Heroes and Hearts: The Free Chapter

I realize as a brand spanking new author some of my readers may be hesitate to drop $2.50 on my ebook. So I thought I’d whet your appetite with a preview of a chapter. Enjoy:)

*****

Isabel had obviously never traveled by dragon before and she didn’t exactly relish the idea, but the Dowager Empress insisted it was the only way.  Time was of the essence and clearly Isabel was in danger.  She would not be returning home anytime soon.  In fact, the prince was currently escorting Isabel to the Kingdom of Abiloth, along with Lennox, his captain of the guard, and the Crystal Palace’s finest squadron, where she could lay low until they considered their next move.  Isabel made it clear she would not stand around, waiting for them to come get her when the war was over.  Thanks to her father’s continued cowardice and underhanded behavior, she felt a responsibility to the people of Kendra and swore to restore the land to what it was when her grandfather was alive.  She also had a few words to say to Daddy when she next saw him.  The flash of light they saw had signaled the Lord of the Underworld’s departure with a living mortal, and the journey to the sorceress’ lair promised to be a frightening and torturous one.  Good, Isabel chuckled, it’s only the beginning of what that bastard deserved.

Isabel, meanwhile, traveled in style, riding in a sedan chair on the back of a large blue dragon whose scales blended with the sky even as they occasionally glinted gold in the sunlight.  She lounged on large pillows as the dragon flew, protected from the elements, and from view, by the chair’s blue curtains.  Her caravan of guards glided amongst the clouds on other chameleonic dragons of the crown. They wanted to put as much distance between them and the Crystal Palace before their enemies could regroup.

The Dowager Empress had insisted they visit the Oracle on the way to Abiloth, to find out more about what had happened to the Duke’s heart and how it related to his daughter.  The dragons made their way to a desolate island in the middle of the Crystal Sea.  On the island was a glittering temple made of white sandstone, its primitive design reminded Isabel of Stonehenge.  Women covered from head to toe in white linen, so that only their eyes could be seen, greeted the party.  Men were not allowed to enter the temple so Isabel, alone, followed the women inside.  The stone floors were scrubbed and polished until they were smooth and shiny like marble.  Torches dimly lit the inside of the temple, and Isabel could make out what looked like hieroglyphics etched into the walls.  As her silent escorts led her deeper inside, Isabel could hear the echo of light melodic voices singing in the distance.  They approached a pair of slick metal doors guarded by two women in silver plated armor clutching spears.  One of Isabel’s escorts bowed her head and made a gesture before the doors, which suddenly opened in response, emitting a bright light.  She was forced to turn her head and shield her eyes, until they had adjusted to the light, before she entered the room.  The walls were pure white and smooth, coming to a rounded point at the top so as to resemble the inside of an egg.  The floors were polished and white as well and sitting in the center was a young girl.  She had smooth white hair that fell down her back and she was clad in a sheer white gown.  She sat cross-legged, arms to her sides, with her eyes closed beneath a shimmering star that rested on her forehead.  As Isabel and the head escort approached, the girl opened her eyes and Isabel gasped at their beauty for they were shimmering silver.

“Welcome Lady Isabel of Kendra,” said a soft woman’s voice.

Isabel glanced around but saw no one else.  She thought maybe her escort had spoken, but it was then she realized the other woman had left the room.  Remembering Dowager Empress Ilythia’s instructions, Isabel spoke.

“Thank you for granting me audience, blessed one,” she replied, genuflecting before the girl.  “I have come seeking guidance.”

“About the sorceress and the Lord of the Underworld.  Yes, their movements have troubled me for a long time,” the voice spoke again.  “They grow more powerful by the day and must be stopped.  Their armies of undead, and the monsters they create, fly against all natural laws of the universe. These are dangerous times.”

Isabel hid her disbelief behind a fixed expression as she conversed with a girl who sat stock-still, her lips unmoving, while her eyes remained fixed on her visitor.

“How do we fight such power?”

“The amulet around your neck contains the heart of your father, the Duke of Kendra, to give you strength when you have none.  Take it to Mount Osera and activate the Silver Fleet.”

Isabel struggled to wrap her mind around what the Oracle had just said.  She held the amulet in her palm and watched the light glint off the silver and ruby.  Her father put his heart into the amulet?  She flashed back to her annual dream.  This year’s had been far more vivid.  She had always remembered her mother’s tears splashing into her palms as her father walked out the door, but she never remembered seeing the ritual that had taken place between him before he left.  Not until now.

***

“The Silver Fleet!” Alaric exclaimed as they lifted into the air.  “I did not know it actually existed!”

“What is the Silver Fleet?” Isabel asked.

“An ancient legend,” he replied.  “Long ago, almost to the beginning of time, our worlds were still one, Isabel, yours and mine.  There was a great battle amongst the gods that nearly destroyed everyone and everything.  A group of seven got together, carpenters, shipbuilders, sorcerers and sorceresses, and created the Silver Fleet.  They were large silver ships that sailed on air with unlimited firepower and speed.  With the aid of the Silver Fleet mankind fought against the gods and banished them.  The world cracked from the force and the veil that separates our worlds appeared.”

“Legend or not, the Oracle says we can find it on Mount Osera.”

“Home of the Eagle Lord!” Alaric spat.  “Why should he have access to such power?”

“You mean instead of you?” Isabel quipped, raising an eyebrow.  “Power of that magnitude probably belongs on top of a forbidden mountain.  Besides, if he actually had access to the power of the Fleet, wouldn’t he have used it?”

A knock on the door interrupted the conversation.

“Yer highness,” Lennox called.  “There is an emissary from Mount Osera to see ye.”

“Ah, we must be close,” Alaric said to Isabel before raising his voice in reply, “Send him in, captain.”

The door opened and in strode a man so decorated Isabel thought he belonged on a Christmas tree.  A silky powdered wig sat above a drawn face that was slathered in white makeup. He wore a long coat that bore an elaborate weave of gold and jewels. A perfectly manicured alabaster hand stuck out of the ruffled sleeve cuff and held a pair of golden-framed glasses on a stick through which he peered at them with a pair of black beady eyes.

His bony bird-like legs were clad in white tights, and upon the man’s feet were a pair of silken slippers that curled up at the toe and were just as elaborate as the coat.  The emissary measured the worthiness of the sedan’s passengers, sniffing through his beak of a nose. His mouth, covered in bright red lipstick, was pulled into a discriminating frown that made the mole to the left of it twitch.

“Mm, cozy,” he murmured as he lowered his spectacles.

“Prince Alaric of Calfragor and Lady Isabel of Kendra, I presume.” His voice held the bored tone of the privileged. “I am Finchley, emissary to the Eagle Lord.  What is your business on Mount Osera?”

“We wish to gain audience with the Eagle Lord” the prince replied.

“Well of course you do, dear boy, else you would not be here.  What is your business with milord?”

“Tis a matter of great importance, not for the ears of a simple emissary,” Alaric sniffed. He could be just as arrogant when he wanted to, though Isabel suspected he didn’t exactly relish being talked down to by a lackey.

“To you perhaps,” Finchley sniffed back, his feathers unruffled. “The Eagle Lord sees no one today.  You will vacate the vicinity immediately.”

“The Eagle Lord will see us,” Alaric replied darkly, “or on your head be it.”

Finchley chuckled.

“Do not think to threaten me, m’lad.  Hardier ruffians than you have tried and failed.”

Alaric smiled.  “Tis no threat.  When your master discovers you have barred him access to the power of the Silver Fleet, he will tear you to shreds.”

Finchley started, his black eyes narrowing and his head cocked reminded Isabel of a bird.

“The Silver Fleet is a myth.”

“Is it?” Isabel piped up, fixing her face into a smile of serenity.

The emissary’s eyes flicked back and forth between them.  Alaric leaned back against the cushions, crossing one leg over his knee, and with a bored expression waved a dismissal towards Finchley.

“We mean to make landfall on Mount Osera and thought to pay a call to the Eagle Lord out of courtesy.  Neither his participation nor his assistance is needed.  Good day.”

The door opened and Lennox hovered just outside menacingly, looking as if he was ready to grab the scrawny birdman and fling him from the sedan at a moment’s notice.  Finchley twitched nervously, starting to lose his composure.

“Yes, no, of course,” he stammered.  “I will alert my master to your arrival.”

Alaric nodded curtly and when Lennox clapped a beefy hand onto Finchley’s shoulder to escort him out, Isabel swore the man actually cheeped.

“Highness,” Isabel gasped as the door closed again, “we can’t let the Eagle Lord have access to the Silver Fleet!”

“We may have no choice.  Only the Eagle Lord can tell us where it is located and he will not show us unless we let him gain access to it.”

“Won’t that be as bad as handing it over to the sorceress and Rakad?”

“Worse!” Alaric exclaimed, deciding now was the time to tell Isabel the history of the Eagle Lord.

“The Eagle Lord was once the God of Flight, but fancying himself more powerful than the other gods he constantly ran up against them.  He seduced their women and stole from their temples until finally they had had enough.  Rather than destroy him utterly, the gods devised a far more cruel punishment.  One of the Priestesses of the highest god enticed the Eagle Lord into her chambers where she was able to massage a magical salve into his body. This salve sapped him of his powers and doomed him to an unnatural span of life as a half mortal in order to endure his punishment.

They then transplanted him to the summit of Mount Osera where he was to live out the rest of his days.  He soon discovered this was also the resting place of the Silver Fleet but he had no power to activate it for his own use.  Knowing he was so close to such awesome power, being able to feel it calling to him at night, drove him to the brink of insanity.  It was well known that the Eagle Lord could not be trusted but for a price he would assist anyone who asked for his help.  Of course, not just anyone could go to the Eagle Lord for assistance, they had to be worthy or they would be supper.”

The dragon fleet landed on the summit of Mount Osera and the prince was the first to emerge from the sedan, before turning and holding a hand out to help Isabel down from the dragon’s back.  Soldiers clad in white togas and golden breastplates stood in two lines along a polished walkway leading to a large ancient looking temple that had been carved into the mountainside. Their heads and faces were shielded by shining gold helmets with large beaks and golden winged sandals adorned their feet.  The doorway itself appeared to be the open mouth of an eagle with a pair of large green jewels placed in the eye sockets above the overhang.

Finchley scurried up to them while trying to right his now disheveled wig, panting and sweaty, blood pooled just below the man’s large nose before he dabbed it away with a handkerchief.

“His lordship will see you.”

Isabel had felt uneasy when she learned they would be visiting a god and not just any god, a fallen one.  There had been so much to take in lately that Isabel wondered how she wasn’t losing her mind.  Then again, maybe she was, which is why she thought she was actually about to visit a deity.  For one brief moment she considered the possibility that none of this was real; that the bird that had flown into her in her dining room had knocked her unconscious and she was actually lying on the dining room floor.  Surprisingly, that thought so depressed Isabel that she shrugged it off and figured if she was suffering from a fever dream or a blow to the head, she might as well enjoy her time in fantasyland while she was still there.

Seeing Finchley in his current state Isabel nearly lost her nerve again.  The Eagle Lord was dangerous, as gods tended to be, but Prince Alaric was so self-assured that she knew he would never let anything happen to her.  She kicked herself then for even having that thought, reminding herself that prince or no, she didn’t need a man’s protection.  She could take care of herself.

They were escorted into the temple and down a cool, dark, torch lit path before suddenly entering a clearing in which sat a large golden throne.  Lounging across the throne was the tan and rugged physique of a man clad in a simple loincloth, fur lined boots, golden wristlets, and on top of his head he wore the head of an eagle. One dewy eyed young maiden perched on the dais at the foot of the throne, while another perched on an arm of the throne dropping grapes into his mouth.  Both were clad in long skirts made from shimmering peacock feathers.  Across their shoulders rested capes of intricately woven blue feathers, that flowed down their backs and arms, leaving their ivory torsos completely bare. Isabel found herself startled by such a provocative, yet alluring, display.

“Ah, welcome honored guests!” The Eagle Lord boomed as he swung his legs down and stood from his throne.

Spreading his arms, a pair of white wings unfolded themselves from his back attaching themselves to his arms, and he glided down to the ground where they stood.

He bowed to the prince who returned in kind.

“I am honored by your presence, good sir.”

Then he stood before Isabel, his eyes locked on hers.  As he bowed and kissed her hand the woman felt a soft tingle run through her body.  Isabel could see how the women of the gods had been so easily seduced; the Eagle Lord was easily the most beautiful man she had ever seen.  His body was muscular and well formed, his tanned skin glistened in the sun, his jaw was wide, and his nose sharp and slender; his smile could turn a woman to jelly.  His eyes, however, gave Isabel the creeps.  They were a bright gold, almost too bright, and looked as if they could see right into your soul.

“My palace has many lovely adornments, but their beauty pales in comparison to yours,” he purred, his velvety voice flowing through her.

Staring into his eyes, Isabel was able to prevent herself from falling for his seduction.  The audible sighs coming from the man’s servants behind him only furthered her rancor.

“You’ll forgive me if I don’t swoon immediately, my lord, as I do not find being compared to inanimate objects to be altogether flattering,” she replied flatly.

Alaric smirked and the Eagle Lord’s face twisted with fury, his eyes suddenly blazing. However, just as suddenly, he threw his head back and laughed.

“Ha! The woman has spirit!”

He turned his attention back to the prince.

“That idiot, Finchley, tells me you have business regarding the Silver Fleet.”

“Indeed,” Alaric replied. “We were sent by the Oracle to activate the Fleet to assist us in our war with the Sorceress and the Lord of the Underworld.”

“Lord of the Underworld!” The Eagle Lord spat. “Rakad would be nothing if not for me! There would not even be an Underworld for him to reign over if not for me!  Nothing would ever even die if not for me!”

“Yes of course, my Lord,” Alaric interrupted before the fallen god really got going.  “You could help us give Rakad his comeuppance once and for all by giving us the location of the Silver Fleet.”

The Eagle Lord seemed preoccupied now.  His brilliant eyes dimmed as he muttered to himself for a few moments before snapping back to reality.

“Yes, but if I told you where it was, how would you activate it?”

Isabel stepped forward and pulled the amulet from the bodice of her modest periwinkle gown.

“With this, my lord.”

Grasping it by the tail, she raised the amulet up for the Eagle Lord to see and almost immediately his eyes blazed again.

“Yes!” he hissed. “The power, I feel it!”

The amulet’s eyes blazed red in answer to the Eagle Lord’s gold and as he stumbled forward Alaric swept Isabel behind him.

Angry, the Eagle Lord shrieked, “Why did you do that? Get out of my way!  I must have that amulet!”

Alaric drew his sword and shouted for Isabel to run into the woods.

The Eagle Lord shrieked and rose to follow but the prince slashed at him redirecting his attention.

“It was a mistake to come here.  Bringing the amulet here was too much of a risk.”

“Yet, come you did!  It is just as well, I am due for a meal!” he replied, foam touching the ends of his mouth as he shrieked again.  As sharp talons suddenly sprung from his feet, Alaric realized the Eagle Lord hadn’t been wearing boots at all.  He didn’t have time to ponder this thought, however, as his enemy lunged at him, ready to tear his flesh from his body.

*****

Isabel was met at the entrance of the temple by the Eagle Lord’s guards, their spears pointed at her as she approached.

“Lennox!” she cried and could already hear the sounds of clashing metal as the squadron attacked.

Suddenly, the amulet flashed a bright red that blinded the guards.  Tears sprung from her burning eyes as Isabel desperately fought to get her sight back.  She felt Lennox’s massive hand take her arm and pull her from the entrance.  By the time her vision cleared she saw the captain was rushing her towards the trees.

“Go find the fleet!” he shouted to her, pushing her into the tree line. “We’ll hold them off!”

“Find the fleet, he says,” Isabel grumbled as she dashed through the woods. “I thought the whole point of meeting that Eagle bastard was because we didn’t know how to find the fleet!”

Isabel ran until a stitch formed in her side and her lungs burned for air.  Gasping, she leaned against a tree and wiped the sweat from her brow with her sleeve.  How the hell was she supposed to find the Silver Fleet?  She knew it had something to do with her father’s heart and the amulet.  She thought about how active the amulet had become of late as well.  Holding it in her hand, the pendant was still and cool to the touch, yet it seemed to have responded fiercely to the Eagle Lord’s desire as well as her own need to escape.  Suddenly she righted herself as an idea dawned on her.

Isabel had not made a wish since her 10th birthday, and she never yearned for her heart’s desire except as a child who desperately wanted to find her father, but she closed her eyes and focused on how badly she needed to find the Silver Fleet.  She thought about the little boy in danger, her people living in fear and agony for decades, how the fate of both worlds, billions of people, could be in jeopardy if Zenobia and Rakad weren’t destroyed and suddenly she felt warmth emanate from the pendant.  When she opened her eyes, she found the amulet’s eyes blazing back at her and the orb in its tail was glowing and warm to the touch.  She let it fall against her breast and a thin silver light gleamed from the orb like a thread.  Isabel couldn’t help but smile.

She spent half the day climbing through brush, down steep inclines and through ancient tunnels, stopping to rest only briefly, before coming to a dead end at the mountain face.  It loomed above her and there were no paths around or through it, yet the light thread went right to it.

“It must be buried in the rock,” Isabel surmised as she glanced around for any visible knobs or notches. “How do I get it out?”

Isabel spied another rock looming upwards behind her, facing the mountain.  Above it, in the distance, the light of the setting sun was just beginning to peek through the trees.  Suddenly, scenes from adventure movies she had seen all her life flashed through her mind.  It was corny, but it just might work.

The young woman climbed upon the rock, stood tall, and held the amulet above her head. As the light hit the amulet, it cast a large shadow upon the wall.  There was a sudden rumble and a loud crack and then the ground began to shake violently as a large fissure formed in the wall. The individual pieces moved away from each other.  Isabel slid down off the rock before she could fall, and when the dust cleared the sunlight glinted off a magnificent fleet of enormous silver mast ships.

“The Silver Fleet!” she breathed.

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