Authors: MarcyKate Connolly
To my parents,
for never doubting that if I pursued my dreams,
I would catch them.
I WILL NEVER FORGET MY FIRST BREATH. GASPING. HEAVING. DELICIOUS.
When I opened my eyes, the colors of the world swarmed me, filling up all space with hues and objects for which I had no name.
Three seconds later, I passed out from sensory overload, or at least that is what Father says. He fixed me up and when I woke the second time, the world became a more comprehensible place. The object hovering over me was a face, the circles within it were eyes, and the warm, wet drips leaking from them were tears.
The crease across the bottom that widened under my gaze was a smile.
“You're alive,” Father said.
Even now, hours later, he mutters it still.
I LEAN BACK AGAINST THE WILLOW AND HOLD OUT MY ARMS, STUDYING
them under the waning sunlight. The thin red lines marking the sections of my body have faded to nearly nothing; all that remains are the many shades of my flesh and the tiny metal bolts fastening tail to spine, joint to wing, and neck to shoulder, along with a dull ache.
Father, his silver hair flapping in the summer breeze, lays out logs and strange steel pipes in the field. They will be used for my training. He has not told me what I am preparing for, only that he will when I am ready. He waves when he notices me watching.
I am sure I will be ready soon. Father is astonished at my progress. Yesterday, I mastered walking within one hour and running in two, and now I can even jump to the lowest
branch of the willow with ease.
Father says his biggest coup is my speech. He managed to preserve that part of my brain, so I talk just as I did when I was human.
My only regret is he was not able to carry over my memories. I know nothing of who I was. Nothing of my mother. Even my memories of Father are out of reach.
But I do not need them to know how precious I am to him. Every time he looks at me, his face fills with surprise as though I am some kind of miracle.
I suppose I am.
The maze of tones on my arms, legs, and torso fascinates me to no end, because my face is only one plain shade of porcelain. Father says I must look as human as possible from a distance, but no one will see my arms or legs under my cloak. When I bore of studying my arms, I tuck my long, dark locks behind my ears and curl my green tail up to get a better look. It has a three-pronged point at the end. A barb, Father called it. He said I need to be careful not to swish too hard or I might sting myself or him.
I run a finger over the iridescent scales surrounding the hard brown spikes. I rather like the scales. They are lovely in the last beams of the day. I wonder what the barb does, and I tap it ever so gentlyâ
I SIT BY THE FIRE IN OUR LITTLE RED COTTAGE, PESTERING FATHER WITH
questions while I toy with the end of my tail. He dances around the answers, just as my fingers dance around the stinging tip. I am much more cautious now. The venom puts people to sleep. The last time, I pricked my finger and did not wake up for half a day.
A lesson well learned.
“Why do you not have a tail, Father?” I ask.
He gives me the same response he gives to all questions along these lines. “I am not special like you, Kymera. Most people are not. You have a purpose. Your parts will aid you.”
“How?” I frown at the barb, then shake my tail as if to make it frown back. Instead, the scales glitter in the firelight.
“I will tell you when you are ready.”
Frustration warms my face, but when he reaches over and places his hand against my cheek, I lean into the affectionate gesture. I am becoming fond of this place, with its worn wooden walls, high hedges, and rose garden. Even the tower beside the cottage feels like an old friend.
Mostly I cannot help but stare at Fatherâthe man who made meâand memorize every line and plane of his face. That, too, is nearly as worn as the walls, but radiates a kindness, a warmth that even the fire cannot match.
A yapping brown dog with sparrow wings skids to a landing by Father's plush armchair. Pippa. He calls her a sperrier.
I call her delicious.
But I am supposed to pass as human, and humans do not eat sperriers or terriers or any other animal they care for as pets.
Pippa keeps her distance from me, venturing into the same room only when Father is around. I swish my tail in irritation. I am hungry.
A book falls off the shelf behind me and Father sighs. It is a volume he gave me on my first day of life. Its cover is frayed around the edges, but the words are lovely, full of magic and life and mystery. He calls them fairy tales. They are supposed to be a part of my education. I riseâmore carefullyâto retrieve the volume. I have not yet gained control over all my parts and it worries him. I return it to the shelf, wiping my dusty hands on my dress.
I do not want Father to worry. This is the fifth time he attempted to reanimate me and the only time he succeeded.
I have not yet asked what happened to my other bodies. For now it is enough for me to know I am alive and strong, though perhaps more clumsy than I would like.
He created me for a purposeâa noble one, he claimsâwith the tail of a snake, the wings of a giant raven, and the claws and eyes of a cat. Much to his dismay, I have not yet mastered flying, either. But I am rather good at knocking things off shelves.
Father suffered for me and I hope I can live up to his expectations.
“Kymera, come sit. You are making Pippa nervous with your pacing.” He pats the chair across from him. Pippa squirms in his arms, as though she is considering taking flight again.
I bare my teeth at her and hiss as I sit in what I hope is a ladylike fashion. Pippa leaps up to the rafters. I giggle.
“You should not do that. This is the one place you will find other hybrids. Pippa is a kindred spirit.”
She whines as though she understands his every word. I roll my eyes.
“I am better than a puppy with wings. You made me so.” I grow bolder at his smile. “Why did you create me?”
His eyes soften. “Kym, you are my daughter.”
“Yes, but what drove you to try over and over? If you cannot tell me my purpose, at least tell me that.” I blink, switching from yellow cat's eyes to my blue human irises.
He is more accommodating to my requests when I wear those.
He sighs. It is working.
“Most of your human parts come from my daughter. A year ago, a wizard abducted you. Your mother attempted to stop him, and the wizard murdered her in the ensuing struggle. He vanished and only later when he was done with you did I find your body. After that, it became my life's work to bring you back.” He settles deeper into his chair, and the flames in the fireplace recede to embers. Fury builds inside me. The cat's irises slide back into place, and the claws in my hands ache to unsheathe.
“What sort of person would murder the child of a good man?” This question pains Father, but I do not regret asking.
“Wizards are naturally power hungry, but this one was also driven mad by grief. He lost his own daughter to illness not long before and is so jealous that he steals any other girl who crosses his path and kills her. I suspect he aims to work some sort of dark magic to bring his lost child back.”
“Humans may not have magic in them, but young blood is a powerful ingredient in black-magic spells. From what I hear, his magic has only gotten darker since he lost his child, and he needs a steady supply of sacrifices for his spells.”