Authors: susan illene
Tags: #Urban Fantasy
About the time I thought the roof would surely come down on top of us, the shaking stopped. A moment later a loud roar came from somewhere outside. I’d never heard anything like it, but the angry sound sent chills down my spine. What the hell was wrong with this place? It had been fairly normal when I’d first arrived on campus. Now a day couldn’t go by without something weird happening.
I stood, dusting myself off. The ceiling had cracked and bits of plaster had spilled down, but the library didn’t appear too bad. After all that shaking it could have been a lot worse.
“I’ve got to go,” I said.
A few other students had the same idea and were already heading for the doors.
Trish gripped the counter as she rose up. “Are you sure this is a good time to leave?”
“Uh, yeah. This place is falling apart. You should go, too.”
She shook her head. “The library was built to last. It’ll be fine.”
Trish was the one who worked here. I had to hope she was right. A part of me wanted to grab her and force her to leave with me. With everything that kept happening, it couldn’t be safe to stay here. She was stubborn, though. I could see it in the tilt of her chin that she wouldn’t go anywhere. Crazy woman.
“Just be careful,” I warned. “The next earthquake could be bigger.”
“I will,” she promised.
We hugged one last time and I hurried toward the doors. Outside a cool blast of wind hit my face and more thunder rumbled to the west. A handful of people were grouped together in front of the clock tower. I was in such a hurry to get to my truck I didn’t think anything of it until one of them pointed at the sky.
“Holy shit, is that for real?” a guy asked.
I swung my head in the direction of the football stadium and nearly stumbled.
“Are those…” I couldn’t bring myself to finish.
“Dragons,” a young woman next to me breathed out.
Her words were followed by the snapping of pictures from people’s cell phones. I blinked, unable to believe it. Bright flashes of light lit the sky and more of them appeared. They were fearsome green creatures with wingspans that could rival a small jet. I counted at least ten of them, flying in every direction.
Several of us moved closer to the bike racks to get a better view as one swooped low, heading for Owen Field. There wouldn’t be any football games today, but the university bookstore was in the stadium. Students starting summer classes today would likely be going by there.
One of the dragons paused midair and flapped his leathery wings as he stared at something below. His jaws opened wide and he let out a stream of fire aimed toward the ground. Another school building blocked our view of what he targeted, but terrified screams erupted from that direction. They cut off abruptly a moment later.
My stomach twisted. Had he just killed them? Had I stood there and watched as helpless people burned to death? None of this should have been real—dragons didn’t exist! I felt a measure of relief when a group of people came running from that direction. Maybe most of them had escaped the flames.
“Look. Another one is coming this way!” someone yelled.
I jerked my head to the right. Just beyond Nielson Hall another green dragon flew straight toward us. His massive hind legs stretched out and his claws caught on the roof’s edge, wrenching it apart. Bricks and mortar crashed to the ground. The dragon was less than two hundred feet away and coming toward us fast.
“Get out of here,” I screamed.
By this time there were about a dozen of us who’d gathered by the bike racks. People ran in every direction. I pivoted on my heels and almost tripped over a young woman sprawled on the ground. Tears streaked down her face as she struggled to get up. There was no way I could leave her like that.
I leaned down and grabbed her arm. The dragon swooped right over us, letting out a stream of fire that struck several guys farther down the sidewalk. The girl made choking noises as we watched the men’s bodies disappear in the flames. I covered my mouth to keep from gagging as well. By the time the dragon moved on, there was nothing left but piles of ash. Even the pavement had been scorched partway through.
“Oh, dear Jesus. Save us all.” I turned to find a woman who appeared to be in her fifties standing there. She clutched her purse close to her chest and had an expression of horror on her face.
I could totally relate. She looked a lot like I felt.
The younger girl whose hand I still held gripped me harder. “He’s coming back!”
I swung my gaze around to find the dragon circling for another go at us. Good grief, did these things not give up? What the hell had we ever done to them? They acted like rabid beasts who’d escaped an animal sanctuary—except even bigger and more deadly.
Taking hold of both women, I pulled them with me through the maze of sidewalks that made up the campus grounds. The library entrance wasn’t far, but I didn’t think that was a good idea. The dragon knocked pieces of one building down with only its claws and its fire could burn through cement. Who knew what it would do if it saw us going in there? Trish was inside. I couldn’t bring the danger to her if I could help it.
I headed around the library to where the path narrowed between buildings. It would make it harder for the dragon to follow with his massive wingspan. But he was closing in too fast. With every beat of his wings, the air stirred around us. It was like a slow drum beat that would end with our deaths. If I didn’t buy the other two women time, none of us would make it. With a heavy heart, I released my grip on their hands.
“Go!” I urged. “I’ll catch up.”
The older woman’s eyes met mine. She knew what I was doing—it was written all over her face—but there was also the understanding that one of us had to make the sacrifice. With misty-eyed gratitude, she took the girl’s hand and pulled her along.
I spun around. The dragon still focused on them and hadn’t altered his flight path. I had to do something to catch his attention. A quick plan formed in my mind.
“Hey, jackass. Over here!” I screamed.
No reaction. I gazed around, searching for something useful. A book someone had dropped lay on the ground. I scooped it up and tossed it in his direction. It went high enough to reach his line of sight before fluttering down about a hundred feet from him. His beady red eyes narrowed on me. He swooped lower and headed my way.
I screamed and flailed my arms at him one more time for good measure, pushing back my rising fear, then dashed for one of the pillars that ran alongside the library. It wasn’t much cover, but it was several feet wide and made of brick. Surely he couldn’t burn through all of that?
The ground shook with another earthquake just before I reached it. I lost my balance and stumbled the rest of the way, falling just before I reached the pillar. My hands and arms scraped the cement as I dragged myself behind it.
Heat like I’d never felt before suffused my lower legs where they stuck out. I cringed and tried to pull them closer to my chest. Flames licked the ground on the other side of the pillar, almost reaching my face. It was all I could do to make my body as small as possible.
I caught sight of the dragon swooping back up as bricks started falling. A chunk from one hit my arm and another grazed my leg, sending rivulets of pain through me. I frantically rolled away as what was left of the pillar started to crumble. My shoulder hit the library wall, stopping me. I wasn’t far enough yet. Before I could move, another brick crashed in front of my face. I winced from where a piece of it had cut into my forehead.
I dragged my body along the wall, unsure if the overhang above me would hold with the pillar gone. Unless I wanted to risk being buried alive, I had to get up. Slivers of pain shot through my legs as I pulled them under me. They were bare to my mid-thighs, though my jeans had run to my ankles before. Had they been burned in the fire?
The dragon was coming back around again in the distance. My breathing came out ragged as I got to my knees. I needed to get down the corridor where the women went and try to make it inside another building before it returned. I’d barely made it to my feet—which were oddly lacking shoes—before a roar filled the air.
A second dragon had entered the scene, coming from Elm Street. For crying out loud, couldn’t I catch a break? How many of these things would I have to fight off before I could get to safety? The new dragon was different from the first in that his scales were a deep red color. His shoulders were more defined so that he had human-like arms coming from them and long fingers. He also had small horns on his head and back.
To my surprise, he didn’t head for me. As the first dragon swooped down from the north the two collided, tumbling to the ground. The red one sank his teeth into the neck of his opponent. He was smaller than the green dragon. I estimated his body to be about the size of a cow while my initial attacker was more like a small elephant.
As they wrestled across the sidewalk, it appeared the red one’s size worked to his advantage. All the larger dragon could do with his neck caught was flail his legs. I couldn’t help but watch the fight. It was like seeing a fantasy version of National Geographic.
With his wings folded tightly against his back, the red dragon rolled until he came out on top. He clawed at the green one’s belly with his front arms, raking it with deep gashes. Guts spewed onto the ground. The green dragon struggled, but in a matter of seconds his flailing slowed to a stop. I could only guess losing half his organs had done him in. His legs fell to his side, and his head slumped.
The winner unlatched his teeth and climbed off his opponent. Then he turned, swinging his red tail around. I discovered another difference between him and the green dragon when his gaze met mine. This one had yellow eyes and they showed signs of intelligence I hadn’t seen in the other creature—as if I was looking at a human inside an animal’s body. He was assessing me, rather than just leaping in for the kill.
My back hit the library wall. Searching to my left and right, I couldn’t find an easy path away from him. How was I going to get myself out of this? He was going to act any second.
The dragon stomped toward me on all four legs, steam puffing from his nostrils. His nose was as big as both my fists put together. I grabbed a brick off the ground and clutched it in my hand. Maybe I should have tried to run—a normal person would have—but being attacked by dragons had spiked my adrenaline.
Whenever that happened, it was as if another side of me took over. I became someone who fought and stood her ground. More than once my stepfather had marveled at my ability to compartmentalize fear and think clearly when in danger. My mother hated it. She feared it would get me hurt or killed someday.
I grew up on a ranch outside of Dallas where we had a lot of land. When I was ten years old, I’d decided to go out fishing by myself. Along the path to a nearby pond, I stumbled across a rattlesnake. Most people would have run screaming, especially a girl my age. I chucked a heavy tackle box at the thing. That didn’t kill it, of course, but it immobilized the snake’s body long enough for me to beat it to death with my fishing pole.
That’s how my stepfather had found me. Hovering over a mangled snake and pondering whether to get my tackle box back. It had blood and guts all over it. Killing a poisonous snake was one thing, touching icky stuff was another.
Now I had an honest-to-God dragon coming at me and once again I refused to panic. I needed to weigh my options. With my back against a wall, there was nowhere to go before he’d reach me, but there had to be a way out of this mess. Did the dragon have a weakness I could exploit? Something to buy me time until I could get to a safe place?
I glanced at my brick—it was all I had. A heat-seeking missile would have been preferable, but no one had told me we were about to get invaded by mythical beasts, so I didn’t have one on hand. I looked up at the sky and wished a bolt of lightning would strike my opponent. The storm wasn’t close enough to make that a possibility yet. Not that I’d get that lucky.
The red-scaled dragon lumbered closer, less than ten feet away. His gaze still didn’t show any signs of wildness or rage in it. The tilting of his head made me think he was curious more than anything. It’s what stayed my hand as he lowered his head to sniff at my legs. The heat emanating from his breath warmed the skin on my calves.
I stared down and noted once again that my jeans had been burned off to my upper thighs. The sandals I’d been wearing earlier were missing, too. How had I lost half my clothes? There weren’t any signs of burns, only scratches and bruises.
The dragon inspected all of this as his head inched upward. His hot nose tickled the skin of my thighs and he let out a puff of steam near my crotch. Okay, that was just a little too uncomfortable. I smacked his nose.
He shook his head and let out a snort, then reared onto his hind legs. Flames licked up his body, consuming him. Standing only three feet away, there was no escape from the heat. I scrambled along the wall sideways, putting as much distance between us as I could. What had just happened? Did smacking dragons in the nose trigger some weird reaction?
The flames narrowed and became brighter. Then a dark shape emerged within them that had me tripping over my own feet to get away. It looked demonic—like something straight out of Hell. There was standing my ground and then there was being stupid.
I spun on my heels and took off down the sidewalk that lay between the library and the building next to it. A growl echoed down the corridor—a really angry one. I passed by bushes and benches that provided no cover from a menacing dragon and kept going. There were plenty of paths to take up ahead if I could just get past the library. The damned building seemed to extend forever.
Through the racing of my heart, I caught heavy footsteps behind me. They didn’t clomp the same way as the dragon’s and sounded more like boots on pavement. Glancing back, I saw a man with feral yellow eyes wearing strange clothing. The red dragon was nowhere to be seen. Shivers raced down my spine as I realized this guy’s attention was focused solely on me and he was racing toward me fast. Where had he come from?