“Well, damn. It’s too late now.” Dale Hunter watched the last rays of the sun disappear behind the western peaks and he was still nowhere near the Safe Zone. He might survive the night, but he had to bank on none of them picking up his scent, and it absolutely meant he couldn’t build a fire against the cold.
The sixty-three year old range walker had been tracking the Adversaries down in the wilderness outside the Safe Zone for over forty years, a full century after the first of them appeared. He’d only been caught out in the open twice before in all that time, once because he was young and had misjudging distance and timing, and the other because bad footing on a slope with loose rocks resulted in a twisted ankle. That first time, he’d gotten lucky, and when he was struggling to make it home that second time, something else happened entirely.
Tonight, he had been careless, and in his zeal to find one of the Adversary nests rumored to be hidden in one of the canyons below Pine Bluff, he’d gotten lost just long enough to delay his return. He never did find that nest.
“Good evening, Dale. It’s been a long time.” Just as before, her voice was like touching velvet and silk, or the warmth he felt after his first swallow of fine bourbon on a winter’s night. He figured it must have been close to midnight when she found him huddled under a pile of pine needles at the base of a tree trunk trying to stay awake.