Chapter 1

The young woman ran . . . ran as if her life depended on it. Because this time, it did. The wind whipped harshly at her face, the thunder crashed around her, and still she ran. This was not to be her fate. This wasn't her destiny; she would not permit it to be. Never in her wildest dreams did she envision dying at the hands of a mobster or his wise guys; it was all much too cliché. So she kept running.

The surrounding forest grew denser with each labored step. The thickening underbrush grabbed at her feet. The tree trunks were wider now, and their branches not only reached for the stars, but for the top of her head, occasionally keeping a stray hair or two as a token for their efforts. The sky looked black, only she couldn't tell if the sudden darkening was a result of the storm or the ever-evolving scenery. Yet, somehow, the rain still managed to find her, to assault her senses. The thunder echoed in her ears, while lightning erupted all around her. The white-hot beams narrowly missed her, momentarily blinding her with each strike.

Was it the confusion and fear that made each consecutive bolt appear brighter and stronger than the last? She was certain she was going to end up running in the wrong direction and hit a wise guy head on. The thought made her chuckle out loud ...hit...wise guy... she'd made a funny. Jesus, she was losing it. She had to keep her wits about her if she was going to survive this. She had to think straight and run straight or they were going to catch up to her.

"God," she prayed, "is this my destiny... to die by the hands of this evil?"
Behind her, they were closing in. The glint of the high polished steel of their revolvers ricocheted within the streaks of lightning. Between the adrenaline rush of the chase and the ever-worsening weather conditions, the reserved men chasing her were unable to take the proper aim necessary to hit their mark. But sooner or later, usually sooner, they knew she would tire or stumble. She was bound to lose her footing in the mud or in the underbrush. Then....

Her muscular body was exhausted, her skin taut with strain. But still she pushed her limbs to go on, to go faster...reach farther. "Have to get away," far away from the annihilation she knew was imminent if she allowed her body to relent in any fashion. Her lungs burned, her heartbeat, beyond pounding, under her aching rib cage. The constant throbbing sensation in her left side reminded her of how she'd found the men who now chased her. She cursed herself for going into that alley. She had managed to escape with only one or two broken ribs, merely a slight bruising. Although, at this very moment, she felt every one of those bruises- every scratch. Every cell in her body screamed, but she wouldn't slow down. She couldn't.

She leaped over the occasional fallen log or pile of branches that hindered her path. She dodged the bolts of lightning, seemingly sent by the heavens themselves to attack her. She shook her head frantically; no, she'd done this to herself. It served her right for meddling in things best left alone. But her need for justice had overcome her rational reasoning and had taken her places where she was beginning to believe she shouldn't have gone. "Stop it," she ordered herself, the sound coming out of her mouth more as a croak than an actual human voice. I did the right thing, she thought, since it hurt less and required less energy, not to mention air. No matter what my fate, this was what I was destined to do. Why would I be doing it otherwise?

The men were closer now. If the storm front had been blowing upwind, she was certain she could have smelled them, as unpleasant an idea as that was. Her incredibly warm, ice blue eyes cast themselves heavenward, hoping by some miracle she'd just disappear to see another day.

A gunshot rang out in the forest. She was certain that's what it was. Even through the torrential downpour and the heart-stopping thunder, she could make out the unmistakable pop-twang sound of a .357 expelling a 38-caliber round. She wouldn't look back to see where they were. It didn't matter. Wherever they were, it was too close. A voice in her head told her it was over. She should just stop and let it end.

Then it happened . . . A lightning bolt flashed straight into her path. When she opened her eyes, she expected what she had been experiencing through this whole ordeal ...a blur ...some spots, nothing she couldn't handle. But this was different. This was something for which she wasn't prepared. This, no one could be prepared for . . . not Buck Rogers, not Flash Gordon, not even H.G. Wells . . . a truly out of this world experience.


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"Hail Xena" midi by Orlandi