By the time Kian, Aidan, and Jimbo reached the house, the sun had burnt off the morning fog. It was stifling hot for so early in the morning.
Sweaty now, hair tangled in the leaves they’d picked up hurrying through the dense forest and over the ridge, Aidan and Kian advanced toward the back of the house.
“Where’s Jimbo?” Kian asked.
“Right here.” Jimbo boldly stepped out from behind a tall pine. “Nobody’s around. You should be safe now.”
“Aren’t you coming too?”
“Nope. Goin’ to look for that bitch. Time somebody took her out.”
“But Owen’s getting a warrant for her arrest.”
“Yah, well my gut tells me they aren’t gunna find her. No-how, no-way. I’ve seen how she moves through the woods. He’ll lose half his officers before he even spots her. I’m doin’ this my way.” With that, Jimbo hiked into the forest and, within seconds, disappeared.
Aidan ran for the Jeep. Kian followed. He shoved the key in the door, unlocked it, and jumped in. Kian jumped in beside him. They spun around and headed down the dirt drive toward the highway.
When they rounded the first bend, Kian grabbed Aidan’s arm. “Stop, it’s Lucky,” she screamed. Aidan slammed on the brake, barely missing the cat as he hobbled across the road and down the steep slope where he disappeared in the dense underbrush.
Kian threw open her door and dashed after him.
Aidan jumped out and followed.
Kian stopped in her tracks. “Lucky,” she yelled.
The cat called out again, this time more urgently, “Mrr-r-ow.”
Before Aidan could stop her, Kian raced farther down the hill through thick brambles. At the bottom, she spotted Lucky hiding in a tangle of thorns. Oblivious to the prickly vines clawing at her, Kian grabbed him and tenderly cradled the cat in her arms while climbing back up toward Aidan.
“Quick, get in the Jeep,” Aidan said.
Kian climbed in and still gently holding the cat, she probed his limbs. Twice Lucky nipped out at her, but did not bite or struggle. He even let Kian probe his soft underside.
“Nothing broken,” she said. “Just bruising. He needs help. We got to go back to the house.”
“Kian, I don’t think….”
“Back up, Aidan, I’m not leaving Lucky in the woods to die.”
Aidan did not move.
“I’m not kidding, Aidan. You back up or I get out and walk.”
“Only because I don’t have a better plan,” Aidan mumbled as he backed up the driveway to the house, finally turning when they reached the porch. “We’re losing precious time.”
Kian yanked her keys out of the ignition and was about to climb down when Aidan stopped her.
“Kian, I don’t like this. Raven won’t be fooled for long, so take him in and come right back out. Rule number two. You got two minutes.”
Kian slung her backpack over her shoulder and raced inside with Lucky.
The house was in disarray. Had it only been twenty-four hours since she’d left it, Power’s body bloodying up her floor?
The carpet was gone, the furniture upturned, her father’s books and papers scattered.
Still holding Lucky, Kian grabbed a can of food, a spoon, and his dish. She rushed up the stairs. In the attic she set Lucky on the floor and dished out his breakfast. He ate hungrily as Kian made a soft bed for him in one corner. When she turned to leave, Lucky tried to follow. She could see he was limping badly. Then he plopped down and just looked at her begging for her help. Afraid he might try to go down the steps causing further injury, she retrieved his litter box from the bathroom and brought it up to the attic along with his water. She sat on the floor soothing him, debating whether to take him to the vet now or to wait. Lucky curled into a ball and closed his eyes.
Kian looked at her backpack sitting in the middle of the bed. She needed to hurry and wondered how many rules she’d broken in the last five minutes. With a sigh, she got up and hoisted the pack on her shoulder, promising to return soon. She reached down to stroke Lucky one more time.
When she turned, Aidan was standing at the door. “Kian, hurry. Raven’s probably spotted the ruse by now.”
They picked their way through the mess that had once been Kian’s home and headed out to the Jeep.
Emboldened by the demon, Raven headed downhill, keeping well within the tree line. Once on the other side of the boulder field, she moved slowly in order to focus on the ground, looking for any sign her sister and Red had passed. Most likely they would continue to stick to the game trails. So Raven did the same, but when she ran into a cobweb, she knew she was on the wrong path and hurried back to the boulder field. There she sat to ponder her next move.
She then heard rock grating on rock. It was just beyond the boulder to her left. Unlike Cat to make noise, Raven thought. Still wars were won more by the mistakes of the opponent than by the cunning of the victor. She crawled forward and, crouching, removed the garrote from her waist. She propped the rifle against the boulder and eased her way around. There she found a rocky ledge, a ravine, and a stream far below. But no Cat.
Raven sat down on her haunches and studied the ledge. One tiny clue was all she needed. When she spotted a tiny bit of upturned moss, she knew the rock below it had been moved. She slid it away. Nothing. Still the rock could have been a decoy to slow her down. Cat was good at decoys.
Raven searched the area for Cat’s trail, probably down toward the stream, she reasoned. It was then she spotted the discarded basket, thrown carelessly down the embankment. Even from the ledge she could see it was empty. So they had hidden the Ark after all.
Raven searched the rocky ledge, throwing stones over the side. When the area was cleared, she turned her attention back to the boulder field where, minutes later, she found both ebony boxes. Empty.
Angry now, Raven renewed her vow to kill them both. But first she had to find them. She spotted a tall pine and climbed to the top where she surveyed the land below her, looking for any movement that might give them away. Nothing stirred. Still she waited. All she needed to find was a direction.
Raven was about to climb down when, off to her right, she spotted a dust cloud. She watched as it approached. She looked more closely and spotted the road to Jacob’s cabin. A Jeep? Was that Kian’s Jeep?
Now Raven came to a new plan. “I’ll get the girl and then will have leverage over my sister. She was always too soft-hearted for her own good.”
Raven chuckled, shinnied down the tree, grabbed her rifle, and sprinted off toward Jacob’s cabin.