Pine switches stung Rayanna’s face as hurtled through the steep, brush-strangled path. As if a mountainside gullet choked her downhill. Stifled grunts followed her, in step with the thumps of Grantham’s uneven gait.
But the sinister tirade pursuing them in the darkness kept her from asking about him. Growls. Clawed earth. The crush of forestation. All of it within a few strides of overtaking them.
Her frantic heart threatened to erupt from its cage. Blood pounded against her temples and soles, pulsing her blindly onward through the vine enshrouded canopy.
The sharp gradient leveled abruptly underfoot, and the unseen shift caused Rayanna to stumble forward. But before she dove fully to the doom of prostrating herself on the forest floor, a calloused hand caught her by the arm.
“Few more yards.” Grantham pulled her alongside him.
Fainter shades, like the blue-gray hues of a stormy sea, leaked through the foliage ahead. Grantham released her arm. She darted the final yards across the forest’s threshold. Not into daylight, but rather the cold glints of a late night sky.
A squad car slumped on the road’s shoulder, leaning toward the deep, murky crevice between the wilds and the asphalt.
As she sprinted toward the ditch, a bellow rose at her back.
She twisted to glance back. At the vacant, weeded field between her and the forest path. “Granth-?”
A succession of loud cracks ended with a yelp. Not human.
Grantham’s shadowy, hulking form emerged from the tree line, limping worse and gripping his arm. “Don’t stop!”
She set her feet sideways to control her scuttle down into the ditch. Splooshed through the muck. Fishy, fungal odors flooded her senses.
As she scrambled up the other side, she called over her shoulder. “Need help?”
She reached the cruiser and yanked the driver’s door open. Trusting for a cop.
“No way.” Heaving, he rose from the ditch and straightened.
A pack of massive beasts charged through the weeds. Bear-sized, yet wolvish, their onyx fur bristled in the chilly night gleam.
Keys jingling in hand, Grantham pointed her to the back seat as he gimped toward the car. “I can drive.”
She tugged the back door’s stubborn handle, then sat in the driver’s seat and hit the unlock button. “No time to wait on your ego. Just get in!”
*** TO BE CONTINUED ***