Chapter 15: The Stream
A muffled hiss spun Kerri around to find Tiponi’s face peeking out from a small cave behind the waterfall. Relief washed over her and she hurried to splash over to Tiponi’s side, squeezing into the shallow depression behind the waterfall.
She leaned against the wet rock face as cold mountain water and snowmelt splashed her heated face.
“Jim?” she whispered through her heaving breath, trusting the rush of the water to hide her voice.
“I’m here Ker. He made it to the stream, but he’s lost you for now.”
Seemingly in answer, a cry echoed down from the hill behind them, sounding more feline than human, like a leopard or mountain lion. And cats like to play with their food… Kerri thought in a panic-induced spike of dark humor. “The others?” she breathed.
“Parker and Trey got clear in time, back at the ridge. Kevin got it pretty bad, though. I-uh… I don’t think he made it.” A heavy breath gusted over Jim’s microphone as he sighed. “I’m sorry, Ker. If I’d just told you to stay at the village…”
“You couldn’t have known,” she answered, privately thinking she should’ve thought of that herself. “Where is he?”
“He overshot the creek you jumped in, but he’s making his way back to it, sniffing around like a hound. Really, Ker. Whatever’s going on here, I’ve got no way to explain it. He took two shots in the fight by the lake and just kept on like nothing happened.”
At this point, she shouldn’t even be surprised, but Kerri still couldn’t suppress the new wave of helplessness and fear that washed over her at Jim’s words. Thumping her head back against the damp stone, she sucked in a breath, willing herself not to cry. Crying wouldn’t help her right now.
She looked over at Tiponi. The Hopi woman had a tight grip on the bone handle of her knife, watching the forest beyond the waterfall with a steady gaze.
“He’s back where we met the stream,” she told her in a low voice. “Or near there. Jim says he overshot and he’s trying to find our trail.”
Tiponi nodded. “Water. Running water disrupts his magic.”
Magic? Kerri had simply assumed it was a matter of tracking. “Do you know where this stream leads?
She nodded. “We crossed over the lower portion when we were traveling toward where the hunter made camp. We are north of that place now. This stream will flow down to well east of there before it meets the lake.”
“So, we could potentially follow it all the way to the lake and then walk the shoreline in?”
Tiponi looked away for a moment as she thought. “Yes, the terrain should allow for that. But we must stay in the water. It will be cold.”
Kerri frowned down at her boots. She should be fine as long as they didn’t hit any more deep areas, but Tiponi didn’t have commercial waterproof arctic gear to keep the cold away. “I don’t think we have a choice.”
Nodding once, Tiponi lifted her dagger, running two fingers through the ash on its blade. Turning to Kerri, she reached out, smudging the ash over and around her eyes. Startled, Kerri drew back before steadying and holding still as Tiponi obscured her other eye, then repeated the process on herself. “This will help hide you when the water cannot.”
Grateful, Kerri attempted a tight smile, which Tiponi returned in kind. “Alright Jim, did you get all that?”
“Got it. I’ll have the chopper looking for you along the shoreline east of the camp. I’d hurry though. He’s made it back to the stream. It’s only a matter of time before he figures out you’ve followed it.”
Turning to Tiponi, she nodded. “We need to go.”