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Untamed Destiny

Untamed Destiny

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Book 5 of the Animalians Hall series

At the grand opening of the "Other Realms" section in the world's most dangerous zoo, Pax and her friends witness the unveiling of domes filled with nightmarish supernatural creatures, designed to attract throngs of new visitors. However, the introduction of a unique, destabilizing creature causes a systemic breakdown in security, transforming what was meant to be a thrilling experience into a desperate struggle for survival.


The world's most dangerous zoo provides attendees the experience of a lifetime: witnessing the fearsome manticore feeding, or the speedy mystdrakon race across its dome at blurring speeds, or the pack of brutal fyrehounds hunting across a sandy landscape—all within the safety of the highly secure domes.

But success breeds complacency…

Pax and her friends are attending the grand opening of the newest section of the park: Other Realms. Intent on bringing in a new horde of attendees, the zoo custodians are opening up new domes with supernatural creatures that inspire nightmares and challenge the very limits of security. When the presence of a single, unique creature upsets the carefully constructed and overlapping systems that protect the guests, a cascade of failures turns the exciting day into a fight for survival.

Chapter One Look Inside

The solarbear enclosure was the least controlled space in the entire Portland Supernatural Zoo. While the other animals were behind enchanted glass or knockout bars, the single solarbear, a gray-and-black-striped four-legged mammal named Sunshine, could lift her tubby body and rest her paws on the fence that was her home. Preteens gathered around the secondary fence and took selfies with Sunshine, whose lazy expression always gave Pax the impression she was stoned out of her mind.
A brief surge of jealousy confused Pax until she realized it was coming from Kali, standing near the fountain that separated the solarbear enclosure from the food court. The constant connection between them required emotional sifting to determine who was generating the feelings. Pax counted herself lucky that her companion was not emotionally charged, though she was not above a little envy as the solarbear in the cage was one of the few animals that could outdraw her.
Pax pressed her thumb against the sensor pad near the outer door that led into the solarbear enclosure. The light flashed from red to green and the lock clicked, allowing her to push through the barrier. It felt pretty unnecessary for Sunshine since she could climb over the short wall, but the new security systems had been installed across the entire zoo last year while she was in Norway as part of the upgrades and expansion that Alfred Lovelace had funded.
Creosote bushes and rainbow cactus dotted the sandy soil, requiring Pax to navigate through them to reach Sunshine, who was teetering on her thick back legs as cell phones flashed. She waited by the side until every kid in the group had an opportunity to take their picture with the solarbear before holding up her hands.
"Sorry everyone, Sunshine needs to get her weekly checkups. I'll have her back in a few hours," said Pax, to the groans of the kids who had just arrived near the fence.
She crouched by the solarbear, who was still rocking on her feet. Pax didn't need to access Kali's psychic ability to know that Sunshine was excited by the attention. For the most part, due to the tens of thousands of people streaming through the zoo every day, she used a mental barrier that kept out all but the strongest of emotions.
"Come here, Sunshine. I promise you can be back here basking in the glow of your adoring fans soon enough," said Pax, holding out her arms. The creature reminded her of a cross between a koala and a panda but with the fur markings of a thylacine.
The furry mammal made a soft cooing noise in the back of her throat, which always melted Pax's heart, then ambled into her arms. Pax lifted the forty-pound creature easily.
"Are you putting on weight, Sunshine?" she asked the solarbear, craning her neck back to see the wide, furry face.
Sunshine responded by blinking very slowly, her lips stretching in what was either a smile or gas.
"Where's the other solarbear, Miss Pax?" asked a girl from outside the fence.
Pax turned to find a young girl with thick glasses and pigtails. She wore a pink World's Deadliest Zoo shirt and carried a notebook with animal stickers the zoo gave out during trivia contests on the cover.
"Hey, Felicia. I thought you were in school."
Felicia's magnified eyes blinked. "We don't go back until next week."
"Ahh..." The preteen attended multiple zoo camps every summer. Her parents liked to travel and she was an only child, so the zoo became her home for the hot months of the year and sometimes on the weekends. "I'm afraid Daydream passed away last month, which is why Sunshine has to see the doctor regularly, since we don't know why he died."
The corner of the young girl's lips curled downward. Pax headed for the exit to the enclosure. Felicia met her outside the locked door.
"Hi, Miss Kali," said Felicia, giving her companion an ear scratch. Kali made grunts of pleasure at the attention. The young girl walked by her side as Pax carried Sunshine towards the dome exit.
"Periculum solaris ursa," said Felicia suddenly.
"Very good, Felicia."
The young girl looked up at Pax, and even without Kali's psychic radar, she could see the absolute adoration in her eyes. Felicia emailed her at least three times every week with questions about the animals in the zoo or other random cryptozoology questions. "I want to join Animalians like you."
"That's great," said Pax, forcing herself to smile, even though she didn't mean it. Technically, she should have been back at the Hall for her fifth and final year, but she'd extended her leave of absence with Patron Adele, who had accepted it without further comment. Her friends, and especially Janelle, had been devastated, but at least it was easier for them to visit her in Portland than in Alta, Norway. The three of them—Janelle, Liam, and Jae-Yong—had promised to visit for the grand opening of the zoo's expansion in March.
"Why is it dangerous?"
"Huh?" asked Pax, surfacing from her thoughts.
"The solarbear. Periculum means danger," said Felicia.
"Oh, yeah." Pax bit her lower lip. "No one really knows. The speculation is that the name was a mistake, but it was given so long ago that no one knows for sure. Either way, of the few solarbears left in existence, Sunshine included, there's been no witnessed examples of supernatural behavior."
"Then why is she here?"
Pax adjusted her grip on the furry mammal. Sunshine was asleep in her arms. "Because of the designation, no normal zoo can house her, so we keep her here. But that's not a bad thing, as she's a big hit. Everyone loves her."
"What happened to Daydream?"
They left the dome, heading down two flights of stairs and entering the tunnels that went below main park level, crisscrossing between the semi-spherical structures. As they walked through the wide tunnel, people stopped to take pictures. Pax wasn't sure if they were snapping photos of her, Kali, or the solarbear, but she gave them her best smile as she kept moving.
"We don't really know. He died suddenly. We know so little about solarbears because they stayed pretty hidden in the high desert of Chihuahua until recently, mostly forced out due to the expansion of ranching."
Felicia nodded, then launched into a list of things she'd learned about the other animals at the zoo. Pax made noises of listening, but otherwise tuned the girl out until they reached the stairs that would lead to the interior section of the park.
"Okay, Felicia, you can't go any further."
The young girl gave an eager grin. "It's okay. I was going to head to the manticore dome for feeding time. I'll email you later. Bye, Miss Pax. Bye, Miss Kali!" She waved and cheerily headed back the other way with her notebook under her arm.
"Was that me when I was her age?" Pax asked herself before pressing her thumb against the security pad.
The domes surrounded the interior section like a donut. There were courtesy fences between the main park and the administration and research areas so guests didn't get confused and try to head towards them. There were open areas for employees to sit and eat outside the tall structures. To the west, the final touches of the expansion were being installed, including the largest dome at the zoo, which was a good fifty percent taller than the surrounding spaces.
Pax carried Sunshine into the six-story building with glass windows that reflected the domes and went to the third floor. The veterinarian, Arty, greeted her warmly in his white coat, looking up from his microscope. He had skin the color of midnight, dreads that went down to the middle of his back, and a smile that could disarm even the crabbiest of coworkers.
"Well, if isn't it my favorite patient. How is our sweet girl?"
Arty took the solarbear from Pax. "You too, Kali," he added with a wink. He was over six foot and had a solid frame, but his knees bent when he had Sunshine's full weight.
"Whoa, she's getting a little heavy. You make it look so easy." He winked. "The benefits of being a mage."
Pax smiled. No one at the zoo knew about the changes from her bond with Kali, and whenever they saw her doing something unusual, they chalked it up to being a Hall mage.
"Learn anything about Daydream's death?" she asked, glancing towards the microscope.
Arty carried Sunshine to a stainless steel table, set her on crinkly paper, and rubbed her belly. The solarbear cooed softly.
"Not. A. Thing. Can't make heads or tails of it. Whatever it was, I suspect that it's related to the solarbear's dwindling numbers. Must be something that we're missing about its lifecycle." He held his hands over Sunshine's furry ears. "I fear that if we don't figure it out, they'll be extinct soon."
The bad news had Pax turning away, staring out the window as Arty continued his examination of Sunshine, taking blood samples, temperature—a full panel of tests. She stared at the cranes over the big dome, reminded of the ones used to load the Jörmungandr onto the transport ship on Svalbard, wondering how the gargantuan creature was faring, or if the damage it'd sustained from its imprisonment left it too weak to survive on its own and it was a rotting carcass at the bottom of the Barents Sea. She'd been keeping an eye on the news feeds for sightings, and Okho had promised to do the same, but it'd been six months and not one hint of information.
"What do you think is going in there?" asked Arty as he fit a cuff around Sunshine's forearm. The solarbear pawed gently at the vet, but allowed him to work.
"Not a clue. Alfred won't say what it is, only that it'll be a huge draw to the zoo."
"Come on, Pax. You know, right? Esmerelda is tight with Mr. Lovelace, and if she knows, you know."
"Even Esy doesn't know. Trust me." Pax laughed. "She's tried to get it out of him, but he wants it to be a surprise. Everyone who's working on that dome has been given a privacy enchantment. They couldn’t spill the beans even if they wanted to. The only thing I know is that there have been big blocks of stone delivered every week since I've been back. They come on long trailers, and they're covered with tarps, but the wind blew an edge up once, so I got to see it."
"It'd be cool if it were a dragon or something," said Arty, and when she made a face, he said, "I know, I know. It won't be a dragon, being they're intelligent creatures and all, but like I said, it'd be really cool."
"It'll be the biggest dome in the park, so I bet it's something that either flies or lives in tall trees."
Arty narrowed his gaze. "What about the blocks?"
"Maybe they're building a big pit. They've taken a lot of gravel and rock out of there too."
"Either way, I agree with Mr. Lovelace. It needs to be a huge hit."
"Needs to be? What are you saying?"
Even though they were the only two people in the room, Arty glanced around before lowering his voice. "You didn't hear it from me, but the zoo is in financial trouble. Was before the changes and then the expansion cost more than originally planned. Mr. Lovelace's largess hasn't quite covered it. If the grand opening doesn't go well, the zoo will go bankrupt and they'll have to sell off the animals to private collectors."
The news was a gut punch. While there were some private collectors who respected the creatures they cared for, too many of them exploited their supernatural abilities or killed them for the valuable parts when the cost of caring grew too high. The glands from a mystdrakon fetched millions on the alchemical black market. Pax splayed her hand on the glass. The zoo was her whole life. She hoped that Arty was wrong about what he'd heard, but there was a lot of truth to it. Even since she'd been back, she'd heard about cost overages and other unexpected financial strains. The zoo going bankrupt wasn't out of the question, and if it did, it would mean she would be losing her home.

Main Tropes

  • Urban Fantasy
  • Magical Academy
  • Found Family
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Magical, action, adventure Thriller!

Pax and her friends, face a disaster that no one saw coming. Your favorite characters and animals all have a role to play in this wonderful, exciting wrap up to this great series.