Dawn, the coldest hour, Einar shivering under his shelter-tree, no insulation on his body, bones turning to ice, damp leaves and needles with which he had attempted to insulate himself hardly doing a thing anymore and he was all out of energy to keep up the regimented movements that had got him through the night, dizzy and nauseated as his body searched for any source of fuel within itself, and found nothing. No good crouching there any longer. Cramping up so badly that he knew quick movement would soon prove impossible, if he didn’t do something to reverse the situation.
Had to get up, move a little, but in making the attempt he found his body impossibly heavy, unresponsive, gravity, when he really pressed the matter, rising up to slam him into the frozen soil beneath his shelter-tree. Shattered vision, dawn-dim world falling away in shards before him, swimming, shimmering, making no sense, blackness, and then the taste of blood between his teeth. Couldn’t seem to immediately gather himself for further movement so he lay there, waiting, dimly aware of the slow trickle of blood from some small rock-scrape on the side of his face. Strangely, the stuff seemed to be reviving him some, bringing him back to something like full awareness, and that could only be good.
A hint of a twisted smile, eyes closed against the strengthening light. Completely illogical, he knew, that he could survive thus on his own substance, sustain himself, but it seemed to be helping for the moment, the blood, and he stayed as he was, allowing it to trickle freely into the corner of his mouth until, between the cold and his rather advanced dehydration, it stopped of its own accord. Einar might have slept then, much to his own detriment and dismay, had not the trend started by the action of gravity and the taste of his own blood been furthered by a persistent rustle and crunch in the vegetation slightly uphill of his position.
Suddenly quite wide awake Einar kept still for only a fraction of a second before rolling silently to his stomach and pushing himself to hands and knees, stalking into the sparse brush along the rim and using it to his best advantage as he sought to put some quick distance between himself and whoever might be moving around up above. Not a small creature, he was certain, no bird, rodent or even a small canine such as a fox or coyote, and much as he might have wished to believe that his visitor could be a deer, elk or even a mountain lion—would have been welcome, just then, considering the alternative—he knew enough of the patterns and movements of different creatures to be quite sure he was dealing with a being of the two-legged variety. More than one of them, in fact, for presently he picked up on a second set of movements some five or six yards beyond the spot where the first had made itself audible. Moving very slowly they were, clearly attempting stealth, and doing a decent job of it.
Making his way into some heavier vegetation and pausing there, feeling a good deal more well concealed, Einar considered his options. With only two intruders seemingly present, he hesitated to attempt doing anything about them, lest the third—assuming these were the same whose camp he had been observing the previous night—see him act and either move in to surprise him, or leave the area with stories to tell, and return with friends. He needed to account for that third person, and in the meantime, had to find a way out of the trap into which these intruders had boxed him, sheer cliffs on one side, they holding the high ground on the other. Only one direction of travel remained to him, seeing as the canyon rim to the north was nearly devoid of vegetation, a limestone tundra wasteland which offered him no concealment. His opponents—for that was how he knew he must view them—would surely know this, and might well have positioned that un accounted-for third man in the brush to the south, to intercept his flight. Knife in hand as he crept along, Einar was ready.
Nothing. A very strong feeling that he was being watched, hair rising on the back of his neck, prickling, but no sound came from the brush near him, no sudden movement or unannounced blow to the base of the skull, so he kept moving, fighting down an urge to rise, run, make a break for it, knowing that would be the end of everything. Slow movements, cautious, more than a minute passing, at times, between painstaking steps, no rustle or crunch to give away his incremental escape. Whether because of his stealth or—though he would have entirely discounted the theory at the time—no one was really listening, Einar succeeded in extricating himself from the immediate area of his nighttime shelter, reaching at last a spot where the evergreens grew taller, canyon rim decaying in places, sheer cliffs broken by steep gullies that descended, precipitous but not entirely vertical, towards the flatness of the canyon floor far below. It was this floor towards which Einar made, knowing he would remain somewhat trapped down between those walls, more thoroughly trapped, in some ways, than he was up there on top, but seeing little alternative. His escape up on the surface seemed very tenuous indeed, seeing as his opponents held the high ground and he had been confined to the narrow strip of scraggly timber between the vast, open grass and snow meadows of the mesa behind him, and the sheer dropoff of the limestone cliffs.
Down it was, then, Einar picking his way from rock to rock in the nearest gully, descent not quite as slow as had been his movements up top, but tremendously cautious, nonetheless. Little room in his mind as he descended for thoughts other than those relevant to his immediate situation, Einar did spend a bit of time attempting to puzzle through the circumstances that had led him to this predicament, hoping thus to stumble upon some solution which might see the day ending some other way for him than dead, captured or on the run once more and closely pursued. It was clear—unless his mind happened to be concocting an extraordinarily detailed and convincing false scenario based on a few scraps of available data, which he doubted—not only that he really had been spotted by the man that past night who had stood beside the creek scanning the canyon rim with binoculars, but that the man and at least one of his companions had spent the night climbing up out of the canyon after him. The full meaning of this happening remained hidden to him, but it definitely did not represent the typical behavior of a group of causal hikers, hunters or fishermen enjoying a weekend in the backcountry. He was being hunted. Had known it the night before, known on some level that there was no other explanation for the long, lingering gaze of Binocular Man, the moment when their eyes had seemed beyond doubt to meet. Though under other circumstances one might easily have explained away such an occurrence, Einar had known. Had spent too many years both in the role of hunter and hunted to mistake what had happened for anything less sinister. And had failed to act.
Well, he was acting now, and with any luck—ha! Luck has absolutely nothing to do with it—he would live not only to remove himself from this situation, but would be able to return to Liz and Will, as well, rather than striking out on his own and effectively abandoning them in order to lead the threat in the opposite direction. Was looking good, he thought, when he found himself after some time nearly two thirds of the way down to the canyon floor without incident and without dislodging any rocks or making any but the most insignificant of sounds in his travel.
Gully curving some as it descended, Einar was before too much longer able to look back up at the spot where he had spent the night, stopping in a cluster of scraggly, crag-clinging limber pines to take a look. Nothing at first, save the bare limestone and low-growing evergreen mat with which he had become so intimately acquainted in the night, but he knew not to give up so easily, letting his eyes wander slightly, vision go wide and stay that way, rim something of a blur. There! Movement! He was sure of it, did not immediately attempt to better focus his eyes, knowing from long experience that this softer focus would allow him to more effectively pick up on slight movements in the distance. Strategy succeeded. There it was again, the quick, stealthy movements of a human who did not want to be seen, and if he was not mistaken it was coming from almost precisely the spot where he had passed the night. Not good. Not good at all, for these people, whoever they might be, would know by now that he had been there, that someone had, and were perhaps even then beginning to work out his trail, come for him…
Not good, but perhaps not as bad as it had initially sounded, either, for he had a tremendous head start on the, was already quite well on his way to being in the canyon, where he could make far better time than could they, as they worked their careful way down the treacherous bowling alley of that loose, rocky gully. By the time they reached the canyon floor, he could be several miles away, up another gully and out of there, watching them in their confusion and eventually returning, if all went well, to Liz. Maybe even before another night came around. That sounded good. Very good. Now that he’d quite moving for a few minutes, he was really freezing again, feeling the absence of food, of something warm to drink… Looking good, all of it, until, starting to move again, there came a sudden if rather subdued sound from somewhere only feet from his position.