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Excerpt from "Rain Dance"

by Dianna Hunter

Sunshine Capital of the Gulf Coast—the place for family fun on the beach, boasted a large billboard plastered to the side of a tall condominium across the street. I just shook my head; I don’t really think this was exactly what the Panama City Beach Chamber of Commerce had in mind when they’d posted that sign because right now it was really hard to see the fun on the beach.

At the moment I was watching a fight raging in the streets below and dreading the fact that it was just a matter of time before I would be forced to abandon my relatively safe perch and join the battle. I applied pressure to one side of my mount’s neck with my knee to signal her to drop lower. I wanted to get a better look at a woman in a flapping yellow sundress who had just stumbled into the street. Her face was twisted in terror as she repeatedly looked back over her shoulder at the two men following her. Of course, I was using the term men rather loosely because it had been a couple of days since either of them had actually been human.

Both were wearing Hawaiian shirts and shorts which wouldn’t have been half bad except that one was missing part of his arm while the other had only one foot and was walking on the bloody stump of his leg. To have achieved this level of degradation it must have been at least two days ago that they were infected. They may have arrived at this resort town with the intent of having fun in the sun, but the only thought in their virus-infected brains now was of hunger, for hunger was the main motivator for zombies.

As a commander in the Nautica Guardians, I had been ordered to take my team into this tourist town to deal with the recent outbreak. We were lucky that the town was partially isolated from the neighboring communities by the bridges and national parks surrounding it. It was also off-season which meant fewer victims.

This was plainly the work of the sorceress, Morgana. We’d been tracking her and her coven of witches for months now, but she’d mastered the Destri artifact she’d stolen well enough that she’d been jumping dimensions and staying just ahead of us. At this point we weren’t sure she was even aware that she and her coven were the source of the infection being spread through the Chain of Worlds. As far as we could discern, she was so focused on her mission to increase her power and discover a way of destroying the Nautica that she had not connected the outbreaks with her own passage. We still didn’t know the basis of her unnatural hatred for our race and I guess it really wasn’t our main concern right now either. All we knew was that the witches had been infected and, because of their partial immunity to the virus, they were acting as hosts to it. The only symptoms for the carriers in this case would be a slow degradation of their reasoning ability. Our scientists believed that they would eventually go completely mad, but we had no idea of how long it would take for the witches to succumb. Until they did, they would continue to spread the zombie virus to the unsuspecting people they interacted with.

My train of thought was interrupted when I saw the woman trip on the hem of her skirt. Well damned. “Lady, get up and run,” I shouted when she merely sat on the ground with her hands in front of her face, screaming, instead of trying to save herself. Sometimes I wondered if maybe stupid people should just be left to die.

“Down, ‘Bella,” I called into the wind swirling around us. Of course, the dragon I was flying on was a pretty smart cookie and had already altered her course. She knew I wasn’t going to let the foolish woman get eaten even if I thought I should.

Using my legs to keep me tight on the smooth scales of the dragon’s neck, I raised my revolver in one hand and steadied myself with the other in the thick ruff of skin at ‘Bella’s neck. She banked slightly toward the bigger of the zombies and I pulled the trigger. The zombie staggered as his head flew back from the impact. A large, red hole appeared between his eyes—and a large splatter of gore struck the street behind him as the bullet exploded out the back of his head. This stopped the forerunner in this race, but the second zombie did not so much as slow down.

‘Bella made a tight circle over the narrow street, her claws scraping the pavement beneath us as she brought me close enough to dismount. Throwing my leg across her neck, I jumped, landing in a crouch between the weeping woman sprawled on the pavement and the second zombie.

Now that I could actually focus on him, I realized that he was only four feet tall—which was a very bad thing. This was not a humanoid zombie, this was one of the dwarves and, for him to be this badly deteriorated he’d been infected for a long time. He must have come through the rift on the heels of the witches. The dwarves responded to the virus completely different than any of the other races. It turned them from harmless and mostly pleasant beings into vicious eating machines still in possession of enough sentience to control the brain-damaged humanoids. Where most of the zombies were pretty much mindless, demented monsters with no direction, just one of these little monsters could turn a small incursion into a massive massacre.

The sound of screaming coming from inside some of the small tourist shops lining the street to my left drew my attention. There must be more zombies inside the buildings. They would need to be dealt with, but right now my main interest was in killing the dwarf crouching in front of me. My death was in his eyes as his muscles tensed.

He leaped--and landed on the point of the sword I’d raised, impaling himself. His jaws snapped and blood sprayed in my face as he slowly slid down the length of the blade toward my hand, but I kicked him free before he could reach me. I was still sitting in the street, trying to wipe some of the splatters of blood off my arm and chest when the zombie dwarf rolled over and began crawling across the pavement toward me, his hands clasping spasmodically and his jaws snapping with hunger.

“I’ve got him,” growled the tall, muscular man stepping from the front of the nearby shop. He put one boot on the zombie’s back and pulled the trigger on the revolver he was holding. The zombie did not get back up this time. The only thing that put an end to the half-life of the infected was either a bullet to the brain or the complete removal of the head from the body.

“Thanks, Finn,” I said as I took his hand and let him help me to my feet. I would not normally have allowed one of my team members to come to my aid as if I were a helpless female, but Finn was my lover and I really didn’t mind if he felt protective of me sometimes…as long as he didn’t let this special treatment go to his head. I was a high caste Nautica shifter and a warrior as well; I was more than able to take care of myself.

Finn’s long ash-blond hair brushed against my shoulder and tangled with my own white-blonde locks as he wrapped one arm around my waist, drawing me in for a quick hug. I understood that this was part of his personality and his way of showing me that he cared so I just let myself enjoy the brief embrace. I had not been introduced into the Nautica culture until I was a mature adult and sometimes, I found myself mentally pinching myself to be sure I wasn’t dreaming.

When I’d been triggered, I’d gone from being a gently matured woman in my late middle age to looking pretty much like I had when I was twenty-four years old overnight, and this man who was expressing such deep affection for me looked every bit as handsome as a fairytale prince. His silver-

gray eyes met mine in a questioning gaze as he shook back his long hair, making the rows of earrings lining the rims of his small, slightly pointed ears rattle softly.

The arrival of several more of my team drew my attention away from Finn and saved me from any further displays of affection.

“I think we’ve got things pretty much under control,” Raj Kazar told me as he helped the woman who was still lying, weeping, in the street to her feet. “Go with these people, they’ll take care of you,” he instructed her gently when she cringed in fear from the smoky red eyes, he focused on her. He ignored her fear as he passed her into the hands of two young men in National Guard’s uniforms.

A quick look into their eyes and I knew these were not just any guards, these were also Nautica. We might have been the newer species to migrate to the Earth, but our kind had infiltrated the ranks of police, military and the political forum for many generations now. The survivors of this incursion would be sorted for the infected, those who were unexposed would receive mental nudges that would alter their perceptions of what had happened before they were allowed to return to their lives.

“How many dead this time?” I began walking toward the place where the guards were gathering the bodies. The number of exotics mixed among the humanoids was of great concern. I could only imagine how many different worlds Morgana and her coven had traveled with these on her heels. I was about to turn away when I caught a flash of furtive movement to my right.

Instantly on guard, I drew my sword and began moving toward the corner of the building where the two shadowy figures had disappeared. Flattening my back against the bright pink stucco wall, I leaned around the corner in hopes of getting a clear look at what was moving between the cars in the parking lot at the side of the building—and relaxed. It was just an elderly couple trying to get away from the terror they had so inadvertently encountered. I knew they weren’t going far, there were blockades at all exits to the community so I didn’t bother to try to intercept them, I merely followed to be sure they got where they were going in one piece.

You could tell that they’d never been in a situation where they were truly in danger before because they never even looked behind them. I was only about twenty feet from them when I saw them pause. The man wrapped his arm around his wife’s waist and carefully helped her make her way around a large pool of blood coating the pavement between two cars.

“Don’t look at it, dear, it will just give you nightmares,” he told her gently as he pulled her close.

“What do you think happened here, Henry? What was wrong with those people? I just cannot believe what that young policeman told us. There is just so much blood and…and what were those creatures we saw and those people with swords?”

“I don’t know any more than you do, Mary. All I want right now is for us to get out of here and never, ever look back,” he told her firmly.

I hung back, hoping they wouldn’t notice me, but I couldn’t turn away. There was just something so familiar about them tugging at my heart. And when they came to a stop at the side of a big black Escalade I watched as he fumbled with a set of keys, finally opening the passenger side door for her. The face the woman turned up to him was filled with soft lines that were evidence of her now faded beauty, but her eyes glowed with the love she felt for the aged warrior standing guard over her. The look in the eyes he turned to her told me he still saw only the beautiful, desirable woman he had married so long ago. And I felt my heartbeat stagger from the pain lancing through my chest.

It felt as if someone had just driven a stake through my heart. Had it really been nearly two years now since I’d lost him? It felt like yesterday. I could almost feel the sunshine on my face and see the dust from that back road swirling around the wheels of our car and I could smell Chris’s aftershave and feel the whisper of his breath in my ear.

I didn’t know I was on my knees until Finn was pulling me up, holding me tight to his chest as he gently wiped the tears from my cheeks.

“It’ll be all right,” he whispered in my ear as he held me close.

I frequently wondered if he wasn’t a little telepathic, maybe he was just sensitive to my moods. Right now that was just one more question I could not deal with. All I could feel were the memories exploding in my mind, tearing my heart apart as I relived our arrival in Port Coral.

Author Information: Dianna Hunter

It seems now that I took the long road to becoming who and what I always wanted to be. I am married and have been married several times before, which has at times been painful, but always educational. I have three children, all grown and living their own adventures now.

I am a professional photographer and worked as a photojournalist for several years. The not-so-gentle nudge I received from my first newspaper editor started me writing and gave me the confidence to continue doing the one thing I had always wanted to do. Once the words started flowing, I couldn’t stop them. It did not take long for me to see that the barriers between Fantasy and reality were barely existent and everything is just a matter of perspective.

Though I have lived most of my life in Florida, I have recently relocated to the snowy state of Vermont! Along with two fuzzy little goats and several Australian Shepherd dogs to keep me company while I write.

I currently have thirteen books of Urban Fantasy published with eXtasy Books with number fourteen soon to be available – all @ Barnes and Noble, Amazon and other sites.

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