By the time Mag was able to see past the blue haze, Graverobber had disappeared, leaving her at the back entrance to the opera house. Thankfully, Mag was now able to maintain herself enough to avoid suspicion.

Passing the guards at the back entrance, her feet brought her to the dressing room to prepare for the show.

And what a show it will be . . .

She thought of Pavi, as he had taken her in this very room only hours ago. The image made Mag even more determined to take control of her life.

Making her way to the mirror, Mag's toe caught on the edge of her costume dresser. She felt no pain. The zydrate was still working then, but she couldn't afford to be overconfident, not now. Her final opera would begin in one hour and there was still much to be done.

She opened the top dresser drawer to find her necklace, sifting through the unruly piles of jewelry. As she brushed the bottom, her fingers hit something hard and rectangular. Curious, she pulled the object out.

Her grandmother's book of Italian poetry. She smiled in reminiscence, fondling the worn, brown cover. She had been so inspired by these poems as a child, even now in the present. Mag absently flipped through it, her eyes scanning the lovely words, a soothing balm to her pain.

Wait . . .

Mag turned the pages faster, searching for the poem that had risen to the surface of her mind. On page 249 she found it, her finger skidding to a stop below the title: Chromaggia. She read through it only once before knowing she had to recite this before the opera crowd. But how? It was not a song.

I can make it a song.

Mag bit her lip in concentration as she let the words of the poem fill her mind, overshadowing her anxiety. When the notes began to come to her, she snatched up the pen on her desk, furiously scribbling them down. Even as her hand began to cramp, she wrote on, willing the music to stay in her memory long enough to record it.

When at last she threw down the pen, Mag slipped out of her dressing room to find the bandleader.

"Can you play this?" She handed him the poem, her hands trembling. If he said no. . .

"I think so," he replied after glancing over it. "Though it is rather close to show time to be making such a big change."

"This is my last song. It will be worth your trouble," she assured him, hoping he would come through for her when she needed his expertise most.

Half an hour until the opera. Mag dressed in the costume she had planned for her original song. Running her hand over the smooth, dark feathers of the costume, she was convinced her decision to sing Chromaggia was meant to be. She took a deep breath, her body and mind still blessedly numb from the zydrate. Walking over to her costume jewelry box, Mag searched for the necklace she had chosen to go with her costume. As she did, a small, black silk-wrapped bundle caught her attention. Heart leaping, she reached to unwrap the silken casing.

In the nights following her announcement of retirement, Mag comforted herself with the same fantasy.

She would be sitting against the rough, brick wall of an alleyway, her skirt soaked with the dirty street water as escape from her hunter was futile. The Repo Man would stalk towards her, scalpel shining mockingly in the dim light from the street lamp. She would raise her hands up as if to shield her face from his attack, to allow him to think she was afraid, let him be in control. But it would be she who would have the final say in her life this time. She would wait until he was upon her, lifting his fatal knife to recapture what was rightfully GeneCo's before plunging her long fingernails into the eyes that did not belong to her. She would smile for the last time as the Repo Man froze in stupefaction, his eyes disbelieving beneath the glowing blue of his mask as blood would course down her white cheeks, staining them forever. In her final act of defiance, Mag would cup the eyes in her hands, feeling their roundness for the last time before she crushed them in her fists. Her euphoria would protect her from the scalpel's ripping pain as she laughed her last breath away . . .

How morbid, she found herself chuckling, but this thought never failed to calm her. She only worried that she would not be able to grow her nails out long enough to do the job effectively, before someone could stop her.

When she learned how weak human fingernails are, she was forced to search for another option, but found none. That is, until the day at Sanatarium Square. The street salesman always had many wares to offer on the one day GeneCo allowed them to cry their prices in the heart of Crucifixius, where all the best business was.

However, the salesman who caught Mag's attention was silent and hunched over, fingers ghosting over small, dark pieces of jewelry. Intrigued, Mag stepped closer. When her eyes found the long, deadly finger talons, she knew her search was over.

"What are these for?" She asked, holding them up to the vendor. He met her eye, a knowing smile stretching across the crags of his face.

"That's for you to decide, miss." She bought them on the spot.

Mag cradled the bundle gingerly in the palm of her hand, as if it might explode. She unfolded the cloth to see the talons gleaming at her, as if sharing a secret in the soft light. She slipped them onto her index fingertips, reassured at the perfect fit. Running a finger carefully over the edges, Mag was pleased to find they were just as sharp as she had left them. Turning to face the doorway, Mag forgot about her necklace completely as she wet her lips.

She was ready.

"It is with great honor that I present the Voice of GeneCo herself, Blind Mag!"

Mag breathed deeply, feeling the numbing tingles of the zydrate brush down her spine. Somehow, this reassured her, made her feel as if she was not in this alone. It was only when the clapping died, giving way to anticipated silence that Mag felt her knees shake and her stomach bloat with fear. The zydrate was enough to prevent physical pain, but its soothing curtain over her mind had disappeared. Mag smiled wryly to herself in the darkness backstage. She was alone in this, alone as she had always been. But it would not be much longer now. Still, her stomach protested, sending waves of nausea coursing through her bowels. She feared she would faint when the lights came up, but just as she squeezed her eyes shut, begging some unknown power to spirit her away from this carnage that was her life, the music started. Her music. Mag's fear persisted, but she found her lungs swelling with air, taking in oxygen as they pushed out unease.

The words flowed from her mind to her lips. Singing now was easy as breathing. The melodic sound of her famous voice rang through the air, echoing in the ears and minds of her enthralled audience. With their wide eyes and still faces, they looked almost innocent, but Mag knew that was not so. Signs of surgery marked them all as dirty and corrupted as the disgusting family who started this mess of a world.

As Mag gazed up into the air, waiting for the musical interlude to be over, she could see the Chromaggia floating spectrally above the audience like a nightmare. The long crooked beak and menacing black feathers were that of a being of evil, but the Chromaggia's eyes contained more compassion, more humanity that Mag had ever seen in a living, breathing human.

Sadness was in the eyes of the Chromaggia, but also a quiet defiance, so meager one would miss it if not looking closely. But Mag saw it and was strengthened as she turned to face the iron fence and strap into her harness for the last time.

"Chromaggia, come take these eyes," Mag's voice trilled sweetly, the audience not knowing what they would see next. Mag only saw the Chromaggia, it's wings spreading to span the width of the ceiling. It was the fatal bird she spoke to as she sang her last.

"I would rather be . . . . blind," Her arms rose the same time the Chromaggia took flight, it's transparency washing over her. She felt the wind of its wings as the talons on her fingers traced up her cheek.

Now is the moment. For the last scene she would see, Mag looked down upon Pavi and Luigi, standing on the side of the stage. She smiled as she saw their eyes. They knew.

I would rather be blind. This is for you Marni, my sister, my soul. With a savagery she did not know she possessed, Mag plunged the lethal talons into the intruders that were her eyes. She sunk the metal far, far into her very sockets, scraping away the flesh that stood in her path. The zydrate was wearing off, but Mag didn't care. The pain she felt was washed away by the voice of the Chromaggia in her mind, sweet as a sunrise. Sparkles of color flashed before her eyes, hazing red as the blood tears that surged down her cheeks. She held the bloodied orbs in her stained fingertips now, her porcelain skin colored forever. As the blood leaked into the corner of her mouth, her heart soared in joy she had never felt before. She smiled. Her tongue tasted copper, but her smile only grew. She spread her arms to the darkness creeping into the corners of her awareness. It was not a fearsome world of mysteries anymore, but a haven of peace, of mercy . . . and freedom.

Her smile did not fade as she felt a jolt on her harness. The seconds passed slowly, slowly as silver, as her body reeled through the dark. When the cruel fence through her abdomen threatened to shatter her joy, she only smiled, knowing she had beaten them all. As she sank down the iron, now black with blood, her consciousness beginning to waver, she sighed. A last bubble of blood, her lifeblood, spilled out onto her chin and she thought of her goddaughter.

Here's to your future, dearest Shilo. . .

She died with a smile.

One chapter to go. . . this certainly went by quickly. :-(