Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night to a great thudding sound, like the heavy pounding of an enemy crashing through the walls. I jump out of bed and begin to morph. It's right about then, when I start to focus and concentrate that I realize exactly where the sound is coming from.

It is the beating of my heart.

I collapse back onto my bed. The adrenaline coursing through my veins is enough to make me feel a little lightheaded. I hold my breath for as long as I can, slowing my heart rate. The thudding sound remains, but it is now subdued and more rhythmic. You would think that since this happens so often I would know what the sound is already. But I never seem to remember before I start to panic.

In the time before I drift back to sleep, my mind wanders.

What is it that causes my heart to thunder?

Is it the nightmares of old? The ones where I'm being chased by hordes of Hork-Bajir endlessly through the woods and my seemingly boundless endurance for running as a wolf is finally draining my last bit of strength? No. I simply roll over at those. I know I'm safe and that I'll never have to run for my life again.

Is it the heartache of old? The ones where my heart is being torn as I watch the boy I love being stripped of everything he once knew and thrown into a reality where the laws of nature do not apply? The ones where my heart is pounded into the dirt as I watch my friend, as close as a sister, drown in the depths of war and buckle in the tide of young and misunderstood love. No. I simply wipe the tears from my unopened eyes and dream on because that is the only place left where I can see those I've lost.

It should be obvious what is left.

I fear the future.

The only thing about myself I've ever really been certain about is my love for animals. But when I look at the ground, I have no idea where the line is. Rachel always said she knew where the line was and that she'd never cross it. She did many things that I could never do. There were some horrendous acts that none of us could do. I'm not even sure Ax would have done them. But, at some level, they were justified. Weren't they? What would we have done if she hadn't been there? That's one question I refuse to answer.

Maybe that is what drew me to her in the first place. Everyone, including her, wondered what in the world drew us together. How could two people that were such opposites be the best of friends? She wasn't like the other beautiful blondes I knew. Maybe it was her infamous dark side that the fighting drew out of her that set her apart in the first place. I know she struggled, but she always emanated total certainty and confidence. When she was overwhelmed with emotion or the heat of battle, she was most intimidating. But whatever inner conflict she experienced, it seemed like she knew what she knew what she was doing. Maybe that was what I saw in her.

I don't know. How can anyone know? That was what I loved about Rachel. She always seemed to know what the future held. And even when she didn't, that was the one thing she didn't let bother her. She always knew we would win the war. The real thing that the war changed about her was her certainty in herself. That cocky attitude towards gymnastics carried over to fighting. But she didn't know what the future held for who she was. That was the real thing that scared her. She knew her purpose. But she didn't know if that was all she was.

I balanced her out for the longest time. I had my morals. I'm the one who had the patience to deal with any situation. I was the one who always seems to know the right thing to say to calm things down. We leveled each other out. She helped me come out of my shell and I helped her to slow down to appreciate the little things.

That is what I face a future without. I face a future without certainty, without confidence, without courage, without balance.

I don't know what to say anymore. I say things and I instantly regret them now. The words come out, but they no longer seem to fit. There are things that I know. Those are the things about animals and how to protect and take care of the environment. It's only things that could be written in an encyclopedia or science textbook that I have the mental stability to maintain sustained conversations about. The only times in the past I found myself at a loss for words was when I would talk to Jake about us. We were both at that awkward stage; neither of us was willing to voice our feelings. Our lack of experience left us wondering as to what to do with each other. That feeling is perpetual now.

I've had boyfriends since the end of the war, since Jake. We have long conversations about nature and preservation, about things I like and know. But when it comes to any other kind of talk, I choke. Some of the men I've dated think it's cute and endearing that I never seem to know what to say. They seem to think I find relief in physical comfort. But it isn't fulfilling without that emotional understanding everyone seems to lack. I can't connect with anyone.

I feel like I only have one friend left, Tobias.

Sometimes, especially after a particularly bad nightmare, I visit him at his meadow. I lean against his tree, sitting nestled in the roots. He rests above on an overhanging branch where he can watch over his field yet keep an eye on me. He doesn't morph. I expect him to do so on his own accord; I'll never ask. We are both comfortable in our own skins and with each other's.

I've always understood his conflict. He couldn't give up his wings because he felt it was his duty to us and to Prince Elfangor to continue the fight. Nothing Rachel could say would have ever changed his mind. Besides, where would he have gone if he had changed? He couldn't go home. We had become his family. We provided him love and as much support as he let us. To some degree, I don't feel sorry anymore for his loss of self. He chose to stay as a hawk. When he would have his tantrums about not knowing who he was and losing his humanity, a part of me couldn't help thinking that he brought it upon himself. His humanity was gone because he gave it up; a hawk isn't human. During the war, I could never tell him that. I look back and I don't know why I never said anything. It must not have felt right at the time. Nothing feels right anymore.

I think I understand him better than he understands me. I know about his conflicts about what he is. Normally, I would say "you can't change a leopard's spots," but in our situation, we most certainly can. He simply can't settle for being a normal person anymore.

He seems to think he understands me. But I can tell from his responses that he is as questioning as I am. The things that I did trouble me the most. Although, we speak about all of our actions. I sincerely try to pay attention to the things he says, but I get lost in my own thoughts all too often. I know it, he knows it. He does it too.

Our conversations bring up countless questions. But we always return to the same central one, who are we?

I think that's why Tobias has stayed a hawk the whole time. He is a boy in a hawk's body. A lot of times, he has expressed that he feels like he's a hawk stuck with the thoughts of a boy. He thinks he would be better off sometimes if he could just forget the past and actually live like a true hawk. By staying a hawk, he can avoid having to properly answer the question. After all, he's just a hawk. All a hawk has to do is hunt and survive. His future is laid out for him.

But I'm still asking myself the question. Tobias hasn't any good answers. He has gotten extremely philosophical and introspective. He tells me to live day by day, like him, like a hawk. And I ask myself, can I do that? Can I really live that way? I might have once, but now? Thus far, the answer is no.

In the waking hours after my nightmares, my mind returns to thoughts conjured up by our old conversations. I try to trust in who I am. But I don't even know who I am. I'm the girl who hides in the zoo or the woods taking care of every injured creature I find then turns around to slaughter hundreds of sentient lives, both innocent and criminal. How can I be so hypocritical? How can I live with myself with so much blood on my hands? What must I do to repent my sins? If I can save just one, would it be enough? How will I be judged for my actions?

What matters in this world? Something tells me that life matters. But if life is the only thing that matters, then is slavery acceptable? A slave is technically alive. The stories I was told growing up tell me otherwise. The pleas I heard while in the Yeerk Pool told me otherwise. If death is preferable to being a slave, then, if that spark dies, is that life really a loss? My ancestors didn't give in though. I am a testament to that. What about the others? How many lines of life are there that will never come to fruition because of my actions?

How can I be so certain that all life is sacred when it is so easily ended? Tobias could never give me a good answer. His best answer was to take off into the sky only to swoop down and catch a field mouse. He would return with it, barely alive and say to me, "For me, the choice is simple. My life, or the mouse's. I will always choose mine."

I wish I could talk to him about that some more. Except I can't. I forget sometimes that he left with them. I can't go and visit him in his meadow. His meadow is occupied by another. He went with Jake. Jake took away another one of my friends.

Someone offered an answer once, "If all life is sacred, then no life is sacred. If everything has meaning, then nothing has meaning. So if nothing has meaning, the only way something can have a purpose is if you give it purpose and meaning." I thought at the time that that was a great answer. Maybe I could assess what was left of my life and reevaluate what had meaning in my life. My problem is that I like what nature gives us. I enjoy all creatures living. So to me, all life has meaning, which means, by my new logic, life has no meaning. So I'm back at square one.

Most nights I don't fall back asleep.

I continue my circular thoughts until light begins to peek through my window. At that point, I might as well get up and move on to my daily routine. At least that much of my future is certain. I know the minimum of what needs to be done day by day. It's just barely enough to get me by. Most people think the dark circles under my eyes are from overworking myself. I let them think that way. I would stutter if I ever tried to convey my thoughts and fears.

Walking through the world, I am retreated into myself. I have betrayed myself, the old self, the one I can no longer return to, the one I can barely remember. It is my obligation to my remaining values to continue to live. That is what I do. I live today and mourn my past every waking moment. And when I sleep, I tremble with anxiety and fear over my future.