32 – Elena

The sensitive at the counter of the small corner store glanced behind him uneasily as Elena and Brock approached, but held his ground long enough to pay for a handful of small items before bolting.

“Can I help you?” the woman behind the counter asked, trying not to sound as bored as she was.

“No,” Elena said curtly, already on her way after the fleeing sensitive.

“Great,” Brock muttered. “It's not much but it's food. And he snatched them quick, but there was some thought behind it, not just grabbing what came to hand. Energy drink, protein bar, and a chocolate bar full of nuts?”

“The last one we had that kept her head was that little bitch the Donovans stole,” Elena said, watching a short distance ahead while the sensitive opened the bottle and began to take swift swallows she suspected were small ones. “Something worries me more, though. He's letting us get closer every time. Closer than I've ever seen, especially this early. How the hell is he keeping from panicking?”

“There's something weird with this one. And getting weirder by the moment.”

“Agreed. Just as well we're getting him out of the population before it can spread.”

Their current prey was just one more young male sensitive, this one strikingly blonde but as scrawny and undernourished as the rest, in ragged dark cargo pants and a well-worn blue hoodie, a stained and patched nylon messenger bag at his side. He stayed primarily at a rapid walk that kept him just far enough ahead to feel safe—not running in a vain and irrational attempt at losing them. Combined with the food and drink now and whatever he might have come up with last night and might over the next few nights, this hunt might take longer than usual.

Elena thought he was choosing his route with a goal in mind, but couldn't think of anything in this direction that might even look useful to a sensitive.

On a quiet residential street, in front of a fairly ordinary house that certainly was too well-kept to be a sensitive den, he paused and looked back. Elena saw fear there, but something else, something she couldn't read; puzzled, she traded glances with Brock, and they spread out, Brock out into the middle of the street. It was a move they used frequently, the pressure from multiple angles forcing a sensitive back into motion.

The sensitive dropped to one knee, reached for something on the ground. Elena shifted her attention to the landscaping of the small front yard. A miniature wilderness of plants, a few just beginning to flower, planted among rounded water-tumbled rocks, mostly a bit bigger than a golf ball.

Reflexive telekinesis snapped into play a fraction of a second too late—the first thrown rock hit her shoulder glancingly before being shunted away. With that much warning, Brock avoided any damage at all.

“What the fuck?” Elena snarled, one hand on her throbbing shoulder.

The sensitive darted to his feet and ran.

“Are you hurt?” Brock demanded.

“Just a bruise, I think, but that was aimed right at my head! With no TK deflecting it and if I hadn't seen it, that would've brained me! What the fuck? A sensitive fighting back?”

“If you're okay, let's keep him in sight, huh? I'd rather he didn't spring any surprises on us that might be harder to deal with.”

“Oh, hell, yes. And when I get ahold of him...” She fell into stride with him, the effortless lope that they'd learned to sustain for long periods if necessary, so they could close the gap again. Not too close; neither of them was certain whether he'd picked up any extra rocks.

He settled back into his earlier pace, and stayed in quiet areas, instead of the more common tactic of trying to lose himself in a crowd. Stayed away from areas where there were other sensitives, for that matter. He finished both the protein bar and the candy on the move, finished his drink and tossed the bottle in a trash can.

As the sky darkened and the spring air chilled, he veered towards the darker spaces behind a strip mall, presumably looking for a place to go to ground for the night. That was common enough. They lost sight of him briefly as he went around the corner, and they followed a bit cautiously—Elena bitterly resentful that a sensitive could make them wary but self-preservation won out over pride.

In the middle of the driveway for picking up trash from the dumpsters and for deliveries, the young sensitive had stopped and turned to face them. Arms crossed, and as they drew nearer Elena could see him shaking, he stood his ground.

“Run, little mouse,” Brock growled, already closer than any wild sensitive should be able to stand without their nerve shattering.

“Why?” the sensitive retorted. “I can't really get away. I know that. You know that. So what's the point?” He spread both hands. “Here I am. You caught me.”

“You have got to be joking,” Brock said incredulously.

“Yeah, huge joke. Hilarious.”

The bravado, Elena thought, was a way to fight off his very visible fear. That it had any hope of doing so was, or at least should have been, impossible.

She seized his wrist, and his eyes met hers, steady despite the shimmer of one tear, as she shoved him into sleep.

He crumpled, no longer any different from any other sensitive.

The hunters looked at each other.

“Maybe we should think about turning this one over to Olaf to study?” Brock said finally.

“It's a thought, if we could convince him to focus on getting information out of him about what makes him different. We did promise Teodor, though, and he already paid us. It's going to look bad if we don't deliver.”

“We've only lost two days on this one. We could find another.”

“That's true. Let's see what happens as far as training and what kind of responses we get. There are other ways to make sure he's vulnerable.” She frowned. “Where's the bag he had?”

“They lose what they're carrying all the time.”

“Yes, but he still had it just before he came back here. Everything else he's done has had an alarming amount of thought behind it. So why did he ditch it just before giving up? I think we need to find it. Go grab the van. I'm going to take a look around.”

“If you want.” He shrugged, though he clearly wasn't entirely happy with the idea, and left the alley. Elena wasn't particularly worried; she'd always been the one to take the lead in their partnership, and she trusted him to trust her reasons.

Keeping one eye on the unconscious sensitive, she searched the area for the pale flash of the nylon bag; with a sigh, she concluded that it wasn't on the ground or behind anything in range, and therefore he must have managed to toss it into one of the dumpsters. Only two were placed where he could have done so in the amount of time he'd had unobserved.

She planted a foot in a protrusion on the dumpster and heaved herself up, flipped the lid back. The smell was revolting. Summoning a small ball of light to illuminate the contents revealed only black and clear plastic garbage bags. He couldn't have had time to bury it, so it should be readily visible.

She spotted it in the other one, right on top. She nudged it into reach telekinetically, but the angle it was at spilled the last of the contents out loose as soon as it moved. Cursing, she grabbed the bag and snatched up the contents, one item at a time, as she could get a grip on them.

A book? What the fuck is a sensitive doing with a book? They can usually barely read.

It was a trade paperback, not terribly thick, the cover a plain deep green with a black and white yin-yang symbol, and the font was simple.

Mages and Sensitives. Rory Donovan.

What. The. Fuck?

As she flipped through the book, the question of the sensitive's unheard-of behaviour began to make sense, and her rage grew.

I am going to take that man down. No matter what it takes. Before he destroys us all with this poison, he has to go down.

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