By Erin MacMichael
Excerpt from Chapter III: “Shadow”
Ryder kept his eyes pinned on the woman in front of him, wondering just where she was headed in this stinking cesspool when she came to a stop at the entrance to a tall high-rise and disappeared within. Frustrated, he was about to head back home for the night when he felt the first heavy tremor vibrate the ground beneath his feet. He groaned inwardly, recognizing instantly what it was—a Drahkian raiding party out on a hunt with at least one of their colossal ground saurs.
The thundering booms of a large body smashing against buildings was hideously unmistakable. The sounds of breaking glass and falling rubble flowed into the street from a few blocks away.
As a piercing bellow split the air, Ryder trembled and fought down the overwhelming urge to flee, telling himself he would wait just long enough to see if the woman made it out. Tucking himself into the shadows in a ruined doorway, he pensively watched for the face of his stalker as people poured out of the entrance and ran in terrified silence as soon as they made it to the sidewalk.
Bestial growls echoed sharply off of the sides of the apartment house and the demolished buildings on the street. Ryder peered out from his hiding place just as a dark gray head appeared several stories up around the corner of the high-rise and let out a shriek when it spotted the stream of people running on the ground.
As the giant saur stepped into the street in front of the apartment building, a stocky reptilian man appeared behind it shouting guttural commands while firmly holding a heavy chain attached to the beast’s iron collar. At the rear of the party, a band of tall, light-skinned Drahks in brown uniforms sauntered along the street, pointing and issuing orders to the Torg handling the animal.
The saur lunged several times over the heads of the crowd, drawing shouts and screams when its snapping jaws came down. With a tug and shouted command from its keeper, the beast shifted its attention to bashing its side and immense hind haunches into the building facade. Shattered glass and debris fell tinkling to the ground below as the animal struck repeatedly against the upper stories of the apartment house.
Ryder had almost given up hope of catching sight of the woman when her face appeared among the last of the residents tensely pushing toward the entrance. The moment she reached the edge of the steps, she glanced up at the rampaging beast, her youthful features contorting with raw terror.
Ryder’s heart caught in his throat. Making a quick decision, he stepped out from the ruined building and ran into the chaos of the street, moving straight for the clot of people tearing down the short steps.
“Come with me!” he shouted as soon as he was close enough for the woman to hear. Her face flew up, shifting from bewilderment to utter astonishment when she recognized who he was.
“This way!” he urged, motioning back across the street and pointing up the hill in the direction of the artisan quarter. She nodded frantically as she grasped his meaning and pushed her way past several people in a panicked attempt to reach him.
The saur let out a deafening squeal and lurched forward, its enormous foot crushing glass on the pavement a few yards away from where Ryder stood. He turned and ran, making for a narrow opening between two buildings on the opposite side of the street which he hoped might connect through to the next street over. He reached the passage just as another heavy foot fell on the road behind him, shaking the ground under his feet, followed by a loud bang as the beast’s big head hammered into the crumbling wall above the passage, sending a shower of rubble streaming down into the alley. He glanced over his shoulder and saw the small woman standing just inside the entrance with her arms above her head to deflect the falling stones.
“Run!” he screamed as the saur’s head appeared right behind her.