Chapter 4

She woke to the dull throb of blood pounding through her body. Mayaku moaned in pain and tried to feel the wounds on her chest. She was shackled and manacled, with an iron collar around her neck. It was unbearably heavy and she dropped to the ground. The blood had congealed on her face and chest, but had soaked her shirt and tunic. Footsteps came into hearing, echoing wildly in the bare cell. The sound of metal jangling and a click. The slight scrape of the door on the ground as it opened. Everything was sound to Mayaku. No vision, just sound.

"What have we here? Woken up finally, eh, wildcat?"

Mayaku couldn't bear to be in this prostrate, helpless position. Not in front of him. She dragged herself to sit upright, muscles screaming all the way. He was tall, with long white hair framing his face. Impossibly handsome, but cruel. His features were young, but grey, pupil less eyes betrayed the ages they had seen.

"You got the wildcat. Now what do you w-"

He walked over to Mayaku's corner and grabbed her chin and lifted it up. Her eyes were dragged to his face and she just stared.

"To play. with the wildcat."

She tried to look away but couldn't. Mayaku was starting to panic. At last he let her go. She slumped back to the ground, feverishly praying for unconsciousness to come again, to still the pain, even for a little while. But it evaded her hopes, and she was left there, lying on the ground, trembling with pain and exhaustion. He just stared at her, a blank gaze without expression, the he walked away.

"Don't worry, wildcat, I'll come back."

Mayaku closed her eyes and the darkness finally obeyed.

Takao still felt something was wrong, but couldn't quite put his finger on it. It was nearly dawn, but he hadn't slept since he went out to search for Mayaku. He decided to go back out to check for her again.

The inn was closed, for it was too early for anyone but the servants to be up, for the sun had yet to rise. He wandered the empty streets, a feeling of emptiness nagged at his mind, yet evaded him when he tried to analyse it. Takao was drawn again to that gap between the buildings. The first rays of light that heralded the rise of the sun tinged the clouds pink, and the pale light of dawn shone across his shoulder. Perhaps the bloodstains were not so old as he thought.

She was spinning through the stars. Nameless things passed her, and began to revolve around her. A cocoon. A trap. There is only one exit, and that is into unfathomable darkness. Crazy. She's going crazy. It's all a stupid dream, and she's going to wake up soon. Close your eyes. Open them again. No, still the same net of orbiting objects. It's too much to bear. Even the darkness would be better than this. It's coming closer. And closer. /I'm falling./

. Into consciousness. Her eyes fluttered open as she became aware of the dull thudding in her head. Mayaku lay on the hard concrete as she looked around the room. It was a cell. A prison cell. A pile of hay served as a bed, and there was a bucket against the wall for a latrine. /Wonderful./

"Ah, so you've finally woken, have you?"

Mayaku jumped at the voice. A very small man sat over in the corner of the cell. "Oh. I didn't notice you."

"No, you wouldn't have. Not many people do, you know? I'm Hawk."

It was then that Mayaku realised he had wings. She started, sitting bolt upright.

"Y-you have wings!"

"Aye. But has no one told you that stating the obvious is quite useless? I'm a changeling. Unfortunately, that bastard of a werewolf, Hairome has put a barrier on me." Hawk gestured to the three metal teardrops on his forehead.

Mayaku blinked. This was indeed unexpected.

"If I am not too bold to ask, what is your name, miss?"

"Uh. Mayaku. Mayaku Haruyama."

"Hajimemashite, Mayaku. I suppose we're going to be cellmates for a while then. We should get to know each other, don't you think?"

/He certainly is forward./ She shrugged. "I guess."

"So. I'll start. I am a hawk changeling, and I come from the fourth plane, from a province called Manekuro. I came here through a rift in the fabric of the planes, and so I came here. Changelings do not have family; we are born from the earth and the sky. We call the ones who are born with the same changeling species as us our family. I have a very dear sister, Karasu. She is a crow changeling and is here on the third plane but I do not know where." Hawk looked a little sad, but continued anyway. "I was captured by Hairome a few years ago. I presume he thinks that I have died, but he doesn't know that I must be killed. Changelings can't die like this. But anyway. I was wandering the streets of Uta, this town, after dark and he captured me. I'm sure there are other cells, with other captives, but we're not allowed to interact. It has been a very lonely existence, to be sure. Now, you have heard my story, it is time for you to tell yours."

Mayaku shrugged, and began. "I don't know my parents. I was brought up in a foster home, and they found me by the road when I was very young. I don't even know exactly how old I am. My foster family, the Matsuos were nice enough, but they didn't really care. I think they took me in to boost their social status, or something. Anyway, I got lost in the streets one day when I was coming home from school and fell asleep in the bus. I decided that I didn't want to go home and so I sort of ran away. I was around. oh. fifteen at that time. So I began my life as a wanderer. I just made my way from town to town, not really caring where I went. Just as long as I was travelling. I don't know why, I just like it. I never stayed in one place long enough for anyone to really get to know me, and besides, I'm a loner anyway. But then, a few days ago, I came to Korena, and I met Takao."

Hawk nodded knowingly, his lips twitching into a small smile.

"No, it's not like that. He came along with me here, to Uta, but I never asked him to. He just decided to, I guess. I don't even know why I let him. He insisted, and said some weird stuff about it's not my fate to die. So then I was getting some ramen, but then Hairome and some other psycho attacked me. I can fight, but not in the dark against two invisible opponents." She touched her bandaged chest and legs. "That's how I got these buggers."

"Ah. So you're the wildcat he's been talking about. It's a shame. Such an innocent as you."

Mayaku raised an eyebrow. "What?"

"You're going to be his next bed warmer."

She froze, eyes wide. This was the torture she feared the most. "N-no! I'd kill myself first!"

"He won't let you."

Mayaku clenched her fists. "Why. Why wouldn't he let me? How can he stop me?"

Hawk touched her neck. "You can't see this, but there's a sensor here. If you do anything that might harm you, he'll know, and come."

"Oh ****."

"He takes it off after your first time, but there's no guarantee you won't be dead already."

Mayaku buried her head in her hands. Despair and dread flitted through her soul, and the helplessness she felt was overwhelming."

"I should be crying. I feel like crying. But. I think I've forgotten how to. I can't remember when I last cried."

Hawk blinked in surprise. None of the changelings ever shed tears, either. But it was more likely Mayaku was merely a very strange human, nothing more. She would know if she was a changeling. Unless she was of the High Order.