"How was your day, Talla?" Vinchell was leaning patiently against the thin chain-link fence. It seemed like it would buckle at any moment beneath his large stature. His marble features cut into my gaze. The blonde streak that swept across his forehead was quickly disregarded by his hand. "No faults I presume?" He clicked his tongue, awaiting my answer.
"No faults." I sighed. Vinchell was hard by nature, believing there were no mistakes, but only faults on our character. I often wondered if he was ever out of control as a child. I felt like I was slowly spinning... uncontrollably and defiantly. Just like a normal teenager. I'm glad I found him somehow. A "blessing" is what he'd call me. But, I can't help wonder where I came from... how I got here. Why hasn't he searched for my family? Why haven't I?
We sat on the steps of the back porch together, sipping on an herbal tea Vinchell swears "will make your head spin." He didn't move, only to bring the ceramic mug to his lips. Every so often I'd hear a small raspy mumble from him, like he was trying to talk to someone far away. I never understood what he would say, or to whom. I knew not to interrupt his thoughts, so I just sat there, alone with my own thoughts.
"You remember what I told you, hmm?" His words startled me.
"Yes, I remember." I glanced down at his hands, they were shaking, the tea spilling over the edge. I placed my hands over his. "I won't leave you, I'm here." His eyes became cloudy, and as quickly as they did, they were clear again. He fumbled with the locket dangling from his neck, opening it slightly to the picture of a brown-haired women, snapping it closed seconds later.
"Let's start on dinner," he smiled, the lines creased by the outer corners of his eyes. "I'm making pot roast."
In the morning, I left for school. Vinchell was still asleep, unusual for his to-do attitude. Just a few more days until exams, and then I'd be all his. I was worried about him, he'd never miss sending me off for the day.
Classes were a blur that day, I couldn't stop thinking of what was wrong with Vinchell. Occasionally I would end up at the creek after a long day. Skipping the smooth pebbles across the murky surface. I glanced down at my hands, they were red and cracked from the cool fall air, and the golden ring on my finger shimmered in my eyes. Wherever home may be, this ring was a reminder of everything it was and still could be. The indentation of an old blurred name was carved into the center of the band, Nero. I listened close to the city's sounds in the distance. Trains and cars overcame the wild sound of the little forest. Really, more of a small entanglement of loose brush and tree overgrowth that no one had bothered to maintain. But I was thankful no one had. It was my place for peaceful thinking.
It was my final week of junior year, and saying goodbye to what few acquaintances I had wasn't going to be very hard. Sifting through the day went by like a cold breeze against my palms. Walking back to the house, I kicked at the loose dirt on the road, sending pebbles flying into the brush. I raised a weary hand to brush away the beads of sweat accumulating on my hairline. I knew what I needed. Shrinking off the sheer tank top and jean shorts gave my tight muscles some relief as my fur slowly sprouted. I felt my tail brush against my shoulder as if to say, hello. Trotting through the deep grass and crops cleared my head, making this all worth it. All of this doubt, worry, and wonder. I have to keep this secret safe, even from Vinchell. A small glimpse of something shining caught my eye then. Off in the distance there was nothing but dense forest and pine nuts scattering the ground. But there was something else, something that didn't belong... not color nor even an area. Padding over to the darkness, I saw a small slit of nothingness. Only a slight glint off of the beating sun gave it away.
I awoke with a throbbing head moments later. The mint ivy stirred in my nose, and tickled my fur. My tail smoothed the dry, sun kissed grass. I rolled over onto a thick patch of clovers, my ears perked to the chirping crickets. A small creek flowed through tightly knitted rocks and the faint smell of pine no longer lingered in the air.
"Where have you come from?" boomed a deep voice nearby. There was a slight growl behind the bland words, it made my fur spike and my claws tingle in anticipation. His silhouette taunted me through the blanket of bushes and low hanging trees surrounding me. His tail swam around the dry grass, his shiny black coat brushing back in the breeze. Specks of gray littered his twilight colored fur.
"Who are you?" I hissed, my eyes glowing with terror but voice full of confidence.
"Nero," his tail flicked with impatience. "now I'm not going to ask again, where have you come from?"
"What are you talking about?" I muttered, eyeing him suspiciously.
"You must be a shifter." He leaned into a nearby tree, picking at a loose twig with his claw. "You just stumbled into a whole different world my friend. But it seems like you've only succeeded in finding your way home." He looked pointedly at my whipping tail and smirked. His fur fluffed, and his tail snapped to the ground. "I'll take you back to the officials and they'll see to you getting home safely."
"How are you... like me?" I said, with a puzzled expression.
"Like you?" He raised an eyebrow and slowly trailed a long claw across a nearby tree. He chuckled, "Sweetheart, I'd love to sit here and chat but we don't have time for questions. It's almost dark." He smirked at me again, "Hurry up, It'll be a long walk."