Here are the first 5 or so pages of The Lost Queen. The whole book is available May 1st at www.MillerWords.com or your favorite bookseller!
It All Starts With a Bang
Zandria loved the feel of the warm, wet sand squishing between her toes. It meant that she was safe. This was important to her because she had not felt safe for a long time. Here on the beach of Banookanook, she was protected. To the north and south stood the rock walls that cut their village off from the rest of the world. Behind her grew a nearly impassable jungle and in front of her was the unending sea.
She wriggled her toes against the mounting sand and decided that it was time to rinse her feet in the clear water. Zandria waded out to her knees and let the rhythmic waves clean her toes and feet. She was on the beach with no greater purpose than playing with her sister, Olena.
They were four years apart in age and sometimes that made all the difference in the world, while other times, they were as close as if they shared one mind and one heart. Today was one of those days. There were no sisterly quarrels, only laughter. Neither could do anything to upset the other. Zandria did not even scream when Olena sneaked up behind and splashed her.
The cold water on her head and shoulders sent goose pimples across her skin. She turned to her curly-haired sister in time to see the smaller girl knocked flat by an unexpected wave. This erupted more laughter from both of them.
The sound must have been louder than Zandria realized because it caught the attention of her father. He walked out of their small hut with her mother. They were holding hands and smiling.
This made Zandria’s heart feel like it was going to burst with love. She had waited for six years to see her mother again. Around the time of Olena’s birth was the last time she had seen her mother. She was angry with herself for forgetting how beautiful the woman was.
There was no doubt in Zandria’s mind that this woman should be one of the four queens of Empyrean. Zandria saw that she stood slightly taller than her father and carried her slender body with grace. Looking at her mother now, she could see how Olena resembled her.
She did not want to turn away from this chance to hug her mother and hold onto her, but the ocean spray kept splashing in her face. Zandria tried to wipe the water away, but still, it clouded her eyes and blurred her vision. The more she brushed her face with the her fists, the more water flooded her eyes.
Suddenly, the bright sun faded to darkness and she was alone.
With tears in her eyes, Zandria woke in her bed at the Castle Empyrean surrounded by darkness. She instantly realized that she was dreaming about her mother. The spray from the ocean was actually her own tears. The thought of that imaginary day on the beach that could never happen tore at her emotions with both love and hate. The anger disappeared quickly because she was not that person anymore. Instead, she chose to remember her with the love and kindness that she knew her mother would have.
She lay in her bed, staring at the ceiling with drying tears on her cheeks. The battle was over and the celebration feast earlier that evening was amazing. Zandria still felt stuffed because she ate like she had not eaten in a month. The stress and fear of her journey from Banookanook to the castle took its toll on her, but finally she was able to rest and recover. The Forgotten Evil was defeated, at least for now, and she could be at peace knowing that Olena was the fourth queen.
That is when she heard a faint sound of crying.
At first, Zandria thought it was her imagination. So many memories flashed through her head. She thought the crying might be an echo of her dream. Then she considered that it might be her sister trying to cope with the recent events. As she lay there, she thought of the werewolves, the animals of Bremen, Baba Yaga and the bottomless canyon beneath the bell chamber. Even the thought of the entire castle hanging out over that same nothingness would be enough to bother her.
Through all her mind’s wandering, in the dark of her bedroom, the distant crying did not stop. Zandria sensed it to be a very lonely sobbing. After their victory on the battlefield and Olena becoming queen, how could anybody in Empyrean be sad, especially her sister? Zandria decided to ignore the sound, since she believed it was only in her imagination. She tried to sleep and buried herself in the fluffy covers. She did drift off for an instant, but she snapped wide-awake and her whole body jolted like she was falling out of bed. She was not falling, though, and the sensation made her think of the canyon again. Zandria did not like when she woke for no reason.
The room was not any lighter since the last time she opened her eyes. It was still the middle of the night. Like most of the rooms in the castle, her room had no windows. Somehow, moonlight magically refracted or reflected its way inside the walls and she could make out the glistening outlines of her crystal bedposts and the tall, glass dresser by the wall. Still, the opulent room did not feel quite like home.
She was not scared to be sleeping alone. After all, she was in the safest place in all of Empyrean. She knew Olena or the other queens would come if she called, along with a hundred other attendants or soldiers. Plus, her friend Adam’s room was close.
Zandria liked the thought of him being near. He proved himself to her while getting her across the plains and into the castle. When she first met him, she did not trust him, but that feeling was always outmatched by those pestering butterflies in her stomach. She knew it would take a long time to get used to those butterflies, if ever, she thought. That was okay for now, she decided.
Now, she listened again for the crying sound, thinking she would not hear it. Whatever trick her mind was playing on her, the crying was still there.
She knew there was nothing else to do now, except find this exceptionally sad person. Zandria swung her legs out of bed. Her bare feet only touched the cold glass floor for a moment, before recoiling. She found her slippers tucked slightly back behind the dust ruffle. She tried them on and, despite all of the magic surrounding her, found the slippers to be completely uncomfortable and not at all her size.
Zandria left her room barefoot. She followed the crying sound as it gradually became louder. Still not convinced that it was real, she continued searching. Enthralled by the sound, she moved through the castle not attempting to keep track of her many turns through the hallways behind her. Apparently, no one else could hear the crying, as she did not bump into anyone else along the way. This fact also made her believe that she imagined the sound.
At last, she came to a door that was strangely out of place in its crystal surroundings. The door was made from an oily, black wood. This sight alone made her not want to open it. Zandria was certain the sound, now clearly crying, was coming from the other side. She was no longer certain it was only in her imagination. She did not go in right away, but stood, listening to the tears and gentle sobs. The sound seemed so close, almost in her head, yet so far away at the same time.
As she carefully placed her hand on the glass knob, chills ran up her spine. The knob was not cold, as she expected, and Zandria instantly got the feeling that she did not want to know what was on the other side.
Maybe the old Zandria would have walked away, but not this new version. This Zandria felt the true power of Empyrean still warm in her heart and was literally an arm’s reach away from being the fourth queen. She would never again let fear stop her. She knew that as long as she believed with her heart, everything would turn out right. Whatever waited on the other side of this door, she thought, could not hurt her or possibly even affect her in any way.
She turned the knob and the door opened.
The room was not much different than any of the others she had seen in Empyrean. The floor and ceiling were made of glass, but the walls were very narrow like she was walking into a hallway, or more likely, a closet. At the far end of the room stood a short pillar and on top of the pillar lay a small white pillow. The pillow looked as smooth as silk and had white tassels dangling from each of its four corners.
Nestled in the center of the pillow was a single crystal shard. Now Zandria realized that the crying was coming from that crystal. She smiled to herself, thinking how silly it would be for a piece of glass to be crying. Then she realized that the sound was not coming from the crystal itself, but rather from inside it. That is why it still sounded so far away even though she was right next to it.
Zandria looked down at the shard. It was narrow and would easily fit in her hand like an oversized hairbrush handle. The inside of the crystal looked smoky, but it cleared as she gazed closer. Then, through the mist, she saw a woman holding her head in her hands. Zandria knew this was the person who had kept her from sleeping. She could hear this woman’s haunting cry across the entire castle. She suspected the sad woman could not see outside of the crystal even if her long, wavy brown hair was not covering her face.
Suddenly, the woman turned and looked straight out at Zandria. She stopped crying in a single breath, looking fierce and frightened at the same time. For an instant, Zandria thought she was looking at Olena as a grown woman. Then she recognized this person.
Zandria said, “Mother?”
Her mother looked directly at her and said, “Zandria. Please help me.”
The crystal swirled with smoke again and the face disappeared. Zandria turned to get help. Of its own accord, the door swung closed behind her, and she ran face-first into the thick wood.
Everything went black.
Continued in The Empyrical Tales Book II: The Lost Queen...