The Red Bird
The moon hovered omnisciently over the trees, leaves rustling in the mid- Autumn wind and there was enough chill in it to make Clara Faye shiver in her thick, wool coat.
She leaned against the bark of a nearby pine tree, pulling her trademark box of matches out of her pocket and inspecting the five matches left. She decided it was time to refill. The matches were laced with dragon poisoning and not only would burn everything in its designated path, the poison would seep into the soil and into the new seeds once they were planted, killing whoever might survive the fire in this rebel town.
Just as planned.
She thought back to five years ago, when her life had made a turn for the worst, to the reason she’s about to murder half a thousand people. It started when a government official named Charles Reinfield arrives in to her city of Hartford, one of the minor cities in the New Thirteen Colonies, where the state of North Carolina used to be. He stopped at every door of every home, offering riches to any family that was willing to sacrifice their eldest children, no younger than fifteen.
“They are to do a great honor in assisting the government, and all of you shall be rewarded greatly for your sacrifices.” She remembered everything that had happened that terrible day as if it was only yesterday. The look of grief and guilt on her mothers’ face and the cruel ice in her fathers’ eyes was the only thing she saw when she closed her eyes.
“Rewarded for your sacrifices indeed,” She murmured softly, pulling the first match out. From the mile distance between her and the town, she could see dim lights and imagined she could see a new mother, gazing out of the window of her cottage, a small bundle sleeping peacefully in her arms, and envisioned it as her own mother, seeing Clara for the monster that she is and realizing that it is all of her own doing, just before the world goes up in flames.
She threw the match into the crop field, her dark hair falling into her eyes, obscuring her vision only for a moment. She watched transfixed, forgetting for a moment the bitterness and never ending sorrow, as the flames spread across the land, fast and deadly, scorching any and everything in its path.
Sometimes she would think of what would happen if she were to step into the blue fire she is known for starting. Burn, most likely. But something nagged at her, something suggesting she would come out unscathed and untouched. She had always wanted to touch, to prove that stepping into that blue inferno would not hurt her. But then a particularly angry flame flared up a few feet away from her, snapping her out of her trance and she jumped back into action, breaking out in to a run.
She was gone before the screams could begin.
Trees rushed past her, a blur of darkness and she let the morbid rush of adrenaline fuel her body forward. As much as she loathed her job, there was also something that came from her powers, like the impossible speed, that felt liberating, a sense of excitement as well as revulsion. It was a short-lived feeling, because between one moment and the next she was suddenly falling forward and then upside down, dangling from her ankle by a rope. Dazed and bewildered, she blinked through the sudden flow of blood to the head.
She came face to face with a man, dark-haired and looking no older than thirty, grinning cheekily at her. The mischief and amusement in his expression didn’t quite reach his steely grey eyes, and it was more than enough to pull her out of her stupor.
“Look here, children. I’ve caught myself a pretty little bird. The Reds really don’t waste any time with you kids these days huh? Honestly, I’m a little disappointed.” He mused thoughtfully, circling her with impish curiosity. He was also very handsome, she noticed. A strong jawline, long, dark lashes, and wind swept hair. The girls back at HQ would swoon over him.
Gritting her teeth, she took another look around- keeping the man in her peripheral vision just in case- trying to find the sources of the giggling coming from behind the trees. The sight that greeted her made her stomach churn and she barely contained her horrified gasp. The children’s skin were completely burnt, charred and even melted off in some places. There seemed to be more than ten of them. It was a gruesome sight and she thought she was certain of the cause but she was almost too afraid to ask.
Still, she couldn’t help it. “What happened to them?” She was surprised her when her voice came out steady, considering the fact that she was hanging upside down while trying to hold back bile. The man stopped in front of her, a sad, bitter smile on his face.
“These are the survivors of the fires happening every month. I’ve found some and saved others, though there have only been children so far. Still, I’m glad you can see the damages of your little association and what it has done to the New Thirteen Colonies.” His voice had gone cold, his expression hard and unforgiving, making him look years older.
She wondered if he knew what she’d done just a little while ago and what he would do to her if he did. Judging by his demeanor, he doesn’t seem to suspect anything or want to do anything to her, but then again she doesn’t know this man. He could be capable of anything. He also seemed to think she was new and unaware of what the Raven was capable of.
She couldn’t blame him. She was small and slim, dark hair and almond-shaped hazel eyes that were more brown than green. The only thing that was slightly unnatural was her faster reflexes and her glowing, olive complexion (she wasn’t boasting or anything, she really did have a subtle glow, and it only got brighter at night) that came with the experiments she had been forced to go through when she had first joined the Raven. She was pretty unassuming if you looked past the obvious differences abnormalities.
“How do you know I’m a Red Bird?” She asked, wondering how he knew her rank in the Raven or even anything about it at all.
“The Raven and I go way back.” He smirked. “Besides, you’ve got that strangeness about you that only comes from Raven clones.”
Clara glowered back at him. “And who are you again?”
He flashed another condescending grin. “Oh, no need to get snappy. Really though, you don’t know who I am?”
Blinking the blurriness out of her vision, Clara frowned. “I wouldn’t ask if I did.”
A shadow of something like grief passed over his face then. “You weren’t the only one taken by force that day in Hartford. You don’t remember me, Clara. But I remember you.”
Her mouth opened, eyes widening in astonishment (quite a feat, as her head had started pounding away from the blood rush) but a familiar, high whistle, the sound that usually brought terror to Clara, filled her with relief. The children scurried off, disappearing behind the trees once more. The man followed, but paused a short distance away, looking over a broad shoulder, his eyes still haunted. “We probably won’t meet again, little bird. But watch your back. You can’t trust anyone. Don’t forget that.”
And then he was gone.
She thought about the higher-ups at HQ and their unwillingness to share the why’s of each agent’s mission, just insisting to do what they were made for. She thought about what went on in the labs, the mutations and deformations of children and animals alike. It was always easier to not think about it but how couldn’t she? She saw their marks in everything from her skin to the power resonating throughout her body.
Bending her torso upwards, she pulled the small switch knife out of her boot and grabbing onto the rope for leverage, cut through the thick strands and landed lightly on to her feet. A short time later her rescue team found her standing in the spot she’d been hanging before, the box of matches in her hand and a pensive expression on her face.
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