The first thing the girl saw was the white ceiling of the room, crossed by shining brass pipes. A dull pain spread through her skull, and every sound seemed louder, even the quiet rumbling of the room’s boiler felt like the harbinger of an earthquake. She was laying on a gurney, the cold metal sending shivers up her spine as the numbness on her body faded. She sat up, ignoring the pain on her muscles.
She was alone in the room, itself a perfect example of the Seraphs’ “clinics”: the sterile white walls a stark contrast with the darker tubes and engines, gearboxes encased in glass cages thick enough to hold back a Steam Giant’s punch, a shining-new boiler resting in the corner, warming the entire room, gurneys like the girl’s organized in two lines and a tall double door, its glass pattern revealing the dark corridor ahead.
After the pain had subsided, the girl felt a light pressure on her head, and ran her fingers through her cropped hair, until it touched the rift between something metallic and skin, that twitched in contact to her fingers, moving the skin on her bare scalp with it. The girl let out a quiet, surprised exclamation, pulling her hand down. An old memory surfaced: a dark, twisting alley, an old man sitting by a pile of discarded pipes, with his legs ending in rough stumps above the knees, rambling quick and loudly. Most of it made sense, but a stream of clarity seemed to wash over the man as she passed through.
- They took me to the tower. They took me and when I sleep I can still feel my legs, my feet. They took me to the tower and took my legs!
The tales were true after all: the Seraphs, in their quenchless thirst for knowledge, whisked people away and experimented, adding bizarre bits and pieces, sometimes carefully cutting away seemingly random body parts then throwing the people back to the streets to their fates. The “augments” added weren’t like the bulky, powerful and ultimately useful prostheses of the freelancing Mekanists, the Seraphs’ work was fragile, fickle and with no apparent use. Glass eyes that stared into nothing, scaled spinal plates that hindered movements much more than they helped protect the vertebrae, and a dozen cubic implants decorated with delicate patterns. Even the Virtues, beautiful second wings exclusive to the one-winged Seraphs, granted no flight more than a dangerous glide.
The girl felt something soft and warm hit against her thigh repeatedly and gently pushed it away, only to feel her own fingers hit the nuisance, but she suddenly felt it against her fingers like it was part of her body. She tilted her head to examine it, and her eyes met a long, thin tail covered in smooth black hairs with a white tip that still twitched from side to side. Her mind worked for a second on the absurd chance that the methodic, staunch Seraphs implanted a bloody tail on her, of all things. She stared intently at it, afraid to do anything to prove her theory until she slowly moved her hand away, somehow focusing on making it move. It swung roughly to the side and back as the girl’s body tensed up, and the noise of the door opening making her jump in place and her new tail stand up.
A Seraph entered the room, wearing form-fitting white clothes and was carrying a duffel bag and a large clipboard, staring boredly at it. He wore a holster under his arm, the dark cloth barely hiding a large revolver. The girl regarded the weapon with a wide stare, anxiety building up in her. He stopped a few steps away from the girl, looked to her, his mouth widening in a satisfied grin.
- You’re awake. It’s about time. - The Seraph dropped the bag by her feet and scribbled some lines in the clipboard.
- What did you do to me? - The girl stood up, her legs almost fully recovered. The tail only got in the way of her balance, still swinging to the sides of her body.
- Couldn’t you feel it? New ears, tail. I was going to reinforce your arms and legs but there’s just not enough time. - He looked over his shoulder to the still open door, bent down to retrieve a mirror from the bag and tossed it towards her.
The girl threw the mirror to the ground, the strange ears twitching in response to the shattering of the glass.
- Don’t act as if you’ve done me a favor! - She spat the words as the hairs on her tail stood on end in rage. - What have you done to me!?
- I’ve improved you. You are arrogant enough to not notice it yet, and again, we are running short on time. - She raised her voice in protest but the Seraph was louder, interrupting her. - Dress, go out the door and down the stairs to your right. Don’t look up, and keep walking. - Something else was coming through the dark corridor, its steps echoing loudly into the room.
- Why should I listen to you? - She snapped as she snatched the bag off of the ground and dug through it.
Most of its contents were her clothes, mixed with white, light gowns like the one she was wearing. The features of the other figure were clearer now: a female Seraph, wearing a similar outfit to the one next to her, with a black band around her right arm. Her Virtue creaked once in time with a gentle flap of her wing. She said something on a loud, imperative tone. The male Seraph turned to her and replied in Ivrit, an ancient language nobody but the Seraphs bothered to learn. His tone seemed sarcastic, almost mocking. The woman stopped speaking, her fists clenching as the Seraph moved to the side, putting the girl in full view.
As they examined each other, a quiet explosion echoed through the room, followed by a whistle, muffled by a scream as the woman’s wings spread and twitched as she fell to the ground, holding her leg. The girl held her hands over the strange ears and cringed as a high pitched ringing pierced through her skull. She watched in horror as a shiny red smudge spread slowly through the spot the woman was holding, staining the sterile white clothes. The man holstered his revolver, ripped a page from the clipboard and handed it to the girl without breaking a stride towards the window, pushing it open.
- I told you we were out of time! Change into your clothes and keep walking. If anyone asks anything, show them the paper. Don’t come back here. - Without as much as a turn to face her, the Seraph lept through the window, his wings spreading as he quickly glided down.
The girl stood in place with shock, looking down at the paper in her hands, then up to the Seraph woman on the ground. Not wanting to be in the gown any longer, she quickly threw on her own clothes, then stared at the Seraph woman. In the confusion, she propped herself against a gurney. She was breathing hard and looked at the girl, then back down to her leg. A hexagonal spike head poked out of the wound. The girl walked around her, keeping a few steps away from the woman. As she passed by, the woman hissed:
- I’ll get you, you modified freak, you and your new friend… - She stretched her hand towards a tray of medical instruments. The girl turned around, smirked and spoke in a falsely brave tone. - What’re you going to do, spit that spike at me?
The woman grunted something in Ivrit as the girl stumbled down the dark corridor, still dealing with her newly obtained appendage and lost balance. She braced herself on the walls as she stumbled and looked down at the paper, puzzling over the strange script and symbols. With a sigh, she looked down the hall she was walking in. Disregarding the male Seraph’s advice, she looked up and around her, examining the rooms that she passed with curiosity. Almost immediately after looking up, she ran into another Seraph in the hall. She thrust the paper into his face before running down the hall, ignoring shouting as she half tripped on the way.
The girl finally made her way outside and immediately collapsed once outside the door. She crawled into an alleyway and sat against a wall as she tried to piece together what had just happened. Today felt like nothing but a dream, and she would have like to believe that it was - if not for the sharpening ache in her skull and spine and lower half of her body.
Just the day before - or she hoped the day before, hard to tell with suddenly waking up from surgery - she had been living comfortably on the cold, hard streets of Anglium, the capital city of the Divine Kingdom of Hes, Holy Empire of the Seraphs. Yesterday, at least she hoped it was only yesterday, she had woken up in her makeshift bed in her comfortable nest in a long-forgotten alleyway, a comfortable ways away from the noise of the main plaza. And today? Today she had woken up on a cold metal gurney in some unfamiliar building with a Seraph looming over her and metal contraptions attached to her skull and spinal cord.
She had woken up as the result of some Seraph experiment on humans.
The girl shook her head, tears of frustration brimming up in her eyes. Why her? What had she done to get the attention of some lunatic Seraph who had shot one of his own? She trembled slightly, remembering the pain in her head from the explosion of the gunshot.
She shook her head again to clear it as she used the wall to drag herself to her feet. She wandered back into the plaza she had come from and took in her surroundings as best as she could with one half-blind eye. She didn’t recognize this particular plaza. It was a sprawling thing of marble, metal and glass. The newer buildings meshed with and dwarfed the older, moss- and ivy-covered buildings. The streets were symmetrical and efficient, wide and deserted. The Seraphs were rarely outdoors, even in their own neighborhoods. The plazas themselves were built in key locations of Anglium: hills that overlooked the rest of the city and the connecting points of the walls that separated the districts.
So the girl slunk back into the shadows of the more familiar alleyway. Unlike the many plazas sprinkled throughout this city, the alleyways were nearly identical to every other one connecting the shadows to the plazas. The differences were subtle, variations of the same types of people and buildings lining the brick walls. The darkened windows of an antique store and a fortune teller’s shop were a stark contrast to the brightly lit restaurants and cafes.
Even though it was still early in the afternoon, voices echoed loudly off the brick walls, spilling out from the nearly permanently open swinging doors of a nearby bar. The constant stream of people passed by the girl without so much as a glance. Still, she felt very aware of her presence and her difference compared to the others around her.
She was different now.
The girl self-consciously lifted a hand to the mechanical ears perched on top of her now mostly bald scalp, stifling a sob as she realized her long, chestnut-brown hair she had loved was now reduced to no more than an occasional patch of hair no longer than her pinkie. The girl felt almost naked without the familiar weight on her shoulders, the alien cold of the air around her settling on the exposed skin. She fell back against a wall and curled up into a sitting-up fetal position with the mechanical tail wrapping around her legs. And still, not a single passing person so much as glanced at her direction.