Victoria Jane Montgomery

I wake up in the dark, alone, cold…and restrained: leather belts on my ankles and wrists. My wrist shackles are so tight they are chaffing. I feel groggy and sick and quite frankly scared. I lift my head, look down and see that I am dressed in a hospital gown and robe.

My head throbs relentlessly, but I widen my eyes despite the blinding pain and cast them at the shadows and shapes around me. As my eyes become accustomed to the darkness I see that I am in a room, empty but for me and the bed I am lying in. There are no windows, only a large metal door with a covered peephole.

I listen intently. Not a single sound. Even my own breathing seems noiseless. Then: in the distance I hear the grate of a key in a metal lock. A woman wails down a corridor. The sound echoes eerily. A heavy door slams shut with a clanking sound and the impenetrable silence returns.

I cough. The sound is loud and unnatural in the bare coldness of my surroundings.

They have cut me away, their own daughter, and abandoned me here, in this mad house. Why did I not expect this? Why am I so surprised? Because I’m NOT mad. There is darkness in my head, but my mind is bright and alive. Razor sharp.

‘You’re here for a rest,’ the large, spectacularly ugly nurse said, when two orderlies hauled me into the hospital’s reception area, kicking and screaming. She sounded conciliatory.

As an answer I bit her like a wild animal. Big mistake. She screamed like a banshee, they stuck a needle into my arm, and I lost that argument. My father stood back, staring, disbelief etched on his horrified face.

‘Take me home, please,’ I whispered to him before blackness came to take me. I guess he ignored my plea.

And now, here I am, in this cold functional cell. Angry tears gather in my eyes and flow down my temples and into my hair. The fury rages until it becomes a sickening, powerless sorrow. I wallow in it until a sound inside the room rouses me.

My senses on high alert, I jerk my head towards it. It seems to be coming from the left of me. It is too dark to see anything, but it sounds like the flapping of wings. Bats or birds. Adrenaline pumps through my body. Strapped down, I am easy prey for whatever is in the room with me. For the first time in my life I feel terrified. The temperature in the room drops suddenly and an inexplicable freezing cold descends upon me.

Utterly terrified, I begin to shiver violently.

I scream when my shackles are suddenly and miraculously loosened. Shocked, I pull my shaking limbs out of them and sit up. My heart is pounding so hard I can hear my blood roaring in my ears. For a moment I think my mind is playing tricks on me, but no—light is slowly filtering into the room, diluting the blackness.

My pupils are so widely dilated and my retinas so exposed by the blackness that I have to shield my eyes with my hands. The light is coming from what appears to be another entrance—one I had not noticed before. It is covered by floor length, thick red curtains. I drop my feet to the ground. The floor is ice cold, damp and clammy. I stand slowly. The room reeks of old metal. As if in a trance I walk towards the concealed entrance and draw the curtains back. I stand before antique, etched, leaded and stained glass doors. Through the glass I see a full, blood-red moon glowing in an unrelievedly black sky.

I experience no fear.

I push open the beautiful doors and enter a stone balcony. It is decorated with gothic friezes and gargoyles, and it is totally alien to, totally at odds with the bare, functional room I have been in. It almost feels as if I have stepped back in time or into a different dimension. The stone is freezing cold on my bare feet and the temperature is that of a winter night. My breath frosts in the wintery air, and yet I feel as warm as a sunned cat.

There is a sudden crash of thunder and the black sky splits open. As I watch, bright, shining light pours out of the crack. It turns into the shape of a very large bird that flies down. It lands on the balustrade in front of me and becomes utterly motionless. Its silence and stillness are such that it is deathlike.

I gaze at it, this creature, this presence, with awe. It is the most splendid thing I have ever seen. Brilliantly colored and shimmering, its head is in profile so only one crimson eye is exposed to me. And all of a sudden, with a surge of joy, I understand: I am looking at the all-seeing eye. It is the great one Himself. El! He has taken the form of the phoenix that is on my family’s coat of arms. He has come for me! I have not been deserted.

You are Victoria Jane Montgomery.

His voice reverberates inside my brain, piercing, intrusive and shocking. My hands shoot upward to grip either side of my head as I drop to my knees. I experience no pain as my kneecaps strike the stone floor. Only swallowed and possessed from within.

‘Master,’ I whisper from my prone position.

Your bloodline and heritage are pristine and privileged… A gift.

I turn my awed gaze up to the unblinking ruby stare that has seen it all. The ruby eye becomes darker and darker until it is a black hole that I am traveling inside. Thousands of years of the sublime and the profane open up to me like a blood-sodden flower.

The air leaves my lungs.

And ancient knowledge pours from the great bird like lava from a mountain. With it comes the knowing that this place will not contain me one moment longer than I decree. This is not a place of purgatory, but a sanctuary where I may lay my plans and grow to unimaginable heights. I see now that I am the chosen one. My brother has been and always will be weak. I will be the head of the Montgomery dynasty. I will bring chaos. I have been chosen to do so.

Then the great bird opens its magnificent wings and flies away, and I am back in bed, restrained, my heart racing.

But transformed, illuminated and imaginably powerful.

I smile.

I am one of the chosen ones.

My only sin was to love and love too well. It was a mistake. I see that now. I wasted myself on him. Still, I have learned from it so it was a useful mistake. This place will not be the end of me. Never again will they stick a needle in me. I will affect submissive docility. I will beat them at their own game. I notice that they have cut my elegant nails to the quick. No matter. I will beat them at their own game. I am NOT mad. I don’t belong within these walls. This is only the temporary seat of my power. From here I will destroy the man who tried to destroy me.

Blake Law Barrington—you thought you could put me out like trash, and someone would come along and remove me from your life… Foolish man. I know a secret, a secret so explosive that it will turn to dust the very foundations of the life you have built. I will have my revenge.

With a single, brutal blow I will bring you to your f**king knees.