The increased sound of our pursuers crashing through the brush behind us meant two things. First, they were getting closer and second, stealth was no longer a concern for them. That last thought sent a chill through me that had nothing to do with the bitter cold. If they were no longer concerned about being heard then they no longer planned to take us alive. The fear nearly stopped me in my tracks, but the empath chose that moment to grab my hand and give me a quick smile. I realized that she wasn’t any less scared that I was. She just wasn’t letting it slow her down. I decided I wouldn’t let it either. Now the cold was a different matter.
The empath looked over her shoulder and said to the warrior, “We’ve got to find someplace to hide and rest soon. She’s not going to last much longer in this cold.”
“At this pace we will be at the border in just over an hour. We can rest then,” he replied gruffly.
“I’m telling you if we don’t rest and warm up soon, we’ll be carrying her the rest of the way.”
“Fine. I will scout ahead for a suitable hiding place. Keep up this pace so you do not lose sight of me,” he said with a pointed look at me.
Despite the growing attraction I was feeling for the warrior, he infuriated me. Did he think I was slowing them down on purpose? That I enjoyed freezing to death? That I asked to be kidnapped by people I didn’t know and for reasons I didn’t comprehend? He was an arrogant bully. But why was I drawn to him?
I looked up when I realized that the empath was talking to me and I hadn’t responded. She smiled and repeated what I’d missed. “Don’t worry. We’ll get you to safety and then we can explain everything.” I tried to smile back, but I was so cold that my teeth were chattering. She was right, I wasn’t going to last much longer. My feet and legs were numb and felt like they were made of lead. My hands and face had been numb for even longer.
At that moment the warrior circled back to us. “If we can put a bit more distance between us and them, I’ve found a place that we can hide for a few hours.” With determination, I picked up my pace and followed him. I was going to make it out of this alive. I had things I still wanted to do. Maybe not big, important things, but things that mattered to me. I still hadn’t perfected my grandmother’s gumbo recipe. I hadn’t eaten near enough chocolate chip cookies while they were still warm from the oven. And I’d never been in love. Not truly in love.
I was so deep in my thoughts that I ran right into the warrior’s back when he’d paused to make sure we were keeping up. “I appreciate your willingness to keep up, but please keep your mind on the task at hand so you can avoid knocking me over.” Before I could stop it my sarcastic reply escaped, “I don’t think it’s possible for me to knock you down even with a bulldozer.” His puzzled look reminded me that he was not from Earth and had no clue what I meant. The giggle I heard from the empath let me know that even though she wasn’t from Earth either she knew what I was talking about.
Peering around him, I saw that our path was now up a steep incline. “Are we climbing?” I asked, but didn’t wait for an answer. Those few seconds of standing still had made my legs begin to shake. We were much closer to my collapsing than I wanted either of them to know. After his curt affirmative response, the empath moved quickly past me and began helping me climb. I looked up and noticed the opening of a cave. “Are we headed for that cave?” I asked. “No, that is too obvious,” he replied. And I guessed he was right since I’d spotted it right away. “Make your way to the right of the rock face,” he instructed. Once we did, the wind felt less harsh and I nearly sighed in relief.
We came to a group of tall vegetation when he announced, “We will hide here.” I looked around and decided that our definitions of hiding were more different than they were alike. As I turned my questioning face his way, he pointed at the ground. “There is a crevasse in the rock that is wide enough for two people to lie down in. I will stand guard.” I found I was too cold to object to crawling into such a small space and once the empath had crawled in across from me, it didn’t seem quite so frightening.
My teeth were still chattering and I was about to let them know that I didn’t seem to be warming up when the warrior said in a low growl, “You must keep quiet. They are nearing our position.” Before I could reply, the empath whispered, “She cannot help it. She’s not warming up and that sound is her teeth chattering. If I concentrate I can feel if they get too near. In the meantime, we could use your body’s higher temperature to warm her up quicker.”
“I do not think that will be necessary,” the warrior began before the empath cut him off. “Do not make me pull rank. Just get in here.” I felt a sudden rush of panic as I realized that he would need to lie behind me. I didn’t want to be that close to him. I was sure that it wouldn’t be good for my peace of mind. Too late I realized that the empath could probably tell exactly how I was feeling. I glanced up and she met my look with one of her caring smiles. “Don’t worry. We’ll be safe soon and I’ll help you make sense of all that has happened.”
The warrior chose that moment to slide down into the crevasse. The sudden warmth behind me made me gasp. “Did I injure you?” he asked with more concern than I thought possible and began to run his hand up and down my arm. It took me a few moments to be able to respond, “No. Your body heat just startled me.”
“I did not realize that you were so susceptible to the cold,” he said as he worked his arm underneath me, pulled me back against him, and wrapped his arms around me. I couldn’t help but sigh as I settled into the warmth of his body. It was beginning to feel like I would never be warm again. I must have been feeling much warmer than I thought because I actually drifted off. As I resurfaced from sleep, I could hear them talking quietly.
“I no longer sense them close by. Once they searched the cave, they moved off in the general direction we were heading,” the empath whispered. “Apparently the cave was too obvious,” I quipped and I thought I actually felt the warrior smile. “Indeed,” was all he had to offer.
“Does that mean we need to get moving again?” I asked. “No, I think we can stay here a bit longer,” he replied and then added, “Try to sleep a bit more to build up your strength.” He must have moved his head as he said that last part because his breath on my neck made me shiver and I could feel goosebumps pop up on my arms. The warrior pulled me tighter against his body. “Are you getting cold again?” he asked with concern. I was grateful that it was too dark for anyone to see me blush. “No, I’m fine,” I replied but I knew it was going to harder to fall back asleep this time.
But apparently not impossible because the next thing I knew the warrior was whispering in my ear, “You must wake up now. It is time for us to get moving again.” I was loath to leave the warmth, but ready to have this over with. I had no clue what those people wanted with me, but I was thankful for the help of the warrior and empath. I wouldn’t have lasted five minutes without them.
We crawled out of our hiding place, worked our way down the rock face we had climbed up, and then continued our journey to the border. The border of what I had absolutely no clue, but navigating was not my job. Surviving this ordeal was my one and only job. I must have been distracted because too late I heard the warrior growl at the same time the empath yelled, “Look out!”
Before I knew what had happened someone that was no more than a blur had grabbed me and began to take me away from my new friends at a very high rate of speed. All I could do was scream and pound my fists on the back of whoever had grabbed me. I looked up to see the warrior and the empath running as fast as they could after us, but we were quickly pulling away from them. “NO!” I yelled as loud as I could as everything went black.
I came to suddenly and found myself in my own bed, alone. It couldn’t have been a dream. It felt too real. In fact, I could still feel the lingering heat of the warrior. I reached for my phone where I had left it on the nightstand and I checked the date. It was two day earlier than the date in my dream. So was it really a dream, albeit a very realistic one, or was it a vision. And if it was a vision, I only had two days to either keep it from happening or prepare myself for it if I couldn’t avoid it.
Even though it was still dark outside, I decided I’d have enough sleep for one night. I needed to run some errands and make some plans. Damsel in distress was so not my speed.