“Why cannot everyone leave me alone?” Scotia stomped her foot and the ache in Rowan’s head ratcheted up another notch. “I know what I’m doing.” The ground seemed to tremble with her words and all the birds in the bushes around them took flight. She grabbed Rowan by her upper arms, squeezing hard enough to leave bruises in her wake. “Why?!”
Every hair on Rowan’s body rose with that tremble and an odd pressure pulsed under her skin. A tremendous crack slashed through the air, followed by an ominous rumbling, as if the mountain were speaking to them.
“What is it?!” Scotia gripped her arms even harder, as an unnatural wind pushed down the hillside and over them.
Terror gripped Rowan. As she looked up the hill toward the rumble, a horrible memory she’d buried long ago hurtled at her. “Nay,” she whispered. “Not again.”
Everything went silent in Rowan’s head as the pain reached a crescendo. She wrenched her arms free from her cousin’s grip and squeezed her hands to her scalp, her head feeling as if it was going to split asunder.
Another loud crack, as if the very ground beneath their feet was breaking wide open, though it barely trembled. Rowan looked up just in time to see the curtain wall above them burst, like heavy storm water through a dam, sending blocks of stone and rubble down the steep embankment.
“Run!” a deep male voice shouted at the same moment.
Rowan whipped around in the direction of the voice but didn’t see anyone.
“Run, now!” Suddenly a stranger burst onto the path not far up the hill and hurtled down toward them.
Scotia screamed, “Which way?” but didn’t move.
Rowan grabbed her skirts with one hand and Scotia’s arm with the other and pelted up the path toward the stranger. The path angled back toward the curtain wall but it was the shortest way to safety.
Rowan did not want to think about what would happen to them if they were caught in the avalanche of falling stone.
Scotia shrieked and ripped her arm from Rowan’s grip as they drew even with the stranger. Scotia raced past him leaving Rowan behind as the first pebbles bounced across the path. Rowan glanced up toward the castle as she and the stranger followed Scotia. She could see nothing but a looming wall of grey dust, the sharp scent of it crowding her already straining lungs. The ground shuddered again.
Rocks the size of her fist bounced all around her, clattering against one another with a sound like heavy rain. One of them hit Rowan hard in the shin. She stumbled, nearly losing her footing, but the man running ahead of her seemed to have eyes in the back of his head. He reached back, caught her arm and pulled her upright and forward.
Massive blocks of stone tumbled past them, end over end, some launching high into the air, then falling with deadly thuds all around them. A river of gravel raced down the hillside, adding its din to the tumult while making the path treacherous and slippery. Scotia had disappeared ahead of them and Rowan could only hope she’d already made it to safety.
A sudden sharp catch in Rowan’s side made it even harder to breathe but the man kept a grip on her hand and she had no choice but to keep running.
The dust cloud enveloped them, adding even more difficulty to the uphill run, making breathing more labored, and seeing almost impossible. After a lifetime of coughing and gagging on the dust, the two of them burst out into blinding sunshine where the path finally cleared the corner of the castle. Scotia stood there, bent over at the waist, her hands braced on her thighs, gasping for breath. Rowan fell to the ground, as did the stranger, their sides heaving as the last of the wall gave way, its stones thundering down the hill with a deafening roar, covering the path behind them, destroying everything in the way.
Want to read more? Highlander Betrayed, book 1 in my brand new Guardians of the Targe series, is now available in ebook, paperback, and audio at Amazon.