I’m pleased to be able to share the first chapter of my novel “Eladria”! You can download it as a PDF file by clicking here. Chapters two and three will be posted tomorrow and Thursday. The journey is only just beginning!
“Eladria“ is officially published on 31st May, and you can buy/preorder it from multiple places in both paperback and ebook format. Click here to visit my website and order.
THE FIFTH DAY
There was no easy way to tell someone their entire world was about to be destroyed. Maybe that was why the old woman dispensed the prophecy in such a bizarrely offhand manner. Two short sentences. Two short sentences that would forever change the young princess’s life.
“On the Fifth Day of Rusaak, darkness will fall. Your entire world will be lost.”
The moment Eladria heard those words, her mind and senses froze and she stared at the woman in a blank stupor. She was certain the entire marketplace had simultaneously ground to a halt, for all went quiet. Of course, it was more likely that in her sudden state of shock, her mind had simply tuned out all background noise. A sudden tightness in her chest forced a sharp intake of air.
Eladria insisted that the seer explain her words, but the old woman was unable to elaborate. “I’m sorry, my Princess,” she mumbled, shaking her head slowly, the color draining from her wizened face. “I can say no more.”
“What do you mean you can say no more?” Eladria demanded.
“It was a momentary flash,” the woman responded, her voice broken and rasping. “It was gone almost the moment it came. The vision was taken from me.”
“Taken from you?”
“It was as though someone, or something, blocked my sight. I don’t understand it. This has never happened before. I’m sorry, Princess, but I can’t continue the reading. Here, I will refund your payment.”
“I don’t want a refund. I want you to explain what you said.”
“I can’t. Please…forget I said anything.”
But Eladria knew she would never be able to forget those words. The moment they left the old woman’s lips they had been indelibly seared into her mind forevermore.
Three days had now passed since Eladria had made that fateful trip to the oracle. She had barely slept since then.
It was early morning and, as daybreak approached, the princess paced her palace balcony in a state of restless agitation. The stars shone down like celestial sentinels overlooking the royal city as it slept. Outwardly everything was peaceful, but Eladria’s mind was a firestorm of unrest.
She had tried to dismiss the warning and chastised herself for paying heed to the ramblings of a deranged old fortune-teller. She didn’t ordinarily believe in such nonsense and wasn’t sure what had prompted her visit to the old woman in the first place. Perhaps it had been out of boredom, or simple curiosity?
She had done some investigation, looking over security logs and intelligence reports, and aside from a series of unusual storms sweeping across the planet, there was nothing out of the ordinary. But try though she might, she couldn’t shift the feeling that things were about to fall apart somehow; that some unspeakable tragedy lay just around the corner.
The princess came to a stop and wrapped her arms around her chest, shivering in the cool morning air. She gazed across the dormant metropolis that sprawled beneath the palace. Above the central plaza with its fountain and winding marble walkways, the city buildings—of varying size and structure—were illuminated as if by a million static fireflies glowing in shades of blue, white and green. The city was built in the hollow of a large moon crater and encased by a vast, translucent bio-dome. Beyond the arching glass barrier, the chalky moon surface gave way to an all-encompassing void of blackness, punctuated by the twinkling of distant stars and the ever-visible planet around which the moon circled. Dawn was creeping in and the first rays of sunlight were now visible, peeking from beyond the far side of the planet.
Eladria knew she wouldn’t have to worry about the seer’s words for much longer, because this was the day she had been warned about: the Fifth Day of Rusaak.
A hand on her shoulder startled her. She jumped, letting out an involuntary gasp but quickly realized there was no cause for alarm. It was only Narat.
“What are you doing out here?” he asked with a yawn, as he came to a stop behind her.
“I couldn’t sleep,” she said. “I’ve been awake most the night.”
“Again? That’s the third night in a row. I thought you’d sleep soundly knowing I’m beside you.”
“Normally I would. I’ve just got some things on my mind,” Eladria said distantly as she continued gazing across the horizon.
“Then maybe I can help take them off your mind?” Narat whispered in her ear, the warmth of his breath a marked contrast to the crisp morning air.
“You know you shouldn’t be out here,” Eladria said, turning and pushing him off the balcony and back into her chamber. “We have to be more careful, there are security cameras everywhere. What if someone saw you?”
“You don’t have to worry about security,” Narat responded with a laugh, his dark eyes glistening. “I am security!”
“Even so, we can’t take chances,” Eladria frowned as she slid the glass door shut behind her. “Father’s due back this morning. If he was to find out about us, he’d…”
“He’d go insane.”
“Maybe he’ll surprise you. Besides, he’s got to find out sooner or later.”
“No, he does not. You can’t begin to imagine the uproar. It’d be a scandal! I’d never hear the end of it; and as for you, I don’t know what he’d do. At the very least he’d probably reassign you to the Narabulan mines.”
“He might be shocked at first. But once he sees how much we love each other, he’ll surely—”
“Go against generations of tradition and let the Princess of Tahnadra marry a man from the lowlands of Rakata? Trust me, it’ll never happen, Narat. My father’s obsessed with tradition and protocol. This would push him over the edge. He’d probably lock me in my chamber for the next ten years, until he’s found me the perfect husband.”
“Is that so,” Narat remarked with a smirk, running a hand through his short dark hair.
“It’d be different if my mother was still here,” Eladria said softly as she sat down on the edge of her bed. “She’d have been happy for us. She’d maybe even have been able to talk Father around. But she’s not here, is she? And there’s no way my father would ever allow us to be together.”
Narat sat down beside her and put his arm around her. “Times are changing,” he said. “Perhaps the old ways don’t work any longer, in which case we need to be open to new ways. Your father’s a smart man. When he comes to see that, perhaps he’ll be willing to make an exception and put your happiness—our happiness—above tradition and protocol.”
Narat pulled Eladria toward him and looked deeply into her eyes. Although they’d been together for several months now, Eladria still felt a part of her melt each time she looked at him and was drawn into his smoldering dark eyes as if by a force of gravity.
“You know I’m right, don’t you?” Narat continued. “I may not be of noble blood, but I can make you happy. I know I can.”
Before Eladria could respond, she happened to catch sight of the timepiece on her bedside table. “Narat, you have to get out of here,” she exclaimed. “It’s later than I thought. Zinn will be here any moment.”
Narat rolled his eyes, clearly unconcerned at the prospect of being discovered by Eladria’s maid.
“Go.” She pushed him off the bed with a scowl. “Now!”
“I’ll try not to take that personally,” he remarked as he picked his uniform up from the floor and dusted it off.
Eladria watched anxiously as he dressed, praying that he’d be gone by the time Zinn got here. The last thing she wanted was for anyone to find out about their secret liaisons. She loved Narat, and she wanted to be with him, but she knew that their destinies were divergent. She’d known that from the moment she’d invited the young head of security into her chamber and seduced him. He was charming, intense and vital—and he made her feel alive and excited—but she found it almost impossible to envisage a happy ending for them.
Now dressed, Narat put on his boots and walked over to the Princess. Taking her hand, he pulled her up from the edge of the bed and wrapped his arms around her. “Things are going to work out, I promise you,” he told her, his voice filled with conviction.
He leaned forward and kissed her with a passion that recalled their very first kiss. But Eladria was highly conscious of the time and she broke free of his embrace and pointed to the timepiece. “Quick! It’s time you were out of here. Zinn will be on her way.”
Narat took a step back and bowed before his princess. She acknowledged the gesture with a quick nod, before ushering him out the side door of her chamber.
The moment he was gone, she let out a sigh of relief. That particular disaster had been averted, for the time being at least. Although the risk of being found out added an element of excitement to their relationship, there were times when it was simply a burden that wore her down.
As it happened, Zinn was running uncharacteristically late this morning. By the time she arrived, Eladria had bathed and dressed. All the while, her mind was far elsewhere as she pondered Narat’s curious assertion that things were about to change and again ruminated upon the prophecy of the seer. It was the Fifth Day and she could sense something strange in the air, as though an imminent storm was brewing.
A buzz at the door signaled Zinn’s arrival. Eladria called her in and the maid entered, carrying her usual bundle of fresh linen. Zinn had been Eladria’s personal maid since she was a baby, a cherished caretaker and companion and, in many ways, a surrogate mother. Zinn had changed surprisingly little over the years. Eladria supposed she was middle-aged, but could never discern exactly how old she was and had never seen fit to ask. She had a kindly demeanor and a warm face, her skin smooth and pale and her tousled mop of grey hair tied back and cascading down around her neck and shoulders. Despite her nervousness and propensity to fuss, Zinn was a curiously agile woman with considerable dexterity of both body and mind.
“Morning, my dear,” she said as she deposited the linen on the bed and smoothed down her white tunic. “How did you sleep last night?”
“Not very well.” Eladria frowned as she stood by her dressing table and absent-mindedly sifted through her jewelry box, picking out her favorite necklace, the one that had belonged to her mother.
“Oh. Why was that?” Zinn asked as she began sorting through the linen.
“Just things on my mind,” Eladria answered vaguely.
“I’m always telling you to relax more. You need your sleep.” There was an awkward pause before she continued. “I hope it has nothing to do with that young man…”
Eladria stopped what she was doing and felt a sudden tightness in her stomach. “What young man?” she asked.
“You know who I’m talking about,” Zinn responded. “Young Narat. I’m not blind, my dear. I know what’s going on.”
Eladria was stunned. She thought she’d managed to conceal her liaisons with Narat, but evidently not well enough to fool Zinn. She didn’t know what to do. Should she admit the truth and plead with Zinn not to tell her father? The rational part of her knew that it would be preferable to discuss the matter honestly and openly, but having been caught unprepared, she found herself opting to feign innocence.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said haughtily. “Narat’s just a friend, nothing more. He’s one of the few people in the palace close to my age. Really, Zinn, sometimes the conclusions you jump to are ridiculous.”
“Just so long as you don’t get hurt, my dear,” Zinn said. “I care about you too much to see that happen. Narat has both looks and charm, which is all very well. But when you add ambition to the mix, you’ve got a potentially dangerous combination. And from what I can see, he’s got no shortage of that.”
“What do you mean?”
“Think about it.” Zinn looked over at the princess. “A young man of only twenty-four doesn’t become chief of palace security without towering ambition, and you can be sure that it won’t stop there.”
“I didn’t realize you were such a character analyst, Zinn,” Eladria said, folding her arms, trying not to be too overt in the sudden defensiveness she felt about her lover. “Maybe you should stick to your job and leave others to theirs.”
“That’s fine with me, Princess,” Zinn said as she laid away the last of the linen. “Speaking of which, you’ve a busy day ahead of you. Your father is due back in ten minutes and you’re expected to greet him in the landing terminal. After that, you’ve just enough time for first-meal, then your appointments are fully booked for the morning. At midday, you’re scheduled to dine with the Count of Sarabar before he leaves the palace. Oh, and in the afternoon your presence is required in the diplomatic lounge for another round of talks between the Ha’shon and True Way.”
“Well that’ll be a waste of time,” Eladria muttered as she walked over to the balcony, pulled open the sliding glass door and stepped outside. “It’s not as if they’ll ever reach any kind of compromise. Neither side will be happy until they’ve completely obliterated the other. It’s just a joke.”
“Well, joke or not, you’re obligated to attend,” Zinn called after her as she tidied the princess’s chamber.
“They’ve been holding these talks for over twelve years now,” Eladria said. “And what difference has it made? Father’s deluding himself if he thinks there’s any hope of resolution, at least in this lifetime. I don’t know why I have to sit there and watch the Ha’shon and True Way diplomats ranting at each other all afternoon. It’s not as if I’m allowed to say or do anything. My presence at the negotiating table is just a pointless protocol.”
Indeed, she often felt that her entire life here was just a succession of pointless protocols, one after the other, in rigid, dreary monotony. Her duties as Princess of the House of Chaldeen were excruciatingly dull. Such a life might suit someone like her father, but for a seventeen-year-old girl the thought of being stuck on this moon forevermore was almost more than she could bear. She often wished the royal family had never retreated to this lifeless hunk of rock. It may be safer up here, but the older she got, the more oppressive she found the isolation.
She gazed across the royal city and beyond the great bio-dome. Tahnadra itself was ever-visible, a spectacular orb in the heavens, its vast blue oceans punctuated by ragged continents of green and brown, dusted with wisps of cloud. Certainly, Tahnadra had its problems, least of all the infernal war between the two religious factions that had ravaged entire continents for centuries. But there’s life down there, she thought wistfully. Life, adventure and excitement; the very things she craved most.
“Are you ready, dear?” called Zinn. “It’s time we were going. Your father’s transport will be here soon.”
“Yes, I’m coming,” Eladria sighed.
Upon leaving her chamber, Eladria perceived a subdued atmosphere in the palace. She wasn’t sure why, but it was strangely quiet. Some of the palace personnel even seemed nervous and apprehensive. Sensing that something was wrong, Eladria reached into the folds of her blue dress and pulled out her handheld communication device. With the click of a button, she activated the spherical, palm-sized device and lifted it to her mouth. “Central Control, this is Eladria.”
“Central Control,” came the prompt response. “This is Administrator Jusaad. How may I help you, your Highness?”
“Has my father’s transport signaled its approach yet?” she asked.
“Not as of yet, your Highness.”
“Then it’s overdue?” Eladria stopped in puzzlement and turned to Zinn.
“Correct, your Highness. They’re almost thirty minutes overdue for check-in.”
“That’s unlike my father,” Eladria said, her brow creasing. “He’s never been late for anything in his life. Jusaad, I’m on my way to Central Control.”
Something was wrong. It was unheard of for a royal transport to run this late. The words of the seer were still uppermost in Eladria’s mind. If the prophecy was to be believed, then this was the day her entire world would be lost. She prayed that this prediction had nothing to do with her father. Certainly, they had their differences and she often resented his emotional remoteness following the loss of her mother, but she adored him nonetheless. The thought of losing him, the last of her immediate family, filled her with terror.
She strode along the white marbled corridor, Zinn rushing behind her, struggling to match her pace. Without a word, they took the elevator to Central Control, Eladria pacing back and forth like a caged animal.
Her father’s entire trip was surrounded by an air of mystery. Although he was officially there for a routine visit to the Kalastrian province, unofficially he had gone to investigate reports from across the planet of strange electrical storms and a tear or crack of some kind appearing in the sky. The science ministry was at a loss to explain the disturbances.
This had, of course, caused widespread panic across the planet. The religious leaders had used it to their advantage, declaring the storms as heralding the ‘end times’. As the True Way initiated a new wave of ritualistic sacrifice in an attempt to appease their deity, the Ha’shon had stepped up their crusade against all perceived nonbelievers. These were troubled times indeed. Perhaps it was little wonder that Eladria was put on edge by her father’s unusual tardiness.
The moment the elevator came to a stop and the doors opened, Eladria and Zinn stepped into the vast, circular control room. Two interlinked tiers were lined with computer consoles and a large holographic display screen stretched across the room in a semi-circle. Central Control was a hub of activity as usual, but today the room was filled with an undercurrent of tension as the officers and technicians went about their duties, which involved coordinating the running of the moon and overseeing planetary activity.
Administrator Jusaad was the chief officer on duty: a stocky, middle-aged man with olive skin, deep-set brown eyes and short, neatly styled silver hair. Eladria had known him for many years and considered him an excellent officer and honorable man. Upon noticing her arrival, Jusaad stepped forward and bowed before the princess. “Welcome to Central Control, your Highness.”
“Is there still no word from my father’s transport?” Eladria asked.
“No,” Jusaad shook his head. “There’s been a complete communications blackout.”
“Have you scanned for them?”
“We can’t. Long-range scanners are offline for scheduled maintenance.”
“Then get them back online now,” Eladria ordered.
“I’ve already instructed the maintenance crew to reboot the scanners, but it’ll be another ninety minutes before they’re functional,” Jusaad explained.
“What else have you done?” Eladria asked, looking around the room anxiously.
“We’ve sent two escort craft to intercept the king’s transport. As of yet, there’s been no word from either. We’ve been trying to contact them, but there’s been no response.”
“Have you contacted the planet surface? You could get one of the military bases to use their scanners and—”
“Administrator!” interjected one of Jusaad’s technicians. “The king’s transport has just entered the peripheral zone of short-range scanners.”
Eladria’s heart leapt.
Jusaad joined the technician and leaned over the console to check the readings. “That’s the royal transport all right, but it’s not on the standard trajectory. It’s off course by eighty-six tessits.”
“Which means what?” Eladria asked.
“I don’t know.” Jusaad stood up and rubbed his forehead wearily. He turned to the communications officer. “Officer Nolahn, open communication channels.”
The raven-haired communications officer complied. But after a moment she shook her head, a puzzled look upon her face. “We’re getting a response, but it’s text-only.”
“Well, what does it say?”
“According to the message, they’ve been having problems with their engines, navigational and communications systems. They suspect sabotage. They managed to patch up their engines, but navigation remains affected and the visual communication system is inoperative. They request we initiate arrival procedures.”
“That would explain a few things,” Eladria said, relieved.
“Perhaps,” Jusaad answered with a measure of uncertainty. “But they make no mention of the escort craft I sent to meet them. And I’m not entirely sure I believe this notion of sabotage. If a saboteur had really gained access to that transport, you can guarantee it’d be in a million pieces by now.”
“So what are you saying?”
“I can’t say anything for sure. It’s just a feeling, your Highness…a feeling that something isn’t right.”
“Are you suggesting that someone’s commandeered my father’s transport?” Eladria asked, looking round at Zinn worriedly.
Jusaad nodded. “It’s a possibility. Since we’ve had no visual communication, we’ve no way of verifying who sent that message. But we’ll out find soon enough. When the transport reaches the bio-dome, they’ll have to input the security code to disable the weapons platform and gain entry. If they are who they say they are, there won’t be a problem. But if they fail to provide the right code, we’ll know that whoever’s on that transport, they’re not officers of the royal court.”
There was nothing they could do but wait.
By now, the royal transport was visible on the holographic screen. It limped toward the moon, its flight motion irregular and jerky. The technicians were all busy at their consoles, and Jusaad walked up and down the length of the room, peering at the monitors, seemingly braced for the worst.
“They’ve reached the checkpoint,” one of the technicians reported, looking up from his station. “I can confirm they’ve received the request to input the security code.”
Jusaad stood and folded his arms, his face creasing with grim resolve. Aside for the humming and bleeping of the electronic consoles, there was silence as they awaited the transport’s next move.
“They’ve input the correct code,” the technician informed them in a relieved voice.
Eladria exhaled loudly, unaware that she’d been holding her breath.
“Very well,” Jusaad responded, clearly still concerned, for the strain lingered on his face. He turned to Eladria. “Your Highness, protocol dictates that you be at the landing terminal to greet the king. However, as far as I’m concerned there are still some unanswered questions. Until the king himself steps off that transport and explains what happened, I’m treating this as a suspicious situation.”
“But they input the right code…”
“Maybe so, but I still insist that we proceed with caution. I think in this instance it would be safer for you to remain here while I have a security contingent meet me at the landing terminal.”
“No,” Eladria objected. “Have the security guards on hand if you wish, but I’m going to meet my father.”
“Your Highness, under these circumstances, I recommend that—”
“My decision is made,” Eladria interjected, her tone as authoritative as she could muster. She was tired of having decisions made for her. She was the princess and Jusaad was obliged to obey her commands. Her father would be expecting her to be there when he stepped off the transport and she wouldn’t disappoint him. “Let’s not waste any more time,” she added. “Let’s get down to the landing terminal.”
“Very well,” Jusaad said as he lowered his head in respectful deference.
As Eladria and Zinn made for the elevator, Jusaad instructed the communications officer to have Narat dispatch a full security team to the main landing terminal. Eladria felt a measure of comfort knowing that Narat would be there.
They took the elevator from the command center all the way down to the hangar level. When they arrived, Jusaad led the Princess and her maid to the assigned landing terminal. With a swipe of his security card, the doors to the terminal slid open and they were greeted by Narat and a team of his security guards. There were around ten guards in total, uniformed in grey and black jumpsuits, each armed with an electro-pulse pistol.
Narat acknowledged Jusaad with a nod as they entered, before his eyes met Eladria’s and, with a slight smile, he bowed his head. He seemed slightly nervous, which was unusual as Eladria had never seen him apprehensive about anything. The lingering glance between the princess and the head of security didn’t go unnoticed by Zinn, who frowned disapprovingly.
They stood patiently in the reception area of the terminal, watching through the glass partition as the royal transport came into sight. Eladria shifted nervously as she watched the transport landing. The hangar staff readied the transport for disembarkation, signaling that it was now safe to enter the hangar.
Narat and his security team led the way. Jusaad was next, followed by Eladria and Zinn. The security team stopped before the transport, pistols in hand, Narat standing at the forefront. Jusaad motioned for Eladria and Zinn to remain at a discreet distance. They watched patiently as the hatch on the side of the transport began to open.
Come on, Father, Eladria silently implored him, biting her lower lip nervously. I know you’re in there. Come on out…
There was silence as a figure stepped out of the transport.
It was the king. He took a few steps out of the craft and stopped. Although he was some distance away, Eladria could immediately tell that something was wrong. His skin was a deathly shade of white and his body was rigid and tense.
Jusaad stepped forward and greeted the king cordially.
But before he could reply, someone else stepped out of the transport—a male Ha’shon—and raised a gun to the king’s head. Eladria let out a cry of alarm.
The man, who wore the uniform of a Ha’shon general, grabbed her father’s arm and forced him down the steps onto the hangar floor. Five other Ha’shon emerged from the transport, each wearing the distinctive maroon and black uniforms of the Ha’shon military division, armed with electro-pulse guns and machetes. Like most Ha’shon males, they were tall and muscular with reddish-tinged skin and long black, braided hair and beards. The tattoos down their faces and necks identified them as Ha’shon militants.
Jusaad endeavored to take control of the situation and stepped forward, his voice strong and defiant as he challenged the intruders. “Please release the king now,” he called.
“And who might you be?” the Ha’shon general snarled as he tightened his grip on the king.
“I am Jusaad, chief administrator of this facility. I don’t know who you are, or what you want, but if you release the king now, we will be lenient. We’ll set up a dialogue and listen to what you have to say. Just, please, drop your weapons now and let the King go free. No one has to get hurt.”
“I think you fail to realize something, Chief Administrator,” the Ha’shon sneered. “I’m the one who determines who does or does not get hurt.”
Eladria watched in horror as the Ha’shon General released the king and aimed his pistol at Jusaad’s chest. With a look of twisted satisfaction, he squeezed the trigger and fired, discharging a blast of crackling white energy that shot through the air and impacted the administrator squarely in the chest, electrifying his entire body. Jusaad fell to the ground in a heap, smoke rising from his wound as the sound of the blast echoed through the metal-plated hangar. The Ha’shon stepped forward and fired another shot at the fallen body. He then grabbed the king by the arm and dragged him forward as he approached Narat and the guards.
Narat will do something, Eladria reasoned. He’ll stop them…
But what happened next was so perplexing that Eladria could scarcely believe her eyes. The general walked up to Narat and his face lit up in a broad smile. Narat nodded in greeting, then turned to his men and ordered them to lower their weapons. They immediately complied.
“I congratulate you, young warrior,” the General addressed Narat. “Our plan worked perfectly. We could never have done it without you, not without those security codes. You have just assured yourself a place in the Great Light for all eternity.”
Eladria stared at Narat in shock and disbelief.
Narat, for his part, couldn’t bring himself to look at her. He motioned for his men to surround Eladria and Zinn and they complied without a flicker of hesitation.
Releasing the King to one of his subordinates, the general strode up to Eladria. “This must be Princess Eladria,” he said, an insincere smile creeping across his lined, reddish face.
Eladria said nothing.
“Allow me to introduce myself,” the Ha’shon said imperiously. “I am Kalon Estaran, First General of the Ha’shon Liberation army. This is the start of an historic new era. After eighteen generations, the Royal House of Chaldeen has fallen. The Ha’shon now claim absolute rulership of Tahnadra. Any resistance will be met with swift and deadly retribution. As for you, Princess, your father’s fate has already been sealed, but yours has not. You now have a simple choice. You can either surrender or die…”
ELADRIA is published May 31 by Cosmic Egg Books, an imprint of John Hunt Publishing. Available to buy in paperback and ebook format. Click here for more information and to order.