Muffled, distant voices shook her from mad dreams of a storm of midnight wings. Her head rattled from the pallid light bombarding her sensitive eyes. A twisting screw of pain drilled between her eyes. A shiver traced icy fingers down her spine into the naked soles of her feet. Smooth walls, the color of drying sea foam, pressed in around her, forcing her to crouch and curl in the small space. She was encased and yet no panic rose in her, only cold and the headache blinding her thoughts. She tried to focus through the pain and found her thoughts were not all that had been numbed. How had she come to be here, trapped and naked; were the voices outside those of her captors or fellow captives; why couldn’t she remember anything?

A cry escaped at the stabbing inside her head when she tried to find a memory. The murmurs hushed–the world beyond her prison silent. Her breathing stilled though her heart beat as frantic as a caged wild bird. Two knocks echoed in her forehead; she flinched with each rap upon the convex walls.  

“Sister,” a voice said, “it isn’t so hard to crack the wall. Go on, try.”

They sounded kind. Trust and courage filled filled her up. Beneath outspread fingers the warm surface felt like porcelain, but it took more force than expected to break. The wall did not shatter when she broke through, instead the pieces clung to an opaque, leathery skin. She worked to break the larger fragments from the sinewy sheet until the hole became an exit. The air hung thick and humid, welcome after the cold she’d been trapped in. A piece of the wall crunched under her heel; she looked back at the–egg. She had been inside an egg.

Shiny, red eyes watched her from black-feathered faces. Upon scaled and clawed feet stood winged women dressed in sooty feathers, the curves of a human body reminiscent under the layers of plumage. One of the pale yellow beaks clacked open.

“We are happy to welcome you, hatchling. His Majesty chose you to wed and so you will be our sister. How blessed you are. But congratulations can wait; you must be hungry. Now eat! Eat!”

A clutch of rancid meat was thrust to her mouth, cold blood and slick secretions painted her lips. Bile burned her throat with a scream. And the world disappeared.

(II) (III) (IV) (V) (VI) (VII) (VIII)

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