I stared at the rash on my mother's forearm, eyes slowly going wide.
"What...Mumma..." I looked up at her helplessly, then back down. The rash, a long snake swallowing its own tail to make an infinity symbol, was burnt into her flesh. It was puffy and red, the skin around it seeming to want to jump off her body and run from the awful-looking mark. I swore I had seen that mark somewhere before. But where?
"It's the mark of The Clan," Mumma said miserably. Images flashed in my head, that name bringing up memories I'd rather not think of.
"Who's my sweet angel...Little baby angel?" The voice, sweet and kind, reminded me of pleasure when I heard it. Everything was blurry, never quite coming into focus. I wanted to see the blurry face with the white surrounding it. It was so warm around the warm-colored blur.
And then something changed, shifting so the warm-blur was colder. The warmth growing into heat, searing as I cried. The pain slowly devolving into numbness, sinking deep into my bones, my eyes seeing pain and my body crying out, but my brain remaining unresponsive, not sending anything to numb it. Unbelieving, unwilling to accept there was pain there, even after skin melted, revealing bone and muscle.
"My little baby angel...Lurah, Lurah~" the voice sang, cooing softly and sweetly to me through the pain. I soon came to associate that voice with pain, crying at the sight of the blur and wailing when the voice was anywhere near me.
"Lurah, come back to me," my mother's voice commanded. I jumped, the world and my mother, beautiful as always, coming back into focus. "There you are. Now, tell me you understand."
"But Mumma!" I protested. "Mumma, we could...Train me! You could train me!" She sighed, wrinkles I hadn't noticed deepening and becoming visible. She pursed her lips, staring hard at me.
"Lurah, we can't."
"But why?" I repeated, pleading. "The Clan can't take on two, three magic users! No one can take on three fully trained magic users! Mumma, please! If you just help-"
"No, Lurah!" She thundered, cutting me off and grabbing my arms, pinning them to my sides. She gripped hard, probably leaving marks. She pulled me down so we were eye-to-eye, nothing short of furious with me now. "We can't. They have me marked. Every interaction I have, everything I do from now on, is being traced. I can't help you. We can't risk this." She let me go, stepping back. "Do you understand that? Can you ever begin to comprehend why I can't teach you to use your magic? Lurah, listen to me."
I looked away, tears threatening. I glared at my mother out of the corner of my eye. So what was so hard about it? She held her arms out to the sides, palms out. "I can't. As your mother, I'm supposed to keep you safe. You having those wings of yours, flaunting them, is a mark of my failure that you revel in."
"My wings make me special!" I shouted finally. "My wings are what set me apart! Why can't you love me for who I am?"
"This is not who you are, Lurah!" My mother yelled back. "You are not a bird, you are not supposed to have wings! You aren't supposed to be able to fly! But you do, and you can, and you don't see anything wrong with that."
"I can't help that I'm different, Mumma," I choked out, tears streaking my face.
"I know you can't help that you're different, Lurah," she sighed, "I know that. But you can hide it, you can try your best to blend in. But you couldn't, even to protect your family, you just refused to try. I am not upset that you are different. I'm upset that you refuse to obey me when I tell you not to fly out in the open, when I tell you to not be so obvious that we are so different." Mumma breathed in deeply, her chest expanding and her posture straightening as if by reflex. "Am I supposed to be okay with the fact that my child is disobedient and strange?"
A sob escaped my throat as tears blurred my mother. "S...Strange..." My throat constricted. "Strange? Is that..." I swallowed, blinking to clear my vision. "Is that what everyone sees? Strange?"
My mother opened her mouth, features softening for just an instant before they hardened again and she shut her mouth, breathing out through her nose. "Lurah, you're different, and you don't mind being that way. That's intimidating, you have to understand." I frowned deeply, coughing to loosen my throat up so I could talk.
"But why? Why is it so wrong to not be the same as everyone else?" I whimpered.
"Because, Lurah dear, when people are different, their peers will do one of two things. They will either persecute them, or begin to follow them, there aren't any other choices. If someone's different than you, you are either going to hate them, or you're going to want to be like them. Conformity is human nature, Lurah, and at this stage in your life, it's evident that you won't be molded," Mumma sighed. "It's hard to explain."
"So...If I'm different, people are either going to follow me or hate me?" I asked. My mother nodded. "So, why is that a problem?"
"Simply put, The Clan rule this area of the known world. If someone rises out of the dust and nothingness that may be able to challenge their authority and absolute control, they have to be eliminated, one way or another. Do you understand that, child?" she asked, putting a soft hand on my cheek. I looked at the ground.
"So what are we going to do, Mumma?" She shook her head.
"There's nothing to do, except hope that you can blend in well enough to escape with your brother," my mother said slowly. My gaze jerked up, settling quickly on her sorrowed face.
"Lurah, stop and think for a moment," she commanded. I fell back, closing my mouth. "If I'm already marked, I'm practically already dead. I am living on borrowed time. If you and your brother can escape, our family lineage can continue on, the bloodlines of myself and your father. That is all I could ask for. But, in order for you to be able to do that, Lurah," she said, "You must blend in. You must not raise suspicions, and you must, with no exceptions, hide your wings. You cannot fly in public any more." I grimaced.
"I'm sorry, Lurah."
"No," I said. She raised her eyebrows. "I can't," I whispered, voice breaking. "I can't do it, I can't blend in well enough to save you."
"You needn't save me. I am marked, branded like cattle for slaughter. I will live as I will live from now on, on all the borrowed time they see fit to give me. Do you understand?" my mother asked. I nodded slowly, closing my eyes and fighting back the tears. I'd already cried enough in front of her. "Good. You must ask for help from your brother. He knows how to blend in. He knows how to make himself invisible."
"But why?" I questioned again. "Why?" My mother sighed. She shook her head. There were no words for it. She pulled her sleeve back down over her forearm, covering that hideous scar, that burn in all its cringy glory. Mumma remained silent, telling me in her way that she didn't know, wouldn't answer, because she couldn't give me the one thing I needed at that moment, she couldn't give me knowledge.
"You may go back out if you wish. Bring your brother home if you do. We have many things to discuss from here on out." Mumma's blonde hair whipped around as she did, falling into place neatly on her back. For the first time, I noticed flyaway hairs coming out of her loose ponytail, I noticed silver hairs threaded through the blonde. I turned around, walking back through the house and out the door.
I started to spread my wings, then tucked them close back to my body. Had anyone seen that? I was seeing strangers in the trees, in the fog, in the clouds, in the hills. Everywhere that was once a sanctuary now felt invaded and compromised.
I flinched at a cracking near me, whirling around to see a kitten. It blinked at me, one eye a bizarre, milky white. Blinded halfway, the poor kitten was probably out of a domestic cat's littler and wouldn't survive out in the wild.
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