Star of Wonder

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A brown barn owl perched on the gutter at the top of a run-down tenement. His yellow eyes squeezed shut and then reopened at the sound of a rodent scrabbling on the wooden railing below. His wings stretched out, and the owl swooped down, talons extended, going in for the kill. At that moment, a tiny of sliver of morning sun peeped over the horizon, a rim of pink appearing on the horizon. The owl went rigid in midair. As he hit the railing, he let out a screech. Screeches became human screams as the bones in his arms and legs began stretching, and feathers drew themselves back into his skin. Neck bones twisted around to the front, and a shock of bright red hair began growing out of his now human head.

There was a cry from below and stampede of stomping feet. One of the boy's arms hooked over the banister, but it did not stop his fall, only slowed it. He landed in a heap on the stairs below. Groggy from the shift from his owl form, he could feel the vibrations of the men's feet as they ran up the rickety stairs towards him. Somewhere in his foggy brain, he could hear their shouts.

"I seen him! Great big barn owl, he was!"

"Did you see his hair? Carrots! We'll know him anywhere now!"

"We got one! Someone go get the captain!"

Blinking, the boy stirred, and in a sudden panic, he picked himself off the wooden stairs and began running as fast he could, up to the next level of the Warren.

The Warren was a jumbled collection of tenement housing, shabby shops, and other disreputable buildings, all in a sad state of filth and disrepair. It was the home of the poor, the downtrodden, the despairing. And the home of the Were, who shifted each full moon into some wild or feral creature. This boy was a were-owl.

He had a full head of steam behind him now, and on he ran. He barely noticed the falling snow and the cold wind whipping against his naked body. He pelted forward along the walkway, sliding along the slippery wooden slats, hurtling himself towards the end of the banister. He clambered up and took a great leap across to another row of dwellings. His hand reached the icy railing and slipped. With a groan, he thrust up his other hand and grabbed hold. He hung there by one hand for a second before his foot found a hold on the walkway. He pulled himself up and over the rail and fell to his knees on the other side.

He turned and ventured a peek through the slats. The men had made purchase to the top levels of the Warren and were gesturing the direction he had gone. One of them pulled an arrow from the quiver on his back and nocked his bow. The boy turned and ran towards the stairs. His foot hit the first step down when he heard the stomping of boots a level or two below him. He had no choice but to go up. It was risky if they had their bows out, but what else could he do? He climbed up onto the rail and shinned his way up to the roof. An arrow zinged by his ear, but missed. He pulled himself up and scrabbled to the top of the roof and over the other side. He tried inching his way down, but there was nothing to break his descent. He slid to the edge of the roof. Before he could pitch off the side of the building, he grabbed the gutter and swung himself onto the walkway as the gutter pipe gave way and clattered far down to the street below.

It wasn't a good time to notice that he was wet and cold, but as he sat against the wall of someone's dwelling catching his breath, he began to shiver and couldn't stop. He put his icy hands across his thin chest and under his arms to warm them up and pulled his bare legs up close. He could still hear the shouting of the men in the Were-Guard, but he knew they would have to come the long way around. They would have to climb back down several stories of dilapidated staircases, get themselves around the block, and then face another steep climb up this side of the building. He had a little time.

After the stitch in his side eased up, he looked around him. Over on a balcony of the building next to this one, someone had left clothes hanging on a line outside a window. Why someone wouldn't bring in the laundry while it was snowing, the boy didn't know, but their stupidity was his good fortune. He would have to make a running start to jump the balcony, though, and the fight had drained out of him. Could he make it? He figured he didn't have a choice. Then he heard it.

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