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   Chapter 27

Damsel[ed] No Rescue Required By m i c h e l l e p a k Characters: 16780

Updated: 2017-12-12 12:04


"Kiddo," the man says, "hold your breath. This might hurt."

I make an incoherent sound, don“t even try to give him an understandable spoken response. I“ve been holding my breath for a while, actually. My face is jammed into the steel table, the bruises under my eyes and down my cheeks throbbing with fresh pain. The exhaustion, the pain, physically and mentally, it all sets in. I“m sitting in a crooked oak chair, the back digging into my spine and exposed wings. The muscles flex automatically. It“s a nervous feeling, how my wings move on their own like that. It“s like having hands that suddenly seize or flail without you telling them to do anything of the sort. The feathers, too, they fluff up like cat fur.


"Do your worst."

He slams the crowbar down on the links between the cuffs. The metal loops dig deeper into my wrists with each crack of the tool. My breath quivers. The table, I decide, is a nice color up close, and cleaner than you would think it would be. It“s sleek and cold, like the stainless steel of my refrigerator at home. My heart pings in my chest, like one of the moving pieces in a pinball machine. Jeez, who would“ve thought home really was where the heart is. Adventure movies are fun. Adventure books are fun, too. You“d think the real stuff, at least the stuff real in my life—I“m almost wondering if my life is a bogus fourth wall break (in which case, that would be cool, I guess)—would be equally as fun, but instead, it entails a lot of blood and a lot of pain.

"Oy," the man groans. "This might take awhile. Are you adverse to acid?"

"Um." I swallow hard. "Yeah. I mean, I don“t like it, if that“s what you mean."

His footsteps shuffle and he has the sort of huff that sounds like the snort of a tractor-trailer. "Well, then. You“re going to have to suck it up. Wait where you are. "

And so I do. I just listen to my own breathing and think. I think about a lot of things. I think about Gatsby being taken and Heaven collapsed in a limp heap on my bed and Jaylin trying to kiss me. I think about Ceres and Poison beating me and the crowds watching, not a single one stepping in and saying, "Hey, you“re going a little far, aren“t you?" And my mind goes hundreds of other places from there. Thought experiment: if you break the fourth wall, but you aren“t fictional, then are you really breaking the fourth wall? And if you are fictional, but you don“t know it, and you talk to an audience, is that a fourth wall break? Example: you are my hypothetical audience. This is all in my head. But what if you, hypothetical audience of hypothetical ladies who want to marry me because I“m a hypothetical gentleman, are not hypothetical at all, but real, and I“m just, like, a figment of your imagination? Am I breaking the fourth wall, right now, by talking to you? Or am I not, because I“m just madly rambling in my head and don“t really know you exist and—

Huh. So this is what insanity feels like. It feels like trying to talk yourself to death, like the madness of thinking yourself to the point of no reason feels more structured and gives you more control than reality does.

The man sighs and sets something cold by my elbow. "Interesting stuff this is made of, but I“ve seen it before," he says through a mouthful of something. He“s a kind of chatty guy, and I like to listen to him speak. "In blades, mostly. Handcuffs are in interesting choice, but ingenious, come to think of it. You came to the right place."

"Fate." I swipe my tongue over my teeth, trying to rid myself of the taste of blood in my mouth. "It“s fate right?"

"Fate wants you dead, kiddo," he says after smashing the crowbar down one more time. I bite down hard. The cuffs make me bleed, and I clench my fists until my knuckles feel like they“re about to pop through my skin. He never heard my story, not enough to warrant the "fate wants you dead" line, but I can“t help but agree. I nod, never lifting my head, just rubbing my face against the cool steel of the table. It feels oddly nice, like I“m ironing out all the wrinkles in my face.

"Aha!" he cries. A link splinters and I yank my hands free.

I can“t help but make a little sound of relief as I grab at the cuffs. They dig, pretty bad. I“m bleeding where they reopen old scabs. I am something of a walking injury at this point, and I chuckle under my breath. The man picks my hand flat off the table and sets it back down on a folded lump of fabric. I barely lift my head up. "Thanks."

A shirt. I hardly even think about it as I fling it over my head and stuff my arms through the sleeves. Not my size, a little short around the the midsection and a little tight up near the shoulders. The back nearly tears out from the wings. The kids in Max Ride have wings that expand from inside their backs, so they don“t have to deal with this, and the Generation Icarus kids had some pretty ingenious ways of hiding theirs. Angels in a lot of the paranormal shows can sometimes make theirs just go invisible. Lucki

laughter. Shivers prick my shoulders. "Go on out there, Angelos. Poison“s friends will snap you up in three seconds flat."

I whirl around, my hands flat against the shelves. My lip curls, hands instinctively clenched for a fight. This, this is bad. "Is this a trap?" If it is, I“ll fight with whatever strength I have left. I“m already sizing him up. I“m hurting everywhere, limbs achy and bruised. The healing factor must be kicking in, keeping me from falling over half-dead. If it is, then it“s buggy as all heck, but I“m grateful for it.

The man“s smile fades. "It was only an offer, punk. Don“t get paranoid on me."

I cross my arms over my chest and glower. I“m not a punk. I hate being called a punk. "Well, thanks for taking me in, anyway." I really am, even if it doesn“t show with my growling and all. He shrugs, the red flush leaving his cheeks.

"I want to see that money." He stalks off, through the back door, and my eyes draw back to that chain link, drowned in its own aura.

In the cup“s side, I see my reflection again, and I nearly scream. At least, I would if I were remotely shocked at "surprising" stuff. As it is, I just draw in a long, trembling sigh. My reflection is the one I saw earlier when I woke up after my aura came out and I ran away from home. My eye, the one covered by the patch, blacked over like a demon“s. My mouth twisted into a smirk. My aura blazing.

This is you. Get a good look.

Another voice in my head, darn it.

"Wait!" I cry, knocking the cup over with the side of my hand. The solution pills over the edge of the table, bubbling and hissing like a witch“s brew. The man peers out from behind the door. He“s been watching me, but I don“t care. In the red of the tainted water, I see the other me and hear the same voice in my voice, cool and distant, hisses like whispers. I can hardly breathe. This is who you are, this is who you are, you can“t escape it, this is who you are—

"Shut up!" I hiss through my teeth, smashing the glass into a million pieces under my fist. I“ll get a paying job and I“ll give this man money for his cup and shirt, but right now, I want to make the voice and reflection go away. That“s all I care about, can care about. The solution hisses as it drips down my skin. The man comes back, a victorious smile clear on his smug face. A purple liquid pools from under my fingertips, brought out of my skin by the solution. It burns. I squeeze my eyes shut. "What was it you said about power harvesting?" I murmur.

"Violet," the man mutters under his breath. "Holy crap kid, your aura, it“s...kid. "

I“m sick of this, people gasping at my powers, talking about how special/horrible/evil I am when I don“t even know the rules of the game and how to play it.

He grabs me by the collar of my shirt, snapping the chair to the floor with a sharp jerk. I tumble back, kicking and clawing, my arm pounding with fresh pain.

"You wanna learn about power harvesting?" He sounds like he“s laughing, and I swallow hard, my chest heaving. What am I doing? I don“t even know where I am or who this is or where Gats is being held.

I lie flat on my butt. Still, I nod. I need to know what“s happening, what my options are, what I can do to quell the aura that nearly destroyed me.

And yet, as the man pulls me to my feet, I know this is a very, very bad idea.

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