Melissa - Page 354


The bird creature before you locks onto your gaze with beady eyes. You match his stare and sink your teeth into roasted human flesh. Despite your natural inclination to gag, you force a hint of a smile to catch the corners of your mouth.

You swallow the tender bit of baby meat and lick a stray rivulet of grease from your lips. "Delicious," you purr at the creature, batting your eyes for effect. "May I have more?" You hold up your hand and one of the creatures lets you take what's left of the small leg. Without hesitation, you bite into the thigh and rip a long strand of cooked muscle away from the white bone. You slurp it noisily down your throat and... savor the tender juiciness. It really isn't that bad,  you catch yourself thinking. If you can forget what you're eating.

You slowly place your feet under you and rise to a standing position, never taking your eyes from the bird creature that appears to be their leader. The feathered beings behind you take several steps back and make no attempt to stop you.

"One of us," the leader whispers softly. His voice is human, albeit altered, but certainly human. "One of us," his voice grows louder. The other bird men lift their hands above their heads and take up the phrase.

"One of us!" they chant in unison, dancing and waving their hands about their heads. "One of us! One of us!" You smile. You're alive, and that thought alone fills you with genuine happiness.

"Who are you?" you ask, tentatively approaching the leader. He holds out a hand to stop you and beckons to one of the others. After a moment, a black feathered mask is brought to you. It is made from small bones and hundreds of what appear to be crow feathers. The shape reminds you of old masquerade masks that people hold on sticks at parties. This one has a leather strap that slides easily over your hair and secures the thing to your face.

"Who are you?" you ask again, louder than you intended. The chanting dies down and the leader motions for you to follow him into another room of the cavern that is separated by a hanging animal hide. The churning of your gut sends hot waves of acid to assault the back of your throat, but you push it down with sheer willpower and refuse to contemplate your most recent meal.

You follow the feathered leader to the side chamber and wait expectantly for one of the beings to lift the hide. The leader motions for you to go through the doorway alone. Without any other options presenting themselves, you sigh and push your way into the room beyond.

What lies beyond the tanned hide should surprise you, but on an instinctual level, you knew what would be there. A small assortment of bones is laid out on a stone table. One figure, in the shape of a stick figure holding a sword, decently depicts the skeleton you saw back at your house. Three other figures are present surrounding a small square of bones you presume to be the vacation home.

"They knew we were coming..." you gasp, realizing the implications. "We might have been set up... But by whom?" Your mind races down a thousand dark conclusions before you have time to breathe.

When you walk out of the small side chamber, the other bird creatures are busily strapping on crude pieces of armor. From the corner of your eye, you notice that all the roasting meat from the spit is gone and a fresh pile of bones lies next to the fire pit. The leader walks briskly to you and hands you a wooden spear. "We serve Blascronoret," it rasps through a mouth equal parts human and bird. "We must fight for Blascronoret."

"That's the skeleton's name? Really?" It sounds dumb. But then again, you haven't met any other skeletons. You grab the spear and stand next to the line of armored bird men, ready to march to battle. "One of you," you mutter, hardly believing the scene around you.

The leader looses a fierce shriek that echoes from the stone walls and the bird men take off in a single-file line for a corridor opposite the one you used earlier. You fall into step with them and before long, you're standing on the mountainside in the dark midnight air. A sliver of moon hangs in the sky and does little to illuminate your path.

I could escape, you ponder as you jog at the back of the group. They would never notice if I ducked behind a tree and just stopped running. I could get back to Darren.

What do you do?

To continue marching with the group, turn to page 370.

To try to hide and return to Darren, turn to page 367.