Even the smallest step can begin a journey
As a child, Linandra spent many hours slaying monsters and having adventures.
So when faced with a future containing little in the way of excitement (but plenty of cereals) she gathered up her courage and set out into the world.
It soon turned out that becoming a dashing hero – or any hero at all – wasn’t as easy as the stories made it out to be; if someone’s garden was, say, infested with weedrats, they sought to hire a mercenary, not a waif off the streets.
Now on a journey going nowhere, when Lin comes upon an old barn, all she’s really looking for is respite from the cold.
But this is a place which holds more secrets than it does hay and Linandra soon finds herself dragged into the lives of wizards, cleaning-ladies and other, even stranger, folk. Much to her chagrin, this also includes Setharrion, who is trying very hard not to let his own past catch up with him.
She’d spent years looking for a second chance. Now it had found her. Only, it wasn’t like anything she’d ever imagined…
She was, however, very grateful that it didn’t eat her.
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What she really wanted right now was to be back in her bed at her last attempt at holding down a job. Even more, she wanted to be back in her own bed. The one she’d always had, growing up.
It had been hard and narrow and there hadn’t been much in terms of bedclothes, but they had been there. Right now, even that sounded appealing. Being back home, going about what you did every day. Was that really so bad?
Lin’s thoughts strayed, as if trying to find anything else to think about but the current situation, while edging another step closer to the ground. Her knuckles turned white where she gripped the bars.
A shivering foot swung down, searching for the next rung in the dark.
What had she been thinking, switching that dead certainty of her future for this? That every day would be the same? That she’d know what she’d be doing ten, even twenty, years from now?
And what had she exchanged it for? All this? She hadn’t even found a place for herself yet. Not after her last position went down the drain, quite literally.
A tumbled drop down to the ground and a loud ‘ouff’ when she misjudged the last bar on the ladder and she couldn’t fall any further. Once there, Lin knew that the path between her and the barn doors was devoid of obstacles and those had, inside of them, a much smaller normal door that she could go through without all the hassle of towing open the big ones.
That’s what she normally used when sneaking out.
Tonight, she never got the chance.
Accompanied by a whole series of rumbles and forks of blazing light zigzagging through the air those large barn doors flew open. As if forced aside by the sheer power of the wind, they greeted the storm beyond in its unbridled fury.
Linandra became transfixed to the ground. Her vividly green eyes, thrown open as wide as the doors, stared almost without seeing. Her mouth fell open, gaping like a fish out of water. The gale tore at her long hair, whipping it all around her, but she didn’t notice.
The next bolt of lightning caught her off-guard and as she peered out into what was left of the night, the night looked right back.
‘Oh, mother of all that is,’ Lin whimpered, while the rest of her mind went blank.
The lightning strike had just lit up what was in front of her. She’d been happier if it hadn’t.
It was big. No, big didn’t even come close. It was huge. Humongous. A veritable mountain of flesh and armoured plating. The rainwater wasn’t just trickling off its skin, it was cascading down from its body in torrents and lightning reflected off the powerful flanks every time the sky sizzled and frayed.
If it hadn’t been for the illumination of the thunderbolts, she never would have seen it. From tip to tail it gleamed with a deep, inky, black. It was as if the night had coalesced from smooth velvet into rocky crags. If crags could move with a purpose.
Had it been moving away, Lin would have followed its progress, even been impressed by the sheer, raw, power it exuded. But it was getting closer and every part of her mind that hadn’t already shut down, was screaming with primal urges to run away—if only she hadn’t been frozen in intimidation.
While the storm continued to rage around them it was being pushed into the background for Lin. The rain kept streaming in through the opening in the barn, hitting her in the face, but she no longer saw that either.
The body before her gleamed, slick with rainwater. The muscles bulged even as it stood still, as if had been caught in motion, readying a leap into the sky.
Immense wings, still partly extended, blackened out parts of the heavens, drowning her world in shadow, like an eclipse to the suns.
The head, this close up, seemed elongated with noble, if craggy, features as they reached the crest, and it was crowned with a whole array of short horns and spikes carrying on down the neck.
But that wasn’t where her attention was. It was the eyes. Luminous orbs in the dark. Yellow and red with fire, they filled her world. Looking into them you could, almost, believe you could see beyond them, into a world twirling and spinning and, without any doubt whatsoever, looking right back at her.
For a brief moment, the two of them stood there, motionless, in the rain and the wind. Then, lowering its head, the dragon approached the gaping hole in the barn.
Held by the same almost hypnotic gaze as the mouse caught out by a viper and, foraging for food, becoming food itself, Lin couldn’t move. Her breath came in short, jagged bursts.
The jaws, slightly parted, were only meters away when Lin finally managed to break away. She scuttled backwards.
To her horror the dragon pursued, even if it had to crouch down to fit through the doors. But it didn’t pounce. Surely it saw her? It couldn’t be ignoring her, could it?
Its steps light, each one still made the nearby ground shiver every time one of those clawed feet hit the ground. And what claws they were … more like an armful of talons. Or should that be a foot-full of talons? Four whole sets of them.
Creeping forwards, moving with a grace and dignity that belied the cramped location, the midnight dragon entered the barn. And as it wrapped its tail around its feet, the doors slammed shut behind it.
She was trapped. Trapped, with a huge, toothy beast only meters away. Why, oh why weren’t any alarms sounding? They must have them in this place, surely? No one wanted a rampaging dragon dropping in unannounced. Dragons raided places like this, didn’t they?
A calmer mind might have asked itself that if a dragon raiding party had arrived, then why was it curling up like a cat that had just returned home from a three-day excursion, in a wooden, very flammable structure, rather than roaring and gnashing its teeth at everything in sight.
By now, body parts should have been raining from the sky, screaming and wailing coming from the people still alive.
That’s what dragons did. Everyone she knew said so. That was why all those knights in all those stories had always needed to go off protecting the kingdoms from them.
Dragons were beasts: huge, hulking brutes that breathed fire and trampled everything in their wake.
This one, however, was making itself comfortable in the middle of the open planned structure. The tail was, slowly, draping itself around the series of support pillars that held up the loft. Its tip scraped against the bottom wood, creating furrows where the soft material was no match for the hard scales.
Guess that explained those marks she’d seen earlier, Lin figured, in between the madness. What an odd thought to have pop into your mind at a time like this, Lin chided herself.
By now, the dragon had nestled its head on top of its front paws. It didn’t seem like it was planning on going anywhere, anytime soon.
The problem—and since she was still alive it was a somewhat smaller problem than, say, five minutes ago—was that the dragon was looking right at her. It was a calm gaze, filled more with amusement than cunning. But it was looking right at her.
The Damsel and the Dragon
is set during the Fourth Age of the Seven Stars Universe . One of two Golden Ages – this is a Pure Fantasy setting where you’ll find powerful wizards, majestic dragons, courageous heroes (timeshares available) and terrifying monsters in a world filled with magic. There are also cute, furry critters and things that go “gluck” (don’t ask).
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Again, I’d like to offer extra thanks to all wonderful backers on Kickstarter who gave this book a chance. You are great, I hope you all know that 🙂
Helle R. Cristina Kovacs, Anders M. Ytterdahl, Wanda Aasen, Rhel ná DecVandé, Ashli T., FlyingGekko, Ashley Lachance, Juliane Völker, KwisA Wolfy, Lark Cunningham, Aramanth Dawe, Tasha Turner, Curtis & Maryrita Steinhour, Scott Schaper, M S Payne, P Greg, Annika Kwast, KMC, Joshua Smith, A Challis, Lorin Venniro, Regina Hocke, Gordhan Rajani, Molarqy, Bob Michiels, Patrik Andersson, Peggy Turko, Tony Anjo, Andrew Glynn, Anne Cowell and Jordan de Mello.