Authors: Angela White
Tags: #future, #Survival, #Action Adventure, #troll, #dark fantasy, #fantasy adventure, #quest
came from the Zones in the West
Seven merciless fighters to the end
One stunning blonde warrior
Leading six hard-ass men
An impossible quest
& A Haunting new vision
Re-released with new content and professional edits, this is a prelude to the Alexa’s Travels series. It is 85 pages, enough for a reader to discover if this type of tale is right for her or him. It also contains a brief look at a related title, as well as an excerpt from Bone Dust & Beginnings, which is book one of this series and now available!
New Edition © 2012
Edited by Sharon K. Maybrier
All rights reserve
Angela White © 2010
This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. Standard Copyright laws apply. Made in the United States.
Table of Contents
The small group of seasoned fighters had been traveling together for almost a year. Following the signs, they searched for New America, and for those who had come this way before them. Black, hooded cloaks billowing in the harsh wind, their battle-lined eyes and stiff, ready hands said it had been a hard journey.
The grit-layered mountains in the distance mocked their efforts, as did the colorless dirt being whipped about by a constant, impudent wind. The bleak landscape revealed only more of the same. This was not a friendly place they had come to, but even the post-apocalyptic weather could not completely erode the signs of the world that had once been.
Carved into the leeward side of the rock wall where it would be protected, the small band of travelers stared at this latest message with hope lingering in their thoughts, but also with remarkable patience. July of 2013 was four years past, and in that time the United States had become nearly unlivable. The gates between reality and horror had opened, and nothing was the same.
In the distance, a sandstorm brewed menacingly, and the six men looked to the lone female leading them on this perilous journey.
Alexa studied the land, her bloodshot eyes straining for any signs of smoke in the distance, though her mind had already confirmed she was years too late. Those who had come this way before her were long gone. To where, was the only question for her, the very reason she continued to breathe.
“Set us up. Jacob will cook.”
Her raspy voice got an immediate response from the well-trained men.
Her hawkish gaze swept the barren landscape continuously as they made a small camp along the engraved wall. Their movements were smooth, practiced, and the men kept close track not only of their surroundings, but also each other, and their seemingly fearless leader. Alexa was a hard soul, the first to fight, the last to rest. Slavers, zombies, nature - they’d faced it at her side, seven to start the trip, and that number hadn’t changed. They would go where she led.
The spiteful wind threw showers of sand over the lean fighters as they worked, and the woman guarded them with calloused fingers resting on the butts of well cared for and heavily used Colts. Restless, the sense of danger was clear to their leader. Something other than the dust was nearby.
With a silent watchfulness that spoke of being lethal, the men gathered deadwood and debris to form a barrier around their camp. They smothered the flames as soon as the food and coffee was finished, their gun holsters staying open, ready. These hardened men didn’t speak, didn’t need to after traveling together for so long through this alien world. Their blonde guardian was more alert than usual, and in the past, that had meant death was either waiting ahead or coming fast on their heels. They would pay attention… and more, if it was called for.
Darkness beginning to invade, the seven travelers gathered around the ring of glowing embers. They were more like a family than strangers who had come together for protection in this hard new world where there was little noise but the howling of a cruel, southern wind.
“What’s this night’s horror?”
Jacob’s heavily scarred face flushed at the laughter.
The woman raised a brow, expression showing no sympathy for his discomfort.
“Beans and biscuits.”
The teasing turned to contentment at that. It was the one meal the rookie knew how to make. The last to join the quest, it was often a surprise to the others to find the gentle man of God among them, and always a slight shock when he used the deadly .357 slung low on his lean hip. Jacob believed in peace and would go out of his way to achieve it, but when the battles came, he was as dangerous as the rest of her companions.
The other men assumed his wounds had caused this, but their leader knew better. Jacob was a born hunter, killer. Why he had been masquerading as a priest, she hadn’t asked. All she needed was the steel that few had in this new world, and her fighters had been chosen by that line.
Each in their twenties or thirties, this group of survivors was healthy, vibrant compared to the decaying souls they’d met on this quest. Alexa had culled each of them from the dwindling herd of mankind because they were the most likely to survive the trip to find New America and the
. The harsh battles they’d fought at her side had forged a bond that was rare in a land where death lurked ruthlessly in every shadow.
Now, they were a week or ten days from the angry ocean. If this Safe Haven still existed, they’d soon see… and if there was only more of what they had already come through, or worse, nothing at all?
Only one of them knew, and it was information she guarded closely. In this new hell, women were all powerful and death claimed those who could not, or would not, accept the shift in command. Why woman now ruled was easy to understand while they were passing entire towns destroyed by the hatred and greed of the past. There was nothing that females could do to even come close to the awful feeling of a small skeleton crunching under a boot.
While they ate, there was little talk among the group of fighters. Words seemed unsettlingly out of place in the foreign landscape, and Alexa pushed aside her own concerns to draw them out, to strengthen their bonds.
“How long do we have before the storm arrives?”
Her words were rough, from a throat that had seen smoke in all its damaging forms, and her men hurried to answer.
“Naw, half that.”
“Check again. That base looks a mile wide, even from here. It’s big, slow. Two hours.”
Alexa nodded her approval. “My Second in command has been paying attention. We have more than enough time to prepare, but should we wait?”
Edward, flushed with pride at finally having his place confirmed, shook his head. The sandstorms they’d survived were tricky, sly. Other survivors they’d talked with all believed nature had turned against them, and none of this group would argue that point after the wolves in Nebraska… the killin’ fields.
“It shifted. We’ll need to move to the other side of the wall, out of the path.” Alexa said this while staring up at the message, thinking the scouring gusts were starting to erode the letters. Barely obvious now, in another year, the wind would begin to make real progress. Some of the words would remain forever, but the sand would take its toll. Nothing stood unchanged before time, certainly not man or his creations.
The woman glanced over her army again as they set the tent overtop of metal grates long since clogged with dust and debris. Did all of Underworld look like that? They’d managed to stay topside for their quest, mostly, but the woman had a sudden sense that they might need to find out… and before morning.
“Wait. Clear the hole.”
They understood right away, doing what she wanted without complaint, and it eased the woman’s tension a bit. Even by themselves, her males were strong. All with black hair and blue eyes, they appeared to be related, and though not happy (who could be with this world around them?), they appeared at least content to be here, with her. Was it enough? Would it hold them?
She had built bonds and strengthened their ties anyway she could, but time was almost up, and the hell they would have to face had not really begun yet. These men thought there was nothing worse than two thousand miles of walking dead and sand storms that tried to kill them while they slept, but Alexa knew those had only been training tools. Land was nothing compared to the water.
The woman shook her head at the last dregs of the rolled smoke they were passing, letting them have it. A whirlwind rose from the ground a few feet away as if in response to her chaotic thoughts, and it flew closer with an audible whine.
Slamming into her with the power of a gunshot, it blew her cloak back and covered her in sandy grit.
She calmly wiped her face. “Get us nailed down. It knows we’re here.”
The dim, purple glow of dusk found them all standing in a back and forth row, watching. Not the storm, but the rest of their dusty surroundings. Using bad weather to cover an attack was a skill that more than just people had perfected, but Alexa’s men had to hide grins of anticipation. They were in the Waterline, a nearly impenetrable formation that had served them well, and they waited eagerly waited for the storm… the thrilling excitement of facing it all at their leader’s side. Alexa had chosen well.
The pale wall of sand was slowly devouring the barren landscape. It moved steadily closer, advancing like an immense column of soldiers intent on destroying anything in their way. The gusts tugged at tent stakes, as if testing, and dust showered their boots. Hearts sped up as the wind shoved harder, pulses starting to pound in that familiar, unpleasant thump of danger. Then the dust wall was within a mile, and the cold, hard shield of battle fell into place.
“Stakers, hit them again. Everyone else get inside.”
Two of the cloaked fighters rushed to pound heavy, flat stones on pegs as the rest of them ducked into the large, black tent. It was a battle they had fought many times, an enemy they knew well, and they fell into their routines easily.
Two men went to the carefully sewn, glass portholes, two moved toward the back, near the wall for added weight where it mattered most, and Alexa settled in the center, not hiding from a vicious blast of grit that hit her in the face as the stakers ducked inside.
Normally, the huge tent was hung with sheer canopies to create three rooms. One was a very small wash area with heavier curtains, one a sleeping room covered in pillows and blankets, and the last, a sitting area for those who were having trouble with the dreams… nightmares, that were a common part of the new world.
Now, the tent was barren, their gear in the kits on their backs to keep from being lost if the storm succeeded in tossing them out.
It was zeroing in with a single-minded fury, as if angered by their very presence. Before it hit them fully, the portholes were already useless, flying sand all they could see. The front edge of the storm slammed into them with such force, they felt the rock wall shudder against their meager shelter. Then the wind became an enraged force trying to rip the tent apart.
Sand hit them in waves, hard enough to punch dents that faded into the next blast, and the howling increased, thrumming through their heads like a scream. The ground vibrated, canvas walls slapping violently, and the entire group gathered in the rear of the tent, waiting tensely for a hole to appear.
Face-covers were quickly donned, and hoods were tightened over them to provide another layer of protection.
Alexa felt the air shift, watched the sand-filled hits blast at new parts of the tent, and realized the storm had changed directions. Coming from the side, they would be blown away.
“Make a hole!”
Letting in clouds of dust, she slit a wide gash in the floor of the tent, and the males hurried to get ropes and lights out as they realized what she meant to do.
Alexa and David wrenched the iron grate free, turning their faces from the waves of dusty showers now coming into their shelter. They tossed it to the side and began digging through the debris.
The metal lid had a simple pull-ring handle, and the man grunted as he jerked. With Alexa and Daniel to add an arm, the heavy steel slid, revealing a dark, alien world.
The tent was shredding, stinging dust trying to consume them. Alexa quickly made the call.
Edward dropped the greenish flare into the abyss and then followed it down, his foot secure in the looped rope that Jacob and David were lowering.
Above, the others were ready with more, but Edward’s call told them it wasn’t needed.
“Soft landing, ten feet.”
Now holding her breath against the smothering sand, Alexa waved them on, dropping through last. As she went, she tugged the cord on the center pole, collapsing what was left of the tent into a flat lid that would give them shelter.
Dust and bits of debris swirled as she fell, cloak billowing. When she landed, in a braced crouch, it was in the center of six stunned men. They were in the proper formation - elbow to elbow with their guns drawn - but alert to possible dangers, they were not. As she saw why, Alexa stayed the rebuke she’d been about to deliver.