Chapter 1: On the Run

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Bianca

"Where to, kid?" the driver grunted.

Bianca fell back against the taxi's worn seats with a bone-weary sigh. The lingering scents of perfume and cheap vodka wafted through the compartment, courtesy of the drunken couple stumbling towards the next bar.

Bianca sneezed.

She hated drunk people.

As she ran her fingers through her tangled hair, she noticed the driver watching her from his rear-view mirror. His eyes roved up and down, taking her in, though there wasn't much to see. Then again, when did that ever matter to a guy? Gaunt cheeks, tattered clothes, and dark bags that swallowed her green eyes weren't exactly what she would call sexy. But his gaze became less hungrily appraising and more concerned.

"Where to?" he repeated, less gruff this time.

"Huh? Oh...um..." Bianca bit her lip, thinking. It wasn't a simple answer. She tried to breathe him in to see what he was, but the cacophony of scents in the taxi made that near impossible. Bianca had trusted the wrong people before, even if he did seem genuine, and the idea of ending up at the end of a Hunter's gun almost made her add her own vomit to the list of unpleasant smells.

"Well?"

"The Purple Door District."

The man turned and glanced back at her with a frown. "Never heard of it."

Her heart sank. It was probably stupid to assume she'd find another parahuman.

Bianca shook her head in frustration then reached into her pocket, pulling out a $20. "Take me as far as this will get me."

The man eyed the bill. "You in trouble, kid?"

"No." Bianca shook it at him. "Look, can you just drive me somewhere or not?"

The driver stared a moment longer then turned back around with a shrug. "Yeah, sure. Buckle up, kid."

Bianca snuggled into the backseat, trying to ignore the spring poking her in her thigh. It didn't matter. Anywhere was better than being drenched out in the cold. The heat hissed as it turned up another notch. Her hands gravitated towards it, drinking in the warmth as it thawed her frozen limbs. As her tension ebbed, her eyes started to flutter.

How many days had passed since she'd slept for more than a few hours? Most nights, she rested in the park, on a bench, and sometimes on top of a roof when she changed forms, one eye always open. Shifting for a werebird like her came as easy as breathing, unlike for other parahumans. But with an empty belly, it left her feeling weak and helpless. And right now, she couldn't afford to be helpless.

She reached into her mind and touched her sleepy caracara. The bird, a reflection of her soul, shuffled around and twitched her dark wings as she got comfortable. Bianca sensed every movement, like the way she tucked her beak into her wing, and the exhaustion from spending so many nights out in the open, exposed to the elements. No other lycan had such a connection to an inner animal. She was the bird, and the bird was her. The bond made avians special; it made them feel a little less alone.

But it had its drawbacks, too. When you went from having your bird and another avian's bird in your head—flying, preening, and comforting your soul's connection—to nothing, it created an abyss. Sometimes Bianca thought she could hear the haunting echo of her sister's caracara in the depths of the night, but then she'd wake up to the ghostly sound, alone. She'd cried more tears than she'd care to count over the repeated heartbreak.

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