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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 it is.

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 to growl.

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 markings.

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 gun.

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 fair.

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 of nails.

"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.

He's here.

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.

Oh god.

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 caught.

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.