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Chapter Six

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The path led us to minor fueling rigs, space ports and several star stations, each bearing the distinctive imprint of Yeung Leung's presence. I questioned the owners, station managers and captains of his whereabouts. They all gave their answers readily. It was going far too easy for my taste. I had Starfang checked all over for spy bugs or any device stuck to her. None. Nothing.

I had a bad taste in my mouth. I went to bed infuriated at the fruitlessness of it all. The dreams that followed didn't help. In one, April straddled me, naked and glorious, while she ground her clitoris against me. I was beneath her, my hands gripping her hips. She lifted her head and howled her pleasure. Then, she was sprawled before me while I fingered her moist vagina; she writhed and moaned, her sounds making me shiver, shiver... Our bodies glistened with sweat. Above us the stars spun.

And I woke up with a foul temper, unable to slake the desire within me. I tried to pleasure myself to no avail. I was cold. Empty and hollow like the metal box.

A meal and my anti-craz medication later, I felt remotely better and sat at my desk, sorting the day's list of things out. I started when the door opened, only to reveal April. My face burned. To see her fully clothed before me while my head still throbbed with the after-effects of the dreams was excruciating.

"Captain, I think you should see this."

The look on her face froze my blood.

~*~

Bodies floated. In the darkness of space they looked like specks, snowflakes at night. These bodies didn't die happy. They were petrified, frozen in moments of fear as their air ran out. They had tumbled out of a gutted ship. There were hundreds of them.

I muttered a few verses from an oft-chanted sutra in my childhood. Perhaps the verses would help their crossing-over easier.

"They have the tell-tale signs of our enemy," April said, her voice terse. At the pilot console, Ju Fan turned and looked at me, her eyes golden under the light. I could feel the hatred on the bridge, hot like fire and steady like the sun. My Pack was united in hatred against our common foe. We had lost loved ones. We had lost Mariette.

"Looks like a raid," I said. "Like the mongrel pirates they are."

"They left no survivors. This is not a raid."

"Explain, First Officer."

"This is a warning. A declaration of their power."

I gazed at April closely. Her fists were curled. A tense energy tightened her back.

"That we should not go further?" I asked with a chuckle. A trap, I thought. A lure pulling us in.

"It is a warning," April repeated.

And she was right. Along the trail were dead ships. Clans must be howling in mourning now. So many deaths. So much grief.

All to deter me?

I nursed the hatred inside me, feeding it, fueling it with all the memories I had of Yeung Leung, to keep the fire aflame. Yet, throughout the hunt, the feeling of a noose closing in on me grew stronger and more intense.

He wanted me dead. I wanted him dead.

We were both heading towards an inevitable end.

The question was... who would reach it first?

~*~

While I hunted Yeung Leung, memories of my childhood surfaced like carp breaking the surface of the courtyard pond. I remembered stories of the Great Hunt, where the major and minor clans gathered to hunt a common enemy. It was said that my grandfather led the Great Hunt to fulfil an age-old grudge. The enemy he hunted was a long-gone alien race, apparently much worse than the jukka and shishini. He boasted – and so the story had later tapered down to his grandchildren – that his Great Hunt was so effective and ferocious that it chased the race out of the galaxy for good. Much of this was now myth and many debated its veracity. The Gathering of the Clans was a story to stir the hearts of wolves all over the sectors and goad them into action. Imagine the clans united! Imagine us hunting together!

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