I woke up laying on my back with a throbbing pain in my—
A throbbing pain in my everything. And screaming just made it even worse. Everything hurt. Like a trillion shards of glass were flowing through my veins, while my skin was set on fire and my eyes were clawed by wild animals and—
I tried to move, to find out where I was, but that just made the pain worse, like the time I broke my arm in three pieces, but kept trying to move it.
But this was worse. So much worse. Every time I twitched, my veins screamed in protest, and my flesh shivered in agony.
Where was I? It was dark, completely dark, so dark that I wasn’t even sure I wasn’t blind. I tried feeling around my surroundings, but that didn’t help. I couldn’t even tell if I had managed to touch anything, all I could feel was the pain.
I was beginning to panic, but I needed to calm down. I could taste blood in my mouth, from when I had screamed—or tried to scream, rather—and ruptured something important in my throat. I could feel something pooling in my esophagus, but all I could do was hope I wouldn’t drown in my own blood.
This reminded me of something that had happened before, but I was still in too much pain and too disturbed to remember exactly what. I did remember one thing, though: My power was very useful in this situation. Not the power itself, but rather the sixth sense that allowed me to sense solid matter that I could affect with my power.
I extended it slowly, instinctively assuming the pain would flare up again, but it seemed I had nothing to worry about on that front. Using a power apparently put little enough strain on a body that whatever horrific wounds I had didn’t scream in protest.
I was in…a box, maybe. A coffin? No, I couldn’t jump to conclusions. My sense was ridiculously nonspecific; I could tell I was surrounded by some thin material that I couldn’t affect with my power, but that was all I could be sure of. Even the shape—a rectangular box—was uncertain.
Okay, I was in a box, bag, whatever. That…was not a good sign, but I had to press on. I extended my awareness, searching the floor. It wasn’t concrete, or stone, or anything else I could use my power on, which probably meant I was inside a building, on an upper floor. I could feel some concrete pillars nearby, but they seemed like they were…wrapped in felt. That probably just meant they were covered in wood paneling or something else my power couldn’t affect.
There were no people around, at least as far as I could tell. My sense might be nonspecific, but there weren’t any tall, thin bundles of solid matter around, which was generally how I identified people.
Okay, I was in horrific pain, in a box. That…made no sense to me. I needed to backtrack a little. Now that I wasn’t moving, the pain had faded to a manageable—but still absolutely epic—ache, and my thoughts were becoming more clear. What was the last thing that had happened to me?
I was at a meeting with Soaring Eagle.
And I had seen Mitchel.
As my heart began to beat faster in response to my rage, my pain increased as well. Even as I choked back another scream, I forced my pulse to slow, with a breathing exercise that hurt almost as much as the heartbeat itself.
I needed to channel Laura. Getting all angry in this situation would solve exactly nothing, and might actually kill me.
Cold, logical, and precise. That’s what I needed to be.
I couldn’t remember exactly what had happened with Mitchel. I had been…attacked? By Soaring Eagle, maybe? I was getting a headache, and while it wasn’t anywhere near as painful as the rest of my body, it still hurt.
Wait, no, I understood the problem now—I had skipped a step. First: Figure out your current situation. If my memories were more clear, maybe it would be obvious, but I couldn’t rely on that.
I was rambling, mentally. Needed to focus.
In horrific pain, in a box, no one around, nothing close enough to use my power on. Now was the time to take a closer look at myself. I tapped into my awareness again, but this time I set my senses on my own body.
My sixth sense was far more acute when I was peering at my own flesh and bones, and I didn’t know why. Oh, it wasn’t as good as my ability to sense things I could actually affect with my power, but it was good enough to give me an accurate, if not particularly detailed, picture of my body.
Even then, it took me more than a minute to realize exactly what I was sensing.
I was broken.
Every bone in my body, from my skull to my smallest toe, was shattered. Bent and twisted, with bits and shards stabbing into the surrounding flesh. In most places, they were still in approximately the right shape, little clumps of splinters pretending to be functioning bone.
But the human body is rarely good with ‘approximately.’ Every time my muscles flexed, they pressed and moved the slush that used to be my bones. My legs were already deformed, caved in under their own weight, and I felt as though the only thing keeping my rib cage from following suit was my heart, still pumping strong despite all the abuse.
Which it shouldn’t be. My biology and anatomy grades were laughable, but I knew that a human being cannot survive with a skeleton that looked like something that had come out of a blender. How was I still alive?
Had I been rescued? If Necessarius had found me, they might have brought me to Doctor Clarke, put me in—
Put me in the toy box.
Oh no. No no no no…
Now that my mind was more clear, there was no mistaking it. This was the toy box, and not one of the copies the ‘sarians had built. Those were open-air, while even my limited sixth sense could tell that this one wasn’t. This was the actual, original device.
The one the aves had.
The aves had nearly killed me—just the tiniest breadth of a hair away from actually killing me—and put me in the toy box to save my life.
But why? For what purpose? Maybe…as some sort of ransom, or bargaining chip?
Or as a lab rat.
By the velvet-draped halls of Shendilavri, the Fourth Gate of Hell, I would not. I would not be some mad bird’s experiment, to be poked and prodded and cut until I was of no more use.
I was Ling Yu. I left Shendilavri, and Damavand, and I fought my way through the screaming hordes of Elizabeth Greene.
I was no one’s lab rat.
It didn’t take long to find the only solution left to me. Escape was impossible. Rescue unlikely, and would take too long anyway.
Suicide was the only answer.
I had to act quickly. I had screamed when I first awoke, and though I didn’t know how soundproof the box was, an ave would be coming sooner or later.
Though every part of my body screamed in protest, I struggled to bring my hand to my chest. It was a long shot, but with my body in its current, broken state, I might be able to tear open a hole in my gut, and bleed out relatively quickly. It was a painful option, but the only one I seemed to have.
It didn’t work.
Not for lack of trying. But while my chest was weak, barely stronger than the flesh of a newborn kitten—if that—my hand had deteriorated as well. I could move the fingers, or the tubes of blood and tortured muscle that used to be fingers, but not with any strength. I may as well have been staring at a stone wall, for all the damage it did.
But it still hurt.
I screamed, blood gurgling in my throat, as my hand felt as though it was on fire. No, worse than that. It had already felt like fire—now it felt like a thousand ants had found my hand, cooking in a bonfire, and started ripping off pieces to take home.
I could feel every splinter of bone, sawing through flesh with a diabolical will, as though my entire hand would collapse into chunks of meat at any moment—
I stopped, gasping for air, and tasting blood on my tongue as my painful, labored breathing made me spit up the liquid that had pooled in my throat.
All that pain, and nothing to show for it but blood.
For a moment, a brief moment, I began to hope that I would drown, here in this box, my own blood filling my lungs and ending my life.
It was not to be, of course. This was the toy box, and whatever arcane processes it used, were able to dissolve the blood in my throat, likely to redistribute the biological matter somewhere else more useful.
Or not. I knew little about the toy maker, and far less about the toy box. All I knew, right here and right now, was that it was keeping me alive.
Barely. It was keeping my heart and other vital organs strong, but whatever had happened to my bones, the toy box didn’t possess the power to cure it. Only hold it at bay, keep it from killing me completely.
Keep me from killing me, too.
Way back on the Ring, when I had been placed in the box after fighting the renegades, I had thought at first that the box I was in was a coffin, and I was doomed to remain awake when I was left out for the ghouls to feast on.
No ghouls were here, but maybe I hadn’t been quite so far off the mark as I had thought.
Why was no one coming?
Behind the Scenes (scene 195)
Well, at least Ling’s doing fine. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I was worried for a minute there.
And this is Friday, by the way. Friday October 26th.