Go easy on the adverbs! I try to limit them to when the most obvious interpretation of the verb needs to be altered. - Thea Landen
Flight of the Dragon Queen
by Thea Landen
For his entire life, Caleb has always been more comfortable surrounded by books and games than other people. When 1Night Stand is recommended to him, he contacts Madame Eve but is too shy to actually meet any of the women she finds for him. Together, they reach a workable solution: a simulated dating experience in a setting reminiscent of his favorite stories.
After following Madame Eve’s instructions, Caleb finds himself in a vivid fantasy world, complete with a damsel in distress who needs rescuing. His objective is clear, but he must find a way around the many obstacles standing between him and Alizeira, the mysterious woman imprisoned in an underground cell.
While working on his plans to save her, Caleb spends time getting to know Alizeira beyond her role as prisoner, and a mutual attraction develops between them. He is unsure whether she’s a real person playing a part like him, or if she’s simply one piece of the elaborate simulation that’s been programmed for his date. Setting her free is the first step to discovering the truth, but how many secrets is Alizeira hiding
Few torches lit up the dank passages, and an unpleasant smell permeated the air. Several captives called or reached out to me as I hurried along, yet I had one goal in mind. When I saw Alizeira in her cell at the end of the corridor, I broke into a run.
“Oh, thank the heavens you’re here!” She rushed toward the door, the heavy chains attached to her wrists and ankles scraping on the stone floor.
I cringed at the noise and put a finger to my lips. “I can’t stay long,” I whispered. “And I don’t think I can get you out tonight. I just wanted to see what we’re dealing with so I can come up with some sort of plan.”
The hurried movements had caused her cloak to slide down one arm, revealing an expanse of pale, creamy skin. Her fingers tightened around the bars to her cage, knuckles whitening, and her brows knit together with worry. “We may be running out of time….”
“What?” A knot twisted in my stomach, and I jerked away from staring at her exposed shoulder. “What do you mean?”
“I don’t know all the details. I’ve heard some snippets of conversations drifting past the window and down these hallways.” Deep-red lips pursed in anguish. “But I believe Sampson and his men are plotting an attack on my land. With me out of the way, they’re going to hurt the people I swore to protect.”
The memory of the captain’s sword pointed at my neck lingered in my mind, yet I had to be strong for Alizeira. “How can we stop them?”
“First, I need to get out of here.” Her lashes fluttered and hints of tears glistened in her emerald eyes. “Please, Caleb. You’re the only one who can help.”
I thought of the keys at the entrance to the dungeon, so very close, and then remembered the armed guard sitting in front of them. The bag and shovel would be of little use to me in a fight, even if I managed to sneak up on him without calling attention to my activities. Ashamed at my shortcomings, I turned away. “I want to get you out of this prison, more than anything I’ve wanted in my entire life,” I said. “But I’m no great warrior or swordsman. I’m afraid of what will happen if I can’t be the man you need me to be.”
She reached through the bars and grabbed my arm with surprising force, pulling me toward her. “You already are. I know you can do it.” Her other hand slipped between the spaces to rest right above my racing heart. “Where I come from, we believe strength and courage have nothing to do with how well you wield a weapon or how many foes you’ve slain. There are far more important traits to possess, qualities no one can teach or learn.”
I ached to embrace her, to hold her tight as I whispered all sorts of promises I didn’t know if I could keep. The impenetrable iron barrier stood in our way, so I settled for covering her hand, clasping it to my chest. “Your confidence inspires me.” The warmth of her skin, the way her fingers fit together with mine, even the fact she had sought out my touch made me feel more alive in this fantasy world than I ever had at home. “I’ll do whatever it takes.”
Alizeira gazed up at me, eyes shining. I tried not to hyperventilate as I debated what to do next. Should I attempt to wrap my arms around her despite the thick bars separating us? Stroke her hair as I had done the previous night? Touch her bared skin? Kiss her?
ABOUT THEA LANDEN
Thea Landen lives in New York with her husband and a variety of houseplants. A former educator, she strives to encourage creativity and passion in all those around her, and uses writing to help inspire. Though she reads and writes in nearly all genres, she has a special fondness for science fiction, fantasy, and adventure and anything that pushes the imagination beyond its usual limits. When she’s not writing, or thinking about writing, her hands and mind are occupied by either yarn crafts or role-playing games.