This wasn’t a chase. They were herding him.

Half-blind in the fading light, his lungs on fire, Auren’s heart was beating so savagely that he was sure it would burst. Worse than that was the cold, that damnable cold! It shot through his skin like a thousand needles, burrowing into the very marrow of his bones.

Tempting chance, he turned his head for an instant. Were they close? The backwards glance cost him dearly. Airborne for a moment, he came down hard. Even as he heard bones crack, he felt lightning spark upward from his knee into his thigh. He landed hard on his chest.

When he raised his head, he found himself at the mouth of a clearing. A pack of hellcats were feeding. Auren caught a fleeting flash of the unmistakable blue that was a shred of Mako’s tunic. Bile rose in his throat. He swallowed hard, willing himself not to vomit as he began crawling backward.

Rustling behind him. The relentless pursuit continued. He did the only thing he knew to do. Run. Ignore the pain. Ignore the cold. Pray to whatever god would listen that he’d find safe harbor before his heart gave out.

A tight clump of shrubbery was the best he could do as his frozen legs collapsed beneath him. He crawled, tucking in as tightly as he could and fell onto his back, sinking into a patch of snow. Tendrils of mist swirled around him as the cold air followed him into his hiding place. Exhausted, he closed his eyes. Just a moment, he thought. Just a few minutes of rest, that’s all I need…

Sudden pain jolted him from his sleep. He feared that his pursuers had found his hiding place and were attacking, but when he blindly flailed his hands to fight them off there was nothing there. More pain, unbearable pain, wracked his body. “Great Valkyn, what’s happening?” he exclaimed. The heavy mist was so thick that he had to hold his hand close to his face to see that the flesh was rotting, tearing away as the bones pushed outward. Screams erupted from his throat, echoing in the small space.

In his last moments of lucid, human thought, Auren resigned himself to the fact that the Hunger was upon him and, for that final glorious instant, he enjoyed the bliss of no longer feeling cold.

The thing that had been Auren rose, an eerie blue light sparking behind his dead, glassy eyes. He rose, stumbling out from behind the bushes, and shuffled in behind the mass of creatures marching into the woods.

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