I hummed quietly to myself as I dragged the brush across the canvas, in complete focus. This painting was going to turn out better than all the others, and I just knew it! Then a clash of piano keys distracted me from my masterpiece. Knowing what to expect, I looked up to see my frisky feline friend resting her furry body atop my shiny grand piano. Well, technically the instrument wasn't mine, but I was the one who used it, so it belonged to me in that sense. "Delilah!" I scolded, "You know my rules. Paws off the piano, darling. I'm the only one who touches it."
The cat stubbornly nestled herself into a little ball, clearly determined to stay on the piano unless I forcibly removed her. Delilah was my only companion and I loved her dearly, but she could be as stubborn as me sometimes. 'I'm napping here.' Delilah mewled, 'And there is nothing you can do to stop me!'
Being alone with Delilah all these years taught me how to bargain with her. "Nap on our bed like you're supposed to, and I'll ask Paul to bring you back fresh tuna from the fishers' market the next time he goes out to the civilization."
Delilah hissed at me. 'It's warmer here.' She protested. I sighed and stared up at the tower's only window overlooking my piano. Sunlight streamed through the glass, sparkling across the ivory.
"Sometimes I wonder why you stay here with me." Delilah was free to come and go as she pleased, but she refused to leave my side ever since I saved her as a kitten. I would surely go mad without her company, but I wanted Delilah to know that even though I was a prisoner, she didn't have to be confined to this tower with me. The cat opened her eyes and purred gently. 'You're the only one who can understand me. All the others treat me like an animal instead of a friend.'
"You are an animal." I reminded her, walking over to the piano bench to give her a pet, "But I see you as my friend and my equal."
'I'll leave this tower when you do. I've been trying to get you out of here for years, but you never listen to me. You always say that it's too dangerous to leave and Paul is keeping you here for your own good.'
"He is." I insisted, "He saved me, Delilah. If it wasn't for Paul, I'd still be in that laboratory being abused and treated like a fucking science experiment."
'And you don't think Paul is abusing you by keeping you here and forcing you to sing for him?'
"It's different." I argued.
Delilah rolled her cat eyes and shut them again. I realized that I still hadn't succeeded in moving her from my piano. Before I could try another tactic, a familiar call could be heard from outside.
"Farrokh, let out you voice!"
"Coming, Paul!" I hollered.
'Coming master.' Delilah mocked.
"Not another word!" I hissed.
'All he'll hear are meows, so it doesn't matter what I say.' She went back to sleep as I approached the window and looked down. As to be expected, Paul was waiting for me, impatiently stomping his foot. Using my powers even for simple tasks was always somewhat draining, but I had no choice. Besides, Paul wasn't pushing me beyond my limits like the scientists were. I opened the window and belted a high note, calling upon a great force of wind to lift Paul up like he was flying so he could join me in the tower. I exhaled and sat down trying to catch my breath.
"Oh don't be such a drama queen." Paul chuckled, as he stepped down from the windowsill, "I doubt it took up that much energy. You manage to do it every time I come and go."
"If you need me to sing the special song, you'll have to wait at least a few minutes for me to catch my breath." I panted.
"I'm only joking. You take as much time as you need, Farrokh. In fact, I don't think I'm in need of the special song at the moment. I killed enough game to sustain me." Paul held up the bag filled with the aftermath of his hunt. He was probably going to chop up the murdered forest critters and put them in tonight's stew which I had no choice but to eat. My cooking skills were inferior, and a tower with no doors and only one window was a fire hazard. I was lucky Paul even gave me enough to eat. Recalling how skinny I had gotten in the laboratory made me shudder.
"So what did you do while I was out hunting?" Paul inquired as he put away his rifle.
"I painted." I held up my latest creation. Even though it was incomplete, I was quite proud of how it was progressing. When Paul laid eyes upon the blonde girl in the painting, he let out a gasp and knocked the canvas out of my hands. I should have seen this coming. He grabbed my wrist holding it beneath his eyes for inspection. The words 'I think you're my soulmate' were etched into my skin in distinct handwriting alongside a marking declaring me a muse. I was born with both marks as was everyone. The first was my soulmate marking which consisted of the first words my soulmate would say to me written in his handwriting. Someone out there had the first words I'd say to him written on his body, and when we met, the words would be replaced by each other's names. The second marking was my magical or nonmagical classification. As a muse, I could do almost anything imaginable with my voice. The only problem was that anything beyond singing a nonmagical song drained much of my energy. Just lifting Paul up into the tower had me winded like I had run a mile. Paul let out a sigh of relief when he saw the my soul mark was unchanged and I didn't have someone's name written on my arm.
I glanced down at the girl in the painting of Mary and tried to laugh off his assumption as a joke. "No, darling, she's not my soulmate. She's just an old friend." I didn't want to tell Paul that I was gay and my soulmate would likely be another man. He was gay himself so he wouldn't judge me, but now that I was of age, I feared he would take advantage.
"Old friend?" Paul scoffed, "You have no friends. When I found you, you had no one besides your dumb cat."
Delilah hissed, but I held up a hand to keep her from clawing Paul. While Paul would never hurt me because he needed me just as much I needed him, Delilah was never truly safe around him. As a demon Paul had to kill to keep himself alive and he always eyed Delilah like she was just another one of his sacrifices. The only reason he didn't murder her was to please me. I was fooling myself to believe otherwise.
I rarely spoke of my past with Paul. As he was the one who rescued me, he knew most of what the scientists did to me. Now, however, I had to divulge into something that he may not have been aware of. "When they discovered I could break curses with my voice, they brought in people for me to save. It was very tiring but I managed, and I really did want to help everyone even if it was killing me in the process. There was one couple who had made a deal with a witch. They bargained to go deaf for the rest of their lives if their dying baby girl could live. My singing brought their hearing back while still allowing their daughter continue to live a long healthy life. Their daughter..." I smiled as I recalled Mary sneaking into the lab to visit me despite not receiving clearance, "She became my friend."
Showing very little sympathy for my story, Paul demanded, "Why did you decide to paint her?" He had every right to be possessive over me considering how cherished I was in the civilization, but I didn't appreciate him micromanaging my every move like this. "Why does it matter? I'll never see her again. You have my word that I'll stay in this tower for the rest of my life."
I ignored Delilah's outraged mewls. At the end of the day, this was what was best for me. If I ventured outside, I would either be killed on site by another demon who resided in the outskirts like Paul or captured by a hunter and dragged back to the civilization to be poked and prodded by scientists again. Those were my two options. The only thing Paul made me do was sing a special song that would temporarily stifle his urge to kill. Yes, it was draining, but it was nothing compared to what the scientists forced me to do. In return Paul kept me safe from the other demons prowling the outskirts as well as the hunters who journeyed into the outskirts to kidnap muses and other magical creatures. In addition, Paul ensured that I was clothed and fed, and he gave me everything I asked for.
Paul lifted my chin, forcing me to look him in the eye. "I don't want you painting pictures of anyone other yourself, me or your cat. Do I make myself clear?"
"Loud and clear, darling." I replied.
"Excellent." Paul removed his hand from my face and clapped his hands together, "Now let me prepare all this meat into a stew."
I tried not to gag as Paul unveiled several murdered forest animals ranging from deer to rabbits and prepared the stovetop. Delilah jumped into my lap to comfort me knowing how much I hated needless suffering. After spending nearly ten years with a demon, I still wasn't used to Paul's lack of compassion for all walks of life. I focused on Delilah and forced myself to be playful with her to take my mind off of Paul's sacrifices. "I win! You're not on my piano anymore." I teased, gently flicking my fingers through her whiskers. She hissed and flicked her tail in retaliation.
"Say the word and I'll drop her in the pot with the rest." Paul said. I couldn't tell if he was joking or not, but I couldn't imagine my precious Delilah being boiled alive and then eaten. "Is that enough to make you cry?" Paul snickered noting the tears running down my cheeks, "It's a good thing you have me here to take care of you. You're much too soft to survive in this world."
"I survived for fifteen years on my own before you took me in." I reminded him. Surviving was the right word as it certainly wasn't living. Even now I didn't consider whatever this was to be a life.
'You survived because you had me.' Delilah mewled.
"Not for the first ten years." I sighed, petting Delilah's soft fur and recalling the moment we met. In hindsight it was the best thing that had ever happened to me, but that didn't make the moment any less horrifying.
'"Subject survived injection of liquid mercury into the bloodstream. It's confirmed he can heal himself from any injury or disease through the power of song..."
Ignoring the pain, I shut my eyes and attempted to fall asleep in the cage I called home. The scientist's voice droned on as he recorded my progress, but I stopped paying attention. Suddenly though, I wish I had as he ventured to my cage and opened the door. Out of habit, I backed myself as far away from the man in the white coat as I could so that my bare back was resting on the bars of the other side of the cage.
"Relax, Freddie." He said. It was a nickname they had given me which I ironically preferred over Farrokh. "It won't be you we're hurting this time."
More scientists walked in and entered my cage. One of them was holding a teeny tiny kitten. I couldn't recall the last time I smiled or if I ever did smile, but I felt obliged to grin at the sweet site of the baby cat. "Look at those teeth! Trademark of any muse. So fascinating." One of the scientists noted making my close my mouth.
"Freddie, this is Delilah." The one holding the cat leaned down and placed her in my lap, "I want you two to bond. Can you do that?"
I nodded. This was far too good to be true. There had to be some sort of catch. Regardless, I clung to this one light in my otherwise dark world. Delilah was so soft and so cute. I never wanted to let her go.
"He seems attached enough to have motivation." A scientist remarked, "Let's do it now."
I let out a startled cry as Delilah was suddenly yanked out of my arms. "Stop!" I screamed as Delilah writhed in the scientist's firm grasp, "You're hurting her."
"That's the point." Another scientist replied as he brandished a butcher knife. "No!" I shouted. I tried to get up to stop them, but a scientist held me down preventing me from moving. I shut my eyes not wanting to see the sick blow. All I could hear was Delilah meowing in agony. When she was returned to me, I saw nothing but blood. Her grey fur was now coated red and she was bruised beyond recognizability. "We sliced her like a carcass. She is going to die if you don't use your powers." I was informed.
Praying that my tears wouldn't impact my voice, I sang and didn't stop until I felt myself growing weak from my powers. The world was spinning and darkening around me. The last thing I heard was someone announce, "Subject can successfully heal animals through the power of song..."'
When I woke up, I was in immense pain, but I was accustomed to that. Delilah was good as new, curled against my body, purring softly. 'Thanks for saving me.' She licked my hand.
I gasped. "You talk?" Delilah twitched her ears in shock. 'You understand?'
"Subject can evidently communicate with the animals he heals. We will keep him with the healed cat to observe their relationship further..."'
I smiled down at my Delilah. We had been inseparable ever since that day, and nothing could ever change that. I rose to my feet and went to fetch the cat food noticing that we were running low. I did manage to get Delilah off the piano, so I owed her. "Paul, dear, the next time you go to the civilization, can you bring us back some tuna from the fishers' market?" I asked in the sweetest voice I could muster.
"What's wrong with the bloody cat food? I'm willing to get anything for you, Farrokh. I even managed to lug that piano up here, but I refuse to cater to Delilah's requests. She's nothing more than a dumb fucking cat and you need to stop spoiling her!"
I knew better than to point out that the piano was lifted into the tower thanks to my voice working its magic and Paul didn't even have to raise a finger. "Well we're running out of cat food, so at least get that." I said trying to maintain calm.
"That I'll do." He agreed but with a groan, "Seriously she eats more like a pig than a cat. I feel like I just got that bag of cat food and now it's almost finished."
"She's a hungry girl." I remarked and Delilah licked her lips in agreement.
"How long is a cat's life expectancy again?"
"Delilah will live as long as me." I replied, "I made sure of that years ago. When I sang to make it happen, it weakened me for many days, but it was worth it to expand her lifespan to match mine." I thought of the loneliness I'd face if Delilah were to leave this cruel world before me, and shook it out of my head. That would never happen thanks to my powers.
Paul abruptly looked away from the pot with intrigue. "Your voice is powerful enough to grant immortality? Why didn't you tell me this before?"
Now he was beginning to sound like the scientists back in the civilization—always wanting to know what I could do and failing to realize how much it took out of me. "Who wants to live forever?" I drawled.
"Demons have a lifespan of five million years. I'm reaching the four millionth mark pretty soon." Paul said as he stuffed the chopped head of a rabbit into the pot, "It's definitely something to consider."
I recalled how tired I had been in the days after expanding Delilah's lifespan. I could barely get out of bed (if you called the hardened mat kept in the cage a bed). Giving someone an infinite lifespan may not led to a recovery at all. I made this point clear to Paul before he could get any ideas. "Making you immortal may just kill me, and then you'll have to find another muse to sing your special song."
"Sirens are also capable of unlocking the magic of the special song with their voices. Of course they have to sing it more frequently because their voices aren't as powerful as muses. Such a shame that muses like you are so rare."
"H-how do you know all this?" I stammered. Until now it had remained unspoken that before Paul had rescued me he either enslaved another creature to sing for him or paraded through the outskirts and killed anything and everything he could find like all the other demons. I was afraid to know the answer, but Paul didn't care about my fears. "If you think you're the first muse I've ever come across, then you're just flattering yourself." He said bluntly, "But you are one of the most powerful I've encountered in quite some time."
So I was replaceable after all. Paul could discard of me and Delilah whenever he felt like it and find a new creature to fulfill his needs. I doubted Paul even considered me as powerful as he claimed. "Even though I sing to you almost every day, you still have to kill." I gestured to all of the dead animal remains going into the pot.
Paul shrugged. "If you count animals as kills." Clearly he didn't take the lives of four legged creatures into consideration, "Let me say that if it wasn't for the special song, I wouldn't be able to survive very long on just animals. I'd need something bigger and more complex to sustain me."
'Are you implying that we're not complex?' Delilah angrily mewled.
"Shut her up, Farrokh! I'm sick of all that damn meowing!"
'Shut him up, Freddie!' Delilah countered.
"Both of you stop it!" I shouted, "We can all get along. Okay, darlings? Paul, you need me to keep yourself alive, so you'll want to keep me happy. In order to do that you have to be nice to Delilah. Delilah, dear, please try to put up with Paul for the sake of keeping the peace."
"Put up with me?" Paul cried, "I'm a delight. You're lucky I've taken you both in and didn't leave you to the hands of those lab rats."
"I'm very appreciative, Paul. Thank you for all that you've done for me." Those were my default words that were all too familiar and came out in an automatic flow.
"I know." he said, "Now why don't you rest go rest. I'll wake you up when supper is ready. You need your energy for tonight."
"Why?" I questioned, "What's going on tonight?"
"How could you forget? It's a full moon."
"Oh good." I remarked sarcastically, "My favorite time of the month."
Full moons triggered demons' natural instincts to kill above all else. In other words, I would have to sing to Paul all night long to stop him from going on a murderous rampage. It was fucking exhausting.
"After you fell asleep on me last month—"
"—I didn't fall asleep, I collapsed from fatigue!" I cried, "Do you know how difficult it is to use magic for hours on end with no break?"
"Don't interrupt me." Paul said sharply, "After you feel asleep on me last month and I was forced to jump from the tower and scavenge the woods for sacrifices until dawn, I decided to take some precautions. I hired someone from the civilization to bring me a shipment of animals for me to kill. He thinks I'm adopting them, but he doesn't have to know the truth. Anyway, he should be here before nightfall hopefully."
"He must be one brave idiot to be willing to come to the outskirts just to help out some orphaned animals." I muttered. With the exception of hunters, most people never left the civilization unless they were banished. It was nothing more than haunted woodlands with murderous demons running rampant. Oh and one of those demons had a tower deep in the forest where he kept his cherished muse, but other than that there was nothing out here. "How'd you convince him that the outskirts was a suitable place to raise a family of animals? Doesn't he know they'd get slaughtered by demons within minutes."
"I told him I was banished here and created a protective tower fortress where the animals could be safe." Paul explained, "I can't believe he fell for it! Hopefully he won't get murdered on the journey over here. If he does then you better not mess up and fall asleep again, Farrokh. Last month was unacceptable!"
"It won't happen again." I assured him.
"For both of our sakes, I would hope so."
I flopped down on my bed and shut my eyes, but I never actually fell asleep. Delilah sensed that I was still awake and nudge my shoulder. 'Freddie, I'm bored. Can you sing me a song?' Singing nonmagical songs was effortless and proved to be one of my favorite pastimes especially when combined with the piano. I surprisingly found that I enjoyed singing much more than painting or drawing even though I excelled at both.
"There's no living in my life anymore
The seas have gone dry
And the rain's stopped falling
Please don't you cry any more
Can't you see
Listen to the breeze
Whisper to me please
Don't send me to the path of nevermore..."
"Save for you vocals for tonight, Farrokh!" Paul stopped me, "You're going to need them, my muse. There's no point in wasting them for something nonmagical."
I smirked knowing very well that I would belt my heart out when Paul wasn't around. He would throw a fit if he arrived to see me crooning loudly enough to overpower the growling of the vacuum during my weekly tower cleaning sessions. Like I said, nonmagical songs didn't require any energy and I could do it for hours. In fact, in a perfect world I would do it for a living. In the heat of the sun in front of millions of people in a crowded stadium, I could see myself standing strong and singing to all of them. Now wouldn't that be something! I'd rock the world and none of it would require any magic. The show would all come from the talent of my raw vocal abilities I was blessed with and the hard work I put behind my songwriting and performing. Of course that could never happen. With the exception of piano, my instrumental abilities were inferior. I would need to recruit talented guitarists and a drummer to support me, but I doubted anyone would ever want to form a band with an undercover muse. If I were exposed, my bandmates would either be imprisoned or banished to the outskirts, and I'd find myself right back where I started: alone in the lab. Well if I was lucky they'd continue to let me be with Delilah to maintain their "observations".
A loud crackling of thunder took me out of my thoughts. Delilah whimpered and hid under the bed. She acted tough and feisty, but at the end of the day she was just a literal scaredy cat. "Thunderbolts and lightning very very frightening..." I gasped in realization, grabbing the nearest writing utensil. I had to get these thoughts down before they disappeared. The nonsensical operatic verses of my latest personal project kept playing for me in my dreams but I'd forget them whenever I woke up much to my dismay.
"Farrokh, the stew is ready!" Paul said, setting two platters down on the table. When I refused to get up as I furiously scribbled down lyrics in a breakthrough, Paul walked over to me and snatched the paper away from me. Shit!
"What the hell is this?"
Well it was too late to hide it from him. I might as well put forth the confidence I knew my cowboy song deserved in its promotion. "It's a work of art, darling, but I don't expect you to understand it."
"Mama, just killed a man." Paul sneered, "Is this a jab at me?"
I rolled my eyes. "Not everything in the world revolves around you, Paul." I was in dangerous territory, but I didn't care. Paul had struck a nerve daring to insult my latest creation.
"I don't know what this is supposed to be, Farrokh, but no good can come of it." He tore the paper in half and threw those halves over the stovetop, watching gleefully as they burned. I felt numb.
Delilah poked her head out from under the bed. 'Aren't you going to fight back? I know how much your cowboy song means to you. You can't let him get away with destroying it!'
"Nothing really matters." I choked, "Nothing really matters to me."
I held back my tears as I took a seat at the table with Paul. Silently, I poked through the chunks of meat with my fork, just listening to the rainstorm outside.