Zephren’s throat was tight as he watched the girl back away.
She eyed him cautiously. “I…I don’t know,” she said meekly, the firelight bathing her in red.
“Don’t lie to me.” Zephren felt an insanity cloud his mind, anger boiling inside him. “You knew that I was here; in this house. You knew that. Right?”
She inhaled deeply, clearly trying to stay calm…trying to ensure that Zephren stayed calm. “Zephren, he was just trying to keep you safe.”
Zephren’s face went blank, looking over his malnourished body, his sickeningly thin frame, his bleeding hands, his filthy rags... What did she see? Did he look normal to her? “Safe?” Zephren scoffed at the word, nodding. It was a completely foreign concept to him. “Safe from who? From someone who would keep me prisoner? Starve me? Hope that I would just die off? Is that who I was being kept safe from?”
Desta’s face diminished into fear and sorrow. “Please, just leave. The city is burning. We’ll be ash if we stay here any longer!” She looked like she was about to cry, knowing Zephren had no intention of leaving; not yet. “I’m your sister,” she said, as if they were holy words that would protect her from all harm. “He’s my father, too. You don’t understand—”
“Sister?” Zeph huffed out a laugh, giving her a sympathetic smile. “But I’m not your brother, right? To you, I’m just a siren.” The word siren lurked in the back of his mind like a pale shadow; a single word that somehow had cursed Zephren Kyne from the moment he’d been born.
Zephren grabbed Desta’s wrist, desperately jerking her towards him as he held the letter opener to her throat. “Scream,” he demanded it, his nose wrinkling into a snarl.
He didn’t need to ask her twice.
Desta’s high-pitched scream nearly shattered his eardrums. He could feel her trying to squirm her wrist out of his grasp, but Zephren held her tightly. Even in this state he was stronger than a human. He could feel his heart pounding like a drum inside his chest as he heard heavy footsteps rush down the hall.
The door slammed into the wall as thick black boots erupting across the carpet, stopping merely inches in front of them. His frame was tall and muscular, his wild hair the same colour as Desta’s, but streaked with grey. Zephren’s father stared down at the siblings, hazel eyes just like Zephren’s, unwavering from his gaze. “Let her go, Zephren.”
He didn’t seem surprised, and it dampened the triumph Zephren had felt for the first time in years.
Zeph released Desta’s wrist, seeing her stumble slightly as she rushed behind their Father. Her face was pained as she stood staring at Zephren, her hands quivering at her chest as she rubbed her wrist. She looked up at their father’s harsh face.
His deep voice was a roar, “Leave, Desta.”
Zeph didn’t break his father’s gaze. The gentle patting of her shoes as she ran out of the room was all Zephren heard against his heartbeat. At his sister’s absence, Zephren felt his pulse jump. He stared up at his father, hands clenched into fists as he braced the letter opener in front of him. “Tell me why you did it. Tell me why you locked me away. Treated me as less than human—”
“You are less than human.” His father glared at him. “But, still, you’re my son. I couldn’t just kill you.”
Zeph’s vision blurred as tears filled his eyes, rage consuming him. “So, this was a kindness?” He spat it, shaking his head. “No, you tell me the truth.”
Stepping forward, Zephren pressed the tip of the letter opener into his father’s chest, digging it into the thick fabric of his elegant waistcoat as they stared each other down.
His father smirked, eyebrows raised in skepticism. “Or you’ll kill me? Is that it?” He waited for a moment. When Zephren said nothing, he sighed, looking out the window at the burning city. “They’re searching for you; destroyed an entire city to find one pathetic siren…”
Zephren’s eye twitched. “Who’s looking for me?”
There was a stunned look in his father’s eyes, blinking down at Zeph. “I forget sometimes, how little you know about the world, Zephren. About yourself… We could just stand here, disappear in the fire, and you would die knowing nothing about why your life is the way it is.”
“Then tell me,” Zeph felt desperate, so close to having the answers, the freedom, everything he had ever dreamed of wanting, “Before I make you pay for what you’ve done to me!”
The house shifted again, another bomb falling somewhere in the city. Zeph turned to look outside for a split second, wondering how close the bombs and fire were getting to the house.
In his foolish moment of distraction, he heard his father move behind him. Before Zeph could react, his father had already grabbed his wrist, stretching Zephren’s arm out straight. In what felt like slow motion, Zephren turned back to him as I watched his father snap Zeph’s arm over his knee.
The sound of his bones splintering made him cringe before Zeph felt his voice rip from his throat in agony. He sank to the ground, clutching his broken arm to his chest, the letter opener falling with a dull thud onto the carpet.
Zephren watched as his father took a knee in front of him, his rough hands under Zeph’s chin. There was a bruising pain as his father squeezed Zeph’s face, forcing him to meet his eyes. His father dug his nails into Zeph’s cheeks, as he said menacingly, “You should have run when you had the chance.”
Fighting the lump in his throat, Zephren jerked his chin out of his father’s grasp. Zephren’s breaths were short as he choked back his sobs, rocking slightly to quell the pain. He clenched his teeth until his jaw hurt as he tried not to cry, looking up at the man he only knew as Father.
His father stood up straight, sighing wearily, “You think it was easy for me to keep you hidden, Zephren?”
Zeph still had fight in him and he refused to keep it quiet. “Locking me in the basement seems pretty straight forward,” he spat, his throat stinging with an inescapable tightness.
Watching his father carefully, he saw the man’s hands clenched into fists, his voice deadly quiet as he looked down at Zephren. “I should have killed you. You’re right. It would have been easier.”
Narrowing his eyes at the man, Zephren tried to fight through the pain, tried not to let it show. “Then why didn’t you?”