The car hit the trees below with a thunderous crack of tree limbs and a sick crunch of metal. A soft moan mewled in the air as Cora shifted her body slightly. The tree trunk that her body was thrown against also prevented her from careening over the side with the car. The entire ledge was banked with these wonderful, sturdy trees. Though at that moment, she wanted to curse their inflexibility in the same breath she conveyed her gratitude.
Smoke drifted over the edge of the precipice as she untangled her body where it was practically wrapped around the tree. Her whole body ached from her efforts, small hisses and spasms bringing tears unbidden to her eyes. Biting her lip hard to contain the agony that was sure to come, she rolled away from the tree.
The crackle of twigs and branches pelted the air as she whimpered in pain from the effort. Bones and muscles ached from the collision but she was determined to keep moving, leery of the fact that Lara herself might have managed to escape the wreckage below. If she did escape, Cora was in no condition to fight her off in her current state. The woman was near-psychotic, rage carrying her to the edge...literally. She needed to allow her lioness time to heal her body before she endured another confrontation with the likes of Lara.
Gasping, she rolled herself into a sitting position. Cora set to work evaluating each part of her bruised and battered body. Most of her injuries were merely scrapes and bruises, though there was a nasty gash where a sharp limb pierced her thigh and a rather nasty-looking, large bruise that was already purpling at her side that would be rather inconvenient. No matter the wounds, she was all too aware that she needed to start moving. Testing her muscles and stretching her limbs once more, she finally decided she was mostly capable of walking.
Carefully heaving herself up to her feet, she fought to keep her legs steady beneath her. A pain shot through her from her thigh as she hissed at the unpleasant sensation that pummeled through her muscles. Though the wound would not prevent her from using it, it would most certainly slow her down.
The pants that hung loosely around her were tattered and torn, blood smeared over the expanse of the dingy gray material over her injured leg. Dirt and grass stains managed to make the unappealing gray sweats even less appealing, but she couldn’t care less. The fact that the discoloration might allow her to be less conspicuous as she staggered through the woods had some merit. The less conspicuous she appeared, the more she might blend in with her surroundings and hide from the view of any who might come near her in the shelter of the trees.
Clutching at the waist of her sweats with one hand to prevent them from slipping off, she used her other hand to help her clamber up the rather steep incline of the hill. The shock of what had happened was slowly wearing off, leaving a mild panic and nausea in its wake.
One foot in front of the other. She was determined to keep her focus on the task at hand. Thinking about much else would allow her mind to wander over everything that crazed woman had said, not to mention give her body a chance to grumble at the added effort that she was forcing on it when it only wanted to rest. She would give anything to be able to let it heal itself, but getting to safety was her first priority.
The steep slope of the hill they had only moments before descended gratefully required her careful concentration. Small patches of pebbles and loose earth made it difficult to climb her way back up, her foot sliding mercilessly a few times against several patches of the graveled earth. Each slip of her foot weighed against her injured thigh, forcing a hiss from her throat as she bit her lip in an effort to hide her howls of pain.
She fought to call her beast to the surface, but the lioness remained dormant. Great, she thought. NOW she wants to remain concealed.
Her dainty human hands clawed at the earth as she slowly made progress up the incline, her fingers raw and red from the sheer effort. Even climbing upwards at an angle did not make the effort any less challenging.
Sounds of twigs snapping behind her made her tense, the hairs on the back of her neck standing on end. The sensation of being hunted swept over her, her lioness rising on the fringes of her being. The scent of burning rubber filled her nostrils, the sounds of crackling fire reaching her ears. Somehow, the car had managed to catch fire.
Cora refused to stop moving, tamping down her fear as she focused on her movements. With her beast close to the surface now, she was able to let her claws eke out a fraction...but only a fraction of what she would have been able had she had better control of her beast. Gratitude for even the slightest amount of assistance her lioness was able to provide filled her, knowing the creature beneath the surface was busy tending to the wounds of her body.
The snapping of more twigs forced her head to swivel in the direction they came from. From deep within, she could hear her beast’s mantra: Keep moving! Don’t stop!
“Cora,” her name was dragged out like a melodious song that didn’t seem to know when to end. “Cora,” the word came again, filling the woods with the taunt.
Keep moving! Don’t stop! The mantra filled her mind, breathing itself into every muscle.
Without thought, her hands and feet started moving of their own accord. The incline started to level out just a few feet from where she was, her whole body shaking with the effort of the climb.
“Cora!” The word sounded like a whip cracking through the air. “You cannot get away from me! This isn’t over!” The she-beast was beyond angry, the grating of her words echoing her rage.
Cora’s hands grabbed another clump of grass and her claws dug into the earth below. She hauled her legs up the steep incline before she found herself on stable enough ground to stand upright. The air pumped into her lungs at a rapid rate as she fought to catch her breath, knowing that she only had a second or two before she had to continue the torturous trek.
The pain in her thigh forced her to limp closer to where she could keep a clear eye on the road. When she neared the road, she hesitated. If she had been of a clear mind, she would have already made the decisions that now plagued her.
Did she walk along the edge of the road and hope for help? Could she trust anyone that came by? As it was, Lara had her questioning who she could and could not trust.
If she followed the path next to the road, she would surely stand out. A hundred questions poured into her brain. If she walked out in the open, would people notice her? Recognize her as being the cause of the fiasco on the night of the engagement? Would they be aware of the outcome? Would they be able to tell...
Suddenly, her mind went blank. Placing a hand at her abdomen, she shivered. The purr of her beast within gave her pause. Could it be? If so, then who could she really trust?
Deciding it was best to follow the road in the cover of trees, she then needed to decide which direction to go. Back to Brock? That would take hours in her state. To her house? She cringed. If Anton was there…
“Cora!” The voice boomed through the woods, gaining more distance to her than Cora was comfortable with.
Making the decision, she gripped the waistline of her pants with a strength that she did not feel and pulled the hoodie close around her face. Though her limbs were raw and sore, she willed her body through the brambles and fallen branches that littered the ground.
After what Lara confessed, there was only one place she could go. Before she could return to Brock, she needed answers from her mother.
Moving in that direction, she noticed a car slowing down on the road just beyond the tree line and she caught herself shrinking further back into the shadows. The smoke billowing up from the ravine below was starting to call attention. Without halting her steps, she could hear the car pull over on the graveled emergency lane and stop. The car door opened before the faint sounds of small pebbles scraping underfoot followed.
“Hello?” A male voice called from a distance. Though it sounded pleasant enough as concern weaved through the tone, Cora just couldn’t bring herself to turn around. After all, Lara had sounded pleasant at one point, too...didn’t she? “Is anyone out there,” the man called again.
Cora continued her movement forward, never halting while remaining in the shadows. Lara was too close to make a commotion that would call attention to herself, and too psychotic to trust this man with her and her cub’s lives.
“You,” he called. Cora stiffened, her feet frozen. “Are you okay?”
A few seconds passed as Cora debated on what to do. She didn’t want to move from where she was, didn’t want to turn around and make eye contact, and most certainly didn’t want to answer the call. Fear caused her gut to clench, wondering how far behind her Lara was. She opened her mouth to answer but another voice broke the silence.
“Do I look okay,” the snarl came back to him. Cora’s shoulders went slack as she sighed. He had found Lara.
There was a momentary silence before Cora heard the car door slam shut. Even from this distance, she could hear the delicate notes of a phone number being dialed. Bless her lioness’ gifts.
Ahead of her, a thick puddle of mud lay in the bottom of a shallow trench. Cora sent up a silent thank you to the universe before stumbling towards the filthy salvation. It may not be much, but it should be enough that Lara would not be able to pick up her scent past this point...at least, not nearly as well as she could at that moment.
Kneeling down carefully, she hoped that Lara would be too distracted by the newcomer to continue her pursuit. Even if she tried, this would certainly slow her down. With careful movements, she smeared the blessed dampened soil over her clothes and flesh. If Lara continued her pursuit, she wasn’t going to make it any easier for her...she wasn’t going to leave a trail.
As she coated her body, she heard the man speak once more. “Yes, there has been an accident...on Route 10 near the outskirts of the packlands.” So, the man was a shifter. “One sec,” he said to the person on the other end. He was already moving past the decimated railing and crunching his way over the ground towards Lara. “Were there any others,” he asked Lara.
Lara sniffed and Cora could almost hear the smile in her voice as she replied, “No one that survived, anyway.” The man was quiet before Lara interrupted. “It was just horrible,” Lara broke into a sob that sounded believable, even to her own ears. “I just don’t know what came over her. She just jerked the wheel...she tried to kill us both!” The bursts of painful sobs continued to flow while Cora kept moving, putting as much space between them as possible.
“No, it’s just one survivor,” the man spoke softly, a sadness in his voice for the woman he believed lost...or maybe for the sorrowful creature Lara pretended to be.
Their voices started to become barely audible with every step she took. She refused to cave in to her aching body or her crumbling emotions, her will eclipsing them both. Just before she stepped out of earshot, Lara spoke once more. “I just can’t imagine why she would want to hurt herself like that...hurt her unborn cub. She was willing to take me with her. It was like...she wanted to...die,” she had cried with her fake sobs.
The stage had been set. Lara now had free range to hunt Cora down and no one would question the cause of death: suicide. The woman certainly sounded convincing, sending a shiver down her back. Cora hoped beyond belief that she would never see that woman’s face again.