You could say that I thought I’d already seen all hell breaking loose before. Dred Dixon? Not a stranger to hell and destruction.
The most recent time had been that one night, under Delicate Arch when I almost married Joe Smith and a portal into some hellscape began to open in the middle of the stone arch. Think of it: Delicate Arch, the crowning glory of Utah, used to herald in the end of the world in Joe Smith’s dastardly plan for world domination.
End the world. Then rule what was left.
What a guy!
The whole thing had been a nightmare. A writhing, dark nightmare involving a fake marriage to the evil mastermind replete with shadow tentacles snaking out from the portal, coming for me. Rather scary tentacles, I might add. Luckily the portal was almost entirely closed by the time one nicked me. I’d been spared.
But this confluence of storms was something else.
As the pegasus dropped toward the ground below, I found myself very confused at the turn of events.
Shouldn’t he be flying? He’d already proven that he could by getting us to the top of the hoodoo in the first place. So I knew it wasn’t that I weighed a mere one-twenty-er-something that he wasn’t flying.
The red earth below got closer very quickly as we dropped toward it.
Maybe he’d gotten caught in a down-draft. The atmosphere was full of drafts going every which way because of the storms.
“Can’t you fly?” I shrieked in puzzlement. “Fly horse, fly!”
We kept falling.
“Up, up, and away!” I tried, my heart pounding. Breathing was becoming difficult as everything inside me clenched into one big knot of fear that rejected death. I threaded my fingers through the pegasus’ mane, gripped locks of the wiry hair and pulled backwards on it like the mane was a throttle lever in a plane.
Finally, mere centimeters from a smaller hoodoo decorating the desert floor below us, the pegasus kicked it into gear and began to flap its feathers.
I exhaled and started to giggle in relief as we soared upwards.
“Thank you!” I shouted. “You saved us!”
Then I remembered the tornado, the sandstorm, and the thunder and lightning coming straight for us.
“Mostly. Now let’s get Hank and blow this sculpted garden of hoodoos!” I pulled the mane to the right like I was steering a sled and the pegasus changed his direction.
When we landed on top of Hank’s spire of red stone, my partner stood with his arms folded and his head cocked to one side.
“Ever the grand entrance,” he remarked. “I thought you were going to flit off and leave me.”
“We’re both going to ride it?”
“Him. And yes. What choice do we have?”
“What’s the load capacity on this ride?”
“It’s Zeus’ favorite steed, so I’d say infinite. What do you think?” I reached back and patted the flank. “Get on. I’d rather not be caught in that tornado.”
It was getting loud. Thunder pealed in the distance. The front of the storm was beginning to touch us, but it spread for miles in all directions. The sandstorm blocked out portions of the sky. The tornado was nozzling its way across the desert on a collision course with us, no more than five miles away.
Hank glanced over his shoulder and cursed.
“Why didn’t you say something?” he asked, prancing toward the pegasus and me like he’d been slapped in the butt by a nun in Lancelot’s worst nightmare. He stopped at the side of the pegasus and studied it. “Where am I supposed to sit?”
“Behind me,” I said. The wings of the pegasus were attached to the upper front legs, just below where the neck joined the torso. “I’m the main rider. Sorry.”
“Fine. Fine with me. You steer.”
Hank grabbed my outstretched hand and pulled himself up. I held tight to the mane. He situated himself behind me and wrapped his hands around my waist.
“Let’s go!” I shouted, doing the instinctive heels into the flank of the flying horse. Two in the afternoon looked like nine as the haboob and the thunderstorm overtook the sky. The pegasus leapt into the air and beat its wings. A roar to my left told me that the tornado was at four o’clock.
We were aloft as the horse climbed and climbed.
“You going to try to get above the cloud cover?” Hank asked in my ear.
“I’m letting the pegasus decide,” I shouted. “I have no idea what he’s capable of or if that’s an option.
“Cumulonimbus like these are notoriously dangerous. Or so I hear.”
“I’d happy if he took us to a cave and we rode this out inside one,” I hollered. I leaned forward. “If you know of a cave, let’s go there!”
Our van, Charlie’s Angel, was parked back near Hurricane where the adventure with the pegasus, orcs, and pixies had begun several hours earlier. We’d have to get that later—the tornado presented too much of a risk.
Tornadoes in southern Utah? It still made me shake my head.
We flew through the multiple tempests, wind at our backs, thunder rolling west of us and the hum of the tornado like an approaching freight train to our left. I glanced that direction. Tears whipped across my cheeks from the wind pressing against my face.
Hank leaned close to me. “I think it’s following us.”
“What? No chance,” I said, focusing on the tornado again. I looked down. A branch of Zion National Park lay below us like an exposed vein. Streams nestled within red and orange slot canyons glittered darkly. Maybe there was a cave down there that could give us shelter from the pursuing tornado.
I hated to admit it, but Hank was right. The tornado seemed to be following us.
The canyons would break it up if it tried to cross them. There was no way it could follow us over Zion. At the moment, it seemed to be staying on a course that followed I-15.
“Maybe we could go inside one of those canyons,” Hank suggested. “They would stop the tornado.”
“Oh yeah!” I said, but before I could say good idea, I remembered. “But if there’s rain in those thunderheads, that would be a bad idea.”
“Flash flood. The rain could fill the canyon. I’m pretty sure that’s how the canyons have been made—water from flash floods.”
“Then what do you propose, princess?”
I really had no idea, but I knew his idea would get us killed in the event of rain. Anything I came up with would be better than floating down into a slot canyon while a downpour approached. “We just have to outsmart the tornado.”
“Which seems to be being driven by a vengeful god. Who did we piss off, Dred?”
Any number of gods, I thought. Thoth? Atropos? My father, Heimdall?
I chewed on my lip. It couldn’t be any of them. And it didn’t matter at the moment. What mattered was surviving. It was sweet of him to say “we” when we both knew that I was the reason the gods had been paying attention.
That sounded so egocentric. But, it didn’t matter. It was the truth.
“It was the thunderbirds anyway, not us, that’s what I think. Those orcs messed with the wrong supernatural creature.”
“It’s probably Atropos. Jealous that you bagged me.” His voice was full of his casual, joking arrogance.
“I think you mean she’s envious.”
“It doesn’t matter anyway—we should be figuring out what to do next, not arguing about which word is right.”
“Atropos wouldn’t destroy both of us because of that. Besides, she knew what would happen.” I reflected back on the night I’d bagged him, as he’d called it, when I finally touched Hank with the heat of a hundred supernovae. Some would say it was the beginning of the end and that now everything would be downhill, as though the pinnacle was the moment when we both finally surrendered to the delicious friction between us. That night, Atropos—the one Fate who came to see me regularly, acting as the emissary of the three goddesses—popped in to deliver a dire warning that if we gave in to our desire, our relationship wouldn’t be just the two of us.
It would somehow involve a third person in a very messy way that neither of us would like.
We did it anyway.
So far, I figured the third was Joe Smith. He was gone now, but he’d left us with a parting gift.
“And just why wouldn’t Atropos have it in for us?” Hank probed.
“Because that’s just so… so petty.”
I felt him throw his hands in the air, then latch onto me immediately again. “That’s the reason the gods do anything: jealousy.”
“Fine, but it just doesn’t sound like Atropos. I know her pretty well.”
“She’s a god, Dred, no one knows her pretty well. They’re mysterious. Secretive. And they lie.”
“Well, aren’t you the fun one to be with today.”
He laughed and that was the end of that conversation.
The pegasus continued toward Zion choosing our route without my input. Zion was likely a good idea. There were long tunnels through mountains in the park and one of them might work as shelter in a pinch. I considered it more, then decided they’d probably been closed the moment the tornado showed up. The pegasus angled around and began to head south.
“Where are you going?” I shouted. “Why are you going this way? Wrong way!”
South was toward the haboob.
The flying horse didn’t answer.
“There’s why,” Hank said, pulling his hand away from my waist to point.
It took me a minute to figure out what I was seeing. Soon the figures solidified.
It was a cloud of orcs on thunderbirds. About twenty-five of them. And they were headed straight for us.
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