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Lightning Strikes

Nightmares are a normal part of a child’s development providing a literal “wake-up” call to both parent and child to pay attention to strong feelings and problems that may require resolution.

—The Nineteenth Korus of the White Tree

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Present Day

Don’t think! Run, dammit! RUN!

NightFire raged at the pain overtaking her concentration. Her thick fur matted, her paws bloodied and swollen, she staggered under a weight only she was destined to carry.

I can’t go on but I can’t stop! Three days! Four skins! Seven lands!

The transformations remained fresh in her mind. From a dusty Thomson’s gazelle galloping across the flowing grasslands of the Minotaur’s Veldt to a mountain goat scaling the razor-edged peaks of the Whisper Fist to the deer-like chamois in whose skin she could leap twenty feet at a time and run down the steep, rocky escarpments like the one she’d just descended.

Now, in preparation for nightfall, she’d slipped into the skin of a lynx, a nocturnal predator in its own right. Agile and fast, she’d be fully capable of

negotiating the dark, dense boreal forest—the realm of the Standing People. Hopefully she’d make better time, but NightFire knew time was no longer her ally.

Her feline nose twitched as she tried to sort through the scents that flew past, but nothing made sense. Smoke overpowered everything. Determined to place her direction, she pressed her nose to the ground, trying to pick up the ShamanTrail again.

Ash. All she could smell was the sourness of ash. It made up her world now. Ash and the echoes of fury that resounded overhead, torturous screams that ricocheted off the lifeless granite cliffs. Echoes that filled the lead-colored sky. Echoes that tore at every fiber of her being. Probing…searching…rabid. Echoes followed by destruction and death. Fire and rage. Detonation and ash.

In a flash of hellfire delivered from the clouds, a grove of Ponderosa pine exploded before her, the trees and the animals living among them hurled into the sky. Then, like burning tears, they all came crashing down.

What are you waiting for? RUN!

It had been raining death all night.

Don’t stop, don’t look, don’t think. RUN!

NightFire reached a stand of red maple and Sitka spruce, overtaking a ghostly Axis doe and her fawn. Her fur rubbed against theirs as she flew past. Even through the caked-on mud and prickly thorns tangled in her coat she could feel their fear.

Fear. It was everywhere. She sensed it in the trees, the briars, in the entire forest. Everything recoiled from the Skarsgaard’s attack. Though knives of frigid air sliced at her lungs, she refused to admit that she’d failed, that the beast might find her. But she could not—would not—fail. Especially him. Not now. Not yet.

She’d tried to come up with another explanation, but the call could mean only one thing. TerraTopia was Falling.

Why else would her father bring her out of hiding?

She’d repeated his cryptic instructions over and over, instructions passed from his emissaries to the shaman of the Sha ‘A Okonuu Kai, the Clan of the Long Coats:

Follow the movement of Time, starting with noon. Disappear into the clouds and come out another day. Head for the Doorway of the Setting Sun and look for me on the other side of the World.

What could it mean? She was supposed to be a Change Master. A Keeper. A TerraKoru. Forget the fact that she was the last of her kind. She was supposed to understand these things. She was supposed to be special.

Special? The word rang in her mind with a false sense of promise.

The only thing special about me…?

…I’m not dead yet!


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