The smell of gasoline was rich in the air by the moon-speckled, forested road. It mingled with and sweetened the rows of pine and cedar, warm and dewy in the summer night. Flecked across the sky like a glittering dust, the stars shone clearly, only a few wisps of tangled, ragged cloud to soil them. The dark was rich with song, crickets and coyotes making their music in turn; a gentle wind carried their voices across the wood.

Her mouth was heavy and moist with saliva. The gentle swaying of the branch she perched upon did nothing to interrupt her concentration. Her eyes, wide and round as the wolf moon, watched the road with great, black pupils. They had stretched to their limits to accommodate as much light as they could; she was under heavy cover as to not be seen. Her claws dug into the bark, grip tight with anticipation, and she breathed in as another car passed by. Every sound, from squeak of tire to groan of an overused engine, filtered into her sensitive ears.

Dodge Ram. '97-'98 model. Poor condition, shocks about to give, needs an oil change.

She gave a quiet sigh. No, that was not her target that night; the beat-up, blue Eagle she awaited had not passed by. Perhaps her prey had caught wind of her premeditated hunt; he was said to have eyes and ears everywhere, if the poor souls she had caught were true. Always watching with cameras everywhere — dozens, if not hundreds, lined his section of interstate — and his minions kept an ear out in his territory. She had been careful not to kill any of them directly; she'd let one go, for example, only to pursue him with in a furious cacophony. He had been so frightened by her; the State Trooper had run out in front of a semi just to escape. Her victim was so badly mangled, no one could have seen that final look of terror frozen onto his face.

She rubbed her muscled jaw with one hand, musing over her situation. On the one hand, her prey would probably pick up the pattern of deaths almost immediately. He'd be spooked, and he would hide in his safehouse, waiting for the danger to pass before her prowled again. On the other hand, it had been weeks ago that she had killed his agents, and only a few then. She still wasn't sure whether or not he'd put any in danger to find her, but she couldn't shake the feeling she had been watched. Her…"condition", as it were, made her fairly obvious to any passerby who glimpsed her. The only place she could hide in plain sight was out of sight.

It was so frustrating to try and think two steps ahead of her prey. Or ten. The man had a talent for ingenious planning, that was for sure; she had once observed, via her hearing, coordinate a seemingly-harmless accident to single out one victim. There was something to be said about a man who turned an ambulance into a torture suite — playing on his target's schizophrenia was just plain cold. If he was going to be a predator, then he shouldn't be so sadistic…. Not that she had any right to speak about such things, of course. Several corpses back at her lair had some degree of slowly-inflicted wound.

That was only for the ones who deserved it, she reminded herself. There was no need to start thinking like a monster, even if her humanity had slowly slipped away over the years. It was time for the huntress to return to work, to perform one more, bloodless slaying for her survival and others'. It had been a sad day when she had realized how tied her conscience was to justifying death, and so, she had set out to make the best of it.

The game of cat and mouse had gone on for weeks. Harvey didn't think it would ever end, and — though he'd never admit it — her fingers ached from the exposed quick of each nail. His paranoia and worst fears had been looming over him, frightful as an angry parent or police officer to others. Someone had been following him, caught in mere glimpses of his cameras. Day and night, he had been singling out frames and stills, studying every detail he could of the enigma on screen. Wings, white and black feathers, and a humanoid figure: a lithe woman. Oh, she had been a clever little bitch, stalking and profiling his playthings as he did; she, like him, was some sort of hunter. His stomach spun around itself in a knot — could she have learned of his Map? Was she, like the Watery Doctor and The Man With the Moth, after the same puzzle he sought to find?

The thought of such a thing nearly gave Harvey a heart attack. Over time, he had begun to lose composure; he would miss the little things, at first, such as an odd shadow or a strange shape. Then she began to hide herself entirely, silently mocking him, teasing him with her presence. Come play, her pre-recorded self seemed to say — a temptress of the night, seducing his fears and coaxing them out of the back of his mind. A few of his pawns had been lost in earlier weeks, and he had no doubt, from his observations, she had been at the death scenes. Fear was replaced with an inner heat, and Harvey began to seethe with rage at the image of her using him. Oh, but the joke would be on that little whore, that twisted bitch, who was no doubt some kind of monster. She might have even been like him, only with a body warped by her or others. A pretender was all she was, yes….

His research had been interesting. Though he had found dozens of cases of murder by exsanguination — sometimes with unexplained bite and claw wounds — her description had turned up two times there. Though vague in retelling, most likely from shock, trauma and the focus on fleeing rather than observing, he had found mentions of feathers and yellow eyes. Both had been out in the Pine Barrens, a perfect place to hide; why had the strange woman come to his stretch of road? Had she been seeking new hunting grounds? Harvey's agents couldn't provide an answer, only that they had been followed. Plotting out their sightings in one of his many atlases, he found she had been going up and down his general route. Was she waiting for him, for whatever reason? Had she chosen him as her next victim? A bold move for someone who obviously wished to stay hidden. A smile eased across his face; there must have been some sort of personal cause or vendetta involved. It was perfect for twisting the knife with once the predator turned into his prey.

With the moon at its fullest, Harvey would have plenty of light to see by. His target wouldn't be so stupid as to assault outright, but she might try and throw him off. He picked up his cell — a disposable one, of course — and gloved fingers dialed his first helper.

"This is the Driver," he said, voice monotone. "Prepare for our guest. Light the fires, just as I told you; make a scene."

When one knew they were expected, it was best to prepare for anything. Her prey would no doubt pull something from his sleeve, whether it was backup or some kind of stunt. She could easily be outnumbered, overwhelmed, outgunned — and she had a feeling she wouldn't die quickly. If her target didn't torture her for information, he might do it for the sake of sadistic pleasure. Or, if she had annoyed him put him in a compromising enough position, he'd kill her on the spot. Her observations had showed that he was flexible, tailoring any situation to fit the variables at hand. Finding cameras planted in the trees along his route had hammered that fact home.

For all the man's ingenuity, though, he could not escape his madness.

- Cat and Mouse -

The World of Darkness copyright White Wolf Publishing

OC characters copyright me