I'm glad you're here. Please sit a spell, kick back and relax, and read the first chapter of Awen Storm, Book Two of the Awen Trilogy
Not by a Long Shot
The air stank of sulfur and noxious fumes spat into the sky by the volcano. Civil defense sirens caterwauled, announcing danger to all within a twenty-mile radius of Zoo Atlanta. Emily Hester perched on a summit, trapped on a ledge that protruded high above the Gorilla Compound.
Cu the Irish wolfhound barked beside her, while Lugh MacBrayer peered over the edge. Brian, his nephew, turned a slow three-sixty, gawking at the devastation. Her companions were bloody and disheveled, but miraculously, alive.
The typically-inactive Brevard Fault had apparently ripped asunder, creating the lofty peak on which they balanced and spewing lava sky high. Below them, frightened animals reeled from the shock. Some huddled inside manmade structures behind glass or bars. Others weren’t so fortunate. A screech ended mid-cry, tearing at Emily’s tender heart and punctuating the desolation.
Early-afternoon sun broke through a bank of cumulus clouds. Dust and ashes glowed in the air like an incandescent soup. Peering through it, she whispered a druid spell to calm the animals and another to cleanse the air.
A welcome breeze lifted sweat-dampened curls. She swiped at her face and realized her jacket was no longer tied around her waist. Her purse had met a similar fate. But the thick haze was dissipating, taking the stench along with it.
Turning her gaze to ground zero, the Reptile House, Emily searched for the scarlet dragon with flaming wings. It had vanished when her spell stilled the volcano. But when Lugh kissed her afterward, she'd caught a glimpse of the crimson eyes. She shuddered and wrapped her arms around her shoulders. While there was no sign of the fire dragon, she still had the willies.
And she had no clue how they would get down from this mountain.
The wind picked up, clearing the remaining haze and revealing the extent of the wreckage. Firefighters battled a blaze near the Reptile House, while rescue workers loaded injured people into ambulances. Sirens screamed as they careened from the park. Employees rounded up escaped animals and tended the wounded.
A roar rose above the din, announcing several National Guard helicopters. They flew in formation toward the melee and hovered above the reptile house. One banked and approached the promontory, but the downwash of its rotors beat against them.
Too near the edge, Emily squealed and wobbled precariously. Lugh grabbed her arm and pulled her to safety. She clung to him and Brian and Cu as a ladder emerged from the copter’s belly. Relieved, she cheered and held on tight.
“YAY!” Brian yelled. “They’re rescuing us!”
“Yes!” Lugh shouted, and Cu barked madly. Their heads craned upwards as the ladder descended slowly from the helicopter.
A uniformed medic leaned from the craft with a bullhorn. “Climb up the ladder one at a time. Women and children first. We’ll send a sling for the dog.”
Cu let go a series of shrill yaps that carried the edge of hysteria they all felt. The peak trembled, and Emily’s heart thudded as an otherworldly wail sprang from the earth. She clenched Lugh’s hand. It was the earth dragon, Draig Talav.
“Hurry!” she hollered to the ladder inching slowly toward them.
The wail grew in intensity, drowning the copter’s thundering whir. Anxiety inched upward toward panic. Emily sucked in deep breaths. The ledge shuddered, then wobbled harder. Disaster-weary survivors screamed down below. Brian yelled something Emily couldn’t make out. Cu’s bark deepened.
The ladder dangled above their heads.
Lugh stretched on his tiptoes to catch hold of the lifeline, but a stream of fire shot through the air. As the flame ran up the ladder, the helicopter jerked higher and away.
By the Reptile House, the dragon rose above the lava, body blazing. Fire spurted from its massive jaws. Emily screamed and collapsed to her knees. It screeched, and she clapped her hands over her ears. A shriek answered from the bowels of the earth.
The whole zoo quivered.
“It’s the dragon! Look!” Emily yelled, pointing.
The peak rocked. Brian fell to his knees, wide eyes brimming with a fear Emily knew was reflected in her own. Cu crowded close, whimpering. Lugh knelt beside them. For a few harrowing seconds, they swayed above the zoo, then the peak groaned and crumbled.
Emily grappled to hang on, but slid from their grasp and tumbled over the edge. Pain ratcheted through her body as she slammed into the slope and bounced down it amid the rocks and debris. She skidded to a stop at the edge of a shelf and breathed a sigh of relief.
Belly down, she crawled to the brink of the yawning abyss and stared into it, shuddering, but grateful. Then a tree trunk rammed into her, shoving her over the rim. Agony bloomed as she somersaulted into that living hell.
It was probably only moments, but it seemed an eternity before she landed in a heap at the bottom of the chasm the earthquake had carved into the zoo. The metallic shriek continued inside the earth. Pummeled by falling rocks and concrete, Emily chanted the “calming” spell into the dirt.
The shriek quieted to a low moan and the earth stilled.
Raising her head, Emily ventured a peek. Lugh scrabbled toward her, with Cu close behind. Blood covered the druid priest’s face. Alarmed, she tried to reach him, but the rocks began vibrating violently against her belly. Her blood chilled.
She might not be dead yet, but she was about to be.