I walked away from the hospital feeling much better than I had when I went in. Mark'd had a soothing effect on me, calming me down after my meltdown. I finally had some self-belief that I was worth to lead my group of soldiers into battle. I was more determined than ever to get my mother back.
The sun was beginning to set as my black lace-up boots made slight clicking noises on the pavement. Ever since I had been jumped and nearly killed by Savannah on my way home, I wasn't too keen on walking alone at night. I normally had Demitri to keep me company, but now...well, you know what happened there. I picked up my pace, feeling uneasy, like there was someone watching me, despite the fact that there were no parked vehicles or other people in sight.
I paused when I came to a turn in the road. The main street continued straight ahead, but there was also a small side street turning left, which was a shortcut back to Dem and Mark's house. I knew what the speakers had told me whenever we had a personal safety talk at school. Stay in well-lit areas when walking alone at night so people can see you.
I can fight, I told myself. If anyone attacks me I'll be able to fight them off.
I turned down the small side street, keeping my head down and walking as quickly as I could without running. As soon as the lights that lined the main road were out of sight I regretted my decision. I was sure someone was following me now, even if I couldn't see them.
I broke into a run, terror gripping every part of my body, fear driving me onward towards home and safety. I was certain I could hear footsteps behind me now but didn't dare look around in case I tripped and fell. I wouldn't be able to escape then.
I felt a rush of relief when I emerged onto the right street but didn't stop running until I was standing outside my front door, fumbling with my keys so I could open the door. I fell in the front door, slamming it behind me and collapsing on the doormat, breathing heavily.
'Stop freaking yourself out Cassandra Morton,' I told myself out loud. 'You're not doing yourself any favours. You're safe.'
I pulled myself to my feet, walking through the darkness of the house into the kitchen where I flicked the white plastic light switch, sending beams of harsh light onto the surfaces. I filled the kettle and put it on to boil before going to get a mug from the cupboard on the other side of the kitchen.
As I reached up to take my mug from the shelf I heard something behind me which sent shivers up my spine.
But as I turned around to see what had made the noise, I felt the pressure of a body behind me as an arm went around my waist and a large hand clamped itself around my lower jaw and neck. I dropped the mug, sending splinters of china across the tiled floor.
'Don't try to scream,' a deep voice said straight into my ear. 'I could snap your neck before you managed to make a sound so it would be an inconvenience for me and pointless for you because you would be dead.' His breath made the hair hanging around my ears brush against my skin, making me shiver. I could feel someone's face pressed against the back of my head but couldn't see what my attacker looked like.
'Why are you here? I don't have anything else you want.'
'I think you do,' the voice whispered, the hand that was holding my waist travelling up my body and pulling at the necklace around my neck. 'This for instance.'
'You're not going to get it,' I said stubbornly, determined to stand my ground. Demitri would not die for nothing.
'You're either very brave or very stupid. Or a mixture of the two,' the voice said. 'But I've not come for your jewellery. Not this time at least. You have captured someone my boss would really like back, and he's willing to make a deal with you. The Ox for your mother.'
'And what if I refuse?'
'I don't think you're in the position to argue chosen one. We are the ones in control, always have been, even if you and your little gang haven't noticed. We've anticipated your every move.'
'If you knew what we were doing then why did you let us capture Clay Marshall? Maybe you're not as in control as you think.' I gasped as the grip around my throat was tightened, shutting off my airways.
'Don't play games with me little girl. The Dragon will meet you in one hour at this address.' I felt something slip into my back pocket, a piece of paper. 'Bring the Ox and we'll bring your mother. A simple exchange. Don't be late.'
I dropped to the floor with a crash as my attacker's grip on me was suddenly released. I spluttered, desperate for air. All I saw of my attacker was a flash of black disappearing around the kitchen door. I'd landed on the broken mug and had horrid gashes on my arms, hands and shins where I had landed. I was bleeding but I knew I didn't have time to hang around.
This was going to end tonight.
But I couldn't do it alone.