by Strange Wulf
To know what is precious, ask someone who does not have it.
It was so bright outside. It must have looked so beautiful outside with all the sunlight. She wouldn't know. She rarely went out. The risk was far too great.
She'd braved the streets at daylight a time or two. She was always careful though. If her cloak slipped or was torn, the sun would find her. And the agony would follow. She always ran to the dark alleys if someone gave her trouble. Darkness was her refuge, her strength. People mistrusted her for it. Most found her odd; a few thought she was a freak. Very few knew she was one.
The sun was everywhere in the daytime, but the shadows provided enough cover for her to survive outside her cloak. Anyone who followed her there with malice in their hearts left in fear. Some came for other reasons, but left in the same state. She couldn't help it. She didn't know who to trust, who to let in. At least some had hearts with enough kindness in them to give her a hand when she needed it. Sometimes she didn't have time to get her cloak off before someone stabbed her. Others merely shot her out of terror. She didn't know what it cost her father to repair them. It didn't matter really; it cost her more in convenience when she had to get home.
She didn't like to wait until nightfall. Her father would get concerned. He'd gone looking for her once or twice. She preferred not to wait until then. He had a tendency to overreact when it came to her well-being. Knowing how fragile she was, it was understandable. Only at night could she truly be herself. During the day, she had to hide for fear of the sun. She dare not let a single ray touch her. It would be too painful.
Sighing to herself, she turned away from the window. Perhaps one day her father would find a way for her to enjoy the sunlight instead of fear it. That day seemed so long in coming. It might never come. At least she had a good place to stay, away from the sun when she needed to be. Her father had wanted a room without windows, but she insisted on them. She would live with the sun. It would invade her room every day. She let it in where it wished to go and went where it did not. Not a single mirror or piece of crystal was allowed in its path. It might invade elsewhere. That simply would not do.
Slipping on her gloves, she floated to her bookshelf and picked out one of her favorites. She had it bookmarked, like all the others, too anxious to read them one at a time. It was an odd habit, but then she was an odd girl. Not many could do what she did. At least when she was reading she could pretend she was normal. She practiced her camoflage techniques sometimes, altering the light flowing through her so that it bent into the right colors, making herself look as she imagined the characters in the books. She had a mirror in the corner where the sun never touched. She tried looking like the heroine in the book. She smiled as her hair turned brown and made a red dress with beautiful jewels. Clothes were the hardest things. She could mimic the texture, but it was hard to maintain. The jewelry was worse; all sharp angles and reflections. At least she could keep the surface smooth enough.
The gloves were something she had to keep on while reading. She'd warp the pages otherwise. People always thought she had sweaty palms when she shook hands. If they knew the truth, they might not react quite the same. She simply smiled and nodded when they suggested getting more sleep and not being so stressed. How could they possibly know? Father never told them unless absolutely necessary. And if he knew he could trust them. They'd already found out what happened if someone untrustworthy knew about her. She remembered the pain quite well.
She floated over to the single-sized bed and sat down next to Mike. He was asleep in his fox form. She smiled and scritched behind his ears. A sound of mild pleasure came from him. She giggled and settled down to read, shifting her form so she was lying down. It was one of her favorites. A girl trapped in the body of a swan, only able to become human on certain nights. A lot like her, really, except she was never human to begin with. Neither was her mother. Still, she didn't care; humans who hated those like her mother and father never got close to his cafe. And some of them avoided her father like the plague. She guessed they must sense how powerful and dangerous he was. No one ever acted like that around her.
In her heart, she wished a prince would come and break the spell, letting her be herself anytime she wanted to. What she had was Mike. He wasn't exactly a Prince Charming, even at night when his own curse was inactive, but he was changing. He'd come into the city looking for new "conquests", like many young men. Father had gone to great lengths to ensure Mike did not seduce women at the cafe. He considered it indecent, and Mike was far too good at it anyway. He could shapeshift too, and father suspected he influenced their minds as well. After father made the deal with him, Mike stopped what he was doing, at least in the cafe. He did his seducing outside after that, usually a block or two away, in case her father decided to expand the boundary. He probably would have kept doing that for as long as he lived.
Then he met her.
For some reason, Mike was unable to get her out of his mind, and he started making mistakes. It made her blush to think he'd called out her name by accident when he was with some of those women. The reactions he got were often mixed. Most threw him out on his tail. Some simply turned cold. He finally got a clue when one took pity on him and suggested he stop sleeping around and try getting to know the girl he was so obsessed with. Her father really loved that idea.
Mike was charming at times, but at least she seemed immune to whatever persuasive powers he might have had. Plus, her father had found a remarkably simple way to keep Mike in line. How ironic that a magical creature of his power could be convinced not to seduce her by the mere fact that her father kept a rusty spoon under the counter. So far, they had both managed to stay chaste.
A faint chiming sound met her ears. She looked up at the colorful crystal mobile Alice had made for her. It served as a sort of telephone so she could speak to her father without leaving her room. It wasn't really necessary, but it was cheap, and gave Alice practice in her artificer skills. She really did know how to make such wonderful magical inventions. The cufflinks and earrings helped him keep in touch with Richard as well.
She put her book back in its place and floated over to the mobile, leaving her gloves on the small desk near the wall. She formed herself into a cloud and activated the spell's listen mode.
"Erin? Are you there?"
"Yes, father, I'm here."
"Ah, good... I know you haven't been out much of late... I've just gotten an assignment from a client." He paused long enough to yawn. If she'd had a face at that moment, she would have smiled. Father's coon blood made him more nocturnal than most. "Anyway, it seems to be a job requiring your skill. The risks are minimal, and I think it would be good for you to get some fresh air. There might be rain in area soon as well."
She didn't need the fresh air; she didn't really breath. But the thought of rain made her spirits lift. It felt so good to replenish herself with the rain, and clean out some of the dust and filth she tended to pick up from the air. And it was good to get out of the apartments above the cafe. Her room was nice, but she hated having to stay inside. The sun seemed so warm and inviting. And it was her enemy. Deep in her soul, she knew it was not meant to be.
"I'd like that. It has been a while since I've been on a mission. Do you have the darts ready?"
"Yes. Fifty at total count."
"Fifty? That's a bit much, don't you think? Is security that tight?"
"Yes. And your target will need at least five to take down."
"Woah... big fellow, is he? Well, I guess I'll just have to make it quick."
She could practically hear the smile in his voice. "You always are, Erin."
"You leave first thing tonight. I'll make the arrangements for you to travel in the local airspace. It's not too far, but you will need to make haste. The target will not stay put for long."
"I understand. I'll get there as fast as I can."
"Good. Be careful when you get there. He's hired a few weaker mages and added flame-throwers to his guards' armaments. I think he expects you."
Well, that made things more difficult. Still, they'd only be a threat if they saw her coming. Quick it was then.
"I'll make sure I get him. I'll just have to dodge fast enough."
"That's my girl. I'll see you tonight." He yawned again. "After I've gotten enough sleep. Ruddy clients demanding to see me during the day. Don't they know I'm half raccoon?"
She giggled. "Just get to bed so mom doesn't feel lonely. She never sleeps properly when you're away."
"Hah. Don't I know. Never lets me forget it either." He chuckled. "Ah well. Better that then not sleeping at all. I'd best be going then."
"Okay. I'll see you tonight. Oh, and dad?"
"I love you."
"Heh. I love you too, Erin. Get some rest, you'll need it."
"I will. See you soon."
A small click signaled he was gone. She floated back over to the bed and turned into her mink form, snuggling up to Mike. He nuzzled her gently and continued to sleep. She smiled to herself and settled down, closing her eyes and drifting off to sleep.
Tonight, she would make her father proud. Tonight, another client would be happy to find they'd fulfilled their contract.
Tonight, she would once more be free.
That's all of it. Comments, critiques, suggestions, and packages of Oreos are all welcome. Thanks for readin'!