The clouds split apart and Charli stumbled, momentarily blinded by the angled shaft of moonlight in her face. Her foot twisted and she threw herself backwards, grabbing at tree branches. Turning her head, she froze, seeing the sudden drop-off only inches away from her boot toes. Sweat broke out on her forehead, upper lip, and down her back, and her stomach twisted in nausea. Despite knowing better, she looked down. The ground was only twenty feet away, but for a few seconds as her vision blurred and twisted, it could have been twenty stories. Breathing slowly, deeply, she forced herself to find a spot to focus on, even with her eyes, and fought the vertigo that tried to steal her balance.
Not. Going. To. Fall.
When her legs felt a little more solid and the ground stopped spinning, she moved her left foot back, sliding it along the ground until her heel hit a root. Then she moved her right foot.
The voices suddenly got louder, and lights streaked across the ground below her. They reflected off the slope below her feet, reducing the steepness. She grinned, despite the sweat still chilling her skin, and knew that if she had fallen she would have slid down instead of fallen. Not that she would have wanted to bang up against the rocks and fallen trees littering the slope, but playing dodgem was always better than falling.
She had been wrong in her estimate -- five men. Well, maybe only four had been talking. Two carried big flashlights like nightsticks, casting strong beams far ahead of them. They stopped in the clearing below her and put down the flashlights, stabbing them into the ground so they illuminated the men and whatever they were doing. The third man hauled a long bag larger than a duffel, slung across his back. Charli took another step back and then sank down to rest on her haunches, watching them, trying to fold into as small a shape as possible. That bag looked like it held rifles. These men were definitely not here with permission. If they were poachers, they wouldn’t be happy to know she was watching them right that moment. The smartest thing she could do was hold still and wait for them to walk far away before moving.