Phantom Warriors: Riot
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.

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