The Firebird Prince

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Kellan faded in and out of consciousness.

Whenever he clawed back to awareness, the pain pulled him back under. His blood felt like slush; he was no longer aware of anything other than his own discomfort.

Someone bad been dragging him along for a while now, but Kellan was unaware of their destination. Every rock or bump in the group felt like knives being shoved into his skin. His side ached, distantly.

All of a sudden, they came to a stop. Kellan was too exhausted to open his eyes.

A voice cut through his haze. “You have him?”

“In the flesh,” his captor replied. “He can barely move.”

“Good,” the first voice said. “You’ve done a good job.”

There was a moment of silence, then his captor said hesitantly, “The money?”

“It will be sent to you. Now leave, and make sure no one sees you.”

“Nice doing business with you,” his captor said, and his smile was audible in his voice.

There were fading footsteps: the man walking away. Then two hands grabbed Kellan’s arms and hauled him up. But Kellan’s legs gave way under his weight; the man grunted and held him up.

“Not so tough, are you now?” he said in pure disgust. “Stand, Prince Kellan.”

Prince Kellan.

That tone was all too familiar. You.

The fae was responsible for everything that went wrong. He was everywhere.

His hands grabbed Kellan’s face and pried it open even as he tried to struggle. Something round, like a pill, was shoved in. Kellan gagged reflexively, trying to spit it back out.

“Swallow,” the fae hissed, pinching his nose shut and clamping a hand over his mouth. “You will swallow, or you will not breathe.”

Weakly, Kellan attempted to pry away his hands with his own shaking ones, refusing to swallow whatever he had been given. Who knew what it would do to him?

The fae gave him a rough shake, more firmly gripping his nose. Kellan squeezed his eyes shut, struggling, but it his body gave in and he swallowed, a bitter taste in his mouth. The pill burned on its way down and Kellan retched and coughed, trying to expel it.

It was like fire, and it hurt. He doubled over, hands pressed to his abdomen, dry-heaving. It felt like broken glass was making way into his stomach, into his intestines. Tears leaked from underneath his clenched eyelids, breaths coming in ragged gasps.

Stop, he begged to anyone who’d listen, nearly delirious. Stop this, please.

“Endure it, Prince Kellan,” the fae ordered. “Endure it!”

I can’t, Kellan wanted to sob, as he sank to the floor, his hands the only thing keeping him up. This is too much.

When he coughed, something wet clotted on his lips. His mouth filled with the tang of copper.

Kellan pressed his forehead against the cold floor, praying himself to pass out. His sides spasmed with pain, his vision blurred so completely he thought he’d never see again.

The fae fisted his hand in his collar and pulled him up. “Weak,” he said in clear disdain. “You’ve failed my test. I expected better.”

A cold finger touched his neck and Kellan flinched away, thinking a little hysterically, Please, no more pain.

But no-one was listening. As fresh agony seized him, making his muscles convulse and seize, Kellan screamed, then blissful oblivion overtook him.

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