She turned around and stumbled back into the apartment building, stunned, trying to regain her bearings, and collapsed against a wall. Then there was some shouting around her, and people rushing over to her. She waved them off, and pulled herself back to her hooves. The world was growing blurry. Before anyone could call for medical attention, she darted through the door into the searingly black night and at a full gallop she was running, racing, fleeing everything that had brought her to this point.
Her legs led her across town and into Central Park, and before she realized what was happening, she found herself in the northwest corner of the Park, which she hadnt visited often, and she slowed, trying to get her bearings in the cool, black night. Lost, angry, and bewildered, she found an especially dark spot under a spreading elm tree and sat down to cry.
An hour or so later, her tears were exhausted, and her mood a bit more sober. Why should she be so upset over a guy shed really only just met? He didnt mean anything to her. He was just a guy. There were others. She stood back up and started slowly pacing down one of the paths, collecting her thoughts.
The wind shifted, and a thin sliver of moon came out from behind a cloud overhead. Wils had been a jerk, that was all. He wasnt worth her time. He was a jerk. He was
Midway through that sentence, Caitlyn had to pause, because there was a very distinct pain rising from her hand. She glanced down at it, and realized that it was balled up in a fist, and it was somewhat bloodied from where it had just struck a tree in front of her.
Ow, she muttered. That wasnt very bright. Note to self: No more punching trees.
She wiped it off, and nursed the wound with her mouth for a moment.
Youre right, that wasnt very bright, said a voice behind her. It was male. She whirled about.
There was no sign of anyone.
Whos there? she cried.
The voice came from behind her again. I cant stay long, it said.
Who are you? she said, whirling about. The path was black and empty.
I youre better off not knowing, it said, and it seemed to be from behind a tree now.
Why? she growled, and pounced on the spot behind the tree but there was no-one there.
I dont have much time, so listen, said the voice.
She paused. The voice was wispy and thinner than it had been a moment before. Whats going on? she asked.
I spent a lot of time tracking you down. Listen to me: Dont go back to your apartment, said the voice. Dont go back to your friends apartment either.
Why not? Whats going on? asked Caitlyn. The voice seemed to be in front of her now, but there was still no-one there.
I cant I dont have time to explain, it said. Its not safe for you. There are people after you.
Who? Those drug dealers? Kats friends? I can deal with them, she said.
Youll be found if you go anywhere predictable, continued the voice. Home. Your friends. Your mothers. But theres a safe house. A friend of mine runs it. You need to go there.
Who are you? asked Caitlyn, whirling about again.
Chinatown, said the voice, getting fainter. Yu Sangs deli. Ask for Yu Ji-Cheng. Tell him you are having an interesting life.
What makes you think Im going anywhere? said Caitlyn. Show yourself and maybe, just maybe, I wont hunt you down and kill you. Ever dealt with a girl with hooves and PMS? You wont like it.
Yu Sang, repeated the voice, even fainter. Ask for Yu Ji-Cheng... Tell... Interesting... life...
I am not doing any goddamn thing you say! cried Caitlyn. Tell me who you are!
Run, whispered the voice. Theyre... here...
The trees in front of Caitlyn lit up suddenly, a bright phosphorescent white, and she realized the light was coming from behind her. She looked over her shoulder. Five, six, no, eight no, ten shadowy figures stood on the low hillside fifty feet behind her, and there were a half dozen brilliant spotlights, all shining on her at once.
Caitlyn froze, staring, and then ran for her life.
* * *
For perhaps the first time in her life, Caitlyn was glad she was a centaur. The figures behind her shouted as soon as she moved, and darted after her. But they were human, near as she could tell as she glanced again over her shoulder, and she was faster by far. Theyd brought dogs, too, but they only loosed one, and a swift kick sent it yelping. She burst forward and reached a dimly lit cement path. She followed it for a minute, and then circled around the Reservoir. Her pursuers were finally nowhere in sight, so she slowed to a steady canter, trying to decide what to do next.
Whatever was going on, somebody was after her, and they didnt seem very nice. That much was certain. The dog well, dogs werent her specialty, but it definitely wasnt one of the friendlier breeds, maybe a rottweiler or doberman or something like that. It seemed a little large, but its shadow had had the right profile for one of those.
This didnt leave her with any very good options. She could go to the police. She laughed at the thought; it might be illegal to discriminate against the Changed, but everybody did it. She could go home and bar the door. She could go to her mothers, or her sisters. But whoever was after her had found her in the middle of Central Park at night: These were not people to be trifled with, and if she fled to her mother or God forbid to her sister, theyd probably find her there, too.
Which begged the obvious question: Why were these people searching for her? A Changed, barely-under-employed illustrator with no connections to anyone important and no history worth mentioning? If theyd just wanted her money, or wanted to raid her apartment for drugs, they could have done that a long time ago. And they had. At least, they seemed like they might be the same people. And they were still after her. Whatever was going on, Caitlyn soberly noted, it was bigger than Kat and her new arm candy.
She reached the Lake and turned eastward past a couple that was making out on a park bench. She bit her lip and froze in her tracks. Were they part of whoever was after her too?
No, no, couldnt be. That was crazy paranoid talk. This day had been too much. But she realized something: Nowhere was safe. Home wasnt safe. Christines wasnt safe. Whatever was going on was bigger than she was, and beyond her ability to plan around, and she had no choice but to play her pursuers game.
She broke into a gallop toward the southern end of the Park: Like it or not, she was going to spend the rest of this lousy night in Chinatown.