'It's strange, I remember glimpses of the life I had before him, I don't know whether it's better for me to remember or forget. I lived with my mother, step-father and their son, and was born with the name Aghanashini Mardon. For a long time, I thought I was human. My mother had told me from a young age that I had a step-father, she always said that my real father left the moment he found out that she was pregnant with me. I always thought Mother was protective over me, she never wanted me to fight with anybody, I wasn't allowed out after sunset, and told me to always be calm, to never be angry.
'My family hated magi, there weren't many in our town, but she hated all of them. I never understood why, no matter how much trouble she told me they caused, or how wicked and full of sin they were, there was a part of me that just couldn't hate them. Then, something happened when I was nine years old, I remembered eating my breakfast with my family, and then waking up in bed hours later. Mother led me to believe I'd had a fit, but eventually my step-father told me the truth: I'd Shifted for the first time. He said I'd transformed into a fox without any warning, going crazy and trying to run off. Mother knew she had to keep me indoors, she'd been forced to clock me on the head with a broom to subdue me. From then on, she seemed resentful of me, afraid.I didn't know what was happening to me, I was scared. She wouldn't let me go anywhere, not out with friends or on my own, she was terrified that I would Shift again, not because it would hurt me, but because she couldn't deal with the shame of them finding out what her daughter was.
'The belief about Shifting is that from the moment we're born, our souls begin to take different forms to those of magi. We're a completely different species to you, and nobody knows how long it takes before our souls settle into our forms - our Soul Beasts. After that, we can Shift, but because I wasn't prepared, I had no control. Mother tried all she could to stop it, she was growing desperate for a way to stop my abilities. There's a belief that you can seal a magus' powers before they reach puberty, that it'll delay the change for a few years, and theoretically if seals are replenished properly, forever. But even if that was true, Shifters are nothing like magi, and it was already too late. I found out later on that the soul usually takes form at puberty, any younger than that is exceedingly rare. My change is the earliest on record. One evening, my mother took me to the edge of town, to the old church where a priest lived. All she told me was that she was going to make me better, and that it was for the best. I peered inside the chapel where they were speaking, I saw her giving him money, and hearing the word 'exorcism', as if my Soul Beast was a demon.'
Tears were gathering in her eyes, Anala hadn't looked at Will once through her story, her head bowed in a gesture like shame.
'I was terrified, I didn't want that to happen to me. I ran, but Mother saw me and caught up. She begged me to come back inside, and said that it was what we all wanted. I told her no, I said that it was what she wanted, and that it wasn't my fault for what I was. That was when she told me about my father. He'd never walked out, he wanted a baby very much, but he hadn't told my mother that he was a Shifter. By the time he did, it was too far into the pregnancy, but my mother abjured him, told him to never come back. She'd always known what I would become, but hoped that she would be able to stop it happening. When I told her I didn't want to change, that I liked being a Shifter, she looked at me like she did all the other magi, cold and hateful. She didn't speak to me when we got home or the next day, but that afternoon she told me what we were going away.
'She said that she knew of people who could help me, she smiled at me like everything was alright, and told me about the Paradams. They were magi, but they were charitable to the town, and they weren't given any trouble. It was Winter, and a snowstorm was coming, but we drove out to a big estate in the hills. I thought everything was going to be okay, but when we reached the door, she turned around and started to walk away. I ran after her, and she hit me, telling me to stay and never return. She said that I was a monster, and that life would be better off without me. I ran after her in the cart, I yelled for her to stop but she never did. By the time I gave up, she was gone.'