Dedicated to the one whose story should be known, and to Dragon_night for finally getting it out of me.
The sound of heavy paws pounding against wood filled my alert ears, mingling with my gasping breaths and the familiar crackling. A powerful scent caused my onyx nose to twitch; I had smelt it many times throughout my life, savouring it and associating it with victory, but suddenly it was the stench of death. A whimper broke through my clenched teeth as I pushed myself faster, my paws flashing over the floor as I darted agilely through doorways almost too narrow for my powerful body.
The bubble of warmth enclosing me no longer felt comforting, like it was protecting my soft fur from the cold. Now it was hostile. My own shield had turned against me. I hated it with a passion. I wanted to destroy it once and for all.
My claws dug into the shiny hazel-coloured wood as I found my target. Without slowing my pace, I pushed hard with both hind legs, feeling the muscles strain as they propelled my heavy form into the air. Forepaws tucked tightly against my chest, I automatically flattened both diamond-shaped ears against my skull and ducked my head, chestnut eyes tightly closed. The broad window shattered as my head collided with it, releasing me into the sharp air outside.
My paws thumped against the grass, knees bending to catch my weight. The broken glass littering the ground glinted in the sharp light from behind me, simultaneously reflecting part of the dark sky. A wisp of steam floated past my muzzle as boiling blood touched cool grass; the glass had sliced into my paws, but I didn’t care. I had a greater purpose.
Slowly I turned my shaggy head toward the edge of town. If I hadn’t seen it before, I would have thought that a great mirror stretched from where the land ended. The water was glassy and still in this calm night.
Faint screams drifted past me as I felt my mind settle into a deep calm, almost relaxation. There was only one way to put this right. Slowly I raised one forepaw, ignoring the hot blood dripping from the pad, and placed it slightly closer to the lake. My resolve wavered; for a moment the face of my owner danced before my eyes, drawing a soft whine of regret from my throat.
And then I began to run.
Houses and running humans flashed past as I flew across the distance, my paws barely touching the ground. I was almost flying, feeling the speed and strength my species was prized for powering my muscles. My long tail streamed behind me as I raced against life itself.
A powerful kick, and I was truly flying. Images raced before my eyes; my owner and our family, the family I was leaving behind, the family I had failed…
A howl escaped my throat, a howl filled with love for the human who had treated me like her daughter, and despair for what I had done to her. My forepaws stretched out before me as though preparing for a normal landing, ready to take the force of my leap.
The first touch of the water was chilling, instantly banishing my shield of warmth. My paws were numb the moment they hit the lake, and I barely had time to brace myself before I crashed down into the cold. My muzzle snapped open and the cold flooded inside me, burning my throat like no heat ever could. Eyes wild with panic, my paws thrashed against nonexistent bonds as I struggled in the chilling embrace. The water wrapped itself around every part of me, penetrating my thick fur like nothing ever had before, its iciness leeching through my skin and electrifying every nerve ending with unimaginable agony.
My last bubbles of air escaped my mouth as images flooded through my mind, drawing me back through time. I felt my hind legs kicking against a thick shell, pushing my head through a hard object and into blinding light. I saw the human girl smiling down at me, her azure eyes gentle and loving. Her arms closed around me once again, lifting me up to her chest. One finger gently touched my damp nose and her lips formed the word that would be my name.
“Gift,” she whispered, the memory so strong that my numb ears twitched. I felt myself retreating further into the memories and knew I was too weak to fight.
A boy knelt down to me on the grass as I wagged my tail at his feet. My human stood above me, smiling reassuringly at me. The boy could be trusted. He looked different to the girl, his short black hair strikingly different to her waist-length dark blonde. Being so young, I could hardly understand that they were the same species. I heard the girl’s voice saying my name again. “I named her Gift.”
“Not very original.” The boy smiled, his dark eyes friendly. “She’ll be forever labelled as the thing I gave you.”
“She’s a gift from my best friend, and just that is enough for me to love her,” the girl replied, and I saw the boy’s eyes flicker toward her. There was some emotion there that I couldn’t understand, some force in his eyes that was not echoed in hers. I could understand that he cared about her very much, but she acted far too casual to possibly feel the same.
I saw myself digging in a cave, my nose searching for the object that called silently toward me. A soft light emanated from the golden rings on a sleek, black, fox-like body, but the light was unnecessary for me. I barely noticed the creature glancing back at me, its long ears and identical tail twitching, red eyes curious. My small crimson paws scraped away the dirt, digging furiously until my claws scraped a shiny orange rock.
“What’s that, Gift?” My owner bent down and brushed more dirt away, revealing more of the rock. I pressed against her body, straining toward the rock; I wanted it like I’d never wanted anything before. She lifted it carefully from the earth and held it out for me to sniff. Ignoring her, I obeyed my instincts and pressed my cheek against the smooth, surprisingly warm surface.
A warm glow enveloped me, flooding my body with new energy. Suddenly I felt disconnected; it was as though I was watching from a distance. I heard my owner gasp and her feet shuffled backward as I grew, my muscles strengthening and my fur growing thicker. Returning to my body, my eyes opened and locked onto the broad smile spilling across her face.
“Oh, Gift! You’re so beautiful!”
The memory shifted out of focus; a hard wooden floor formed under my body, softened by a thick rug. Everything was dark and the soft sounds of the sleeping human and her Umbreon reached my sharp ears. My tooth ached dully where a specialist had operated on it several hours earlier. He had warned my human that I would sleep more deeply than usual tonight because of the anaesthetic.
I was sleeping far too deeply to notice my snoring. Sleeping far too deeply to notice the tiny embers fluttering from my mouth with each snore.
A rush of anguish flooded my unmoving form. The whole room was already in flames by the time an alarm woke my owner. When I realized what I had done, the knowledge hurt too much for me to find out if she was safe. There was no doubt in my mind that her best friend - the boy who loved her, but whom she didn’t love back - would save her.
But I knew what I had to do. I had to stop this from happening again, stop myself from putting anyone in danger ever again.
My body floated limply in the icy water, my powerful heart barely fluttering in my chest. Every part of me was completely without feeling. The calm had overtaken me once again, making my eyes droop with longing for eternal sleep, preventing my body from convulsing when I sucked in chilling liquid instead of air. In some detached corner of my mind, I knew I had barely been underwater for two minutes, but it felt like an eternity. I was drifting, waiting sleepily for the light to appear. My eyes slid closed and the blackness crept forward, stealing away the last beats of my heart.
And a tiny pinprick of light blossomed behind my closed eyelids. In my fading mind, I smiled, allowing myself to drift to sleep.