From Chapter One…
Dragon’s breath billowed across the peaks of Feldall Forest, waves of green flame bursting into tongues of orange and red as it caught the trees in its path. The creature swooped, serrated wings chopping down the blazing tree-tops to spread the flames along the forest floor. Its scream shook the earth and set the horses to panic, but the three riders held their position along the edge of the tree line.
Lady Jasmine of Feldall cursed as her black Friesen, Nalen, reared, and she struggled to stay in her seat. Tendrils of dark brown hair fluttered in her face and she puffed out a breath to clear her vision. This dragon had plagued their lands for months, terrorizing the skies as well as their cattle—what little remained of the herds after a three month drought. Whatever fate had brought the beast out to play while she, Jayden, and Corey were cleaning up the damage he’d done, this was the closest they’d come to ridding themselves of at least one plight. If only Corey would take the shot.
“Are you waiting until he gets bored and decides to take a nap?” she asked.
Built like a solid building, with thick arms and a mean swing, her former lover was made for action, not for waiting. His stoic observation aggravated her.
“Arrows won’t help unless we can figure out where to aim them,” he replied. His own mount, a gorgeous white stallion named Corsa, shimmied slightly to the left and Corey tightened his grip on the reins.
Jasmine released another puff of air and let her arguments drop. In the half-dozen times they’d faced the dragon, after all the men who’d tried to drop him and failed—died—they had never found one chink in his armor. But reality fought with Jasmine’s desperation as the dragon cracked open its scaled jaws and let out a bone-piercing shriek. It wouldn’t be long before he entered her range. She reached over her shoulder and pulled an arrow free, setting it snugly in her bow. She wouldn’t have much time, so she had to make her one shot count.
“He’s coming in again,” Corey called out.
“Jayden, to your left!” cried Jasmine.
Her brother turned his sorrel towards the swooping creature and balanced a silver-tipped spear in his palm.
“Let him come.”
His eyes narrowed in focus. Between Jayden’s legs, Cormac pawed at the ground, ready to flee if his rider released his hold.
Above their heads, a twenty-foot wingspan stretched out, and another wave of flame consumed the trees.
“What do you figure, Corey?” Jayden asked, throwing the question over his left shoulder.
“Forty paces.” Corey stretched his arm in front of his eyes to shield against the glare of fire.
Jayden shifted in his saddle and readied his spear. To his right, Jasmine raised her bow and tracked her aim against the movements of the dragon. The three of them had faced worse foes and won. They were the heroes of Andvell, protectors of the city. Together, they could not fail. They would not fail. House Feldall would be safe.
Jasmine saw her brother’s lips move as he cursed under his breath. As the flying colossus drew closer, he hurled the enchanted spear—the gift from Andvell’s queen for services rendered—and watched with vengeful glee as the silver tip soared towards the scaled breast. Satisfaction wilted into horror as the spear glinted off the iridescent armour and snapped clean in two, the pieces disappearing, useless, into the devouring flames.
The dragon circled over their heads and Jasmine dropped to the right to stay clear of the razor-sharp wings, feet tight in the stirrups to keep her balance. Nalen bolted with the shift in her weight and Jasmine scrambled to regain control, righting herself and pulling sharply to the left. Trusting to the instinct of twenty years’ training, she readied her bow once more and loosed the arrow. Smoke oozed from the dragon’s nostrils as he snorted and in the gust of dragon’s breath, her aim misaligned and missed its mark. Under the force of dry heat, her bow warped and snapped, splinters cutting into her hands.
“Bastard,” Jasmine hissed, throwing the pieces aside.
The fire from the woods crept outwards, sweeping over the drought-dead grass, closer to the fields where they made their stand. Jasmine edged Nalen back, closer to her brother.
“Jayden, we need to get out of here. We can’t win this!”
“We’re not going anywhere.” He released his sword from its scabbard. “Not this time.”
Horrified, Jasmine turned to Corey. She hoped to make him see reason, but he had already aimed his crossbow and focused down the sight.
He cast a quick determined glance her way. “I can do this.”
The beast let out another ear-splitting cry and dipped his left wing down, slicing off the tops of the trees, casting sparks, and they could see nothing but smoke spilling towards them.
“Looks like we’ve pissed him off,” Jayden grinned. “Don’t like pointed sticks, beast?’
The dragon screamed as if in reply and Cormac snorted, shimmied, and Jasmine could see the horse’s wildly rolling eyes. For all Jayden’s boasts about being Feldall’s best rider, he was about to lose his seat.
“Now, Corey!” she ordered.
But as the dragon reared back in the sky and stared down on them, she knew it was too late. Frozen with terror, she could only watch as he opened his jaws to release another fiery breath.
Jeff Powell sat back in his chair. He stretched his fingers over his head to a satisfying, knuckle-cracking length and then dropped his hands over his mop of brown hair and pressed them into his dark-circled eyes. Six hours. A marathon sprint into his new novel.
He glanced at his previous book covers, pinned up next to his desk as motivation. The Feldall Saga had ranked him high on the Sci-Fi & Fantasy best-sellers lists since book one, Andalla’s Chant. Evensong, book four, would be his best yet. He could feel it, that writer’s innate sense of everything falling into place.
He stood up and headed for what barely amounted to a kitchen in his overcrowded bachelor apartment. The clock over the stove flashed seven fifty-three. Morning, he guessed from the heaviness in his eyes and the hint of cold winter sunlight coursing in through the curtains.
He grabbed a beer from the fridge and, bottle in hand, returned to his desk to re-read the night’s work, too excited to let it sit until tomorrow. For six months his fans had been after him to start the next Feldall novel and he’d kept putting it off, stuck on a stupid plot point and chomping at the bit to start a new project with new characters.
Because of the shiny new story awaiting him at the end of Evensong, Jeff couldn’t get connected to the Feldall crew this time around. The story felt flat, the characters flatter, and only by throwing in lots of high-tension action scenes and over-arching issues, like the drought, could he move the story forward. He knew the plot would be fantastic when fixed, but for now if he could only get it done.
A muffled telephone ring broke his concentration and he reached for the cordless hidden under the bed pillows. A quick look at the caller ID, another swig of beer, and he answered.
“Ten minutes earlier, you could’ve ruined something incredible.”
“I know you too well to think you have company,” the voice on the line replied.
Jeff grinned and leaned back in his chair. Deceptively quiet, Lisa Tellier was a pitbull in the publishing arena and had been his agent since the first book, five years ago.
“Calling to check on my progress, or do you have news?” he asked.
“A bit of both, but mostly the first. I have a meeting with your publisher this afternoon and I want to be able to tell them Evensong is coming along in record-breaking time.”
“Assure away,” he said. “I’ve had a breakthrough. Just finished an all-nighter and facing another one if I catch a snooze soon. There’s so much genius in this apartment right now, people walking by are inspired.”