Sequel to The Circus Crown
Kenna Crossley now runs the town of New Somerset. She is responsible for its food, its electricity, and most importantly, its protection. She will defend it with her life if necessary, in order to keep its citizens -- including her ailing father Dakota -- safe from harm.
But the appearance of a strange, deformed animal puts everything Kenna has worked for at risk. Soon the mountains surrounding their little town are overrun with bloodthirsty creatures. As Kenna fights them and builds up barriers around the town, she begins to suspect it's a losing battle.
Can Kenna protect New Somerset, or will the mutated monsters win? And who among them will survive?
It was just a hand -- a claw -- resting on the barbed wire of an unfortunately low part of the fence. But the appendage was easily the size of either woman, with talons matching the full length of Ken's forearm. Her jaw dropped open. This wasn't some hybrid deer or wolf. In her imagination, the creature could only be a dinosaur or dragon.
She heard it breathe out and felt a rumble in the ground below her feet. The hooked nails pulled on the weakened barrier. It bent outward. The whining and cracking of wood sent a pang of fear through Ken's whole body. All their hard work, and this thing could easily destroy the one partition that separated their small town from a wilderness filled with monstrosities.
With her heart pounding, Ken pointed her measly knife at their foe. Addressing Jaden, "Go back home, as fast as you can," she instructed in a somewhat calm voice. "Tell everyone. Adelaide first, and the scouts. And my dad. Tell them to bring everything they've got. Go now."
There was no response, but she heard Jaden's hiking boots dig into the dirt as she sprinted away.
Ken took a moment to assess the situation before deciding that the best route would be to lead it far from town. With a little contortion, she scaled a more stable section of the fence and jumped down on the other side. The thing, which looked something like a long salamander or snake with legs, moved low to the ground. It glistened in the sun between shadows of leaves and trees and was, unfortunately, about the length of two school buses. Its eyes, of which there were at least six in different sizes, didn't notice her at first. It seemed only concerned with removing the obstruction so that it could continue its path downward.
When she looked up, Ken saw that the lizard had uprooted and damaged several trees, along with digging a gully as it stumbled down the mountain. It didn't seem as though the creature worked well on steep inclines. There were cuts to its flesh from tree branches and rocks, and it seemed bloated in the middle. Silently, Ken wondered if the dragon was pregnant.
No matter. If this was the end result, its young would need to be exterminated just as much. She picked up a long stick and banged it against the fence. "Hey, you!" she called to it, stomping her feet. "Hey, you ugly walking sausage, come here! Come over here!"
The dragon turned faster than she thought possible, and in doing so, demolished part of the barrier. Ken dropped the stick and quickly darted up the mountain.
While the creature folded in on itself and made a U-turn, Ken relied on her significantly smaller size to work toward her advantage. She jumped over obstacles, squeezed between boulders, and weaved her way through heavy underbrush and tangled trees. Her slimy foe somehow managed to gain ground on her, however. It flung rocks down the cliff face as though they were hollow and pushed its massive weight with a powerful, lumbering force.
She stopped in a thicket to ponder her next move. Her opponent's mouth opened and a forked tongue slipped out, tasting the air and dirt for any trace of its potential prey. Maybe it would give up and pick another path away from New Somerset if she was just quiet enough. Maybe it would think her little fortress wasn't worth the effort and move on to some safer location.
Instead, it caught Ken's scent and barreled straight for her hiding place.
She only had time for one breath, and in it, she released the familiar words of the only talisman that came to mind. Not a weapon. Not anything that could even injure this beast. "A'nosh eta ma." The crystal she'd inherited from her dead grandmother. The one true necklace that belonged on her person at all times. And the only one that actually made her feel safe.
Protection from violence by organic force. Living beings. It could stop anything from a dog trying to bite her to a human punch. With the stone activated, nothing using claws, teeth, or skin could get at her. In fact, there was a buffer zone that varied across her body, anywhere from about three inches to a hand's length.
The purple and grey stone began glowing just in time. As the full weight of the creature pressed down upon her, it stopped agonizingly close. She watched with one part horror and one part fascination as it struggled not only to rip her to pieces but, unable to do so, swallow her whole.