Chapter 1 : A Wolf at the Door
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A child wanders through the ruins of a 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 hooded 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 man, his old Professors always say 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 into 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 that covered every inch of her body. Breathing hard and trying not to convey her distress to her comrades in arms, the twenty-year-old girl looked around frantically. Fortunately, nobody seemed to have 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. A psychologist would have said that it was just a representation of her sense of weakness towards the horrors of the war, but Cassandra wasn't a weak person and she certainly didn't feel intimidated by a bunch of bombs and tanks, not anymore at least. What really freaked her out about that nightmare weren'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 definitely 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 gipsy skirts and going shopping in the small markets hidden in the city. However, the smile quickly turned into a frown when she remembered the short letter Colonel Wilkins had 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 had adopted her when she was four, probably pushed by his now ex-wife. He had never behaved like a proper father, making it clear from the start that Cassandra was not allowed to call him "dad", "daddy" or "father". Colonel would do, he had said at the time. However, according some unknown rule Cassandra had 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 the hypothetical dad she had remembered 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 two 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 were 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 bright and tidy, even if it was eleven o'clock in the morning and the number of people in the building was immense.
After reaching the main hall, Cassandra pondered whether she should wait for someone to retrieve her or hire a cab straight away. In the end, the young woman opted for a third option, dragging herself to the nearest bench and deciding that sitting down for a while wouldn't hurt anyone. As a matter of fact, her muscles were still unable to walk for long distances, and she didn't feel like going outside just yet.
It felt so strange to be around normal people dressed in normal clothes. They walked around so casually, probably worried about their last investment or the contents of the luggage they were carrying around. They didn't even notice the young soldier who sat among them, they didn't even stop to think about the things she must have seen the things she must have done. It felt so strange that Cassandra felt herself being overcome by a wave 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 sitting 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. In fact, 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 highly despised those small creatures.
After the young woman's outburst, the strange pair 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 that 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 had been 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 definitely 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 twenty-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, the two had argued ferociously on so many occasions that it would have been silly to be scared by now. Colonel Wilkins, was, however, powerful and respected, and could easily turn Cassandra's life into a living hell. Actually, he had already done so when he had discovered that his "daughter" was a sort of child prodigy and would have been able to attend University at the age of fourteen, and that she had expressed the very public desire to study Medicine "in order to partly redeem the awful crimes her father had committed by spreading death and violence around the world".
Recalling the day in which she had made that declaration, Cassandra had to admit that hadn't been her most intelligent move. In fact, in less than a minute she had managed to break all the "ideals" Wilkins firmly believed in, which were essentially two. According to the first one, war was the most legitimate and pure way to guarantee stability and control over rebellious countries or populations. It was the most illogical thing Cassandra had ever heard, but it was one of the Colonel's most famous statements, and it was quite popular among his colleagues too.The second "moral" predicament was, however, the one the girl despised the most, the one she had always tried to fight against and that had earned her the ultimate hatred from her foster father: women are made for men. They are made to support them in their work and social life without being intrusive or pedantic. They must know what is legitimate for them to know: how to raise respectful, educated children, how to nurture their family and how to rule the home. They shouldn't get an excessively high education, for that could lead them to believe they could actually stand a chance against the power of men.
It was such an openly unintelligent, outdated idea that Cassandra couldn't help but being surprised whenever she had the chance to witness how many people shared that line of thought, especially among the women population. Had she followed that predicament without protesting she would have probably got along with the Colonel rather smoothly, but even at a young age she had been a feminist in miniature, demanding to be independent and free. She had protested loudly when her foster father had put her in an girls-only school, running away whenever she could to sneak into a library that contemplated a science department worth of being defined as such and thus earning a good amount of spankings from the maid meant to look after her. She had dressed in blue jeans and heavy sweatshirts when the daughters of Wilkins' colleagues clad themselves in pretty skirts and cream jumpers. She had found a humile job in the most famous bookstore of the street, thus earning the Colonel unwanted attention regarding the reason why the daughter of a fairly rich man like him should feel the need to spend her afternoons handing books to strangers in order to get a not-so-wonderful salary. To anyone who asked, Cassandra told that she had been forced to find a job because the Colonel refused to pay for anything apart from her school uniform and the school fee, a fact which was completely true, but that Wilkins had always refused to admit.
She had fought and won almost every battle by exploiting the fact that Robert Wilkins was obsessed with the opinion of the public and couldn't contradict his daughter in front of reporters. The day she had made that final statement, however, she had crossed the line by expressing a judgement regarding his highly respected position in the military forces. She shouldn't have been so surprised when the Colonel had shown an unexpectedly cunning side of his personality, making her pay for every single one of her "mistakes".
"As my daughter just said, I have to admit that in these last months I have had the opportunity to think about my actions in the Army, and I haven't been happy with the results of my reflections. Those who know me obviously remember one of my favourite quote, a phrase that my father always told me: war is the purest and most legitimate way to guarantee stability and control over rebellious countries or populations. My friends and colleagues, I recently came to the conclusions that in my career I have failed to follow my beloved parent's predicaments: I have worked hard to control, but not to stabilise. My Cassandra's recent surprisingly good academic results and her noble resolve to help others through the art of medicine have given me the possibility to launch a new war project, a mission entirely designed to preserve the delicate equilibrium in Eastern Europe. Cassandra has shown immediate interest in the subject, so I have decided to offer her the possibility to help: she will study to become a military doctor and before her marriage she will be able to spend a short amount of time in the new base camp of the mission, helping her colleagues healing and saving lives."
She could have protested loudly, contradicted her foster father again, but she hadn't. His tight grip on her shoulder had prevented her from doing so, and at the time she had admittedly undervalued the implications of the man's words. She had just thought that she would have been able to study what she wanted for once, and she had been arrogant enough to think that a short period in a war zone would have been a piece of cake for a girl like her. When four years later the "short period of time" had magically turned into two years her plane had already taken off from Heathrow Airport, and it had been too late to go back.
Now, two years later, here she was, broken and battered, waiting for that evil man to have a go at her life again. What had she left to lose, anyway?
Cassandra 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."
The young woman simply rolled her eyes at the cold welcoming of her foster father, who had not even raised his eyes from the papers in front of him. It was almost comforting to see that his attitude towards her hadn't changed the least.
"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. He had always been particularly touchy regarding his obsession with tanning beds, and she had always loved to use this weakness as a weapon.
Let the dance begin.
"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 my optimism was, as usual, excessive."
With that, the man scanned her appearance with his small, watery eyes squinted in a disgusted expression that Cassandra knew far too well.
It had always been like that. Every single morning she would have to go and greet the Colonel in his study, and every time he would look at her like that and, when he was particularly talkative, make offensive observations about her outfit or posture. Most of the times he told one of his most trusted maids to force her into changing clothes, not even thinking that Cassandra had a secret stash of jeans and sweatshirt hidden in the bushes behind the school.
This particularly unpleasant aspect of his already enough irritating behaviour towards her had got worse with time, especially since...
Suddenly, the reason of the meeting dawned on Cassandra, and she couldn't help but thank silently the wolf that had attacked her that night two months before.
"... You are angry with me because my current condition will prevent Colonel Anderson's son from marrying me," She whispered in awe. She wouldn't have to marry that good for nothing, poor excuse of a boy... or to run out of the church and escape in America like she had planned to do, anyway.
"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!"
This 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, she knew how to repair almost any electronic apparel she knew the existence of, and she even knew how to open a can of beans using a single rock! She could be useful in any kind of situation, thank you very much!
" I... I don't understand," she finally managed to say, mentally cursing herself for the unexpected paralysis her brain was apparently experiencing due to her blinding rage. 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?
Of course she was. She was talking to Robert Wilkins after all, the most awfully chauvinist man she had ever known.
A part of her mind wanted to shout at the man in front of her and hurt him with all the force left in her weak body. Was it worth it, though? Was he so important to her that she couldn't just ignore his words? She was twenty years old. She was old enough to be able to brush his words off like the junk they were. He is supposed to be your father, though. 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 went on, his tone increasing with every word he spat.
" 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 only expected you to be a respectable girl with principles. I expected you to be grateful and follow my SOLE request, to marry that boy! Was it too much to ask!? WAS IT?"
The Colonel stopped speaking for a few seconds, trying to regain his breath. In an instant, however, he was ready to scream again.
"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".
That was the last straw. Tightening her grip on the crutch that was currently holding her upright, Cassandra shot him the deadliest glare she could muster and responded to his accusation with equal fervour.
"Then let me go! Estrange me, if you want! Take back your surname, your inheritance, whatever! I don't care! I would be much happier if you'd just erase anything that connected me to you, at least this way I wouldn't have to see you ever again!"
"That's exactly what I am going to do."
With a disturbingly calm, sinister smile, Wilkins took a series of documents out of a drawer of his desk and handed them to an unusually confused Cassandra.
" 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, or the Army for that matter. You are twenty, so that simplifies things considerably. As you so much desired, your heritance is gone, and so the money that you would have received for your service in the mission. After all, you failed rather miserably, so I don't see how you should be rewarded. As a last sign of kindness, I told Mr White to accompany you wherever you prefer. Dismissed."
It took a few minutes before the worlds finally sunk in. Cassandra had always dreamt of being free of leaving that awful man, that wasn't 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.
He was right. She was twenty, perfectly capable of looking after herself. She had even lived alone for a period before joining the mission. 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... Where? She didn't know.
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.
ATTENTION PLEASE! This chapter just underwent a MAJOR editing process. I will gradually change and correct every chapter of this story. Mostly I will correct grammar and add something where I think I've not been detailed enough, BUT even something of the plot has changed: the ages! After some of you made some perfectly rightful observations, I realised that the whole thing would result in being more "realistic" if:
- the canon dates were respected
-Cassandra was by all means an adult
so yeah, something is going to change, but that will not influence the plot too much, I promise! Hopefully, this will make the Lost Wolf more enjoyable for you to read :)
Thank you very much, and please don't forget to check out the new chapters!
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