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Read the Prologue of ‘The Key of Alanar’

I’m delighted to share the Prologue of my novel ‘The Key of Alanar’! You can download it as a PDF file here. In addition, over the next few days I’ll be sharing the first FOUR chapters of the book. Don’t miss it. If you can’t wait and are eager to read more, the book is now officially published. You’ll find it on Amazon and multiple retailers. Visit the official launch page for buy links, background information and much more.

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THE KEY OF ALANAR

Prologue

The End

Year of Atania, 4999 

It took only seconds for an entire civilization to perish. 

Ardonis watched as the shockwave tore through the city in every direction. The golden metropolis was laid to waste with devastating ease: the buildings collapsing into smoldering ash, scattered by the wind; the crowd of thousands incinerated in the blink of an eye.

Fire and cinders spiraled from the rubble as a rising cloud of smoke devoured every last trace of daylight. The only illumination came from the object of the city’s destruction—the gateway. Towering above the ruins, its metal pillars stood miraculously unscathed, at the centre of which the pulsating whirlpool of blue-violet light continued raining down sparks of electrical charge.

His city was gone, but Ardonis knew that the worst was yet to come. He watched with a sense of dread as an object emerged through the portal: an airship puncturing the thin membrane between universes, shooting into the sky above the rubble. Closely followed by another, and then another, the black metallic craft soared over the ruins like carrion birds in search of prey.

A stream of ground troops followed; wraithlike reptilian creatures with gnarled, distorted faces, armed with rifles and blades. The metal-clad soldiers marched through the gateway, spilling into the dead city like an infestation. 

Ardonis knew it was no coincidence these demonic creatures had arrived in the aftermath of such carnage. He watched them feed off the destruction around them; ingesting it as though death itself was a vital nourishment. He could sense their hunger. Finally freed after eons of captivity, they were ravenous and would not stop until their hunger was satisfied.

It wasn’t just Ardonis’s beloved city that had fallen. His entire world had now been thrust into an unending age of terror. 

Alanar was dead.

* * *

That morning Ardonis decided that his day would begin as it always did. Wrapping a blue cloak around himself and placing the golden headdress of the High Priest upon his crown, he made his way from his chamber, through the temple and onto the rooftop. The air felt cool against his skin and birds chattered contentedly as they welcomed in the new day. He stood, hands clasped behind him, gazing across the horizon, where the first rays of sunlight streaked across the indigo skyline. Watching the sunrise from the rooftop was a ritualistic start to his day and something that he had done for more years than he’d care to count. But today was a day unlike any that preceded it. Today, he realized, would be the last time he would ever see the sunrise.

As the twin suns of Alanar made their ascent above the mountainous horizon, Ardonis looked down into the valley. Surrounded by forestland and a winding river, the City of El Ad’dan glistened in the morning light. From this vantage point, the houses, towers, spires and domed temples of the city almost looked like little golden trinkets. Even from this distance Ardonis could see signs of activity as the city began to stir. In just a few hours the procession would commence and people from all across the kingdom would congregate at the central plaza for the activation of the gateway. A new era, the king had promised; a new dawn for the people of Lasandria. It was a time of excitement and jubilation across the land. But while the gateway promised all the glories of the cosmos, it was about to unleash a force of evil beyond imagining.

Ardonis knew, for he had seen it, over and over again. For days now he had been unable to close his eyes, much less sleep or meditate, without being bombarded by visions of annihilation. Each time the visions grew ever more intense and vivid; as though he was actually there, being forced to witness the destruction of his home.

It came as little surprise, for he had been aware of the shadow looming over the land and its people for many years now, possibly as far back as the day he was initiated into the Priesthood. He knew what it was and what it meant. It meant the end—the end of an entire civilization. It was an ancient, advanced civilization at that; a people whose work and achievements, whose art and culture spanned millennia. Alas, all that they had striven for, all of their hopes and dreams, beliefs and fears, now faded into irrelevance; consigned to imminent oblivion.

The hour drew close. Ardonis had accepted as much. But what he couldn’t accept was that he was powerless to prevent this catastrophe. He was the High Priest of Lasandria. His people, at least those still loyal to the Priesthood, looked to him to guide and protect them. In the past that was exactly what he had done. But this time was different. This time he was powerless to act. Or was he?

“Ardonis.”

Startled by the sound of his name, Ardonis turned to see his senior aide Jarado standing behind him.  There was a noticeable look of urgency upon the old monk’s lined and careworn face. “Please forgive the intrusion, High Priest.”

“You bring news, my friend?”

The monk nodded. “The Council of Elders has sent word. They wish to see you now.”

Ardonis felt a tightening in his stomach. “I see.”

“You think they will agree to help us?”

“That I cannot say,” Ardonis said. “But I pray they will heed my petition, for it is the only hope we now have.”

Joining the High Priest at the edge of the rooftop, the old monk glanced down into the valley as he draped his indigo robe across his shoulder. “What about the king? What if you spoke to him again and tried to reason with him?”

“You were there yesterday, Jarado. I did everything I could to get him to abort the project. The harder I tried, the angrier he became. In the end all I did was make matters worse.”

“Then you really believe he will disband the Priesthood as he threatened?”

“Of that you can be certain. Dua-ron has been waiting for the opportunity to strike me down for years and I finally gave it to him. The Priesthood is dead, Jarado. Not that it even matters, for so too is our kingdom.”

Jarado looked up, desperation in his voice. “The Guardians will surely listen. They have to!”

“I wish I shared your confidence. But as you know, the Guardians play by their own rules.” Ardonis paused. “Either way, it is time to find out. I will make my way to the portal chamber. You go attend to your duties, Jarado. I will join you shortly.”

With a bow of his head the monk departed, leaving the High Priest alone once more. Ardonis took one last look at the golden city in the heart of the valley. Rays of sunlight shone upon its towers, peaks and rooftops as the suns climbed their way above the rugged peak of Mount Alsan, suffusing the dawn sky with vibrant washes of gold, red and orange.

El Ad’dan. A place of beauty, power and history; a place of destiny. It was here that their civilization had been born all those millennia ago, and here that would see its demise. Unless, that was, one man could now change its fate and alter the destiny of an entire world.

Ardonis hurried through the temple, his footsteps echoing as he strode along the corridors and through the main hall. In keeping with the rest of the temple, the hall was constructed of ornately carved sandstone and lined by statues of saints, sages and prophets of centuries gone by. Ordinarily a place filled with monks, initiates and devotees, today it was tellingly empty. Passing under an archway and down several flights of steps, the High Priest entered a torchlit passageway apparently leading to a dead-end. Marching to the end of the corridor, he stopped and placed the palm of his hand against one of the bricks. Uttering the words “shada daban norine,” he removed his hand and took a step back. A section of the wall shimmered and dissolved, revealing an enchanted doorway accessible only to high levels of the Priesthood. Ardonis passed through the opening, the wall reappearing behind him.

The portal chamber stretched before him; a crystalline cavern around which the entire temple had been constructed. Quartz clusters of varying size lined the chamber, jutting out of the ground, walls and ceiling. Self-luminous and pulsating with blue-white light, they illuminated the cavern in a turquoise glow. A low level hum permeated the chamber: an almost subliminal sound, like the music of a thousand different realms coalescing at a single point in space and time. The hot air tingled with faint electrostatic charge as he advanced through the cavern.

Ardonis approached a towering crystal upon a raised platform at the heart of the chamber. Rising to a pointed peak, a hexagonal mirror had been set into the base of the crystal, cast in a gleaming silver frame. Far from an ordinary mirror, this was the Portal of Arazan, a device built by the ancients with the ability to create inter-dimensional gateways, enabling instantaneous travel throughout the cosmos. Clearly such technology carried with it great responsibility, which was why the portal lay buried deep within the temple, where it had been safeguarded by the Priesthood for millennia. Until recently, that was. Some time ago the portal chamber had been violated and nothing had been the same again since. In a sense, this was where Lasandria’s downfall began.

Ardonis climbed the steps onto the platform and came to a stop before the mirror. His crystal-clear reflection stared back at him: that of a bronze-skinned man with pale turquoise eyes and long dark hair. Beneath a blue cloak, his muscular body was clad in a loincloth and sandals, his neck and arms adorned with beads and talismans. Replete with the customary golden headdress, he had all the regality and power befitting a High Priest. Yet his soul was heavy and the strain etched upon his ageless face. Eyes fixed ahead, he inhaled deeply, bracing himself for the encounter ahead.

“Bala’naron ista kar’on!” The moment the words left his mouth, the portal exploded into life. The amethyst crystal lit up from within; discharging waves of surging electricity. With a whir, the mirror surface dissolved into a pool of blue-violet energy. Ardonis could feel the waves of kinetic force passing through him as he stood at the mouth of the portal. He had turned the key and opened the door, now all he had to do was state his intended destination. “Take me to the Court of Shanadon.” Mustering all his fortitude, he then stepped through the portal, disappearing into the vortex of light.

Had he not travelled through the portal many times before, he would likely have found himself disorientated, for he had stepped from the dense physicality of the third dimension into the ethereal realms of the fifth. Here the constraints of physicality loosened: solidity gave way to fluidity and form dissolved into pure energy.

Exiting the gateway, Ardonis found himself again in the realm of the Guardians. Although he had often been asked by his initiates to describe it, he found it hard to convey in words the beauty of a world so unlike that of the physical realm. Everything was brighter, lighter, and pervaded by a fluidic sense of unity and interconnectedness. Before him stood the Court of Shanadon, a cathedral-like structure built in multiple tiers at the heart of a crystalline city. Far from solid, the walls, colonnades, terraces and archways were translucent, swirling with an interfusion of rainbow color. A cloudless pink sky arched high above, amid which a single golden sun shone down, infusing the entire city with dancing rays of light.

The gateway disappeared behind him. Entering the Court, Ardonis was met by a man in a flowing white robe. One of the administrators of Shanadon, the man’s face shone with a light from within, his body noticeably less solid than Ardonis’s, as though made of wispy vapor rather than flesh and blood. Ardonis stated his business and with a nod, the man guided him along the opaque glass-like corridors.

The corridor terminated in an arched doorway leading into the immense, cylindrical Council Chamber. A pillar of white light dominated the chamber, reaching down from the high ceiling and plunging beneath into a bottomless drop. Waves of luminescence danced out from the static beam of light, rippling through the air and merging into the blue crystalline walls. The administrator ushered Ardonis into the chamber and quietly departed.

Ardonis stepped forward, the quartz walkway beneath his feet leading to a platform at the heart of the chamber, encircling the pillar of light. There, gathered around a semicircular table, sat the Council of Elders: the twelve Guardians charged with overseeing the mortal realm. Six men and six women, all clad in white robes, their faces were shining and luminous, as though they were rays of sunlight that had merely assumed the visage of human form. The High Guardian Malkiastan sat at the head of the Council: an imposing, regal being with long locks of silver hair, glowing with a radiance that almost obscured his corporeal form.

Ardonis bowed before the Council as waves of energy from the pillar of light passed through him, making every cell of his body tingle. Malkiastan acknowledged his greeting and motioned for the High Priest to come forward. Bracing himself, Ardonis came to a stop before the Council. “Thank you for agreeing to see me.”

Though none of their mouths moved, the Council spoke with a single, unified voice: a harmonious intermingling of all twelve of their voices, emanating from all around and echoing throughout the chamber. “You are always welcome here, Ardonis.”

“I am sure you already know why I am here. Indeed, I have a feeling it is you who are responsible for my visions…”

“The visions were granted for a reason. It was necessary that you know what is to transpire.”

“Then things will happen as I have foreseen?”

“It is inevitable.”

Ardonis shook his head. “No, there must be something you can do.”

The Council said nothing.

“You cannot allow this to happen. You must intervene!”

“We cannot stop what is now to happen.”

It was as he had feared. The Council could not—or would not—do anything. But Ardonis wasn’t going to stand by and accept this. He would fight to save his people, and if that meant taking on the Council of Elders then so be it. “I mean no disrespect, but how can that be true? You have the power. You could stop this from happening in an instant!”

“These events were set in motion by the free will of the Lasandrian people. As you know, the Council is forbidden from direct intervention in mortal affairs. To do so would violate universal law.”

“I do not care about universal law,” Ardonis cried, ignited by a flame of indignation. “All I care about is the fate of my people. You yourselves have shown me what is to happen. Millions will die—an entire civilization annihilated! Please, I implore you, you cannot sit by and allow that to happen.”

“This chain of events cannot be halted. It is simply too late.”

Ardonis cast his eyes to the ground. “So this is how it ends?”

“There are no endings. There are no beginnings. All that is, has been and ever shall be.”

Ardonis looked up. “That is easy for you to say as you sit here in the Court of Shanadon, fearless and omnipotent. You are immortal! Nothing can touch you here. But what of those in the mortal realm? Such words are meaningless in the face of impending annihilation.” Ardonis immediately regretted his words, which were disrespectful and ill-befitting a High Priest. Yet he was the one link between Alanar and the cosmic realms. It was his duty to bridge the two worlds and to speak for those that could not.

The Council appeared to let his outburst pass without response. “What is to take place cannot be stopped. But with regard to the future, all is not lost. The Council has conferred at great length and has agreed to offer a dispensation.”

“A dispensation?”

Malkiastan rose from his seat at the centre of the Council and addressed Ardonis directly. “We cannot change the rules,” he said, his voice deep yet soft and melodious. “But we can bend them.”

“Please, tell me what you have in mind.”

“It is twofold. You must return to your world and gather as many people as possible: all those who remain loyal to the Priesthood and anyone else willing to listen. You are to take them through the portal. A place of safety has been arranged. They will be spared the impending upheaval.”

Ardonis had considered this himself, although he was uncertain how many would be willing to leave Lasandria. It was a sad fact that the days when people paid heed to the Priesthood over the government and monarchy were long gone.

As if sensing his concern, Malkiastan continued:  “Although your civilization may be lost, if even a handful of your people can survive and keep their spirit alive, they will endure throughout time. Their legacy will continue. And there will come a time in your world’s distant future when they will have the chance to rise up and reclaim all they had lost. Thus will the circle complete itself.” The High Guardian paused before continuing. “Darkness is coming, Ardonis. You know this. What you have foreseen will inevitably come to pass. But your people, and your world, have been granted the chance of a future…a future that now lies in the hands of another.”

Ardonis felt his brow crease. “Another…?”

“Behold.”

The fountain of energy at the heart of the chamber intensified. As the light grew brighter, an aperture formed at its centre, sending rays of dazzling light shooting outward. Ardonis watched through squinted eyes as a figure emerged through the cascading light, coming to a stop beside the Council. It was a man. No, barely a man at all—it was a boy; an adolescent boy.

“Behold Arran, the timeless one,” Malkiastan said as he approached the boy. “He is your future, Ardonis. He alone has the power to save your world. Only he can safeguard your future.”

Ardonis stared at the boy in astonishment. Who was he? Where was he from? And why had he been chosen to shoulder such a burden of responsibility?

He was about to speak, when Malkiastan raised his hand and Ardonis suddenly felt his body and mind engulfed by a wave of golden-white radiance. His eyes closed and he promptly lost all sense of space and time. Linearity dissolved as he became aware of flashes of insight; moving images flooding his mind…

He was back on his world, several hours from now, standing amid the streets of El Ad’dan.

The central plaza was filled with people, rife with excitement as they gathered to witness what they were promised was the crowning glory of the Lasandrian people. Whereas the few that still followed the ministrations of the Priesthood had retreated to pray for salvation, the rest conceitedly celebrated their ingenuity, believing the king as he spoke so rousingly of this glorious new dawn for Lasandria.

The countdown had begun. The countdown to annihilation.

All looked up in wonder as the gateway powered up. Towering above the golden buildings of the city centre, the gateway comprised an enormous metal obelisk supported by two smaller pillars and connected by a metal wheel. Amid much excitement, the device was activated. The spinning wheel exploded into a vortex of blue-violet energy, stretching from the rooftops to the ground as it spewed out lightning-like sparks of electricity. The entire plaza lit up in a blue glow as the crowd reacted in awe.

“Behold the gateway,” King Dua-ron called as he stood before the magnificent portal. “The gateway to our liberation!”

Ardonis knew what was coming next, for he had been forced to witness it so many times before. Moments after the gateway opened, the portal exploded; an explosion the likes of which the planet had never before seen. A shockwave shot outward, pounding what remained of the city to rubble and killing every man, woman and child in a blinding flash.

Blackness pervaded, the only illumination now coming from the open gateway; all that remained of the Lasandrian people.

In the aftermath of the blast, the invasion began, just as he knew it would. Air craft and ground troops stormed through the portal; driven by an unending thirst for death that would lead them to consume this entire world.

But there was more; more that Ardonis hadn’t previously seen. He now realized that all was not lost. All hope now rested with a single boy: the one known as Arran. Ardonis saw the boy racing through the rubble of El Ad’dan. Sent by the Guardians, he had been spared the destruction; his sole purpose to close the gateway and seal off whatever other horrors it would yet unleash. No matter the cost and no matter the sacrifice, he had to succeed.

Time had somehow fragmented and the fate of multiple timelines—past, present and future—all seemed to converge upon a single moment in time. A moment that would determine the fate of not just this world, but possibly an entire universe.

The images subsided and Ardonis opened his eyes.

As he again became aware of his surroundings, his gaze fell upon the teenage boy standing ahead of him. The boy watched him with equal curiosity, his brown eyes betraying a weary knowingness that intrigued Ardonis. Whoever this boy was and wherever he was from, he had obviously suffered a great deal. It saddened him to see such pain in eyes so young, yet beneath the surface Ardonis could sense a reservoir of unfathomable inner strength. Moreover, there was something unspeakably familiar about him. He didn’t know how or why, but Ardonis somehow knew this boy. He knew his thoughts, his dreams and his pain as intimately as he knew his own reflection.

Malkiastan placed a hand upon the boy’s shoulder and motioned for Ardonis to come forward. As Ardonis approached, Malkiastan smiled. “It has been decided,” he said. “The future now rests with you. And it is time. You must go forth. Go forth and fight for it.”

* * *

“Run! We do not have much time!”

Ardonis ushered his people down the torchlit corridors of the temple and into the portal chamber. Upon his return, he had done as the Council directed and gathered anyone that would listen and told them of the need to leave the city immediately. This was the third and final group of evacuees: men, women and children who had gathered as few belongings as possible and had been taken into the heart of the temple.

“Quickly now!” Ardonis shouted as they passed through the wall and entered the portal chamber. He directed them toward the gateway at the centre of the cavernous chamber, which was already activated in a blaze of cobalt light. Initially the evacuees hesitated, having never seen anything of the like. But one of Ardonis’s monks led the way, climbing the steps to the portal and disappearing into the vortex of light. At the behest of Ardonis, the evacuees began streaming into the portal one by one, assured that they were going to a place of safety.

So little time…

The last of the escapees had now entered the portal. Ardonis ensured that his remaining monks and initiates made it to safety.

That was it! He had done it. They were safe. With a sigh of relief, the High Priest climbed the steps and was about to enter the portal himself—only it was too late.

A wave of fire blasted through the temple. With a force of unfathomable fury, it consumed everything; tearing through stone, metal and flesh alike with devastating ease.

Before Ardonis even realized what was happening, he was gone—his body instantly incinerated. All that remained of both he and his beloved temple was a wall of ash, and even that was soon dispersed by the wind.

The kingdom of Lasandria had been destroyed, and the world of Alanar plunged into an abyss of darkness.

* * *

Drifting. Ardonis drifted upon the oceanic current of Infinity; an endless sea of light, calm and rhythmic.

His journey was not yet over. His physical body was gone, cast off like a worn garment; and yet he remained.

There was no end. There could be no end. Such had it been throughout the timelessness of Infinity.

* * *

Following his ordeal amid the final moments of Lasandria, Ardonis rested, his consciousness dormant.

His death had been sudden and violent. It took him much time to recover from his abrupt departure from the mortal realm.

Yet he soon began to regain his strength. Awakening to a whole new world, he retook his place in the realm of the Guardians. 

It became clear to him that his role as overseer of his people was not yet over. The only difference was that he now served from a new and higher vantage point, unconstrained by previous limitations.

* * *

Looking down upon the mortal realm, Lasandria was gone. The once-great civilization stood in ruins. But it was not the end. The cycle of life continued unabated and eternal. 

The years passed into centuries and the centuries rolled into millennia.

All the while it was clear to Ardonis that the mortal realm had yet to release him from its grip. His role in the grand unfolding was not yet complete. In truth, it was only just beginning.

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Chapter Two of ELADRIA: “The New Order Rises”

If you missed the first chapter of my novel, you can find it here! Here is Chapter Two, one of the more dramatic and darker chapters of the novel. The fate of an entire world has changed forever. You can download this chapter as a PDF file by clicking here. Chapter three will be posted tomorrow.

“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.

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Chapter Two

THE NEW ORDER RISES

“I have nothing to say to you,” Eladria stated defiantly. “The House of Chaldeen does not negotiate with terrorists.”

“Is that what you think I am? A terrorist!” Estaran smirked.

Eladria remained silent.

“I’ll tell you what I am,” Estaran said, grabbing her arm and pulling her toward him. “I am now your ruler and what I say, you will do.”

After eyeing her up and down lasciviously, Estaran let go of her and she pulled back, glaring at him with contempt.

The Ha’shon General rejoined Narat, who looked visibly uncomfortable. Narat had clearly been in league with the Ha’shon and had made some kind of pact with them. But it seemed events hadn’t transpired quite as he had imagined. Nevertheless, he still appeared willing to co-operate with the Ha’shon invaders and he listened intently as Estaran briefed him. Eladria was unable to hear what was being said.

As she stood rooted to the spot, her eyes were drawn to her father. Although regal with his golden crown and long navy robes, he looked pale and defeated; a shadow of the man she knew. Was it just the shock of what had transpired, or had they somehow broken him? And what had Estaran meant when he said that her father’s fate was sealed?

At Narat’s orders, the security officers directed Eladria and Zinn to the elevator, guns pointing straight at them. It was hard enough to believe that Narat of all people would do this, but it was astonishing that all of his men were in compliance. She’d never have imagined that any of them would be capable of pointing a gun at a member of the royal family. What had Narat done to convince them to commit such treason? Was it just this set of security officers, or would the rest of the palace guard be prepared to stop them?

Eladria and Zinn were herded into the elevator, along with the king, Estaran and his men. They were joined by Narat and four of his guards, who kept their weapons trained on the captives. At Estaran’s command, Narat set the elevator to take them directly to Central Control.

Not a word was spoken as the elevator ascended, the gentle hum punctuating the strained silence. Eladria stared at Narat disbelievingly. She wanted Narat to look at her, to assure her that this wasn’t as bad as it looked, that he wouldn’t let anything happen to her or her father. But he avoided eye contact, keeping his eyes fixed upon the ground, his olive-skinned face set in an expression of grim determination.

As the elevator made its way up the heart of the palace, Eladria felt like a bird imprisoned in a cage, simpering with desperation and determined to do whatever it took to escape. Surely there must be some way she could outwit her captors? But as she surveyed the palace guards and the Ha’shon terrorists, all of whom were armed and had Eladria, Zinn and her father locked in their sights, she realized the situation was hopeless.

The elevator finally reached its destination and, just as the doors were about to open, the Ha’shon and palace guards readied themselves for possible resistance. Eladria wondered if the control room staff were aware of what had transpired in the landing terminal. There were security cameras in all areas of the palace, but it was possible that Narat and his co-conspirators had taken steps to disconnect them. She realized that it may not have been coincidence that the long-range scanners were inoperative on this very morning. It would seem this whole operation had been meticulously planned in advance.

The moment the elevator doors opened, the Ha’shon and palace guards stormed the control room, weapons blazing. The control room personnel hadn’t been anticipating the assault, for they were wholly unprepared and had no opportunity to react to the sudden barrage of fire.

Eladria had to avert her eyes as the control room officers and technicians were mercilessly gunned down.

She looked up at Narat whose face was taut and emotionless. How could he let this happen? These people were his friends and colleagues.

It took only moments for the Ha’shon to secure the control room. The battle for control of the palace was over before it had even begun and it had been nothing less than a massacre. The Ha’shon had deliberately spared two of the control room technicians, who were rounded up and given orders. Clearly these terrified-looking technicians were needed to operate the computer systems. Faces drained of color and their bodies trembling, the technicians nervously set about their orders, all too aware that there were a half dozen guns trained on them.

Estaran stood at the center of the control room and with a sadistic grin, surveyed the bodies strewn across the room. “This was even easier than I thought,” he exclaimed.

He turned to Narat, who stood by his side, and put a hand on his shoulder. “We could never have done it without you, young warrior. May the Divine Father bless you. You’ve helped initiate a new era of greatness, an era that will put an end to the war and degeneration that has torn this world apart for centuries.”

“Just so long as there’s no more killing,” Narat said flatly. “It wasn’t necessary to kill all these people.”

“I determine what is and is not necessary,” Estaran said in a low voice, his face darkening. “And you’d do well to remember that, or you might quickly find you’ve outlived your usefulness here.”

“My men would never follow you if anything were to happen to me,” Narat responded sharply.

“I’ve no doubt,” Estaran said, clearly unfazed by Narat’s threat. “But if today has taught us anything, it’s that loyalty is far from immutable. It can be bought, and allegiances can shift in the blink of an eye.”

Narat was silent for a moment, before he answered in a hushed, indignant voice. “Just so long as you remember our deal, General.”

“Oh, I remember,” Estaran responded. “A Ha’shon never falls back on his word. By the virtue of the great Shon, I honor my deals.”

Eladria couldn’t help but wonder what kind of deal Narat had made with Estaran that would possibly justify his betrayal. Not that she really cared. Any remaining love she felt for him had instantly turned to hatred the moment Narat had allowed his men to slaughter the innocent men and women whose bodies littered the room. She could never forgive him for this.

Estaran had the remaining technicians activate the holographic display screens and they watched as a string of Ha’shon raiders approached the moon and streamed into the bio-dome. Estaran then opened communications and ordered the fighters to implement “order six”.

The black, quadruple-pronged attack craft took formation over the royal city and began circling above the streets, houses and domes like ravenous birds of prey. Eladria watched in horror as they then opened fire. Weapons fire rained down upon the city. Buildings exploded and crumbled to pieces, sending flames and smoke billowing up from the smoldering metropolis.

Eladria cried out as she was forced to witness the carnage, pleading for them to stop. Even her father, who to his point had been silent, stepped forward and begged the Ha’shon to show mercy. “Please,” he beseeched Estaran, his hoarse voice filled with desperation. “Those are innocent people! Spare their lives!”

Estaran turned to his captive, his face contorting into a sadistic smile, revealing a row of gnarled, rotting teeth, several of which were missing. “So, the king makes a final plea, does he?” scoffed the Ha’shon, clearly enjoying every moment of the horror. “It’s sad that it must fall on deaf ears. The Ha’shon have planned this operation for many years, your Highness. The royal city is to be laid to ruin and any remaining resistance will be quelled. This moon will be ours and from here we will control the entire planet.”

“It won’t be as easy as you think,” the king countered. “If you believe the planet will accept a Ha’shon dictatorship, then you’re even more deluded than I imagined.”

“Oh, I know we won’t simply be accepted,” Estaran laughed. “Our True Way adversaries will fight us to the bitter end, and I expect retaliation from those military bases we haven’t already infiltrated. Yes, there will be much bloodshed. But we have the advantage and, in the end, we shall emerge victorious. It has been written; it is our destiny! With the Divine Father Shon shining his light upon us, we are unstoppable and we shall be triumphant.”

“Even if you are triumphant,” Eladria glared at the zealot. “By the time you’ve gone through with this, there may not be a planet left to rule.”

“Whatever be the will of the Divine Father,” Estaran responded, his eyes blazing with fire. “He shall not forsake us.”

There was little point arguing with a Ha’shon. It was impossible to reason with someone who believed their every action to be sanctioned by a seal of Divine approval.

Eladria’s attention returned to the assault upon the city. Her heart shattered as she watched the glorious city being pounded to rubble. She noticed several of the raiders targeting the headquarters of the Tahnadran Royal Military, a silver pyramid-shaped installation distinguishable as the second-largest building in the city, dwarfed only by the palace. It was home to the command hierarchy of the TRM, as well housing most of its weaponry, air force and soldiers.

Unprepared for the assault, the Royal Military was slow to retaliate. They tried to repel the attackers with anti-aircraft fire and launched a squadron of fighter craft, but the Ha’shon, having had the element of surprise, maintained their tactical advantage. A furious battle was being waged, with several craft on both sides already destroyed or disabled.

Eladria knew their only hope was that the Royal Military could overpower the Ha’shon invaders, secure the moon and re-take the palace. But this was not to be.

Estaran, incensed at the loss of several of his raiders, ordered his fighters to implement “order nine”. His fighters pulled back, disengaging the military craft and hovering in formation above the TRM headquarters. Following the lead Ha’shon raider, the attackers simultaneously fired missiles straight at the heart of the installation.

Upon impact, the missiles exploded, shaking the entire moon. Eladria lurched as the ground moved beneath her feet. She watched in horror as what remained of the TRM installation was consumed by the aftermath of the explosion. The shockwave rippled across the city, tearing buildings to the ground as though they were made of sand. Most of the TRM fighters were caught in the explosion, while the remainder were targeted by the Ha’shon attackers.

Eladria reached out and took hold of her father’s hand, desperate for some kind of comfort, for she knew that many of her friends and loved ones were dead or dying out there. Unable to stand the scenes of carnage any longer, she averted her eyes and looked down at the ground, her vision blurred by tears.

When the attack was complete, Estaran ordered all Ha’shon fighters to the palace. His men were to then fully secure the building and eliminate any resistance. No prisoners were to be taken.

Estaran directed one of the technicians to commence a planetary broadcast on all communications frequencies. The technician began operating the communications console, her whole body trembling as she prepared to initiate the planet-wide broadcast, something that was only ever done on the rarest of occasions.

With Estaran’s attention elsewhere, Eladria looked up at her father. “Father,” she whispered. “What shall we do?”

“There’s nothing we can do,” he said softly, a tear trickling down his face. “We must co-operate and hope to minimize any further loss of life.”

“There must be something,” Eladria implored.

“It’s over,” the king said with a shake of his head. “I’m sorry. I should have been able to prevent this. I’ve let you down. I’ve let everyone down…”

Eladria squeezed his hand tightly. She didn’t like the way he was talking. Why was he resigned to defeat? There had be some way they could stop these terrorists.

The technician informed Estaran that the communications channels were open and the planetary broadcast had begun. Estaran stood upon the central dais of the control center, his chest puffed out and head held aloft and, in a loud voice filled with authority and self-importance, he began his address.

“People of Tahnadra, this is Halon Estaran, First General of the Ha’shon Liberation Army. I speak to you from the Royal City on the third moon of Tahnadra. On this momentous day, the Royal House of Chaldeen has fallen. In its place a new regime rises. Tahnadra is now under direct control of the Ha’shon. By the grace of the Divine Father, Shon, the Ha’shon shall now lead Tahnadra to a new era of glory.

“The prophecies have been fulfilled. We now take charge and commence the restructuring of our world. We declare war upon all True Way degenerates and call for the complete eradication of their twisted and blasphemous religion. Those that surrender willingly and agree to convert to Ha’shon doctrine shall be spared and, indeed, shall be welcomed as our prodigal brothers. Those that refuse to repent must be destroyed, for their own sakes and for the sake of our world and its continued survival. The call goes out to the whole of Tahnadra: join with us, and be a part of this great new beginning. And let all who oppose us die!”

The general turned to his prisoners and ordered one of his men to bring the king to him.

“Behold, King Dulaan!” Estaran announced, gesturing to his prisoner, who was dragged alongside him on the central dais. “Last of a weak, ineffectual monarchy that have sat above us for centuries, doing nothing but simply watching as our planet descended ever deeper into chaos. They tried to compromise and placate, too weak to align themselves with either side and all they’ve done is prolong the agony, and intensify our suffering. They’re responsible for the state of our world. For generations they have stood in the way of the Ha’shon rising to take their rightful place. But no longer!”

Eladria was unprepared for what happened next. It happened so quickly that her brain struggled to process the images her eyes relayed to it.

Estaran reached down to his belt, lifted his machete and plunged it into her father’s chest. The king gasped and staggered back, while Estaran pulled out the blade and again thrust it into his torso.

Eladria screamed and tried to race toward him, but one of the Ha’shon restrained her.

With a cruel grin, Estaran twisted the blade and then retracted it. The king fell to the floor, clearly dead by the time his body hit the ground. A pool of blood poured from his wounds, running down the dais like a red river.

Estaran turned to the front of the control room, where his image was being instantly relayed to the planet below. He held the blade above him and roared triumphantly. “The king is dead and the old regime dies with him! The Ha’shon rule triumphant!”

Eladria’s legs collapsed under her weight, but she didn’t fall to the ground, for she was still being tightly held by her Ha’shon captor. She hung there, her chest and stomach knotted and convulsing in waves of sharp, spasmodic pain. As she stared at the lifeless body of her dear father, slumped in a pool of his own blood, she felt as though she herself had been stabbed in the heart.

Estaran’s victory speech continued. His voice was filled with fire and venom, all the time becoming louder until he was shouting at the top of his lungs, in a voice filled with rapture and rage. “Let the nonbelievers try to stop us as we march to total victory!” he cried, waving his blood-soaked blade like a trophy above his head. “Let them come! Let them taste blood as we wipe them from existence. The Ha’shon have prepared for this day and have amassed an unstoppable military arsenal. Nothing can stand between us and world domination. Tahnadra is now ours! All praise to the Divine Father Shon!”

With that, he called an end to the transmission.

Eladria was barely aware of what was going on around her anymore. Eyes fixed upon the body of her father, she slipped into a strange state of delirium, only vaguely aware of disconnected snippets of what happened next.

She heard Estaran warning of possible counterstrikes by both the True Way and the remaining Royal Military forces. Their immediate priority was to secure the palace and seal off the moon. Upon the display screens she saw a stream of Ha’shon aircraft continuing to enter the bio-dome like a swarm of insects ready to devour a ripened crop. She was vaguely aware of Estaran ordering his men to take her to a cell.

Having lost all strength and feeling in her body, she could barely walk and was dragged along by Estaran’s men. The last sight her eyes beheld as she and Zinn were removed from the control center and bundled into the elevator, was her father’s body lying upon the ground like a discarded garment casually tossed aside.

The lurching of the elevator made her nauseous. Still unable to stand of her own volition, she hung from the guard’s arms like a limp doll, aware of little else but the shock of her sudden, devastating loss.

As they exited the elevator, Narat’s men led the Ha’shon and their captives toward the palace security station. Along the way, they encountered some resistance from a number of palace officers and security guards who, unlike Narat’s carefully selected group of turncoats, were still loyal to the house of Chaldeen and who fought valiantly to repel the invaders and their dissident allies.

A fight ensued and Eladria was certain that she and Zinn would be caught in the crossfire as the two forces fiercely battled. Unfortunately, the Ha’shon managed to kill most of their opponents while the rest fled in retreat.

Hopeless. It was all so hopeless.

They reached the security station and Eladria thought of Narat, for she would often visit him here while he was on duty.

Narat, why…why did this happen?

She and Zinn were led to the holding cells, which were dimly lit, furnished with a single bench and enclosed by metal bars.

By the time Eladria was deposited in her cell, she had just about drifted into unconsciousness, which was at least a reprieve from the grief that tore through her like a thousand sharpened blades.

Eladria slept, her mind drifting into a fluidic realm of images, memories and imaginings.

She found herself wandering the empty corridors of the palace, desperately searching for her father. But he was nowhere to be found. In a rising panic, she began running through the labyrinthine corridors, crying out for him. For some reason she felt drawn to the control room, but when she arrived there it wasn’t her father that she found. It was her mother. She was encased in a beam of light so bright that Eladria had to shield her eyes.

“Mother!” she cried, overcome at finally having found her mother after all these years. “What are you doing here?”

“I need you,” came the pained response. Her voice sounded weak and distant, as though an entire universe separated them. “Please, Eladria, please…you must help me.”

“What can I do?” Eladria pleaded.

But before she could answer, the scene shifted. Eladria was now on the planet surface, in the midst of a deserted city street, the sky overhead dark and stormy. She looked around, trying to ascertain where she was. As she wandered the eerily vacant street, the ground beneath her began to shake. Buildings started collapsing all around her, crumbling to the ground, sending up waves of dust and debris.

She stumbled and fell. Just as she was about to be crushed by a falling temple, the scene again shifted.

This time Eladria became aware of a whole other world: a world existing across an infinite void, closer than a heartbeat, yet an eternity away. It was a strange place, utterly unfamiliar to her, but it was somehow calling to her.

She saw the face of a young man she’d seen so many times before in her dreams, a handsome man with dark hair and dark eyes, a crystal amulet hanging around his neck. She didn’t know who he was or why his face haunted her dreams, but he was calling to her…

Eladria felt as though she was been pulled in different directions. “Where do I go?” she cried. “What do I do?”

But there was no answer.

She found herself spinning into an infinite, all-consuming abyss of darkness, ensnared by its unrelenting gravity and unable to break free. All she could hear were the words of the seer, which echoed relentlessly through her mind as she was devoured by the void of blackness:

“Darkness will fall. Your entire world will be lost.”

 

Eladria was awoken by a brusque shake. She opened her eyes and tried to throw off the lingering disorientation of sleep. She found herself lying on a bench in one of the security cells. The barred door was open and there were two men in the cell and another two standing outside, weapons in hand.

The Ha’shon…it all came back to her in an agonizing wave. One of the Ha’shon knelt down and was shaking her awake and the other stood over her, arms folded, an expression of glee upon his lined and twisted face. It was their leader, General Estaran.

“Wake up, Princess,” Estaran said as he looked down at her.

Eladria sat up on the bed and pushed the Ha’shon away from her. He stepped back and stood by Estaran’s side, hand resting upon the leather holster that housed his firearm.

“What do you want?” Eladria looked up at Estaran, a tone of repugnance saturating her voice.

“I came to see that you were all right,” Estaran answered. “I realize this must be a traumatic time for you. Contrary to what you might think, I abhor violence. Unfortunately, in this world, it is often a necessity. It is the force that drives change, the agent that initiates revolution. But although I had no love of your father, I derived no joy from taking his life.”

Eladria stared up at the Ha’shon and felt a wave of hatred rising up within her. “I don’t believe a word you say,” she said. “You enjoyed every moment of what you did, because you’re nothing more than a sick, twisted murderer.”

Estaran’s face darkened. “In accordance with the Sacred Texts, I hold all life sacred,” he retorted. “What I do, I do because it has been ordained by the Divine Father. The nonbelievers must be subjugated and brought to the loving arms of Shon, or else purged from this world. The end times draw near and in order to save this world we are called to take whatever action we can. We do so in the name of Shon. He forgives us and washes us of all sin, because we follow only the sacred word.”

“That’s meaningless nonsense,” Eladria shook her head defiantly.

Estaran bristled. It probably wasn’t wise to push him, but she was determined to hurt him in any way she could. If she could have leapt up and strangled him on the spot, she would have done so. But her body was weak and her senses dulled. She knew that if she came within an inch of him, his men would strike her down in an instant. But she was fuelled by an insurmountable rage and the very sight of this Ha’shon butcher sickened her. Why should her gentle father have lost his life to this brainwashed abomination?

“You now have a choice, Princess,” Estaran began as took a step closer, standing over her threateningly. “You can either repent and embrace us, or you will die as your father did.”

“I will never join you,” Eladria answered with as much fire as she could muster. “And it doesn’t matter what you do to me, because you won’t get away with this. People will rise up and stop you. Even your precious ‘Divine Father’ won’t be able to save you. You’ll be made to account for your crimes and you’ll suffer for every man, woman and child you’ve slaughtered here today.”

With a cold smile that didn’t touch his eyes, Estaran reached down and stroked Eladria’s face. She grimaced, sickened by the touch of his hand.

“I admire your strength, your fire and courage,” he purred softly. “You certainly didn’t inherit them from your father. He was weak and indecisive, whereas you’re strong, spirited and alive. I shall regret killing you. I’d much rather have had you by my side. But you were offered the choice and you chose death over life and eternal damnation over salvation. You poor, deluded child. First thing tomorrow, I will again address the whole of Tahnadra, and once more I shall demonstrate our supremacy. With the entire planet watching, I shall execute you as I did your father. The message shall be clear and unmistakable. The old sovereignty has perished. The new order has risen.”

Eladria sat with her back hard against the cell wall and she looked up at Estaran defiantly. She had nothing to say. A small part of her was fearful and compelled her to apologize, to plead for her life. But the greater part of her was resolute: she would not disgrace her father’s memory by capitulating to this man. She would stand firm until the end and, if she was destined to die at the hands of the Ha’shon with the entire planet watching, then she would accept her fate.

Estaran frowned and shook his head from side to side, clearly disappointed by her reaction. Without another word, he turned and left. His subordinate closed the cell door with a loud clank. He input a code on the control pad at the side of the cell and with a reverberating click, the cell door locked. With that, they departed.

Eladria sat huddled on the bench, feeling more alone than she’d ever felt her entire life. Her thoughts turned to her father. How she yearned for him to come and save her…

Only he was gone.

Overwhelmed by an immeasurable grief, she lay on her side and cried for what felt like hours. Eventually her tears subsided and she lay motionless in a state of numbed emptiness. The faint hum of the ceiling light pierced the silence and there was a timepiece on the wall opposite the cell. It would soon be morning. Her death got closer with each rhythmic tick of the mechanism.

But what did it matter? She didn’t know how she could go on living now. Not without her father. Not after her city had been blown to pieces, along with all of her friends and family. Not knowing that the world she had inherited was now under occupation by a cruel and insane dictatorship. And not knowing that the man she had loved was the one responsible for all of this.

No, after all that had happened this nightmarish day, she didn’t want to go on living. There was nothing left to live for.

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.

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Chapter One of ELADRIA: “The Fifth Day”

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.

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Chapter One

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 what?”

“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—”

“I’ve already—”

“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.