Where I Live (Part 21)

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Unlike the image I had conjured up in my mind, the Hunter wasn’t especially muscle bound or tall or ugly looking. He was actually quite handsome and by all other standards . . . average. I probably wouldn’t have been able to pin him as a Hunter at the library.
The woman had shrunk back a little ways behind the Hunter. Ty Lan and Kadin were both on their knees in front of him, arms hanging limply at their sides. Neither of them looked very aware, but they were both staring at me.
I tore my gaze away from them and looked at the Hunter. He was holding a gun in his hand, pointing it at the space in between Ty Lan and Kadin’s heads. I had been angry before, but now fear was starting to override my basic brain functions. I barely remembered to breath.
The Hunter moved his gun back and forth a few inches. “I knew you’d come.”
I couldn’t do anything but stand there, nearly shaking.
“How do you think you got this far so easily?”
“Blind luck?”
He smiled slowly. “Still enough spunk for jokes?” He pointed the gun at Ty Lan’s head. “What if I off one of your friends?”
“No, don’t!” I said quickly, taking a reflexive step forward, holding out my hand. He moved the gun a little and I quickly retraced the step, even adding a second one for good measure. “Please, don’t. . . Why are you doing this to us?”
“Well, it started out as revenge.” He smiled a little, looking almost wistful. “It still is, mostly, but there are some . . .” He glanced back at the woman who was still standing nervously some distance behind him. “Scientific purposes to it. And some of it’s for profit. There are a lot of people who paid good money for some of these pictures. And the others,” He shrugged, “Well, I make some money off that website you’ve no doubt seen.”
“Revenge? Revenge for what?”
“For something that happened when I was just a little boy. I was only seven years old . . . when a Bird of Prey killed my father.”
I could have sworn my heart stopped for a few seconds. “No . . . that can’t be true. . . We made a pact – an unwritten rule! Humans are supposed to be left alone!”
He sighed, a small smile still on his face. “Naivety will get you nowhere in life. A Bird killed my father. And because of the fear my mother had every day – fear stemming from the Birds, Wolves and Jungle Cats surrounding her – her heart was overly stressed. She died less than a year ago.”
“It’s not our fault. . .” My voice sounded small, but it slowly got louder as panic grew inside me. “It’s not our fault. . . Why do this to us!? It’s not our fault!”
Shaking his head slowly, he holstered his gun. He pulled out a knife and walked forward. I almost stopped breathing, felt like I was losing my mind as he stepped up behind Kadin and reached down, the knife disappearing behind him. It seemed that my brother was too far gone to care whether he lived or died. He didn’t fight back.
“I’m going to let you choose. . .” The Hunter said, obviously relishing in his power. “Which one . . . dies first?”
“No . . .” I whispered quietly, begging him, “Please . . . don’t do it. . . Don’t make me do this. . . It’s not our fault. . . It’s not our fault.”
“That’s okay. . . I’ll make the choice for you.”
He pulled his knife hand back and slammed it forward again.
Kadin’s eyes widened as blood blossomed on his shirt.

A blood curdling scream reached Hikaru’s ears as he helped a Wolf out of its cage. His head whipped towards the sound.
“Kryn.” He whispered.
Leaning the dazed Wolf up against the desk in the middle of the hall, he took a step towards the door.
“Stop.” Kole said quickly from across the room. “She can handle herself.”
“But it’s not stopping.” Hikaru stared at the door. The screaming hadn’t died down at all. “I have to help her.”
“She told us not to go looking for her. She tried to kill you. Why do you care what happens to her?”
“I can’t help it. And I’m not just going to let her die.”
“Our job is to get these people out of here. Once we do that, we’ll do whatever needs to be done.”
“How long is it going to take to get all of them out?” His head spun.
“Without interference . . . with two of us and dozens of them . . . if we work fast . . . at least twenty minutes.”
“That’s too long!”
“It’s reality! I’m sorry, Hikaru. . . I really am. . . But one life in exchange for all of the people here . . . it’s not worth it.”
“Maybe not to you, but to me she’s –”
The door to the catwalk slammed open.

I screamed. I screamed until I needed air, then took a quick breath and kept screaming. I screamed until my throat was sore and I felt like my lungs were about to collapse in on themselves. My heart felt like it would burst. Though I wanted desperately to curl into the fetal position and start bawling, my eyes were dry. My mind was too shocked, too overwhelmed. I was probably about to die, but I was too numb to care.
Kadin jerked as the Hunter pulled the knife out. He fell forward onto his stomach. Ty Lan fell forward onto his hands, eyes wide with fear as he started to shake, but he did nothing to defend himself. My knees gave out and I stumbled, barely managing to catch myself. What I really wanted was to fall to the ground.
The Hunter walked slowly up next to me. “You’ve searched so desperately, but now that you’ve found the people you’re looking for, there’s nothing you can do. The Cat is dead. Even if you’re family forgives you for your utter failure . . .” He let it sink in, “You’ll be shunned for associating with those two Birds that are trying to free the creatures in my cells.”
I couldn’t say anything, couldn’t move, just kept staring forward, not really seeing anything.
“I say ‘trying’ because I’ll stop them soon enough. I’ll just let them feel like they’ve accomplished something before ripping them apart. . . Think about you’re life, little girl. . . It’s gone down the tubes. . . Here.” He held out the knife’s handle to me. “Relieve yourself of the pain. . . Just end it. . . We both know it’s what you want.”
My gaze slowly settled on the bloodied steel in front of me. I reached out, took it slowly, holding it carefully in both hands.
“The pain will only last a few more seconds. . . Take it and feel the cold steel plunge through your chest.”
Gripping it slowly in both hands, I let the point of the blade settle over my heart. I was ready. I did want the pain to end. I couldn’t save anyone. I was no hero. I wanted to kill the only person that had stuck with me as I tried and failed to save so many people, only to doom them. I didn’t want to see my father’s face. He would surely hate me. I had betrayed our clan by nursing a Bird of Prey back to health and protecting him from the rest of the Jungle Cats. I had failed to redeem myself by saving two of our clan and many of the others. And worst of all . . .
I had let my brother die.
Reaffirming my grip, I whispered quietly to the people I loved, my voice emotionless. “I’m sorry . . . I can’t do this anymore.”
A door flew open.
“Stop!”
I turned slowly, the knife moving away from my chest and saw Ethan standing in the doorway, panting.
“I told you to stay away.” Some feeling was coming back. I was angry. He had promised he would do as I said. If I died, it was okay. But I wouldn’t let him sacrifice himself.
“You told me to get those people out of here. It’s already done.”
“How?”
“I had some help from someone who claims to be your father.”
“No . . .” The Hunter said from behind me, showing the first sign of worry. “They can’t be here.”
Ethan took a few quick steps forward, but the Hunter grabbed me, holding the knife to my neck. Now I was angry. Dad was here. He was helping. Maybe he wouldn’t shun me . . . but Kadin . . .
“Stop! Don’t hurt her!” Ethan shouted.
Why? I thought distantly. . . Why do you still care?
“I’ll kill her. I have no qualms with it, as you can see.” He moved a little and Ethan’s eyes widened in horror, then filled with sorrow. He could see Kadin.
“Kryn . . . Oh, god, Kryn . . . I’m so sorry. . .” His features started to harden into anger. “I’m sorry . . . Kryn . . . I’m sorry. . . I know you’re hurting . . . and this is going to cause you pain . . . but the light . . . must shine through the dark.”
He extended his hand and there was a big flash of white light. I felt myself flying a few feet backwards and hitting the ground, but there was no Hunter beneath me. The light faded. Darkness claimed me.
I welcomed it.





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