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Hunter, Hunted, Hunter

Wednesday evening…

Fargazer peeked in one of the windows of the glass building–the Museum, she’d heard people call it. The strange bird-lizard creatures, which looked so real but somehow weren’t, were much in the conversations she heard lately. She’d come here a few days earlier to look at them, and had even, greatly daring, touched one of them. But she wasn’t sure why people were so fascinated with them.

Seeing no movement within, she cracked open the door and slipped inside. She was immediately brought to a halt by the smell, a stench of decay that was obvious even to her human sense of smell. Peering around for the source, Fargazer saw first the pool of blood and other fluid, which appeared to be dripping from a sagging, decaying, vaguely bird-like sack of bones and skin hanging suspended from the ceiling. Wrinkling her nose in disgust, she skirted around the stuff and drew toward the smaller bird-lizard figure. The few days since she’d last seen it had wrought a definite change. Its flesh was no longer firm, but sagging and sloughing off, exposing muscle underneath. Fargazer bared her teeth in a grimace and quickly slipped through the doors leading to the park, wanting to have nothing more to do with the horrible things.

Felisa had taken to coming to this green space many evenings. It was quiet–well, relatively so–and she enjoyed watching the squirrels foraging for food, and listening to the splashing of water in the fountain. Sometimes her sister Tealla would join her there, or even some of the other feral cats. Tealla had told their story, and answered questions from the other Folk as well as she could, over the course of several Meetings, so now everyone knew what Fargazer had done, and what she had sacrificed, for their safety.

Tonight, though, she was alone. Her ears pricked to the sound of distant caterwauling, which told her that the other Folk were rather too involved in their own affairs. She didn’t mind, though–it was pleasant to sit by herself on the edge of the fountain, enjoying the evening. And so she stayed there for some time, looking around at the trees, colorful now with the change of seasons, waving in the breeze, and the squirrels digging industriously in the ground. Once, she thought she saw a flicker of movement inside the Museum, but it didn’t repeat, and she dismissed it from her mind.

It wasn’t long afterward, though, that Fargazer wished she hadn’t. Movement in the far corner of the park arrested her attention, and she saw, to her horror, the self-same bird-lizard thing from the Museum, now most definitely outside the Museum, and most definitely moving on its own. As it briefly disappeared from sight in a clump of tall grasses, Fargazer slipped from her perch on the fountain and backed away, keeping her eyes on the predator. She kept as still as possible, even as it came closer and closer, moving only to keep the fountain between it and her as much as possible, hoping the sight, sound, and smell of the falling water would confuse it. Her tactic seemed to work–after a few minutes, the thing wandered away toward the Museum and the gap in the fence there.

Once it was far enough away, Felisa took to her heels, running for the park entrance to the south, throwing herself down the stairs, dashing across the canal, whipping through the alleyway entrance of the opium den, scrambling upstairs, leaping up the boxes, and nearly jumping straight across the gap to the entrance of the urchins’ hideaway. She threw herself on one of the bunks, whipping the covers over her, and lay there, trembling. Eventually, sleep came to relieve her fright.

Thursday morning…

Fargazer woke, feeling…not quite right. She was shivering a bit, and kept coughing. But she needed to find her sister, and make sure the Folk were warned about the new danger in the city. So she crawled out of the bunk, had a hasty breakfast of a bit of bread which, for some reason, didn’t seem as appetizing as before, and went off in search of Tealla.

Tealla had taken to living outside the city since their escape from Ambrose. At first, she’d stayed nearby Tepic’s camp with her kittens, getting reacquainted with them. But even after they’d grown up and gone out on their own, she stayed around that area, reluctant to enter a city that had proved so disastrous for her. Felisa didn’t know exactly where Tealla was, but she knew how to get her attention. She exited the city through the big gate and perched on the wall of the ramp outside, occasionally calling out for her in the Higher Singing.

It wasn’t long before Tealla raced up the ramp to her. She leaped up next to Felisa, and butted her affectionately with her head. Something made her draw back, but before she could say anything, Felisa said, “There’s trouble in the M’an-nest, Tealla.” She went on to describe her encounter with the bird-lizard.

“I’ll go inside and make sure the Elders know, and spread the word,” Tealla said thoughtfully. But then she said, “Are you well, Felisa? You don’t smell right.” She looked up into Felisa’s face. “You don’t look right, either.”

Fargazer patted her face, then looked at her hands. She saw that the skin had gone grey, and was developing a fine webbing of cracks. “I don’t…I’m not…oh, I’m *hungry.*” She suddenly thought of the voles to be found at Tepic’s camp, and leaped off her perch to scurry down the ramp and along the wall, Tealla trailing behind.

Entering the camp, Felisa immediately made for one of the live voles kept in traps. She took it out and quickly twisted its neck, killing it instantly. She skinned it, using a small knife one of the urchins had given her, and began tearing into the meat of the vole. But that, while good, wasn’t quite what she wanted to satisfy her appetite. After a moment’s thought, she set the carcass down on the ground, and carefully stepped on the head, pressing down until she heard the skull crack. She picked up the vole again, and burrowed through the little meat on the head, picking out the skull fragments, until she exposed the brain. Hungrily hunching over, she slurped up the contents of the head with relish.

Then she glanced up, and saw the stunned look on Tealla’s face. She looked at the mangled carcass in her heads. “What am I doing?” she whispered. As a human, the thought of eating raw meat had nauseated her. But now it was what she craved. Raw meat…and brains…more of them…and bigger…and her eyes strayed again to Tealla.

Felisa drew back, horrified at herself. She’d been relying on the human instincts inside her to help her live as a human. But now those instincts were jumbled, unrecognizable. She had to wrest control of herself away from that sick human side. But could she?

“I’m not well, Tealla,” she said. “Not well at all. I…I need to go. I need to get away.”

“But–“

“No, Tealla–don’t follow me!” Felisa leaped off the wall and ran to the gate. She checked her flight there, seeing a few people just beyond the entrance, and ducked into the passage that ran inside the city wall. As she ran along the passageway, she realized how fortuitous her choice was. She could follow it all the way to her old haunt, where the wall met the sea. She’d be away from everyone there, human and Folk alike, and wouldn’t endanger them. She could even, hopefully, catch rats there if she needed that sustenance. But how long would she have to stay there? Would this strange illness pass, or was it something she’d have to fight from now on? Shivering and coughing, she finally collapsed in her old nest area, wondering what the next days would bring.

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