from ORION below.
Join our heroes Kimber & Tristan, along with their Aurorean brothers and sisters, on a journey west to find answers in the wasteland that has become America.
The trail is riddled with monsoons and surprises, taking our characters into the heart of the nuclear warzone that reshaped America over a century ago. Are the answers they seek worth risking their lives for though? Cheyenne beckons on the horizon and the biggest surprise of all awaits.
Book Two of The Elyrian Chronicles
Sample reading from ORION: Book Two of The Elyrian Chronicles
The sound of gentle scratching awoke Kimber. She lifted her head and saw the outline of Eve, quietly riffling through a pack. The earth was bathed in an eerie light, somewhere in between the grey of pre-dawn and the waning purple of the nighttime borealis. Kimber laid her head back down and blinked into the dim morning, letting her surroundings awaken her senses. The red dirt smelled like chilled iron and a slight breeze rolled over her scales, bringing the scent of water into her nostrils. She heard the gentle snoring of Aeneas a little ways down the creek. It was a comforting sound, one that reminded her of the strength and kindness he added to the team.
Her mind snapped back to the sensation of the wind. Wind meant trouble. The Earth was transitioning from its winter months to its spring months, which meant less of a threat for the terrible windstorms, but an increase in big, moisture-bearing weather. The spring storms were typically nowhere near as destructive as the larger windstorms could be, but with the added moisture and convection added into the equation, the summer storms always had the potential to turn cyclonic.
The breeze felt good on Kimber’s skin, a feeling that made Kimber uneasy. Something with such wicked intent should never be born of such gentle pleasure, she thought with a scowl. Shaking off the feeling of being violated, Kimber looked at Tristan. He was splayed out on his back, his hand still outstretched towards hers. She reached out to him, grazing his fingertips with hers. He stirred and eventually opened his eyes, taking a second to get his bearings.
When he did, Tristan gave Kimber a sleepy smile. “Good morning,” he purred.
“Good morning to you,” Kimber whispered. “Sleep okay?”
“Best sleep I’ve had in days,” he replied. Kimber nodded, stalling because she did not want to bring his attention to the wind until he had a few moments to wake up. “Me too,” she replied happily. She could not help seeing his likeness to a giant cat again, the thought bringing a smile to her lips.
“It’s too early for secrets. Spill it; what are you being cheeky about?” he asked lazily, a yawn coming on. He stretched his limbs towards the sky, his relaxed muscles bunching up and then sliding back into their slacked, cat-like position. Just like a mountain lion, Kimber grinned.
“Nothing,” Kimber replied airily. “I’m just happy. I do have a slight concern though,” she admitted. “What do you feel?”
Tristan looked at her in confusion for a moment. “I guess I feel good. Ready, you know? Happy we are out here together,” he said slowly as he yawned again.
Kimber choked a chuckle back. “Not that kind of feel. But thank you for that. I am happy to be here with you too. What do you feel on your skin?” The look of confusion returned for a split second before he realized what Kimber meant.
“Aw, come on,” he pouted towards the sky.
“Yeah,” Kimber replied with a sigh. “When the sun rises, we can try to gauge how far out the storm is. Seems Aeneas may have the keenest sense of us all.”
The surprising, bitter scent of coffee wafted over to the pair. They inhaled the rich fragrance deep into their bellies and stretched into the sunlight that was now breaking over the skyline. Smiles were shared as the breeze swirled the scent of hot, black coffee around the messy encampment, waking the rest of the sleeping travelers up. Kimber glanced over at a beaming Eve, who was kneeling by the river next to a small pot of boiling coffee.
Happily, the travelers started to get ready for the day, anticipating the delicious sips of coffee. Kimber knelt next to Eve and began filtering water while Tristan pulled breakfast out of his pack. Kimber watched him out of the corner of her eye, impressed by all the cans he had packed. Canned goods were incredibly heavy, and he had clearly taken the brunt of the load.
“I wanted to wake everyone up with a tiny surprise,” Eve told Kimber excitedly. Eve’s smile was contagious. Kimber looked at the coffee pot in approval.
“You’re an angel. I think you chose the prefect day for it, too,” Kimber said, a note of apprehension in her voice.
“Yeah, I think the wind is what woke me up,” Eve said more seriously. “Nothing we can do about it now, right? Let’s enjoy some breakfast and fresh brew, compliments of the expedition’s very own, radiant, mama to-be. Then we can figure out what to do about the storm.”
Eve nodded, grateful that her gesture, small as it was, was not overshadowed by the impending weather. The girls chatted as Kimber filtered, the coffee percolating merrily. Tristan called out that breakfast was ready, and the team swooped in, appetites whetted by the scent of black coffee. Eve had brewed the pot strong, and everyone savored the incredible flavor and appreciated Eve as they passed the cup around. Naomi was the only one to waive the cup away. She had never been a fan of the bitter drink, and her attention was wholly devoted to the topic of dilation, laid out in way too much detail for the rest of the group, in the pages in front of her.
“So, guys, what to do about the storm?” Tristan asked when everyone had slowed eating.
Fourteen slit-shaped eyes strained to the horizons. The sun crouched above the skyline, blinding them from an eastern view, but everything else appeared clear.
“Well, it’s all quiet on the western front,” Kimber said, the words of the famous German WWI expose’ swimming into her head. Naomi looked up from her text and shook her head at her sister’s pun. “Aeneas, you were the first among us to feel the interference. How big would you estimate the storm is?” Kimber finished with a chuckle.
“I fear to even guess. Storms are like mighty women. You can never gauge their power and intensity until you see it up close,” Aeneas answered.
Naomi stared at Aeneas with the same incredulous look she had just given Kimber. “Well, aren’t you two just peas in a pod?” She shifted her gaze from Aeneas to Kimber in exasperation. “Not helpful.”
“A voice of reason. Thank you, Naomi.” Although Tristan’s eyes sparkled good-naturedly, Kimber could hear the tightness in his voice. She knew he would be eager to put down some miles, get supplies, and find a safe place to hunker down.
Kimber considered how far she had asked Tristan to push before the last storm, remembering how close they had come to not making it to shelter, and decided not to make any more jokes. “You guys are right; let’s get serious. We’ve got Eve’s safety to think about now.”
“I appreciate the care, but I’m not a delicate flower in need of constant supervision. There is no weather in sight, and the wind is but a breeze still. Plus, we are at the end of the dry season, so the storm may not even be that bad,” Eve protested, her voice stronger than her body looked.
“May not be, Eve. It could also be the size of the one that Tristan and Kimber were lucky enough to walk away from last week. This is a gamble none of us are willing to take,” Tauren countered.
Aeneas agreed solemnly. “I vote we get underway. Let’s go no farther than half a day’s time before finding shelter.”
“All in favor?” Tristan asked the group. Every hand shot up. Tristan nodded and everyone dispersed to pack. It did not take the group long to get geared up and moving. Initially hanging back in the rear of the pack with Kimber, Tristan looked impressed with the group’s tempo. “I wanted to spend today walking back here with you,” he mumbled, his eyes searching the landscape in annoyance.
“After this system passes, I would love that.” Kimber sighed. She knew one of them should be traveling point on a day of impending weather, not just to set the pace, but to grant the team an extra dose of confidence. She offered Tristan a half smile, proud of the leader he had become, but grieving how it seemed to keep getting in the way of their time together. Taking Kimber’s hand, he gave it a squeeze before trotting forward to the front of the pack.
Kimber watched the blur of colors moving ahead of her for hours. A haze rolled into the atmosphere that made the vibrant hues of her friends’ scales look like they were shimmering against the muted landscape. Strangely enough, the wind had not picked up as the day progressed and by noon, the group had made it over halfway to the Ohio River. Tristan called everyone to a halt near a sign that read Pleasant Ridge.
Pleasant Ridge was a town a mile to the west that was so small, it barely warranted a dot on Tristan’s map. A few houses were close to the exit, though, and when Tristan asked what the group wanted to do, he saw everyone squint towards the residences in unison.
“Well, that settles it then,” Tristan said and allowed the group to lead as they veered off highway I65. There were no stores around, only old homes sitting in front of old sheds that had old lawn care equipment splaying from their old doors. The group selected a rickety, grey house not far down the road in hopes it would be stocked with non-perishables, or with comfortable furniture at the least. A broken-down, robotic tractor and two rusted mobile homes sat in the yard. The windows of the two trailers had been busted out, and the pair sat guarding the grey house like aged watchdogs, having long outlived their prime.
As the group got closer to the home, they slowed their pace. The yard was scarred by the petrified stumps of the mighty trees it had once boasted. A rubber swing and its chains laid upon the parched ground, a sad remnant of the abundant life that used to inhabit the grounds. The big porch was typical of Kentucky, and the Auroreans were careful on the old floorboards, testing the strength of the brittle wood before each step.
Tristan pushed carefully into the front door with Aeneas at his back. The girls hung back, rolling their eyes in jest over the boys’ paranoia. The door did not appear to be rigged with any booby traps, so Tristan crept inside. After clearing the living room, he called the rest of team in. Everything in the home was covered in a layer of dust, but there were several couches and chairs sitting in front of the family’s large, blank virtual reality station. The screen was recessed into the wall and was wider than Kimber was tall, the electrically driven cabinet doors halfopen, leaving the screen somewhat exposed.
The travelers fanned out throughout the house. Kimber and Naomi checked out the kitchen while Tristan, Tauren, and Lo went into the basement. Aeneas followed Eve up the staircase, and the house was silent as everyone looked around.
“Check it out,” Naomi broke the stillness from inside the pantry.
Kimber looked over and saw her teal sister carrying an armful of food to the table. The cans were nothing exciting, mostly green beans and corn, but there was plenty enough for everyone. Tristan, Tauren, and Lo tripped up the stairs, each happily carrying a dusty bottle of wine.
“Quite a robust cellar down there,” Tristan said eyeing the red wine with approval. “The one thing that gets better with time.”
He added his bottle to the medley of canned vegetables and came to stand by Kimber, who was gazing out the window into the back yard. There was a swing set, and Kimber felt Tristan lean closer as he noticed the two child-sized graves next to it. He must have felt emboldened by their recent making up, because he draped his arm around her shoulder in solidarity. The weight of his arm sent tingles down Kimber’s spine and just as she glanced up into Tristan’s eyes, an explosion went off above them.
The sound that split the silence was deafening, preceding the collapse of the kitchen’s ceiling by a mere microsecond. The entire house filled with smoke as the Auroreans in the kitchen lay stunned, pinned down under piles of drywall and broken floor joists. Tristan dug himself out of the debris around him and began ripping at the drywall on top of Kimber. Disoriented, and dizzy from the beam of lumber that had struck her in the head, she tried to help Tristan clear the weight off her body.
“Eve and Aeneas,” Kimber wheezed when she got her wits about her, squinting through smoke. Tauren was already up, digging through the rubble for Lo. Naomi surfaced a second later, coughing and calling out with her dry sarcasm for nobody to come look for her. Tristan sprinted to the stairwell and bound up the now only partially intact stairs, looking everywhere for Eve and Aeneas. Kimber tried to stand and fell over, waves of nausea hitting her like the blow she had just taken to the head. She crawled to Naomi and clasped hands with her sister, watching as Lo grabbed for Tauren. Five out of seven accounted for, Kimber thought, trying to focus her blurry eyesight.
She tried to stand again and toppled over into the pieces of ceiling surrounding Naomi, kicking up soot into both their lungs. The smoke was getting thicker and as Kimber lay dazed, she saw the brittle, exposed wood above her smoldering. Her brain was slow to connect the dots, and she was not sure if only moments or whole minutes passed before the word fire finally crossed her lips.
She screamed “fire,” again, hoping Tristan could hear her and trying to urge Tauren, Naomi, and Lo to get on their feet. The smoke combusted into small, orange flames in the exposed floor above them, licking hungrily at the bone-dry material. Tauren was still trying to dig Lo out when Tristan yelled from the second floor that he had found Aeneas but not Eve. He screamed at the team in the kitchen to dig through the wreckage to find her.
Kimber heard his words as if she were listening to him from underwater. “But there’s no water here,” she said shaking her head, her foggy mind fighting to figure out what was real and what was not. Naomi grabbed Kimber’s arm and gave her a shake.
“Snap out of it,” Naomi shrieked. “We have to find Eve. Tauren, help me dig.”
The flames were growing by the minute, pumping heat into the space below as Tristan struggled down the stairs with Aeneas’s arm slumped across his shoulders. Kimber watched him take Aeneas outside and then followed Naomi’s lead, tearing frantically through the heaps of drywall. Tauren and Lo joined in the search, everyone’s panic intensifying like the inferno that now surrounded them. Kimber’s vision was violently swimming in and out, and twice she paused her search to lay down amidst the rubble, letting the smoldering debris rain down on her. Each time Naomi yanked her back to her feet, brushing the embers off Kimber’s skin, and screaming for Tristan to come get her.
Kimber was not the only one in bad shape. Tauren was yelling at Lo to get himself outside before he bled to death, and Kimber nodded in surprise at the puncture in Lo’s thigh, in an effort to let him know that it really was bleeding profusely. Lo refused to leave the search, though, and so Kimber crawled over and began to tie his shemagh tightly around his wound, allowing Tauren refocused her efforts on trying to locate Eve. Any part of the ceiling that had remained intact after the explosion was now collapsing in dangerously heavy chunks around the team, and as Tristan ran back into the kitchen, he narrowly missed a solid wooden door crashing down from above.
Tristan looked like an animal caught in a wildfire. His hazel eyes were desperate and though he did not want to call off the search for Eve, he did not want everyone to perish in the blaze along with her. In a voice that was authoritative and utterly raw, Tristan commanded the team to get themselves outside. “Naomi, get Kimber out. Tauren, get Lo out, and you and Lo watch Naomi’s path while you do. I’ll stay here and look for Eve.” Tauren and Naomi looked ready to argue but could see the resolution in his eyes through the billows of smoke. “Now! Please!” Tristan screamed at them.
Naomi pulled Kimber up from where she had just finished binding Lo’s wound. The heat was becoming almost too unbearable to stand upright, and stooping, Naomi attempted to pull Kimber away from the kitchen. Realization dawned on Kimber that Tristan was not coming with them, and she began to reel, begging to stay behind with him. Stoned faced, Naomi dragged Kimber through the doorway, which was now reduced to cinders, with Tauren and Lo helping prod Kimber from behind. The four weaved their way through the living room towards the door, the space looking like more like a smoke-laden warzone than the virtual reality home-theater it once had been.
Aeneas, who Tristan had propped up against the tractor outside, watched in dismay as the four emerged, coughing and limping onto the porch. He pulled himself up, wobbling slightly from the shock his body had just experienced, and rushed forward. Tauren and Naomi raised their voices to protest but Aeneas passed them with a solemn nod, rushing into the flames to help Tristan find Eve. Kimber turned to follow Aeneas back into the house but collapsed as she did and was quickly grabbed by Naomi and Tauren and hauled off the porch towards the tractor.
Seconds turned to nauseating minutes as the house transformed into a massive fireball, with no sign of Tristan, Aeneas, or Eve. The four Auroreans knelt outside, watching helplessly as the hellish flames begin to consume the porch. Kimber’s head was splitting as the tears began to well up, the pain and emotion coming to a head and causing her to double over and throw up, over and over again. Naomi knelt nearby, trying her best to comfort Kimber, but her voice was hollow and even in Kimber’s confused and concussed state, she could tell Naomi’s hope was dying.
Tauren had busied herself checking and retying the bandage around Lo’s thigh, sighing with relief when she discovered that the bleeding had slowed. Judging by the amount Lo had bled, it L.K. Hingey 129 looked like whatever it was that had pierced his leg, had punctured his femoral artery. With thin lips and a shaking voice, Tauren informed Lo that he might have been in serious trouble had Kimber not stopped the bleeding when she had. Now that the bleeding was under control, though, the worst had passed and Lo’s self-repairing DNA would have already begun kicking in. Tauren gazed back into the flames despondently, looking torn on what to do next.
The blaze had grown so hot and out of control, that it was now starting to abate, as if it had outpaced itself. The flames were retreating almost as quickly as they had sprung up, the massive fireball melting and morphing into a plume of black and grey smoke that rose above a much smaller, more controlled fire. Tauren and Naomi shared uncertain looks, and just as Tauren was about to get up and test how close she could get to the house, the four Auroreans heard coughing.
Elated, Kimber jerked up, the abrupt motion bringing on another wave of sickness. Naomi patted her back, and watched as Tauren, who had sprung to her feet, rushed forward. Waiting was torture for Kimber, but after some time, more coughing could be heard, and through the veil of smoke, movement could be seen behind the house. Naomi and Lo cheered and Kimber looked up from her daze as three figures emerged from the haze. Tristan was supporting Aeneas, who had his arm around Eve, who was clutching her belly.
Tauren met the trio and helped Tristan support Aeneas’s weight, and the four staggered towards the tractor. Kimber tried but could not get up, and Tristan came over to her and kissed her head. She could smell his charred skin and scales, but despite the burn marks, he looked a lot better off than Aeneas or Eve. Aeneas looked completely wasted, not to mention also heavily scorched in many places. His initial shock from the explosion had clearly not worn off and he looked like he was about to join Kimber in being sick.
Poor Eve looked like she was in more pain than everyone else combined, and Kimber could see a bone grotesquely protruding from the arm that dangled limply at her side. Tauren and Naomi sprang into action, gently guiding Eve away from the boys and sitting her down on the side of the tractor. The three girls exchanged nervous looks, knowing the bone had to be reset as quickly as possible. Speaking to Eve in a soothing voice, Naomi balled her headscarf up and gave it to Eve to bite down on. After a few moments, Eve gave a fearful nod, and a wide-eyed Tauren shoved the bone back into place, an audible snap preceding Eve’s muffled scream.
Eve’s eyes went wild, and her good hand protectively gripped her belly as her body writhed in pain. Naomi tried to sooth Eve but found herself getting woozy and excused herself to find another scarf to fashion into a sling. Tauren took the shemagh from Eve’s mouth and wrapped it snuggly around Eve’s arm and called to Aeneas, allowing him to crawl over from the other side of the tractor. Aeneas took Eve’s hand and though the pain was unmistakable, the panic in her eyes began to subside. Although she was still panting through gritted teeth, after a few minutes, she was calm enough to slip her wrapped arm into the sling Naomi had made.
After some time, the group finally relaxed, leaning against the tractor sharing a stunned expression. No one spoke, and as the smoke continued to swirl into the sky, everyone retreated into the dark recesses of their minds when only moments ago, they thought they had lost their friends to the inferno. Aeneas continued to hold Eve’s hand as her breathing slowly evened out, Lo napped on and off as his body tried to recoup from his massive amount of blood loss, and for Kimber, the next few hours passed by in a dizzying blur of vomiting attacks.
The group did not have to express their concern for Oriana for them to all feel it. Kimber, who had nothing left in her system to throw up, was lying with her head in Tristan’s lap, trying not to dry heave as she sent prayer after prayer up on the baby’s behalf, thanking whoever was in control that Eve’s arm had been struck, instead of the blow striking a few feet to the right on her belly. Eventually, Kimber figured out that the light was making the nausea worse and listened with closed eyes as Tristan broke the silence, asking Aeneas what had set the blast off in the first place.
“We were exploring the upper floor, starting in the children’s room. Eve was looking around at the children’s bunkbeds and books, trying to get ideas for Oriana as she grows,” Aeneas said, his voice raspy from the inhalation of so much smoke.
“Uh-huh,” Naomi whispered with a snicker, trying to shake everyone out of their stupor. “That’s what I would say we were doing too.”
Kimber reached over with her eyes still closed and punched Naomi in the leg, and Eve gave a tight, pained snort.
“No, this one is too much of a gentleman for that, Naomi,” she said tenderly.
“Maybe so,” Aeneas said. “But this one,” he dropped his voice lower, “is a heroine.” Aeneas explained in a serious tone how Eve had rushed towards him and shoved him with all her might away from the pressure plate the homeowner had turned the threshold of his master bedroom into.
Eve waived Aeneas’s accolades away. “It happened too quickly to explain. I noticed from the hall that the threshold looked… I don’t know, like it just didn’t belong. As soon as I saw it depress under Aeneas’s foot, I knew he had triggered an explosive device.” Eve’s face darkened. “I didn’t have time to think, and if I had, I fear I may have acted differently… for Oriana’s sake.” She rubbed her belly, letting her love pour into the baby cocooned inside.
Kimber considered Eve’s love for her child and tried to let her anger towards the owners of the home-made bomb fizzle. Kimber had seen the graves in the back yard and could only guess at the pain the parents must have endured. Panic rooms had become quite common in homes after the flare—most families simply trying to protect their loved ones for as long as they could from looters and thugs. Kimber wondered if, after the mother and father had buried their children, they had holed themselves up in their bedroom while they waited for a miracle and prayed for a peaceful death. It was hard to stay angry at a family who could never have imagined a team of half-human, half-grafted travelers passing through their home over twenty years later, and as Kimber dry heaved again, and she resigned to simply being thankful that her, Lo’s, and Eve’s bodies had already begun repairing themselves.
“Eve, where did the boys find you?” Naomi whispered in a more serious tone, clearly bothered by having left Eve inside the burning house.
“And how on Earth did you guys survive all that heat?” Tauren added with a shiver.
“I came-to under the staircase in the living room,” Eve started. When she saw the dismay in Naomi’s eyes, she added, “But I was buried under a ton of rubble, so there was no way you could have seen me, especially in all that smoke. I think the growing heat must have brought me back to consciousness, because the next thing I knew, I was screaming, and Aeneas was there.” Eve stopped to smile at Aeneas, who squeezed her good hand.
“Tristan was the one who saved our lives,” Aeneas said. “I ran back into the house and, thank Allah, I heard Eve yelling for help. Tristan was shoveling through the debris in the kitchen when I shouted that I found Eve, but our exit had become blocked. He crawled to us and pulled us deep into the cellar until the initial blaze passed.”
Tristan shrugged. “When Lo, Tauren, and I checked downstairs for supplies, I noticed how cool and damp it was down there. So, thank goodness, I guess, for wine, because that cellar saved our lives.” He let out a low, humble chuckle and beamed down at Kimber, whose eyes had welled with tears of gratitude and pride.
The team fell silent again, but this time the shock was infused with a sense of thankfulness. The Auroreans rested as they tried to regain strength, and as the sun began to set the travelers decided to stay put for the night, making their encampment around the robotic tractor. Naomi took a turn watching Kimber while Tristan and Tauren rummaged through the debris, bringing back seared cans of food and a new bottle of wine from their underground, savior-cellar.
Once the team started to wind down for the night, Tristan took Kimber’s head back in his lap. Though the evening remained clear, the air hung thick, and Kimber dozed as her comrades quietly conversed. As she slipped from reality, the robotic tractor behind Tristan’s head came online in her concussed subconscious, the automated machine mowing rows upon rows of beautiful green grass. The grass wilted and died, but endlessly the machine mowed. Finally, after what seemed to be a lifetime of mowing a yard of naught but scorched sand, the tired robot puttered to a stop and surrendered to rust, just as an exhausted Kimber surrendered to sleep.
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Book Three of THE KIMBER SERIES!