I did promise on Wednesday I would share the introduction to Eventide. Nearly missed the day — but then again, I thought today was Tuesday.
Sneaking it in under the wire, here is the first look at Book 2 of the Meratis Trilogy!
*** Note: There are spoilers if you haven’t read the first book!
The green iridescence of dragon scales flashed in the sunlight, the massive beast flying low to cut down trees with the serrated edges of his wings. He pulled up just in time to miss the waiting army, but behind him came a greater evil: a man with eyes like blood who raised his arms to black out the sun, leaving the world in darkness. Only the sound of a single beating heart broke the silence as it sped up and made it impossible to breathe, and—
Jeff Powell woke with a yell, unable to recognize where he was or who the people were on either side of him. As his heart slowed, he remembered he was on a plane, and the people glancing sidelong at him were fellow passengers. Strangers. Who now thought he was insane.
Clearing his throat, he shifted in his seat to get comfortable and make sure he stayed awake. The screen on the back of the seat in front of him said they were ten minutes away from landing. Ten minutes away from home.
Between the influx of announcements and interruptions, classic rock blasted through his headphones from the satellite radio. Jeff tapped his palms against the armrests along to the music as the plane started its descent. Nothing like some heavy bass to drown out the crying kids and rattling luggage. His fingernails dug into the plastic, and he squeezed his eyes shut as the plane shuddered onto the runway.
Blue, black, and white lights swirled behind his eyelids at the vibration. Visions—memories—threatened to bring his panic to a crescendo. He had to open his eyes again to settle the writhing in his stomach. And to make sure the dancing colours were only in his mind. Even after six months, Jeff suffered a gnawing fear that he would get caught up in that tunnel of light again, the magical doorway into Andvell. Once the setting of his bestselling fantasy series and so recently a part of his reality.
Almost over, almost over. He repeated the mantra as the plane juddered on landing and taxied towards the gate. He kept his eyes focused on the headrest in front of him the entire trip across the tarmac, and didn’t look away until the captain’s message came through the speakers that they had arrived in Dorval.
A twenty-minute drive and he would be in Montreal. With a slow exhale, Jeff’s gaze roved the plane. He took in the crowded lines, his fellow passengers jostling for room in the aisles, trying not to hit people over the head as they took down their luggage. He watched them dance around each other, trip over straps and toes.
Business class would have been less chaotic.
Lisa Tellier, his agent, had suggested he indulge and fly first class, but he’d opted not to. There was a certain comfort in knowing he would be with the masses if the plane went down. Not to mention farther away from the nose. Front seats just asked for trouble.
And for the last six months, Jeff had made a point to avoid trouble and steer clear of potentially dangerous situations. Personal experience had taught him they weren’t everything novels made them out to be.
As soon as the seatbelt sign went off, Jeff pulled his cellphone out of his pocket and turned it on. Almost immediately it buzzed in his palm. Two new text messages.
Seeing no end of the line in sight, the doors not yet open, he settled back in his seat to check them. The first was from Lisa. You nailed the interview. CBC loves you! Call when you get home—need to talk next steps.
Jeff caught his bottom lip between his teeth and bounced his head back against the headrest. Next steps were not good. He wasn’t ready for current steps, let alone the next ones. Too much shit from his last adventure still to work through.
He flipped to the second message, and his breath caught in his throat. Heard your show—you sounded great! Dinner tonight?
It took three read-throughs to absorb the meaning behind the words, and another two to connect the message with the sender. Cassie Murphy. Barista in Le Coin du Café coffee shop. Woman of his dreams. The woman for whom he’d sacrificed the greatest part of himself. And now she was the second person in his life he was terrified to talk to.
He turned his phone back off and returned it to his pocket, happy to forget for another half-hour that either of them existed.
Squeezing his eyes shut, Jeff sank down into his seat.
How had he reached this point? Never had he experienced so much success in his career or his personal life, all of it tainted by the memory of how he’d attained it. Evensong, the fourth book in his Feldall Saga, was a hit. Copies flew off the shelves in every country they reached, and sales on the first three books had spiked. Radio and podcast interviews, a few small television spots—he’d gone across North America promoting the new release and so far the response had been elating.
Maybe there was something to be said for writing non-fiction.
Not that anyone would believe him if he came out on the next CBC interview announcing Evensong wasn’t so much a fantasy novel as a memoir. That in some place and time magic was real, dragons weren’t evil, and in a small way he had helped stop the destruction of his once-fictional world. He wasn’t sure he believed it himself half the time.
The rune pendant hanging around his neck warmed the skin where it rested, and Jeff grasped it in his fist. He pictured the green and black colours dancing within the stone. Souls, according to the enchantress, Maggie. The constant reminder that what he remembered actually had happened.
“Sir?” a voice cut into his thoughts.
Jeff opened one eye and saw the plane had emptied. A flight attendant with copper hair leaned forwards from the aisle, one hand stretched out towards him, not quite touching him.
“Is everything all right?” she asked. Her nametag read April.
“Yes. Thanks. Sorry. Just trying to get my landlegs back.”
Jeff grabbed hold of the seat in front of him and staggered to his feet. He had to duck his head to avoid the luggage compartment as he shuffled towards the aisle.
“Are you someone?” April asked. Her hand flew to her mouth, and she laughed, brown eyes shining over her bright pink fingernails. “Sorry, I just mean you look really familiar. Are you on TV?”
Jeff slung his overnight bag over his head and smoothed the strap across his chest. “I must have one of those faces. I’m no one. But thanks for the ego boost.”
Normally he would have told her the truth—anything to ensnare another loyal reader—but red hair made him nervous these days. He always had to double check for emerald eyes, and keep an ear out for an eerie laugh on the wind. A laugh he still thought he heard from time to time, although he couldn’t tell if it was in his head or a real visit from three witches who had no concept of personal boundaries.
“I’d hardly say you were no one,” April persisted, her twinkling eyes suggestive.
Jeff pasted a smile onto his face, the air in the cabin growing hotter. “Thanks for the great flight. Have a good one.”
He hastened towards the door, and once he passed through the gates the air conditioning in the airport hit him with a refreshing blast. Pausing, he leaned against a wall to adjust his bag.
The September heat wave had to end soon. He tried to tell himself it was only the weather that had knotted his stomach. It couldn’t possibly be that the close quarters of the aircraft triggered his all too frequent nightmares about twenty-one days spent locked in a pitch black room. Nothing to eat but maggoty food. No one to speak with but an evil sorcerer’s Captain of the Guard who would then sacrifice her life to save his. Or the nightmares about animals mutated into walking death traps, all armoured fur and poisoned whiskers. Or the nightmares of actual walking dead, the greyed, decayed corpses swaying in the breeze.
Jeff pushed the heels of his palms into his eyes to block out the images, but the memories followed him. Shoving himself away from the wall, he glared down at the floor and made his way out of the airport to wait for a cab.
He wished he could say he was coping well. It made him feel weak that sometimes he had to sleep with the radio playing or the light on in the bathroom to escape the suffocation of being alone in the dark. He knew he’d got off easy compared to what some of the others suffered. Jasmine Feldall had lost her lover, Corey, in a freak dragon accident; Maggie almost died casting too many spells to save their sorry asses, and her husband, Conrad, had had to sit back and watch because she was too stubborn to stop. Hell, Jayden Feldall lost both his right arm and eye taking down an armoured bear, and the last time Jeff saw him—only a month after the battle—the warrior had stood with a sword in his hand ready to fight Raul and give Maggie more time to get Jeff and Cassie home.
Jeff couldn’t even make it through one night without waking up in a cold sweat. Couldn’t shake the feeling that the Andvellians weren’t nearly as finished with him as he was with them.
A cab pulled up, and he dropped into the backseat.
“Where to?” The cab driver’s local French reassured Jeff that the nightmares were behind him. He was home.
He started to give the man his address, but the thought of being trapped in the cage that was his bachelor apartment didn’t appeal.
“Take me to Old Port?”
“You got it.”
The driver pulled away from the curb, and Jeff leaned his head against the cool glass, watching the scenery speed by.
His new-found claustrophobia wasn’t the only reason he dreaded going home. Once there he’d have to call Lisa back. His Feldall Saga concluded, she would want to know his plans. Would it be the mystery series they’d discussed, or the contemporary fantasy?
How about nothing? Jeff’s bitter thoughts spat.
That wasn’t quite true, he told himself. He still had lots of options. He could always write the instruction manual for the latest model in one-cup coffee makers.
His head bounced against the window.
Jeff was pretty sure everything else he experienced in his novel-world of Andvell would be easier to handle if it weren’t for the one nightmare that stayed a reality—one he couldn’t escape by turning on the lights.
For the sake of saving the woman he loved from Raul—a sadist with the power to destroy cities with a mere thought—Jeff had given up his imagination to the giggling witches. Not given up. Traded. For a key that had disintegrated into smoke as soon as he used it to open the cell door. Those were the sorts of deals the Sisters made. He could still remember the sensation of having his ideas drained from his mind. All his future story ideas, character arcs, book blurbs. They emptied him of all his creativity, and the only reason he’d been able to finish Evensong was because he’d lived it. He’d been able to hide the truth of his “condition” behind the busy book promotion schedule, which could possibly carry him for a few more months, but not longer. Then he would have to face the truth. Come to terms with his new position in life.
He hadn’t lied to April. He was no one. He was no one who used to be someone.