Lyra. The cold voice of the King echoes around the chamber. Lyra, daughter of President Leon of the country of Journee on the Three Hundredth Planet...kneeling at my feet. Though I long to look up, I do not want a boot to the face and I keep my head bent low. I can still smell the stench of the sack they threw over my head to bring me here, where the daylight shines through a single crack in the wall, the place where I am weakest: in the darkness. I know I am shaking uncontrollably, and I know that these people can see it: I am afraid, I feel freezing, and I feel blind. Only my eyes serve to shatter the dark with their dim glow, another reason for these people to want me to keep my head down. I stay silent as I hear the echo of the King's shoes as they make their way around me, as he observes me. My ears are slightly raised, alert. He notices and brushes them down, making me quiver more. He laughs.

You Usagi, he says the word like it's a virus, have very expressive ears, don't you?

And the Lupine, I dare to say quietly, enjoy playing with their tails. I feel the tension rise, and I close my eyes, ready for the sharp kick that is inevitable...unless I was right, and they are just amused. I hear the King laugh, and the others follow.

But so do the Usagi...or at least, they did. He looks down at me. The last of your kind, are you?

I believe so, I say, while thinking Please don't let it be true. I close my eyes and let the images of my family flicker through my head. I open them again, eyes teary.

Well, the way I see it, young Usagi, is that you have no choice but to listen to what I want. Either that or you choose to die, and I don't think you really want that.

I don't. I say quietly. I keep my eyes lowered but now I dare to look up at him. What is it you want...sire? I ask. The words taste strange in my mouth...Lupine words have always been hard for me to pronounce.

Quick learner, aren't you? the King muses. In any case, what I want should be easy enough for you to give...if you value your life.

My breath catches, and I gulp. Please, let this nightmare be over...

The King crouches so that he is face to face with me, and I open my eyes in surprise. He is unfazed as he looks at me.

I need your help. his voice echoes in my head. I nearly fall over in fright. He gives me a smile, a warm smile. But don't let them know that.

Then he punches me in the face.

* * *

My home was filled with flowers.

These weren't really flowers, I suppose, more like trees, but their leaves were gigantic and in any shade that could be found in the rainbow. The land was covered with them, their roots so dense and tangled, their trunks so green and thick that the first settlers couldn't plough through them, not even with the strongest lasers or the sharpest blade. The old fable about sticks comes to mind - apart, they were easily broken, but together, dense as they were, they could not be harmed.

So we, the first settlers of this land, took to the hills and made a living out of them. They were made of mushroom-like material were found to be much easier to cut through, and we made them our homes. For us Usagi, it wasn't that hard to live underground. In fact, it was natural.

I miss all of that. How the cold sunlight would flow in rays through the large reeds and the rose colored leaves of the trees, like a shower. My wings (for some of us Usagi chose to be Painted with them, and I had always had an unnatural desire to fly), would carry me to the tallest flower and I would sit in it, basking in the sunlight. Only here could I really feel warm outside. Down on the surface it was very chilly, and only the hill-homes and the underground burrows (where they could be made - the roots were very dense) were warm otherwise.

And of course, I miss my mother and father. My friends, my family...everyone I knew and loved.

I never thought I'd be here. I swore I'd never leave Journee, not for anything.

But, it turns out that life doesn't always give you a choice. Sometimes it's better when you don't have one. Like now. It's do or die, and I'd really rather not die...

* * *

I reel back, a choked breath forcing its way out as I fall. I'm seeing stars...my head's swimming...and I can't see, and I need to! I let out a choked sob and gag myself before the noise can get any worse.

How dare you! the King hisses, stepping away from me like I am muck. I am the King! Don't worry, Aris, Joma. The scum has learned her lesson. he says as the guards surge forward. He wipes his knuckles on the wall, as if getting rid of any dirt I have left on him. Leave her here. Chain her to the wall...we can't let her fly, so make sure you do something about those wings of hers... He strides out of the door and now the guards are free to do as they wish. I don't struggle as they drag me to the wall and cuff me with cuffs that are linked to the wall. I barely flinch as they chain a metal ball to my feet.

But when I feel my wings twist in ways they aren't meant to, I scream.

Stop! I cry, backing away as much as I can, please - I let out another scream as I feel my other wing snap back. I cannot do anything to soothe the poor broken things...I can't do anything at all.

The guards, having remained silent throughout their torture, step back to see the effect. I fall back to see nothing at all.

* * *

Lyra!

Momma? I shout, excitedly. I am bathing in sunlight, high on my perch, but I leap off eagerly, and I'm falling...I feel so exhilarated...I am here again!

Come on, Lyra, you'll be late for dinner!

I'm coming, Momma! I shout. The ground is rushing up to meet me, and I spread my wings...and pain, oh so much pain!

I wake up screaming, real pain tearing at my back. I force myself to remain on the cold, hard ground, and I let the tears pour as I shiver uselessly on the floor.

My wings...my wings... I moan quietly, rocking myself back and forth. My stomach growls at me - I haven't eaten for days - and I take to staring at the walls and the dim glow my eyes cast on them. I force myself to ignore the pain and simply stare at the faint blue light. I rock back and forth more slowly, letting my mind wander. I try to forget that in a few minutes I shall be awake again. This pain won't let me sleep.

I hear the metal door of my cell slide open, but by now I am beyond caring. I watch dully as booted feet walk past me and I hear the clattering of a tray being set on the floor. It is as they are kneeling down that I see that they are cloaked. They are wearing something over their eyes.

...who are you...? I ask, my voice slurred and weak. They don't respond. Instead, I feel as a sharp needle enter my arm and is held there. Once it's removed, I can't move to save my life - I can't speak. Another injection comes, this one filling me with a soothing feeling. A third pierces my back, and I feel the area grow numb.

Why are you doing this? I wonder to myself. Who are you?

Take a wild guess, the answer comes, and I don't question its presence. Good night, Usagi.

I see the last needle pierce my arm again, but I can no longer feel anything but a wave of sleep crashing over me. At peace, I finally fall unconscious, with the stranger's hand warming mine.

* * *

When I wake the next morning, I see a bowl of warm soup in front of me.

It's the smell that attracts me first of all, helping me drift out of my slumber and making my mouth water. Then I see how juicy it looks - carrots and cucumbers and tomato - and I realize there is real sauce there. I can smell lettuce and sauce.

It takes a lot for me not to jump on it. I sip it slowly, let the warmth soothe my body. I feel fresher than I have for a long time...the last time I felt this way was the night of the attack.




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