see disclaimer chapter 1
Sonja sat back against the thick tree trunk and chewed on her apple thoughtfully. It had been about a week and a half now and she knew that she had to start formulating an exact plan. Granted, just hanging out in the vast woods, camping, hiking and riding along was great fun, but she had to start her life over again. She had been putting it off this long because, for so many reasons, leaving this time hurt a lot more than usual. She missed her animals and friends deeply and dreamed every night that she was back in her comfortable home, looking forward to the next day of work and awoke every morning to the shock of being outside when she was expecting her own bed.
Over the past week she had replayed the happenings of that day over and over in her minds eye. Nightmares haunted her in her sleep and gave her no peace, bringing the subject to the forefront of her mind every morning. And every time she thought about it she came up with the same answer. Damn that clumsy man! she thought for the thousandth time. But she knew in her heart that it had been a true accident and it had been her choice to help him, her choice to run once they found her out. She just couldn't get rid of the feeling that maybe she had reacted too quickly. She shook her head violently. Of course not, people don't change their minds, especially when they're afraid of something, like mutants. She bit down hard on her apple.
Sonja hadn't worried at all about what she had left. Long ago, when she had first learned of her powers, she had set up a system for taking care of anything she would need to leave behind. She could have been traced through that one bank she had stopped at, but it wasn't likely that someone would have been on her trail that quickly.
She looked up from her daydreaming at the faint sound of a chipmunk's teeth chattering. He was chastising her for being in his territory, looking at her defiantly while still ready to flee at the slightest movement. Sonja laughed at the precocious animal, then threw what was left of the fruit in his direction. She stood up, dusting the dirt off her jeans and straightening her trail-worn clothes. She closed her eyes and stretched, letting out a low moan at the slight stiffness in her shoulders and back. When she moved, Maverick picked up his head from where he had been placidly snacking on some grass.
Sonja looked over at him and gave him a pitying smile. He had been more than happy to go on new trails in the comfortable summer weather, but the last couple of days he had been acting very nervous. Whenever something moved in the forest alongside the trail, he spooked and tried to run. Usually nothing could ruffle the feathers of the steadfast gelding.
"You miss being around your buddies, don't you?" she said to him as she stroked his neck soothingly. He looked at her calmly as his jaw worked at the grass hanging from his mouth, then shook his head a bit as she tickled behind his ears. "Yeah, me too." She patted the broad expanse of his forehead then moved to his side to check the equipment.
She had been riding since first light, staying just east of a big highway that led towards a fairly good-sized city. Sonja had ridden across the state border about 2 days back and, judging by her maps, the next town she would come across was big enough that she could get new paperwork from the company in New York and open a new bank account without suspicions. And of course, she thought, smiling as she fussed with the leather straps, get Maverick into a nice cozy stable.
"So, what name should I pick for myself this time?" Sonja asked Maverick as she swung up into the saddle. He snorted and shook his body, stretching his muscles. "Well, how about---" she was cut off when Maverick jerked his head up and his entire body went stiff, making Sonja's breath catch in the back of her throat.
A slight breeze was blowing towards them and Maverick's every nerve was attuned to what he smelled in it. All of Maverick's muscles were rigged and bunched, ready for a panicked, prey response flight at any instant. Sonja could feel the blood pounding in her ears as she strained to identify what was spooking her horse so badly. What if someone's caught up to me? She panicked for a moment as her heart leaped in her chest.
Somewhere behind her a stick cracked at the same instant as Maverick exploded into a flat-out sprint. Sonja was only barely prepared when Maverick let out a high-pitched whinny, then bolted down the path at a breakneck speed. A split second later she saw a huge, horrible shape crash out of the forest only feet behind her, swiping a horrifically over-sized claw in her direction and barely missing the gelding's haunches. The panic and fear in Maverick was practically screaming to Sonja's very being as they fled from whatever had obviously been stalking them. She snapped her head back and then forward again to get a better look at what had jumped out of the forest.
What she had seen made Sonja's stomach drop to her kneecaps. It was nothing like shed ever seen before. She wasn't even sure if it was man or beast. Fifty or so feet behind her a seven-foot monster was chasing her down like an animal on the hunt. It had long hair and its body was covered with furs and pelts. She was too far away, but it seemed like the animal had no pupils, only dark orbs for eyes. It ran on two legs and looked just like a man, but was totally feral like a wild animal.
Sonja quickly turned back around to concentrate on guiding Maverick through the forest. She didn't know who or what it was, but it didn't look like the sort of thing you stop and chat with. Sonja saw into his mind and had no doubt that he would try to kill her, or maybe take her hostage, if he caught up with her. What she saw in his mind truly frightened her and from that moment on, Sonja could think of nothing but trying to get away.
Sonja pulled herself forward over Maverick's shoulders and rubbed her hands along his neck, urging him to go faster. Maverick needed no prodding. His ears were flat against his head and his hooves were barely touching the ground as he poured out every once of strength he had. His mane whipped back into her face and the wind roared past her ears. She could feel Maverick's heartbeat like it was her own, rapid and pounding at breaking speed in the effort to simply escape.
Quickly, Sonja fished into her saddlebags, careful not to disturb Maverick's balance. She frantically searched in the recesses of the bag until she felt to cool metal of her pistol. She had trained herself to handle the gun well and it wasn't the first time she was going to use it for self-defense. Man, I am so happy I packed this, she thought as she checked to make sure the gun was loaded. She mentally steadied herself, then turned in the saddle.
She was surprised and frightened to see that the horrible looking man had gotten closer to her, but she quickly regained her composure and raised the gun, steadying the sights on the animal's chest. The going was too rough and her breathing was too ragged to really aim well, so she'd have to try to hit whatever she could. She fired three rounds. It seemed like she had missed completely. If the gunshots found their mark than they had only made the animal slow slightly.
She turned back around in the saddle and urged Maverick on again. She glanced back over her shoulder. The animal/man was still running after her, but even from this far in front of him she could see some blood trickling down his chest. Oh my god ...I did hit him, and it didnt phase him at all! she thought anxiously.
Again she turned and put three more rounds into his body. This time, the big animal stumbled and grasped at his chest, slowing again. Sonja didn't waste any time turning around to see if he'd stopped, but focused on guiding her horse over the rough terrain. Just because the beast was down didn't mean he was out, and this might be the only opportunity she had to get away from him.
Sonja could tell Maverick was starting to pant and was nearing the end of his endurance and she didn't have any clue where they could possibly go to get away from the beast. Somewhere public? Not the highway, they would just get run over, but it seemed like her only hope. I've got to think of something fast if were going to get out of this alive. She looked over her shoulder and saw no trace of the man, but her gut told her that he probably wasn't far behind.
Sonja almost jumped out of the saddle when she heard something akin to a loud dynamite blast behind her, then a primal scream from what sounded like a wounded animal. She was too afraid to look back, but she heard the noise two or three more times before it seemed to stop. She wasn't sure if something had happened to the beast, or she was just out of range to hear any more. All Sonja knew was that she had to get far, far away from whatever it was that was behind her. She slipped the gun back into her bags and looked for an opportune spot to turn.
Just when Sonja was about to turn towards the highway and risk getting hit for some help, Maverick's ears pricked up. She looked at him, stunned and perplexed because she didn't have the slightest idea what he was looking at. She tried to read his mind, but oddly couldn't see anything. Suddenly, without any warning, Maverick swerved off the path, away from the highway, and crashed through the forest. Sonja ducked down, hugging her horse's neck and just narrowly avoiding being clotheslined by a low hanging branch.
"Stop! Maverick, whoa!" she screamed, hauling back on the reins. Maverick crashed through the forest for a few more yards before emerging into an open field.
Sonja did everything she could to stop him, but he was too strong and too wired up to listen. Pull as she might, she couldn't get him to waver from his path at all. It's okay, he'll run out of gas eventually, she thought, mentally trying to steady herself.
Sonja anxiously checked over her shoulder a few more times, but the huge animal never appeared out of the forest to chase after them. When Sonja looked forward again, she felt an overwhelming dread. Maverick was headed for a huge fence, at least 6 feet high, at full tilt. His neck was thick with sweat and his breathing was hard, yet his legs kept churning at an impossible rate. He's got to stop, no way he will try to clear that fence.
As soon as Sonja thought those words, she felt Maverick speed up even more. Sonja became panicked and hauled back on the reins as much as she could. If Maverick collided with the fence, it could kill both of them.
"Mav, don't! Stop!" she screamed, but it did no good. The horse seemed far beyond listening to her requests any more. The fence rushed up to greet them.
At the last second Maverick bunched up his hindquarters and, with a deep grunt, pushed off the ground. Sonja loosed the reins to give him as much freedom as possible since pulling back would do her no good now. Sonja just hung on, holding her breath, waiting for the worst. But, incredibly, she didn't hear the crash of chain-link against Maverick's legs, didn't feel herself being jolted out of the saddle. For a few glorious seconds, Sonja and Maverick were airborne, sailing over the wall onto the other side.
Maverick landed with another grunt. The impact was so strong that he almost ploughed his face into the dirt. On instinct, Sonja pulled his head up with all her strength, trying her best to steady the horse. Maverick barely got his feet back underneath him, but after a few strides he had completely recovered and was running like he had never been interrupted. Sonja noticed that Maverick's ears were no longer pricked forward, but were turned back towards her. His head was lowered a bit, not held high to counteract her pulling on the bit. Sonja laughed hysterically with relief, the anxiety and adrenaline still streaming through her veins.
She tried reigning him in again, asking Maverick to slow down. This time, he quickly dropped pace, doing as she asked. His sides were heaving in huge gulps of air and his entire body was dark with sweat when she finally slowed him to a walk, then a stop. When Maverick's feet were finally still, she jumped out of the saddle and took his face in her arms.
"What the hell were you thinking!" she said, checking out the little scraps and bumps Maverick had gotten from the tree branches smacking into his face and legs. Sonja would look back every now and then to make sure the beast wasn't climbing the wall after them, but she knew that the shots had hit their mark and that no living animal could sustain injuries like that and keep coming this far.
Sonja also knew that Maverick had just saved her life; there was no way she would have been able to out run that beast on her own two feet. If that animal had attacked one moment sooner...Sonja shuddered at the thought. What she had seen in her brief glimpse of the things mind had terrified her. Maverick's instincts had just saved her hide. But, as she checked his legs for any bad injuries, it plagued her why Maverick had kept running away like that. He had never ignored her so wholly before. Even as frightened as he had been, he still would have stayed on the path where the running was clear.
In her gut, Sonja felt like Maverick had been running towards something else, not away from the man, when he had jumped that fence. It's like something else was getting all his attention. Sonja went back to his head and looked into Maverick's eyes. She had always been able to read the minds of her animals, yet during that entire time and even now, Maverick's mind was a blank slate to her, like a huge wall had been put up. Sonja shook her head. Her thoughts were too messed up and distracted by the thing that had been chasing her for her to really do anything useful.
"You're just scared witless, aren't you?" she said soothingly. Maverick leaned his head against her chest and heaved out a big sigh. She rubbed between his eyes one more time before swinging back up into the saddle.
"Well, I don't know exactly where we are, or what just happened here," she said, "but I better cool you down." She tapped his sides gently with her heels. Maverick continued to plod in the direction he had been going when they had jumped the fence.
"C'm on, Mav. We need to get to civilization," Sonja said, trying to steer the horse back onto the original course she had plotted, hopefully in the direction of the town. Maverick still would not waver from his course, even at the slower pace. Sonja tried to reach into his mind to demand that he follow her instructions, but again she was met with the blank response. Sonja decided to give up and just let the horse's instincts take them where it would, it's not like she had anything to lose anyhow.
As Maverick's steady pace set a rhythm to their traveling and both their heart rates returned to normal, Sonja's mind was overrun with confusion and anxiety. What was that thing that had been chasing her? How did it find her, what did it want? No matter how much she fumed over it, Sonja could not make sense of any of it and gradually let the thoughts slip from her mind in an effort to calm herself.
"I just hope we don't run into any more hairy beasts that are trying to kill us," she said as she relaxed the reins completely and settled into the saddle.