The earth heaved, and I howled at its agony. I clung tightly to the shifting rocks and scrambled up. My claws dug and scraped and slipped, and I finally managed to pull myself back onto the crumbling cliff just as the shifting stopped. I looked around. Did my howl alert them? My nostrils flared. I could smell them on a breeze. Were they coming to find me? I looked around for a place to hide. My cave was filled with rocks now. I breathed deeply.
Finally, I began to run. I could stay still no longer. My body screamed to flee, so I did. Behind me, I heard a shout of anger. Fleeing was correct. I howled again, the sound out of my throat before I could choke it down. I heard answering howls behind. They hunted!
I saw the ocean to one side, and to the other, I saw dense forest. Which way would lead to freedom? The crumbling cliff along the middle of the way was doing little. I stopped at a spot where I saw treetops in the ocean and dove on powerful legs.
I landed in the water, and pain shot through my leg. With all the speed I could muster, I swam for the treetops and dove. I emerged among the topmost boughs of a pine and rubbed my ears to clear them. I listened and watched.
It was long moments before my seekers came to the crumbled cliff where I jumped. They spoke to each other in their guttural, growling language and gestured angrily to each other as they yanked and screamed at the dogs and wolves they held on leashes. I fought the urge to growl.
Finally, they walked away just as I began to feel oddly faint. I scrambled up higher into the branches and checked my foot. The cut was bad. I bound it tightly with the scraps of my soaked clothes, hopeful that the knot would apply enough pressure.
Eventually, I began to rest in those branches, calmer now.
My rest was interrupted. The earth was heaving again, and the tree was sinking! I launched myself from it and swam with a light head. The short cliffs were rising up! I swam desperately, hoping for a place to seek refuge as small rocks dropped from the cliff around me. Several pebbles hit my head. The icy waters were taking their toll on me. Suddenly, the water sank below me, and I felt something smack into my back. My vision returned, and I stared upward in wonder at a rugged, weathered fisherman.
“Lost your way, did you? You’re going to have a bad time about it if you stay in the water.” He grinned. He looked safe and friendly.
“Thank you.” I managed with a slow tongue. My eyes closed against my will, and I blackness filled my mind.
When I woke, I was in a bed, with many others beside mine in a row along the wall. The room was warm, and smelled of medicine. I glanced about, then closed my eyes again to doze in the balmy heat.
Several more times, I woke and napped again. Each time, there were fewer others in the beds, or someone was gone and replaced with another. Eventually, I was the only one. I heard voices nearby. One was kindly and familiar, the other was feminine and sweet. I heard more after a few moments. They spoke harshly and with unkind words, but this time I understood them. They demanded to be allowed to search the place. With a groan, I forced myself from the bed and made it like the others, them climbed up into the rafters. I hurt badly, but my leg was bound in proper bandages, and even the effort of climbing did not open my wound. I shifted to a dark corner and waited, my body as small as I could make it by hugging my knees to my chest.
The hunters pushed into the room and began to search. They upturned the beds and desks, and looked underneath everything. One looked up, but seemed not to see me, and they left with angry words. The weathered man entered, a curious frown on his face. He looked around, but couldn’t see me. Finally, I spoke as he was directly underneath. “Gone?” I managed. My throat ached, and I nearly choked on that single, simple word!
The man looked around. “Where?” He cut off as he looked up and spotted me. “Good spot.” he murmured in approval. “Yeah, they’re gone.” He nodded. “Heard them in time, did you?”
“Barely.” I choked out. “Throat hurts.” I jumped down, then collapsed in a heap. I forgot about my foot.
The man helped me up and carried me on his shoulder to my bed. He tucked me back in. “Your wounds heal slow.”
“They shouldn’t.” I took a slow, breath to keep panic away. Panic was the ally-killer. “Where am I?” I felt more talkative than my throat wanted to allow.
“This is a hospital in Dala.”
“Dala?” I frowned. Dala was a week’s travel by ship away, and that was with good weather.
“You’ve been awake on and off– more off than on– for more than a month and a half. Everyone from Neas is living here– the survivors, at least. You missed a lot.” He forced a smile. “Our home is gone now. It’s underwater or broken, and it’s been overrun by those types just came in seeking you out.” He sighed. “Dala is our home now, unless we have another place we can go.”
“Oh.” I felt empty inside. I had a family somewhere. Did they make it here? Were they trapped still? I began to tremble. I felt a howl of sorrow and bit my tongue hard enough that I tasted blood. I felt hot tears in my eyes and blinked to banish them. “Do you know anything of Margaret, Alice, and Lily Irons?”
The man closed his eyes. “Alice and Lily are here. Margaret died during the fighting, I heard. Died a hero.”
I couldn’t hold back. My howl filled my entire being, though my ears didn’t hear it.