We made a quick run back to the house for some essentials before returning to Site 3. I just grabbed some water and a headlamp. CAP brought those as well, plus some food, books, and a few things I couldn't identify. At least they weren't heavy, since I was playing pack mule.
The Lady, having run south after our abrupt encounter this morning, turned west at the bottom of the hill. Upon reaching the next rise, she angled northwest towards a trail. She'd cut across and gone straight down a steep embankment. I wish she'd just stayed on trail seeing as it went downhill as well. Then I might not have lost my footing on the loose rock and tumbled 20 feet only to be stopped by the trunk of a pine. CAP helpfully suggested I borrow a first aid kit from one of the work trucks, so I patched myself up while the Great Black-and-White Hunter inspected the gear.
"Oh good, nothing's broken," CAP announced closing up the pack again.
"Thanks for concern for my well-being," I responded sarcastically, perhaps a bit sulkily. I wasn't injured, just some scrapes and bruises, but that roll hadn't been fun.
"I knew you were OK because you've been grumbling. If you weren't complaining, I'd be worried." Fair enough.
At the bottom of the hill, we reached a stream. There was no sign she'd tried to splash through. In fact, there was a very clear set of footprints in the gravel on both sides, suggesting she cleared it in one jump. After crossing in a more mundane and wet manner (as mundane as a man splashing through a creek with a panda on his shoulders can be) we continued up the slope on the opposite side.
"What do you think it means?" I asked after CAP hopped off my shoulders and took the lead again.
"That she didn't try to cover her scent in the water, or hide those footprints?"
"Yeah. Does she want to be followed?"
"I don't think she thought about that. She was already running away fast by the time I showed myself. I bet she had no idea there's someone who could track her, if she even thought anyone would try," Cap stated confidently. "She isn't really leaving much to follow anyway. She hardly disturbs a thing moving through the woods."
That was true. There wasn't much of a visible trail that I could see. "Wait, what about the Ghost?"
"The Ghost wouldn't follow a trail how we would," was the response.
"What would it follow then?" It wasn't meant as a smart aleck question, I was legitimately curious. And it took my mind off my wet feet.
"Ghosts are beings of almost pure emotion, so they're really sensitive to it. It could probably sense the Lady by whatever she was feeling every time she came close enough. The same would be true of you." I stopped with the questions then, as the hill grew even more vertical closer to the top. All hills and valleys around here. Steep hills and valleys. At least at this time of year most of the undergrowth had died back, though there were plenty of dead thorny vines to get in the way.
Reaching the top, we paused to catch our breath. It's not much of a view, since even at the highest points there are plenty of trees to obscure your sight (of more trees, but still). Moment of reflection over, we marched down once more, still on the trail.
The trail lead to a cave. Of course it did. I cinched up my headlamp, which I only brought thinking we might be out late, and CAP did the same, and strode in. Not much to it. Dark, quiet, some soil covering the rock near the entrance, which gave way as we advanced farther in. The Lady in Orange wasn't there, but there'd been some familiar tracks in the soil at the entrance, and CAP insisted the trail continued deeper.
The trip through the cave was thankfully uneventful. It never grew small enough to require uncomfortable crawling, and other than a few bats who responded to CAP's questions about the Lady with sullen silence, we didn't run into anyone. As we neared another opening, we began to see signs of habitation. Scraps of clothing, old beer cans, a shredded boot, and some fresh prints. At least she hadn't given us the slip. Right at the end, the path grew steep, the walls narrowed sharply and became wood, rather than rock. We stepped into the sunlight not from a cave, but from a small shack. As my eyes adjusted, I saw it wasn't even a shack; it was a blind, and that gave me a bad feeling. One which intensified as we stepped around to get a better look at it. Maybe enough space for two people to sit, small square holes in the walls on all sides. There was only one place I knew of with structures like that around here: Site 9. The place where dreams went to die, and hope was shattered.