20. Shadow Council

“You lost her.”

The voice was chilling and imperious.  Sitting completely still on her throne-like chair with her back to the night, she might have been a beautiful statue. Her moonshadow stretched across the floor to the deeper pool of darkness in the midst of the councillors. The deep shade seemed to shift and shrink as her glance fell on it.

“She must be found,” said the seated woman.  “She is our key to the Path.”

Around her she felt, rather than saw, the others nodding slowly and respectfully. Her words were never challenged.

“Do – they – know about her?” one of the council asked. He was a handsome, tall man, whose age was difficult to pinpoint.

“They know what she is, but they do not know what she will be, if everything has gone according to plan; and I do not doubt that it has. My father has done his work well. If they had known about her earlier, she would have been taken to safety sooner. But they will find out, given time. When they start her training, it will come out, eventually. Such skill must be ours! She is our Key.”

Only the tight voice revealed how angry she was. Her pale face, lit by the rays of the moon reflecting from cold and gleaming walls, revealed nothing. She showed no emotion. Her beautiful yellow eyes observed the others calmly. They stopped at the darker shadow at the foot of the circle of figures for a while and narrowed, but then moved on round the others again.

“What can we do to seize her before – her change?”

“We must find out where she is. Hack her parents’ phone and computer. We will find out her location eventually, even if the shadows have failed.”

There was a murmur of agreement from the circle of councillors.

“Firstly, though,” the woman looked into the dark mass of shade. “This is the reason that we lost her. It has failed – as the Hunter has told us.”

The shade seemed to be drawing into itself, an ever disintegrating ball of darkness. This was the end.  Its existence was dissolving in front of the burning yellow eyes. Nothing could be said in its defence. Everyone waited for the order of destruction. Eventually, the woman spoke

“This – ” – she gestured at the dark shape – “Should be annihilated. But – we will not do that.”

The amorphous shape began to take form again. A lowered head with flattened ears started to emerge from the mass. Limbs began to appear and reappear as if struggling for life.

“The reason is that this is the only shadow knowing her scent. Its Hunter cannot be there in daylight, so we must use it again.  Next time, though,” – there was a pause – “there will be no next time.”

The shadow was taking form, growing more and more distinct. The ears began to prick forward, the nose to scent the air. The shape, not quite human, not quite animal, emerged from the darkness, shaking it off as animal shakes off water. It was now standing upright.  The man who was its Hunter stepped forward and summoned it with a gesture of the head, as to a dog. It shadowed the hunter at his heels as they left the room.

“That was – unusual. I have never known her be merciful before.”

The shadow crouched at his feet, seeming to want to touch them. The Hunter stepped away from it as if it were a fawning dog.

“Leave that! And get to work. Follow all the main roads from the university, one by one, until you catch her scent. And then – do not lose her again! Send a thought, and I will come.”

The shadow sprang eagerly to its feet and darted out of the room and building so fast its Hunter could barely follow it with his eyes. His shadow was known for its extraordinary speed. The Hunter turned around to return to the council chamber. However, just in case, he would start molding another shadow, so it would be ready if the first one had to be obliterated.

The clouds parted and suddenly the bright moonlight poured onto the terrace. The Hunter gave himself a few moments, his eyes locked on the celestial orb. For a short while a vision of her filled his mind. Her limp body in his arms in the moonlight, the only time he had ever been allowed to touch her, to do what was needful. And the feeling of her life inside his body now, wordlessly flowed into his very being. So close, yet forever lost to his physical touch

Something stirred in the Hunter’s heart. It was as delicate as the brush of a butterfly’s wing, a whisper, a caress, as though she were awake in him, holding his cold heart in her warm hands.

Then his cold body shivered and his heart thumped, once, before settling back into its silence.

He tilted his head back, and from his open mouth came a blood chilling howl that spoke of pain and longing. The voices from the council room hushed.

The moon slipped back behind the clouds, and the moment was over. He stood still for a while, and then walked back to the shadows of the night where he belonged.

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