Excerpt – Tail of the Dragon, Danielle meets the Dragon
“Wow those are strange clouds.” She remained astride her bike, a foot resting on each side.
Never remember seeing clouds boil like that. From their rapidly growing heights and the deep grays and black of their colors, this is going to be an epic downpour.
Quicker action seemed prudent. She slid off the seat, unstrapped her foul weather suit, and slipped into the heavy-duty gear. For this particular ride, she wore her best racing leathers and full coverage helmet. Danielle wasn’t worried about getting wet, she could dry off. But if her leathers got wet, it took them a long time to dry out. Despite the weatherman’s predictions, she’d brought a good rain suit. It fit well over her leathers, and she made haste to suit up.
Danielle jumped at a loud clap of thunder, her heartbeat accelerating fast from the close proximity of the storm. It was a peculiar, metallic thunder and drew her attention again to the sky where the clouds had become a strange iridescent purple.
More motivated to find cover. Danielle decided to extend her short vacation another day at her hotel. Though she wasn’t a great distance from home, it was more convenient to stay in the vicinity that presented a selection of challenging rides. A daily three-hour commute from home on her bike into this area would leave her too drained to enjoy the test of the mountainous roads. Rested, she’d be more confident to brave the hardest trial, a short eleven-mile stretch of Highway 129 known to motorcycle riders as the Tail of the Dragon. This twisting, switch back section of pavement was an intense test for a motorcycle rider and one of the reasons she chose to holiday in the highlands of North Carolina. There were plenty of curvy switchback roads, just the thing to get her mind off recent personal disappointments. This section of road required all her concentration and would block out those anxieties, at least for a time. However, with the threat
of inclement weather, shelter was an immediate concern.
A lightning strike on the mountain across from her split a tree in half. Blue spots from the intensity of the lightning hampered her vision and tremendous thunder echoed across Lake Fontana below the scenic pullover where she’d stopped. Danielle nervously settled her helmet back over her braided hair, buckling the straps with unsteady but nibble fingers. She slipped her hands into her gloves and hit the start switch on the bike.
Rain hadn’t started falling yet, and for that, she was thankful. But the heavy mists common to the Appalachians already settled on the cold, green blue water of Lake Fontana. Danielle hoped to out race the imminent downpour and put all her attention into maneuvering the tight sweeps of the turns. Another flash of lightning seared through the trees bright enough to cause her eyes to tear, followed by thunder so loud she felt, as well as heard it. The thunder, which accompanied this flash, resonated on a different pitch from any she’d ever experienced. A ripping, tearing sound reminded Danielle of metal fragmented under stress, and for the briefest of seconds, she wondered if an atomic bomb might have exploded. A purple flash of light followed the thunder and further diverted her attention so completely it took all her ten years of proficiency as a rider not to lose control of her bike and skid on the pavement.
Danielle was unnerved. Her control of the bike compromised, she missed a gear change and decided it was best to stop and calm down. Ahead on the opposite side of the road, a grassy, tourist scenic view of the lake presented the only safe refuge. Seeing no oncoming traffic, Danielle crossed the road stopping on the wide pull off, stilled the bike’s motor, and tried to gather her wits. She didn’t bother to slide off the seat, unsure her wobbly legs would support her, but put down the kick stand with her toe and stretched her legs to ease her taunt muscles. She leaned forward on the humped, gas tank bag and put her head down, taking deep breaths, trying to calm her roiling stomach and frayed nerves.
An unexpected whoosh of intense, hot air pushed down on her, brushing by as if propelled. She jerked her head upward but not fast enough to see clearly what whizzed overhead to become lost past the trees rounding the curve of the mountain road. The echoing screech reminded Danielle of an enraged raptor. By its sound, larger than one she’d ever encountered.
Pushing the visor of her helmet up, Danielle stared ahead in awe, convinced it was all a hallucination. Sunlight warmed her face; astounded, she shaded her eyes and gazed skyward at the bright sunlight and brilliant blue sky, flabbergasted all traces of the dark clouds gone and not a drop of rain had fallen. It was a perfect summer afternoon in the mountains. She turned around on her bike, and glanced out over the lake. The water was flawlessly smooth and clear. A frown knit her brow. Danielle stripped off her rain suit and stuffed it in her small tank pack, without thinking about what she did.
Time became meaningless to Garnith. While scanning below, he saw an expansive body of water. The runes dimmed into clouds glowing with a supernatural purple light. Gradually, the storm ceased and day again reigned. He flew through dense foliage and steep mountains to a place with space only wide enough for his wings to expand. Below, a narrow road, seemingly of a black ribbon with a yellow stripe down the center snaked between the mountains, up and down following the rise and fall of the land.
Tired, Garnith looked for a spot to land. He sorely needed to rest, change back into the man he was, and find food. Fighting the evil wizard had drained his energy, and the lengthy journey forced on him further weakened his great strength.
Glancing down, he saw what looked like a small knight on a red-blanketed horse. He hoped it wasn’t another dragon slayer. Perhaps that would be easier…a final battle with a dragon slayer.
His sad reverie was interrupted from ahead and beneath him by the roar of more of the strange horses he’d seen the small red knight astride. Calling on his waning energy reserve, Garnith turned his wings and soared higher on the updrafts of the mountains. From far above the strange ribbon road he followed, he watched many of the small-horsed knights, racing at incredible speeds up and down the mountain.
What were these horses, capable of such speed and running so smoothly?
Observing closely, he concluded the ribbon was indeed some type of extremely smooth road.
What was this strange land the wizard had sent him to?
Garnith circled back toward the beautiful lake where he had entered this time, emerging through the strange, glowing purple clouds. He thirsted greatly and that lake was wide enough he could glide above the water for a drink. Incredibly fast in his dragon form, he was back at the lake and swooped down to skim the surface, gulping a delicious sip of cold water. Ahead appeared what looked like a barrier to the water. Smooth solid rock holding back the lake. A familiar structure, a dam, but never had he seen one set so precise and constructed so strong. What he didn’t expect, or see until it was too late to fly over, were the lines strung across the water, several layers of them.
What was this, some type of dragon snare?
He soared between the lines and avoided the trap but one wing tipped a wire, just slightly. A horrible jolt raced through his entire body. Once lightning struck him while in flight and it felt the same. Despite the pain from the jolt, he saw the clouds were gone and the sky was clear blue. A pained scream erupted from his throat and ricocheted across the water. Garnith tumbled, but regained some control. His wingtip was badly burned and with such an injury, he would change in minutes. He soared higher on another updraft, trying to spot a safe landing place.
A strange pulse burst into his head through his sensitive dragon’s ears. Pain! More severe torture than the burn from the lightning line pierced through his brain and imparted strange words to his superior mind. Instinctively Garnith turned toward the source of invisible waves and found they flowed from a metal tower set atop one of the higher mountain peaks. The surge became words and connected to words he already knew the meanings of. In his mind, pictures he understood formed from their effect. He closed his tired eyes, briefly, but snapped them open again. Deep inside he felt the change begin.
Concentrating all his skills on flight, trying to delay the change until he could land, he spied a grassy patch on the edge of the lake where he saw the small knight. He judged the knight’s rank to be of high birth due to the bright colors Tail of the Dragon and the obvious expense of the armor the he wore and bedecked his mount with. Praying the knight wasn’t a dragon slayer. Garnith’s only option was to land. He settled his changeling, wounded, and aching body on the grassy bank. With the last of his strength, he sloughed off his leather pack holding all he owned before the change overtook him. Darkness edged quickly closer, his vision blurred. His raised his head and looked up to see the warrior on the strange horse staring at him. Garnith passed out.
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