Membrane Of Lies by Inspirationally Red

Category:Maximum Ride
Genre:Angst, Mystery
Published:2011-03-10 23:37:26
Updated:2013-01-02 23:51:50
Packaged:2021-04-22 01:54:11
Summary:If you've lived your whole life behind a mask, who says you'll recognise the face beneath it? Max 2 once assumed Iggy had bat DNA inside him. She didn't know her guess was true. Nor did she realise that the tiny two percent would have a bigger effect on Iggy's life than anything else. Rated T.

Table of Contents

1. Cross My Heart, Hope To Sing
2. This Is What I Brought You
3. We Are All Different Especially Iggy
4. This World That Hurts
5. Thirty One Days
6. A Grim Ambience
7. The Man Behind The Mask
8. Wings
9. Flight
10. Awake And Alive
11. Movement
12. Seething Dawn

1. Cross My Heart, Hope To Sing

Cross My Heart, Hope To Sing, Pluck The Feathers From My Wing

The coppery musk of blood hung heavy in the air like a fog, filling his nostrils with it's pungent rust-scent. Branches and leaves rustled and clicked against each other, a solemn grove of spectators ringing the crime.

Tears ran down his cheeks and hacking sobs burst from his throat as his long, slender fingers roved over the carcass of the bird, feeling every strand of bone that connected each primary feather, forming a thin veneer of the promise of flight.

He crouched, feeling the soil's dampness- wet from last night's rainfall- seeping through the knees of his jeans. His tall, lithe body was doubled over as shudders of self-loathing ran through him. The knife that had done the deed hung limp in between his long, bony fingers. He could hear the blood as it dripped from the blade, drip, drip, drip, staining the earth red with the blood of a dead hunter who, until a short while ago, had been wheeling free above the clouds.

Iggy wiped his face with his sleeve, the thin blue cotton rasping against his face, before preparing for the next cut. The knife trembled in his hand as he held it above the dead eagle before slipping from his fingers. He doubled over with a gasp as renewed tears scrolled down his face, staining the earth with a mixture of blood and water.

His trembling fingers sought his wing; a sudden burst of creaminess, but he ignored it. Slowly his fingers gently loosened the long flight feather before tugging it out, the band of black-tipped cream joining the multitude of others scattered around him on the forest floor.

He ran his fingers over the shredded membrane, tugging out each feather and scattering it. The icy wind blew their fragile tendrils across his face, like tiny fingers drying the tears. He supposed it looked pretty: a fallen angel surrounded by his own feathers.

But he wasn't an angel. He never had been. He was a demon, scalded by the force of his own guilt and the effort of keeping it secret from the others. All the jokes, the pyromania, the laughter, had been a mask, like the thin veneer of feathers that covered his wings.

His wiry, membranous bat wings.

Every day of his life, it had been the same: transfer a dead bird's feathers to his own, then replace them once they started to molder. Replace them quickly before anyone noticed the stench of rotting feathers. He covered up who he really was with a mask, both literally and metaphorically, so that no one, not even Angel, knew who he really was.

"You are an accident!" Marian Jensen screamed at his three-month-old self, voice echoing off the pristine white tiles of the creation room. "A stain, a mistake! You shouldn't be here! You were never supposed to be here!"

Iggy cringed at the memory and worked, hands methodically plucking his wings, tugging out the dead bird's feathers and transferring them to his own. Years of doing the same had drilled the pattern of the primaries and secondaries into his brain so he could do it in his sleep if need be. The stench of blood was getting stronger, clogging his nostrils and running down his wrists.

'Bats." Seven-year-old Max announced, slamming the cage door shut behind her with a clang that seemed too loud in the cramped space of the lab. She was bleeding heavily from the recent test, where she, Fang and Iggy had been forced to let vampire bats suck their blood. 'I hate bats."

In the cage two spaces along from hers, Iggy whimpered and pressed himself against the back of his cage, although he knew that in the darkness, Max couldn't see his wings. Even in tests, Max never saw his wings, for they were all blindfolded. The dark was his friend. It protected his friends from the truth.

Tears mixed with blood ran down his cheeks and hacking gasps broke through his lips as he plucked and transferred, plucked and transferred the feathers to his ragged membrane than ran red with what little blood he had left. He knew he was sitting in a pool of blood and tears, but he didn't dare echolocate and find out exactly what it looked like. He was too near the house. His echolocation was loud: the only time he dared to echolocate in front of the flock was in battle, for everyone was too preoccupied to notice.

But the world still found ways to rage at him.

It was just after a test where they had been blindfolded and put through a maze. He had echolocated his way out and had finished the test in seconds. But not all people were happy at this discovery.

"How could you have managed to get through the maze first?" Max screamed at him, voice loud and shrill in his supersensitive ears. Her anger scared him; he remembered wailing at the injustice of the world and carrying on sobbing long after Fang had managed to calm Max down.

For back then, it seemed as though everyone, even his friends, were screaming at what he truly was. It had been back then he had made a promise never to show his true self and to make it appear as though he was the same as everyone else. That way no one would find reason to scream at him anymore.

"Please," a white-faced, nine-year-old Iggy whispered to Jeb who was driving the van he was smuggling them out of the School with. Jeb glanced over at him in some surprise, clearly wondering why he wasn't asleep in the back like the rest of the flock.

Iggy continued, desperation creeping into his voice. "I'm... I'm different from the others. I don't have... I'm a..." rather than talk, he spread his wings and let them do the talking.

Jeb's eyes widened and Iggy had a feeling that if the flock wasn't asleep, he would have shouted, like all the rest of the people who had shouted at him because of what he was.

"I can't show the rest..." Iggy remembered whispering. "Max... she hates bats and..." he cringed and skipped over his ulterior motive, his darker reasons why he wanted to keep his true self hidden. "So please... hide my wings."

Jeb had carried him up to the E-shaped house, his wings bound in white linen. "His wings got a bit hurt, sweetie." he answered Max's questions as he lay the pretending-to-be unconscious Iggy down on a bed.

Iggy had waited for five hours, until the rest of the flock had long gone to bed. Five hours was a small price to pay for the mask he would soon don to hide his true self from the rest.

Iggy finished lining up the secondaries and cautiously flapped his wings to test his new feathers strength. The discarded feathers blew up around in a vortex of fluffiness, tickling his face and neck before a cold breeze snatched them away. His wings were the same color; he had been careful to chose a bird whom had wings the same color as his former feathers. His true self he could hide, but he couldn't explain it if his wings went from cream to black in a night.

Satisfied his feathers were firmly pinned in the membrane, Iggy scraped his hands through the soil, causing a shallow grave for the dead bird beside him. He felt the bird- breathless, lifeless, featherless- as he lifted it and placed it carefully inside the shallow grave and scraped dirt over it.

"Thank you for lending your feathers to a person who..." Iggy whispered, but his thoughts contradicted him. Forced to lend, you mean! And to what? A coward who is too scared to show his true self? Because of what? Fear that Max will hate you? You were seven years old when she said she hated bats! People change over time!

"Shut up!" Iggy howled, flinging up his hands and once again engulfing himself in a whirlwind of feathers. He doubled over again, feeling his hair brush the upturned dirt, renewed tears streaming down his cheeks.

"I don't know what else to do!" he whispered helplessly to the murmuring trees around him. "This is like a drug... I can't stop doing it... I'm scared... I'm scared of what will happen if I do..."

How long he crouched there, sobbing and wailing and pouring his confessions out to the trees, he did not know. All he knew was that the air had warmed considerably when he finally took off south-east towards Dr. Martinez's house. He flew near the sunrise, feeling the glorious conflagration of rosy pinks and lavender light against his skin. Feeling the sun rise almost distracted him from his deepest, darkest secret.

But only almost.

2. This Is What I Brought You

This Is What I Brought You, This You Can Keep

"This is what I brought you, this you can keep.

This is why I thought you may forget me,

I promised you my heart, just promise one thing,

Kiss my eyes and lay me to sleep..."

Iggy loosened the buds out of his ears, the slender wire of the Ipod limp and dangling, brushing against his skin and delivering the color white to his brain. Iggy's eyes closed as if he could somehow blot out the music he could hear buzzing from the buds that lay on the thin cotton sheets, the lyrics painfully close to what he experienced day after day after day.

He had gotten back to the Martinez residence before the flock had awoken... but not before Jeb had. Jeb, whom he had always thought as his guardian, his saviour, who had hidden his true self before the strain of keeping it in the open had overwhelmed him, attended to his needs as a bat hybrid behind the flock's back, ensuring him nightly flies and making excuses when Iggy slept through the day and only awoke at dusk, true to his nocturnal issues. Being on the run without him had been hard, but Iggy had just continued the sacrifice-like transferal of feathers Jeb had taught him to do and he was fine. Jeb was his carer, his keeper.

Or, so Iggy had thought. But that was before he had spoken to Jeb last night and heard him suggest the thing he feared and hated most, the thing that would send every part of him, the mask of lies and pyromania, crashing down and open so the world could scream again.

Jeb had suggested he show his true self to the others. Well, Jeb could delude himself to his heart's content, but there was no way Iggy was even going to consider the notion. If they ever found out...

"You are an accident! You were never supposed to be here!"

"Bats. I hate bats."

"How could you have gotten through the maze first?"

And later at the E-shaped house, nights of returning home from flights and sitting at the kitchen table with Jeb and a mug of hot chocolate until the flock woke up, listening while the radiator gurgled and Jeb voiced growing concerns and doubts that gnawed at him even now.

"We can't keep this up forever, Iggy..."

"Maximum is strong, smart. She'll figure it out. And you'll have to watch yourself around Angel."

"What happens if your bat side accidentally shows when I'm not around to make excuses?"

"I know you're dead set on not taking any blame for your difference, but I'm sure if you talked, Max would listen..."

And then him, countering and double-countering the concerns, dancing around the doubts, feeling himself slowly break inside as Jeb''s voice droned on over the gurgle of the radiator.

"You didn't hear Max after that test. She really blew it. Still keeps me awake at night." the truth spoken through a mask of carelessness, a mask of oh-yeah-it's-troubling-but-I'm-such-a-happy-go-lucky-fool-you-can't-tell-how-serious-it-really-is.

"Sure we can keep this up forever. I've complete faith in you." a laugh dredged up through layers of doubt and uncertainty, the smashing pieces of him that would soon all be hidden under the mask. "Not to pile on the pressure or anything."

"And I will watch myself around Angel. Can you teach me? How to hide my thoughts?" And so, he had learned to smother his inner thoughts in fizzing white blankness, blankness that threatened to drive him insane when around the flock but he knew he had to keep it up, otherwise...

"How could you have gotten through the maze first?" Max to him.

And him to Jeb.

"You owe me, Jeb." As an autodictated eleven year old, he hadn't known what that line had meant but had always felt immensely warm and comforted when Jeb had replied, always with that line...

"This is what I brought you, this you can keep..."

"Urgh!" Iggy groped beside him for the Ipod and fumbled for the off switch, the metal cool and blue against his fingertips. The buzzing, incessant whine was cut off abruptly and Iggy was left with the loud silence of a sleeping house, a house-before-eight-o'clock which seemed to be the majority of the flock's wake-up time.

It was now quarter past two in the morning. Iggy clicked his tongue lightly, not resorting to his loud "real" echolocation and listened to the echoes as they shattered and bounced back off the furniture of Iggy's room in the attic in the west wing of the Martinez house. The first thing Jeb had done when Max had made the decision to stay with the Martinez's was to go out and buy Iggy an alarm clock, one of those old-fashioned analog ones with the glass face off and the numbers raised metal blocks, so that Iggy could echolocate the time. The fact Iggy's alarm remained stubbornly pointed to nine o'clock at night was a fact Jeb had yet to smooth over with the others. But if the flock asked Iggy, he would just laugh and say he was taking sleeping in to a whole new level.

"You're weird." Thirteen-year-old Max laughed and he stayed silent, a grin pasted woodenly onto his face, a nod making his hair fall into his eyes. He wished Max hadn't said that. Weird? More than she knew.

A part of him, the dark, brooding, Fang-like part that was forced to the back of his mind when around the flock wondered what would the flock's reactions be if they ever did find out. But always, before the little voice could go further, Iggy had shut it off, palms sweating, body shaking, not listening to Nudge as she chattered on about how graceful hawks were in flight. As if he needed any more reminders about how statistically different birds and bats were, he and the flock was.

Iggy sighed and shook himself vigorously, scrubbing his face with his hands and grimacing to discover leftover blood and tears from last night's sacrifice. His whispered argument with Jeb- don't let the flock find out... I'm sure if you just talked to them- had sent him straight to his room afterwards, without his usual trip to the shower after the transferal.

Shutting down the portion of his brain that kept returning with vicious memories and conclusions he didn't want to face, he made his way to the en suite bathroom, passing his bedside table cluttered with the remains of a bomb he was pretending to enjoy making. His true self hated bombs. They were too bright. Contrary to the flock's beliefs, he wasn't blind. Not entirely. Iggy saw everything in misty, fragmented areas of light and dark.

The darkness that sometimes, just sometimes, threatened to overwhelm him.

Hmm. Surprising. I thought I had millions of chapters waiting to be posted, but it turns out I only had two. Oh well. More work for me, then.

To anyone who's curious; yes, it is intentional that Iggy's OOC. If my fic was true, he'd be OOC all the time. Which brings us to the disclaimer: I don't own anything. Capiche?

3. We Are All Different Especially Iggy

A note before we start: Be warned, this chapter has a bit of coarse language in it. It's nothing extreme, but I just wanted to put a warning out there for decency's sake. And to all the people who reviewed: thank you! You all just made my day!


Chapter Three: We Are All Different. Esp. Ig.

Ever since he had learnt enough under Jeb's tutoring to begin to form a coherent thought, Iggy had been thinking a lot about abbreviations. He liked abbreviations, for he supposed, in a way, he had almost abbreviated his life, turning it from a long, dark tunnel into a short, bright tube for the rest of the world to include in their vast matrix. He never paused to wonder where that other tunnel had gone, the long dark one with nothing but pitch-blackness throughout and at its end, or whether it really was gone at all. He already knew the answer and he thought about it now, adopting the guise of the happy-go-lucky other Iggy so the fact wouldn't hurt as much, just be a trifling concern that wouldn't cause a body any harm. No body, perhaps, but definitely a mind.

He had ruined the tunnel that was otherwise known as his life. He had covered it in lies, covered the evidence in feathers taken from hawks at midnight. It was true, he did shrug off Jeb's niggling doubts and concerns but that was only because he was afraid to face them himself. But Iggy had been long acquainted with the fact he was a coward. Sometimes, when he lay up in the early hours of the morning waiting for the flock to wake up, Jeb's concerns still gnawed at him, like the moths that bit into his thick covering of feathers if he forgot to replace them for a while. But, come sunrise, the birth of a new day of lies and deception, Iggy could always force the doubts into a drawer at the back of his mind and lock, bolt and barricade it shut. Mentally and emotionally, he was probably even stronger than Max in that particular regard.

Not that she would ever find out, of course. If Jeb didn't blab… Iggy shifted uncomfortably in the hard, wooden seat that seemed to be the Martinez's preferred architecture when it came to sitting around the table and quickly shot a glare into the corner where he could hear Jeb's breathing rasping over the moustache he had newly grown. "Don't say a word, Jeb."

A sharp intake of breath, the crackle of aging bones curling into worried little fists. "Iggy, this can't go on. You realize that. It's better for the flock to accept the truth than…"

Flames flared inside the hollow shell shadowed by lies that he was, so quickly Iggy lost track of what he was doing. "Shut up!" the exclamation tore from his lips as he hurled himself over to the corner, the world briefly becoming a blurred miasma of black and grey shadows before he skidded to a halt. In his limited peripheral vision, he was just aware of the blur of creamy-white that was his right wing flicking forward.

Jeb's sighing as he took in measured, even breaths became a hiss of shock as Iggy rotated the muscles in his wing, a long spur of white bone lifting out of the covering of feathers and slamming into the wall just short of Jeb's right shoulder. The woody thwack of the impact and the vibrations that surged up his wing and caused it to shake told Iggy that the wall behind Jeb was wood panelled.

Iggy expected Jeb to become mad, or maybe shout, and cringed, yanking his bone-claw out of the wall and taking a few scared steps backwards as his bone-claw automatically flattened and hid itself back in the fluffy primaries, feathers stiffened from fear rustling as his wings automatically rose and swept around to shield himself from a person who, despite the help he had given, was still a whitecoat and therefore still had expectations…

"You're a stain, a mistake! You shouldn't be here! You were never supposed to be here!"

And the sadistic voice of another whitecoat, one of the ones who supervised the tests. His swearing as he dragged the limp, bloody corpses of several Erasers from the arena where Iggy had been made to fight hammered at his mind's eye.

"Bloody bat freak, you'd swear it was him against the world… little fucking idiot, why'd you have to go and kill two of our best fucking Erasers, eh? Two!" he screamed at Iggy, huddled in a corner, membranous wings drawn up and around in a shielding cocoon, body trembling under the weight….

Of the accusations that returned in his mind's eye to bear down on him again, even as he stood, nine years later, in front of a whitecoat whom Iggy couldn't for the life of him tell if he really had deserted Itex, or was just pretending. But Jeb's voice, when he spoke, was kind.

"Iggy…" Jeb sighed and Iggy stiffened as one of Jeb's veined, callused hands came to rest on his shoulder, a gesture of comfort that, however much he had longed for in his time at the School, felt nothing but uncomfortable now. "I know it's hard, and I know you're going through a lot of complicated decisions right now..."

"I was born because of a complicated decision," Iggy said tightly, his own hands curling into fists. "Remember?" Iggy mimicked Marian Jensen's voice in the operating theatre, the skills of which he had picked up from the Gasman. "You're a stain, a mistake! You shouldn't be here! You were never supposed to be here!"

"Iggy…" Jeb sighed, and, evidently seeing there was nothing short of reincarnation that was going to wash away Iggy's secret just by a few small words, let his hand drop. "Just think about it, okay? Make your decision about when you see fit to tell the flock."

"How do you know I'm going to come up with the right decision?" the plea that seemed all so real in the fluorescent light of the Martinez's kitchen dropped from Iggy's lips like a stone, weighted down by all the secrets he had accumulated and hidden over the years.

"Well, when the time is right," Jeb sounded like he was choosing his words carefully. "You need to come up with a decision that will be best for all of us. And not just you."

Iggy's teeth gritted, Jeb's veiled accusation only deepening the shame and guilt he felt at keeping his true self from the others. Not for the first time, he felt himself being torn two ways – towards what Jeb had distantly referred to as the right decision aka revealing his true self to the flock, and another way towards the open desire to protect himself from the world's ire - a feeling he had grown accustomed to so much he was able to overlook the reasons for it. "But if I do make "the right decision"…" Iggy's face screwed up into a grimace as he pictured the result of that unpalatable conclusion. "How can you be so sure Max will take it well? Don't you remember? She's a…"

"A chiroptophobiac." Jeb nodded while Iggy stared at him blankly, both at the meaning and what information it contained. "A person with an irrational fear of bats. It was written in one of her old School reports after a failed test involving vampire bats. Do you remember?"

"Yes," Iggy whispered. He did remember. It was only after the test that Max revealed the statement that had forced him to warp his life beyond recognition. "Bats. I hate bats." "How… how could she? She didn't look that ruffled…" Max must be stronger than he gave her credit for, he realized with a rush of affection for the flock's leader, if she was able to walk away from being subjected to a phobia without a batted eyelid.

"Sometimes people feel they have to hide certain things for their own gain," Jeb said quietly. "So she is not that different from you, Iggy."

Iggy clenched his fists. "So that's it? You're persuading me to reveal what I really am to a flock led by a leader who has a fear of bats! How is that going to help me, how?"

"Iggy…" Jeb began, but fell silent as Iggy whipped up a hand; panic clenching his heart as footsteps suddenly scuffed on the carpeted stairs leading out from the kitchen and a callused hand slid along a varnished wood banister.

"Someone's coming!" Iggy hissed at Jeb, willing him to remain silent, and quickly scooted towards the far end of the table, the furthest he could get away from Jeb without being openly conspicuous. Iggy was just able to slip the mask of confidence – a stark contrast to the guilt and fear that forever shadowed his heart – on as the person entered. Iggy recognized Fang's heavy footsteps and saw his sillouehete as a swaying blur in his peripheral vision. Fang's distinctive way of leaning into his left leg with each second step made him easy to hear and recognize. "Hey Fang," Iggy called, friendly but with just the right amount of fake hostility towards Jeb injected into his voice. Lowering his voice, he added "Don't look now, but we've got some unwanted company," he jerked his thumb behind his left shoulder towards Jeb, breathing rasping in the corner.

A dark line Iggy could only assume was Fang's eyebrow raised in the pale white oval that was his face. "Aren't you making breakfast?" he avoided mentioning the presence of the whitecoat, but Fang was like that. If he couldn't get rid of a problem, he ignored it.

"Gimme a minute," Iggy yawned and ran a hand through his already rumpled, just got out of bed hair. His fingers stiffened in panic as the nail of his ring finger discovered a small patch of dried blood leftover from the sacrifice of the hawk near his temple. Heart pounding, Iggy fought to keep his voice even as he completed the statement for Fang's benefit. It was easy to make the panic in his voice sound like indignation. "I just got up, jeez! You can't expect me to prepare a king's banquet in a minute!" as he babbled, Iggy managed to scratch of most of the dried blood and conceal it under his nail, hiding the offending finger in his pocket. Tres casual. If there was one thing Iggy prided himself on, it was the ability to cover up evidence.

Fang grunted, clearly unimpressed by Iggy's little rant and moved over to the kitchen bench. "I'll scramble eggs."

"Oh no you don't!" Iggy got up out of his seat and hared over to where Fang was just about to open the refrigerator. The resulting rush of white and black shadows that was all he could see disorientated him, so much he nearly echolocated from the strain. Iggy grabbed Fang's wrist to distract himself from all prospects of unintentionally revealing his secret and redirected it from the fridge. Iggy burst into a lecture as he led Fang to the table and plonked him firmly down in another one of those extremely hard wooden chairs. "The last time you ever scrambled the eggs, they looked like they'd been barbecued which, trust me, isn't the look you're going for with any egg. Nope, you'd better let Iggy, Masterchef extraordinaire, handle it."

"Fine, Masterchef extraordinaire." Fang said dryly, but didn't make any move to repeat his actions as Iggy got up and made his way to the white double-rectangle in the sea of differently hued black, white and sometimes grey shadows that was what he could see to be the kitchen. As he walked over to the fridge, he happened to pass Jeb. It was a small pass, but Jeb could be surprisingly quick when he needed to be and grabbed Iggy's shoulder.

"Iggy…" he whispered so that Fang couldn't hear, breath tickling the side of Iggy's face. "Now would be a good time to tell…"

Iggy wrenched his shoulder from Jeb's grasp as flames licked at him again. "What do you want, old man?" he snapped and, satisfied that he had managed to convey his refusal without revealing the information to Fang's ears, went off to scramble the eggs.

4. This World That Hurts

Argh! So sorry for the wait, faithful readers. I've just been so stressed out with schoolwork, plus I've got another couple of oneshots and fics waiting in the wings that I'm gonna post even if it kills me, so suffice it to say, I've got a lot of work nowadays :)

But anyway, at long last, here's the next instalment of Membrane Of Lies. Hope you're all excited!




He had been dependent upon them ever since he was… born, created? What would be more accurate? What was real in his life? A life so full of smoke and mirrors there wasn't room for a skylight to cast that slender, finger of light for risk of exposure. The smoke were lies and the mirrors were Jeb's warnings, erected when he least expected it, so that his deliberately, carefully optimistic happy-go-lucky words, desperately flung like arrows rebounded off the mirrors' many hard, multifaceted edges that cut whenever he let his guard down, whenever he slowed or hesitated in putting on the mask or faltered in a word, as if he didn't already have karma and the deadly, raised stakes against him.

And a world that hurt.

He'd cut himself once.

It was a while back now, far back when the flock had still been living in the E-shaped house that had been like a nest to them, a death-trap for him, a death-trap of whispered warnings at dawn over the table top, sitting in a hard-backed seat opposite Jeb that he could still feel, the spokes pressing hard and wooden against his back. And so, with the back of the chair pressing hard against his covered wings, Max had entered and the questions he had to fight hard to come up with inconspicuous answers to had hurled across the room like knives borne on a fire wind. And so he endured it, running to the bathroom with the pretence of going to the toilet, pressing the mask of lies against him like the shield it was, pressing so hard it hurt, the silver blade of Jeb's old-fashioned razor blade striping his arms and wrists with red. He could still remember it clearly, the red from the wound, dripping into the sink, scrolling across the pristine whiteness of the bathroom tiles. Seeing red even now in the hawk who's blood he bled out amidst the dusky shadows of midnight, the black scarring on his arms more than enough evidence he always passed off as old Eraser claw wounds.

Thank God for the Erasers. The Alibis.

They say freak… when you're singled out… the red… well, it filters through… the song that had resounded from his IPod in the weeks that followed. Even the songs he listened to were masks- he had organized his entire collection in playlists, putting light, happy, explicit pop songs he couldn't stand to the foremost, so many they more than enveloped and hid the small collection of darker albums to the back. It often put him in mind of the stereotypical attic, all the newer, fresher things to the back and the old, worn, treasured memories hidden at the back, forgotten and ignored. The albums he liked would probably feature the most on the IPods of rebellious punks or gothic emos, which was why he had to cover it up. For anything dark that the rest of the flock noticed he listened to often would definitely raise a questions, flurrying like a snowstorm from the younger kids and a slower, hard, directive battering of sea waves from Max and Fang, smashing up against him, wearing him down to breaking point…

No. He had to stop thinking like that. He would never break.

Max entered the kitchen just as he was putting Fang's staple breakfast of pepper-sprinkled fried eggs and dried ham on a plate and Iggy stiffened. Maximum Ride. The chiroptophobiac.

"Hey, you're up." Maybe it was Jeb's presence in the room or Iggy's grudge against her for her rejection of his kind, but he thought he detected the trace of a sniff in her voice. Probably. He had the best ears on the planet. "That's helpful. Now all I have to worry about is getting Gazzy, Nudge and Angel up."

Yeah, tell me about your pain. Iggy thought with a savagery he knew his face would always hide, ripping open a carton of milk with probably more force than was required. I'm riveted.

Aloud, he said, injecting just enough pleasantry in his voice to hide the effects of his reminisces earlier, like the feathers that covered his wings and the fizzing whiteness that hid his thoughts. At all times. "Good luck with that. Gazzy's a killer to get up in the morning."

"Like a bat." Jeb spoke up from the corner, he too with amusement in his voice although Iggy knew that was a charade, just as he knew, without turning around, the Jeb's gaze was drilling into his back.

I'm sure if you just told them… the memory of the whispers that had previously hissed in the corner of the kitchen was brought back to him.

His already stiffened muscles tensed up so much they hurt, the old scars crossing his arms aching with the memory of phantom pain just as flames blasted his already licked body like a furnace. He answered, sliding and casually putting another couple feet of kitchen bench between him and Jeb as he served the eggs onto their respective plates, fumbling with the crockery and cursing the tapestry of shadows and whiteness that layered his sight. "Oh no. I'd say he was more like an owl." The emphasis on the words served as a reminder, a quick, hot, angry glance into the corner where Jeb stood, his tone heated with enough false accusation to fool the listening Max and Fang.

Iggy's grip tightened on the plate, glaring so hard it would have looked conspicuous had the entire flock not had a good reason to detest Jeb.

Do not. Tell them, Jeb.

The ex-scientist's gaze was just as intense, the unspoken message riding the back of his blue eyes like a plague ship in a cold sea. Tell them, Iggy.

He tore his gaze away and for a second blinked, disorientated as the world spun and flew around him in a dizzying swarm of white and black shadow before his vision cleared and focused on the eggs congealing on the plate in front of him. Iggy carried them over to Max's vague form seated at the table, head tilted as she talked to Fang.

"Okay," there was a hint of laughter in Max's voice as he handed the plate over, or was it mockery? "Thanks for sticking up for me there, Ig."

He grinned over at her and instantly felt odd, uncomfortable, like his lips weren't covering his teeth enough. He checked, quickly pressing them together. It was how he always smiled, tight, cautious, not wanting to slip up and look guilty. "Well, I hope you enjoyed it, 'cause I am never doing it again. You're getting soft." Soft. Soft teasing, gentle flirting to cover up the dislike while Fang's black eyes stared pointedly at him from across the table, not quite a glare but not quite less enough to be passed off as normal.

Max snorted, clearly noticing nothing out of the ordinary with Fang's behaviour, as she finished her breakfast and rose from the table. "Soft, my eye. I'm going to get the others up."

Iggy smirked, anticipating the day-by-day irritated shouting and groans that resounded from the Gasman's corner of the house every morning when Max went to wake him up, as he gathered the plates into his arms. "Good luck with that!" he called up the stairs, hearing Max's slow, determined footsteps thumping against the carpet. He was just loading the dirty plates into the sink to be washed by an ever-fussing Dr. Martinez, which she inevitably would once entering the room to find the majority of the house already up and the Igster slaving over a hot stove.

A coward and a drama king, now, a very Jeb-like comment breathed to life, a whisper in the back of his mind. Iggy twitched, and a spoon slipped from his grasp as the scars tingled.

So preoccupied, Iggy failed to notice Fang's attempt to gain his attention until the black-clad shadow at the back of his peripheral let loose a cough that Iggy had to fight not to let his ears automatically rotate towards. Although it wasn't obvious to the rest of the flock, Iggy's ears were slightly bigger and more protruding than any normal person or bird kid's, and special muscles allowed him to turn and rotate them in different directions.

He covered that up too.

"You all right there, Fang?" Iggy asked loudly, splashing water against a dish with a wet slosh Iggy always liked the sound of.

"Don't flirt with Max, alright? She's…" A sigh, a hand passed over a face that looked like it had seen too much already. A "mask of death" Iggy referred it as in one of his more rebellious days. Not a "mask of feathers" but a mask of death. Nice.

"I know, I get it, dude." Iggy tried to spare Fang the awkwardness, splashing water across the plain white circles, the water riding up his wrists and onto the scars that tingled. He kept his eyes adverted. "Hands off, okay, sure, I can do that." He was babbling. Like he would want to play lover boy to a chiroptophobiac who had basically crushed any chances of a real life from the beginning.

Back to the razor-blade.

Realizing his sigh had been a little too loud; he balanced it with a cheery "Dang. That's what you get for hoping."

Fang smiled unconvincingly and rose to help him with the dishes.

Jeb still hadn't moved.

Well, that was… random. Oh well. That's what you get for speedtyping an entire chapter in the middle of lunchtime while listening to Nickleback :) I wasn't originally intending for Iggy to go so far as to cut himself, but I dunno, it sorta… spiralled out of my control :( You all know the feeling, I'm sure.

Remember to review! :)


5. Thirty One Days

So, so sorry for the wait, readers! I've just been on a short holiday to Europe, in which most of my computer escapades were banned :( and by the time I got back, my laptop had crashed for some unknown reason :( But thankfully it's now up and running again and I'm able to present to you the latest chapter of Membrane Of Lies. Special thanks to all my reviewers :) :)

And I'm pleased to announce that throughout this chapter, Jeb makes a decision concerning Iggy's secret :) I won't spoil any more for you, so read, review and enjoy!


Throughout all Jeb's musings, his careful unravelling of various gene pools to create the miracles that were the School's mutants to this day, Jeb had never encountered an anomaly such as the one that currently paced before him, muttering under his breath while the flock chattered in the kitchen several doors down.

Jeb had been worried about Iggy for a while.

No, that wasn't right. He had been worried about Iggy from the beginning, ever since the shy, malnourished nine-year-old child had approached him in the truck, whispering words that would turn his world around, words that would shroud himself and his wings – the evidence – in lies. Now, years later, not only did Jeb have to contend with the stubbornness that came naturally to teenagers his age, he also had to worry about how the psychological effects of hiding his true self from the flock would affect Iggy.

Jeb had walked in on that fateful day when Iggy had cut himself in the bathroom. Jeb could still see it in his mind's eye: the red running down Iggy's smooth, pale arms and turning the water crimson, staining the white of the sink, like tomato juice on snow. What stung him was that he had been unable to help; bundling Iggy up in a dressing gown and helping him onto the sofa in the living room, proceeding to question him with what he thought was entirely justified concern.

Iggy had just stared back at him in brooding silence and Jeb had somehow sensed a terrible, terrible rage building under the surface. And so Jeb had fought to keep it contained in the years that followed; listening politely when Iggy vented his complaints about Max's phobia, dissuading Iggy from cutting himself again, holding back the outbursts that seemed to be becoming all the more likely to explode out of him nowadays.

Jeb still had the video the School had taken the day Iggy had been forced to fight the two Erasers inside the arena. Jeb knew from his long talks with the bat hybrid that Iggy didn't know it himself, but the two Erasers had ended up with their ribcages completely caved in, their hearts pulled out and crudely dissected and their arms and legs separate from their bodies, each limb snapped completely in half.

Jeb didn't want to admit it, but he was afraid. Deathly, deathly afraid of the anomaly they had unintentionally released upon the world.

Iggy had long been resigned to hiding his true self; it was only now, after years of sleepless nights waiting for that uneven flap of leathery wings to sound above the porch of the E-shaped house, that Jeb began to believe it was best to carry on hiding, for fear of whatever would be lurking beneath Iggy's mask of lies and feathers.

And what was worse, Jeb wasn't sure if Iggy knew or was even aware of whatever it was that lurked beneath his lies. Jeb couldn't deny Iggy had seemed different when the flock had rejoined each other after the siege of Itex; altogether darker and more brooding that the cold, composed teenager that had talked with Jeb in the grey light before morning back in the E-shaped house.

Every one of the flock had had some story to tell of what had transpired to them when they had split up in Itex's siege. Iggy hadn't told his.

31 days. Jeb had chanced upon that fragment of Iggy's muttering when he had checked in on him while Iggy had been sleeping. That scrap of mumbled nonsense might have been dismissed as gibberish to any other, but Jeb's blood had run cold.

31 days.

How could Iggy have known?

Being the analyst he was, Jeb's mind had instantly flown to Iggy's neglect to tell of what had happened to him in Itex's siege. The rest of the flock had returned to the E-shaped house with many cuts and bruises, faces flushed. Iggy had returned silent, cold, scuffing the ground with his sneakers and continually glancing back at the burning shell of Itex's headquarters with what Jeb now thought to be nervousness.

31 days. Iggy had mumbled that with a high, nasally inflection Jeb found familiar, but who...

Jeb's fists clenched; the by-now heavily abused mouse sent the computer screen flickering into a frenzy that Iggy failed to notice. Marian.

Jeb had noted Iggy's abrupt return to the topic of Marian Jensen screaming at him in the lab when he was created; if Marian had had some contact with Iggy during Itex's siege, his worrying about her would make perfect sense.

Now all Jeb had to crack was the mystery of the 31 days, what Marian had told Iggy, and who, or what, Iggy's true self was.

31 days.

It was a dilemma. Who Iggy really was could be far too dangerous for Maximum to confront head-on. Although he pretended not to, Jeb knew that every member of the flock had been created to provide some support or increase in Maximum's strength.

But he hadn't been there when Iggy was created. Thus he had no way of knowing if Iggy was truly meant to be a part of the flock at all- or if Iggy had been a separate endeavour from the Maximum Project.

Marian knew. Jeb was certain of it. She had been there when Iggy was created, after all. She would know everything about him; from Iggy's chiroptera genes, to the brief flashes of inhuman rage Jeb sometimes detected stirring under the surface, like magma from a volcano about to erupt.

And if it did…

Jeb's other fist clenched now. The computer had long given up any attempt to follow his mouse clicks, and had now subsided onto the login screen. He was intensely worried about Iggy's psychological state right now, but he couldn't be sure if interfering would just bring yet another one of Itex's projects crashing down around their ankles. Just as he couldn't be sure if Iggy hiding himself from the flock was all part of whatever project Iggy had been created a part of, or if there was any separate project at all. But he couldn't let Iggy continue doing this to himself for long; sooner or later Jeb would have to interfere, or Iggy would explode.

And Maximum would likely be the first target. So in reality, it was really best the flock knew about Iggy's secret, then they could prepare for whatever or whoever Iggy was unconsciously building under the surface.

31 days.

What the hell was 31 days? What had Marian told Iggy?

Jeb had thought. He had thought and thought and thought for the past fourteen years, pondered until his head was likely to explode, analysed his way through all the options, but he could see no other option.

31 days.

Iggy and Jeb were in the spare guest bedroom to the left of the kitchen now; there was always a chance Jeb could sneak out into the kitchen to the flock under the pretence of getting an apple. But Iggy entering the kitchen and finding Jeb dobbing him in would likely ignite his rage. Jeb knew it was best to wait until night; night-time was when Iggy was away flying and there would be no chance of him walking in.

31 days.

Jeb would tell the flock tonight.

CLIFFHANGER! Haha, I'm so evil, aren't I?

Pheaugh, that was hard to write! Sorry if this chapter was missing my usual style; I had to cram a lot of information in, plus Jeb is a terror to write from the POV of. And Iggy's meant to be some sort of murdering, angsty maniac now? Hmm… not entirely what I planned it to sound like. But we'll have more on that in later chapters :)

Of course, it doesn't help that I'm listening to music while writing. I always seem to be listening to music while writing Membrane Of Lies, don't I? :)

Speaking of music, my virtual hugs and commendations to anyone who can correctly guess the names of the songs mentioned in chapters 2 and 4!

You all probably know the drill by now; read and review :)


6. A Grim Ambience

The night was dark, the dark blur of the trees beneath him whispering amid the tapestry of murmuring shadows that painted the night. Iggy could barely hear his own wing-beats over the whistle of the wind and the rustle of the leaves on the branches; just coordinating his own direction was a challenge, relying on echolocation.


He gritted his teeth, feeling his cheeks balloon against the incoming rush of air – he would have laughed, but laughing seemed a world away, distant as the glint of a silver coin at the bottom of a deep well – and swooped downwards, forcing his wings into the bird-like motion. He felt the trees rush up to meet him, the leaves scraping his toes, the wind tugging at his wings before he angled them and fluttered upwards.

Stunts. That's all they were, just silly stunts. What did he think it would prove?

What did he want to prove?

It wasn't like Iggy hadn't grown accustomed to the mask – the deception, the lies that still somehow managed to seductively pluck his heartstrings with guilt, despite all the baloney he blathered to Jeb about not feeling anything.

What did he have to prove? His true self? But no…

His thoughts were a meaningless whirlwind, and flying was their trigger. It almost made him give up the night flights altogether… but night-time was the only time when everything just seemed to click, the only time when he wasn't wandering around with eyes half-lidded to protect them against the blinding light…

Iggy loved the night. No… the bat-hybrid loved the night, Iggy loved…

The groan that slipped past his lips was snatched away by the wind and cast off into the night. He would end up with a psychosis if he started referring to himself as two people – assuming he didn't have one already, but Jeb would have probably told him if he did by now.

Iggy didn't want to think about it anymore. The reason he had come out – flying at night twice in a row, very conspicuous, he cringed at the thought of the consequences should the flock check on him and find his bed empty, but he had taken precautions – was to abandon the insecurity, the feeling of teetering on the edge of a cliff made of eggshells, if only for a few hours. Normal time periods didn't seem to affect Iggy, what with his sleeping patterns wacked up as they were. If the flock did find out he'd been going out and asked him about it, he hoped they wouldn't notice the lack of bags under his eyes when he told them the truth.

Hah! It was hard to snort in the face of the rushing wind, but he managed it. Truth? What truth? Even if the flock did notice he was gone, he would probably only tell them a warped, garbled version of the true story, the big picture: he'd been sneaking out into the town, clubbing, running errands for Jeb… but that would probably put Jeb in an awkward situation, not that Iggy was inclined to feel any sympathy towards him. The way he had glared at Iggy that morning…

He scowled, mentally slapping himself. He had promised he wouldn't think about it anymore! He had told himself…

Was he lying to himself, now?

Iggy swooped down into the rushing, whispering dark, wings flaring as the dark enveloped him like a gaping, endless nightmare.


It wasn't often the Gasman woke up at night, but tonight was different. Not only were recurring nightmares about flying pizza plaguing every minute of his dreaming hours, the atmosphere felt… weird. The Gasman had been lying awake, staring up at the cracks in the ceiling he had caused from one of his more unwieldy explosions, when an odd feeling had overcome him. In that single instant, the Martinez residence had seemed a bit… off. He couldn't put his finger on it, but something about the silent, dark house had radiated dissonance, prompting him to get out of bed and walk out of his room.

Had something happened? Has some noise registered itself in his dreaming mind, and he only just realized it when he woke up? Was one of the others in danger?

… no, he didn't think any of the others were in danger. If they were, Max would have woken everybody up, and Gazzy could tell for certain nobody was up patrolling this part of the corridor, where most of the flock's room were. It's probably nothing, the eight-year-old assured himself as he reached the end of the corridor. I just can't sleep. I'll get a glass of milk and then…

He was halfway past Iggy's door when he stopped.

The feeling hit him again, stronger than ever.

The door was ajar; the slender rivulet of pale light ebbing out into the grey-tinged darkness of the corridor. The Gasman frowned. That wasn't like Iggy; even when back at the E-shaped house, Iggy had always liked sleeping with his door firmly closed. Not that it had made any difference to the Gasman; he just kicked it in. So why was Iggy's door open now?

"Iggy?" he called, reaching out one hand for the doorknob. "Iggy? Are you awake?" he couldn't think of any other possible explanation why Iggy's door would be open at this hour… was he in the kitchen? Had he too felt like a midnight snack?


He pushed open the door.

Iggy's room was large and spacious; it had once been the attic, which Dr. Martinez had easily given up so that Iggy could use it (he had joked he wanted to be a true "bat in the belfry", whatever that meant). A window took up most of the far wall; the bed's ornate iron headboard silhouetted against the open drapes. A few of Iggy's things were scattered across the floor; clothes, books, a video game console. But the thing that first registered in the Gasman's attention was this:

The bed was empty. It looked rumpled enough; sheets creased, second pillow scattered halfway down the bed, but there was something about it…

That feeling again.

Gazzy spun on his heel and walked out the door, closing the door behind him. It banged against the doorframe with more of a noise than Gazzy would have liked, but by then he was halfway down the corridor, calling in a fierce whisper.

"Iggy?" he peered into Jeb's study as he passed. Nobody was there.

"Iggy?" nobody was in the bathroom either. The kitchen, then?

"Iiiiiiiiiggggyyyyyyy!" he hissed, reaching the top of the stairs that led down into the kitchen. From his vantage point, he could see the island was empty; there was nothing there except for a faint light ebbing out from underneath the door leading into the guest bedroom where Jeb slept.

Nothing there… except for a tall figure sitting hunched at the table.

"Iggy!" the Gasman strode down the stairs, laughing. "Where were you? I was looking everywhere for you…"

The groan that met him wasn't Iggy's. "Gazzy, what are you doing up so late?"

"Max?" Gazzy ground to a halt, blinking in astonishment for a few seconds. "What are you doing here?"

Max massaged her forehead with her thumbs and let out another groan. "Voice." She slid a few aspirin tablets into her mouth and took a slug from the glass beside her. "Giving me a headache."

"O…Oh." The Gasman faltered. "Do you know where Iggy is?"

Max peered at him from under her tangled brown hair. "Why? Isn't he in his room?"

Gazzy shook his head. "No… I checked everywhere, I thought he was getting a drink or something…"

"He's not." Jeb's voice suddenly resounded from one corner and, startled, Gazzy whirled around. He saw Max tense in his peripheral vision.

"What do you want, Jeb?" her voice was acid.

Gazzy blinked rapidly, studying the scientist. Jeb's eyes were like shards of ice, his mouth a tense, grim line. Something about his attitude underlined his new, flinty composure; his clenching and unclenching fists belying the cool ease in which he spoke.

Even as the Gasman watched in startled silence, the ex-geneticist flicked his gaze over to Max, as if he had only just noticed she was there. "Can you gather the flock, please?"


Iggy landed and skidded a few meters, battered sneakers catching on the rough wood floorboards of the porch. He folded his wings and paced the deck once rapidly, breathing through his nose to help calm the buzz of his thoughts.

Okay. Time to put the mask back on.

He knew something was wrong before he even looked up. Maybe it was the light; breaching the barriers of his echolocation like frenzied, darting silver lights, or maybe it was the ambience – cold, hostile. Iggy's heart clenched as he walked forward, barely registering the impact of his hand against the wooden doorframe before he was walking into the house, striding as if nothing had happened. His throat felt constricted, like someone had squeezed an iron fist around it, and suddenly dry.

He couldn't have… Tell me he couldn't have!

He could. He knew that before he even met the various gazes of the flock; Max and Fang's dubiousness, Gazzy's fear, Nudge's mute shock, Angel's calmness.

"Do the words." Max's voice was both ice and acid, tempered by shards of flint and sandstone. "Bat kid mean anything to you?"

He was scared and uneasy and trapped.

7. The Man Behind The Mask

"…it never was and never will be,

You don't know how you've betrayed me.

And somehow you've got everybody fooled…"

Everybody's Fool, Evanescence

"Why did you tell them?"

Jeb tensed. "Iggy…"

"Stop." Iggy held up a single index finger, but that one gesture seemed to convey a weight heavier than the entire world – the strain only made starker by the grey pallor of his face. He looked tired, drawn, swaying slightly as he stood, like a sapling being forcefully tossed about by some hidden, inner gale. When he spoke next, his words were harsher than ice-ridden winds, funeral bells tolling defeat. "Just tell me why you did it."

Jeb breathed out a shaking, shuttered breath, staring down at his hands, the blue veins that ridged the skin, as he clenched and unclenched his fists. "I did it for you."

Iggy kicked a chair. It swayed, then slowly descended, crashing to floor with a bang that shook the room. For a brief moment, the whispers – hissing, coalescing shadows on the other side of the door – seemed to pause, then restarted, urgency tinging the voices like gathering storm clouds.

Jeb got up, closed the door, and quietly righted the chair, his back bowed under the weight of… guilt? Relief? Defiance? Which one was more accurate? He could feel Iggy's blue eyes glaring at the side of his head, the force of his gaze chiselling twin holes; he could feel them, two throbbing sores under the skin…

Or maybe it was just a migraine.

"And why did you think revealing my secret would be better for me?" When Iggy spoke, his voice was defiant yet low, controlled, hands slowly balling into angry, tight little fists by his sides. The sight of him – all bedraggled cream wings, dark shirt and capris, and too-bright eyes – aggravated a stirring of fear and regret at the back of his mind.

Jeb answered through a lump in his throat. "Because you were getting overwhelmed."

"Overwhelmed." Iggy snorted and the sound, leaping from his nose and lips, sounded too bitter, too disbelieving. Jeb caught and worried with his bottom lip, searching for an answer as he searched the bat hybrid's face. His blue eyes – a shade paler than before, tepid waters turned to ice – looked dead, beaten, his face ashen-pale and shell-shocked. Creases were etched into the ivory skin between his eyebrows, purple shadows wreathing his eyes. He looked exhausted.

"I was worried." Jeb spoke softly, gently. "You didn't seem to be coping with it."

Iggy's left hand raked itself through his hair almost like a nervous tick – when he spoke next, his voice was higher, jumping and cracking, like a zealous explorer forcing himself over a cold brick wall. "Yeah, and I would have found a way to cope with it if you hadn't gone and blabbed!" Iggy's voice climbed, forcing itself higher and higher, tinging with hysteria. He breathed out suddenly, collapsing down into the swivel chair, the padded seat rotating and slamming his knee into the edge of the desk. He didn't seem to notice.

"What on earth," he murmured, and the hopelessness in his voice made Jeb's heart – all the clinical causticity, the School's enforced motives of science and experiments – shiver inside him. "Am I going to do now?"

"Explain to Max." Jeb helped him out of his seat, guiding him to the door by a firm grip on his elbow. When Iggy resisted, he demanded, voice cracking slightly. "Please Iggy. Just give it a chance."

Iggy looked at him – and, spurred on by the dead feeling in his eyes – Jeb marched him through the door into the kitchen, where the flock was waiting silently in the grey dawn light.

He couldn't believe this. Earlier he would have felt anger, but now he only felt hollow, sore, a throbbing headache riding the tossing waves of his mind. It only seemed to increase as Jeb lead him forward, gripping his arm, footsteps seeming abnormally loud as they pounded against the hard kitchen tiles, a rhythm to his fragmented thoughts and emotions.

Had to happen…

Thump thump thump…

Bound to… so stupid for not considering…

Thump thump…

So hollow… so scared…


What will happen?

They stopped. Iggy studied his laces – he wanted to look up, but couldn't, couldn't in case he saw anger, in case he saw sadness…

He couldn't cope with the flock's emotions on top of his own.

Max took a breath. Iggy heard it, whistling between her teeth, instinctively stopped his ears twitching, then let them. What was the point? Jeb had already told them, it was all over…

"We've decided to ask you to prove it." Max bit out each word, all crackling voice riven with disbelief and tension, hands balling into little fists by her sides as Iggy looked up and saw her.

Gazzy whimpered. Angel stiffened. Fang arched an eyebrow. Nudge opened her mouth – Jeb stopped her with a single head shake.

The chiroptophobiac swallowed, taut fists lessening as she repeated the words, the words that dropped from her mouth and hung in the air like the heaviest of stones, the most lingering of soap bubbles.

"Prove it."

So. That was it. Iggy unfurled his wings with a crackle of tendons and bones, stretching them towards the ceiling, bone-claw lifting automatically out of the covering of feathers, ignoring Nudge's whimpers, Gazzy's steady tears, dripping down his face and flecking the white-silver tiles…

his trembling fingers sought his wing; a sudden burst of creaminess, but he ignored it. Slowly his fingers gently loosened the long flight feather before tugging it out, the band of black-tipped cream joining the multitude of others scattered around him on the forest floor…

His breathing hitched, cramped in his throat, before he shook his head, strawberry locks tangling around his face as he inched his hand slowly, painfully, up his wing…

he ran his fingers over the shredded membrane, tugging out each feather and scattering it. The icy wind blew their fragile tendrils across his face, like tiny fingers drying the tears. He supposed it looked pretty: a fallen angel surrounded by his own feathers…

I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry Gazzy, Nudge… I'm so sorry…

Was he really sorry? Or was he just relieved?

What was he really feeling?

Pluck, scatter, pluck, scatter… he continued the rhythm of plucking out the feathers, eyes stinging with unshed tears at the younger kid's sniffles, back hunched, and he didn't want to look up, he didn't want to look up and see Max and Fang's reactions, he didn't want…

A single gasp shattered past his throat, and he blinked rapidly, unshed tears blurring his vision.

Pluck, scatter, pluck, scatter…

He didn't want to be hurt. Not again.

but he wasn't an angel. He never had been. He was a demon, scalded by the force of his own guilt and the effort of keeping it secret from the others. All the jokes, the pyromania, the laughter, had been a mask, like the thin veneer of feathers that covered his wings…

The kitchen was a vortex of black-tipped cream feathers, interspaced by Jeb's furrowing frown, Max's rapid, shaky exhalations, Fang's restraint, and the younger children's tears, and he had reached the end of his wings.

His wiry, membranous bat wings.

Iggy sucked in a breath, a single tear rolling down his nose, as he tilted his head back to the ceiling. The bright fluorescent dispersed the shadows clinging to his vision and nearly blinded him. He closed his eyes, and spoke.

"The… only…" he swallowed past tears and tension, and began again, bowing his head in submission. "It's true. It's all true."

"Iggy, why!" Nudge wailed out loud, flinging herself down onto the kitchen tiles, and began to cry. The echoes of her tears rebounded across the room, ricocheting and cracking sharply off the white corners, a layered tapestry that invoked memories, made them stir…

"You are an accident!" Marian Jensen screamed at his three-month-old self, voice echoing off the pristine white tiles of the creation room. "A stain, a mistake! You shouldn't be here! You wereneversupposed to be here!"

Iggy's fists clenched, tendons ridging skin topped with white bone, as the tears streamed down his face. "She… Marian Jensen…"

'Bats." Seven-year-old Max announced, slamming the cage door shut behind her with a clang that seemed too loud in the cramped space of the lab. She was bleeding heavily from the recent test, where she, Fang and Iggy had been forced to let vampire bats suck their blood. 'I hate bats."

"You said… Max hates bats… she's scared of them, and I…"

"How could you have managed to get through the maze first?" Max screamed at him, voice loud and shrill in his supersensitive ears. Her anger scared him; he remembered wailing at the injustice of the world and carrying on sobbing long after Fang had managed to calm Max down.

He screamed aloud, past Nudge's wails and Max's winces, flinging up his hands so the feathers swirled and danced. "I WAS SCARED!"

…"Please," a white-faced, nine-year-old Iggy whispered to Jeb who was driving the van he was smuggling them out of the School with. Jeb glanced over at him in some surprise, clearly wondering why he wasn't asleep in the back like the rest of the flock.

Iggy continued, desperation creeping into his voice. "I'm... I'm different from the others. I don't have... I'm a..." rather than talk, he spread his wings and let them do the talking…

…"I can't show the rest..." Iggy remembered whispering. "Max... she hates bats and..." he cringed and skipped over his ulterior motive, his darker reasons why he wanted to keep his true self hidden. "So please... hide my wings."…

"The only way…" Iggy's words sounded pathetically soft in the harshness of the room. "I could really survive…" he straightened up, meeting Max's gaze for the first time, blue meeting brown, wanting, desperately wanting to prove to her that he wasn't a monster, he wasn't… (well how could he know? A small, taunting voice inquired at the back of his mind, and he flinched and looked away). The trembling of his limbs made it difficult to finish. "The only way I could live … was by living behind a mask."

When Max spoke, it was as though the words had forced their way up the back of her throat, pungent and tickling and strenuous, all white, pale face and trembling, compressed lips. "You're disgusting."

He cracked. "That's why! That's why I had to go in disguise, because of you! You always made me feel useless, you always had to…" he caught himself before he could say any more and turned away, trembling and clenching his fists and wanting, wanting nothing more than to…

He didn't know. He didn't know what he wanted to do.

"So, is that why I couldn't read your thoughts?" Angel's blunt voice cut through the air like a knife, dodging Max's disbelieving noise.

Iggy exhaled. "Yes. Jeb taught me."

Angel made an angry noise, and pounded the knee of her jeans with one hand. "You little…!"

"Angel, enough," Fang glanced at Iggy briefly, eyes lingering on his wings, before he turned back to the flock. "This obviously is something we all need to take some getting used to…"

"No." the strength in Max's voice had returned, crackling bolts of lightning impacting on charred metal plates. Her fists clenched, angry eyes glaring out from a face drawn between lank brown hair. Her next words came out as a growl. "We are not going to get used to it."

An extraordinary clarity seemed to have come over Iggy's thoughts, telling him that yes, it was all happening, it was all true, all his nightmares were becoming reality…

And Iggy had memorized how his nightmare had ended.

Iggy turned away. "Yes. That's what I thought."

And so, tears drying on his face, he walked soddenly through the maelstrom of feathers, away from Max's bellows for him to return, tears and pain, and headed for the door to his room.

To be continued…

8. Wings

"Iggy!" a harsh bark, a scalpel scraping along metal crackling with a thousand volts of static electricity. A callused hand closing upon his arm.

He flinched.

Clarity. Extraordinary clarity. A shattering sense of clearness, descending over his vision like a bucket of cold water over a grimed windscreen…

Iggy tried to shake it off. "No…!"

The pressure of the cold, hard fingers gentled. "Iggy, listen to me."

He turned. Max's serious brown eyes stared back at him. Strong. Steady. Determined. Defiant.

But behind them, transient, a trace of fear.

What did that mean?

Her voice came out, a sarcastic drawl. "Start from the beginning, and we'll talk about this."

Fang echoed like her shadow. "There's no need to be afraid." He wouldn't stop staring at Iggy's wings.

What did it mean?

A remnant of the happy-go-lucky fool, whispering at the back of his mind: "Sounds kinda dirty the way you're putting it…"

He wanted to laugh, but couldn't.

Iggy looked for Jeb and found him, sitting on the table, shaking but still steady at the bank of mahogany wood, surrounded by three tearstained, pale little faces – the Gasman, Nudge, Angel, trembling, afraid. Iggy tasted bitterness at the back of his tongue.

He shook his head so quickly the higgedly piggedly shamble of shadows fluttered, blurred, hair twirling aimlessly around his head. His nails cut into his palms, drawing blood. "But…!"

A quick glance from Jeb, a brief flash of steely eyes was all he needed. Iggy slumped into a chair, feeling hollow, wooden, a marionette with its strings cut, crumpled and limp on an empty stage…

"There's nothing much to say." His voice was a low whisper of the sea breeze through a throat that felt as dry as sandpaper. "Marian Jensen… I think she must have been the one to create me, or something… But instead of being two percent bird, I'm two percent bat…"

Max flinched. Fang put his arm around her.

"But we'll work it out!" Iggy's voice was high, terrified. "You can get therapy or something, you can get over it, you can stop being a chiroptophobiac…" He was babbling, loud and long, wishing, hoping beyond belief that there was a way, somehow, even as his feelings and his mask crumbled.

Max frowned. Her gaze flicked to Jeb. "A chiroptophobawha..?"

Iggy felt his heart rise. No! No way….! She didn't know? But if she didn't know, then she couldn't be! His heartbeat quickened, doubt transfusing his hope. Could she?

He dared a glance towards Jeb. Questioning.

Jeb's eyes narrowed. "I'll tell you about it later. Go on, Iggy."

"Umm…" Still scared, but feeling marginally better now, Iggy gulped and continued, nails doggedly pressing further into his palms, trembling like he was wired to a power grid. His voice slid up and down the scales, bending and rippling up the octaves as he continued. "But then… Max said she hated bats… It must have been when I was about… I can't even remember when…" he was addressing the whole room now, and had a bizarre sense of power, the whole room suspended and held by the gravity of his words, five pairs of eyes staring back at him, ten drills whirring, ready to bore him down with contradictions and shrieking criticisms…

"I was alright until Max said she hated bats… it was just after a test we had to do at the School, where we had to navigate our way around a maze… no, sorry, that was afterwards, sorry, what happened was we had to let vampire bats suck our blood…"

God, it sounded insane. It sounded completely unbelievable.

It sounded like the ravings of a madman.

He trembled, wings flapping, swirling the feathers around the vast white room that suddenly seemed too stark, too sterile. His voice was a keen.

He didn't want to go insane! He didn't want to be mad!

His confessions ran on and on and on, until the tears coursing down his cheeks became a rhythm to his words. Fang wordlessly handed him a tissue box. Iggy grabbed a handful of tissues and used them to drag at his eyes.

He scrubbed the blood off his palms with them too. Seeing this, Nudge whimpered.

"Iggy, I'm so sorry…"

At least one person believed in him. This was enough for him to shed a watery smile in her direction. He was rewarded by a returning one, albeit a little shaky, and felt his heart grow lighter.

He would never, ever complain about Nudge and her motormouth again.

Iggy managed to control the keen of his voice as his story ended, words steadying and becoming lower until they died, a faint rattle, the whispering sigh of a match blown into non-existence. He finished the tale – but 'tale' sounded so prosaic though! So different to what it really was, an angsty, gulping, crying haze of tears and growing sympathy from the flock, even though Max's eyes were still narrow slits and her hands tight little balls – of Marian Jensen and their "family reunion" in the middle of the School's siege, and the information he had given him – the 31 days, and the issue he had never raised, for fear Jeb would crush his hopes and dreams.

When he was finished, Max sighed and got up from under her chair. "Iggy, stay here. The rest of you, I want a flock meeting in the next room. And Jeb, what the hell is a chiroptophobiac? And was the 31 days thing what the Voice was telling me, about the new…"


Flock meeting. Iggy's mouth and his wings, the ever-present reminder, drooped. His eyes burned. He wasn't a part of the flock anymore?

He blinked. A single, perfect tear marred the expanse of black tile beneath his feet.

"Fang! Oh, for God's sake…" Max's voice, then the door slamming.

Fang's distinctive footsteps sounded. Surprised, Iggy looked up, a handful of tissues he had grabbed, now soggy and snotty, crunched in a fist.

Fang sat down in a chair in front of him. "Hey."

Iggy felt tired. "Hey." Whatever weird, passive-aggressive game Fang wanted to play, he just wasn't in the mood.

He heard Fang swallow. Shift awkwardly in his seat. Scrape the chair back along the floor as he stood up. Iggy let his head drop as Fang moved back towards the door and the flock meeting on the other side. More spots speckled the black floor, the wetness running down his nose.

Then, Fang spoke, so quietly at first Iggy couldn't believe he had actually heard it. "Just so you know… I think your wings are really cool."

Shocked, Iggy's head snapped up so fast it made an audible whooshing noise. He stared at Fang in disbelief, heart beating hard.

Seeing his surprise, Fang grinned. The first time Iggy had ever seen him smile. "And don't worry. You'll always be a part of the flock. I'll get Max to change our name to 'flock-colony' or something."

As Iggy stared at him, Fang expression changed. His voice grew gentle, supportive. "You're family, Ig. Don't forget that."

If Iggy had been faint-hearted, he would have fainted then and there, just as Fang closed the door and his voice joined the steady whispers on the other side.

"You're family, Ig. Don't forget that."

The tears were falling steadily now, but on his face was a smile.

9. Flight

"Jeb, please explain."

Her breathing was frantic, frenetic, shaky, trembling fingers dragging into balls by her sides, nails digging into rough skin, because this couldn't be happening, this couldn't…

Iggy, her flock member, her brother-in-every-way-but-blood, was…

Her nails drew blood as they sliced.


"I've been trying to for the past five minutes, Maximum, but you refuse to listen." The whitecoat looked weary, drawn, brow a mass of contorted furrows and lines offset by a pair of bloodshot eyes. He raked a trembling hand through his hair.

"Please, Jeb…"

"There's nothing more to say." he muttered. "Fourteen years ago, the School attempted an experiment to combine bat DNA with a human's via amniocentesis. The experiment was successful, but…"

The whole room seemed to freeze, four pairs of eyes riveting on him.

"What?" the Gasman whispered.

"There was an experiment…"

Jeb still had the video the School had taken the day Iggy had been forced to fight the two Erasers inside the arena. Jeb knew from his long talks with the bat hybrid that Iggy didn't know it himself, but the two Erasers had ended up with their ribcages completely caved in, their hearts pulled out and crudely dissected and their arms and legs separate from their bodies, each limb snapped completely in half…

"Iggy was made to fight two Erasers in an arena, but… it went wrong."

He told them. He told them everything. Every sleepless night spent waiting for the leathery flap of wings above the porch, every slash of the razor blade, every tantrum, Marian Jensen's experiment, every outburst, every nightmare and then…

31 days.

The room was deathly silent.

"Max…" Nudge whispered. Her voice was barely audible, whispering layers of emotion, the contrast to her normal chattering stark, almost raw against the pain and shock in the room. Her hands clenched on the arm of the chair she was sitting on. "Max, I don't think…"

"Shut up!" Nudge recoiled and nearly fell off the chair as Max screamed at her. The Gasman grabbed the back of the chair to support it as Max whirled away, pacing the length of the room, muttering. "This is so… God, I don't even know, I can't even think…"

Sometimes thinking isn't enough, Max, the Voice permeated into her head so suddenly she jerked, head shooting up with a whoosh of brown hair tangling around her face. You have to feel. What do you feel?

Scared. Max answered, even though the rest of the world seemed far away, a misty, veiled word that was slowly unravelling. Cold fear diffused the pit of her stomach and, reflexively, every muscle tensed in preparation for a fight. Duh. Scared and tired, and I can't think…

Then feel, answered the Voice, and then it was gone.

Nudge's motormouth was kicking in again, the steady chatter crowding the air like a babbling stream about to burst its banks, high and wretched and worrying. "Max, I don't think we should kick Iggy out, he's still a good person, we still like him, it doesn't matter if he's a bat kid and not a bird, he's still our Iggy, I know you hate bats but please don't kick him out, please, please, please don't…" her brown doe eyes glistened desperately, voice rising to a keen.

But she was scared. Right now Iggy would be sitting in the kitchen with those gross wings and scarred wrists, and from what Jeb had said it sounded like he was secretly a psycho anyway, and…

It would be better for everybody if she kicked him out. Wouldn't it?

The Voice came back. This is a part of the bigger picture, Max. This is another test, and if you can survive this…

What do you mean? she thought, muzzily, for her thoughts felt like rubber balls bouncing off a brick wall and if she could just lie down and sleep

No, no, I have to look after the flock…

The Voice again. You thought Iggy was a bird hybrid, but he wasn't. Many things aren't what they seem. How can you be sure that what you're feeling… what you're thinking right now… is even real?

In this world, the Voice said, and its words possessed a wisdom and menace that seemed as old as the ages. It's up to you to decide what's a test, and what's real.

Her head gave another sickening throb, and she sank to her knees.

"Max?" the Gasman's voice.

And then Angel. "Max? Get up, please. You have to lead us."

"That's what I'm bloody trying to do," she muttered, past caring about her language. Her trembling hand sought the edge of the desk, but she felt too weary to haul herself up. "Jeb… the thirty-one days… we don't know what it is, do we?"

If she could put off seeing Iggy for as long as possible… if she could just keep away until they had figured out what the thirty one days thing was... then she would be able to decide what to do with him.

But didn't Iggy know what the thirty one days was already?


"No, we don't." Jeb's voice sounded cautious.

"Alright," she said, voice gaining strength as she pulled herself upright. "Here's what we'll do. We'll…"

What to do, what to do, damnit, damnit, pull a plan out of your hat, o' fearless leader…

The School.

… that wasn't a good plan, but it was the only one she could think of that didn't involve directly consorting with Iggy, so she spoke. "We'll go to the School, and confront Marian Jensen. Then we'll be able to find out exactly what this whole mess is about."

Mess? Or a work of art?

Shut up, Voice!

Her plan was met by a barrage of protests.

"The School? But you hate the School!"

"Maximum, wouldn't it be far better to just ask Iggy what it means…"

"I don't want to go, Max!"

Fang entered the room silently, and stopped. His eyes took in the scene – Max in a half-crouch by the desk, Jeb standing over her, Nudge cowering in a chair in front of a trembling Gazzy, Angel standing against the far wall with her arms crossed.

"Okay…" he said slowly. "Did I miss something?"

There was a crash from the other room, and everyone whipped around.

"Iggy!" Angel cried.

Jeb lunged for the door. "Iggy..!"

They pelted out into a deserted kitchen. Remnants of crumpled tissues floated along the table, blown by the breeze that whistled in through the open back door.

From outside, the night echoed back with the rhythmic of running footsteps.

Fang lunged for the back door just as it slapped shut in the wind, fingers clawing and slipping desperately on the handle. "It's locked! The latch fell down!"

"The windows are locked too!" the Gasman cried.

Iggy, Iggy… murmured the Voice with malicious amusement inside Max's head. What are you doing?

10. Awake And Alive

31 days.

Damnit, damnit, damnit, how the hell could he have forgotten?

The night air was cool against his face, but it did little to disperse the tears.

31 days, 31 days, today is the 28th of March that meant he had three days to get from Arizona to New York…

The murmuring tapestry of light and dark that was the lightening forest screamed around him as he blurred forward into the updraughts, the wind colliding with him head on, keeping pace bizarrely with the memories…

"Do you remember the day you left?"

They were standing on a sea of broken tiles, and his whole body was taut.

He answered her.

"No, I don't."

Her smile was feral, rows of gaping teeth and thin lips. "Yes, you do."

He knew he should have felt sad he was leaving, but it was fine, it was okay, he would only be gone for a few days. In a way it was good he was leaving, since that would give the flock enough time to decide whether or not they wanted him around or not…

A chocked sob was hacked free of his throat and snatched away by the wind.

He told himself this because he didn't want to hear the alternative. He didn't want to hear the side of him that hissed in the back of his head, he didn't want to feel the headaches…

"I want it out!" he screamed at her. His voice reached a keen so loud he couldn't hear it anymore. "Get it out! Stop it now!"

Her smile sank to a glower. "It would have been out already. What do you think we were holding you and the flock captive for?"

His rage slowed, condensing and cooling to blind, nudging confusion. "That was… for me?"

Her demon smile was back again. "Not for you, for him."

"It's a him?" His jaw trembled. "What do you want him for?"

Her smile was white and sizzling red. Her eyes stretched in a face distorted through the glass. "Why, for tests, of course."

He sure as hellwasn't telling anybodyabout the meaning behind the thirty one days.

His body trembled. "How much longer?"

She shrugged disinterestedly. "Oh, about thirty one days."

Which meant he had to get there fast.

Iggy powered forward, feeling the pull and stretch of his wing muscles and bones, the wind scraping and flaming against the tattered membrane. The tears were gone now, the sticky iciness clinging to his eyelashes, fleeing across his cheeks as he flew.

Marian Jensen was sitting by her desk when she first heard the flap of leathery wingbeats in the air outside. Sitting up straighter in her high-backed chair, she cleared the desk of the stacks of paper and errant files, sweeping them unceremoniously into the paper shredder beside her desk. She tried her best to ignore the mechanical whirring – she had backups on her computer files.

Iggy alighted awkwardly on the side of the building, clambering with difficulty through the large window. Even before he had fully made it onto the safety of the white tiled floor, Marian could tell he was exhausted.

His hair was tangled and filthy and looked like it hadn't been washed in quite some time. His clothes fared no better. Dark shadows lined the hollows of his eyes, the whites shot through with veins of red. The membrane of his wings were ragged and torn, several bunches of white feathers still clustered around the bone-claw.

Iggy pointed at the desk with a shaking finger. "You knew I was coming."

Marian nodded and stood up. "What happened to your wings?" her voice was level and emotionless – they weren't friends, nor were they completely enemies.

Iggy cleared his forehead of several stringy strands of hair with a hand, avoiding her gaze. "I had to disguise them some way." His voice held a tinge of defiance, but for the most part, his voice was mainly shaking with exhaustion. "Where is he?"

Marian coughed pointedly. "You remember our deal. I would agree to let you see him as long as you give yourself in for further experimentation…" it really was a stupid deal, she reflected. Her mouth thinned into a taut smile. Even more stupid was the bat-hybrid who agreed to it. All those years of covering up his true self must have psychologically affected him.

Iggy waved her comment aside. "Yes, yes, I know." His legs trembled and nearly gave way – he lunged forward, grabbing the edge of the desk for support. Marian watched unblinkingly from the opposite side, mentally trying to figure out if Iggy's apparent exhaustion would hinder the tests in any way.

Marian exhaled and walked away from the desk, towards the door. Iggy watched her with narrowed eyes.

Marian held the door open and gestured for him to follow. "After you."




The heels of Marian's black shoes clicked against the black and white chequerboard tiling of the corridor as they hurried down it, causing Iggy's head to throb unpleasantly. The walls were bending and flexing like reflections in one of those trick mirrors at a funfair, the throbbing of his heart acting as a twisted beat.

"Are-are we nearly there?" he asked, stumbling along in the whitecoat's wake.

Marian's eyes were like chips of flint. "Yes. Keep up. The boy is nearly waking."

Nearly waking… Iggy tripped over his trailing laces, but managed to catch himself before he hit the ground. He continued forward, thinking. He would nearly be awake… awake to face the whitecoat's experiments, awake to face the risks, the starving, the hunger…

Rage spiked through him.

Eventually they stopped at a plain white door. Marian keyed in the passcode, unflinching despite the harsh beeps and grinding of the automatic lock unlocking that made Iggy's headache pound and throb terribly.

Marian opened the door, gesturing for him to enter. "Wait here. There are certain measures that need to be authorised before the bat hybrid can be awakened. Wait here in this room – I'll go."

Any other time, Iggy would have felt wary walking into a room that could be locked from the outside, but he was just so tired.

He walked in.

31 days ago

This was definitely not a normal day.

The bat watched from inside the strange, hard substance at the chaos that blurred outside. It looked, and was confused.

Pale, naked, furless faces with eyes like giant suns loomed at it from out of the fog that seemed to inhabit the outside.

Shapes flitted around outside and shrill beeping sounded, making the bat cringe and cocoon its wings around itself for comfort and protection against the burning eye-suns that glared at him.

Large, squat white things blurred and wobbled unsteadily outside, tiny lights pulsing on them. The naked, furless faces moved their strange, long legs, huddled into strange, shiny white fur.

Outside everything was strange. Inside, things were even stranger.

Strange, white vines bit deep into the bat's flesh and the bat whimpered in discomfort. Why were the vines moving? Why where the furless faces making high, gabbling noises?

Pain… agony… pain in its wings; pain everywhere… burning, ice-cold objects pressing against its skin…

The bat squealed as the vines tightened their hold on it and blinding agony swept through the mammal's small, delicate body.

The pain was bewildering. The bat was bewildered, looking blindly around at the chaos of the outside as the gabbling and beeping noises increased. Why wouldn't the furless face's help?

The bat squealed again as flares of discomfort lashed its body, pain surging through it. Its head pounded horribly and the outside wobbled unsteadily as pain lashed the bats body again and again.

Darkness growing inside it, dark spots forming in its eyes, and worst of all, death was calling it. The bat faded in and out of consciousness so often it became its entire existence…

Thirty-one days later


The boy's eyes opened wide, inky pupils reflecting the scattered fragments of light within the room. In the absence of a fully developed mind, instinct seized his brain and refused to let go.

Strange, sore, not blind, tall, small, new, strange…
Incoherent fragments of thought raced around his feverish brain in his body's attempt to make sense of his surroundings.

The strange, furless faces he vaguely remembered seeing before had gone. The strange, hard thing he had been trapped in was lying in glittering pieces on the floor.

How did she know all this when he had been so ignorant before? The new words, the sudden understanding of what was going on frightened him.

Cold. Scared. Agonized.

Agony rose to his awareness in a flash of neurons and a small whimper escaped him as he felt the ice-cold objects against him naked skin, burning like ice. Something sticky and red dripped onto the table.

Hunted. Bat. Not bat. What was he? Not bat. Not anymore. What was he?

Memories rose to his awareness in a flash of neurons, making him whimper and cringe down onto the smooth surface that held him. His brain made the connections between touch and sight and sudden understanding blazed into his mind, like lightning in a dark cavern.

The hard thing that was lying in pieces before him had been a glass cage. The strange, furless faces he remembered seeing were people. The hard surface he was lying on was a table. The ice-cold objects against his skin were electrodes. The burning sensation and the red, sticky stuff was pain and blood.

The bat/human hybrid rolled off the table, landing with an undignified thump on the floor. For a second he lay, curled up like a shrimp before he pushed himself to his feet and moved with tottering steps around the room. The scratch of his long nails echoed around the room.

Slowly, the room came into dim focus. There was the table he had been lying on and the shattered white machines stood around the room. The room was dark wood paneling and the door was thick steel. He looked up. Several fluorescent lights on the ceiling.

There was a tickling sensation on the back of his neck. The boy grabbed a tuft of his blonde hair, staring at it hard before letting it go.

The door opened with a clang and the boy jumped in surprise, only to topple over onto the floor with a crunch of glass. Catlike, he leapt to his feet as a tall woman entered the room, fingers poised on the door handle.

"You're awake," she said calmly, shutting the door behind him with a clang.

The boy tried to sculpt his thoughts into words, only to fail miserably. Instead, he pulled back his lips in a snarl, baring sharp little teeth.

"Walking and talking at barely an hour old! I knew you'd be full of surprises," the woman continued, tapping something on the wall behind him.

The fluorescent lights turned on in a blaze of light and the boy squealed, scrambling backwards until he stopped, quivering underneath the table where it was dark. The dark was safer. The dark was his friend.

The woman in the white lab coat crouched down to examine him with wintry eyes. "You look… ready."

He snapped at her hand as she attempted to touch him and she hastily withdrew. The boy curled his little hands into fists, ready to attack if she came any nearer.

The woman didn't seem to notice his hostile stance, only turned and beckoned. "Come with me." With unhurried steps, she walked out of the room.

The boy scrambled out from under the table and followed her, turning off the light and shutting the door behind him.

11. Movement

Apologies for the rather long hiatus. Christmas has no right to be this hectic :P So, to make it up to you, Happy New Year, and a belated gift from me :)

"You've got to go after him," Jeb said.

Max felt her eyes narrow. "Us? What about you? You're the one responsible for creating that… that…" she didn't want to think about him, and gritted her teeth harder together, hoping that the pain would distract her. It didn't. "That monster."

Jeb's eyes stared steadily at her. She hated that look – long and doleful, like a cow's. "Max… he's still Iggy. He's still your friend. Don't go writing him off so easily just because he turned out different to what you expect."

Max exhaled – a short and shakily quick expulsion of air from a throat that felt as tight as a coiled spring – and whirled around to survey the room. Everybody was involved in their own activities – Fang slowly dumping the crumpled tissues into the bin behind the counter, Nudge repeatedly checking the doors and windows, searching for some exit that wasn't locked from the outside, some clue as to where Iggy was going, and Angel stood with an arm around her trembling brother, hot blue eyes glaring accusingly into Max's brown ones, as if it was all somehow her fault…

You know it is, Angel's voice in her head sounded loud, accusing and Max nearly staggered. If you hadn't overreacted, if you didn't have this stupid fear of bats…

Then blame Jeb! Max hadn't known it was possibly to mentally hiss. He's the one who created me, he's the one who gave me this stupid design flaw…

Then we know what the solution is, don't we, Angel's voice was almost unnervingly icily calm, for a six year old. She was angry. We'll go to Marian Jensen and tell her to get rid of the design flaw that makes you have a fear of bats. That way you can still live with Iggy.

"Are you mad?" Max's voice exploded out of her in a high, cracked screech – the flock members who weren't involved in the telepathic conversation instantly whipped around to look at her, alarm reflected in their widened, fearful eyes. Ignoring their bewilderment, Max snapped at Angel "Go to Marian Jensen? She'll lock us up! And I don't even know what it is that makes me have a fear of bats!"

"A microchip," Jeb spoke up suddenly, unerringly, from the corner, and everybody turned to look at him. The scientist's eyes were ringed with dark bruise-like shadows, and his body was trembling like it was wired to a power grid, but his voice was steady, clear. "We embedded a microchip into your foot after you last visited the School. It was meant to pit you against Iggy…" Jeb fell silent as Max burst into rage again.

"Why the hell would you want to pit me against Iggy…?!"

"It was meant to be a test," Jeb sank down into the nearest kitchen chair, as if the strain of holding himself upright was too much for him. He pressed a shaking hand to his forehead. "It was meant to be an experiment evaluating the personal bonds between flock members, and your will to survive. If we could somehow manipulate you into fighting Iggy, it would also be an experiment to test which is stronger: bat or bird hybrid. I…" Jeb fell silent as Max raised a hand, striking him dumb as effectively as if she had bound his mouth with duct tape.

"In case you haven't noticed," Max's voice was positively dripping with a lethal combination of fury and sarcasm. "We are people. We have feelings. We're not just your personal heartless little guinea pigs designed to run laps for you just so you can see how much we can take."

"I was against the experiment," Jeb croaked. All the fight seemed to have drained out of him, like icy water sluicing down a drain. He didn't seem to be able to bring himself to look Max directly in the face; his eyes were downcast, desperately scanning a point somewhere beyond her stomach. "That's why I left the School. You all meant so much to me, Max, I…"

"Save it." Max hissed. Everything suddenly seemed clear and sharp; possessing an unnatural clarity it hadn't had before. She suddenly knew what she had to do.

"Everyone," she called. The call was pointless; every member of the flock was listening in anyway.

"We're going to the School." She spoke quickly, hastily, wanting to get the plan over with as quickly as possible so she wouldn't have to dwell on the consequences. "We're going to see Marian Jensen, have her remove the microchip, find out what the 31 days thing really is, and find Iggy."

"How are we going to find out where Iggy is?" Nudge asked breathlessly, brown doe eyes shining now that the tears and trauma had ceased.

"The School. They're bound to have computers, and tracking devices. We can use those." Max answered, rapidly making plans. "Jeb, can you stay here and tell Ella and Dr Martinez where we've gone? Make sure to explain everything,"

Jeb nodded. "The School you're looking for should probably be in New York. That's where Marian Jensen normally is this time of year."

Max looked around at the members of her flock, seeing the determination in every eye, and wished she knew if she was doing the right thing.

30789 shifted and yawned, fingers restlessly drumming a tattoo on his gun as he patrolled the darkened corridor. The fluorescent neon green lights from his watch nearly blinded him as he checked it and remembered his training manual: "Patrolmen should seek to cover any light-producing equipment on duty."Damn the manual. Only 76890 really paid attention to it and nobody listened to that gabbling rookie. Besides, no one was about. He was patrolling on the eastern side of the School and as far as he could see in the dim light, no one was there. But he was still jumpy that somehow someone might be able to finally break into the School. The New York branch of the School was a place where all the weird, twisted hybrids were born, run by the oh-so-powerful Marian Jensen. The School focused on grafting animal DNA into humans and getting a weird mix of breeds: half-fish men, half-dog men, half-bird men etc.

What am I worried about? 30789 snorted to himself as he paced the corridor, fingers never leaving his gun. That some superfast flying thief would manage to get in here, kill the School's top guards and break in? Only Jebediah Batchelder's flying mutants could do that, and they had long since escaped. 30789 didn't know all the details of the School's newest breed of genetic mutants but he knew that they were 2% bird and 98% human. If any of those mutants escaped, they had the guards, 30789 assured himself.

30789 felt his eyelids beginning to flutter closed and decided to have a cigarette to keep him awake. Patrolmen weren't supposed to smoke on duty but come on, one tiny little smoke? Who would notice? 30789 fumbled in his pockets for a cigarette and his lighter, his balaclava trapping an impatient sigh. A tiny flame flickered into existence and within minutes the strong smell of cigarette smoke filled the corridor.

30798 choked and nearly swallowed his cigarette as his radio crackled impatiently and the voice of 72369 issued over it. "This is 72369 reporting from centre right corridor, third floor. Thought I saw a flash of something. It's heading your way 30789. Can you check it out?"

That flaming 72369 again. Why doesn't he 'check it out' himself?

"Copy that 72369. I'm heading that way right now."


30789 continued grumbling in between drags of his cigarette all the way down the hall. Suddenly he stopped. He was sure he had seen something. Warily, he turned to the right. Through the large window walls, he peered down into the darkened streets, nervously dragging at his cigarette. There it was again! 30789 turned again, this time a little to the left. Mentally, he willed his heart to be silent so he could hear his surroundings. Nothing. Except a burst of static in his right ear, that is.

"30789? Can you see anything?"

72369 again. Since when did they make him the boss? "Nup. I didn't see nothing,"

"You didn't see nothing? Does that mean you saw something? ...That's a joke 30789. It's something you laugh at because it's funny."

"Shut up 72369! I think I see something now…"

For once, 72369 shut up, even though he was a superior officer. 30789 squinted towards the treetops as he detected the same flash of movement he had been seeing out of the corner of his eye for the past minutes. He saw one, two, three, four... fivefigures flying. 30789 felt dread clutch at him. Those figures were too small to be aeroplanes...

His radio crackled again. "30789? What's going on?"

"I..." 30789 squinted again, making out the distinctive form of wings. His worst fears were confirmed. "72369! Those flying mutants! They're here!"

"Well damn..." 72369 breathed. "67584 and 43526, we've got Class A on the loose. Yes, Class A. I want all the troops out. I want the entire quadrant shut down..."

72369 continued spouting orders, but 30789 didn't listen. All thoughts of payrise and promotion were rapidly draining from his head. His knees felt weak and the world spun. 30789 licked his dry lips and said in a hoarse voice. "Marian Jensen is gonna kill us."

"I've been to see him," Ter Borcht paused, lip curling in disgust as he stared down at the bat hybrid. Iggy's hair was matted into thick clumps at the back of his neck, and dark, bruise-like shadows lined the hollows of his eyes, the whites shot through with veins of red. His breath came in ragged gasps, his head lowered. "Haven't they at least tried to clean you up?"

Iggy raised his head slowly, eyes dull and unfocused. "They tried." He murmured. "I wouldn't let them."

Ter Borcht let free a small sigh of impatience. It had been three days since Iggy had first arrived at the New York School. The School's scientists hadn't allowed him out of the cold white cell and the narrowed, laser focus of the many security cameras whirring soundlessly in each corner of the ceiling. The School had a permanent record of the disastrous experiment with the Erasers; thus, they were not letting the possibly volatile bat hybrid out of their sight, physical or electronic.

Ter Borcht paused to rearrange his thoughts. "He's progressing nicely. I suppose they haven't allowed you to see him."

It was a statement, not a question, but Iggy nodded anyway. "Yes," his breath came out a thin, spent whisper. His head bent lower, whole body trembling in exhaustion, and Ter Borcht groaned.

"It has been three days now. Surely you've gotten your strength back…" Ter Borcht's eyes glided silently to the long, snake-like white drips attached to various places on the bat hybrid's arms, and he fell silent. Pearly white and nearly translucent from the lack of sunlight, Iggy's skin looked sallow and bleached, like a vampire's.

Ter Borcht sighed. "I shall let you know when he is fit to see…"

Ter Borcht's voice trailed off, hand rising almost unconsciously to the earpiece affixed to his right ear. Iggy's eyes rose questioningly behind his long fringe, observing the scientist as he listened intently to whatever news was coming through the airwaves.

Ter Borcht swore so loudly and suddenly Iggy jumped. "I thought the bird hybrids had been eliminated! Stay where you are, I want all patrol circuits reassigned…" the scientist continued to rapidly fire orders as he whirled around for the door.

Iggy's head rose slowly as Ter Borcht left. The corners of his lips rose in a small smile as the door closed, the boom echoing through the cold, sterile confines of the room like thunder, a dazed smile creeping its way across his bruised, battered face.

The flock.

They were coming.

They hadn't forgotten him.

Huddled in the dark, chained to the wall and connected to beeping monitors that pulsed unpleasantly in the gloom, a thin laugh burst free of his lips, building gradually to a high, keening cackle.

And slowly, ever so slowly, he began yanking the drips from his arms.

It was thirty-four minutes since 72369 had first given the order for the flock to be found. Heavy, booted feet drummed against hard black asphalt as men all armed to the teeth with sub-machine guns and Kevlar body armour forced their way through the alleys, the wide light beams of their torches flickering in all directions. The men's radios buzzed as the troops shouted commands to each other.

"Unit D to Unit C, Unit A has picked up the trail. Over,"

"Don't let them get away! Establish a perimeter but don't shoot! Remember, Marian Jensen wants them alive!"

On the ground, the five runners tore their way through the streets, boots kicking up a wave of dead leaves and assorted rubbish as they dodged the spray of bullets that ricocheted off the buildings, spraying them with splinters of stone and wood. Max led them through the streets towards the School, calling encouragement to the younger members. Fang followed close behind her, stooping under the bullets, closely followed by Nudge, the Gasman and Angel. The Gasman's normally laughing face was set into a twitchy expression and his light blonde hair was tangled. Nudge's eyes glittered in terror. Angel alone looked calm although she flinched when the bullets got too close to her, blonde hair swaying with every movement.

Nudge's breath came in ragged gasps as she lagged further and further behind Angel. Tears of despair and terror streamed down her cheeks and hacking sobs burst from her body as she struggled to keep up, wavy brown hair clinging to her tearstained cheeks. Every muscle in her legs felt like they were on fire and her breath burned in her throat as though she was inhaling flames.

Nudge's heart plummeted in terror as she heard the lithe, powerful guards panting as they tailed them. Her breath caught in her throat as she remembered the other time when they had seen the guards.

Hot, putrid breath that smelt like the contents of a blocked drain that had been put into a barrel of melting fat and left there for a week blasting into her face… plated body armour making them appear like huge, terrifying, jewelled cockroaches… orange night-vision goggles pulsating unpleasantly in the darkness… it occurred to her then that any guard with half a brain would go for the victim that was getting tired.

And that was her.

Nudge let out a small squeal as she tapped into a newfound store of energy that made her double her speed. Fear of the infiltration was great, but her fear of getting recaptured was even greater. In her mind's eye, Nudge saw the School. The sea of bobbing, surgical mask-clad scientists… ice-cold electrodes against her skin… Syringes jabbed into her, breaking arteries and nicking bones…

Fang had taken a bullet to the shoulder a while back; Nudge could see the blood staining the fabric of the heavy grey cloth shirt he wore from behind. The Gasman had a twisted ankle and winced every time he moved. Max was lagging behind and when she called encouragement to Nudge, her voice was hoarse and cracked. Although Max was the strongest girl Nudge knew, even she was getting tired. Angel alone was still fighting fit, which astounded Nudge. Although the flock had more stamina compared to other people, even they were giving out.

Nudge staggered but kept on going, tears of pain and desperation streaming down her cheeks. Reality was wild but she kept on following the blue blurs that was her flock. She didn't pay attention to her surroundings that were meaningless dark streaks on a backdrop of chaotic violet. Her legs burned as though they were being jabbed with pokers.

"Up and away! We'll fly in!" Nudge was barely aware of the order that Max shouted. As soon as the order left Max's mouth, the flock all simultaneously spread their wings. Nudge's wings flared to their full 12-foot wingspan, and she leapt into the air. Climbing to an altitude of more than thirty feet, Nudge stared at the mass of dark concrete buildings of the School that spread out before her.

I hope you're here, Iggy, she thought, and followed the rest of the flock as they swooped downwards towards the School.

Iggy crouched in the cupboard amongst old laboratory coats, and screwed up his face to suppress a sneeze. The wounds on his arm stung like fire, bleeding hot stickiness onto his formerly pristine white hospital clothes, but he couldn't be less concerned about that now as he peered through the crack in between the two doors.

The corridor in front of him was deserted, except from the time a couple of whitecoats had marched past. Escaping his room had been ridiculously easy, although Iggy knew if a person raised the alarm now, he would be as good as dead. Even if they didn't shut down the lifts, there would still be a flotilla of troops after him.

Confident the corridor was deserted, he slipped cautiously out between the doors. Yanking off his stained shirt, he tore it into several sizeable patches, flinging one of the swathes of cloth at a corner of the ceiling where a security camera rotated on its stand. Iggy hoped the sudden blackout wouldn't attract the attention of the people watching the monitors, nerves jangling as he crept along the side of the wall, taking out security cameras as soon as he spotted them.

The corridors were eerily quiet. The constant, steady echo of his footsteps against the white tiling seemed like bombs dropping no matter how hard he tried to muffle them. The whole building was like a maze, full of loops, one way doors, dead ends and corridors that went in circles, but Iggy was confident he could remember fairly clearly exactly where the room he sought was. Once inside, he could get what he had came for, get out, and re-join the flock.

Trapped in the never-ending loop of his thoughts, Iggy didn't notice the figure until he walked right round the corner and ploughed straight into the approaching figure. The guard threw him off and backed away before Iggy got the chance to berate himself, eyes betraying the shock she felt at seeing a grubby teenager patrolling the corridors, when everybody else was busy with the winged kids.

"Hi," Iggy croaked, backing away.

The figure frowned.

"Iggy," said Marian Jensen. It was only then that Iggy noticed the dripping red scalpel in her hand, and a tuft of tan-speckled feathers. "What are you doing here?"

Iggy stood his ground, although his flickering eyes betrayed the uneasiness he felt at the sight of the scalpel. "I want to see him."

Something – frustration? – flickered in the back of Marian's eyes. "Iggy, this really isn't a good time…"

Iggy pivoted his wing muscles, baring his bone-claws, and tried to look braver than he felt, even though his skin was burning, and his head was swimming, swinging between two mentalities, fight or flight. "I want to see him now."

Marian portrayed no sign of fright at the sight of the bedraggled, bloodied bat hybrid. "I've told you, he isn't prepared yet. He hasn't developed…"

He snapped. "It's been thirty-one days!" His eyes fully riveted on the scalpel and the feathers, voice rising to an angry shout. "You locked him up!"

smash went his fist into her stomach and the whitecoat doubled over, eyes widening, scalpel falling and spinning across the tiles in a blur of sticky redness, and Iggy screamed.

"You kept me away!"





He drew back his fist, preparing, focusing, for nothing in his life had made him feel more visceral and raw than this, this blind, pulsing anger thrumming through him like the beat of a mighty drum pounding in time to the pain of his skin the pulsing of his head andhedrewbackhisfistevenmore and…

A hand caught his wrist in an iron grip, and a voice spoke to him. "Iggy, enough!"

Iggy stopped. Wobbled. Hesitated.

A deathly silence descended, broken only by Marian's desperate gasping as she shuddered mutely on the floor, and Iggy turned around.


"Enough." Max said. Her face was white, her jaw was trembling, but her brown eyes were clear and calm. She looked with distaste at the whitecoat on the floor and drew him close, turning him away. "Come on. Let's go. She's not worth it."

Iggy trembled as she led him away, while Marian Jensen slipped into unconsciousness behind him.

12. Seething Dawn

"Where's the rest of the flock?" Iggy asked numbly.

Max glanced sideways at him. "Outside. We thought it would be better if I went in alone."

Iggy raised an eyebrow at her obvious limp, eyes widening as he saw it. Max's feet were bare and one of them, her left one, was clearly leaking blood onto the pristine white tiles, leaving a trail of red footprints. "What happened to your foot?" he demanded, all witty replies flying from his head.

Max smiled. "There was this microchip, you see…" It only took several minutes for Max to fill him in, and Iggy was left with a reeling head.

"So, you're saying you don't…"

Max's composure wavered and broke; before he could gather his thoughts, he felt Max's bony, muscular arms thread tightly around him for one of her giant bear-hugs. "I'm so sorry, Iggy."

Iggy laughed and hugged her back, all thoughts of the accusations, the pain, the fear, dissipating from his mind like morning dew being evaporated by the sun. He suddenly felt happy, light – he felt on top of the world, heck, on top of the stratosphere even, and nothing, absolutely nothing, could bring him back down to earth…

He came hurtling down with a jolt as he remembered.

How could he have forgotten?

"I have to go." He said, pulling away. Already his mind was wandering, questing from the present to delve into the future, filling him with notions of what he must do, what he had to do.

Max caught his arm. Her hardened look was back, eyes darkening and glittering like pebbles. "Yeah, I was meaning to ask. Back there, you said something about how Marian was experimenting on him? Who's him, Iggy? And what's the story with the 31 days thing anyway?"

He avoided her gaze. "You'll see." His footsteps quickened against the bloodied tiles as he picked up the pace, hurrying fast through the corridors.

Max's frustration pricked at him like thorns as she hurried along behind, grunting at her limp. "What? Seriously, Iggy, the flock's been waiting long enough…"

Iggy turned a corner and was faced with a door. A large white door, tightly shut, with a single placard with the numbers 61795 wedged behind a plastic holder in the centre. A harsh fluorescent light was seeping through the crack beneath the door, building up against the opposite side, so that it almost seemed to bulge outwards with the pressure of containing…

"What is it?" Max whispered behind him, and Iggy smiled.

"A friend's room." He said, and opened the door.

The door swung open with a whisper of well-oiled hinges, thudding gently back against the wall, and Max let out a small hiss of surprise.

The room was dark wood paneling and the door was thick steel. Several fluorescent bulbs on the ceiling cast a harsh white light onto the various tables and squat white machines, hunching on the floor like pot-belled monsters. A gentle beeping issued from the various monitors lining the walls, red lights pulsing and flickering like demented fireflies. A long bench stretched along the far end of the room, crowded with an assortment of various surgical equipment - Iggy felt his stomach roil as he caught sight of several scalpels. The wall window above the bench boasted dark grey curtains that were tightly closed.

Iggy began talking as he wended his way through the machines, a small smile flickering across his face as he caught sight of what looked like hundreds of tiny glass shards glinting against the tiled floor. And Marian Jensen said he hadn't developed.

"It all started the last time we went to the School, before the Itex siege. Remember? They told us everything we'd been through was a dream?"

In the reflection on one of the glass tabletops, Iggy saw Max nod mutely.

"I remember. But what has that got to do with…"

"Before you woke up," Iggy interrupted. "I was the only one awake. And Marian Jensen came to me."

His tone betrayed what he felt, and the memories came rushing back in a haze of bright tints and harsh tones, shifting and coalescing. Blurred colours against fogged glass.

"Do you remember the day you left?"

They were standing on a sea of broken tiles, and his whole body was taut.

He answered her.

"No, I don't."

Her smile was feral, rows of gaping teeth and thin lips. "Yes, you do."

Iggy swallowed past them, and continued. "She told me that, using the same process they had used in creating me, they had managed to create another bat kid."

Max's eyes widened.

"Then I fell asleep again." Iggy's face twitched into a grimace as he remembered how easily he had forgotten the news. "Then later, in the Itex siege, I met up with Marian Jensen again. I tried to make Marian free the bat kid, or free him myself, but I couldn't. The bat kid was still in the early stages of creation then, they told me. I couldn't do anything..."

His voice trembled, wavered, cracked, and he bowed his head.

"I want it out!" he screamed at her. His voice reached a keen so loud he couldn't hear it anymore. "Get it out! Stop it now!"

Her smile sank to a glower. "It would have been out already. What do you think we were holding you and the flock captive for?"

His rage slowed, condensing and cooling to blind, nudging confusion. "That was… for me?"

Her demon smile was back again. "Not for you, for him."

"It's a him?" His jaw trembled. "What do you want him for?"

Her smile was white and sizzling red. Her eyes stretched in a face distorted through the glass. "Why, for tests, of course."

"I knew I couldn't leave him then. I tried… I tried to make a deal with Marian. I would give myself up for experimentation, and the bat kid would go free." Iggy trembled, wings sweeping up almost unconsciously to shield himself, to comfort himself, noticing with relief how Max's eyes didn't narrow at the sight of his wings anymore. Desperation drove his voice to a wail. "I knew it was wrong and stupid, but I couldn't leave him! I had to…" his hands combed through the tangle of equipment swamping the benches and tables, searching, searching, the beeping of the machines reaching almost fever pitch until…

He heard it.

Faintly, beneath the machines, a low gurgling.

Max choked. Her eyes widened. "Iggy, I think it's…"

He followed her gaze to the furthermost corner of the room, and he gasped.

There, in a tangle of white blankets behind the bars of a cage…

Iggy hurried forward.

Crouched behind the bars casting a shadow-and-light pattern against the smooth cream oval of his face, crouched the figure of a small, hunched boy. The fluorescent light flung every detail into high relief: his bright blue eyes, the fluffy tufts of platinum blonde hair.

And the wings.

The wiry, membranous, bat wings.

The icy wind blew their fragile tendrils across his face, like tiny fingers drying the tears...

Max's footsteps rang as she walked forward, and Iggy felt her hand on his shoulder, rigid in shock. "Woah, Iggy…"

Even as they watched, the boy's head swivelled around. Hot, bright blue eyes glared at them and the bat kid snapped at them, baring sharp little teeth like needles.

"It's okay." Iggy's voice, trembling and sore and broken, yet hopeful, filled the space, like a newborn tentatively nudging its way into sunlight. "It's okay, we… we're here to help you."

The boy struggled and resisted as Iggy took it by the hand, but something – maybe the look in Iggy's eyes, or the soft crackle of his leathery wings unfolding, made the boy calm and quieten. From then on, he didn't struggle, even as Max unlocked the cage and opened the door with a harsh squeal of rusted hinges, even as they led him slowly and carefully across the sterile white laboratory to the door, blue eyes inquisitive and watchful.

"Hey, Iggy." Max said after a while. Her voice seemed unnaturally loud in the silence.

Iggy glanced at her. "Yeah?"

Max's eyes were thoughtful. "What do you want to call him?"

Iggy looked back over his shoulder at the boy, trailing along behind. The abundance of blonde fluff clinging to his crown lent him a strange, surprised air that gave Iggy the sudden urge to laugh.

"Hmm…" he said thoughtfully as they walked, towards the blue of the outside, towards where the rest of the flock waited in the seething, impatient dawn. "You know, I've always kind of liked the name Dylan."

At last, dear readers. At last we have reached the end of Membrane Of Lies.

I would like to thank all you faithful readers who made all this possible. There is no telling where this story might have ended up had it not been for all of your encouragements and kind words. I thank you very, very, very, very, very, very, very much.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this story as much as I enjoyed writing it. It has been a fun experience, and I'm sorry that, at last, it has finally ended.

Thank you very much once again.

Inspirationally Redd.