since retreated to the other side of the world. The woods thickened and darkness closed in. With the full moon, Riot could see just fine, but Nina’s human eyes could not. She kept cursing under her breath as she tripped over stones and fallen trees. Finally, she clicked on a light, keeping it flush against her body as she stared at something on her wrist. She shook her arm and cursed again, then scanned the trees. “Darn compass!” Riot stayed in the shadows, listening for predators. He couldn’t seem to take his eyes off her. She was even more beautiful up close. Slight in stature, delicate compared to him, he would’ve thought her weak had he not seen her true spirit yesterday. She’d proven her hidden strength again today by continuing on, when most people would’ve stopped moving. The fear that had clung to her tinted skin was long gone, replaced by frustration. She sighed, then walked over to a fallen tree trunk and sat down. The temperature was dropping fast. Riot wasn’t sure if she was dressed warm enough to withstand a night in the woods. As if in answer to his question, she shivered.
Nina couldn’t believe that she was lost. She knew these woods. Knew them better than just about anyone, but the Park Rangers. How could she have gotten so turned around? She glared at her broken compass. Piece of junk. She knew better than to buy a cheap model, but between lack of customers and her grandfather’s medical bills, she hadn’t had much choice. A breeze picked up, blowing cold air over her neck. Nina shivered and her teeth began to chatter. She hadn’t intended to spend the night in the woods. She didn’t think that she would freeze to death, but it wouldn’t be comfortable. Nina wrapped her arms around her body. The little warmth it provided didn’t do much to combat the cold. It may have been fall, but the temperature in the mountains could drop substantially. Enough to where someone not prepared for the weather could find themselves suffering from hypothermia. She rolled her eyes. That would be just great. She’d never live this down. A twig snapped to her right. Nina shot to her feet and swung the flashlight around. The beam flashed wildly, before landing on something with dark fur and red eyes. The animal ducked behind a clump of trees. Had she scared it away? Nina wasn’t sure. She didn’t want to wait to find out. She swallowed hard and slowly backed away. A bear could run thirty miles an hour. No way would she outrun one, if it were hungry and determined to get her. Maybe it was a deer? Even as the thought crossed her mind, Nina knew what she’d spotted had been far too big to be any kind of deer. She picked up her pace, wondering if there was any way she could shimmy up a tree in the dark. Bears can climb, remember? Something crashed behind her. Nina screamed and took off running, her flashlight bouncing as she tried to scan the ground in front of her. The sound grew louder—and closer. Don’t panic. Don’t panic. It’s as scared of you as you are of it. Wishful thinking on her part. Whatever it was didn’t sound frightened. It sounded like it was chasing her. Nina leapt over a log. The ground should’ve been there, but instead she dropped down an embankment. Her feet slipped out from under her and she fell with a loud ‘ oomph ’, rolling end over end until she came to rest beside a shallow creek. Nina shook her head to clear it and slowly sat up. Her arm hurt, but it didn’t feel broken. Moisture from the creek seeped through her fingers. She reached for the flashlight and shined it on her body. Cuts and scrapes covered her hands. She was bleeding, but not too bad. She struggled to her feet. It took two tries before she made it. The trees swirled for a minute before righting themselves. Nina took a step. Her legs held. Thank goodness. No way would she make it out of the woods if something were broken. She heard the crunch of footsteps as they slowly approached.