Everything around her trembled. Tess lifted her head to look. Beck stood in front of her with one hand holding on to the branch above him.
"Rise and shine, peaches," he said. "Time to go."
She glanced past him. The sky was brightening with splashes of pink and purple.
"Can you take this thing off me first?" she muttered pointing to the strap around her torso.
Beck nodded and squatted before her. He handed her the backpack, and then with the same hand, reached behind the tree and released the strap's grasp on her.
"Follow me," he said as he turned from her, and swung from the branch to the tree's core, and began shimmying down it.
Tess quickly secured the bag on to her back, and shakily swung her feet down and wrapped her legs around the tree. She tried to follow quickly, but the burning on both thighs from sliding down the coarse bark slowed her down. As soon as she planted both feet on to the wet earth, her legs gave way and she collapsed in a heap.
"Easy there!" Beck appeared at her side. "Okay?"
"Um ... yeah." Tess waved his outstretched hand away. "I'm fine."
"Suit yourself then." He held both hands up and stepped back.
Tess leaned against the tree, and struggled to a standing position. Everything spun for a few moments. Once it stopped, she allowed her arms to drop and faced Beck.
"You don't look so hot." He cocked his head to one side.
Feeling her face flush, she looked away, and noticed something was missing.
"Where did that guy go?" She pointed to the base of the tree.
"I buried him."
He shrugged. "Felt it was the right thing to do." He turned away. "We better get going before more of them show up."
Beck led them through the muddy forest. With no trail, Tess wondered if he even knew where they were going. All she saw was that they were right smack in the middle of the valley surrounded by rugged high peaks. Even with the sun, the woods were dark. There were shadows everywhere she looked. What if one of them lurked in those shadows? Tess shook her head. No sense spooking herself out for no reason.
"Where are you taking me?" Her voice sounded so meek. Childlike.
Beck suddenly crouched low, holding up one hand.
Tess fell to her knees without hesitation. She'd seen way too many movies where this usually meant something was going on up ahead.
She held her breath.
Beck dropped his arm and stood back up, and resumed his steady pace.
Tess shook her head, and followed suit.
"Somewhere deep in the mountains," he answered.
"And where's that?" she pressed.
"Hard to explain," he muttered. "You'll see once we get there."
"O-kay." Tess was still unsatisfied. "How much further?"
"Should get there by sundown."
Tess looked up at the sky. The sun still hung high.
Her whole body ached. Especially her left knee and both shoulders. Her head pounded. She doubted she'd be able to keep up his pace for that long. Tess wanted to protest but she feared if she did, he would leave her behind. So, she forced her body to keep moving.
Beck knelt down on one knee, and held up his rifle which she hadn't noticed before ... till now. Tess gingerly bent down to her knees, and studied the muscular-bodied man. He swerved the machine from one side of the forest all the way to the other side. He peered through the eye piece of the weapon. His body suddenly went rigid.
"Get ready to run," he said.
The hair on her body bristled.
They'd been found.