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Visions of a serene place flinted through my mind. Plants, animals thrived, humans lived peacefully with their neighbors and half-humans were accepted by both worlds. All was well…
Habit drove me up at dawn’s first light. Donning myself with animal-skin clothes and securing my wrist guards, I stepped out of the shadows.
The morning light bathed the emerald forest in a shower of golden light and warmth. Dew glinted gold and dark leaves rustled at the wind’s sigh. A bouquet of smells wafted through the air and I recognized the smell of fresh morning.
I crouched at the small stream and lapped at the cool waters. But water was not enough. Taking my bow and quiver off of a branch of the hollow tree I lived in, I left it behind, the place that was the closest thing I could call “home”. Shifting between dark shadows and golden patches, I listened and felt for presences. As my hunting instincts overcame me, my mind started to wander into the past where everything had been right.
I had been born a human with a normal body and grew up by the name Sabiya. I had an older sister and my parents were successful doctors, dedicating their lives to the good of mankind. My childhood was no different— I grew up in a nursery, went to school, and had friends. I was a typical child. I grew and all was well until the morning before I went to high school.
My parents told me nothing. They just took me into the car with my sister and drove to the lab. The whole way, my mother and sister were quiet. I just gazed into the afternoon sun, thinking of my future. The future that I chose for myself.
When we arrived, we checked in. Now, my sister and mother were crying. My father came to me and spoke to me in a cracked voice. I couldn’t remember everything he said, but I had caught the words “we are proud of you”, “the good of mankind” and “we love you.”
A tall bearded man in a white jacket came and called my name in a gruff voice. I stood up from the chair and kissed my family, worried but didn’t say anything. The moment the door glided across again behind me, I felt a sharp pang. I remember wondering, Am I ever going to see them again? The scientist put a hand on my shoulder and guided me away.
In a blindingly white room, I was told to hold still while I was chained around my wrists, ankles and neck. The scientist came to me with a shot and thrust the point into my flesh. I screamed in pain.
In my mind, I saw myself in a blue-gray mist. A dark shape became clearer in front of me. In a single bound, a black wolf leapt in front of me, proudly erect. He was beautiful with glossy jet-black fur. Muscles rippled and silver claws and fangs glistened. For a heartbeat, my blue-gray eyes connected with his golden. I picked him up and, despite his size, he was light as a feather. He plunged his head into my chest and melted into my body.
As I yanked on the chains, I felt my body change. My anguished screams became roars and I felt a new presence. It roared with me and I realized it was the wolf. Another convulsion and I fell into the dark depths of unconsciousness…
When I woke again, I was in a hospital bed, bathed in a pool of golden-crimson sunset light. There was a knock and a female scientist came in. I looked into the blue depths of her eyes. With a deep breath, she told me what had happened and my inevitable fate.
For the past decade, a mysterious catastrophe named Smoke that had been terrorizing our world. It was mysterious; disappearing, appearing elsewhere and then fade away again.
A man found that animals were able to predict the movements of the Smoke. “What if we combined humans with characteristics of animals,” he asked. “And let them help us predict these movements?” Tests were made and a way had been discovered. A hundred people were tested, fifty-three survived the transformation, but only twenty-four could maintain their identities. I lived when my family didn’t. I was alone, terribly and painfully alone.
She quickly moved into the subject of my transformation. Out of her pocket, she drew a mirror. Reflected into the mirror was my face. But it wasn’t only me anymore. I had grown black ears and tail, silver claws and fangs, and piercing green eyes. I knew my spirit had truly combined with the wolf. But I didn’t want it to be true. My family was gone and now I was a mutant, the melting of two species that never should’ve crossed.
Unnoticed tears slipped from my golden eyes into my dark blue-black hair. My numb hands rose and covered my face. This was just a bad dream, a nightmare. Please let it be over. I will be waking up anytime soon and everything will be alright. But this was reality. I wasn’t in a dream; it was as real as my shredding heart.
My over-sensitive ears caught the sound before I saw it. Spinning around, I shifted into a fighting stance. In the shadows, the shape rippled and formed from the darkness, drawing closer. It was one of my kin, a wolf-man. He was strongly built with short silver-blue hair. Wolf ears and tail were silver-gray and his claws were lethal. Dark blue tattoos lined the tanned skin and face. Muscles rippling, he was striking and had stormy eyes that drew my golden ones and held them.
I saw him examine me with the same interest and must’ve found me harmless for his whole body relaxed.
“Good morn, kin-sister,” he said. His voice was smooth and had trace of an unknown accent.
I relaxed at his kind tone, but kept my hand on the bow in case he had a change of heart. “Same to you, kin-brother.”
“Hunting?” He asked, gesturing towards the bow.
I nodded. I hadn’t let down my guard, not yet.
His eyes wandered to mine. “Lonely eyes…same pain…You hurt, too.” When he saw no response, he smiled. “Don’t worry. You can scent them, can you not? Just my pack-sisters and brothers. We started a new clan when we got rejected.” His smile took on a sad hurt.
I knew without him saying. The pain of rejection from both worlds…I impulsively reached out and touched his arm in empathy. When I saw surprise, I drew away, fearing I had intruded on an unknown taboo. Surprise quickly melted into sad understanding and he returned my touch.
We stood there, watching the pain and loss reflected in the other’s eyes. At the sound of soft footsteps, I withdrew my hand back onto my bow. The man turned and beckoned with an encouraging nod.
More kin came out of the shadows of the towering trees. Three females and four males stepped into the light. Though their fur ranged from a red-brown to a silver-black and their eyes from a sky-blue to a dark emerald, all of the seven pairs of eyes all had the same pain of being shunned by the very people who created them. As I gazed at these people who understand my hurt, my memory flew again.
When my anguished cries had ceased to deep breaths and silent tears, I was told of my unavoidable destiny. I was to serve the masters, humans, and satisfy their every whim. In short, I was a slave, degraded, shamed, unloved. I no longer was considered a human, but an outcast, underappreciated for the sacrifices I had made. Anger rose like a rearing dragon.
Those years were torturous. I spent my days in a dark cell, underfed and alone without warmth or light. Even the smallest golden beam or an extra scrap of meat was kindness to me. Sometimes, I was let out to scent. Time began to lose meaning to me. Time was stagnant yet I knew it still passed. After a while, I began to be consumed by hate. An eternity later, I managed to flee. Since then, I rarely left the safety of the forest. Over the few years, humankind, without the help of the last half-human, died out at the hands of the Smoke. Half-humans were the last ties to the once-great civilization.
I followed the man and his kin down a path. He had asked me a question. I apologized and asked him to repeat it.
“What is your name?”
I thought a little. “Rain.” I replied. The name Sabiya only brought back pain and memory. “What about you?”
“Stormfoot.” He said simply. “Do you have anywhere to stay? Any other kin that might miss you?” I shook my head. “You may join our clan, if you wish. We are searching for Paradise.”
I stopped and looked at him. “Paradise?”
“Yes,” he said. His eyes misted over in fantasy. “A place where all life can live in harmony. A place where half-humans are no longer shunned. A place where everything is peaceful.”
His words revived the memories of my dream. A place where all life can live in harmony… Paradise…
My face slowly broke into my first true smile in a long time. My heart rose in hope. I took his hand in mine. “Any room for another joining?”
“Of course,” he laughed. A light squeeze and wide grin. His bright eyes danced wickedly. “Let’s search together.”
“Hey!” Stormfoot’s brother called out, waving at us. “C’mon, the sun won’t wait for us!”
“Coming,” he called back. Our eyes met and we nodded. Dashing, our laughter rang until we broke through the foliage onto a golden plain.
I turned and saw them following. I was no longer a loner, an outcast. Destiny had taken mercy on us and granted us a chance to find Paradise. We had survived destiny’s test and we were taking the next step towards the ultimate ending— true freedom and peace. The future was as bright as the afternoon sun that smiled down on us.