The cold air bit through his lungs, his dark hair obscuring his vision as it fell in tangles over his face. He could understand that, with the sun having just sunk below the horizon, it might be a little hard for the hunter to see at the moment. Which meant he could also see why the hunter had jumped to the conclusion that he was some strange animal, even possibly a Yeti– he had, after all, been sneaking around through the trees and underbrush, trying to stay out of sight. That did not, however, excuse the man for shooting at what he could not see! The bullet whining past his ear had almost given him a heart attack, and his legs had taken off running before his brain had even figured out what had happened. Since then it had been a mad chase down the mountainside, with bullets occasionally sending bark or leaves raining down on his head.
Suddenly the ground disappeared before him. Scrabbling to a halt at the edge of the rocky drop-off Warren froze, arms held out, breath held until the last of the disturbed pebbles had fallen into the small river below. Giving a slow, even breath Warren relaxed, and turned to listen and see if his pursuer was still behind him. At that moment there was a quiet 'crack', and a fiery pain lanced through his left thigh like a hot poker, dropping him to the ground. For a moment Warren could only lay on his side with a hand gripping his leg, eyes squeezed shut as he hissed in a painful breath.
The sound of crashing through the undergrowth brought him back to his senses, and gritting his teeth Warren pushed himself up from the dirt to his feet. Trying to stay silent, face tightening in a grimace with every step, he held his leg and limped to a large, tall pine tree. Reaching up he grasped some lower limbs and pulled himself up with a loud, determined grunt of exertion. Once in the branches it didn't take him long to climb higher, till he was completely surrounded by spine-like foliage. Then he waited, holding his breath as the hunter suddenly appeared below. He was a small man with large eyes, staring around with fearful excitement and acute nervousness, hands clutching his rifle with white knuckles.
Warren waited, seated against the trunk on a thick branch, holding onto some slightly smaller branches for balance as he watched the man search for the 'Yeti' he had shot. The minutes stretched by as warm blood dripped from the open wound, soaking slowly down Warren's leg under his jeans. For what seemed like hours the man searched the area, bending down to inspect the dirt with a flashlight he pulled from his coat, scanning the trees and jumping at the slightest sound. Sweat beaded on Warren's skin, whether from the strain of holding himself still upon the branch, or from the wound of his leg he could not tell. His arms trembled, thrown out against the neighboring branches to steady his precarious perch. His leg shook.
Finally the man stood, his face filled with intense disappointment and frustration. Muttering to himself he shouldered his gun and spun around, quickly disappearing into the darkness. Warren tipped his head back against the trunk of the tree and sighed, closing his eyes. With the danger gone his leg suddenly decided to make its discomfort known, and he hissed as the injured area began to ache and throb almost unbearably. Glancing down at the dark, wet patch on his jeans he carefully reached around and touched the back of his thigh. The resounding flare of pain as his fingers made contact with a wet, spongy spot of flesh made him throw his head back against the tree with gritted teeth. Yes, the bullet had indeed gone all the way through. He wasn't sure if that was good or bad; he did know that by now his friends would be worried about him. The moon had begun to rise.
Will was going to kill him.
Setting his jaw, Warren braced his hands to lower himself down, when all of a sudden there was a loud crack as a twig snapped, somewhere down by the river, and then he heard voices– carried up by the wind.
"Oh my gosh! Did you hear that?"
"Something moved down there– something big!"
Warren froze. The voices said some other, inaudible things, and then he heard an exclamation of surprise and excitement: "There's a footprint! We have a footprint here!"
"Are you… kidding… me!"
"No, no– I'm not kidding you! We need to cast this–"
Closing his eyes for the briefest of moments Warren dropped his chin. It was the Destination Truth crew. They had infrared cameras and other do-dads that could easily pick up his heat signature if pointed in his direction. If he moved, they would come rushing in to see what the noise and heat signature was. If they found him, wounded, they would rush him to the nearest hospital– and that, given his 'special' power and subsequent 'special' DNA– would land him in a whole mess of trouble.
He had no choice. He'd have to stay where he was.
How long he stayed on that branch, Warren didn't know. He had pulled a bandana from his coat pocket and tied it around his leg, which had helped to slow and eventually stop the bleeding. Now he just sat, trying to ignore the steadily increasing cold of the night air. They were taking their own sweet time casting the three footprints they had found at the edge of the river. When they finally finished and put the casts into a safely padded box Warren sat up, listening, and was relieved to hear them say they were going to start up the search again, further down the river– and see if they found anything. Further down the river they wouldn't be able to hear him get out of his tree, or stumble his way down the mountain back to camp.
When their voices had faded Warren carefully braced his arms, sliding from his branch and down to the next, grimacing as the movement jarred his leg. His muscles had grown cold and stiff, and it was hard to move. Still, he somehow made it down to the last branch, and from there he let himself drop to the hard ground. There was a startled snort and growl and awful noise that was like a roar but wasn't, and a creature covered in hair and standing at least eight feet tall leaped back as he landed in its path. Warren gave a shout of pain and surprise when he hit the ground, a terrible, burning white pain stabbing through his thigh, and as he blinked away the stars and black dots that obscured his vision he tried to scramble backwards. There was another growl and roar as the creature lunged, raising its arms and baring its teeth. Warren shrunk back, throwing up his arms to shield his face. He tried to remember what to do when encountering a wild animal– such as a bear– but his mind was still reeling in shock and agony from his fall and the terror that he was about to be eaten. His heart hammering in his chest Warren waited, arms raised, breathing hard and raggedly. Nothing happened. It was silent. Cautiously he forced his eyes to open, and blinked away their fogginess, glancing around his arms. The creature was gone. He realized it must have just been trying to scare him off so it could escape.
Breathing a sigh of relief Warren glanced down at his leg. Fresh blood soaked into his jeans from the newly opened wound, and the muscles of his thigh shook as he slowly pulled himself up and gingerly pressed his hand tightly against the skin. Baring his teeth Warren gave a small sound of pain, but he kept applying the pressure with his one hand, trying to untie the bandana with the other so that he could re-tie it even tighter. Then his neck prickled.
Glancing up Warren's eyes skimmed the dark forest around him, feeling he was being watched. That was when he saw it. It was nothing more than a large, looming shape in the darkness, standing slightly behind a tree, watching him. Warren felt a cold sensation spread out into his limbs, knotting itself in his stomach. Slowly, trying not to do anything to cause the creature to attack, he pulled his right foot up and almost under him, then pushed– moving himself slowly backwards across the ground. When his leg was fully extended he pulled it back, and did it again. The creature moved. It walked slowly towards him, head tipping to one side. Warren pushed himself back a little bit faster, unwittingly making small noises as the motion hurt his leg, his eyes never leaving the advancing animal. It could move quicker than he could crawl back, and just as he came up against some rocks the creature reached him. Warren pressed himself back as it crouched down next to him, his heart pounding and his mind demanding that he fly into full fight or flight mode.
There was a gentle puffing sound. It was sniffing. It had a face similar to that of a gorilla, but it had hair on its face, and its body hair was longer– and thicker. Much thicker. It leaned down, till its face was merely inches from Warren's. His mouth pressed together as he tried to control his breathing; he felt the warmth of its breath, and smelled it, too–like dog's breath. A heavy, musky body odor filled his nostrils, almost overpowering his senses. The sound of puffing air was loud in his ears as it smelled him, moving from one side of his face to the other. Then it pulled back with a soft grunt. It lifted its nose and sniffed twice more, then glanced sharply down at his leg. Its expression became curious, and lifting a large hand it pressed down on his thigh. Warren tried not to make a sound, but as the pressure increased his face twisted and he bared his teeth, groaning.
There was a sharp look in his direction. The small, dark eyes moved back and forth from his face to his wounded leg. It made a low, rumbling sound in its throat, and turned to study him with a tipped head. Raising its other hand it began to trace Warren's face with its fingers. Warren closed his eyes tightly at the first contact. The skin of the fingers was thick and like leather, yet softer than he had expected. The hair on the back of the hand and fingers tickled his cheeks and nose and mouth. It seemed forever that the creature studied him, tracing his features as it made low sounds in its throat. Then it looked between him and his leg again, at his hand clutching the wound, and it patted his hand almost comfortingly– when Warren hissed at the contact it tipped its head, and gave a soft crooning sound.
Warren's eyes opened when he felt the leathery, hairy hands suddenly grab his arms. Grunting, the creature pulled on him, encouraging him slowly but surely onto his feet. With several groans and many sharp hisses Warren finally made it, his heart sinking at the thought of trying to walk– much less keep up with this creature's obviously immense stride. He could barely stand. Then the creature did something that completely took him off guard. It turned and bent its knees, still holding onto his one hand, and pulled him onto its back. Warren's eyes widened as the ground suddenly left his feet, and he rose high into the air, pressed against the warmest and smelliest fur he had ever felt, his arms instinctively wrapping around the creature's broad shoulders. There was a sharp flash of pain in his thigh as the creature pulled his legs around its sides, but Warren simply clenched his teeth and closed his eyes. A moment later he opened then again as they began to move. The gentle swaying of the long and steady stride was constantly broken by the rough landscape, which demanded that the creature often take varying smaller or longer steps, traversing the uneven mountainside carefully. Warren pressed his mouth closed and sometimes shut his eyes as some movements pulled or jarred the wound in his leg. It seemed that they traveled for hours, though in reality it couldn't have been that long as the moon hardly moved. As time wore on Warren felt himself start to drift off, held close against the warm, furry back of the giant creature.
Yeti, he corrected himself sleepily. The creature had to be a Yeti. There was nothing else it could be. Unless his eyes were deceiving him in the cold darkness and it was really a large bear–
There was suddenly a stilling of the air around them and Warren woke sharply, surprised to find that he had been dozing. They were in a cave, making their way down a small stone passage that opened into a decent sized room. The blackness was almost overpowering, surrounding him on all sides and feeling heavy– like a large blanket settling over him. The creature– the Yeti– suddenly stopped, and he felt the leathery hands on his arms again, pulling, sliding him from the furry back and around the one shoulder, carefully crouching and lowering him to the ground. His thigh, which had for a while subsided to a numb ache, woke up with a vengeance as his feet hit the floor. The Yeti felt his body tense as he inhaled sharply, and it froze. Then it gently began lowering him again, more slowly this time, its large hands supporting him all the way down.
The ground was not as cold as he had thought it would be, and something crunched and crackled under him. Warren guessed he was laying on a bed of leaves or grass. There must have been a small crack to the outside air that was letting in the moonlight, because he could see the faint glimmer of light reflecting on the Yeti's eyes. It was the only thing he could see. He lay perfectly still as hands moved over his body, searching for the wound on his leg, patting him here and there until suddenly a palm unexpectedly hit the bullet wound. Warren gave a pained exclamation, jerking his leg back and reaching for it with his own hand. There was a startled snort, and then a soft crooning as the leathery hand found his– gripping the crusted bandana– and gently rubbed the back of his hand and his knee in a soothing gesture. It made a strange sound, some grumbles and snorts, and then suddenly it was gone, its footsteps quickly fading. Warren waited a moment, listening closely, but there was nothing except silence.
The minutes stretched by. The darkness brought with it the cold, the air steadily seeming to drop in temperature around him as the heat left his body all too quickly. Warren blinked in the blackness, head laying back in the nest of dry leaves. He swallowed. His leg felt hot; he knew he had to look at it. Listening closely to be sure he was alone, Warren held up his right arm, and a moment later golden-red light flickered on the walls of the cave as fire engulfed his hand. Finally getting a chance to see where he was, he pushed himself onto his left elbow. It was definitely the Yeti's den. He was laying on some sort of bed made of dried leaves and pine needles, and there were the slight remnants of some small animal skeletons left in a pile beside a wall. Right beside it was a pile of vegetable matter– leafless branches, a few rotten berries, the remnants of roots– it seemed that the Yeti was an omnivore.
Moving carefully, Warren pulled himself across the floor to the vegetable garbage pile, and soon had a good armful of tinder. Within moments he had a fire going several feet from the bed of leaves. Settling himself back on the bed Warren finally looked down at his leg, and he grimaced. It looked worse than he'd thought. Tightening his jaw, his dark brows pulled together, he reached down and pulled the bandana's knot loose, then slowly pulled it free of the dried blood, groaning as it peeled back from the wound.
An unhappy and excited growl echoed in the cave's entrance, and Warren's head whipped up. The Yeti stood in the entrance, shifting nervously and holding something in its hands, its instinct to flee from fire urging it to run, but something was preventing it from doing so. It kept glancing between the fire and Warren in obvious distress. It would start to take a step towards him, but then the fire would pop and it would pull back.
Warren quickly held up his hands. "No! It's okay–" he tried to sound soothing. "It's okay. It won't hurt you."
Whether it was the sound of his voice or something else Warren couldn't say– but the Yeti seemed to decide it was worth the risk, and slowly dared to come closer, though it still startled whenever the fire would pop and hiss. Eventually it reached his side, and crouched down, kneeling beside him. It held some kind of moss, and what looked like a large bowl, or a large cup– similar to the ones he'd seen in the village at the base of the mountain. When he and Will and the rest of the gang– Layla, Magenta, Ethan, and Zach– had arrived, the locals had complained of some of their possessions disappearing. One woman, who was missing a few teeth, had lost the metal water cup that had also served as a lid for her earthenware water jug. Another had lost a blanket. Still a few others had lost some bowls.
Now, looking at the vessel the Yeti set beside him on the ground (along with the moss), Warren recognized it as one of the metal cups that lidded the village water jugs. It was full of water. Glancing quickly up he wondered if the Yeti had been the one to take the missing items. If it had observed the people in the village–
His thoughts were interrupted when the Yeti gently laid a hand on his knee, looking at the wound and making a rumbling sound in its throat. With its other hand it scooped water from the cup. There was a clear, tinkling sound as it drew its hand out and water streamed from the hair back into the vessel. Bringing its hand over it poured the water from its palm over the wound, wiping at the dried blood. Warren clenched his teeth as the torn muscles pulled, and he hoped that was the end of it; but it wasn't. The Yeti continued to pour water over the injury, rubbing away the blood, even pushing him till he turned onto his side so that it could wash the exit wound. Warren tried to be quiet, and had managed till now to keep the groans and pained sounds to a minimal, but the hole in the back of his thigh was large and ragged from the bullet exploding free. He tried not to yell; he really did. As the Yeti's leathery fingertips rubbed over the ragged and torn edges, however, the pain was sharp and fiery and terrible, and he found he could not keep his vow of silence.
It was a long moment before he realized that it was over. There was a low moaning sound behind him– a soothing sound the Yeti was making to try and comfort him, holding his leg with one hand while it stroked his head with the other. It continued this, until the tension gradually left his body and his breath quieted.
The large hands left him, and then he felt something cool and soft press to the raw wounds. His leg jerked as he inhaled sharply, but the movement was halted by a strong, firm hand on his leg, warning him to stay still. Clenching his teeth Warren lifted his head and glanced down. The Yeti was pressing the moss it had carried in to both wounds on his leg. Then it took his bandana, and wrapped it around as he had done. Its fingers fumbled with the ends, twisting them together time and time again, but always they fell apart. The Yeti made a sound of frustration. Slowly Warren reached down with is own hands and carefully took the cloth ends away. The Yeti watched him closely as he tied it once, then twice to make a knot. He tied it slowly, so that the Yeti could see how it was done.
The Yeti made a pleased sound in the back of its throat. Going to the back of the cave, a corner behind Warren where he had not looked, it pulled out a dirty blanket. He saw there, too, three bowls piled against the wall– one had a few berries still in it.
"So you're the one." Warren said, the corner of his mouth lifting in tired amusement.
The Yeti glanced at him, then walked back over and put the blanket over him. It was serious as it did this, a look of intense concentration in its eyes, carefully pulling on the corners of the ragged cloth until finally it was how the Yeti wanted it– laying out flat over Warren's body, covering him from his shoulders to his feet. It snorted and tossed its head, pleased, and then stood and returned to the wall, huffing to itself as it went. Warren thought it sounded like laughter. He watched it crouch beside the bowls, and then he shifted beneath the blanket, reaching into his coat pockets and withdrawing– with some difficulty– a thick, overly stuffed pair of ski gloves. They were Will's. He had insisted Warren take them when his friend had started out early that morning on a private hike. It didn't matter that Warren's hands rarely ever got cold– if they did, he just lit them up. Holding up the monstrous things now Warren smiled, then set them to the side. Just like his friends. Always looking out for him.
A nudge to his shoulder got his attention. The Yeti was beside him again, holding out one of the bowls to him. Pushing himself onto his left elbow Warren reached out with his right hand, taking the bowl. "Thank you." He said in surprise; then he frowned. "Why am I talking? You probably can't understand a thing I'm saying."
The Yeti blinked, and tipped its head.
Tossing his musings from his mind Warren looked down into the bowl– and froze. Inside lay the raw remains of some small animal: minus the fur. His stomach rolled, and his throat threatened him with mutiny if he even considered trying– but he looked up at the Yeti who watched him quietly. "Mmmm."
The Yeti blinked.
Warren grinned tightly. "Smells delicious."
It was cold. It was very cold; and the cold seemed to have moved into the muscles of his thigh and tightened them into a hard knot of pain that made his entire leg ache and his pulse throb through the area. Warren stirred on his side, waking, hands clutching the blanket and holding it high over his mouth, but the thin, worn out blanket offered no warmth. A shudder wracked his body. Blinking slowly, Warren looked towards the fire– or where the fire used to be. It had burned out. All that was left was a small pile of coals; those would not last long, he could see. A sigh left his lips as he considered starting another fire and realized he had no tinder to do it– unless he set his bed aflame. He next considered setting himself on fire, but he decided that since he had a Yeti as a roommate doing so would probably cause more harm than good. Hearing a small noise to one side, like a puff of air, Warren lifted his gaze– shivering– and saw in the quickly fading glow of the coals the Yeti. It was crouched low to the ground, bending over something and sniffing. The smell must have surprised it because it pulled back, staring at what it held, then leaned forward to smell it again.
It was Will's gloves. Warren watched the Yeti sniff them, and figured that it was trying to understand why the scent was different from his own. His musings were cut short as another harsh shudder took him, and Warren held the blanket tighter with a quiet moan. The cold was making him shake so hard that it hurt his leg.
The Yeti looked up when he moaned, and dropped the gloves as it stood and strode over to his side. Reaching out it gently touched his dark hair and stroked it, making a small, crooning sound in its throat. It watched Warren shake, and took in the way he had curled up with the blanket wrapped tightly around himself. With a snort it stood and left.
Warren sighed, clenching his teeth as he closed his eyes and tucked the blanket in under his chin. He would just have to make do until morning. Sleep pulled at him, beckoning him back into blessed unawareness, but he found he could not fall asleep again. The cold was too great.
Dried leaves suddenly dumped and fell all over him– he jumped, covering his face with the blanket until they had stopped falling, but just when he moved to look around another wave fell over him, and then another, and then another. It went on for what seemed like forever; he was being buried.
Finally it stopped. There was a huff of air, and loud crunching as something moved behind him and laid down. Warren blinked, and tentatively pulled the blanket down to uncover his eyes. Glancing around, eyes squinting in confusion, he tried to figure out what had just happened. Without warning a large, furry arm suddenly crossed over his body and wrapped around his arm and chest, while another slid around above his head. A very large, very warm body covered in fur pulled in close against him, the arm holding him tight. There was a quiet crooning in his ear, fur tickling it with each soft gust of air as the crooning and comforting sounds continued. The Yeti held him close, stroking his hair, and slowly the heat of the creature's body began to soak in. Warren lay still against the Yeti, surrounded by fur, and gradually felt his shivering start to abate, warmth seeping into his limbs, the heat held in by the insulation of the leaves he'd been buried in. In time the shivering stopped completely. Soon after Warren felt his body relax in blessed warmth, and his eyes grew heavy, and then they shut. The last thing he was aware of was the sound of the creature's steady breathing behind him.
The Yeti woke with a soft snort. Pale light filtered into the cave from the short passage that led outside, and birds twittered somewhere in the trees beyond. The human in the Yeti's arms slept quietly, nestled in her fur and the leaves she had poured on him in the night when he had become cold. Sometimes he had made sounds of pain as he slept, and then she stroked his hair and crooned softly till he quieted down again.
Carefully she pulled away from him, then pushed the leaves back around his body so that he would stay warm. The human moved and sighed, but did not wake. The Yeti picked up the empty metal water cup. Glancing back only once she left the cave, traveling down the mountain to the river. The water was cold as she stepped out into the shallow current, searching and waiting for an unsuspecting fish to swim by. Voices stopped her.
Quickly hiding herself in the trees she peered out and saw a group of humans walking through the trees on the other side of the river. They were looking around and calling something– two females and three males. She turned to leave, but then the morning breeze shifted, and she paused. She sniffed. With a quiet snort she turned and looked back at the group, sniffing the air, watching them. There was a scent she recognized, one that was new yet familiar to her. It was the same as the strange things she had smelled last night, the things the human had brought with him into her cave.
The humans crossed the river, but she managed to stay hidden even as they passed her only a few feet away. As they did so– passing her one by one– she tested each of their scents. The last one was the same. It was a male, one of the smaller two; but he seemed to be the lead male, because when he stopped and called the others stopped, too, and followed when he turned to go in a different direction. They spoke to one another as they walked, and suddenly the lead male stopped again and turned to the tall male, and they made some sounds; the lead male seemed to become agitated. Then he turned and left the group, going back across the river and the way they had come. The rest of the group sat down to wait.
The Yeti shifted in her hiding place, agitated, unsure– she wanted to leave. In general she preferred to stay away from humans; but this male's scent had been on those things the other human had carried. This must be his pack. With a huff she ducked back into the forest, and made her way up the river till the group was out of sight. Then she crossed the water, and quickly made her way back down again through the trees until she picked up the male's scent, and she followed it. Very soon she had caught up. He hurried through the trees, making odd sounds to himself, much like the human in her cave had done the night before when she had given him food. The Yeti trailed him silently, keeping back amongst the trees. Down the mountain they went, closer and closer to the foot– and the human village– until suddenly they came upon a strange place, a small clearing with odd things sitting in a circle. In the center was a small pile of burned wood and coal; the same as what was in her cave after the human had made a fire. She snorted in disdain at the memory.
Into one of the strange things that sat in a circle went the lead male. A moment later he came out, carrying several things that sounded like they were full of water. He shook his head, and made a sound: "Zach."
The Yeti waited until the male had left. Then she looked around, sniffing the air, and approached cautiously. She went to the thing the male had gone into, and discovered it was like a cave made of blankets. Slowly she poked her head into the opening, and within she found a pile of blankets, and the smell of the tall male. She snorted and backed out; she didn't like that smell. Yet now she was curious. She went from thing to thing, checking each one, until she found the one that smelled like the lead male. She backed out; another scent reached her– one that she knew well. She followed it, all the way to the last blanket–cave. It smelled like the human.
The Yeti looked around the clearing; this had to be where the human lived, although she couldn't remember this pack ever being here before. Perhaps they were migrating. If that was the case, she needed to bring the human here before the others left.
The Yeti traveled much faster than the group of humans; she reached the river in no time at all, and caught her fish. The fish was good, cold and fresh, and she purred in contentment as her belly was filled. Then she caught another fish, and filled the metal cup with water; the human would be hungry and thirsty, and he wouldn't be able to climb down to the river. Besides, the sun had already been out for hours, and he hadn't eaten since the night before.
Warren stirred; warmth surrounded him, and he felt comfortable and blissfully quiet, like he was floating in warm, dark folds. Except for a strange, tight feeling somewhere that did not hurt but seemed to throb in time with his heart. It was annoying. Warren frowned, shifting, but it did not go away. He began to pull out of sleep despite his best attempts, and finally he gave up and opened his eyes, blinking in the brilliant light that poured in through the cave mouth. For a moment he lay still; the events of the previous night came back to him like a detailed dream, and he found himself surprised to wake up and discover it had really happened. Glancing down he saw the great pile of leaves that still covered him, and vaguely pondered how such a thing as dried leaves could act as such an effective insulator. With these thoughts running through his tired mind Warren yawned, and extended his legs and arms in a long, hard stretch. That was a mistake. The ripping sensation in his thigh made him yell in surprise and pain, curling his legs in again and gripping his thigh, pressing against the bandana and moss. For a long minute he lay still on his side, teeth bared and clenched, eyes squeezed tightly shut while the pain finished making its presence known. When it finally quieted down to a simmering ache Warren released the breath he'd been holding and opened his eyes; he looked around at the cave, being careful not to move his leg. There was no sign of the Yeti anywhere; he was alone.
Just as he started trying to figure out what he was going to do there was a snort and a huff, and the Yeti entered the cave, holding the metal cup from the night before and a fish. When it saw he was awake it huffed at him several times, moving to his side and crouching. Warren looked at the proffered water warily, but his thirst won out and he accepted the cup, trying not to think of how clean it was as he drank. When he had finished he lowered it, thirst quenched, setting it on the ground as he took in a deep breath of relief.
"Thank you." He said, looking up at the Yeti.
It gave another huff, and held out the fish. Warren took it, brows drawing together as he stared, trying to figure out how he was going to eat it. He tried not to look at the head, with the eyes bugging out at him.
The Yeti sat back and watched him patiently, occasionally snorting and shaking its head as he continued to stare. Finally Warren moved, slowly sitting all the way up, and he glanced at the Yeti with a hesitant look. Then he held out his hands before him, palms up, the fish laying across. The Yeti snorted and pulled back when flames suddenly licked across his hands and the scales of the fish, dancing along and sizzling slightly. The Yeti stayed back, but it did not run; instead it watched him curiously, and then it lifted its face and sniffed as the scent of cooking fish filled the air.
Warren wasn't exactly sure how long to cook the fish for, so he was pleased to discover that not only had he not burnt it, but he had cooked it all the way through. It didn't taste half bad, either, and the warmth from the food spread throughout his middle.
Setting the head and the bones to one side Warren licked his fingers, then rubbed them on his coat. No sooner had he finished then the Yeti suddenly stood and strode to his side, and leathery hands grabbed his arms and started to pull.
"What?" Warren asked, grabbing the Yeti's furry arms as it grunted at him, urging him to his feet. Warren grunted himself as the motion hurt his thigh, the blanket falling from him to the ground. A moment later he was on his feet– but not for long, as a dizzy spell hit. Warren groaned and swayed as the cave tipped sharply under him. Strong, furry arms suddenly wrapped around him as he fell, catching him and holding him close while he closed his eyes and tried to wait it out. It passed, leaving a weak and unsteady feeling in its place. Warren blinked, breathing deep and evenly, and even as he attempted to stand on his own he realized his leg couldn't take the weight. There was a snort above him as his leg buckled and he fell back against the large furry body with a frustrated exclamation of pain. It stabbed through his thigh, the muscles pulling around the wound. Warren gritted his teeth; he'd never be able to walk, not like this.
The Yeti seemed to understand, because a moment later it was holding his arm and crouching, guiding him around to its back– just as it had the night before. Warren grimaced as his thigh pulled when it stood, holding his legs against its sides, but he held onto the broad shoulders, closing his eyes and resting his forehead against the thick fur when another wave of vertigo hit. The world tipped forward, and then back upright, and something was pressed into his hands– Will's gloves. Warren took them with one hand and tucked them into his coat pocket. Then he felt the Yeti moving, and a moment later they stepped out of the cave and into the bright sunshine.
Glancing up Warren squinted, trying to tell what time of day it was based on the position of the sun. As far as he could tell it was sometime in the afternoon, probably somewhere in the middle. This high in the mountains there wouldn't be many hours of daylight left; as soon as the sun dropped below the peaks of the mountains it would be dark.
The Yeti traveled slowly, apparently trying to be careful for his sake, working its way down the mountain. It seemed to have a clear destination in mind, which made Warren wonder. After they crossed the river, the Yeti paused a moment to sniff the air, then it headed through the trees, steadily traveling down towards lower elevation.
Warren lay across its back, cheek against the warm fur, watching the trees pass and the sun move through the sky. "Where are we going?" he asked, readjusting his cheek against the back of the broad shoulder.
The Yeti's head turned towards his voice.
Wincing slightly, Warren tightened his grip on the shoulders and readjusted his left leg, trying to ease the pain a little. "Because I don't know about you, but I am going to need a break in a little while."
The Yeti snorted and looked ahead. Its stride continued its steady pace.
Warren sighed, settling himself again. "Or not." He agreed, and glanced up at the sun through the treetops.
It was black, darkness and shadow all around, the only sound in the forest the heavy footfalls of the Yeti and its steady puffs of breath. Warren dozed against the warm back, lulled by the motion of the Yeti's strides and the warmth of the fur. Drifting between waking and sleep, he didn't notice when the Yeti's steps slowed and then stopped, or the hiss as it sniffed the air, or its slow, cautious advance. Then he felt leathery hands on his arms, and in his half-awake state he was aware of being pulled from the Yeti's back and held gently by two strong arms that lowered him down. The ground was hard and cold beneath him, seeping in through his coat. He shivered and woke up, blinking sleepily. The Yeti crouched over him. It crooned quietly, and touched his leg gently, palm settling over the moss and bandana for a brief moment. It looked almost sad.
"What?" Warren whispered, looking at it questioningly. That's when he realized that a flickering, golden light illuminated the Yeti's face. Looking quickly to his left Warren saw, to his shock and surprise, that they were on the outer edge of his friends' camp. A fire crackled in the fire pit, dying down as it consumed the last of the wood. Nothing stirred; everyone must have gone to sleep. Warren looked back at the Yeti in wonder.
It looked down at him, almost with fondness– and as it reached out with a large, leathery hand and gently stroked his hair it purred deep in its throat.
Then it stood and began to stride quickly away, the shadows of the forest swallowing it up.
Warren pushed himself onto his elbow. "Wait!"
It paused at the edge of the trees, and looked back.
For a moment Warren was at a loss. "Thank you." He finally said.
The Yeti huffed, several times– then disappeared into the night.
Warren stared after it for a long moment; for some reason he felt a strange sadness, like he had just said goodbye to a close friend. He didn't have long to ponder it, though, as there was suddenly a commotion of shouts behind him and then Zach and Ethan were running across the camp towards him. The chaos woke Magenta, Layla, and Will, who burst from their tents ready to battle whatever had gotten the other two so excited. When they realized it was Warren they joined in the excitement.
Zach and Ethan were the first to reach his side, and they were gasping for breath and wide-eyed; Zach held the group's video camera in his one hand. "Warren!" he babbled. "Did you see that! What was that thing? Was it a Yeti? Oh, man, I got it on camera!"
"You okay?" Ethan asked, pushing his glasses up his nose and peering at Warren worriedly. "You don't look so hot." His eyes then fell on Warren's legs, and– if possible– widened even more. "Holy–!"
"We were just playing around with the camera, and we got it on tape!"
"Zach, shut up!" Ethan exclaimed, his voice cracking and going up in a squeak. "Can't you see that Warren's hurt?"
"Warren!" Will and Layla and Magenta finally reached his side, the look of relief on their faces so overwhelming that Warren didn't know whether to laugh or look away. Will dropped to his knees beside him, eyes running over his friend, taking in everything. "Geez, what happened? We looked for you all day!"
Warren shook his head. "Long story."
"You have got to tell us." Magenta declared.
Layla's mouth was open in an appalled expression. "Warren, what happened to your leg?"
The looks of horror on his friends' faces made a tired grin pull the one side of his mouth up. It was good to be back.
Will shook himself, blinking. "Okay. Um, how about if we get you back there–" he tipped his head in the direction of the tents. "And you can tell us your story while we fix you up?"
Nodding, Warren put his arm around Will's shoulders when his friend bent to help him up. "Sounds good– Ah!" he bit back a groan when Will pulled him to his feet a little too quickly– Stronghold sometimes still didn't know his own strength– and his leg buckled under him. He didn't fall, Will supporting him easily, though his eyebrows pulled together in concern.
"Sorry. You okay?"
Glancing at Will in that disbelieving way of his, Warren shook his head.
"So," Ethan piped up, sliding in and pulling Warren's other arm over his shoulders. It didn't seem to faze him that it really wasn't needed; he did it anyway. "Was that really a Yeti?"
"Wait," Magenta held up a hand. "A Yeti?"
"What's this about a Yeti?" Layla asked.
Warren ignored the girls. "Yes." He answered, grimacing as they started to walk, heading in to camp.
"Oh my gosh!" Zach crowed. "I got it on tape!"
Warren turned his head and looked at Zach through his long hair. "Let me see." He said, holding out his hand.
Zach eagerly held the camera out and dropped it into the outstretched hand, grinning. A moment later his eyes widened and he shouted in horror and dismay as Warren's hand burst into flame.
Warren dropped the melted camera to the ground. "Destination Truth doesn't need to know about this. No one does." He said. Swaying slightly he closed his eyes, sagging against Will who quickly tightened his grip.
"You melted my camera!"
Warren didn't listen, trying to focus on walking and ignoring the pain from the action. He obviously wasn't doing as well as he'd thought, because the next thing he knew Will's arm had tightened around his waist, he heard "Let go, Ethan." and then the ground had left his feet. Will didn't say anything to him, just flew them through the camp to Warren's tent. Setting down outside the tent flap he helped Warren inside and onto his sleeping bag. Sinking back against his pillow Warren closed his eyes and exhaled slowly; after hard ground, the thin sleeping bag had never felt so good.
As the voices of the others drew closer, Will started to remove the bandana and moss. "So," he said quietly. "A Yeti, huh?"
Warren cracked open one eye and looked at him. "Yeah."
Will nodded. "Cool."
Closing his eye, Warren allowed himself a smile.
In the forest, just beyond the light of the campfire, the Yeti stood from her place of hiding where she had watched to make sure the human would be found by his pack. When the last human had disappeared inside the tent, she gave a snort. Then she stepped out from behind her tree, and disappeared into the darkness.