"What's happened?" His eyes looked me up and down, ridged with consternation, one blue and penetrating, the other green and kind.
I inhaled slowly, drawing my breath from deep in my lungs. My forehead seemed drawn together in a permanent frown. My eyes were sore. I knew I looked awful. But maybe it would help me. Maybe my awful appearance could give me confidence. I only hoped so.
"I..." I began.
I broke off with a cough. Last night, I didn't change back till the small hours of the morning, which had been about twelve hours in all. I hadn't been seen by anyone. I only hoped that I was so unnoticed on a normal basis that no one detected my absence. I hadn't eaten since lunchtime the previous day. And I only had three bites of the mushy sandwich before tipping my tray in the bin. School food is not food. And yet it's the only food I can remember.
To get back to the small hours, I was starving hungry. Fear makes me hungry, and I was so exhausted from my time in the attic that I knew I would faint if I didn't eat. So I took myself down to the main dining room. Or somewhere around the kitchens. Somewhere to eat. By this time my eyelids were closing, and my eyes had narrowed to a pinhole vision, a small circle inside a black fuzz.
I was caught. I wasn't caught stealing food. By that time I had eaten some raw vegetables, and had satisfied the wirst of my hunger. But my senses dulled as I ate, and I didn't hear the footsteps until it was too late.
I spent an hour with Mrs Finch, my captor, in her study, hearing her vaguely, but it seemed to be in a different language. All I could think about was Mr Bane and his story about Magnar Blackmane, and Wolfborn Syndrome, and I suppose I kept saying Mr Bane's name over and over again. He was the only one who could help me. So I had to tell him.
"I...can't..." I gulped, aware of his muscular form opposite me. I felt embarrassment even through my troubles and tears. He was so big and handsome. But what right did Mio Phiale have to be thinking such a thing? And even if she had felt herself to have that right, having noticed just about every other girl in the school making eyes at the new teacher Mr Bane would be enough to stop me from speaking to him. But now I had to. I couldn't speak to anyone else.
"Let's find somewhere private," he said, and I followed him to a small perri room not now in use. There had been a couple of passers-by who couldn't help staring.
I tried again.
But now my dilemma was telling. I had never told anyone. I had resolved never to tell anyone. But I had to. So I did.
"I have Wolfborn Syndrome," I said, and my voice sounded loud and confident as it resounded around the room, bouncing off the walls and back into my ears. My brain translated the sounds of my words, and I burst into fresh tears.
I had told. And the emotion was too much for me. I felt myself changing once again, quickly, my bones tearing and morphing, my skin bulging and tightening, my soul flashing before my eyes.
I saw a pale shaking wolf in the cracked mirror behind the door, and felt my legs collapse under me. I had told Mr Bane, and now I was unconscious in a small room off the main corridor, and I was a wolf.
* * *
I came to in the dorm. I didn't know what time it was. I lay thinking, trying to find some sort of order in my head. I had changed back into a human. I didn't often change, but here I was, having changed twice and back again in the past twenty-four hours. It was the emotion. It got too strong, and it scared me out of my own body.
I opened my eyes, and blinked a few times. A face loomed over me, looking down at me quizzically. I couldn't be sure, but I thought it was Brina Dahl. There was a question in her eyes. But she didn't know anything. And I couldn't tell her. Not then.
Only one person other than myself knew. And that was Mr Bane. He was probably getting me expelled as soon as possible, telling all the teachers, warning them that I was bloodthirsty and dangerous. Why ever did I tell him anything? I needed help. I still do.
It feels better to have told someone.
But it hasn't solved my problem. I don't think anything ever will.