Lonely, Loved, Lost
My name is Metalhawk-666
I am no longer a person
I am an inferior race
I live to serve, to please, to love
I live to see the peace of our times
I live to die for my Master
I am a Metalhawk
It’s a beautiful word, full of promise...hope...a future.
Full of life and passion.
I have freedom.
I am alone.
None of them have freedom. Some of the older ones haven’t attempted to speak their minds in years. They gave up trying a long time ago, offered themselves wholly to their Masters and faded behind the Masks. Their eyes, once the beacon of hatred and defiance, grew dim, darkening to black, the whites fading to a sullen gray. They are hollow, mindless. No substance. No thoughts. Yes, Master; No, Master; Please and thank you, Master. That’s all they say.
I hate those words.
I am the youngest.
For years I had been the last bit of sunshine in the world, the last female to be born before the Era of Immortality began. Thirty years younger than all other females. Thirty years dumber, thirty years less exposed. All the others were immortalized into metal long before I came along. Already reconstructed into Birds.
The word grinds upon my ears. I cringe at just the thought of them. A new race – if that's what you can call it – of metal and submission. Every female becomes one when their bodies reach full maturation on their sixteenth birthday. They are fitted with a mask unique to their new owner's wishes. Constructed of solid silver and designed to the Master's liking of bird types, it is superheated and melded to the poor girl's face, never to come off again. Enchanted with the magic of Pyroch and Archae, they take over the minds of their victims and render them entirely submissive, unable to speak or act without orders or direction. Any stray thought they attempt to voice, if laced with malice or anything considered unpleasant to their Master's select programming, will be changed as it comes out to something more satisfactory to their Master's ears. No more fighting or negativity from females. Total submission to their Masters, complete love for their abusers, absolute abandonment of their faculties. No more freedom.
Soon after the Element Pyroch built the first mask, it was ordained law by the King that all females receive one to “bring peace and prosperity throughout all the lands, end the cruel practices of reward and punishment, and destroy classes among the thralls.” The practice having since been very much welcomed by males, females stood no chance. Thirty years later, I am the last free-born female alive. Well...not entirely free-born. My mother was named Metaljay-209. My father was her Master. He abandoned me in the woods when I was five years old after deciding that he didn't want to put up with an unmasked female for eleven more years. The last memory I have of my parents is them singing me to sleep on what I was told was a camping trip. I've fended for myself since that day, clumsily at first, but I made it with Pale'eia's blessing. She's been like my mother all along – never there in presence, but always in spirit, always inside my head, guiding and teaching me to hunt, find shelter, and even speak. She was the one who showed me the way to my current home, the safest place I've ever been. But my home is threatened now. The population is booming – with females unable to say no, they are having more children than ever before, and the cities are quickly becoming overcrowded. Rich Masters are looking to expand their lands, and are encroaching evermore on my forestland home. Now I have to find a new place to live for the rest of my immortal life, a place that I won't be found. A place undesirable to others, dangerous and wild – but it's better than spending the rest of my life dead inside. Pale'eia will protect me along the way, guide me to a place that she knows I can survive with her aid.
Even now, I am searching for a way to cross the mountains. They are my first and most formidable obstacle. When I go on my weekly hunt, I stray further and further in, looking for the safest pass in from the foothills of the ancient stone entities. Pale'eia has warned me that I have to leave my cave soon, the place that I have worked so hard over the years to make my own. It's my safe place – the only place that I have ever known. I am loathe to just pick up and leave...maybe one more week. Couldn't hurt. Surely disaster couldn't strike that quickly. Yes, one more week, then I'll leave...
Two Years Later
I bowed at my Master's feet, my nose pressed to the ground, forehead brushing his bare toes. “Please forgive me, Master,” I groveled. My stomach turned at the words, but what I wanted to say – which was the most verbally abusive way I could think of to elaborate on “Damn you to hell!” - wouldn't come out. The thought flowed into my throat to be vocalized, but what came out was what Master wanted to hear. He wanted me to beg, to debase and humiliate myself for his sadistic kicks.
“I don't know...” he mused, kicking my face so that I cried out and cowered lower. “You've just destroyed my best chinaware. It was a very expensive set. It'll take an entire paycheck to buy replacements.”
I knew what he wanted – and he was going to hear it, unfortunately. Everything inside me pleaded, screamed, implored against it. But he was going to hear it, and he knew it.
“I'll pay for it,” I whispered, nuzzling his foot. “It was my fault, Master. My responsibility to replace. I'll go right now, if you'd like.”
“Yes,” he murmured. I didn't have to look to see the smirk on his lips. “I would like that. And don't break them on the way home.”
I nodded and quickly escaped the house, almost running to the market. I hated my Master, and I hated the house he lived in, and I hated all of his other Birds, and I hated his sons – but most of all, I really, really, really hated my Master. Not that I could ever tell him.
I found the shop that Master had bought his glassware from and ventured inside sadly, already unbuttoning the back of my dress. The shopkeeper leered at me as I approached the counter. I could see a Bird at his feet working to clean a spill on the floor. He kicked her aside so he could rest his elbows on the counter.
“And what can I do for you today, Metalhawk?” he sniggered. As if he didn't already have a good idea. Why did any Bird come in without their Master?
“I broke Master's best dishes. He would like new ones,” I said quietly. “He sent me to pay for them.”
His grin widened. I could see his snaggly brown teeth, and his repugnant breath wafted into my face. “In the back,” he murmured. “I'm sure you know the drill.”
I did know the drill. I let myself behind the counter and went into the storeroom. There was a filthy mattress in the corner. I slipped my dress off and sat down to wait. I heard him packing the dishes into a box for Master, then he came back and ordered me to lay down and keep my eyes open. As he had his way with me, I had no choice but to stare into those lustful, malicious, milky orbs boring a hole into my forehead, but my mind wandered and longed for better times. When he had exhausted himself, I quickly dressed and excused myself back to my Master, carrying the box carefully so I wouldn't drop them and earn myself another trip to the disgusting merchant. I felt dirty enough as it was.
On the way into the kitchen, I bumped into Master's eldest son, Azire. He was the most handsome of all the males in the house, and also the most distant. He was rarely to be found outside of his room – and nobody knew what he did in there, not even his father.
“My apologies, sir,” I said softly, unpacking the dishes. He said nothing, merely watched, and I worked despite the uneasy lump in my stomach. He had an unsettling aura about him; just being near him made me uncomfortable. There was just something about him. He certainly wasn't like anyone else in the house. He was too...nice.
“You don't have to apologize to me, Metalhawk,” he said quietly, slowly reaching out to brush hair out of my face. “You didn't know I was here.”
“Yes, Master Azire,” I mumbled, shying away from his hand as much as I could inconspicuously. I was still trembling and unnerved by being forced to let a stranger use my body.
“That son of a bitch,” swore Azire lowly, his hand resting on the back of my half-unbuttoned dress. “Again? That's the sixth time this week.”
I hung my head as low as I could. “Yes, sir,” I mumbled. “I broke his plates.”
I could feel Azire shaking with anger. “That's no excuse,” he growled, and I cowered as his tone grew harsher with every word. “He has plenty of money to go buy new plates. He has no business forcing you to let another stranger use your body just to get all these free things. That's ridiculous and uncalled for and the sicko does it because it's where he gets his kicks. It's absolutely disgusting.”
I wanted so desperately to voice my agreement, but I knew the mask would not allow me to speak negatively of its programmer. I eventually settled for, “It is what it is, sir. He thinks it's an appropriate punishment for me.”
“Well, I don't!” he snarled, grabbing my wrist. I mewled, thinking I was in trouble – but his touch, surprisingly gentle, quieted me quickly. “Come. I've had enough. We're leaving.”
I was stunned, but I couldn't object. He was my Master, too. He led me up to his room and gave me a pair of drawstring trousers and a cloak with a hood.
“Put these on. Cover your face. We're leaving.”
“Did Master say I could?” I said quietly, already knowing the answer,
“I'm your Master now,” he said firmly, and grabbed a large knapsack. He threw a few books and two changes of clothes into it and slung it across his back. “Come now. Let's get you out of here.” He held my hand and tugged me down the back staircase and through the backyard into the woods, seeming to know exactly where he was going despite the descending darkness. When I tried to pull my hand away, he tightened his grip slightly and said quietly, “You don't have to, but I'd like to keep hold of you. Please.”
This was the first time I'd been given a choice in two years – and to my own surprise, I felt an involuntary smile flit across my covered lips. He couldn't see it, but he heard it in my voice as I murmured, “I'd be happy to, sir.” I squeezed his hand gently and walked slightly closer to him after that, lost in thought.
I was beginning to tire in the wee hours of the morning when he stopped walking. I looked up and found myself staring at a very familiar sight: the bed I had built when I had been free. Tears pricked the corners of my eyes, unable to escape due to the hindrance of the mask, and I blinked them away quickly before Azire could notice.
“Welcome home,” he said softly, turning to face me. “Where you belong.”
“I-” I whimpered, trying to find words I could speak. “Thank you...this is....I-”
He tilted my chin up so I was looking into his eyes, soft and warm and filled with something I had never seen before. They were refreshingly gentle. I expected him to speak, demand a proper thanks, but he surprised me by leaning down and pressing his lips to the metal grate covering my own (for the express purpose of keeping us from kissing our Masters – love and affection were forbidden). “You're welcome,” he murmured, stroking the seam where the mask's edge warped the once-silky smooth skin of my cheek and kept my short black fur from growing. The downy hairs along my spine rustled and ears twitched as blood rushed to my face. Craving more of this unfamiliar tenderness, I shocked myself by reaching out and wrapping my arms around his neck for a hug as I had seen Master do to his children.
He surprised me further by reciprocating this affection, pulling me into his broad, muscular chest and burying his face in my voluminous hair. I almost started crying again, but he picked me up before I had the chance and gently carried me to the bed. I awkwardly attempted to pull the pants off, expecting to be used, but he halted my hands with a slight touch and shake of his head. Startled and apprehensively optimistic, I watched as he removed his own shirt and pulled a blanket from his bag. He laid on the bed beside me and pulled me into his arms again, cocooning both of us in the welcomed warmth of the fluffy cloth. Exhausted from the walk, deprived of any soft touch since I was a baby, I mewled and snuggled as close as I could, praying to Fate it wouldn't end.
“Sleep now,” he murmured tenderly, stroking my hair. I purred helplessly beneath the soothing caresses. He chuckled and scratched my back gently with his other hand until I drifted off, my face tucked into the crook of his neck. I barely heard his last words as my eyes closed. “Goodnight, my little love.”
The next morning began a new life for me, the kind Fate had given me dreams of but I had never imagined could be had by a female. Azire was gentle with me, treating me like a precious object, bestowing upon me affection as oft as he was around. He hunted and gathered food, leaving the grate over my lips parted as far as it would go (which was just wide enough for me to eat and drink through a straw) so that I could eat when I got hungry. He allowed me out of the cave whenever I pleased to wander, and I took the opportunities to gather food and firewood so I felt like I was earning my keep with him. At night he built a fire in the stone pit and sat with me in his lap on the rug beside it, singing and telling me stories until I nodded off with my head against his chest. I would wake tucked into bed, sometimes with his arms still tightly wrapped around my waist, sometimes tangled alone in the blankets if he had left already. Life with him was peaceful, serene.
And I fell in love.
I couldn’t help it. He was the kindest person I had ever met, and he treated me with a gentility that I had never known before, not even in my dreams.
And best of all, he loved me too.
He told me every evening before bed, if not five other times before that during the day, and grinned from ear to ear when I was finally able to respond in kind. The first time was late at night, and I had already nodded off once and jerked myself awake. He was chuckling, picking me up to carry me to bed. I smiled sleepily and stroked his chest, purring as his grip tightened.
“Rest now, my love,” he said softly, pressing his lips to my throat. My skin tingled where his brushed.
“Yes, sir,” I murmured quietly. I paused a moment, attempting to gauge the plethora of conceivable reactions to the rest of my upcoming response. “I-I love you.”
He halted in his tracks, inches from the bed. “You do?” he said quietly.
Hesitantly, I nodded.
He flashed the biggest smile I had ever seen from him and laid me down, one hand on my face. “I love you too,” he whispered, his voice growing warm. “I have since the first day I saw you. You’re beautiful and wonderful and sweet - and I don’t think it’s all the mask. I know it’s not. It’s you, shining through. You’re still in there. And I love you.”
I felt a sad longing to kiss him then, to show affection in the same way he did with me. Although I couldn’t quite do that, we both knew what was possible - we could still love each other. And now, at last, we both wanted to.
The next morning I awoke in his arms, tired but content with our late night. I felt him stir and press his lips to my collarbone, my throat.
“Morning,” he murmured, skimming his nose along my jawline. I held my breath eagerly for a long moment, so long that I started coughing. “You okay?” He scratched a nail down my arm, and came up with a handful of fur and deep red blood. I coughed hard one last time, and spattered his face with blood as well. He yelped and pulled back as I examined my arm.
What was the lightest of scratches had torn deep, jagged gouges in my arm. I felt no pain, but sensed the blood oozing from the gashes, and even more crawling up my throat. I hacked again, this time so hard that I vomited. It came up thick and black - I was bleeding internally as well, and I was bleeding a lot. Worried now, I began to hyperventilate and tore the covers off my body, finding my chest, belly, and legs shedding hair at a rapid rate and the underlying skin promptly boiling up with bloody pustules. Unlike the scratches, these hurt, burned with an unnatural fire that elicited a cry of pain and surprise from my lips.
Pyroch flashed in with a fanfare of bright light and a scorching stench of burning wood. The Element of fire, he had the same base powers as all Elements - the ability to move his body and others to any place instantly, to heal basic injuries, and to move objects with a simple flick of the wrist. But, as with each Element, he was also given complete control over the aspect of the world after which he was named - fire. He changed his name shortly after receiving his powers, and became cruel almost overnight. It was he who designed the masks, he who enchanted them as they were forged in his dungeons, and he who designed the rules about them. And as I was writhing in pain on the bed, he was there.
“You broke the rules,” he stated calmly, lifting a hand as Azire attempted to speak, protest his presence. “A Bird cannot fall in love. Birds are worthless, lower than even the dogs fighting in the street. You know that.”
Azire pulled me into his arms. I was trembling, frothing at the mouth, stars dancing in my head. Blood dripped from my lips onto the grate of my mask and everywhere he touched burned. I whimpered and moaned in agony, holding as still as possible to minimize the friction and contact with his skin. His voice as he spoke was low and dangerous, but close to breaking. “You son of a bitch!” he growled. He stroked my hair once in an attempt to soothe me and pulled away with his hand tangled in a clump of loose, bloody strands. A strangled sob pierced his throat. “She’s done nothing to deserve this! Stop this! We aren’t hurting you!”
I was fading, my senses overwhelmed with pain. My vision darkened, flickered, and my voice was dying out. I caught bits of Pyroch's too-calm reply.
“...worthless...can’t afford to...she’ll start a rebellion...not...won’t stand for it…”
I started hacking again, wet and hoarse, blood spewing with every heave. My boils broke painfully, and I screamed one last time, and then my eyes closed and I knew no more.
There was a bright light, that unnerving smoky smell again, and Inferno was gone. I shifted my gaze to Metalhawk, a pit lodging in my stomach when I saw her closed eyes. Her chest was heaving, breath rapidly grating against her throat. but she wouldn’t wake when I patted her bloody mask. I looked down and found the bed and my legs entirely soaked with blood, glistening dark red and black, and I knew that she had lost too much to live for more than a few moments. I held her as close as I could and sobbed loudly as her body went stiff and cold in my arms. When I could no longer feel her pulse, I went outside with a shovel and exhausted my anger digging her grave, deeper than it needed to be, feeling no emotional or spiritual relief even as my body begged for respite. Frustrated, angry, plotting my revenge, I wrapped her body in our blanket and carefully laid her to rest in the ground. When her body was covered and the dirt had been packed down, I trudged inside and collapsed beside the fire with her dress as my pillow, inhaling her scent as my mind began twisting my once-calm dreams of Metalhawk into deranged, demonic images.
My eyes opened and I screamed as they were filled with dust and dirt. I was being crushed, the weight of a thousand mountains pressed down upon my body, and yet I was not dying. My open boils burned and oozed blood, though I felt cold and knew that my heart was not beating, knew that I had already bled out in the cave. I clenched my eyes shut and screamed - and my lifeless heart sank as the sound went faded into nothingness. The realization of my new surroundings made me attempt to struggle, to scream and cry, lash out, but I went nowhere. The dirt around me was firmly packed, the few loose granules making their way into my blanket and rubbing into my wounds. I panicked and retreated deep within myself, my mind battering against itself as my attempts to calm soured and heightened my hysteria.
I was dead, and I was buried, but I was not going to Death. I would not see The Meadows, and I would not burn in Hell.
I was going to suffer under the weight of a thousand mountains for all eternity.
My dreams, haunting and twisted, were filled with warped images of Metalhawk, her mask gone and her face, once beautiful, now hairless, the skin melting off and blood flowing freely, endlessly, thick and red. As it flowed down her body, her fur went with it, exposing beneath the skin, and then the muscle, and then the bone, and finally her body began to disappear into a black pool of emptiness until only her head was left. She stared up at me with black orbs for eyes and a bloody, scraggling line for her lips. Her lips moved and twisted and contorted as she tried to speak, but all I could hear was a howling “AYEEEEEE YAIYAI OOOOOO!” that startled me awake.
I bolted upright drenched in a cold sweat, trembling and muttering guttural sounds that I had heard only in my nightmares. My feverish brain slowly calmed into a cold, meditative, calculating state. Unable to sleep, I went to my knapsack and pulled out a notebook and paper. I began to scribble furiously, outlining my plan for revenge against my father, against the King, against Pyroch.
“Kill my love…” I muttered under my breath, unaware that the more I dwelled on these dark thoughts, the more I obsessed alone mere feet from where the only person I had ever cared for violently passed in my arms, that I descended ever more swiftly into a demented state of mind that had already begun to consume me. “I’ll teach you to steal what’s mine...”
A rustling at the cave entrance arrested my attention, and my head snapped up. A half-smile twisted my lips as I saw Metalhawk glide effortlessly through the door. She came and settled in my lap, her silky fur slipping comfortingly across mine.
“See, darling?” I murmured, pointing to the words scrawled messily on the crisp, white paper. “See what I’m doing for you?”
She reached up and slipped her mask off, her beauty at last revealed to my adoring eyes. Her features were pure and innocent, high cheekbones and full lips flawlessly blended with large green eyes and a dainty nose. She smiled, revealing pearly teeth, and pressed her lips to mine. “Thank you,” she purred into my mouth. “I knew you’d protect me.”
“Oh, little love…I’ll protect you always.”
She stroked my cheek and kissed me again, once, twice, thrice, and slowly rose. Her hand slipped down my chest, then rose to cup my chin. “I love you,” she murmured. “Avenge my suffering, love, and I’ll return as soon as I can.” I kissed her hand and watched with a mad glint in my eyes as she glided out into the forest, a soft light accompanying her and briefly casting shadows as she passed betwixt the trees.
I laid in bed with her blanket and rested peacefully the rest of the night, waking refreshed and ready. Breakfast was a quick, silent affair, and I doused the coals of the fire as I exited the mouth of the cave. “Don’t want to burn down our house, love,” I murmured. “We’ll need a safe place to stay for awhile when word gets out about what I’ve done.”
My journey was short, hustled; I wanted to get in and get out. Pyroch's castle was easy to find: it was the biggest palace in the land, larger than even the royal palace (an astonishing feat, since the royal palace was built inside a mountain). The doors were always open, so it was no effort to get inside and find the throne room. The long, winding, ebony hallways were filled with all manner of elaborate masks: basic models for lower class Masters, intricate designs that could be ordered for the richer Masters, and the mask that started it all, an elaborate affair that so closely resembled a falcon at first I thought it was a preserved skull. I glowered as I passed its stand, and as an afterthought backtracked and pulled it off its pedestal, tossing it out the first window I passed. The shattering of glass quickly brought three Birds into the hall to clean up, but none questioned me. They had been programmed to accept whatever males did as correct.
The throne room was at the end of the hall. It was a large, black hole filled with all manner of masks and weapons for decoration. The piéce de résistance, the throne, was an ornate structure, twice the height of Pyroch and big enough for three people to sit, carved from onyx, placed atop a raised platform five steps high, draped with expensive furs so white that they near blinded any eye that gazed directly upon them. Sitting atop his cathedra was the bastard himself, reading a thick leather-bound manuscript as one of his Birds fed him. Blood dripped down her fingers where he had bit her, and the smirk dancing about the corners of his mouth hinted to a sadistic enjoyment he found in causing pain to helpless creatures who couldn’t fight back or express their pain.
“Pyroch,” I murmured, halting on the third step.
He glanced down at me, a wicked glint in his eyes. “Can I help you?” he said nonchalantly. “Need a new Bird, or perhaps a mask to fit one from a whorehouse?”
I snarled my answer. “You bastard! You know damn well what I’ve come for!”
“No, I don’t think I do.” He pushed the Bird onto the floor and stood, towering several feet above me. He crossed his arms, his lips tightening slightly. “Why don’t you enlighten me?”
I smiled and pulled a case from my knapsack. Within lay a dagger, plain and small, the edge glistening with the poison of a thousand scorpions. “You made my love suffer,” I said coolly, careful to only grasp the handle of the instrument. “Now, you’ll suffer.”
I lunged forward and plunged the knife into his stomach, twisting it so the blade punctured more than one organ. I quickly leapt backwards, expecting him to fall and not wanting to be crushed beneath him; imagine my terrified surprise when he stood as a rock, scowling down at me with one hand on the handle.
“You forget that I am an Element,” he said lowly. “I am truly immortal. You cannot kill me. I have been ordained by Pale'eia to keep these powers, control my element. You really think a little knife and poison would kill me? Fool!” He slapped my face with such force that I flew backward and slammed into the wall.
I could feel the burn of his handprint on my face spread, my fur shedding, blood rushing to the surface of the skin into large boils. I howled and rolled and writhed, spitting up blood and convulsing in a violent seizure.
“You shall be damned to join your precious Metalhawk,” he chuckled, snapping his fingers. I found myself wrapped in a scratchy blanket that exacerbated the pain. I screamed until my vocal cords shredded, quieting the sound to a mere shouting pitch. “Enjoy the afterlife.”
I closed my eyes, expecting death to take me as quickly as it had Metalhawk, but instead I found myself unable to breathe, choking down foul-tasting dirt as I gasped. the weight of a thousand mountains crushing my chest, and yet it did not cave. Dirt rubbed into my wounds, into my eyes and mouth, suffocating me, and yet I did not die. A muffled howl to my left startled me, and I felt a soft blanket, and recognized the frightened, pained screeches. I tried to find my voice, to shout for my Metalhawk, but all I could do was moan and scream.Buried alive, tortured, bleeding for eternity, damned to a death worse than Hell, my Metalhawk and I were...but at least we were together.