Chapter 1 : A Wolf at the Door
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A little girl wanders through the ruins of a once cheerful town. Bodies lie on the ground with their limbs bent in unnatural positions, jets of light break the grey monotonous sky of mid April, illuminating the empty houses in green and red. The few people still alive are fighting or running away from those scary hoodied figures. Nobody notices the girl, nobody stops to pick her up and bring her somewhere safe. She is crying, screaming for her dad, searching him everywhere. She only wants to say she is sorry for leaving the pub on her own. He had warned her not to walk all alone in the streets, no matter how smart she was, no matter how safe the town could seem.
-We are in the middle of a war, sweetheart. We have to stay united.
Why didn't she obey to her dad? He was a wise boy, the Professors always said that. Why didn't she simply sit in the pub and eat her piece of cake?
It doesn't matter anymore. She is scared, terrified. The ground is red, the blood runs in small rivulets towards the castle.
Where is dad?
For the first time in three years, the girl feels like the four-year-old girl she actually is. Her smart brain stops functioning. She stumbles on a body and falls into a puddle of mud and blood. She rises in a sitting position, crying hard.
Where is dad?
She turns and looks at the body behind her. Bad move. Aunt Mary's eyes are empty and dull, their warm brown colour is slowly fading to be replaced by a plain grey. They are watching her with a blank expression, but the child can see the accusation in her dead Aunt's face. Why did you leave us? Why did you abandon your dad?
Where is dad?
Tears start falling on the already wet ground, and suddenly, a heart-shattering scream erupts from the little girl's mouth.
WHERE IS DAD?
Cassandra woke up with a gasp, cold sweat soaking the bandages which covered her body. Breathing hard and trying not to convey her distress to her comrades in arms, the seventeen-year-old girl looked around. Fortunately, nobody had noticed anything strange in her sleep. Well, nobody would care, anyway, she thought with a sigh. With a grunt she sat upright, rubbing her scarred face with her hands. Since the accident in the base camp she had kept dreaming that damn nightmare. Probably a psycologist would have said that it was a simple representation of her sense of weakness towards the horrors of the war. But Cassandra wasn't a weak person, and certainly didn't feel intimidated by a bunch of bombs and tunks. Hell, she had been fighting non-stop since she was fifteen! What really freaked her out about that nightmare wasn't its possible meanings but the fact that it felt real.
Maybe it's a memory, a little voice in the back of her head murmured. Maybe you are finally starting to remember what happened to you.
Lost in her thoughts, Cassandra wore her headphones, hoping that the plane would land soon. She was tired of the Army, she was tired of the war, and she was definetely tired of the uniform she was wearing. A small smile graced her lips when she thought about the crowded streets of London, her city, her home. She was looking forward to wearing one of her long gypsy skirt and going shopping in the small markets hidden in the city. However, the smile quikly turned into a frown when she remembered the short letter Colonel Wilkins sent her just a week before.
Your behaviour in the base camp will not be tolerated. I require you to come to my office as soon as the plane lands so that I will be able to expose you the consequences of your actions.
Daughter. Colonel Wilkins kept addressing Cassandra as his daughter, even if they had not even a gene in common. He adopted her when she was four, probably pushed by his now ex wife. He never behaved like a proper father either, making it clear from the start that Cassandra was not allowed to call him "dad", "daddy" or "father" . Colonel would do, he said at the time. However, according some unknown rule Cassandra never understood, Colonel Wilkins was allowed to call her "daughter", no matter how the word made her feel bile rising in her throat. I am not your daughter, you lurid old bastard!, Cassandra screamed in her mind, suddenly remembering the deep calm voice of her hypothetical dad in the nightmare.
We have to stay united
And alas they didn't. Cassandra was alone in a hostile world, just like the little girl in the nightmare. Completely alone to face the anger of Colonel Wilkins. Why was he angry, anyway? She had been strong and brave for three long years, doing as she was told, fighting and healing people at the same time in a hellhole lost in Eastern Europe, not complaining when there wasn't food or water for everybody, not crying when her colleagues in the hospital of the camp where killed in front of her by a group of rebels, not letting a sound escaping her mouth when that wolf tore her right leg off. The highly respected Colonel should have been proud of her!
Get the flan in the face
The flan in the face
Take it with the love it's given*
The plane finally landed, and Cassandra reluctantly removed the headphones from her ears. Yes, she thought, I will take everything with the love it's given, even if there's no love in that man. Sighing deeply, and ignoring the sharp pain which went through her ribs, the girl rose from her seat and prepared herself to face the anger of her foster father. Grabbing her bag she limped outside the plane in the airport. Everything was so bright and tidy, even if it was eleven o'clock in the morning and the number of people in the building was immense.
Cassandra sat down for a while, observing the life in the airport with a strange sense of dizziness. She wasn't used to life anymore, not the cheerful one, anyway. Suddenly, the world started spinning, and she found herself lost in her subconscious.
A tiny girl is staring wide eyed at the scene in front of her: hundreds of teenagers gathered in a huge room, happily chattering and eating their meals. They are all gathered around four long wooden tables, each of them covered in what seems to be extremely delicious food. It is not this, however, that catches the toddler attention, but the ceiling: its normal wooden structure seems to have been removed, as the girl is staring at a beautiful dark blue sky decorated with lots of shining stars.
"What do you think, Cassie? Do you like the Great Hall?"
Cassandra shook out of her reverie with a small yelp, scowling when she discovered who was the responsible of the desapearance of that beautiful ceiling. Mr. White, Capitain Wilkins' personal driver, was standing in front of her, staring at her like she was a sort of wild animal. Noticing that the girl wasn't lost in dreamland anymore, the old man nervously cleared his troath.
"We should better go now, Miss Cassandra. Your father doesn't like delays"
"He is NOT my father. And if you actually think that I could forget that man's obsession with timing, then, my dear, you are dumber than I thought".
Cassandra immediately regretted the harsh tone she had used with Mr. White. After all, he was never rude with her, differently from most of the Colonel's butlers and maids. However, she was really tired, her wounds hurt terribly and she still felt a bit dizzy, so her behaviour was partly justified. Moreover, she didn't like Mir White. He was far too similar to a mouse for his own good, and Cassandra didn't like mice. At all.
After the teenager's outburst, the strange couple drove silently to the Colonel's office, which was in the heart of the city. In the car, Cassandra couldn't think about the meeting, since she was too busy meditating on that sort of vision about the strange ceiling. It had felt so real, just like the nightmare which haunted her sleep. Could it be a memory? After all, the voice she had heard at the end of the vision was the same of the nightmare, and she was pretty sure that the nightmare wasn't just a trick of her brain. Maybe that "Great Hall", as the voice called it, was the cantine of the school his dad went to. She had always known that her dad was very young when she was born, even though she couldn't even remember his face, so the part of the canteen made sense. What about the ceiling? Things like that do not exist, not even the most advanced military technology could create such a realistic effect. That was certainly a point. If there was one thing in which Cassandra was an expert, that was technology, and she was absolutely certain that nobody was working on fucking-awsome-sky-like-ceilings. Deciding that she was definetely too tired to dig into her poor brain for answers, the girl finally got out of the car and limped into the austere building her foster father worked in.
Although a normal seventeen-year-old girl would have been a bit scared about facing an angry Colonel, Cassandra wasn't a normal girl, and she wasn't scared the least. First of all, Colonel Wilkins was too short to intimidate anyone. In fact, he barely reached Cassandra's shoulders, and she was 5'9. Moreover, he was always perfectly shaved, tanned and had the bad habit to wear too much cologne. In other words, he was too concerned about his appearance to try being scary. Colonel Wilkins, was, however, powerful and respected, and could easily turn Cassandra's life into a living hell. Actually, he already did so when he discovered that his "daughter" was a sort of child prodigy and would be able to attend University at the age of twelve. The news, who would have made any other parent proud, infuriated the man, probably envying the girl's skills. He therefore decided that, since Cassandra was such a prodigy, she could easily join the British Army as a doctor. Nobody dared to act against the Colonel's will, and there she was, a seventeen-year-old survivor waiting to hear the "consequences of her actions".
She sat patiently outside Colonel Wilkins' office, trying to ignore the remains of her right leg, not very happy to be confined in the prosthesis. After half an hour, a blond secretary let her in, and the meeting begun.
"Daughter. You have finally decided to honour me with your presence"
"I am happy to see you too, Colonel. How was the weather in London these days? I suppose it was quite sunny, considering you are as tanned as ever". Cassandra smirked when the Colonel's face assumed a dark shade of red and his eyes narrowed in an attempt to appear dangerous. Pathetic.
"I will not tolerate this kind of behaviour anymore. I hoped that a few years in the Army could beat some sense into your thick head... But looking at you it clearly appears that you got worse"
Suddenly, the reason for the meeting dawned on Cassandra, and she couldn't help but thank silently the wolf which attacked her that night two months before.
"... You are angry with me because in this condition Colonel Anderson's son will never agree to marry me", She whispered in awe. She wouldn't have to marry that good for nothing, poor excuse of a boy!
"And you, on the other hand, seem far too pleased with this situation! What were you thinking?! The only thing that could convince that man to marry you was your body, and you ruined it! What am I going to do with you now?! You are completely useless!"
his time it was Cassandra's turn to become red in anger. Useless?! How dared he? She was one of the most respected doctors in the base camp, not only for her deep medical knowledge, but also because she had been trained to be a Medical Support Officer too. Therefore, despite usually being too busy in the hospital, she was often involved in the coordination of medical units operating in the battlefield. And she was only seventeen!
" I... I don't understand" She finally managed to say, mentally cursing herself for showing the confusion in her head. The Colonel rolled his eyes, clearly annoyed by her thickness.
"You are useless to me. The only advantage of having a daughter was that I could have used you to create important political alliances by marrying the son of an influent family... I thought I made myself clear when I told you that everything between you and Mr. Anderson had been settled! You had to do one thing, ONE : keep your body in decent conditions in order not to repulse the boy. And look at what you've done!"
Cassandra was appalled. What was she, a piece of meat to throw at the strongest beast in the forest? Suddenly, she felt terribly empty, and dirty. A part of her mind wanted to shout at the man in front of her and hurt him with all the force was left in her weak body. Was it worth it, though? Was he so important to her that she couldn't just ignore his words? He is supposed to be your father. He is supposed to love you despite everything. Love. Yeah. She knew only a person who could have loved her, and she had lost him long before.
Seeing that the girl was not going to say anything, the Colonel finally illustrated the consequences he had talked about in the letter.
" I don't know what to do with you. I fed you, dressed you, gave you a place to sleep! I even let you get your stupid degree! I never interfered with your life! The only two things I ordered you were to join the Army and marry Mr Anderson. You have ruined EVERYTHING! Now I won't be able to look Colonel Anderson in the eye, and you KNOW how much he is important for my career. I AM TIRED OF YOU! I AM TIRED OF GIVING YOU EVERYTHING WITHOUT RECEIVING ANYTHING BACK". Colonel Wilkins stopped speaking for a few seconds, trying to regain his breath.
" That's it. I'm done. From now on you'll no longer be Cassandra Wilkins. Choose the surname you prefer, I don't care. Of course, this means that you are not welcome in my house anymore. As a last sign of kindness I asked Mr. White to find you an accomodation. Do not expect me to lend you money: you have your salary, use it. These documents state the fact that you have been disowned and are not to be considered my daughter anymore. Since you are currently employed and you have completed your studies you will be considered as an emancipated minor. You only have to sign these documents and choose your new surname. When you have finished, give everything to Mr White. Dismissed"
It took a few minutes before the worlds finally sunk in. It was all so... surreal. She had always dreamt to be free to leave that awful man, that was not a secret. He was the reason why she had been forced into joining the Army. He was the reason why she had to witness people killing and getting killed. He was the reason she had to kill in order to survive. This, however, didn't prevent Cassandra to be almost overwhelmed by a sense of deep sadness. She was being adandoned, thrown away like a broken doll. No, she was not being abandoned: she was being erased. For the second time in her life she had to start everything from scratch, alone. For the first time in years, tears threatened to fall from her eyes.
Dad, I'm so sorry.
Please... help me.
She did repeat this mantra in her head over and over again, not noticing when her battered limbs slowly led her outside the office, not noticing when she got on the car and let Mr White lead her to her new accomodation.
She did not even notice when her hand automatically wrote down her new surname.
*these lines are taken from the Radiohead song "A Wolf at the Door" from the album Hail to the Thief.
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