|Griffin: Artist's Rendition|
Epic fantasy has become my sole writing style this year. My focus: The fifth book of the World In-between Series, Hope.
Beginning ten years after the end of Whispers (Book 4), the story centers around the magical struggles of Berty’s seventeen-year-old niece. Since she first crossed the portal ten years ago, Hope straddled two worlds—the mundane modern world and the magical world between the portals. As a Wood Listener, she struggles to find her place in life. Unbeknownst to her uncle, her parents, and her innocent friend trailing her, Hope stoles into the other side only to find her place fraught with danger.
For your reading pleasure: a sneak peek of Chapter 2.
Hope climbed the stairs of the quiet outpost. She figured that not many guards occupied a peacetime outpost, especially one out in the middle of nowhere. The second door on the left sat open. She knocked.
“Yes?” came from behind a curtain of blond. The hair hid a face buried in papers.
“Lieutenant, I have a question,” Hope began.
The blond head snapped to look at her. Blue eyes studied her.
“Obie?” she said quietly.
His lips widened into a smile. “Hope,” he said. He rose from behind the desk. “What are you doing here? It’s so good to see you.” As he approached, his smiled dampened. “How… Why are you here?”
“Do you really expect a Griffin tonight?” she asked.
His smile disappeared. “Conditions are prime,” Obie said. “This outpost gets attacked regularly. After a while, you learn a lot about knowing when they're going to come.”
“Is that why the people in the nearby villages aren’t pounding on your doors for protection?”
Obie nodded. “They’re safer where they are unless they are out in the open like you were.”
“Guess there’s no chance for a little rooftop time tonight,” Hope said.
Within Obie’s searching blue eyes swam an understanding. That understanding always gave her comfort. “I’ll take you up,” he said.
“I don’t want to take you away from your work,” she said, gesturing to the papers on his desk.
“Nothing that can’t wait,” he answered. Ushering her out of the room, he closed the door.
“I got your letter,” she said as they walked to the staircase. “Congratulations on becoming Lieutenant.”
He smiled again. “Thanks.”
“Your letter said nothing about running an outpost.”
They climbed. “I’m not. Lieutenant Otho returns tomorrow. I’m just filling in,” he said. “You know, they say that this keep predates the Empire. When the Empire found it abandoned, they made it an outpost. Ten years ago, they restored it with the other older ones that were still in decent shape. This is the only one that wasn’t expanded. Something about the stonework that the Dwarves didn’t want to touch.”
“Lieutenant and Historian,” she teased.
Laughing, Obie said, “This place… Most guards don’t stay here long. I’ve done some research on the keep. Well, as much as I could while being here.”
“How long have you been here?”
“Long enough.” He led her through an opened trap door. The few guards stationed on the roof barely glanced at them.
Rolling treed hills rippled in every direction. “Wow,” Hope whispered. She leaned against the keyed stone edge. A flash of orange caught her eye. “What’s that?” She pointed above the trees. Orange streamed through the distant sky.
“Dragon,” Obie answered. “The border with the Dragonlands lies just over that second hill.”
A second Dragon spit fire. It burned another creature in flight. “Is that?” she asked.
“Griffin!” yelled Obie. “Sound the alarm! Barricade!” He practically pushed Hope down the steps. “Weapons and positions!”
Running, she heard a bell, then slams of wood and metal against stone. “Hope?” called Mike.
“Here,” she answered.
Mike ran off the staircase with a sword in his hand. “I took it from a sword rack downstairs,” he said.
Banging echoed throughout the stone structure. Obie inventoried the relatively empty room in which they and the handful of rooftop guards stood. “We’re here until it passes,” he said.
“What passes?” asked Mike.
“Griffin,” Obie said.
“A combo lion and eagle,” answered Hope. “Don’t you read?”
“This is messed up,” Mike muttered.
“Maybe next time, you’ll listen to me,” Hope snapped.
Distant splintering carried down the staircase. “Push that furniture in front of the door,” Obie ordered. “Get ready.” He glanced at the sword in Mike’s hand. “You know how to use that?”
“Yes,” said Mike.
Claws scraped against stone. A screechy roar resounded down the staircase. The guards backed away from the barricaded door, weapons drawn. Smashes and thuds echoed from the floor above them. A tapping clicking hit each step on its way down. The half dozen of them faced the door.
The wood door shuddered with rhythmic scratching. Hope raised her bow with an arrow ready. Wood cracked. The furniture slid a little. Keeping her eyes on the bulging door, Hope dipped her finger into a velvet pouch that hung from her belt. She smeared a fingertip full of sparkling powder on her tongue.
“Did your eyes just darken?” Mike asked in a whisper. “What is that?”
“Sure,” he mumbled.
The door broke. Pieces of wood slammed into the stone. The Griffin roared at them. Its talons thrashed the furniture while its angry, bird-like, yellow eyes glared at each of them. Sconce light reflected on its magnificent tan feathers. Its beaked snapped at the closest guard. Hope released an arrow. It bounced off the beast.
Free of the furniture, the Griffin slashed, meeting shields. Obie and Mike attacked its other side with their swords, but the blades would not penetrate its hide.
“Fight magic with magic,” Hope said. She tipped an arrow with Fairy Dust.
Obie retreated, producing a blue sphere with his hand. He hurled it at the creature. The Griffin dodged. A crater pocked the rock wall.
Hope took aim. She let her arrow fly. Her eyes returned to their normal shade of brown. It struck where its feathers morphed to fur.
Screeching, the Griffin lunged. Empire Guards fell like bowling pins. They scrambled to their feet, clutching whatever weapon was within arm’s reach.
Hope hit it again with a Fairy Dusted arrow.
The Griffin spread its wings, but they smacked against the low stone ceiling. Its talons reached, slashing three lines in the air. The fourth talon hit something or someone or ones. Hope only heard the contact while she aimed for its exposed belly.
Obie threw his sword to another, then brought his wrists together. “Push it up the steps!” he ordered. A golden stream of magic erupted from his focused palms.
The beast writhed under Obie’s magic. Its menacing eyes searched for a way out. Hope fired arrows at its sides, attempting to steer it back to the steps.
Obie fell to his knees. His magic diminished. He struggled to keep the stream going.
Hope sprinkled a pinch of Fairy Dust into Obie’s stream. The magic sparkled with a rainbow of blues and purples.
Turning, the Griffin rushed up the stone steps.
Hope followed the creature to the roof. She raised her bow while it launched off the stone. Obie placed a hand on her arm, stopping her from firing. “Let the Dragons take care of it. Clan Mithra hates Griffins,” he told her. “Save your arrows. You only have a few left.”
She watched it fly into the night. Bursts of Dragonfire lit the dark sky as it passed.
Expect Hope later this year.