Stricken (The War Scrolls Book 1)By: A.K. Morgen
Oh God. No. Not again.
“Oh God,” Aubrey whispered, blood rushing in her ears. She slid weakly down the wall, her legs no longer willing to hold her up.
“She’s fainting,” Killian said from a distance.
She thought she heard herself sigh in response, but she was already too far under to care.
Where am I?
Aubrey glanced around, confused.
She stood at the edge of a driveway. A neat white house nestled between two towering oaks, a sea of waving grass stretching to each side. A tangle of trees spread out beyond the grassy field, dense and shadowed but familiar. The front shutters of the house were thrown open, the pale yellow curtains beneath fluttering in the warm breeze. Thick chains holding the old porch swing in place creaked as the wind tugged them into lazy motion.
A smile spread across her face as memory made sense of the scene before her. This was her home, the little paradise where she’d grown up. Time hadn’t changed the house at all. It stood exactly as she remembered.
But that wasn’t right, was it?
Aubrey frowned as a less gentle memory demanded her attention.
The scene before her flickered.
Her heart twisted painfully.
The massive oaks on the far edges of her vision blinked from life to death, branches bared and charred. The porch swing shifted from whole and hale to a melted and charred ruin. And the house…one minute, her home was pristine white and standing tall. The next, the house was little more than a gutted ruin, collapsing into a pile of rubble beyond the porch.
Smoke stood thick in the air, choking her.
Fire still smoldered in places, reducing to ash what it had not already destroyed.
“No.” Aubrey squeezed her eyes shut. She remembered this. Standing in this same spot. Watching the home she loved burn. Finding her—
“No!” She dashed toward the house as fast as she could, her heart in her throat as memory spurred her onward. This wasn’t happening. It couldn’t.
“Daddy! Aaron!” The cast on her leg tripped her, causing her to nearly fall onto the charred porch before she could catch herself. She lurched across the wooden slats on unsteady legs, then flung herself into the ruins, heedless of the dangers lurking there.
“Aaron, where are you?” She ignored the alarm bells clamoring in the back of her mind, clenching her good hand into a tight fist to slow its shaking. The smell of char hung heavier in the air here, clogging her nose and throat. Smoke billowed like fog around her. She stumbled through the collapsing ruins of her home, fear for her family urging her forward.
Portraits and their heavy wooden frames were melted onto the walls, glass broken all along the charred floor. Her brother’s graduation picture was ruined, his face burned through. The photos of her mom were destroyed too, the edges of those beloved images still smoking in places.
“Dad?” Aubrey coughed, gagging at the bitter, painful taste of smoke in the back of her throat.
A groan sounded to her left, coming from the once-tidy little kitchen. She spun and dashed that way, a strangled cry breaking from her lips at the sight awaiting her inside the twisted doorframe. The room was gutted, pots and pans twisted into unrecognizable detritus atop melting linoleum. The kitchen table, charred a deep black, stood upright amid the destruction.
It didn’t matter.
The room no longer burned, but that didn’t matter, either.
Her father lay pinned beneath a roof beam. His left leg was bent, his flesh red and blistered halfway down the length of the limb. His familiar, handsome face was covered in soot, his dark hair singed. A nasty gash across his temple oozed blood, staining the right side of his face. His mouth pulled up in a rictus of pain when he turned his head, but his gaze was as gentle and loving as ever when it fell upon her. “Aubrey,” he said. “Sweetheart.”
“Daddy!” She collapsed to her knees beside him, ripping at the roof beam pinning him to the floor. Her broken arm and leg screamed in protest. Tears rolled down her face, silent sobs racking her body.
“Aubrey,” he murmured and then coughed, a sick sound. “You’ve got to get out of here, sweetheart.”
“No!” she cried, still pulling frantically at the rubble burying her father. Heat burned her hands, and wooden shards dug into her skin. She ignored the pain, determination driving her. “I can get you out. I can!”
“No, baby,” her father said, his voice a frail whisper, “you can’t. You’ve got to get out of here before the house collapses.”
“I’m not leaving you, Daddy,” she sobbed, tugging at the roof beam that refused to budge.
“You have to.” He sounded so much weaker than she’d ever heard before.
“No.” Aubrey shook her head, refusing to obey the man she’d always idolized. She couldn’t leave him here. She wouldn’t.
“They’re going to need you, Aubrey. You’re the only—” A harsh cough cut him off. He winced and groaned again.
“No,” Aubrey choked on the word, still tugging at the beam pinning him to the floor. “I can save you and Aaron!”