Although it may seem a little pretentious, and it’s not common for such a thing to happen with a short story, but both Yuki and myself would both like to dedicate this work of fiction. We have both worked hard on our respective pieces, and each have a guiding light to who we would like to give our recognition. The story will be posted as each part is completed, mostly because it is to be a long story, and it would be easier to read if it were split in smaller parts. <center>“To the White Stag Inn, and its patrons, past and present. For everything.” James “Quiby” Budd “To Michelle. Thank you, for being you.” Lilka “Yuki” Readman</center> The dull ache in her feet reminded her of happier days; when she would take any opportunity she could to walk, for no reason other than walking. The ache didn’t come, as some people imagined, from doing all her walking barefoot. After all, the leathery pads on the soles of her feet were good enough for her feline ancestors, and they were good enough for her, too. It just seemed that the rest of her feet didn’t share her passion for travelling by foot. The memories of years gone by caused a smile to distort the gloomy set of her features, but the smile never reached her eyes, and faded just as quickly as it arrived. Unfortunately for her, her happy memories were usually stalked closely by their less-positive counterparts, and it didn’t take much influence from them to remind her of the melancholy that weighed down on her heart. She paused in a small clearing among the trees and cast her eyes skywards to take her mind off things. From the muted indigo of the sky and the delicate hint of pink in the clouds, she guessed that she only had an hour or so before darkness fell. She was pretty certain that she was in the forest surrounding Yew, although the forests did cover most of this corner of the land. In any case, it meant that her progress throughout the day had been good, and she could now direct her attention finding an alternative to spending her third night in a row balanced precariously in a tree. Not that sleeping in trees didn’t have benefits above sleeping on the ground, but falling off the branch while sleeping was a definite concern. “Perhaps it will snow tonight,” she said quietly to herself, sniffing at the air. The temperature had been dropping for the last few days, and the chill air had the telltale crispness of incoming snowfall. It occurred to her that maybe she’d chosen a bad season to travel in, even taking into account the insulating effects of her fur. She sighed as she remembered the days when she had wished she were as hairless as all the normal girls she’d met, a few of whom had wished to look as cute she was with her fur and feline features. Her eyes drifted down focus on the tail, swinging tentatively from side to side behind her, reacting to her downhearted feelings. “Why?” she asked, directing the question rhetorically at the feline appendage as she scooped it up in her hand to keep it under control as she lowered herself to the ground, until she was sitting among the tree’s roots. She reached up to the collar at her neck and began working at the buckle, undoing it with little trouble. Her eyes were automatically drawn to the silver tag that hung from the black velvet band, drawn by the elaborate the inscription of her name; “Quiby.” She kept the tag meticulously polished, so much so that she could clearly see her face in it, especially the stripe of deep brown fur that stood out in stark contrast to the pale skin on each of her cheeks. By inclining the tag upwards a little, she was able to see the similarly brown feline ears twitching unconsciously to every sound as they stood erect from the tumble of pale brown hair that cascaded down to her waist. “Who are you?” she whispered to the reflection, as if it the young girl in the tag wasn’t the same girl that looked back at her every time she looked in a mirror. “I am you,” she answered herself, smiling weakly as the reflection followed her movements, effectively answering her question, “but who am I?” She let out her breath in a long sigh and directed her attention to the collar that held the tag, wondering for an instant why she still wore it when it brought back such painful memories. The man who had given it to her had been the closest thing to a father she had ever known, but no matter how hard she tried, she was unable to focus on anything but the painful moment of watching him be slain before her eyes. A memory made more painful by the knowledge that she had managed to upset him moments before the terrible evens, and she had never been able to make it up to him. A tear ran down her cheek and settled in the stripe of fur, promising to leave a telltale salty mark to remind her of her grief after it had subsided. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, looking back at the detailed lettering on the tag. Wishing, not for the first time, that she could go back and change the past. With a sob, she buried her eyes in the crook of her elbow and wept.