Chapter one

Nearly silent.

It's so quiet now. There is no sound louder than my own soft breathing and the annoying growl of a lawnmower nearby, it's noise making its way up to my room from the open kitchen window.

I hate that sound.

I pick up a pillow and throw it at my half open door. Light as the pillow is, the force of its impact on my door is still enough to make it swing closed on well-oiled hinges. The door blocks out all sounds except those I am making myself.

I enjoy the rare quiet. I sigh as I listen to nothing, concentrating, seeing if my sensitive ears can pick up any sounds. A smile crosses my usually expressionless face at the pure silence.

There is no sound of a hung over man in his late forties stumbling about to find something to ease his headache, no sound of his carelessly loud footsteps coming up the stairs to ask me why my chores aren't done and why I'm not in school, no man so hung over that he forgot it's a long weekend. No sounds that say he's coming to yell at me for no particular reason, no sounds that say he is going to try hurt me. There's no man to beat me in a drunken rage again.

Nothing. Nothing but the sound of my breathing and, if I close my eyes and concentrate, I can barely hear my heart beating.

The sounds of life.

The sounds he won't be making any more. Why won't he be making them?

Because he is lying on his back in the bathroom, drowned by his own vomit. The dead don't make any noise.

I had always told him his drinking would be his end, when I still cared what happened to him. That was a long time ago, just when he had started drinking a lot. He had started drinking not long after his wife died in a horrible car accident on her way home from work one evening. Ironically, the drunk driver who hit her survived.

Of all the people I have lived with I think I liked her the best. She had been an artist, sweet and whimsical, always willing to teach me new things to improve my own style. She had been the light of his life, and my reason for staying.

After she died he never actually stopped drinking, never letting himself get sober enough to feel the pain. I'm amazed he didn't get fired. Hellfires, I'm amazed he lived for so long. I knew it would kill him eventually.

And I was right. He was dead, and I was happy. I think someone once told me that it's morbid, and a bit twisted, to enjoy another's death. I find it a little creepy that I don't even care that at this exact moment, I'm sharing a house that I have never considered a home with the dead body of a man I never considered to be my father.

I roll over onto my back, grabbing another pillow. I put it under my head, moving my long braid out of the way so I don't lie on top of it. Long hair may be beautiful and envied but it sure is a pain in the ass to take care of. Although my hair was never envied, purely because of its odd colour. Or, more specifically, it's lack of colour. Each strand of my hair is completely clear, but like grains of salt, it seems to be white. It made me different in a place where your differences were likely to get you killed. Conformity is everything, fitting in isn't a choice. It's the only way to live.

I scowl slightly as the silence starts to become disturbing. It leaves my thoughts room to run amuck, and I really don't like where they're headed.

The smell of his body, reeking of hard liquor, vomit and newly rotting flesh is seeping through the entire house, into its very fibers. Soon the neighbours will be able to smell it.

The sound of death is unremarkable, nothing but silence.

The smell of death is indescribable. It is sweet and sour and wonderful and horrible.

I've never smelt it before now, but I know it. It is like an instinct. It's bred into the mind, so when you smell it you know; this is the smell of death reaching out its bony fingers to take another victim. This is the smell of danger. This is the smell of the end of life, the end of what you hold dear. It tells you to run away, and never return. The inevitable is coming for you.

I feel shivers running down my spine like a slowly melting sliver of ice as the silence reminds me of my own mortality. It scares me and thrills me, sending my mind down dark paths. A part of me is horrified at the thought of death, another still nicely numb from the shock of finding a dead body in the bathroom. Yet another depressed, mournful part of my being wants to join him in the soothing cold embrace of death, to see my family again, to join them in their graves. To ask them why they left me behind in the cruel world of the living to suffer without them. My family, how I miss you. I want to be with you. It's been so long since I've seen you.

I pick up a remote and point it in the general direction of the CD player residing in the corner of my small room, and press play. I want the silence to go away. I want these thoughts to go away. I want to go away, to be carried away by the music and never return to this horrible place.

My current favorite CD is in the machine. Being as fickle as I am, it won't hold top place for long. I listen, and I close my eyes. The late afternoon sunlight falling across my face makes the inside of my eyelids a twisted molten red and pink, a soothing and warm combination that sooths my troubled mind, steering my thoughts away from the graves of my mind. I concentrate on the music.

The familiar sounds of a guitar and drums reach my ears; chasing away the silence with it's steady heady beat. A smirk plays across my lips as the words start; the offbeat music and deep, sorrowful voice an unusual mix with the strangely happy words, singing of drugs and oblivion. But I'm not really paying attention to what the lead singer is saying to me. My mind is wandering once again, on a brighter path this time.

I think of my future, unsure of where I will go. I can't stay here in this house. I have nowhere to go, and no one that cares about me. But I don't want to stay anywhere even near to this place.

It is a city, but barely. There is rarely anything new, and when there is it doesn't stay for long. This place has a way of sucking the life out of the living, turning bright new ideas into empty husks, fast and brilliant young beings into lethargic old people who wish for nothing but something good to come on TV. It is beautiful when you look in from the outside and see its rolling hills, clear sky and the sparkling river that runs through its middle. It has everything someone who is ready to settle down and forget their dreams would want: places to walk, wildlife that is nearly tame, schools for children, a small overly-trendy mall, supposedly friendly people.

At least, that's what it seems like to an observer. The hills are littered with garbage that people are too lazy to take care of, the mall is a place where pickpockets and the 'popular' reside. The people here jump on any small bit of gossip and twist it out of shape, spreading it to every ear willing to listen. It is a good place to retire to, after you stop caring about malls and petty gossip, after privacy means nothing to you. Growing up here is torture of the worst kind. I have lived in bigger and smaller places, most better places, even if the homes weren't.

I have never liked it here. I feel no sympathy for my foster parent, dead in the bathroom for nearly two days. All I want is to get out of this house and out of this city. Out of, well, out of everywhere I've been before. I want something new. Something, interesting, I suppose. I want to run away, to fly, to do something incredibly dangerous and stupid just to remind myself that I'm still alive. I want to tempt Death to take me into its bony arms and carry me away to wherever it is that people go to when they are dead; to heaven, to hell, to be reincarnated. I don't know and I don't care. I just want to be anywhere but here. This house is nothing but a gilded cage, pretty and filled with toys, but a cage nonetheless.That is what I considered this place from the beginning. And now I am free. Nothing is holding me here. I have no friends. And now, I have no 'family'. I can leave, the doors are open. I just have to use them.

I sit up, looking around and thinking as I stretch out, my mind reeling with the prospect of leaving.

Yes, I can leave. There's nothing here I really need that I can't take with me. I'll leave.

I have the whole weekend if I'm lucky, until someone notices him gone on Tuesday when he doesn't show up for work.

No one will notice me gone till they notice him gone. I'm not important enough for people to care about. If I'm really lucky, the police might figure I went out of town for the long weekend, which is totally plausible. Even if the notice him missing on Tuesday, that still gives me four days to completely disappear, since its still only Friday. It's all so simple.

If I pack now, I can go to the bank before it closes and take as much of his money out as I can, and all of mine, so I can take all cash with me to spend. Since he became a drunk I've run many of his errands, and they know me at the bank. It won't raise suspicion until it's much to late. Cash will be so much harder to track, no credit card transactions to find and trail. I've already got fake IDs and a fake drivers license that no one but me knows about, if I use those and keep my real ID out of sight, the police wont have any way to find me, except eye witnesses. It's perfect. All I have to do is stick to back roads as long as I can, so they don't know which way I went.

Perhaps my boredom is a good thing after all, since it allowed me to create near perfect fake IDs. Another road of art I explored, along with spray painting whatever would stand still long enough for me to tag.

I get up, heading to my closet, my thoughts flying, planning and calculating.

I'll pack light, only what I need, just the bare minimums.

I've got jeans, a tank top and a hoodie on, the same clothes I slept in last night. I'll take another pair of pants, a few more tops, socks and under wear. That's light stuff, it can be folded small. I can take the motorcycle, and put my stuff in the side carriers. All I have to do is change the license plate to throw the cops off for a little while. I've seen that in movies before... I wonder if it really does work.

I close the closet and dump my clothes on the bed, still thinking.

I can wear my leather boots, since those can take a lot of abuse.Lets see, what else…

I look around myself, my eyes falling on my bookshelf.

Ah, here we go. Hmmm, sad that I'll have to leave most of these behind, but I can always get more. I'll bring this herbal book, I don't think I'll ever find another one this good, and this pile of loose spells, after I perfect them I have to copy them into my Book of Shadows.

I pull a worn book with a black sued cover out from behind a large Japanese-English dictionary, adding it to the pile of books in my arms. My book of shadows. My friend, my teacher. My only link to what real family I once had. How long have you been in my family? You were my mother's, my grandmother's, my great grandmother's, and before that? And after me? Who will you go to then? Mom told me a lot about your history. So sad grandmother died before I could ever meet her. Nearly full of spidery handwriting, you hold so much information. I could never leave it behind.

I place the books onto my bed beside the pile of clothes, and then turn to my bedside table.

What else then? I can't bring my whole altar to the god of air and goddess of wind, its way to big. I don't need it anyhow, I haven't done a proper casting for years and it hasn't backfired yet. Huh… incense burner, incense, a few basic white candles; those are good for everything, candleholder, alter cloth, metal bowl. I'll want my fortune telling stuff, tarot cards, rune stones, and 1 Ching. And I'll be taking my gargoyle too. These can all fit in a shoebox. The herbs I can always get more of.

I stop and look at the pile. Will I need it all?

I shrug and pick up all of those things anyhow, dropping them onto my bed as well. I turn to the table my CD player is on. I can't take that. CDs I could take, but I don't need them. And the CD player is way too big. But I can take my mp3 player, its small and has most of my music on it anyways. The TV is a definite no, so are the videos. Laptop would be more trouble than it's worth. I can always use public ones. Ugh, I spent so much on it. My guitar… it's too big. I hate to leave it, but I don't have room. My beading stuff…. I can take that too. Its small and good for keeping me busy. Sketchbook? Hmmm, yea. I'll take that too, and my drawing pencils. I don't really need them, but I don't want to leave them behind. I mightiest well take the pencil crayons too.

I take one last look around, and decide that this would be all I needed from my room. I look at the size of the pile. It seems small considering all that I do have.

I head to the bathroom I use, glad that my foster 'father' had died in the downstairs bathroom.

It's strange, this feeling, like there is a layer of ice around my heart, not letting me feel anything but the need to get away. Not caring that he is dead, not caring that I am leaving the place that had been my 'home' for almost 2 years. Not caring that I'm planning on leaving his body to rot on the floor, and stealing his money. Only caring about getting away, only caring that I am free.

I rummage through draws, grabbing a toothbrush, toothpaste, soaps, shampoo and conditioner; I hate the ones they have in hotels. I grab a brush, hair ties, anything else I would need. Screw makeup, it was too much work in the first place. I take all that to my room and dump them on my bed as well.

I turn to my bedside table again, looking at the jewelery on it. I was wearing all the rings I really liked, the one I had bought myself, and another that had once been my mother's, two that were gifts from my late foster mother. And of course, a gift she had made herself, an intricate ivy patterned finger armor. I'm wearing my bracelets already; my watch already grips my left wrist. Around my neck I put the dog tags that had once been my real father's.

He had died in the army.

I also put on the blue hemp and silver pendant necklace I had made; with a pendant that is the symbol for 'winter'. My name, my grandmother's name. Wynter. But I wouldn't be known by that name anymore. Now I was Hitori, the name on my fake ID. But the necklace won't give that away. Around my arm, under my hoodie, I'm wearing the silver arm bracelet I never take off, shaped like a dragon chasing its tail. A gift from the only true friend I ever had, so many years ago. I remember what he looked like, how he acted. But that doesn't really matter; he would have changed by now. I know I have.

I go downstairs, to the other bathroom. The smells coming off the body inside it get stronger and stronger as I got closer. It's nearly enough to knock me off my feet as I reach under his fat, cold form to take his wallet, barely able to replace it after I had taken most of its contents, forty bucks and a bankcard. I nearly ran from the bathroom up to my room, my stomach churning and eyes watering from the stench of death.

I sit on the floor shivering for a while; I'm not sure how much time passes. I just listen to the music with my eyes clenched shut, trying to ban the visions of his glassy eyes staring blankly at the ceiling from my mind. He died with his eyes open.

I suddenly realize that my plan about him being robbed won't work now. If someone had robbed him, why would they give him back his wallet? But I don't want to go back now, so it stays there. Let the police think what they want.

I get up again, knowing that I am losing time by just sitting there. I have to pack. I have to leave. I pack my backpack first, with light things and what I may need right away, and the rest I carry outside to the garage to put in the side carriers of the motorcycle.

After I finish packing, I can't help but think how strange it is that I can condense my life down to fit in the side carriers on a motorcycle and a backpack. Well stuffed of course, but still....

I take a final look at my room, wishing I could take it all with me but knowing I can't. I can feel how much heavier my wallet is now that it has the money my foster father had been carrying and his bankcard, which I'm going to use to take as much of his money as I can from the bank. As I walk out of the house, out of what was my life, the final notes of the CD and the smell of death and vomit follow me. I will miss nothing in this city but my own room, the place where I could escape from the world. Nothing else. There is no one for me to miss here, even after two years I have made no friends.

I take off the license plate from the motorcycle, and replace it with the one from the broken down junky motorcycle from the back yard.

I pull on my leather gloves, and the black and silver motorcycle helmet. I look around; making sure that no one is in the immediate vicinity to see me take off. There isn't, it's lunchtime, and everyone else is inside eating with their families.

I can leave safely, so I do just that.

The growl and rumble of the motorcycle beneath me is a thrill as I start it, and I can already taste my freedom as if it is a solid thing. I pull away from the curb and into the familiar but unfriendly streets, heading to the edge of town.

On the way it seems like everything is going my way, all the streetlights I run into are green, no one seems to notice me or care. Just like everyday life. Nothing unusual. The bank people don't question me as I take out his money. I am have done this before after all...

The last streetlight before the highway is red though, and I get a horrible sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach as a cop pulls up in the lane right beside me.

I look over, unable to stop my self. All I can think of is how completely 'Psycho' this is.

The cop looks over at me. He smiles then waves to me, yelling over the engines to drive carefully and warning me about some road construction in the city. He suggests taking the long route if I'm planning on heading downtown. I nod politely and drive off as the light turns green, my heart trying to pound its way out of my chest.

As I tear away from the small city I hate, the people who would never accept me, and the places I would never fit in, I'm happy. I had taken the money from his account before I left so I wouldn't pop up at another bank; and no one knew where I was going, even if they did try looking for me.

But I know they won't. Why would they? His death was from his drinking, that much is obvious. His money could have been taken by anyone when he was drunk, or he could have spent it. It's even likely that he could have dropped his bankcard. There is no proof it had been me. And if they found me, they would just have to deal with the paper work of sending me back to the orphanage.

Not that they would ever find me. I have enough money and fake ID to disappear till I get a job, and a place to live. I'm free. I'm finally free to do what I want, go where I want, be who I want to be.

I am free.

And gods above, does it ever feel good.

I sit on a bed, combing my hair slowly; the soft-as-silk white a waterfall down my back. It is dark and cool, a gentle breeze coming from somewhere in the darkness, swirling around me.

Or is it?

I look around myself, but I can't feel anything, not my own movements, not the mattress beneath me, and not the temperature of the breeze. But somehow I know there is a breeze playing in my hair and caressing my skin. I shiver even though I don't feel the chill that covers the room.

Or am I in a room? Nothing seems to exist outside of the bed…but that doesn't matter. No. Not at all. Nothing matters in this emptiness.

I keep combing, even though I can't feel the brush in my hand, or the hair moving over my bare neck and tickling my back where my shirt ends.

Nothing.

I come to realize that I am no longer holding a brush, but am holding a remote control, and I'm watching a TV that hadn't been there before.

Somehow it isn't a shock.

But there is no sound, even though I crank up the volume as far as it would go, the green volume bar filling without affecting the silence at all. The breeze gets harder, colder, more bitter. I shiver, and reach for the covers so I can curl under them, but they're gone. As is the bed I was just sitting on.

Now I'm standing without the memory of getting up, wondering where the bed has gone to, when I hear a voice.

Wynter…

It is a voice, but it isn't. It's in my mind too. Somewhere between real and not.

I knowthis voice.

Wynter… where are you little bird? I have something for you…

Yes. I know this voice, even though it has been years since I last heard it. Mom.

Here Wynter. These are for you.

What are they?

I know the second voice as well. My own voice. It seems that a spotlight has flicked on in the near distance, highlighting two figures. One is a young child of no more than five, the other much older, face hidden in shadows. The light reflects off their white hair, and adds depth to the pale pink-violet of the child's eyes. The taller, older figure bends down, till she is face level with the young girl. She taps a finger on the deck of cards clutched in her daughter's hands. I cannot see her face, nor recall its softness. I want t so badly; I strain to see its beauty.

These are called tarot cards Wynter. You use them to see the future.

Like my rune stones?

Sort of, sweetie. Don't worry. I'll show you how to use them.

The child looks down at the cards she holds, looking up at her mother with wide eyes and a brilliant, innocent smile.

Thank you mommy!

I want to step forward and join the two smiling figurers, but I can't move my feet. I look down to see if they are stuck in something, but I can't see anything physically wrong. I look up again to watch, but the figures are already gone. But the voice of the child, a bit older now, has stayed. It plays in the darkness, coming from nowhere yet everywhere at once.

Mommy? Mommy? Where are you?

The pictures of my own past don't have to play before me. I knew this night well, too well. I don't want to hear this. I cannot push it away.

Mommy? Mommy? Why are you on the ground? Mommy, wake up. Mommy? Why won't you wake up?

My hand had come away from her body red, stained with blood. Even as an innocent child I knew something was wrong. Now I close my eyes, try to banish the memories as I have done before. I may not remember all of that night but I remember more than enough to fear it, to hate it.

Mommy?

I remember stepping back, not wanting to believe what I knew. Wanting to deny that she wasn't just sleeping. Wanting to deny the blood. Her sightless eyes. The sudden cold that gripped my heart. Not wanting to see.

Mommy? Mommy?

The voice gets desperate. Louder. Scared.

Mommy? Mommy?!

I raise my hands to my ears. I don't want to hear the anguished screams that brought the neighbours running. I don't want to hear. I don't want to remember. I don't want this.

Mommy! Mommy!! MOMMMMMYYY!!!!

But the voices are already fading. Leaving me in peace. Stopping their torment. Once again it is only silence. I fall to my knees, exhausted but not. Cold but not. The breeze is back again, tugging on my numbed senses. I open my eyes, although there is nothing but darkness to see.

I feel, more than hear, a flutter of something being carried on the wind. I look up in front of me, and see a card fluttering on the breeze I can't feel. I feel a sense of dread, my mouth tasting bitter from fear as it lands, coming to a rest inches from my knees. My hand shakes slightly as I reach out to pick it up, the blue dragons on the back seeming to watch me with their flat, drawn eyes.

Even though I can see myself picking it up, I can't feel its edges, softened and dulled from use. I can't feel myself turn it over. I can't feel the breeze that moves my loose hair. I can't feel the freezing fog that moves in around me, I can't hear the rustle of dead leaves falling out of blackened trees. The haunting call of night owls doesn't reach my ears. I can barely make out the drawing on my tarot card in the dim moonlight.

Death.

The card of major changes…

The dragon skeleton moves suddenly, growing and expanding out of the confines of the card, changing from tiny drawn bones and scythe to a very real, huge dragon skeleton, the eye sockets blazing with black fire and its jaws opening to reveal dagger-like teeth. It's overpowering death stench breath flows over me as I stumble back, tripping and falling as I drop the card. I can't take my eyes of its fleshless body as it rears up, wings of bone spreading out and flapping uselessly as it raises the flashing scythe in its skinless claws. Its blind eye sockets somehow focus on me hungrily, wanting yet another soul to toss into its insatiable want for death and destruction, for resurrection and rebirth.

Wyyynteeeeeeer…

It hisses, barely a sound but enough to tear a scream from my lips as the eternally sharp scythe races towards my frozen body, starving for blood…

"…AAAUUUGGHHH!!!!!!!!"

I bolt up out of the hard hotel bed, my own scream bringing me into consciousness. I look around, nearly tripping on the sheets tangled about my feet. I sit back down on the edge of the bed, my heart racing and breathing labored, my pajamas damp with a cold sweat. I look over at the clock on the bedside table, its emotionless red numbers tell me that it's three AM.

A dream. Nothing but a dream. Dreams can't hurt you. Not even scary ones. They're only dreams. I keep repeating this in my head as I lay back, closing my eyes once again. Only a dream.

I would kill for a good sleep.

Damn these dreams. Every night, every fucking night. I need sleep, damn it all.

I look over at the clock again, finding that only a minute has passed. I know I can't fall asleep again; my mind won't shut off now.

I pull myself out of the bed, untangling my braided hair from the sheets. As I walk to the bathroom I don't even bother turning on the lights, trusting my night vision to get me there in one piece with only the street lights struggling through the cheap curtains.

I can't help the shiver that runs up my back as my feet go from worn carpet to cold tile.

I twist the rusty taps on the cracked and yellowing sink, ignoring the ancient metal's cry of protest.

I bend down, cupping cold grungy water in my hands and splashing it on my face to wake myself up fully, figuring that if I was up I mightiest well get some work done. Packing, for one example.

These nightmares, different every time but always the same, forever including my mothers death, ending with a card every time, will not leave me until I move on. If I stay in one place for too long they always come, getting more and more intense, never letting me settle down for long.

They had started only a month after I had left my foster fathers home, and have been chasing me ever since. More like they are pushing me actually, getting worse and more relentless, even attacking me during the day if I stop heading east. Not like I didn't have enough things attacking me.

I hadn't even been a week away from 'home' when the adventure ended and it really began hitting me how hard life was on the road for a young female. For anyone, really. The first time I had been attacked it was only for money, some thief figuring I was an easy target. He had just been some skinny wimp that I dealt with easily. The next one was harder. A drunken bar fly had tried to rape me. I was so scared I couldn't even think as I fought back, acting on instinct. Somehow I managed to get away, running until my muscles were burning with acid, running until my lungs felt like iron weights ready to drop out of my chest. I was horribly lost and confused by unfamiliar surroundings by the time I had stopped. It had taken me hours to get back to the hotel I had been staying in at the time. And even in my own room I couldn't relax.

Hotels are now more of a home than anywhere else I have lived since I lost my family. They are very much my home, and I love them. The travelers who stayed in them were mostly friendly; the staff didn't really ask questions as long as you paid. Sometimes I stayed in good ones when I had the money, but most of the time I stayed in cheap crappy ones like this dump. Not that I cared about their appearance, they were inexpensive and the roofs didn't leak for the most part. As long as the door had a lock, I could care less.

Money was hard to come by. Even staying in cheap motels and eating only when necessary, stealing food when I had to, the money I originally had ran out after four months. That was three months ago.

Since then I have been picking up jobs anytime possible, selling beadwork and drawing portraits of people for money. Once, I had gotten so desperate for money that I almost sold the motorcycle. But I didn't, I couldn't bring myself to it.

Luckily, that week I met Jamie. I don't know what I would have done without him. He had taught me a lot about street life. He was my age, but he had been living on the streets almost all his life. He did street performances, his strange ability to contort his body a huge attraction. His most famous stunt was when he squeezed his body through a tennis racket. Something you'd have to see to believe. He was like me, a wind power marked by his white hair. He took me under his wing, paying me in exchange for crowd control. When he was performing he often got into positions where he couldn't defend himself. I was surprisingly strong, and could calm a crowd with a simple thought.

But my dreams forced me to move on and leave him behind.

Sometimes when I'm traveling more than usual, not in one place long enough to grab any kind of job, I would just sleep outside of city limits under a tree or something. It isn't so bad. It is kind of nice to watch the stars and moons move across the sky when I am trying to fall asleep.

I look up at the old cracked mirror, nearly shocked at what I see. The girl looking back at me is not the soft; gentle Wynter attached to material things I once knew so well. She is Hitori now. There were drastic changes from only seven moths ago. It seems so much longer, especially looking at myself in the mirror. The pale bluish light that runs over me bleaches out my skin to the color of my hair. It exaggerates shadows and highlights bones, turning my eyes into black holes in my face, making me seem like a skeleton. It seems to darken the bruises on my arm from where some person had grabbed me, trying to have his way with me.

He didn't, of course. It had been nothing to fight back, twist out of his grip and strike out, punching him in the nose and feeling the bone snap under my fist. It was so easy to fight back now, like I had done so many times. Simplicity to damage and hurt those who hurt me. I think I even killed one of the faceless people who had attacked me in a dark ally. But I hadn't checked. I just ran away. I was always running. Scared and hopeless and running out of places to go.

I reach over to the light switch, wincing as I flick it on. Even the dim light that radiates from the single dusty bulb is painful to my eyes this late at night. Or early in the morning, depending on how you look at it.

Yes, there are changes. I have lost weight from not getting enough food. I am practically skin and bones now. Amazingly I have grown an inch, and gained muscle, even without enough nutrition. Its like my body doesn't know when to give up.

But all of that is hidden beneath my pale ghostlike skin. I look weak, but Goddess help those who think I am easy prey. Underneath this soft pale skin and shape of a young woman are muscles like iron, under my waist long white hair is a sharp mind, not easily fooled or toyed with. I've lived on my own long enough to know how things work, my eyes reflect that. Even with a body too mature for my age it is my eyes that truly make me look years older than I am. They are deep purple, hard and cold as amethysts, no longer trusting and soft violet like they once were. No emotion shows in them if I don't let it. They don't show my thoughts, they don't cry. I think they scare people. No one will hold my gaze. Perhaps they feel my inner child dying, my youth destroyed by the world, a young trusting girl replaced with a cold and dangerous street kid. Maybe they feel my pain and misery and are frightened of it on a subconscious level. Maybe they are just disgusted at yet another teen on the streets. Or not. I don't really look homeless. My clothes are clean,

I could pass as an over-skinny teenager, one of those angsty things that listen to music about how they hate their parents. I have money to live in motels. Most people probably just think I'm traveling about the country on a motorbike. I don't know. I don't ask. I don't care.

I'm just happy they leave me alone. Happy they don't ask questions. I like my solitude. Sometimes I wonder what they would think if they knew what I had been through. If they would pity my loneliness. Respect my determination. Fear my coldness. Sometimes I just want to walk up to someone and tell them everything I've been through, just to see the look on their face. Most of the time I just don't care what they think. I just want them to know.

I used to care what they thought, half a year ago. But not any more, my personality has over gone a complete overhaul. Well, maybe not complete. I'm still as sarcastic as always. But now when those little sarcastic comments run through my head, I don't voice them. I don't smile at them either. I've almost become a hermit surrounded by people. I don't think that if some one came up to me and started a conversation I would know what to do. Not that I'm rude, but not counting Jamie it was years ago that anyone actually talked to me, as in human to human, equals.

I think the last one was the school counselor. I do believe she was worried about me. Of course, she had good reason. For weeks I had been coming to school bruised and battered. She probably thought the foster family I had at the time was abusing me. The father was, but he never did any harm that showed. My clothing covered those bruises. The bruises on my face, the sprained ankles, all the injures that showed and some that didn't were of my own doing. Not that I was purposely running into walls or hitting myself, but I had been going out looking for trouble, starting fights I knew I would loose. I was basically running about late at night trying to get myself killed. I was suicidal but not brave enough to take my own life. Well, not really that, but I wanted to have a 'better' death than overdosing on pills or slashing my wrists, I guess.

That was a pretty bad time in my life. If it hadn't been for the gang that picked me up one night when I was considering crawling home or just waiting to bleed to death from the gash in my thigh acquired form a knife fight, I would have never lived through another week of that lifestyle.

I still can't figure out why they picked me up. I was wild, and underage. I had no respect for authority; rarely listened for the first week I was there. But for some reason, after I was all patched up and they sent me home, I accepted the invitation to join their group. I hated having to leave that group behind. I don't know why it hurt so bad to leave them. But it was that group of twenty that taught me how to fight properly, turn anything into a weapon that I found lying around, and avoid hits. They also taught me basic first aid, to help myself or others. How to survive with minimum supplies. If it weren't for them I would have never lived this long.

It's fairly ironic, but they taught me how to be what I despised most. A soldier. What my father had been.

One night when I was sparring with Sarge, the leader of the group, my father's dog tags had slipped off from around my neck. He had stopped the match and picked them up before I could stop him. I still remember the look of shock that passed over his dark, scarred face.

He looked at me with his one good eye, as if he was staring me down. "I thought so." He said, handing me back the tags.

"Thought so what?" I asked as I put them back around my neck.

"I thought I recognized those eyes. You don't see a color like that often."

"And where have you seen it before?" I asked, not moving as he stepped closer and tapped his fingers on the identification tags around my neck.

"Your father of course, Wynter."

I looked at him, wide eyed. "You knew my father? You know my name?" I said, my voice no more than a whisper.

"Yes, I used to know your father. I was his commanding officer. Wonderful man, strong and fast, always ready to help. He showed me a picture of his wife and daughter once." He smiled. "I should have realized who you were before. You look so much like him. Of course, the hair color is most defiantly your mothers."

He reached into his back pocket, pulling out his wallet. "We became close friends. He even ended up saving my life once." He said as searched through his wallet. "Before he died he asked me to give this to his wife, if I ever came across her" He pulled out a snapshot, handing it to me. "He would have wanted you to have it."

I still have that little treasure. It is in my own wallet. It is the only picture I have of my real family. It was taken on a sunny day, my father with one arm around my mother's waist and the other holding me. I was probably only four at the time. We were all smiling, and laughing. I did indeed have the same deep eyes as my father, and my mother's pale hair and skin. We looked like such a happy family. It must have been just before the war.

Damn that war. It solved nothing, breaking up families and poisoning the land, killing more than it saved.

Damn war. Nothing but one province against the other over the treatment of those with magical powers.

I shake my head to pull my thoughts back to the present, since this line of thought is going nowhere fast.

Back to packing. I walk out of the bathroom, flicking on the main lights so I can see better. Most of my stuff is packed and ready, never having left the side carriers. Only half the contents of my backpack are out. It takes me mere minutes to pack up and get dressed again, and then I crawl out the window.

The money I owe is left on the bed.

Once again, I'm off; back to the road that is my only friend, with nowhere to go in mind. Only wanting to get away from the dreams that haunt me.