"And as for you, my pretty little pet..."
He opened his cape with a flourish, revealing a small dagger sheathed at his side. He pulled it out, letting it glint in the light of the stage for the crowd to see. Several women in the audience gasped at the sight. Elennah took a step back, holding herself tightly.
"What are you doing?" she demanded. This was the performance of her life. "Lord Stanton, have you gone mad?"
She backed into the dresser, the mirror shaking behind her.
He twirled the dagger in his hand, approaching her swiftly. His free hand shot forth and wrapped around her neck. His grip was much tighter than she would have liked; it would definitely leave bruises, but she used it.
"I believed in you once," he said. "I believed that you were the voice of serenity, the heart of the world, the beauty of the stars. But now I see you for who you are. And you are nothing but a lie. A wicked, common lie!"
"Lord St-Stanton," she choked out, and in a dramatic whisper, said, "I love you. I've made your happiness the center of my life."
"And I shall have it back!"
The crowd reacted with renewed vigour. She resisted the urge to smile. This play was becoming a bigger and bigger hit every passing moment she walked the stage. Now, at the climax of the play, she was at her peak energy. And with her lover, Hindon, as her co-star, she couldn't imagine any better way to perform.
The grip tightened further around her throat and her air supply was cut short. Elennah looked up at the dagger, an intricate little design with a fake blade that would retract into the hilt when the stabbing commenced. She had seen it at least a hundred times in rehearsals, and knew every little bit of it intimately as Hindon used it on her with abandon.
The metal of the dagger glinted in the magically enhanced staged lights. A glimpse of gold shimmered forth in front of her eyes.
The hilt of the show-dagger is silver...
He grinned—a maniacal, full-toothed smile that created a pit of ice in her stomach. He drew his face in close, as if for a kiss, turning her away from the crowd.
"Here's to you, Elennah," he whispered to her.
He brought the dagger down.
The pain was both like fire and ice as the metal pierced her chest. She threw her head back, the grip on her throat loosening enough to allow a shriek of agonizing terror pierce the air and reverberate through the hall. She drew away, fleeing upstage, the dagger still lodged deep inside of her. The blood was coursing down her gown, soaking her front for all the audience to see. Several people shouted in terror and awe at the sight. Elennah fumbled with the weapon, blood smearing all over her hands and causing the dagger to slip out of her grip with every attempt to wrest it free.
A large hand reached around from behind her while the other held tight to her shoulder. She looked back. He took hold of the dagger in a tight grip, his eyes never leaving hers, and shoved it in the final inch.
It started as a quick pinprick but from the speed at which the cold was spreading, she knew that he had pierced her heart. Her body was shutting down, her world going grey as more blood spread from the pumping organ. She felt nothing but the numbness spreading through her limbs as she collapsed to the floor, the thud sounding painfully distant.
The curtain fell between them and the audience as her breathing slowed to a stop. He stood above her, his gaze never faltering, until someone from backstage called his name. He looked away and started for the voice.
The roar of the crowd was the last thing she heard.
Fingers poked and prodded her, reaching underneath her body and pulling her up from a soft embrace. She heard voices, soft at first, but growing in volume until it was like roars immediately next to her ears. She tried to open her mouth to speak, but the effort was futile. And her eyes! Why couldn't she see? What was happening? Where was she?
Her body was laid down once more, the coolness of dewy grass tickling her heels. She felt the moisture stick to her skin and disappear. Everything was so dry. Her career for a glass of water!
"My my my," a raspy voice whispered from above her. "This is an interesting one. The poor darling."
Someone's hand stroked her face. The touch was cold in places, completely numb in others.
"You require some dressing," the voice said. Was it to her? "You've shrunk some. It will hurt."
She felt a knife slice into her leg. She tried to pull away, but her body was so lethargic. What had this person done to her? The pain itself was oddly mute, though she still felt as the chilled metal cut into the thigh. When it was removed she felt the cold presence of a liquid being spread about the skin. Again it seeped through. A poison, she thought. Something to keep her paralyzed and dumb as this man butchered her.
She tried to focus, remember what had happened before this. Had she been kidnapped? But from where? Try as she might, she couldn't remember anything from before.
She wasn't even sure of her own name.
They were pulling at her flesh now, stretching it down, down, down to encompass her thigh. The skin began to pull back but immediately she felt tiny stabs followed by a coarse burning. When the skin began to stay in place she realised that whoever this person was, they were now sewing flaps of her skin together. Revulsion picked at the fogginess of her brain, but she was still unable to react. Whimpers escaped her throat but stopped at her closed lips.
"Now now, dear, this will all be over soon. You'll come to understand in time that what I'm doing is for the best."
There was a brief pause. She took the moment of respite to attempt to collect herself. Maybe if she concentrated she could figure something out.
However, the knife found its way into her body again, cutting off her train of thought with the feel of cold metal grating against her bones.
Why do I feel so little pain? she wondered. It was so quiet that she could hear the ripping of her body tissue as it was cut apart. The whole world around her was too quiet. She couldn't even hear the person above her breathing.
She herself wasn't breathing, save to moan.
She tried to inhale through her nose but the effort was ludicrously short-lived. She couldn't take much breath in. Her chest would rattle in her attempt, and the breath would shutter back out.
The knife paused. "My darling, there really is no need to panic. Your lungs have atrophied some but with a bit of stretching and a little extra work on my part we can improve your breathing capacity," after which he muttered, "not that it's really necessary seeing as how you no longer need to breathe."
The knife was removed and once more the liquid was applied to her skin. Her moaning had dissolved to a small whimper, ignored by the man above her as he continued to talk through his torture.
"I'm afraid I can't do much about the joints, mind you. Your thighs are well preserved—well, you yourself are well preserved, given the state of your last bed and the condition you've been left in. Your caretaker must have cared about you very much to go to all that extra effort to close off any extra orifices for the insects. They even sealed the blasted thing off with magic. You're much better off than quite a few of the others.
"As I was saying, your thighs will be stiff at first from the stretching but your ankles and knees will be fine, if not better than before. Pure bone tends to hyperextend a bit, but once you get into the swing of things you'll be able to outrun most any natural human being. Trust me, that will come in handy.
"As for your fingers...well, it's better to just leave them like that. Agatha felt the presence of the arcane from the grave—" Grave? "—which means that you are no doubt some kind of arcane user and you'll need that extra flexibility for spell casting. We'll find out the specifics later.
"Now then, your body is a bit, well...but let's be honest, darling, no one is going to care at this point. You can cover it up with clothing if you're that embarrassed. I wouldn't recommend tanning or else all my hard work will be undone and we'll have to do it all again."
Cut cut cut.
Soak soak soak.
Sew sew sew.
She dug into the ground with her fingertips, but felt nothing. She instinctively knew the dainty fingers were moving, which was progress from what felt like hours before at the beginning of this ordeal. She was putting the pieces together better, though the picture that was forming in her mind was beyond belief.
"Your face, though, this is where things get interesting. I haven't seen too many of these in this graveyard. It looks like your body has been tampered with to prevent any kind of spirit retrieval; they've sewn your lips shut, which could only mean that someone didn't want your ghost to talk."
No! But that would mean that she was—
Hands wrapped around her back and pulled, propping her body up against cold stone. The knife gently sawed against her mouth, and after several small snaps, she found that her lips were able to move again, though the ends of the threads that were embedded in her flesh tickled. She took a gulp of air, which rasped on the way in and back on the way out.
Her jaw, now that it had been freed from its threaded position, fell open, and try as she might, she couldn't get it to close again on its own. Her arms felt strong enough to move, though they were making the journey up her torso and chest quite slowly.
"This'll have to be replaced," the voice said. "It's not going to last."
A hand covered her eyes, and she heard rhythmic chanting. Energy from nowhere pulled itself around her face. A small light prickled in front of her eyes, growing and beginning to take shape, before being flooded by purples and greens. A shadow loomed above her; she couldn't focus enough to make out what it was.
"I'm afraid your actual eyes have decomposed, and I haven't got any spares, so we'll have to make do with magic. Which just leaves the—watch out, now! Careful!"
Her hands had completed the journey and she now touched at her face, pushing at her jaw and willing it to close. If only it would stay! She felt like her body was going out of its way to rebel against her. It was so weak and pathetic, refusing to yield to even the most basic of commands.
She dropped her hands from her lips in frustration.
"No, don't! You'll—"
Her index finger caught on her spiky teeth and pulled. She heard—and felt—the tearing from the bottom of her face. A small mass fell into her hands. She willed them back up to see what she had caught.
Her sight finally focused, letting her take in the decaying teeth that lined what was left of her jaw.
She tried to speak, but her tongue would not make the necessary movements to shape the sounds. Panic set in. The jaw slipped from her hands as she reached up to touch her face. The bone fell to the ground and split into three pieces; sending a few teeth flying. A long, dry tentacle was escaping from her mouth. Her tongue. It was her tongue! It was her tongue and half of her face was missing!
The shadow slapped away her hands, but could not stop her from screaming over and over again as the revelation took hold of her whole soul. She had unwillingly torn herself apart. She was dead, and her body was falling to pieces.
"Calm down, calm down, I can get you a fresh one!" said the skeleton looming above her.
She screamed harder.