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Back at the hawk watch clearing down below, a suffocating stillness held the tension at the keen edge of uncertainty.
Jean paced back and forth at the front of the group, looking like a wild creature in a cage. His eyes were wide and fixed on the forest ahead. As he went, his hands flexed at his sides as if to summon claws that wouldn't come. He looked up to the moon over and over, repeatedly dispelling some unknown source of disbelief.
"C'mon, c'mon...!" It wasn't clear if Jean was talking to himself, frustrated that some sleeping strength refused him, or if he was just impatient with the threat still lurking in the darkness.
Mina observed as much, standing statue still beside him. She knew what they were up against, as unlikely as it seemed, having heard that howl before. They'd all heard that howl before... but never THAT loud. Never that deep, that ominous. God, but just how big must this one be?
As that thought crossed her mind, she felt Ventrilobite squirm on her back, still hidden beneath her flowing clothes. The spirit was working overtime to keep her fear in check. Mina wondered with detached shame just what she'd feel now without it. Her whole body felt numb, another puppet, not a true part of her self... but the group was counting on her to stay calm.
Logic droned its way into the void of dulled emotion. Jean isn't himself right now. You'll have to watch his back, but don't let yourself get bitten. There's no support here. We agreed to lie to keep Jean safe. If there's another monster in Mayview, end it before Boss Leader can find out. Swear the Guerra girl to silence. No one can know, or they'll come after Jean—
The woods before them were as quiet as the grave.
Jean let out a snarl of frustration, violently kicking at the gravel underfoot. "Come ON!" His shout's echo thundered with a second layer, like a fierce but frightened growl. He looked to Mina, furious, searching for some direction. His expression softened when he saw her face, a sympathetic but stern warning.
Jean shut his eyes, breathing deep for a few seconds. He turned to Spender, high up on the hawk watch. This time Jean looked guilty, scared... but resolute.
"I have to go," he said. He glanced at Mina, then back to Spender. "We have to go. If it won't come to us..." He shook his head, fighting down complicated feelings. "I can't let something like that just roam free."
Spender stared back down at him, fearful, transfixed. His lips, dry from heavy breathing, parted slightly, but no words escaped. Too much of what he felt towards Jean was still unspoken. To say all of it now... it would feel so thin, so fragile, its potential torn too early from its nest.
Instead, Spender just nodded. If nothing else, he could give Jean his trust.
The gesture seemed to steel Jean. He stood taller, nodded back... and took off running, disappearing in the woods. Mina only briefly glanced over her shoulder before following suit. The neon flare of spectral energy that trailed behind her quickly split into a distant, jagged sheen, crosshatched by sprawling foliage, until it too was gone.
Spender took a step forward.
He felt a tiny hand grab at his shirt.