She practically zipped from tree to tree on her way up the rocky cliff. She had spotted the light of a handful of campfires not too long ago. As she drew nearer she saw several very large figures moving in and out of these interconnected campsites, walking on all fours like the very beasts they seemed to try and emulate.
Finchley peered out ever so slightly from the trunk of the tree that served as her most current hiding place, green gaze searching for Dewitt's horse, Floid. She alternated between moving closer, tree by tree, and searching for a good half an hour - not to mention the hours she spent searching before she even found this place. The sun was beginning to set and she began get worried that perhaps a more grim fate had befallen the horse. With what Dewitt had told her about these wolf-men, she wouldn't put it past them to do something terrible to a defenseless packhorse.
She was about to call it quits for the night and find some place to hunker down until she could try again in the morning when she heard it - a soft and fearful nicker. Her heart almost leaped out of her chest and she inched her way closer to the nearest campfire, taking cover behind a large boulder this time. When she peered around the side of it, it took everything to not to make a sound of relief. There, standing tied to a terrifyingly decorated totem, was Floid; hale and whole, though considerably frightened. Nearby, sat a large brute of a man, clothed in furs and skulls, with his skin painted in a vibrant shade of blue here and there. And near the wolf-man was a wolf, lying on its stomach in front of the fire. The other wolf-men had wandered off to other campfires but Finchley was not so foolish as to believe that these two weren't being watchful, even as they relaxed.
There was no time to pause and try to come up with a detailed plan; not with the way the wolf-man occasionally leered at poor Floid, looking like he'd like nothing more than to make a meal of out of him. And with the other wolf-men currently occupied somewhere else, she thought that this could be her one chance.
After a moment or two of rapid-fire-thinking several ideas over in her head, Finchley bent down and picked up two weighted stones that fit in the palms of her hands. In the dark, she had to take extra careful aim before throwing one stone in such a way that it would disturb some of the brush a few paces away from the campfire.
Inwardly, she cheered when the wolf-man took notice and looked up with an animalistic growl. His eyes moved back and forth, searching for something, anything, in the dark. Likewise, his wolf companion sprang to its feet, also growling, it's hackles raised in anticipation as it sniffed the air. A moment passed and Finchley held her breath as she raised up the other stone and then tossed it into the air. It fell near where she tossed the first one and then tumbled down the side of the hill into the darkness, making a fair bit of noise through brush and grass as it went.
And it was enough to get both wolf-man and wolf to give chase to an invisible prey, both running on all fours and howling. Finchley wasted very little time after they left the campire. She sprung out from her hiding place and ran over to Floid, shushing him and entreating him to keep quiet as she deftly untied his reins from the totem pole. To the horse's credit, he did manage to stay relatively quiet, only making a soft nicker of what was probably relief at seeing a familiar and friendly face.
"... Okay! Come on, Floid," she whispered, beckoning for him to follow her down the other side of the hill. "Let's get out of here."
The woman carefully led Floid back down the hill in the opposite direction of his would-be captors, stepping as lightly as possible to make little noise. She held her breath with fear a few times when the horse stepped on a particularly loose rock and sent it careening down the hill before them. Eventually, they made it down the hill with little mishap and could then see the expanse of the lake in front of them again, the shore only a minute or so of walking away.
"There," remarked Finchley to Floid, pointing out the far off island out on the water where Dewitt was certainly waiting for them both. It would be a bit of a pain having to swim there without a boat but luckily for her, she knew Floid to be a quick swimmer for a horse. "Mister Dewitt will be happy to see you again."
Suddenly, she heard a loud snarl behind them. Both horse and woman turned around slowly to look. An abnormally large, grey wolf was standing there, licking its chops and looking between the two of them, trying to decide who was easier prey. It must have picked up their scent somewhere along the way. One could only guess how long it had been following them. Finchley shushed the horse again, trying to keep him from panicking, lest any sudden movements should cause the wolf to lunge.
A few moments of stunned silence on her part passed until, finally, the wolf began to creep towards poor Floid. It was enough to spring Finchley into action again. Floid was too small for a rider and would no doubt be able to escape quicker on his own. She grabbed the horse's reins to direct him to quickly turn about and then slapped his rear to get him going.
"Run, Floid! Go go go!"
She didn't need to tell him twice! The horse took off at full speed towards the shoreline, kicking up dirt behind him. The wolf made as if to go after him but Finchley pulled out her trusty daggers and stepped in its path. That earned her a growl from the wolf who was momentarily quite put out about being deprived of a large prey. But its ire didn't last for too long and it licked its chops again. Fearsome and hungry yellow eyes regarded the woman intently. She was much smaller prey but she'd certainly do.
Finchley made no sudden movements. She had dealt with wolves before but these ones seemed different - more intelligent and filled with malice. And hungry to boot! Still, there was nothing for it but to remain on her guard, hands gripping the pommels of her daggers tightly.
Her decision proved to be a good one when the wolf finally lunged for her, teeth bared and clawed paws ready to swipe - a test of how easy she would be to prey upon. She nimbly leaped out of the way and managed to land a blow to one of of those paws with her dagger, the sharp end cutting deeply through fur. The wolf yelped and moved backwards, hackles raised and growling. A stream of red leaked from the cut across the top of its paw into the dirt. Finchley, for all her small size attempted to make herself more fearsome, lifting her arms out to her sides a little and yelling.
"Not today! Shoo! Get out of here! Go!"
She could have cried with relief when the wolf appeared to have second thoughts. Perhaps the woman would not be easy prey after all. It was clearly in no condition to attack normally now. It lifted its paw to lick at the bleeding wound, not taking its yellow gaze off of her for a second. Finchley began to back away from it towards the shore, not turning her back to the wolf and still attempting to make herself look more fearsome. Perhaps she'd get out of this, she thought to herself.
And then the wolf lifted it's head and howled... And an answering howl was heard not too far off.
Even in the dim light of the moon, Finchley saw a larger figure running down the hill on all fours. Not a wolf but a man dressed in furs.
"... Ohhh, no!"
Finchley hopped backwards a few paces, watching the wolf-man come closer and closer before turning tail and running at full speed for the shoreline. Floid was now quite far off; she could see his figure in the distance, still swimming for the island. That success spurred her on and she ran ever faster, though she could hear angry growls behind her, getting closer and closer.
When she reached the shore, Finchley resheathed her daggers and barreled into the water, fighting against the lapping waves that threatened to slow her down. Deeper and deeper into the water she ran until she couldn't feel the bottom underneath her feet anymore. She heard angry snarls and half-barks behind her as she swam ever onwards. It sounded like both wolf and man weren't willing to try and catch up with her through the water. She paused a moment to catch her breath and look behind her.
It all happened so fast. In a few seconds, she saw the enraged wolf-man bend down to pick something up and heard chanting in a vile-sounding, gutteral language. Before she could even begin to question what he was doing, she felt something hard and dense hit her upon the side of her head.
Finchley saw stars in her vision and then darkness for she found she couldn't quite keep her eyes open. Eventually, it all went black as she began to lose consciousness and started to sink beneath the surface of the lake.
She tried to move her arms and legs to paddle back upwards but her limbs wouldn't cooperate. Lower and lower she sank and her lungs felt fit to burst as she couldn't get any air.
She had enough awareness in those last few seconds of consciousness to feel a curious sensation, much like a hand grasping her about her right wrist.
Then she remembered no more...
(to be continued)