Escape from the Wasteland
The walls of the large, wood-paneled room in the dilapidated Newcastle Beach mansion were dominated by floor to ceiling mirrors in gilded frames, all shattered, save one. Piercing through the glass dome on the rooftop, the moonlight created a perfect circle of bright white light on the hardwood floor inside the otherwise darkened room. There was a stillness in the air, as if the entire world were holding its breath. It was an electric tension, the kind of silence that precedes a thunderstorm; a prickle of static anticipation. A single particle of dust hung frozen in the beam of moonlight, suspended motionless, as if it too were waiting.
The circle of light dimmed for a second—a brief flickering that could have been the wind pushing a wispy cloud across the face of the harvest moon. Then a low rumble emanated from the bowels of the mansion, followed by a sharp crack. The dome imploded in a shower of glittering glass shards, littering the circle of light with razor-edged droplets, ringing out like chimes against the floorboards.
Two lithe figures, dark as night, leapt nimbly through the rain of glass, materializing from nowhere. The larger figure took the lead, walking with long strides toward the empty doorframe with dangling hinges. The smaller figure hesitated, taking the time to tuck something into the folds of a gown, something round with a metallic glint that flashed in the light, and then, with quick, graceful steps, hurried to catch up.
“You know we’re dead, don’t you?” Jon asked Abby.
Abby gave him a look, but didn’t answer. Instead, she finished pulling on her boots and then buckled a belt around her waist. Hanging from the belt was a sword, sheathed for now, which she hoped she wouldn’t have to use anytime soon. During the last encounter she’d had with the Kruorumbrae—in the not-so-distant past—things hadn’t gone so well. Technically, the good guys had won that round, saving David Corbin and ensuring he became Solas Beir. But no victory comes without a price, and both Abby and Jon had paid dearly.
“I’m serious, Abby,” Jon said. “My mom is going to kill me for scaring her to death. She has no idea where we are or if we’re okay.”
“I know,” Abby muttered, scowling.
Jon took her expression in and then retreated to the other side of the armory to retrieve his own belt and sword. She felt guilty for being grumpy with him, but she had a lot on her mind.
He rubbed his arm absently before picking up his belt. Now healed, it had been shattered when the beast, Calder, ripped a heavy wooden door from its hinges and hurled it across the room like a discus. Abby had nearly died from the creature tearing her torso open with its claws. The attack was meant for David, but Abby pushed him out of the way and took the blow. She had survived. Calder…not so much. Abby’s silver blade had found purchase in the beast’s belly, and Calder’s nasty little friends had finished the job. So much for loyalty.
They’d barely made it safely through the portal into Cai Terenmare after the attack. If it hadn’t been for the healing pool in the ancient, magical world, Abby would not have survived, and even Jon’s injury would have needed surgery and months of therapy. In spite of her near-fatal injuries, there was no question that Abby would do it all again if she had to. Truth was, she was madly in love with David. She would have walked through an inferno to save him, though thankfully it hadn’t quite come to that. Still, she would rather not be tackled by a giant cat monster from hell twice in the same week. Abby was certain that Jon would agree, that given more cheerful options, he too would rather not stare death in the face again. And yet, here he was, arming himself.
There was a reason he was her best friend. Sure, he can be really irritating at times, but he’s always there when it counts, she thought. And now that Tynan Tierney, the man who called himself the Kruor um Beir, the King of Blood and Shadows, had escaped from his desert prison in another dimension, Abby needed Jon more than ever. It was supposed to be impossible to escape the Wasteland, with its endless dunes of scarlet sand. Apparently it’s not.
Abby heard the sound of metal sliding against metal and glanced over to see Jon drawing his sword from the silver scabbard hanging from his belt.
Gingerly, he ran his fingers along the length of the blade. “Yep, she’s gonna skin me alive,” he muttered to himself.
If Abby hadn’t been mentally preparing for battle, she would have thought Jon’s fears about going home almost funny. Never mind legions of bloodthirsty cat goblins; he was worried about how his mom would react to his disappearing act.
It had been little more than twenty-four hours since they left home, but considering everything that had happened, it felt like they had been in the kingdom of Cai Terenmare for much longer. Their going missing for an entire night and into the next one would be killing their parents, even though Abby and Jon had some pretty compelling reasons for being gone. Abby knew how her mother would react. She would be worried sick until Abby came home, and then she would be steaming mad.
She’d say, “Why didn’t you at least call?”
Well, Mom, funny thing: cell phones don’t really get signals in a parallel dimension.
“And what—you couldn’t pick up the phone before you left?”
Yeah, we were kinda busy trying not to be eaten. Sorry.
Abby thought things might be worse for Jon though. For all his bravado about being this mischievous boy who could charm his way out of anything, he and his mother were really close, and he hated to disappoint her. His father had never been part of the picture, and even though Abby’s dad had tried to fill the void, stepping up as a father figure to the son of his wife’s best friend, it was Jonathon and Blanca Reyes against the world. Except, of course, when it was Jonathon Reyes and Abigail Brown against the world. When Jon was on your side, he was for you completely. Abby loved that about him.
Right now, Jon was sitting on a bench in the armory, inspecting his sword, holding it out to test its weight, but Abby knew what he was really doing was waiting for her. Jon knew his best friend well enough to know that she needed space from time to time. He had learned not to push Abby’s need for reflection before any battle, whether it was the impending doom of a math test or slaying a demonic shape-shifting beast intent on devouring your soul. Her sense of humor always returned eventually.
And so it did—Abby tried to make amends for her grumpiness by drawing her sword and play-hitting his, bringing Jon out of his own reverie.
He rose to his feet. “Hey there—watch it! What are you doing?”
“Sparring,” Abby smiled. “We need a little practice if we’re going back out there.”
“A little?” Jon asked, raising his eyebrows. “Looks like you need more than a little.”
“Oh really?” Her sword clanged against his as she swung at him again. “I can take you down.”
He laughed. “Oh, I don’t think so. And don’t be starting something you can’t finish, Abigail.”
Abby wrinkled her nose. Jon always called her Abigail when he wanted to annoy her. “Who says I can’t?” she asked.
“All right then. Have it your way.” Smiling impishly, Jon grabbed Abby’s belt and pulled her closer, growling, “C’mere, me lusty beauty…”
Giggling, Abby twisted away from his grasp and hit his sword again. She leapt back and readied for another strike. Then she stopped. “Wait—are you speaking pirate?”
The devilish grin on his face faded. He lowered his sword midswing and looked at her. “Maybe. What if I was?”
She burst out laughing. “Ooooh, you are sucha nerd.”
Jon pouted as if he were wounded. “I’m a nerd? This from the girl who framed her zombie apocalypse survival plan and who hoards toilet paper, just in case.” This last part he punctuated with a grin and another playful clang of his sword.
Standing in the armory’s doorway, David watched as Abby and Jon sparred. It was definitely more a battle of wit than skill. “You two know how to use those?”
“Not a clue,” Abby said, slashing the air in front of her a bit too cheerfully, considering her weapon was sharp enough to slice her fingers off.
“I watch samurai movies a lot,” offered Jon. “Does that help?”
David laughed. “Not in the least.” He eyed Abby in her tightly fitted black leather leggings and billowy cerulean tunic, which was cinched at the waist with her belt. He wondered if she had any idea what that shade of blue did to her eyes. She must have, just like she had to know the effect those eyes of hers had on him. “You look pretty cute like that, you know.”
“Awww, thanks Corbin. That’s what I was going for,” quipped Jon.
David rolled his eyes. “Adorable, Reyes. Is he always this precious?”
Abby laughed. “Only when he’s awake. So when you say cute—you mean menacing, right?” Abby held out her sword, trying her best to look intimidating.
“Oh yes. Very femme fatale.” David sidestepped the sword and put his hands around Abby’s waist, drawing her close. A stray curl fell forward into her face and he gently pushed it aside, stroking her forehead and cheek as he tucked it behind her ear. He felt the increasingly familiar prickle of electricity as he touched her skin. He wondered if she felt something similar, because she lowered her sword, disarmed.
Excerpted from "The Rabbit and the Raven: Book Two in the Solas Beir Trilogy" by Melissa Eskue Ousley. Copyright © 2014 by Melissa Eskue Ousley. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.