond and Vetia were being thrown around like popcorn in a pot as the wagon violently bounced up to Geren’s house, just in time to hear him.

I ran over to him. “She’s not the fireblood! We already gave that to the town! She’s our friend who had broken arms.”

Geren squinted his avian eyes and reached his massive arms to the locked cage. The steel cage creaked and screeched as the metal slowly bent, and with a crack, the door was pried off its hinges and Vetia crawled out on her hands and knees, beginning her sigil as soon as she touched the grass. Her hand glowed as she reached in her mouth and held it there. Geren began walking to his pile of cages and strewn metal, speaking to us as he stepped away. “You are deceived by… intelligent fireblood. Her true nature unshown… but perceived by senses.” He came back over holding a set of steel cuffs. I don’t know what he was planning, but I stepped in front of him.

“Geren what are you doing? What are those?” I was furious from the incidents of just a few minutes ago, but holding it back was getting difficult with Geren acting strange too.

He stopped and looked down at me. “Intelligent firebloods… conceal themselves… being creatures of deceit… of false security. Shackles end illusion… show true appearance… hidden attributes.” He held the shackles out toward me.

A part of me was curious, but then I looked back at her, sitting down with her hand in her mouth and on her cheek looking like a whimpering idiot. “She’s our friend, she’s not going to try to hurt us, and she’s not a monster. We don’t need these chains!”

Desmond put a hand on my shoulder and looked up at Geren. “You can smell it on her then?”

“Rotted eggs and… tyranewt petals. Smell of uncommon… breed of fireblood. Most deceptive breed. Can hide aspects of self.”

“Brenden,” Desmond looked at me as he picked up the shackles. “I can smell it on her too. I heard her say things at night. She was talking to herself, about things she was trying to hide from us. Maybe Geren’s right, and we should try these out just to see.”

I heard Adam’s voice from behind us. “Did you ever think that maybe that was the thing she was going to tell us once we had time? We can’t just chain her up against her will because of a hunch. You’re acting like she’s conspiring against us when she was probably going to tell us when she was ready. After everything we learned, I’d be afraid to out myself as a fireblood. She’s not acting like the one we killed. She’s been our friend this whole time.” Adam and Tells were still standing back by her, trying to help her out.

She stood up wobbling and coughed out the last of the blood. She was worked up, all of the sounds she was making were guttural gibberish and grunts. She was trying to say something, but her tongue was still missing, so it was all unintelligible. When she realized we couldn’t understand her, she stomped over toward us. Geren took a step back and reared back defensively, and she got a good look at him for the first time. Her eyes went wide she and reared away as well. She shook her head and looked at Desmond, hesitantly holding out her right hand.

I put my arm in front of Desmond. “Geren, is this going to hurt her? It seems like everywhere we go, one of us is getting maimed by something else and I really don’t want to keep that trend going.”

Geren was still on edge. His face and feathers reminded me of my old cockatiel when it was getting batted at by my cat. “Small pain… like little shock. Like muscle spasm.” His eyes were locked on our silent healer, who was glancing anxiously back at him.

I let my hand down and had eyes on her as I heard the click of the shackles. For a moment, nothing was happening, then her body shuddered and we all watched her form change. Bone horns curled out the sides of her head, smooth spires pointing straight up. The back of her shirt ripped and dragon-like wings, spiked at the end, the same color as her hair opened, the flaps like her pale skin. Her nails were elongated and sharp, and her teeth were serrated and protruding from her mouth. She almost fell backward from the wings, but steadied herself on a thin tail with a sharp point at the end. A flowery smell like strong perfume immediately permeated the air around her, making my head spin for a second before a wave of calmness rushed over me.

Geren, who at some point had stepped back about twenty feet, started walking forward again, an intense look on his face. Desmond had stepped away, grabbing his nose and wincing, holding his head in his other hand. I stumbled back, trying to avoid her wings as they awkwardly flapped around trying to find balance.

Geren’s voice was startlingly loud. “Be still, fireblood!” He was walking forward more aggressively now. Vetia’s wings were flapping violently and her tail was flailing around.

I ran forward to get in his way. He was reaching out toward her with his taloned hands and I couldn’t let anything else happen to her. She’d just got back to being able to use her arms and then got her tongue cut out. I stepped in front of him, trying to block him with my arms. He saw me and lunged at me, his talons grabbing my shoulder and pulling me down. I glanced at his hand and saw one of the spikes from her wings had sliced into his hand and arm. He pushed me aside onto my ass, then dove in behind her. He reached out and grabbed the base of her wings in his right talons, bending them upward and away from him. His left foot snatched her tail and stepped on it to the ground. His other hand pressed her knees forward and she collapsed onto the ground on her face. He reached out with both of his hands and began wrestling the wings down, pushing them into being folded on her back. It seemed to be easy for him now that she was balanced on the ground. “Unshackle her!” He barked out like an eagle at Desmond, who was holding the key, but Desmond was still holding his head and reeling from something. Adam ran over and began pushing her wings down with Geren, and Tells grabbed the key out of Desmond’s hands. She slipped the key in the lock, turning it until there was an audible click, and the wings slumped to the ground.

Vetia pushed herself off of her face and sat down on the ground, looking around at everyone. Her teeth and claws were retreating, but her wings, tail and horns remained in a less frenzied state. Geren was looking curiously at the gash on his arm. He helped me up, and said, “Be careful around fireblood… poison on points… unknown effects.” He pointed to her pointed tail and the spikes on her wings. He prodded at his own wound. “Wing poison makes numb.” He looked like he was trying to make a fist, but couldn’t close his hand all the way. Vetia stood and meekly walked over to him holding a glowing green finger toward him. He put his wounded arm in front of her, and she traced his cut, closing it as it passed over. He still couldn’t clench his fist, but the wound was shut. Vetia tapped his arm and then used her hands to charade writing with something. Geren looked over all of us, “Let us speak again. I will set wagon later.”

Desmond was sitting up, his eyes red and watering. Adam lifted him up and looked him over. “What the hell happened to you, Desmond?”

“I put the shackles on her and it felt like I got pepper sprayed! It was like a skunk sprayed really strong perfume right in my face but, like, a hundred goddamn times!”

Adam sighed and started walking Desmond into Geren’s house. Tells threw the key and shackles off toward the pile of rusted cages, and turned back toward the road, looking blankly to where we had just come from. A fierce wind blew through the meadow from behind Tells, spinning the blue spiral flowers around her. Her hair swirled upward in front of her face as she looked over at me, her face now bent in a vengeful anger as the wind died. “She can’t just do that and think nothing will happen.”

I had stopped thinking about it because of what just happened. I know I wanted to do something. I wanted to kill her or watch her rot in prison, but I didn’t know if I would be able to do it. I felt a feeling of fear and hate welling up in me, coming back from when I was in the seat of the wagon. It felt like all the courage I had was being sapped away with every second after we parted ways. Tells was glaring intensely at me. I could feel her anger for Simira, but I was scared that we would all be killed in less than a second if we tried anything.

“That bitch will get what she deserves when we figure something out.”

I turned around as quickly as I could and walked with my head down toward Geren’s house. I couldn’t look up at anyone. My heart was racing and my breath felt like I couldn’t get enough into my lungs. I didn’t know if I wanted to cry from my uselessness or scream because I was infuriated that I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t take it, watching my friends get hurt and mutilated by the shit in this world. The bugs and the fireblood were creatures, animals, monsters, whatever. But there was something that scared me about that bitch. We couldn’t say or do anything against her because she had power. Behind her was a government, nobles, whoever the fuck she served and whoever served her. Even then, she tossed Vetia around like a wet napkin, like it was nothing for her to lift somebody, maim them, and then beat them senseless as everyone’s around begging for her to stop. Then, even as her own followers cried for mercy, to hold a sword to her own brother who was on his knees before her. She was trained, ruthless and utterly psychotic. We were a bunch of idiots swinging metal around. We didn’t stand a chance, and that was the only thing I could think when I found myself sitting on Geren’s front step trying to keep myself from hyperventilating.

I heard a loud metallic snap that startled my head up, and I saw half of a blade stuck in the ground by the treeline, and Tells was wailing the busted sword on a tree, massive chunks of wood and splinters erupting from the tree with every swing. My head was spinning and I was just trying to catch my breath, slumped against the wall, hearing muffled voices inside.


About the author

Ren Cory

Bio: I'm an amateur writer, but I've got a story in my head that I want to tell. What I write won't always be amazing, but I really think it will get better with experience. I love reading and watching anything fantasy, scifi and anything in that sort of wheelhouse. I've always been inspired by those genres to be creative and do my own thing, creating entirely new worlds, histories, creatures, plants and the whatnot. I like trying out new ideas in the genres I love.

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