1 : a series of events or facts told or presented
2 : a usually imaginative narrative of an event
With my name on it, by Brandt
Light is slow to enter the Warren. It seems to find its way
along with the water that cascades down the walls. It creeps
in where the iron is not thick enough, and it tries to find
somewhere to stop amid the gloom and filth of the passages.
The water is more industrious. The residents do not welcome
it. Canopies, iron sheets, even cardboard boxes are used to
direct it from one place to another. It does not care. Everything
is wet when it rains. Drips fall slowly from the patched roofs,
streams try futilely to wash the debris from the gutters,
lakes form and drains flood. Everyone says the Warren is ugly.
But only those who live there are aware of quite how miserable
I live here. You think it's bad? You try having a nose like
mine. Used to be I could track rings around every other pup
on the block. These days, I'd almost rather be nose blind.
Now the Warren isn't the sort of place where a little rain
will stop anything, and I know this from experience. It may
change its character. It may alter its odour, but no one here
can afford to let a little rain keep them from their business.
The people of the Warren are busy dying.
Every day they work at it. They scavenge the best asbestos
sheets to keep their corners warm. Hidden in their secret
places are stashes of engine oil and kerosene. "Just mix 'em
up a little 'n it oughta burn". Anything that can aid in staying
alive will be collected, guarded, bled over, and used. And
in the end, everything is so corrosive, flammable or valuable
that it ends up killing instead. Cooking fires are the worst.
No one wants to go without them, but every day one breaks
out to scorch or kill someone.
The air itself is almost toxic. The idea of ventilation is
at odds with the attempts to keep the rain off. Stories abound
of whole areas slowly choking on the fumes of the fuel oil.
We've all heard them. If people start to fall over, no one
bothers to go to their help. They run instead.
This is a particularly bad day. The rain outside has been
steady for nearly a week, though the spattering has changed
to a simple torrent over night. The gutters are choked, and
tempers are fraying as people scavenge each other's dwellings
for added shelter for their own.
Rumour has it that an attempt by an enthusiastic canid to
add another layer to the roof over his shelter has brought
the entire structure for two streets down. There do seem to
be a few people coming from that direction with large sheets
of tin. I keep looking at them, wondering if I can be bothered,
but my fur's gotten thin these days and another chest cold
would probably kill me.
Suddenly, though, I don't care about any of that. My ears
are as good as any other red heeler's, but my nose is telling
me more. I smell someone clean. The scent's familiar, and
frightening. I put my ears back, but I can't bring myself
A figure stalks down the thin streets. A muddied trench coat
manages turn innate grace into nothing special, but I can
see it anyway. The small felids all walk the same, with that
sway from the head to the tail that conserves energy and ensures
that the prettier ones have permanent jobs in modelling. A
battered cap and a thin scarf cover his muzzle and throat
It does not matter. Any of the Warren dwellers would know
him for an intruder. He walks delicately through the rubble.
Picks his footing across muddied ground. He is not at home,
and he wishes he were not here.
I know him, of course. I have seen him here before. I even
know why he's here - though once you see the badge, it's pretty
clear. There's no reason to come to the Warren unless there's
blood or money involved somehow, and he's here for blood.
If only I knew what to do about it. I know I should have
registered. I certainly should not have run when he came asking
about me. Now he's after me. I'm going to have to decide soon.
Can I do it? The gun's loaded and ready. All I have to do
is wait. It won't be long before he sees me. Or maybe I can
run. Just like the last time.
I always run. And I'm tired of it. A hunted fugitive, fleeing
from their bloody system. Why should I have to report to case
workers, give blood tests every week, submit to tests and
experimental drugs? Isn't it bad enough being cursed with
this hunger? Do they think I like aching for the vibrant energy?
All I need, really, when you look at it, is to draw a little
of it into me. No one has to be hurt. No one even has to know.
But instead the government insists on knowing. Cataloguing.
Restricting. That's the worst part of it. Although, the name
is bad enough on its own. Phage. Eater. As if that's all I
can do, eat things. And as a Nervusphage, they'll insist that
I go on the suppressors. Tranquillised, stupefied, until I
can't taste the glow. Until it's impossible to feel the life
force in the creatures around me. The hunger gone, and just
the memory of the delicious taste for the sake for torment.
It's a curse. It's a curse and I can't believe that people
don't understand how awful it is being a Changeling.
It's his own fault if I shoot him, now that I think about
it. He shouldn't have come looking for me. There are plenty
of others - Phages who spread blood over the walls when they
kill, Phages who eviscerate people for fun. I don't do that.
Why did he have to pick on me? I barely count as a Phage.
I don't drink blood. Maybe I should have taken him when I
first found that he was after me. I don't really need the
I can just pull the energy straight out of him. Leave him
too weak to move as I slowly tear the power from him. But
no. The last dregs are sickening. It's bad enough to have
to kill, but to take the death inside myself? Disgusting.
I've learnt not to do that. It has to be the gun or the road.
One or the other.
Now if I could persuade him to leave me alone it would all
be easier. A bribe? A threat? In the end it's all the same.
He has no reason to fear me if I'm not around, and I can't
follow him into that nice clean world he lives in. I can't
offer him anything he needs. There is no mate in his life
for me to threaten or throat. He shouldn't have come. It isn't
I know it has to be tonight. I heard him talking to that
old guy in the factory - that place that used to make springs
and things out by the edge of the Warren. I was just standing
outside the window by chance - a lucky break. Smoking a cigarette
I'd gotten from a guy who didn't ask me to drop the broken
sunglasses that hide my Phage-red eyes. All I'd wanted was
a spot out of the rain.
The old guy in the factory has a voice like a glass jar full
"There they all are," I heard him through the broken window
"Eight of 'em just like you asked. And don't tell me I'm wrong!
That extra one has Marcus' name on it.."
I spat the cigarette out. 'Marcus'? My name!
"Now load up before you go. A bullet's no good in your pocket."
Bullets? With my name on them? That clinched it.
And after a day of hiding and running, he's here, and he's
going to kill me. One way or another. Dead or changed. No
choices. No thought of what I might want. No compassion for
the pain my life's become. Stuck in this stinking patchwork
shantytown. He's going to have to die. It's not fair. There's
no choice. My tail curls up between my legs.
As he closes I can sense his energy. I'm hungry, of course,
because I haven't fed tonight and when they say Phages are
always hungry, well they're mostly right. It's so hard to
resist. It's such a shame to waste all that energy. Which
will it be? Do I shoot or do I run or do I suck out all the
life? Can I face more nights wondering where to hide? Wondering
if he'll find me? It took him a while last time, but he's
CCD and the bastards never stop.
He's too close. He'll shoot me if I run. If he was the quoll
they have there, he'd have shot me already by now - I'm sure
he knows I'm here. Oh my God. I don't want to have to kill
him, but it's him or me. Am I ready? I'm not sure. My hands
are shaking, like they never do when I suck out the bright,
bright energy. But no, the gun. Ultimately, the gun's less
traceable. The safety's off. Two steps and then shoot. That's
all. It's too late.
I move, and I've got Phage reflexes, so help me God, so I
know I move fast. It seems like time has turned the world
to treacle. I leap from cover turning to where that bright
point of energy glows in my mind. He's there, he's there and
the gun is too slow. Can't they make these triggers easier?
Pull harder. Bang! That's it. No recoil. Bang. And recoil.
He must have shot first.
Slow fire blossoms from the muzzle of his gun. A cloud of
silver smoke trails a bullet. I've missed. He's missed. The
smoke thickens. Congeals. I try and get a bead on him to shoot
again. Traces swirl after his bullet as it swerves towards
me. As it swerves.
My name. On it.
He never even bothered to aim.
As it hits me time wakes up. A fire through my stomach like
nothing I've ever felt, not even like the pain that comes
when I haven't fed. I feel tired. Sick. Hungry. I look down,
expecting to see my blood, and all I can see is a silver spike
piercing me, slender tendrils writhing out, stabbing in again.
I'm transfixed. I can't move. I can't think. Fog catches me
and I'm gone.
This is the worst part about Hawthorn's
job. They are always so full of terror and anger. They do
not understand. Why registration is good for all of them,
Changeling and Pureblood alike, that once the fear stops then
maybe the world will want them again.
He nudges the prone body, a little cautious even now. The
bullet has coughed up barbed tentacles, slammed them through
the Nervusphage's chest, and anchored him to the concrete
below. He is still breathing, of course, and he's barely bled.
Silver's not a bad thing to forge bullets out of for Phages.
It does them less damage.
Francis was right. That was Marcus, for God knows the bullet
wouldn't have worked on anyone else. Not aimed badly like
that. He knows his shot was a poor one, and that Amaranth
will later curse him out.
Hawthorn takes out his silver restraints with the reinforced
titanium core, cuffs the Phage, opens his pocketknife, and
goes to work. Digging through the muscle for the metal, coaxing
the bullet out in its entirety. The bullet cheeps at him,
its ugly bladed head batting against his hand as he wraps
the entire bloody mess in plastic and puts it in his pocket.
Deep pockets are what trenchcoats are for. If the bullet stays
exposed to air for too long, it will melt.
Hawthorn cradles the red heeler's head, feels down with the
Power, and breaks a few of the little chemical connections
with practiced accuracy. Even so, the effort tires him greatly,
but he's happier with the deed done.
Marcus is alive. He will be up and about in a few days, and
when he does wake, he will remember none of this. The bullets
stay a secret. Years of blood and scars have taught Hawthorn
that magic is both more powerful and less trouble when it
is concealed. Purebloods can't even see the faerie shot, but
hunted Changelings are better off not knowing.
The feline pats the red heeler's muzzle gently, wondering
why Marcus decided to attack him, put himself on the top of
a list that included far more dangerous criminals. Poor dog
had no reason to do it - he must have known it would get him
Yet attack he did. Busy screaming his thoughts to the world,
with no idea at all of the wonderful target he made. A hot
blotch of desperation across the telempath's mind, Hawthorn
felt him from a street block away.
Sometimes being a Changeling's no curse, thinks Hawthorn.