"Ah, so we meet again, Mindy…"

            The young man with brown, crew cut hair walked forward down the street calmly. After a moment he stopped, pulling a handgun from its holster. His police badge reflected in the moonlight from his knee-length trench coat.

            "Don't hide from me," he growled, looking around at the ally around him. "You can't win this fight."

            A female voice rang from the shadows, deadly and cold. "You had better believe I can."

             "Come out and get it over with. The worst you can get is life, no probation," the policeman said, cocking the hammer of his gun.

            He heard the click of iron-lined boots and smirked as a young woman, perhaps fifteen, stepped from the shadows. She eyed him with dark brown eyes, brushing her thigh-length black hair back over her shoulder. Her hand lowered to tug at the black leather jacket that she wore over her black tank top. She stopped at the edge of the shadows, black skirt brushing around her shins. An odd thing that caught the policeman's eyes but didn't surprise him, what with all the gangs and guilds these days, were the black tiger stripes painted on her cheeks, her neck, and the bridge of her nose.

            She tilted her head slightly, a smirk that mirrored his own crossing her face as she looked into his gray eyes. Piercing into his soul, it seemed. Eating away at the sanity he had left after his years on the force. The sanity he had left after dealing with her in particular.

            Her smirk grew into the grin that made brave men scream as she murmured, "You are confident that you will kill me, or, at least, arrest my sorry criminal self."

            He nodded, involuntarily answering.

            A mocking laugh reached his ears from her. "You are fatally wrong… Do you remember the policeman killed last week? Jacob Kiroy, was it?"

            The policeman blinked, lowering his gun. "Yes… he was my partner."

            "Would you like to know what really happened to him?" she asked, her voice almost portraying pity.

            "Yes! Did you witness the murder?" He looked to her, his eyes a bit round.

            She abruptly laughed, loudly, her voice echoing through the streets before she screamed, "I CAUSED IT!"

            Before he could even blink, she whipped out her own handgun, cocked the hammer, and shot dead into his heart.

            With that, Detective Michael McNerhay's world went black forever.

~

            After making quick work of that particular annoying pest, Mindy turned and walked back away, into the shadows, as she replaced her gun into its holster. Policemen, detectives, they made her sick. Justice, order, law, it was all crap that made her want to throw up.

            The thief kingdom was getting stronger by the day. Hell, by the hour! And Mindy? Well, she had a safe position as advisor to the queen! The queen of the empire, her best friend, Rheia! Her king was yet another friend, Gary.

            Snickering, Mindy was engulfed by the dark. Slowly her snickering faded. Thieves were expendable these days. She shouldn't be too confident.

            Feeling something land on her shoulder, she grinned again. "Shree."

            The rat-sized black dragon chirped and folded his wings to his sides. He was an interesting dragon, with back-facing horns from the back of his head and large golden eyes that watched her now.

            Mindy chuckled and disappeared into the shadows.

~

            The young thief and murderer reemerged via "Shadow Traveling" into an absolutely huge cavern under the city. Houses made of scraps of anything available circled a towering castle made of the same items. Of course, this place was fondly called "The Underground".

            With a smirk, Mindy walked down the wide dirt "street", towards the castle. She glanced around, wondering why no one at all was on the street. There should have been at least a crowd going, with the usual child recruits and assortment of assistant animals that were standard now. She turned about to walk backwards, hands in her pockets, and glanced to Shree. "What's going on?"

            I don't think I want to know, he said through psychic speaking, which he could do with her after spending his life at her side. He looked about, snorting slightly.

            "C'mon, what could be bad and they wouldn't tell myself about it? You forget who's a legendary thief in this stupid city. You forget who's killed more than twenty-five people, who's been hired for assassinations, who's gotten away with everything she's ever done, and who's outdrunk everyone in a contest. Why wouldn't they tell me?"

            Again… I don't think I want to know.

            "Oh, you're just a worrywart." Mindy spun again, grinning. Her grin was more nervous. "I'm sure it's just a mistake."

            When Shree didn't reply, Mindy continued walking in uncomfortable silence towards the castle. When she finally reached it and pushed open the large door, she heard a crowd inside fall to a hush.

            "Uh oh," she whispered.

            Stepping in, she immediately was in the main throne hall, a room that was basically the entire castle. It was usually empty but for the two thrones on the raised platform at the end of the room, but now all the thieves in the kingdom were crowded about, on the sides of the red carpet that went down the middle and in the rafters. The king and queen resided on their thrones.

            "Mindy Lupine, come forward!" called the king from his throne.

            Shaking involuntarily, Mindy walked down the carpet, trying to ignore the whispers that pressed in on her. Dogs whimpered as she walked past, cats meowed, rats squeaked. Twitching her fingers as she traced the zipper of her coat with them, Mindy reached the throne quickly and knelt down, looking up at the king and queen. She tried not to let her voice quiver as she stammered, "Yes, your highness?"

            Rheia ran her fingers through her shoulder-length, mouse-brown hair and looked down as she spoke. "Mindy Lupine, we have been aware for an uncomfortably long time that you are half Morpher and half demon. We have witnessed your ability to morph, but… we've also witnessed what you are capable when you become angry. The risk is much too high… therefore, we have come to a difficult decision."

            Mindy's eyes widened. She knew what was coming, though she didn't want to believe.

            "You are a potential danger to all of the Thief Kingdom," Rheia continued. "Therefore, we hereby sentence you to thirty years of exile from the Underground and the overall city of Gaiolite. Might you attempt to disobey these orders, you will be either taken prisoner or killed on sight."

            Mindy was speechless. Her mind was five paces behind, but it suddenly leaped to the present moment.

            "I haven't done anything!" she cried.

            "The threat is there," murmured the king.

            After a long while, Mindy rose to her feet. "Thirty years, you said?"

            "Correct."

            Powerless to stop the horror, Mindy turned away and walked towards the exit. Just as she pushed the door she looked back and murmured, "You haven't seen the last of me."

            And then she was gone.

~

            Leaving the boundaries of Gaiolite and entering the dense forest, Mindy looked to Shree, who glided along beside her.

            "I've just left my entire life behind… everything…"

            What about your sister? He asked as he landed on her shoulder, chewing a strand of her hair playfully.

            "What? The goody-two-shoes with the fat rat?"

            It's not Alex's fault that he's gargantuan, the dragon muttered.

            "Well he is, and that's what matters anyway."

            Come on, let's just go see how she's doing, the creature pleaded.

            "Oh fine!"

            Abruptly she stopped, glaring as he hopped off of her shoulder and onto the ground. Two large bat wings sprang from her back as her clothes melded into her flesh, turning it black and becoming scale-patterned. The painted stripes spread until her entire face was black, then her head elongated to a sort of snake head, her teeth sharpening into long fangs. Her hair sucked in and long horns shot from the back of her head, curling under her head like elephant trunks, with the exception that they came from the back of her head. Her spine extended into a long, snake-like tail as her feet and hands changed to clawed paws. A few more changes and she was a horse-sized dragon.

            Opening her wings, she flapped up and away, Shree struggling to keep up.

~

            About an hour later, around midnight, Mindy landed in the front yard of a small house at the edge of a clearing in the woods. Quickly changing back into her fully clothed self, she walked to the door and knocked as Shree landed on her shoulder.

"I don't know why I agreed to this," she muttered, evidently sulking. After a few minutes she pounded on the door again and yelled, "ALEX!"

            Just as she was about to knock again, the door flew open. Standing there was a girl, perhaps thirteen. Her bright brown eyes grew wide and round at seeing the murderer on her doorstep. She was silent for a few minutes, and in this silence Mindy studied her younger sister, who also was her closest and possibly only living family member.

            Alex had not changed since age five, very much. Of course she had developed a bit more, but her dark brown hair still fell to her waist, she still had that innocent, open, vulnerable face. It almost pained Mindy to think of what her sister had had to go through already in her life. Because of her. It was all her fault that this… this CHILD had had to go through prejudice and regret and worry. Alex had to go through worrying about Mindy, worrying about never knowing if she was dead or not. After false alarms of her death over the news, Mindy would show up at Alex's place, and, not showing her arrival, see Alex crying hysterically or, on one occasion, vomiting from her hysterics. Mindy was all that Alex had left. She'd failed so much, and now here she'd done it again.

            Alex jerked Mindy out of her thought by crying, "Mindy!"

            "Alex," Mindy muttered unenthusiastically and a bit distractedly.

            Terrance, Shree murmured to the large, black and white rat that perched on Alex's shoulder.

            Shree, the rat replied. After being with Alex, he, too, could communicate, though he was limited to Mindy, Alex, Shree, and other animals.

            "Come in! Come in!" Alex squeaked happily, trotting back inside on bare feet. She was smaller than her ominous sister, of course.

            Mindy, still sulking, trudged inside after her sister, who was now skipping. Glancing about idly, she queried, "How's it been 'round here lately?"

            "It's been pretty good." Alex tripped and stumbled into a sort of kitchen area, sitting down at a round table to the side. She gestured for Mindy to sit and asked, "So, what brings you here?"

            Seating herself across from her sister, Mindy raised a brow. "Eh, they think I'm too dangerous to have around the kingdom… banned for three decades."

            "Harsh."

            "You better believe it."

            There was silence for a bit, and then Alex spoke up. "You know what? It doesn't snow around here in the winter, really."

            "I sort of guessed that. It doesn't snow in Gaiolite either. Just in Tarem, way up to the north."

            Alex fell silent.

            After a little while of them sitting there, not saying anything, Mindy stood. "I think I'll head off to sleep."

            "Okay, Mindy." Alex stood as well, Terrance hopping onto her shoulder. As she walked off out of the room she smiled over her shoulder and waved. "'Night."

            "'Night." Mindy stood and walked off to the guest room that Alex had always kept for her. As she shut the door behind her, Shree hopped to the cat bed next to the human bed and curled up, falling asleep. The thief glanced to him and sighed, walking to fall upon the bed. She was dead asleep before her head hit the pillow.

~

            Wake up.

            "Uuung…"

            Get up.

            "Nnnnguh…"

            COCK-A-DOODLE DOO!!

            "Shut up! Nyahh…"

            GET UP NOW!

            "Fine! I'm getting up! Just shut up…"

            With that, Mindy sat up and sighed, scratching her head and screwing up her already messy hair. Combing her fingers through her hair for a minute, making it straight, she glanced about the room groggily.

            Suddenly, throughout the house, there was a resounding cry of, "BREAKFAST!"

            Groaning, the murdering thief clutched the sides of her head and whined, "Why does everyone constantly scream?"

            Shree flapped over, disgustingly wide-awake, to perch on her shoulder and shrug. The young thief sighed again and fell out of the bed, climbing up to her feet and stumbling out of the room. Shuffling groggily, she finally reached the kitchen to find Alex cooking something that smelled better than anything Mindy had eaten in months.

            "Hello, Mind!" Alex said happily, looking over with a smile.

            "Yeah… Hey, Alex, listen, thank for the room and all, but I'm gonna get going."

            The younger girl's smile faded and her expression grew a bit hurt and disappointed. "B-But sis-"

            "I'll see you later," Mindy interrupted, giving a little two-fingered salute and walking swiftly out.

~

            That was rude, Shree commented as he fluttered into the air, gliding in circles around her head as she walked.

            "Manners aren't my thing, Shree," Mindy muttered as she walked south down the path through the forest, towards the main part of the city of Reikun. "Besides, Reikun is a great place to start over."

            You want to start over?

            After thirty years, I plan to have taken over the thief empire of Gaiolite."

            Yeah, sure.

            The young woman whipped her hand out and grabbed him by the neck. "What was that?"

            Nothing.

            "I thought so."

            With that she released the dragon and kept walking. He flapped after her grumpily.

            "Okay, here's the plan. First we get a room in some apartment building, right? Then we start planning the overthrowing of Rheia, ri-"

            Rheia's your best friend!

            "Ha. She kicked me out."

            Whatever you say…

~

            Within the span of five hours, the two had reached the main part of the city, gotten to a ratty hotel, and gotten a room with the assistance of threats and bribery.

            Getting up off the bed with a grin, Mindy looked to Shree. "Shall we explore?"

            Shree nodded and flapped up, gliding out the open window.

            "Exactly right." Mindy quickly morphed to a raven, flapping after him. Within moments she was on the street below. She didn't notice someone standing right there until she demorphed and heard a high-pitched scream.

            "Huh? What the-" she yelped, looking up from her crouching position in the filthy ally.

            A young man, about her age or younger, stood wide-eyed before her, pressed against the outer wall of the apartment building. He had short, messy black hair under his blue and red backwards baseball cap. He evidently was not anything special, as he simply wore blue jeans, sneakers, and a black t-shirt.

            After a moment, Mindy slowly rose to her feet, eyeing him as she dusted off her skirt. "Um, hello."

            "W-What are you? A demon?" he squealed, his voice a bit high-pitched from fear and surprise.

            "What are you? A eunuch?" she mocked.

            He gulped and spoke again, his voice slowly becoming normal for a teenage boy. "I-I'm Exodus."

            "That's nice. I'm Mindy."

            Exodus blinked at her as if he should know who she was, then blinked again and asked, "What are you doing out here in the middle of the night?"

            "What about you?" she retorted.

            He sighed, giving up, as he evidently wasn't going to get anywhere with her. "I'm heading home. Do you live around here?"
            "No," came the flat reply.

            "Oh."

            She suddenly grinned evilly, struck by an evil idea. "Hey! Would you mind if a stray pup came home with you?"

            "No… is there one around?" he peered to and fro.

            She blinked incredulously. "You're stupider than you look."

            "Am not!" he protested, making himself look incredibly dense. "I mean…"

            "Save it," she muttered before shifting quickly into a small black puppy, the changes evidently gut-churning by the way Exodus turned green, then white.

            "That was officially the weirdest thing I've ever seen," he weakly stated, turning and hurriedly beginning to walk away, slinging his backpack onto his shoulders. He abruptly heard nails click behind him and looked back to see her following after him happily.

            "Oh no," he groaned. "You meant you?"

            She nodded happily as Shree landed on her back.

~

            "Uh, mom?" Exodus called as he carried the dog into his small apartment. "You home?"

            Anyone looking hard enough would notice that his backpack was moving. The zipper tore open and Shree stuck his head out, glaring out.

            "Oh yeah, she's on that business trip. She won't be back for a week," Exodus sighed, putting Mindy down. She demorphed quickly and stood.

            "Got anything to eat around here?" she instantly asked, her stomach growling loudly.

            "I have…" he strode to the fridge and opened it, looking inside. "Leftover pizza… more leftover pizza… even more leftover pizza…"

            "Decision, decisions," Mindy said with a snicker.

            "Well, I'll leave you to it. I'm going to bed. Good night, Mindy," he yawned as he walked off, disappearing into another room and shutting the door behind him.

            "Yeah, see you later," she muttered, distracted. Peering at the clock, she saw that she had been gone longer than she had originally intended. It was 11:56 PM. With a slight shrug, she started digging through the fridge.

            After a moment she pulled out a cold piece of pizza – her favorite, pepperoni – and practically inhaled it. She faintly remembered Alex telling her once that she sometimes ate like a pig, yet sometimes she ate like a bird. Metaphorically, at least. Birds did eat quite a bit, but they picked at their food, and that was apparently how she ate sometimes. Mindy continued munching on more pieces of pizza until she had emptied the remains in one box and then was full and content. She had never minded eating everyone out of house and home.

            "Now that I've had my fill, it's time to fly the coop," she snickered. Not wanting to bother with a full-body morph – those took more time – she morphed black dragon wings out of her back as she walked to the window and pried it open.

            As Shree zoomed past her head and out the window, she glanced over her shoulder at Exodus's home. This was a real home. Something she'd always wanted but, at the same time, despised. She stepped back to the fridge and pulled off a family picture. Possibly one of those "birthday" things she'd heard about. She studied it for a moment, tracing the nail of her pointer finger that wasn't holding the picture over their faces silently.

            Hurry it up! What the hell are you waiting for, a written invitation? Shree yelled into her mind as he swooped past the window.

            She looked up and blinked, absentmindedly stuffing the picture into her coat pocket. Nodding vigorously, she ran to the window, diving out and taking wing back to her apartment.

~

           

            With a groan, Mindy emerged from the dreams of her semi-good night's sleep. Weak sunlight filtered through her window, and she stared at it momentarily, her covers bunched up around her so that the only hole was around her eyes, much like a grumpy morning Eskimo.

            "Stupid friggin' sun," she croaked, tumbling out of bed and climbing to her feet, her covers still around her in that same Eskimo way, with her eyes peering out. She staggered to the window, intending to close the shades of the open window, but something made her look down. She spotted Exodus walking past on the sidewalk below, backpack slung over his shoulders.

            "What the hell is he doing up at this hour?" she growled grumpily. "It's freakin' Thursday. And it's seven forty-five. I wouldn't get up if my life depended on it."

            Jamming open the window, she stuck her head out of the blankets and poked it out the window, yelling down at him, "HEY! Exodus! What are you doing?"

            He stopped and looked up at her, a grin spreading across his face. "Oh, hello again! I'm going to school! Why aren't you?"

            She paused to yawn and then spoke. "Why should I?"

            "You could learn something! And you could meet some new people! You'll have to change clothes, though."

             Muttering, she shed her blanket cocoon and pulled on a loose black t-shirt over her bra-looking tank top, having shed her coat the night before. Then she pulled on her coat and, already having her boots on, calmly jumped out the window. She grinned at Exodus's pale expression and reached up, grabbing the curve of a lamppost and hanging there for a moment before dropping down onto her feet beside him. "Lead the way, el capitan."

            Staring at her, he turned and continued walking down the street. As she followed after him, iron-lined boots clicking on the sidewalk, he asked, "What are those stripes for? Some kind of Gaiolitan gang symbol?"

            After a pause to think of the best way to say without really saying, she replied. "They used to be a symbol for what I was… but not anymore…"

            "Then why are you still wearing them?"

            "I don't know…" she sighed slightly and wiped the stripes off on her sleeve.

            After a few minutes of solemn silence, her now walking with her hands in her pockets and watching her feet, he asked, "What are you, anyway?"

            "A half-breed," she answered, uncomfortable and embarrassed by having to say that she was the bastard child of a soft female and a fiend.

            "Oh, like dragon and human?"

            "Eh… sort of… but not really."

            Exodus blinked and then briefly shrugged, kind of confused, and continued to walk.

            Suddenly a tall, lanky boy leaped from the shadows of an alley, pouncing onto Exodus and tackling him into a headlock. The boy had tightly curled rings of hair on the top of his head, with the sides and back shaved just enough to leave brown color and fuzz there, but the curls on the top of his head were brown with the top dyed dark red. He wore huge black pants, black and white sneakers, a gray t-shirt with a red Chinese dragon design, and a black trench coat. He had glittering gray eyes and was laughing as Exodus struggled and whined. He looked about Exodus's age, maybe a little older.

            All of the sudden, Mindy's instincts of protection for a comrade kicked in, and she tackled the unknown boy to the ground, landing him on his back before rolling off and crouching in the space between him and her friend, eyes narrow and red-brown.

            "What was that for?" he whimpered, eyes squeezed shut in pain. Prying one eye open, he peered at Exodus and asked the three-word question that nearly ended his life.

            "Who's your girlfriend?"

            In an instant, Mindy was on him, holding him head off the ground with a tight grasp on his hair, snarling into his ear, a dagger in her free hand as she pressed it against his neck.

            "What was that?" she hissed into his ear, her irises even redder than before.

            "N-Nothing!" he squealed, shaking from head to toe.

            "I thought so," she muttered, her eyes shifting back to brown. She let his head drop onto the hard sidewalk and stood, flipping her dagger into the air. When it came back down, she caught it and stuck it up her sleeve, back into its place in her lower arm sheathe. Then she crossed her arms and went back to her position beside Exodus, watching the other boy shakily stand.

            "Uh, Mindy, this is Chad… Chad, Mindy." Exodus looked at the two nervously.

            Abruptly Mindy turned her eyes to an alleyway, seeing what they could not. "You, in the alley! Get out here!"

            A girl who looked fairly young, perhaps around Exodus's age as well, stepped from the shadows of another alley, across the street. She walked across the street to them, her waist-length red hair blowing slightly in the wind. Starting at about the mid-length of her hair, it faded darker until it reached black at her waist. The same went for the bangs that fell over her forehead. Her cat-like green eyes surveyed the scene silently. Despite what her age might be, she was about 5'3". She wore black pants, a black spaghetti-stringed tank top, black shoes, and a black trench coat. Like Chad.

            Mindy noticed how Chad's heart rate jumped.

            "And this is Gwenevere. Gwen, this is Mindy." Exodus grinned a bit, the official introducer.

            Another thing that Mindy instantly noticed, this time about Gwen, was that the redhead was hiding something. She was a talented liar, without even speaking.

            Not saying anything about her observation, Mindy slightly nodded before returning their attention to where it should have been. "Wasn't there something about school…?"

            "ACK!" the three screamed at one, breaking into a sprint down the street. Chad and Gwen were in the led, with Exodus trailing behind.

Mindy raised a brow and shrugged, running after them.

~

When they finally reached the large school, it was five after eight.

"School started five minutes ago!" Chad hissed, stating the obvious. The others glared at him and continued on to their first class: biology.

As they crept in, everyone was either asleep, bored to death, or paying rapt attention. So, luckily, no one noticed them. Exodus and Mindy sat at one of the counters as Gwen and Chad sat at another one in front of them.

"Exodus, please take off your hat," yawned the teacher before continuing to drone in a monotone voice about their assignment.

"What're we doing?" Mindy hissed to Exodus as she eyed the toad in the jar on their counter.

Whipping off his hat, Exodus whispered back, "Dissecting toads."

Mindy paled, staring at the toad with huge eyes.

After a minute, the teacher yawned again and sighed, "Now, get started."

Watching Exodus reach into the jar, Mindy shook her head and squeezed her eyes shut. She could physically feel him grab the toad, and could only imagine what would happen once he cut into it.

Suddenly, every jar in the room shattered as if a bomb had gone off in them. Toads slowly woke from anesthesia, and croaking filled the room while everyone remained in shock. Mindy slowly opened one eye as toads began to hop about.

"EEK!" a high-pitched voice screamed. Mindy looked to see that the scream had come from Chad, who had leaped into Gwen's arms and wrapped his arms around her neck in fright. From the force of his leap and the fact that he was heavier and taller than her, Gwen toppled to the ground. He fell down atop her.

"Get off of me!" she yelled, shoving him off and nearly squashing a toad.

"Uh… I'll be going!" Mindy laughed nervously, glancing over the arising chaos, before standing and running out the door.

~

Fleeing down the street, Mindy sprinted towards her apartment building, not taking the time to apologize for the people she mowed down. After about five minutes she reached the building, skidding to a stop on the pavement.

Instantly her fingers turned into foot-long iron skewer-claws, and, as the street was deserted at that moment, she dug her claws into the bricks and easily scaled the side of the building up to her window. She pried it open and dragged herself in, demorphing the claws as she closed the window behind her with shaking hands. Stumbling backwards, she tripped and fell into a sitting position on the bed. Shaking all over, she pulled her knees to her chest and hugged them tightly, burying her face against her knees.

From his perch, slung across the hooks of a coat rack like some lethargic snake, Shree opened one eyes and sighed. Opening his wings, he slid off and fluttered over to perch on her shoulder, tugging at a strand of hair in an attempt to cheer her up.

What's wrong? He asked gently.

"My… My powers, the demonic and Morphiric powers, they… they combined, and…" she looked at her shaking hands, "got out of my control again… It was even worse than before, too! I broke about fifteen glass jars and set loose a horde of toads!"

I'm sure it wasn't that bad.

"Yes, it was!" She sighed and fell back onto her back on the bed, staring at the ceiling. "Maybe Rheia and Gary were right to exile me…"

No, they weren't, Shree growled sharply.

"Like you would know."

I was there. And besides, I've been with you your entire life, stupid.

"Don't call me stupid. Now if you don't mind, I'm going to see if I can stir up some trouble," she muttered, getting up and shaking him off before walking out, slamming the door in her wake.

~

Nothing had ever calmed Mindy down like making chaos. She loved trouble, unless she was in it. She had been dealt with lightly by people who knew her, as her explosive temper and tendency to go on a murder or a burglary or even a prison break (only once, for a fellow thief's sake, when the police made her mad) afterwards. The reason for most of these outbreaks during the last few months had been Rheia, and how she was running things, and how everything had sort of felt wrong. On the final night in Gaiolite she had pushed all those thoughts aside, and that was probably why she had been caught so off-guard.

Mindy walked down the deserted street, her hands in her pockets, looking around for anything even slightly able to cause trouble, with a little shove. Something like a precariously placed plant pot, or a painter atop a shaky ladder, something of the sort.

Suddenly she stopped, her eyes widening as she stared, slack-jawed, at a black pick-up truck parked on the curb. It was black. It was a pickup truck. It was sturdy. It was… shiny.

"What a little beauty you are," she whispered, running her fingertips lightly over the fender. No car alarm, wonderful. She circled the car, admiring it, lightly touching it with her fingertips every so often, until she came to the driver's door. She looked at her right pointer finger and sighed, morphing the bones and muscles out of it until it was all squishy like putty, and then stuffed it inside the keyhole. She then slowly morphed her fingertip to iron inside the slot, adjusting slightly until it was perfect. Then she turned her finger, pleased at the sound of the car unlocking, and pulled her finger out.

"Good thing this is a back street," she muttered, climbing in and shutting the door behind herself. Resting her feet on the pedals, she looked over the controls. She had only ever driven once, and that time she had nearly killed herself and her thief instructor, but she had learned a valuable lesson: don't push too hard on the gas. It had only taken one crash into a sign to learn that much.

"Relatively the same. Let's go!" she said to herself gleefully, bouncing a little in her seat like an impatient child. She used the same technique that she had on the door to turn the key and steered out onto the street with her opposite hand.

"Perfect!" she cried, pushing down on the gas and barreling away.

"WOOHOO!!!" she squealed, skidding around a corner. Nearly crashing into a wall, she gave a happy and insane grin as she skidded and sped around corners, as close as a person can get to leaving a trail of fire. Abruptly she skidded onto a busy highway, and began hurriedly weaving through traffic, earning plenty of beeps and obscene yells as she went. At one point she poked her head out the open window and yelled, "Look, if you have a problem with my driving, as it seems you do, why don't you SHOVE IT! HEY! QUIT ARGUING WITH ME!"

Then she was forced to pull her head inside the car and end the pleasant conversation when a majority of black and white cars with flashing lights and loud sirens began speeding after her. She glanced back over her shoulder and then looked forward as she steered back onto the back streets, muttering, "Police. Who takes up a dumb profession like THAT?"

Screeching around another corner, she got a lead on them before she turned one more corner and was forced to squeal to a stop. Looking at the dead end, she sucked in a breath as she heard the sirens approaching. Quickly she jerked her finger from the keyhole, changing it to normal, and morphed speedily into a fly and sat to wait.

She felt the vibrations of the car door opening and sped out into the air, flying up until she reached the top of a building to the left of the dead end. There she morphed human and perched, staring down at the ten policemen who searched over the car confusedly. After a few second she stood. Any other time she would have killed them, but this… she would fondly look back and say it had been too much of a bother, and besides, she would want to take another joy ride in her precious black truck.

"Ten lives spared," she muttered thoughtfully, watching them for a moment before turning and walking away. She shook her head. "Ten useless lives."

~

            "Where did you go?"

            Exodus peered at Mindy imperatively as he, she, Gwen, and Chad sat at various places throughout their traditional hangout: an old, abandoned, dance club. Gwen was sitting backwards in a chair nearby the broken stage, her head resting on her arms, which were folded over the back of the chair. Chad sat Indian style on a table nearby, doodling on a small sketchpad. Exodus was sitting in a chair, leaning it back on two legs, feet up on a table. His arms were crossed over his chest. Mindy leaned back against a wall in the shadows, surveying them.

            "Nowhere. What's it to you?" she growled.

            "Awww, wittew Exodus got a thing fo' Mingy Wingy?" Gwen teased with a mocking laugh before taking a swig of whiskey out of the flask in her hand.

            "Shut your trap," Exodus snarled at the redhead.

            "I only speak the truth," she stated with an all-mighty grin before catching the old, empty beer bottle that soared her way. "Hey, boy, you're only allowed to have one disposition, not five."

            "Guys… please, I'm trying to think!" Chad sighed through his teeth, frustrated.

            "What are you, an artist or something?" Mindy raised a brow.

            "I hope so," he replied a bit shyly.

            "Ha, art and sketches are all well and good, but that ain't my thing," Gwen said with another grin. "I'm going to be a dancer!"

            With that she hopped up onto the littered stage and began into a sort of bar-dancing routine. Soon after she started, however, she tripped on a broken board and fell flat on her face.

            "Great job, Twinkletoes!" Exodus cried as he burst out laughing, falling over backwards in his chair and sprawling onto the floor, howling with laughter.

            "Oh yeah?? What about you, Agent Bond??" Gwen yelled, struggling to her feet.

            "Huh?" Mindy looked to Gwen, thoroughly confused.

            "He wants to be a secret agent for the government!" Gwen gave an evil grin, green eyes merciless.

            "That was a secret!" Exodus whimpered, his laughs gone.

            Mindy, Gwen, and Chad burst out laughing as Exodus protested helplessly. When they had calmed enough to speak legibly again, Chad looked to Mindy and asked, "What about you?"

            "I'm going to become the queen of the thief empire of Gaiolite!" she cried patriotically.

            Everyone else stared blankly.

            She blinked and leaned back against the wall with a slight shrug. "Not sure yet."

            After a pause, Gwen looked at her watch. "Well, I'd love to stay, but I've got to run along. Homework, you see."

            As the others waved, Gwen stood, picked her backpack up off the ground, and slung it over her shoulder. She walked to the exit and carefully placed her whiskey into a broken part of the wall where it wouldn't be seen before quickly leaving.

            "So, anyway, tell me about yourselves," Mindy said abruptly to the boys.

            "Um… er…" the two stammered at once.

            "Family lives? Social circles? Crap like that?" she made a gesture with her hand as if to say "and on and on."

            "Well… er… why don't you go first, Chad?" Exodus suggested.

            "Um… okay…" Chad shifted nervously and shrugged a little. "I live with my dad in the boarding house down the street. He and my mom are divorced. I have a kitten named Max, and… uh… Exodus is my best friend. That's it, I guess-"

            "Not to mention he has a huge crush on Gwen," Exodus interrupted with an innocent look and a slight smirk.

            Chad blushed deeply and shot Exodus a slight glare before muttering something and scribbling on his sketchpad.
            "My god, you do!" Mindy laughed.

            "So what if I do?" he muttered grumpily, obviously embarrassed.

            "Moving on to Exodus." Mindy turned her head to look at the black-haired boy.

            "Well, I live with my mom and dad in the apartment building four blocks from the school. Um… my dad works for the government. That's about it. Oh yes, and I have two goldfish," he added helpfully.

            Mindy nodded slowly and then looked at the clock. "I ought to head out. See you both later."

            Before they could even reply, she turned and swept out of the building.

~

            As Shree flapped off the roof edge and landed upon her shoulder, Mindy gave her infamous mischievous grin and looked to Shree, raising a brow. "What say we do a little borrowing from our friends in the mansion down the street. Important political people's place, ne?"

            Shree shrugged in response. Who knows?

            "Well, just remember our motto: don't know, don't care, never will."

            That's not our motto. Come to think of it, we don't even have a motto.

            "So what?" she asked with a grin as she continued walking down the street. Soon enough she had reached the mansion and slid into the shadows, leaning against the building and peering in the window. She grinned a bit as she pulled back into the darkness of early evening. This street was deserted, as most streets in Reikun tended to be an odd amount of the time.

"Great! No one's home!" the girl whispered, absolutely ecstatic. "Now, you stay here while I get stuff and chuck it out the window. You catch. We flee with stuff, 'kay?"

He nodded and landed on the ground, watching as feathers pushed from her flesh, her face pushing out into a hard beak. A tail and wings grew as she shrunk, and in seconds she was a small black sparrow. She opened her wings and took off into the air, fluttering up and disappearing into an open third floor window. About five minutes later she appeared at the window, grinning and holding up two sheets shaped into bags with gold pieces and jewels overflowing from them. She promptly dropped them down, Shree catching them with difficulty similar to that of the dog in the animated How The Grinch Stole Christmas. He groaned loudly.

Four more runs produced an ample amount of valuable merchandise and money for the two. Hopping out the window and sliding down the awning, Mindy hopped off the edge and landed lightly on her feet. She took the bags from Shree and began to walk down the street casually. Suddenly she stopped dead in her tracks, slowly turning her head, eyes growing wide.

Calmly watching from across the street stood about ten policemen in various styles of dress, a few in normal police uniform, some dressed like the detectives from Law & Order, and one of them dressed almost exactly like McNerhay had been when she had disposed of him.

Mindy laughed nervously and abruptly broke into a flat-out run. She heard feet pouncing the pavement behind her and knew the chase was on. She ran hard and fast, Shree flitting around her head swiftly. At one point she grabbed a trashcan while running by, toppling it and creating a hurdle for them. Her iron-lined boots sounded on the pavement, and she assumed she was getting a good lead.

Suddenly someone grabbed her arm from behind, and she looked back with a muffled cry of surprise. It was the one who was dressed like McNerhay. From close up, she noticed a disturbing fact: he looked almost exactly like McNerhay would have if he had been a lot younger, like twenty. The split second of disturbing examination ended, and she tripped over his foot, which had been stuck conveniently in front of her. She fell flat on her face, earning a mouthful of sidewalk and trapping Shree under herself.

"Are you okay?" the policeman asked with an innocent blink, despite the fact of who she was and what she'd done and how he shouldn't be nice to her.

"I'm fine, you screwball!" she yowled, trying to scrabble away but being easily pulled to her feet by his new grip on the collar of her coat without releasing her arm. She tried pulling from his grasp, but he had an iron grip.

"Anyway, um… You're under arrest." He slapped on the handcuffs and gripped those instead of her arm now, reaching into his pocket with the hand that had held her coat collar. After a second he pulled out a slip of paper and began reading. "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you do say can and will be-"

"My god!" interrupted one of the detective men. He stared at Mindy specifically, and then goggled at the policeman who had caught her. "Matt, do you know who you've caught??"

"A… burglar and common thief, the very thing our law system is trying to prevent in this day and age of immense cri-" began her captor, Matt.

"That's Mindy Lupine! The Black Shadow of Death!" another man cried.

Matt continued blinking at them blankly, not understanding at all.

"She can kill ten men with the flick of the hand. Where you were transferred from she was known as Shadow," explained another a bit more calmly.

Matt's eyes widened substantially as he turned his head to look at Mindy. She decided to make the best of the situation and grinned, showing sharp fangs that she had just morphed.

Before she could let out the impressive roar she had been planning with lion lungs, someone hit her over the head with a bag of her own horde, knocking her out.

~

            When Mindy awoke, she felt sore on her neck and wrists. Glancing around, she grimaced. She was in one of those new high-security cells that she'd heard of. Looking down at her wrists, she saw that she had been locked into metal armbands attached to the wall and each other by heavy chains. Around her neck she could feel a thick, heavy iron collar attached to the wall by a heavy chain as well. Glancing down, she saw her feet in shackles that were chained to each other and the wall. She was lying on her side, and with quite a bit of difficulty, she sat up. Chains draped across her shoulder and pulled at her, making it extremely hard to sit still.

            "Geez, talk about your safety measures," she muttered. Glancing over, she saw Shree writhing on the floor nearby, totally bound with chains and wearing a small rat-sized muzzle on his head. "How'd they get you?"

            They knew you had a dragon, he muttered, or at least assumed, from the stories. Besides, you trapped me under yourself and they got me in a bag.

            "Crap. Now what?"

            My chains are weaker than yours. Use that nifty magic of yours that you're always complaining about. Cut 'em.

            Mindy hesitated, staring at him. She always hesitated to use magic. It brought nothing but bad.

            Come on, he urged.

            She sighed after a second and raised her hands, palms towards him. A thin blade made of black fire stretched from her hand until it just went slightly past Shree. She slowly lowered the blade until it reached Shree's chains, where it cut through like butter. When the last chain split, the blade dissolved, and Mindy collapsed to the floor, sweating, trembling, and breathing hard.

            Nifty. I'll be back. The dragon opened his wings and flapped out the barred window.

~

            The next morning arrived all too soon for Mindy. The night had been a tiresome display of guard cruelty and a long, long session for her to berate herself. Now she sat silently in a back corner of the cell, her shoulders hunched up, her legs stretched out before her, slouched forward slightly. Black hair fell around her face, creating a sort of curtain and shadowing her eyes. Her eyes felt hot on the insides, but not like when a person cries. It was uncomfortable, but she knew exactly what it was.

            "Visitor for Mindy Lupine!" called the guard who stood at the side of her cell. He had no need to yell, he knew it and so did Mindy. He just did it to annoy her, that was all, she knew that much. She flinched at the sound of his voice, it feeling as though a drill was driving into her head. He knew it was pain for her. He knows very well, she thought to herself.

            "Mindy?"

            Mindy abruptly raised her head, her eyes fixing upon her visitor. Of course it was Alex, who else would visit her? Her eyes, now a deep shade of crimson, fixed upon her sister. Her face remained emotionless. She glanced to the side quickly, noting that Matt stood beside Alex. Mindy grimaced and turned her eyes back to her sister.

            "What are you doing here?" she snarled poisonously, her face not showing the faintest emotion, despite her tone of voice.

            "I came when Shree told me what happened," Alex said cheerfully, not affected by her sister's tone, whereas Matt cringed back. Shree chirruped from her right shoulder, and Terrance squeaked from her left. Alex smiled. "I thought you might like some visitors."

"Leave me alone," Mindy growled, her eyes flickering, still that same red color.

Alex's smile dropped so fast that you might have heard it shatter on the floor like an icicle. "Well excuse me for giving a crap about you! You wouldn't be here if you'd quit murdering and stealing and-"

"Do you know what you're asking me to do, Alexandra?" Mindy hissed, glaring sharply now, her pupils slightly smaller. "Can you even comprehend? This is my life, and if it hadn't been for the first-fluke flunky, I wouldn't be here at all!"

"Do you think that's it? Luck? Mindy, face it, you weren't meant to be a killer, that's not what you are!"

"That is all I am and all I will ever be," Mindy snarled back before turning away, her eyes disappearing under shadows again. "Now get out…"

She heard a pause before Alex murmured softly, "I don't believe that."

When the murderer didn't reply, Alex softly said something to Matt, who quietly replied. Receding footsteps told her that the two had left. Alex had taken Shree. Mindy knew. She didn't feel him anymore.