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The Monster that Hunts Us

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Chapter One – The Monster that Hunts Us.

Where are you?

Darkness surrounded me like a cocoon, pulsating a cool comfort along my skin. The world moved around my hiding spot as I sat cross-legged between the joining of two walls. My eyes were closed tightly as I reigned the painful longing inside my chest that was growing too strong, too powerful as time went by. It was too quiet in this darkness without Nethore's voice to join in, but the outside world was too loud.

I was caught between the two, unable to rest, unable to do anything other than hunt for the Seal members.

"Where has she gone now?"

Dem stepped into the loft, dimly searching the empty room. The past few months had taken a lot out of us, but I missed Dem's smile that used to come so easily. It was drawn down now, but in his true moments of laughter the world felt right again, at least before we realised that our joy wasn't being shared across the bonds in our souls, and we remembered again that our dragons were far from our reach.

The mark along my arm pulsated but I didn't spare it a glance as I let the darkness ebb from my skin and Dem blinked, unsurprised as I appeared in his line of vision.

"That's creepy, Neely."

"It's useful though." I dropped from the low wall of the loft which separated two sections of the room, padding over to our board. It contained a carefully organised map of Seal members and I guarded the setting of the board viciously. There were photos gathered of lower Seal members who had been all too ready to sell out their upper level, creating the spider-network of twine stretching wide and far, but their honesty hadn't saved them.

We could all feel the essence of our dragons on them and knew that they were suffering because of those bastards. There was no mercy for that. Most we didn't kill, but I had learned to infect their minds and wrench any magic wielding from them and brush over what they remembered. It rendered them useless in the eyes of the Seal, which was worse than death.

There was a mirror in our make-shift 'operations' room and I could barely even look at the young woman in it. I had let Dem chop by hair up to the nape of my neck again as it grew longer, unable to deal with the feel of something on my neck. In my nightmares, the brush of silken blond-white hair morphed into a chain and I felt like I was choking in my sleep. My face was gaunt and harsh, my eyes dull, but we all looked like this.

"Are we ready for tonight?" Peter strode in after Dem, a cap pulled low to help mask his face.

My stomach churned at the thoughts of tonight. Nearly five months of living under the radar, avoiding any thoughts of Valaxia and having only the sparest conversations with Abner to ask for advice, and now it seemed like it was coming to an end.

I'm nearly there, Ne.

I didn't let myself think about it, because if tonight was a bust, I wouldn't be able to cope with the crushed dreams. I needed Nethore back, but I also wanted to be able to return to Valaxia and breathe in that crisp, magic-laden air. I hadn't returned to the human realm since I left for Valaxia, but now the very air seemed poisonous to me and I coughed and hacked when I first arrived, broken and bruised from Naughton like I had asthma.

"We have to be ready." Dem surveyed the board critically. "Two high-ranking members are meeting with our planted therianthrope specialist. We need to know if they know anything about where our dragons are being held."

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