Song of the Broken Birds

Hi everyone! I hope you'll be interested in reading this story, a piece of epic fantasy that features three slash pairings for the price of one, lol. I've never written anything this ambitious before so I'm a bit nervous, but excited at the same time. Anyway, like it says in this summary, I'll be updating this every Thursday, but I can easily make that biweekly if there's enough interest. I do plan on finishing this, I've already got a rough outline sketched out. The finished story should be around 48-50 chapters.

It's rated M for violence (a lot of violence, be warned!) and bad language and some suggestive themes, but there's no explicit sex.


Prologue

I don't think I could ever forget that day, no matter how hard I try.

It was the first time Father had invited us into his secret chamber, the one located deepest underground in the maze of tunnels beneath our house. From above, the house simply appeared to be a whitewashed cottage, small and modest.

The cottage was just for show. We knew that our true home was the darkness, the low-ceilinged tunnels that never stopped stinking of blood and metal. Of fear.

The three of us lined up in the chamber, standing at stiff attention as we waited for Father to arrive. Of course, we couldn't help but glance around since we'd never seen this place before. It was a small room, barely twelve feet across, the raw earth ceiling looming so low I almost feared it would collapse over our heads. To my surprise, I saw no racks, no whip posts, no sign of any torture implements. But it was hard to miss the blood stains marring the floor.

To the far left, my youngest brother, Cardinal, was shivering, his red curls almost colorless in the dimness. He's just five, I thought with a sick lurching sensation. He shouldn't be... Of course, I'd never say any it aloud. Age didn't matter to Father—the sooner we started our training, the better. I understood the principle of it, but I still thought this was rather unfair. I had never seen Father work in this room before, and I was ten.

A tiny, traitorous part of me wanted to reach for Cardinal, grab his hand and comfort him, but I couldn't—not just because I knew it was a show of weakness, but because Shrike stood between us. The middle brother, seven years old but small for his age. Like all of us. He grinned and cracked his knuckles, trying to act eager. I didn't know how eager he actually was, though.

"Stay still, Shrike," I murmured out of the side of my mouth. Father had no patience for ill-behaved children. And I suspected that we would have to be at our best-behaved now.

"Okay, okay," Shrike said sulkily, just as the opposite wall slid open with a great grinding sound—and Father entered.

Cardinal let out a little gasp and even I breathed in sharply. Father wasn't alone; in his left hand he held a chain that was attached to shackles around a man's wrists. The man's ankles had been shackled as well, so he had to stumble-hop after Father's swift strides. I stared, taking in the man's ragged fur coat, his dirty dark beard. A Felkanir? But we were hundreds of miles from the Felkans.

Unceremoniously, Father shoved the man to his knees before us. The man growled something in his language, and Father kicked him in the small of the back before dropping a heavy bag to the floor; it clanked and jangled as if it were full of metal implements. Then he looked at us, his gray eyes cool and dispassionate. "Egret. Shrike. Cardinal."

"Father," we said as one, stiffening.

"This man," Father said, kicking the Felkanir again, "is an assassin from the Felkans. Last night, I caught him trying to slit the Emperor's throat."

As usual, Father didn't bother with any preamble. His voice, deceptively soft, sounded like wind whistling through a graveyard. Despite myself, I shivered.

"In other words, he was incompetent. He failed at his mission. He allowed himself to be captured by the enemy."

With a swell of dread, I began to realize what Father wanted to show us. Why he had brought us here. I fought the sudden, desperate urge to glance at my brothers, to make sure they were all right. To make sure Cardinal was all right.

"One day, you boys will be assassins just like him. Like me. You will serve the bidding of the royal family and destroy their enemies. Let this to be a lesson to you: such is the price that failure exacts."

I dug my heels into the stone floor, fighting the urge to step back, to run away. I knew I'd seen worse things than this. But Shrike and Cardinal hadn't.

I couldn't do anything. I could only watch. Father started by breaking the assassin's fingers, one by one. The assassin spat ragged curses throughout, but the curses turned to cries and groans when Father began sawing off his fingers with a razor. When he kicked and thrashed, Father drove a wooden pole into the backs of his knees, breaking his legs.

What horrid sounds. They were swallowed by the earthen walls, strangely muffled. Unreal.

The only light came from the slowly burning torches, casting Father's face in a flickering contrast between light and shadow. He looked demonic, his hollow cheeks and beaked nose thrown in sharp relief. A part of me just wanted to stare at his face, not at the writhing assassin, but I knew I was here to learn a lesson. So I forced myself to watch.

After breaking his ribs, Father unshackled the assassin. He tried to crawl away, but couldn't get far. Father kicked him in the face—bloody teeth scattered over the floor, like spilled pearls—before stomping on his wrist.

He cut the assassin's hand off, sawing slowly and sadistically. Even today, the sound of metal sawing through bone still haunts my nightmares. I felt sick, nauseous. Dimly, I was aware of Shrike trembling beside me.

But when Father beckoned me to come over, I didn't dare disobey. He was my father, the only father I'd ever had and ever would have. He had given me a place in this world. So I helped him cauterize the bleeding stump, holding a torch to the flesh as the blood bubbled and sizzled. The assassin's screams pierced my skull, made my head ring.

That was when Cardinal started to cry: loud, desperate sobs. My blood ran cold. I knelt there, torn between finishing my task and rushing to my brother's aid. Father lifted his head, mouth trembling. In that moment, blazing with anger, he looked more inhuman than ever.

"You weakling," he roared, advancing on the shaking, sobbing Cardinal. "You little piece of shit."

"Hey, wait—" Shrike stepped between Father and Cardinal. Father batted Shrike aside with one hand.

"Father, please, please, stop!" Cardinal continued wailing. "You're hurting him! Stop!"

"Of course I am, that's the point!" Quick as a striking snake Father grabbed Cardinal by the shirt and hauled him in the air. I heard the click of metal and saw the knife that Father was holding to Cardinal's pale, pulsing throat. The breath whooshed from my lungs.

"You better watch! You better fucking watch!" Father pushed Cardinal forward. The knife lifted, pressing to the skin around Cardinal's eye. "Egret!"

I flinched at Father's barked command, but I couldn't hide from his burning gaze. Shivering, I stared at the torch still in my hand, and then at the broken, bleeding assassin—no longer screaming, just breathing harshly.

I realized what Father wanted.

No, I wanted to say, but I couldn't. Not when Father was mere seconds from cutting out my brother's eye. He could do it in a flash, parting eyeball from socket with the same ease as pitting a cherry. I had no choice.

So I did it. I followed each of Father's terse orders. I cut the assassin's tongue from his mouth, so that a river of blood splattered over my hands and onto the floor. I cut off his other hand and cauterized the wound again. This time, his screams sounded worse, gargled and choked by blood.

I ripped the blindfold off and carved out both his eyes. I couldn't do it as neatly and quickly as Father could, but I still did it. I was shivering, whimpering, tears blurring my vision. The slam of my heart did not drown out the assassin's cries. I made myself think about poor Cardinal, how I was helping him, that I was doing this for my brother...

I finished by disemboweling the assassin—one of the slowest, cruelest methods of death ever devised. I don't know how I managed it. I kept whispering to the assassin, "I'm sorry, forgive me, I'm so sorry." So weak of me. I was supposed to be a killer, just like him. He'd understand being killed by another assassin, wouldn't he?

But assassins specialized in quick, clean deaths. Not this. Not torture. I wanted to speed it up, wanted to put an end to the agony that had him spasming and groaning, sweat slicking his skin. I wanted to, but I knew I couldn't.

Cardinal's sobs were even worse to me than the assassin's dying groans. I kept thinking about that knife pressing into the delicate skin around his eye.

When the assassin's entrails finally spilled in a glistening pile on the floor, I almost breathed in relief. But it wasn't over. It would take hours of excruciating pain for him to finally die. He lay there, spasming, spraying blood everywhere. Maybe he'd die quickly from blood loss, I hoped.

"That's good. Now stand up, Egret, and watch. Watch until he dies, and remember that this is the fate that—"

I tuned out Father's words. Made my decision. I knelt above the spasming assassin, drew my own knife—the weapon that Father had given me after I'd begun my training—and with a swift, decisive movement, dragged it across his throat. I watched the scarlet line spread, then blood gushed out in a steaming tide.

The assassin's dying spasms came as such a relief. I wanted to sob and collapse to my knees, but instead I hauled myself to my feet and staggered over to Father, Cardinal, and Shrike. I was covered with blood, sticky and itching as it dried.

I wanted to die myself.

"Why did you do that?" Father's eyes burned, but he set Cardinal down. Cardinal collapsed in a sobbing heap on the floor, but none of us moved to help him. I would have loved to. I wanted to.

But not like this. Not after torturing and killing a man before him. Who cared if Father was going to punish me for my defiance; at least I'd spared Cardinal more hours of torment.

"That was...that was something, all right!" said Shrike. He was sweating, but his eyes glimmered with something wild, something excited. Something that terrified me.

This was the kind of family we were, I thought grimly as I took in the stoic Father, the sobbing Cardinal, the eagerly trembling Shrike. The stench of blood. Myself, still gripping the knife until its handle dug into my palm. This was my family, the family of the Imperial Hawk—and this was the way it always would be.


Chapter one will be posted soon, so in the meantime please comment!