Chapter 1:



But...nothing lasts for ever

So after a lot of begging and crying I finally got a bit of freedom: I would be allowed to come and go daily, on my own, from school and back home. This was but a short distance of no more than twenty minutes on foot, but at that moment for me it was a whole adventure

I knew the route by memory, even when it looked so different when walking on my own than in the luxurious vehicle in which I had traveled it so many times

The first times on my own I was more scared than excited, later it was about discovering the multiple details along the way, afterwards looking for alternate routes that would allow me to know my surrounding zone without getting to far from my destination and finally getting out earlier so I could go farther and still be on time for school

It was during one of this tours in which I left far earlier from home, more than I had ever done before, so I could reach a small park and still be able to get to school on time that several events happened that would change my life

It still wasn’t winter but the air blew cutting cold as if it were in the arctic, I had considered requesting to be driven to school thus allowing me to enjoy the comfort and warm temperature that I’d have inside the vehicle, but something inside me worked up the courage to carry on with my plans. Even when reaching that park would detour me a lot from my route to school I had already taken into consideration the time it would take me to get there so I wouldn’t have any trouble reaching school on time. But that meant I would have to leave home earlier than normal, which was a real challenge! Having to abandon my warm and comfortable little bed to face the cold morning when the sun hadn’t appeared yet was far more difficult that might seem. With a lot of effort I managed to leave when the dawn was still dark and was greeted by a gust of colder than usual wind

I have always hated the uniform that the girls must wear, even when I was wearing a long, almost to my ankles, pleated skirt and thick leggings I could still feel the cutting cold. The only thing that really protected me was my comfortable thermal jacket because the coat I was wearing over my blouse wasn’t any bit warm; thus covering my head with the wide hood I left home and walked in a straight line following the same route I always used to go to school

Even when the hood that allowed me to withstand the cold weather was wide it still brought my ears down, which in turn didn’t allow me to hear properly; but it also fell all the way down to my forehead, thus covering the sides of my face and limited my range of vision because if I wanted to see to either side I had to turn my head completely that way

I continued in a straight line until I was sure nobody would see the map that I had printed last night, after adjusting over my nose the delicate red framed eyeglasses, realized that I should walk straight for another block and then take a couple of turns until I reached the park. I hid the map in my jackets pocket and put my gloves on while still walking; this way I almost didn’t feel the cold except in my legs and tail that was completely exposed, I could have kept it under my skirt or inside my jacket but it was rather uncomfortable, so much, that I would rather feel the cold than have it thus covered

I had been walking for nearly twenty minutes and wasn’t even close to the park, for an instant I considered turning around and forgetting about it, but I was more than half way there so turning around would mean not only failing in my original purpose but that I had awoken and gotten my tail frozen all for nothing, so I kept walking

I had been educated so as not to leave things without finishing them, to finish what I began, trained to systematically fulfill all my chores and not to quit in any project that I had begun. So another twenty minutes later I finally reached the park

It wasn’t a very big one, in the front there was a wide playground and surrounding it some metal benches; a bit behind some cement tables, and at the end a small grove with a fountain; a row of bushes, almost as tall as me, surrounded the whole park. There were only four access, each one framed by a stone arch in a classical style that gave it a certain romantic and yet nostalgic feel to that place. Of these four entries only one looked to the main avenue, the others pointed to smaller stoned streets

Even when daylight had just started to shine through, several of the street lights had turned automatically off which gave everything a certain surreal aspect, almost dream like, wrapped in between the darkness of the city and the light of dawn while a soft mist was still rising from the ground

I kept going forward determinate to enter through the closest access, one of the lateral entries. This would allow me to see the whole park form the inside, thus avoiding from taking a long turn around the outer perimeter, and then entering through the access that pointed to the main avenue

I was about to leave the grove and reach the area where several cement tables were extended in a semicircle when I felt a yank on my tail, so strong that it instantly left me stunned, my vision blurred and even when I wanted to turn around to see what had happened I was never able to do it, partially because of the hood that blocked my lateral vision and partially because I immediately felt a terrible weight falling upon me. A weight so beyond my strength that it immediately crushed me against the grass, I barely had the time to put my hands before my face to protect myself from the crash but couldn’t do a thing to avoid the fall, that with that terrible weight upon me, would strike against my stomach and thorax thus blowing the air out of me while my beautiful glasses went flying somewhere away

Without my glasses I couldn’t see very far, pinned against the grass, dazed, completely disoriented and struggling just to breathe I barely noticed how my skirt was lifted, my thick leggings tugged forcefully down exposing my legs to the cruel cold and rough clawed hands struggled to rip off my underwear. It was until that moment that I understood what was happening

I tried desperately tried to crawl to the nearest exit while trying to scream for help, but that weight on me was crushing me to the point where it was getting harder and harder just to breath, making me feel as if I was about to faint. Unable to focus my sight I managed to lift my face of the grass just in time to see an enormous shadow pass over me, almost stepping on me

I heard several howls and the weight on me was removed in a single blow thus allowing me to recover a bit, chance that I immediately used to try to escape. Almost crawling I moved as fast as could, I tried to get up but tripped with something wrapped around my legs, at the height of my ankles, which made me fall and desperately crawl again towards the exit

“Wait!” I heard a voice deep, cavernous and somewhat rough, but at that moment I wasn’t about to stop, my instincts had taken control over me and they told me to escape at all costs

“WAIT!” I heard again almost on top of me and felt how I was lifted, as easy as a girl would pick up a rag doll from the ground, I was lifted a couple of meters of the ground and was turned around, all this time while been held by the neck of my jacket just was a little puppy would be. At that moment I was hysterical and started to scratch frenetically, forgetting that I still had my gloves on, with closed eyes I kept on scratching with all my strength

“Easy now puppy” that deep voice said and I noticed a note of mock in its tone “you’re safe now, easy”

I stopped scratching, stopped moving and terrified, slowly opened my eyes afraid to face this new menace. The first thing I notices were those huge fangs almost as big as my hand, I opened my eyes part in curiosity part due to incredulity of what I had seen. The next things I noticed were two deep black eyes, brilliant almost luminous that looked at me very intensely, and became aware that I couldn’t perceive a single mote of malice in them but compassion and care

“let's take a look, are you well?” asked that cavernous voice in front of me and felt how his other hand removed the hood that was covering my face “well you’re not a puppy, but a kitten!” he said while laughing in a deep and profound tone like a distant storm

I finally dared to open my eyes and what I saw almost made me scream in panic, like out of a terror movie before me was a being that I had only heard about in legends that assured they were extinct . His maw filled with sharp fangs smiled in a friendly way, his nose sniffed at me a couple of times and those intense black eyes didn’t stop looking at me as if they could see into my soul

“you were very lucky that I had been passing through here” he said calmly “or those Canis Mesomelas would have gotten their prey” he said while pointing his index finger at me, almost as long as my forearm, it was then that I could see that the claw at the end of his pointing finger was stained in blood and scared noted that some skin was still attached to it

“oh, I’m sorry” he said hiding his hand when he noted I was staring at it and I noticed how he then cleaned it with his own cloth “I’m going to put you down, ok?” he asked, I could only answer with a nod and I became aware that until that moment I had my mouth wide open amazed by his presence, I closed it with a snap and again heard that deep low laughter as if coming from the bottom of a cave. He put me down slowly as if I was but a fragile toy in his hands, and remained amazed at his enormous height and strength because he had been holding me in front of his face with only one hand and now that I was standing before him I was no taller than his knee

Canis Dirus…” I said with fragile and shaking voice while unconsciously stepping back, lifting my head while trying to perceive the full immense size of the being in front of me

“Common house cat?” he asked with certain doubt regarding my species like I had done with his

Panthera Tigirs Tigirs” I answered correcting him in an automatic way, with a barely audible thread of voice, just before I tripped again because something was still tangled around my legs, I fell on my backside and it was then when I could see that my leggings were down to my ankles and with the fall my skirt had lifted higher than half my thighs. I blushed so violently, while trying desperately to pull my skirt down and pull my leggings up at the same time, that I was certain he would notice despite the orange and tabby tone of my skin

“relax little kitten” he said with a slight smile while turning his face as to allow me some privacy while I got dressed, while on the ground I looked around we were completely alone almost in the middle of the park, from there almost nobody that might pass along the street would have noticed us. Quickly I stood up and lifted my leggings and then adjusted my skirt

It was then that I noticed I didn’t have my glasses on and anxiously looked around trying to find them

“Looking for this?” he asked while handing my glasses to me that were fortunately almost intact

“Th…tha…thank you” I said finally recovering some of my usual demeanor while putting them on

“I’m Nightbane” he said looking at me “what’s your name little one?”

“Thanks Mister Nightbane, I’m Miausette Sterling” I answered as polite as could since I was still shaking

“Sterling...Sterling...” he said to himself thoughtfully for a moment while I adjusted my school bag that had been on my back this whole time “tell me Miausette, what is a little one like you doing so alone so early? Shouldn’t you bee in school?”

“I...was...yes, only...wanted” I answered while looking at the clock in my mobile device, I only had ten minutes to reach school, a distance impossible to cover on foot from where I was

“Oh no I’m going to be late!” I said mortified, practically forgetting about all the recent events that had happened

“Is your school far?”

“Not much but I’ve only got some minutes to get there!” I replied with anguish

“Well I’ll take you there” he said and quickly lifted me in his arms; again I was puzzled at the huge difference between his size and mine “where to little one?”

I looked around and pointed in the direction where we should go, and without any more words Nightbane ran in that direction easily jumping over the fence of bushes that surrounded the park

“Are we on route?” he asked while running and I nodded while trying to hold on to something scared of how high I was and how fast he was running

“don’t worry, I’m looking after you” Nightbane said with a smile noticing my concern and he covered me with his other arm, protecting me, thus reminding me of the way football players would protect the ball from falling or getting snatched away. I felt like a little doll in his arms, but also felt safe and sure

“you shouldn’t wander the streets on your own, you know” Nightbane commented without looking at me “opportunist predators like those must have been watching you since days ago and you didn’t even notice” he said while running nonstop and without slowing down even when he had been running quickly for several minutes

With a broken voice I told him how after a lot of begging I had convinced my mother to allow me to go to school on my own, of how trapped I felt and how that little section I could walk on my own was the only liberty I had

“ok, I understand what you’re telling me but it’s dangerous to be alone, especially if your school is so far away” Nightbane answered, I could hear how several vehicle alarms turned on as we passed by, due to the impact micro tremors that he caused while passing

For an answer I told him where to go, realizing how close we were

“I really don’t live so far from my school” I said slightly ashamed “I only detoured a bit...” lowering my head feeling guilty; in reply I only heard that soft deep laughter

“you’re very pretty and too young to go wandering the streets on your own” he commented and I noticed he slowed down, I instantly blushed again, nobody had never before told me I was pretty “if you want to go for a stroll” he said while lowering me “I’ll be delighted to be your guard” he continued while squatting in front of me and even then he was more than two heads above my height

“Yes...I...thank you” I said without really knowing what to say

“Take this” he said while giving me a thin crystalline card “just put it over your mobile device” he instructed me and I nodded in reply, of course I knew that those business cards gave confidential access, through a multi digital encryption, between those using them

“it's a free number, you can call me anytime day or night” he said while standing up “I’ll be delighted to look over you” he made me turn with one hand “there’s your school” he said while bending down, we were almost at the very entrance of the school “take care pretty kitty, it was a pleasure been able to help you” he whispered sweetly while giving me a soft push “go to school, from here I’ll watch over you”

From where I was I could see the schools clock, I only had a minute to enter before the doors closed, running I managed to enter just before the bell rang indicating that the doors should close, once inside I looked behind hoping to see Nightbane before my school day began but he was already gone

I automatically walked towards my classroom, firmly holding the card he had given me. Still confused and dizzy when the bell rang twice, announcing that the classes should begin. Everything before seemed unreal like a nightmare, like a dream, that clings to the mind even after waking