This was a short story for a creative writing class. I had fun with the characters and with trying out new styles so it’s not polished by any means. It was mostly one of those assignments where you were supposed to get a story out within a short period of time, then use it later as a base to build from.
She liked to think she was normal, clothed in feathers as black as night and as long as a human was tall. They rattled as she angled her wings slightly and caught the wind, throwing her backward as she began circling. Swinging wide slowly and lazily, cocking her head and listening. Everything was alive, from the deer nibbling on the grass to the tiny fleas leaping along their pelts. She could hear it all, see it all. Her amber eyes orbited in a flitting motion, jumping from one point to another rapidly.
It wasn’t until she spotted them that she dropped her right wing, veering and then folding both wings close to her sides, dropping like a missile, straight towards the trees. In midair, she began to change. The black receding quickly, skin rolling, bones thickening and reshaping themselves. As grotesque as it was, it was spectacular, where one moment a black bird the size of a train car plummeted towards the Earth, the next moment, a woman with long black hair and dark amber eyes free fell. The only similarity between the two was the vast wingspan furled in tight to her body.
A grin pulled back the corners of her lips and she let out a loud cry, the sharp screech of a bird of prey echoed back on her moments before she unfurled her wings, catching herself with a loud snapping of her bones as she hovered a few feet above the tree tops. Exhilaration took her breath away and she sucked in a lung full of air before dipping beneath the cover of the tree canopy and descending to the ground.
The moment her boots touched the heavily thicketed ground, she was pulling her wings close to her back, walking towards her companions. There were three of them, two men and one woman, all of which appeared to appraise her with slight exasperation.
The first to reach her was Djin, a tall, broad-shouldered bear of a man with a shadow of a beard and blue eyes that were as gentle as he was intimidating. With him came the smell of evergreen trees and aftershave.
Just behind him walked Fleur, though her stride had enough feline grace, even in the heavy foliage, to be called a saunter. Her heavily lashed brown eyes were narrowed in annoyance as she shoved a hand through her thick golden curls, sweeping them off a sweat glistened brow. Of the three, Fleur gave off the most distasteful vibes.
And of the three, the last, Zanzibarr, gave off the strangest. Where he seemed lanky and boy-like, there was a slyness promised in the dark recesses of his eyes and the quickness of his movements. A smile that never quite reached his eyes adorned his clean shaven face, right below a crooked nose which had been broken one too many times.
Ule, well, she was Ule, bouncing over to them on light bones and practically vibrating with her excitement. Avoiding Djin’s hair ruffle, she ducked towards Zanzibarr. “We’re almost there.”
Fleur let out a low growl, flicking her hair back again. “See, I told you.”
Ule’s expression soured and she snapped her mouth closed. In her excitement at returning home, she’d forgotten that the reason she’d even taken to the air was because Fleur had caught the scent of the facility.
Djin chuckled deeply and managed to ruffle Ule’s black hair before she could slip away a second time. He said, “Then let’s get moving.”
It didn’t take long for the four to reach the compound situated in a large valley tucked against rolling hills covered in waxy-needled trees. Shut away from the world, the structure was two stories, made of a dark stone that attracted the heat of the sun to the garden of solar panels adorning the roof.
They weren’t greeted, nor did they run into anyone as they entered the building. The lights flickered on at their presence and without so much as a word, the four went their own ways. The compound was big enough that there were enough places to stay out of sight.
Ule and Djin eventually carried their heavy canvas bags towards an airy room that turned into a kitchen once they turned through a side door. A middle-aged woman smiled at their arrival and took the bags from them, talking to herself about apples and carrots and all the things she could make now. On the counter were the canvas bags Zanzibarr and Fleur had already deposited.
Djin whistled low. “They’re always here before us.”
“Sucking up to the cook to get the best food, you know Zanzibarr always gets hot meals,” Ule said.
A bearish rumble came from his chest and he smiled at her as they headed towards the commons. It was the nicest place in the compound, set right in the middle, an eastern corridor leading off to the restricted area, the western to the housing section. The ceilings were vaulted to the two story height, completely made from glass, letting the watery spring sunlight into a circular room with plants covering every space against the walls. Heavily cushions chairs were set haphazardly around a small fountain at the center of the room. There were a few people lounging around, most reading, though one or two were more than likely asleep. nobody acknowledged their entry or their exit as they keyed their way into the eastern section.
“Your Naparnik is giving me whiplash with her mood swings,” Ule said as the door shut with a sucking sound behind them, beeping as it relocked.
Naparnik meant partner in Russian and it was termed in a way that was more like, blood-brethren and was used only for combat pairs who had spent years together, building a bond that rival family ties.
“Fleur’s just an acquired taste,” He said, shrugging. “She just doesn’t like how you treat your abilities. It’s just how she is, we’ve been here a long time.”
“How do I treat my abilities?” Ule raised a brow.
“I don’t want to say carelessly, but—carelessly,”
They turned a corner, coming face to face with the aforementioned woman. Without a doubt, she had been waiting for them. Djin had scented her before they’d even entered the restricted area, but since Fleur had been quiet enough and Ule wasn’t listening for her, she’d jumped slightly in surprise.
“Ope!” Ule squeaked and took a half step back.
Fleur made a clicking sound with her tongue and pierced Ule with her slanted pupils. “Yes, careless describes you perfectly,” She looked a bit more hostile than usual. “Skin-changing isn’t some magical gift. It’s a serious and dangerous ability that can get people killed.”
“Well, luckily we aren’t exactly people, now are we?” Ule replied.
Fleur snarled, baring her teeth in a fashion reflecting the lioness she was and fisted her hands hard enough to dig half moons in her palms. “You’re too arrogant for your own good,”
“What the hell could go wrong?” Ule wanted to throw her hands up in annoyance, but stuck them on her hips and leaned forwards. “Nobody will see me, we’re in the middle of nowhere. I’m perfectly capable of controlling my changes and I have never gotten into trouble with Zanzibarr. You’re the only one that seems to have a problem with me.”
“Ule,” Djin said warningly.
The older woman gave her Naparnik a look that was almost as scathing as the one she’d given to Ule. “Stay out of this, Djin.”
“Why’re you like this?” Ule demanded, “I’ve been here for months and you’re always finding faults with everything I do. First, it was the way I talked, then it was the fact I was Avian, then it was that I was taking too much of Djin’s time, and now it’s that I’m careless?”
“That’s the thing, isn’t it,” Fleur lowered her voice, looking completely demure. “Living here a few months means you know nothing of the years before. This isn’t fun and games just because you’ve arrived here in a peaceful period. There’s always a calm before the storm and it’s been quiet here too long.”
Ule opened her mouth to retort but Fleur just shook her head, walking past them towards the exit. Djin watched her leave, feeling a heaviness in the pit of his stomach.
“Argh,” Ule sputtered, finally throwing her hands up. “Sometimes she makes me so—so—“
“Grumpy? Angry? Speechless?” Djin offered as he reached over to ruffle her long black hair while she was distracted.
Ule let out a squawk and batted his hand away. “No, she makes me feel like a stupid kid. She’s always patronizing me.”
“Heaven forbid someone treats the child, like a child,”
“I’m not that much younger than you.”
“Sure, kiddo, whatever you say.”
The air was heavy with rain when the lights flickered on as Ule rubbed her eyes, plodding down the hallway towards the green-room. It hadn’t started storming yet, but there were the unmistakable pressure and the far-off rumblings of thunder. Midnight had already passed and Ule had found herself awoken by a funny feeling in the canals of her ears. Sometimes they ached when the weather got like this, but it wasn’t only that.
A sound that didn’t belong. Ule tensed, the hairs raising on the back of her neck and her palms growing clammy. Even though her sense of smell wasn’t nearly as sharp as Djin’s or Fleur’s, she knew that smell.
Blood. And a lot of it.
Ule ran down the hall, her steps light and silent even as she stumbled, sliding around the final corner and throwing open the double doors into the circular green-room. The source was there. A fluid smelling like gleaming copper pennies only to be the beautiful color of roses. Amidst a churning stomach, Ule stepped around the chair, faced with a stare that looked nowhere.
His eyes were already dulled, skin pale and body in a puddle of his own life-liquid. It was Otto, a young Capybara Skin-changer that was from Australia and spoke with a heavy accent. Ule hadn’t known him well, but he was dead, and it made her both glad and sad that she hadn’t. She was of the mind to stay with him except a shattering drew her attention. The doors to the restricted section were ajar, the hall beyond illuminated by the motion-activated lights.
It hit her then. The killer was still here. They must be after something in Zanzibarr’s personal labs. All reason went out the window, any thought of calling for help vanished in a puff if smoke. Ule kept her center of gravity low, moving quickly and swiftly as she followed the trail of lights. Many branching corridors were dark and silent, so she ignored them and turned the next corner, heart sinking.
A second victim sat propped against the wall, head lolled forward, hands limp in his lap. Rushing to his side, the first thing she heard was a faint beating of his heart. It was nothing more than a fluttering, but it was something. It was one of the men that worked with Zanzibarr and she’d only seen him around a couple of times, but from her limited knowledge, he was Zanzibarr’s Naparnik. This time, logic caught up with her as his heart sputtered. He wouldn’t survive without someone’s help.
Throwing her head back, a feral eagle screech ripping from her vocal chords while wings sprouted from her back, barely missing the straps of her racerback sports shirt.
Following her alarm cry was a cacophony of movement. From the direction she’d come, people roused, someone shouted, another rolled over and promptly went back to sleep. All that mattered was that she heard both Zanzibarr and Djin following her scent, so she left the injured—still living man—against the wall and bolted down the telltale trail of both light and sound.
There. She thought, tilting her head as she reached the three doors that each led to Zanzibarr’s private rooms. Each had lights flooding them with bright white, but only one was currently occupied. It was the right door and Ule simultaneously grasped the handle, threw it open and leaped through.
Her eyes processed the scene much faster than her head and her body came to a jarring halt, wings half-way extended, brushing the walls, talons piercing through the tips of her fingers.
“Always acting without thinking,” the voice didn’t sound anything but slightly annoyed, as if it was simply griping about her transforming like it normally was. “Always ending up underfoot.”
The brown eyes of Fleur were dark, her pupil slanted as her change began. Her golden hair rippled, seeming to meld to her neck and shoulders like a lions mane. The muscles covering her entire frame started to bubble and grow, pressing into the skin until her veins looked like mountains. Razor sharp claws grew from her hands, black and curved like thorns.
Elongated canines pressed against her lower lip as she bared them at Ule. What happened next seemed to happen too fast. The lion Skin-changer flew at Ule, then dropped below her wing and darted out the door. Ule barely blinked and she was alone in the room with thundering footfalls outside. Ule spun to chase after the woman, her mind trying to organize what was happening. Fleur was betraying them. Not only that, she was betraying her Naparnik. Djin.
That was exactly who Ule slammed into as she followed her ears. His arms caught her awkwardly as her wings flapped, trying to catch her balance. “Ule?”
Her head spun as she tried to come up with something to say, finally spitting out. “Did Zan find—“
“Lou’s okay, Zan and Marsik are taking him to the infirmary, but Otto…” he trailed off, looking.
Ule knew without him having to say. Otto had no heartbeat when she’d found him. Though she hadn’t known him well, Djin had, and the sadness in his gentle blue eyes made her heart ache in turn.
“It’s Fleur.” She said stiffly.
The expression that overtook Djin’s face confused her and she furrowed her brow. “You knew?”
“Now I do. I can smell her. On everything, on Otto and Lou. I don’t know what she’s doing. How the hell could I know that?”
“She’s not accusing you,” Zanzibarr’s calm voice was unnerving in the current situation, but that was how he was. “Now, if Fleur’s already gone, then the only thing to do if figure out what she was doing. She’s never been a spontaneous kind of person and I’ve known her for a long time.”
“Why aren’t you freaking out? Aren’t you shocked? This is Fleur we are talking about! I mean, sure she’s pissy and as straight-laced as a ruler, but—she killed someone, and tried to kill someone else,” Ule’s too-large amber eyes were wide in her face, making her appear more like an owl than an eagle-hybrid.
“I’m got an inkling I know why she’s doing this, but by this, I’m not so sure what it is she has actually done,” Other than kill… Zanzibarr didn’t say it, but they knew he thought it.
While Djin stared at the ground, like a little-lost boy, Zanzibarr pushed the door to his office open with a high pitched creak. Seeming to know where to go, he stopped by a picture frame leaning a bit too far to one side. Carefully pulling one corner it opened on two hinges. The dial on the safe wasn’t where he’d left it, sitting over the 20 instead of the 0 and he knew they were gone.
“She took both canisters,” he said as he approached Djin and Ule. “We’ve got to get them back.”
Ule had been listening to something new that was just beginning to tickle at the fringes of her hearing range. She stopped focusing on it as soon as Zanzibarr spoke. Canisters?
“One contains a solution that helps the process of splicing work in adults. The other,” he sighed. “Contains a poison that can be aerosolized which targets the spliced gene marker in Skin-Changers and… Well, let’s just say if they use it, we’re screwed.”
Ule’s jaw dropped. “Why would you make something like that?”
“Curiosity, my darling.”
“Well, this time curiosity might actually kill the damn cat!”
“Ule,” Djin said firmly, still looking sick. “It means you need to get them back.”
“Excuse me?” She raised her brows. “What do you mean, you?”
“He means you can fly, and the rest of us can’t. If she’s going where I think she’s going, then we need to get to her as fast as possible, even if all you can do is delay her for some time,” Zanzibarr’s words had barely left his mouth before Ule recognized the buzzing sound.
“There’s a chopper coming,”
“Predictable,” Zanzibarr sighed and rubbed his face, appearing much calmer than Ule thought he should. “She certainly is a resourceful woman.”
Ule shook her head, her wings rustling and she tucked them in tight to her back, “We’ve got to stop her!”
Without waiting for confirmation from either man, Ule split down the hall, shoving through one of the branching hallways until she collided with an outer door, snapping her extra limbs open and throwing herself into the air with a heaving stroke of her wings. The chopper was nearly to the edge of the clearing, the static of its radio broadcasting their location, no doubt. Ule gritted her teeth and found her target crossing the clearing towards the flat spot near the pond. Fleur was awash in the pale light of the moon, which peeked through the rain clouds.
Maneuvering herself, Ule spun, dropping like a rock and shooting low over the grass, lifting only a second before colliding with the lion-hybrid. It felt as painless as hitting a brick wall. Fleur had had only a moment to react but used it to brace herself, allowing Ule to wrap around her, wings and all like she would a solid tree. She practically bounced off Fleur and caught herself, throwing her wings out for balance and crouching low. Her chest ached and her head spun.
“Give them to me,”
“Not a chance,” Fleur glared, hand pressing to the pouch at her side and her eyes seemed to be watching something over Ule’s shoulder. “I think I might just need them more than you.”
“Like hell!” Ule rattled her great black feather appendages and readied to launch herself again before the helicopter arrived.
“Fleur,” Djin caught Ule’s shoulder, pushing her back behind him, he’d arrived alone, and he faced his Naparnik with a sorrow in his voice and a hunch in his shoulders. “You can’t really want to do this. What did they promise you?”
“Promise me?” Wicked laughter roared from her lips. “They didn’t promise me anything. I’m doing this for me.”
“You’re betraying your friends, your family,” Djin was barely whispering.
Something in Fleur snapped then and she snarled, hand shoving into the pouch at her side. The muscles throughout her body tensed and she covered the few feet between them in a blink, raking her sharp claws straight across Djin’s abdomen. Ule froze, still protected behind him, close enough to hear the skin and muscle tear as the lion skin-changer hissed. “This isn’t my family.”
Then the chopper was over them, yanking at her hair, her clothes, her wings, and Ule jumped around Djin, bellowing as she grabbed for the pouch, catching her talons on the strap and slicing through. Fleur grabbed her hair and pulled viciously, throwing her out of reach where she landed on her wing with a loud cracking. Ule whimpered and blinked away tears, watching Fleur toss the useless satchel away, sliding her arm through the rungs of a rope ladder and lift away from the ground. The deafening sound departed, leaving the clearing all to silent.
Ule couldn’t fly, she knew her wing was broken, but she knew it would mend and all that left her to do was crawl over to Djin where he’d slumped on the grass, curled in the fetal position and seething through clenched teeth.
“Djin?” She let her useless wings flop behind her as she fluttered her hands over his body, unsure what to do. “Djin?”
A heartbeat passed and she stared at the corner of the wound visible from how he lay. There was a slight purple tint and it mixed with the red of his blood. It was the same color as the liquid in the vial. In the poison vial.
“No, no, no—come on, you’ve gotta be okay,” Ule’s voice cracked and she remained there bent over him, feeling the sinew and bone slowly collecting and mending her wing.
Ule blinked, raising her eyes, wiping the snot from her nose. Mere minutes had gone by since the sound of the chopper was lost to the crickets and the noises of the compound, but Zanzibarr was there, too late. In her mind, she thought if he’d been there instead of her, this wouldn’t have happened. He’d have killed Fleur and taken back the canisters and protected Djin. Then again, she knew she was just blaming herself and she nodded.
“Then why are you still here?” The undertone was harsh, but Zanzibarr knelt beside Djin and began appraising the situation. “Get going.”
Get Going? My wing… Stretching both of them out she could tell that while the right might be slightly weaker, it was healed. “He’ll live, right?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Zanzibarr said, “Stop wasting time.”
The cut of his voice made her hiccup, but she did as he ordered. Her form continued changing. Growing and growing, black as the night and as large are a freight train. She flew with a speed that rivaled a jet and vision that scored the world mile on mile. It took her little effort to determine the trajectory of the plane and she followed it, straight South, the trees of their surrounding forest blurring into a green smudge beneath her.
It was all she could do to push her mind to a calm and collect her wits. She had street sense. Before the peace and ease of Valkyrie, there’d been something close to hell. She couldn’t go numb to this, but focusing on her task made everything else background noise.
Fleur. I’m coming.
The destination was around a hundred miles away, South, then East, and then straight South once again. Bright floodlights illuminated a stone facility, not much different in layout to their own home, but it was surrounding by three layers of fencing and a few dark dots—guard dogs—loped along the perimeter. Ule circled it at a wide breadth, assessing the security. There were cameras, but they moved in a pattern, and there were guards, but none focused solely on overhead.
Retracting her change, Ule waited for the blindspot as her “in-between” self and then landed swiftly near a small door. She allowed herself to become fully human before trying the handle. It opened silently. It registered as strange, but she pushed ahead, slinking around corners and dodging any voices. It was relatively quiet, being the middle of the night, but it was fully operational.
Once voice was on her mind and she found it after muddling through the puddle of sounds. Fleur spoke in a low voice to two other people, a man, and a woman. They were two rights and three doors away. Her own heart was making it hard to hear them, but she swallowed the lump in her throat. Even if I just destroy it, it’ll be okay.
Getting the poison away from them was her first priority. Taking care of Fleur would be the second. Crouched in a shadowy corner, away from the camera’s she’d located, Ule waited and listened for her chance. It came, but only after more than a half-hour had passed and both of her legs from the knees down had gone prickly and numb. She cursed as she stood, sticking to the corners and keeping her eyes on the cameras as they pivoted slowly, side to side.
The door was labeled LB78 and she entered it unchallenged, as they was no keypad and the lock was easy to pick. Inside the room was dim with a few pale blue lights and a computer screen shoved into the corner. There, sitting side-by-side on a small revolving stand, were the two canisters.
Ule held her breath, reaching out for them, feeling a heaviness in her lungs. The room was growing hotter and she pulled her hand back to her side, too late to throw herself out of the way as it fell over her, crushing her to the stone floor. Her skin sang as the net crackled with electricity and the live-wires branded triangles into her flesh. The smell was ungodly, but it was nothing compared to the pain and the rage that flooded Ule as she barely managed to turn her head, the net touching her cheek as she did so. Fleur stood over her, brown eyes emotionless, when she spoke, Ule couldn’t hear her through the blood rushing in her ears and the constant noise of the electricity. She grappled with consciousness, but it eluded her, and she went with it, to a blissful place, devoid of everything but darkness.
The reprieve didn’t last long and the second wave of pain was far, far worse. In her panic, her form had changed out of instinct and she was drawn from the land of the silence by a horrible sawing. Screams scratched her throat raw, but they did nothing to lessen the pain. Ule couldn’t see, she couldn’t hear. There was nothing that made it through the sharp, dragging agony. They saw through them. One at a time, a few inches from where they protruded oddly from between her shoulder blades.
Her screams lessened to wails as one was freed from her nerve endings and dropped to whimpers as her back became too light. She was laid flat on the ground, freshly healed pink skin pressed against the cold stone. Though, there was no feeling except the aching in her back. The small containment room around her didn’t exist. It was nothing. There was only pain. That’s how it stayed for how long? Ule didn’t know, nor did she care for much of it. It didn’t register in her head when the door opened or when it closed. People coming and going. A pint or two of blood taken, a chunk of oil-black hair which regrew in an hour, an eye exam where they braced her head themselves and watched her pupils contract and expand.
Where the pain had once been unimaginable, it was becoming endurable, even tolerable. But they were still gone, cut from her back like she was a punished Nephilim. The loss was heavy, even if it had torn the weight right from her. Now when the ones in lab coats entered, she listened. And against she waited. Until she felt the prickling in her back as her wings tried to heal. She didn’t know it that was possible, but it meant that her body was strong enough to begin the process, and it meant she was done laying face-down on the cold ground being poked and prodded.
Swiftly, she jumped into a squat, swinging her foot out and around, knocking their feet out from under them and she grabbed the metal cane they had been poking and prodding her with during the most recent examination. One got out a surprised yelp before she smacked him in the back of the head, not waiting for him to drop before whirling and rapping the woman hard in the stomach where she bent with a wheeze. Ule gave her a sharp hit to the back of her head too and twirled the cane once, grabbing the woman ID card, tossing the cane and excusing herself from the room.
Everything was loud at first, her senses a bit out-kilter but she could hear as well as before, seeking out the location of the poison. Her body should have been sluggish, but instead, it seemed charged with energy—no thanks to the net—propelling her down the halls. The scientists had mentioned where they were actually located, and that’s where she went. The cameras didn’t matter, Ule ignored them, charging through the wide walk-space
Down the stairs and across what looked like an operating room, she slapped the ID on the scanner and drove her shoulder into the heavy metal door. It opened with a gust of air, which was only noticeable due to how stale the air inside the room was. It was dry and cool and the room was most certainly empty.
“You’re much more resilient than I expected,” Fleur drawled, leaning against the far wall. “I’d hoped you to stay down this time as least.”
Ule suppressed the fighting instinct that reared its ugly head and she stalked forwards towards the silver capsule that flashed different lights. It was some sort of analysis machine. “Why are you doing this?”
“What difference does it make?” Fleur growled and straightened, moving toward her with that feline grace which promised danger.
“Because,” Ule said, “I can’t understand why you’d betray us, betray Djin, try to kill him.”
“Life isn’t black and white, Ule, nothing is perfect, especially not being a monster like we are. That’s why Zan hid us all in Valkyrie, to keep us separated from the humans. He may seem like a saint in your eyes, but you haven’t known him, or any of them as long as I have. They’re not good people. They’ve all killed a number of times, innocent humans and not so innocent humans. Skin-changers are abnormalities that were considered failures in the eyes of science and too dangerous to leave in the public. The moment someone is suspected, they’re shipped off to Valkyrie to live out the remainder of their days doing the government’s bidding.”
As the lion-hybrid spoke, her voice became deeper and deeper and the slanting of her pupils narrowed. “This is a curse, upon us, and everyone else. Because of this, my daughter died.”
Ule gasped inwardly but maintained her cool composure. “So you’d kill every single Skin-changer, even the innocent ones out in the world. Because of your own misfortune?”
“You don’t understand,” Fleur looked pained as she shook her golden locks. “This has to stop. We’re not meant to be on this Earth, not me, not Djin and not Valkyrie. These people will end it all. It’s almost over.”
She’d stopped talking to Ule and was speaking to the room, her body trembling and she let out a low whine and a sharp scream. It sounded like an eagle. It sounded like Ule, who leaped back as two great deformed black wings erupted from Fleur. They mimicked the ones that had been cut from Ule and a sick feeling seeped into her stomach alongside a prickling in her back.
“What did you let them do?”
“It doesn’t matter, not anymore,” Fleur’s voice was garbled, wet and pained, but she let out that strange roaring cry and attacked.
The new appendages flapped around wildly and hindered her immensely, giving Ule the upper hand almost instantly. They met in a rabid clawing hug, talons against claws, Ule felt her skin being sliced open and then knit back together. She grunted and reached around, grasping the base of the wing where it broke through Fleur’s back. It was slippery with blood and she gritted her teeth against the sting of a claw against her hipbone, feeling her shirt rip. She angled her hand and her talon sliced easily through the flesh, hindered only slightly by the back of her ribcage.
Squealing in pain, Fleur struggling, fighting to get free, bashing Ule in the jaw and knocking her head back sharply. It was enough of a pause for the mutated woman to tear away and put a few feet between them. Both wings hung low, useless through her own lack of knowledge of how to use them. She shivered and her chest heaved as she tried to catch her breath.
“You’re going to die,” Ule hissed, narrowing her eyes and changing her stance, rolling her shoulders as her body finished mending. “Give me the vials and I’ll just leave.”
Fleur’s mouth opened to a red tinted smile. “I’ll die no matter what happens,” she breathed in a rattling breath. “But I can at least take you with me!”
Her cry was ferocious as they clashed again, hot ragged breaths and scrabbling claws. There was no technique, no style, it was a simple kill-or-be-killed and Ule took the first opening she found, wreathing her arm around Fleur’s thick neck and dropping all her weight to the ground, sending them both to the stone. Fleur gurgled as she fought, but Ule strained and dragged Fleur onto her back, straddling her waist and pulling up with her arm, holding her in a dangerous chokehold.
Fleur’s thorn-like claws bit into her forearm and the wings beat weakly, but Ule held. She flexed her muscle, snarling low in the back of her throat, inching her way up until—
“Enough, let her go,” The voice was of the man that always seemed to show up when she least expected it, Ule relaxed the pressure, but didn’t release Fleur as she looked to Zanzibarr.
He was spattered in red, his hair windswept and his eyes bright with a wild look. He practically seethed a pseudo-calm, but there was something wicked and cruel about those eyes that make a tendril of fear slither along Ule’s spine. “But she…”
“You’re not a killer, Ule, let her go, I was the one that let her into Valkyrie, it was my mistake for not noticing this, it’s my job to end it.”
There was no slack for argument in his tone and Ule let out the breath she held, slowly uncurling her arm and climbing off Fleur.
“Take the vials and wait for me outside,” Zanzibarr’s eyes were alight with fire as Ule obeyed his commands.
He was within a foot of Fleur when Ule glanced over her should, clutching the canisters to her chest. She saw the way Fleur gazed up at him like she was ready for his judgment and then the door closed and the soundproof walls closed them off.
Ule stood there a long second, then steadied herself, knowing full well that Zanzibarr would meet her as he said. There was something scary about him, but she knew that is was probably due to the animal he was spliced with. The Tasmanian Devil that killed its target with vile ease. This was the first time she’d seen him like that, which made it even more frightful.
She climbed the stairs, walking through the halls, aware that she and Zanzibarr were the only two creatures breathing in the entire complex. The smell of blood hit her every few corridors and she kept her eyes forward. Her eyes itched with unshed tears and she didn’t know whether it was due to relief or terror. Probably a bit of both. But it was over.
Ule waited quietly on the stone yard staring at the corpse of a hound. A swarm of flies was investigating it loudly and she wished she could shut off her oversensitive ears. The sky was painted with ribbons of red and orange and the ground smelled of day-old rain as the sun fell over the tree tops. One day had passed since she’d entered the hell-hole, which made her shiver. Only one day and everything had changed. Ule shifted her weight from foot to foot, still holding the canisters.
The tingling in her back intensified and she frowned. Are they…? Wings of glorious black feathers, each over ten feet in length skimmed over her shoulders as they stretched to their full span. Now, they were tears of relief and Ule wrapped herself in them, reveling in their tickling warmth. They were a part of her, something she’d learned to accept and learned to love and the thought of being without them had been almost as horrible as the pain of them being removed.
“We should get home,” Zanzibarr’s sudden presence caused her to jump and scowl, momentarily forgetting where he’d been and what he’d just been doing.
Ule nodded, watching him approach her warily. He seemed to know her thoughts and he held out a hand for her to give him the canister. “We all have our roles in this world and they aren’t always that pretty in reality.”
Watching him gingerly take the canister made Ule close her eyes for a heartbeat. “The world isn’t black and white, that’s what Fleur said.”
“That is true, but knowing how to tell what color it actually is would make it too predictable and life isn’t meant to be understood. We just live to the best of our abilities and in the case of use, those abilities are not average.”
“And that’s that?”
Zanzibarr looked back, over the facility that looked so normal, even as it sat entombing dozens of people. “Groups like this have threatened Valkyrie numerous times. It’ll be swept under the rug and that’ll be that. So, let’s go home. Djin will be needing support.”
“He’s alive?” Ule’s heart skipped a beat and her stomach flipped.
“I’m not so stupid as to create a poison without an antidote, but I only had one, so, this needs to be tucked away.”
“Or destroyed,” Ule offered.
Without another look at the place they’d been, Ule took to the air, feeling a streak of glee at the power of her wings and the rush of the wind. Zanzibarr sat astride her, tiny in comparison. Ule stared down at the ground as it blurred beneath them. Every detail was sharp, every leaf, branch, and flower were bright and vibrant in the soft watery sunlight. She could feel Zanzibarr’s slight weight resting between her wings, nestled into her feathers against the chill of the clouds and the wind.
“Do you think we’re monsters?” The words were hissing whispers slipping through Zanzibarr’s skull as Ule spoke.
He shifted, knowing full well Fleur had said much more than she should have. “No.”
“Simple as that?”
“Well, what do you think? Are we monsters?” Zanzibar asked.
Ule gave another mighty thrust of her wings, feeling the muscles tremble and pull. “I want to say no, but, in my heart. I know I am.”