(IP) Dark Whispers
It had been more of an accident than anything, a lark, a joke, a playful test of sorts. He’d never believed. He’d never had reason to, because he’d been chosen by the gods. But his parents and siblings were gone, and he didn’t think that a harmless stroll through the barred-off sections of the library would get him into too much trouble.
Clearly, he’d been wrong, as evidenced by the skeletal bird-woman with cold, clawed hands on his shoulders. He could feel her cold, rotten breath ghosting on his neck, and it took every ounce of his self-control not to shudder away from her.
“Is it true, that I’ve been summoned by one of the royal children?” She asked, her golden eyes alight with malice. Her nostrils flared delicately, mouth open slightly, as if she were tasting the air. “What a delicious development! And what, pray tell, has a human summoned me for? Broken me out of my prison for?”
It had been curiosity; he’d heard the legends his whole life, but he’d dismissed them as ancient history, mere wives tales. But here this monster was, standing before him in the flesh, waiting for an answer, head tilted to the side like a wildcat’s. Her stare traveled from his face down his bare torso, and she licked her lips with a long, pink tongue. Revulsion caused his gorge to rise in his throat, but his face was impassive, showing no emotion.
“Curiosity,” The prince answered quietly, shrugging his shoulders as though she were nothing of consequence to him at all. Being royal meant that playacting of any kind was as easy as breathing, and he knew instinctively that if he revealed any kind of weakness at all, she would latch on and not let go, not without a fight. “I tend not to believe in the stories that my family tells.”
The bird-woman laughed, a hacking rasp that echoed in the large room. “Is that all? Mere boredom made you break the ancient laws and free me? You may be quite the handsome specimen, little prince, but you aren’t the brightest, are you?”
“Hold your tongue!” The prince snarled, taking out two of the golden spikes that held his dark hair in place, and he held one to her throat, the other to her barbed tail. “I am a prince and I will receive the respect my station deserves, or I will make you pay in blood before imprisoning you once again!”
The bird-woman smirked, her plum-colored lips peeling away from her mouth to reveal tiny, sharp pointed fangs. “Oooh, and you’ve got spunk, too. Very well. I apologize.” She said, inclining her head regally.
The prince was unnerved; he’d heard stories of these monsters, and their Harpy Queen, all of his life, but this one was entirely too human for his taste. He hadn’t been prepared for this at all, and he found himself cursing his mistake. And he was alone and practically unarmed.
How could he have been so foolish? He was far too old for such pranks and tomfoolery. But it was too late; he’d broken the seal, the binding spell that kept her caged inside of that glass case in his father’s curio cabinet.
But there had been no way of knowing whether it had been real or false, before now: He was the youngest of all of his brothers and sisters, he thought with contempt. He wasn’t privy to the knowledge that his parents and siblings so coveted and treasured. After all, he’d been a spare. A mistake, at best. Even on some off chance that he somehow ended up on the throne, no one wanted him there. No one trusted him, not with anything that actually mattered.
A lump built up in his throat, and he swallowed it down, willing his emotions not to show on his face, or she would pounce. And he wouldn’t be the first, or last person, that she’d fooled. She was notorious for her lies and guile. He had to be on his guard, no matter how he actually felt.
“I sense that your heart is heavy with doubt, your mind buzzing with questions. Perhaps I could help you? Direct you to answers?”
“Be silent,” The prince said through gritted teeth, his cheeks flushed with his mistake. “Or do you wish to return to your prison? The only person that The Harpy Queen helps is herself and your children.”
“As far as you know. You know so little, ignorant prince. Some people hide the darker parts of history so they don’t have to realize their own mistakes. I wouldn’t be so certain that I am the villain in this tale.”