THE UNCROWNED QUEEN
Astrid Barnett always knew that she was different, she just didn’t know how different. She is about to learn that she’s actually a space princess but not just any space princess, the uncrowned queen of Quaylar. However, as any chosen one will tell you, there are forces that inevitably stand in her way and will stop at nothing to keep her from fulfilling her destiny.
BOOK I: THE AWAKENING
In an unknown bar, somewhere in the lesser traveled part of Quaylar VII, a bartender with lilac hair and maroon eyes polished a glass. Only one customer sat at the bar, nursing a draught of Ginklian ale. A chime signaled a new arrival. No one came to the Forbidden Oasis at this time of day except Schleck who was already at the bar. The bartender looked over to see a figure in a purple cloak and a golden laughing mask standing in the doorway. The desert landscape vast and abandoned behind her. He stopped polishing his glass and placed one hand on his pistol, sweat dripped from his brow.
“Sorry Schleck,” the bartender said, his eyes fixed on the figure in the doorway. “I’m going to have to ask you to leave. The bars closed.”
“What are you talking about? The Forbidden Oasis is never closed.” Schleck asserted.
The bartender pulled his phase pistol from its holster and reiterated his previous statement. “Don’t make me ask a third time.” The bartender cautioned.
Schleck threw up his hands, passing the hooded figure as he walked toward the door but he paid her no mind as if he didn’t even see her and the second chime of the bell confirmed that the bartender and the hooded figured were now alone. The bartender watched her carefully as she made her way over to the bar, his finger on the trigger of his pistol.
“Relz Bonik.” She said slowly as if trying to recall a memory. The hooded figure pushed the gun out of her face and took a seat at the stool that had been recently vacated. “I’ve come to collect on that favor you owe me.”
The bartender, called Relz Bonik, heaved his broad shoulders, he had dreaded this day. “I am indebted to you Oracle. Whatever it is you ask of me, I am your servant, gods help me.”
She began with a story, a story about a war.
The seven planets of Quaylar have been at war with one another since the beginning of time, or at least as long as anyone in the Omega Cluster can recall. Each planet is independently ruled by a dynasty but each dynasty has the desire to rule over all the others. So, war rages on between the seven dynasties over who will be the next ruling dynasty over all of Quaylar. Kings and queens occasionally rise from the ashes as victors and reign for a season or two until they are assassinated and the cycle begins anew. Twenty-some odd years ago, a seer prophesied that the next born daughter of Quaylar IV’s dynasty would be the one to rule over all seven planets but this time it would be different, as she would reign in an unprecedented era of peace and she would rule over them for a hundred years. When word of the prophecy got out, the other six dynasties united with a common goal: to destroy Quaylar IV’s ruling family. Every member of the ruling family was rounded up and systematically slaughtered. No mercy was shown to children, the old, or the infirmed. Once the other six dynasties were satisfied that the fourth dynasty was no more, they returned to war amongst themselves. However, there was one member of Quaylar IV’s dynasty that they overlooked.
Alixed fled to the planet of Sirius where he was granted asylum from the benevolent Queen Treasa. He made a home on Sirius and even fell in love with a beautiful Sirusian woman named Reesa and together they had two handsome sons: Malik and Denar. Their lives were blissful and they thought their joyful days would never end. Then they were blessed, or perhaps cursed, with a daughter called Lila, and their happy lives were torn asunder. Alixed begged Queen Treasa to hide his daughter away, to take her to a place where no one would ever find her so that when she came of age, she could fulfill her noble destiny. The queen did as she was asked and she hid the baby away.
“Her powers are now beginning to rouse. It won’t be long before rival factions figure out she’s alive and well. I need you to take her in your charge. To raise her up in the way that she should be so that she can one day take her rightful place as queen.” The woman in the laughing mask concluded.
“I owe you my life, Oracle, and you’re asking me to babysit for you?” Relz asked.
“You underestimate the importance of this girl, Relz. Her fate decides the fate of the entire Omega Cluster. Something much bigger than the seven planets of Quaylar and their old feuds is coming and we need a united Quaylar if we intend to survive.”
Relz Bonik pondered this. The Oracle was not known for hyperbole. “Where can I find this girl?”
“In a place called Florida.”
Astrid Barnett was a strange girl. She had always suspected that something had gone seriously wrong with her. How else could she be so different from everyone else? Her doting mother and father told her it was just how all teenagers felt. This feeling that you don’t belong and that no one understands you was normal. Only a natural part of the cycle of human cognitive development (Astrid’s father was a psychiatrist). Astrid, however, knew they were wrong as far as she was concerned. There were things about her that even her parents didn’t know. Like the way the lights flickered when she got upset, how sometimes she’d hear her mother’s voice so clearly but her lips didn’t move, or how she knew things that she couldn’t know. Perhaps the answers she sought could be found if she could learn more about her birth parents. When she asked, her mother had patiently explained what a “closed adoption” meant and the topic was dropped entirely. One of the more noticeable peculiar things about Astrid was when she hit puberty, her hair changed from a nutty brown to a deep eggplant purple. Her mother had accused her of dying her hair and when she said she hadn’t her father lectured her on lying to her parents. That matter too was unceremoniously dropped.
On this particular evening, Astrid sat awake in a bed that was not hers, in a large house that was also not hers. The house was empty save for an old English sheepdog named Benson, who slept quietly on the rug beside her. The air felt static and she couldn’t shake the feeling that something horrible was about to happen. She thought, “tonight, everything changes” without knowing why. The rational side of her brain equated this feeling with being alone in someone else’s home but this wasn’t a stranger’s home. This was a home she had always felt welcomed in. A home full of good memories and love. This was Marlin Quincey’s house, her boyfriend. Quinn, as he was called, and his family was away for the summer somewhere in Spain. She sat watching her phone because he promised to call her every night at seven but it was well past eleven and he still hadn’t called. Quinn tended to forget, she reminded herself, everything is fine. He’ll make it up to me. With her phone clutched in her hand and the light still on, she drifted off to sleep. Astrid dreamed of a terrible place she so often went to in her dreams, a silver shimmering palace against golden skies and white grass soaked in blood flowing from bodies that were piled so high they cast long monstrous shadows. Men and women in cloaks, slaughtered these people with gleeful looks on their faces while she watched helplessly from a distance, held back by a woman in a purple cloak and golden laughing mask. It was the sound of their agony that disturbed her the most though. The way their screams drilled right through her.
She awoke with a start, a crashing somewhere downstairs. Benson was already at the door, growling low and his ears alert. She reached for her phone but her hands were shaking so badly she dropped it and the lights began to flicker, the house rattled and shook. Benson rolled over in pain, howling and her phone turned itself off. Astrid felt as if something radiated from her body, something deep from within her chest, pulsed through her and out through every pore. She concentrated, pushing her fear away, and the lights stop flickering and the house stopped shaking. Now, she reached for her phone again, but the phone was dead. Against her better judgment, she opened the door. Benson rushed out and down the stairs; Astrid padded close behind him. As she crept down the stairs, she saw a window had been broken. Blood splattered the shattered glass and giant white feathers that were strewn about the floor. She breathed, thinking: it’s only a bird. Benson began to bark again and she called out to comfort him but he wouldn’t stop barking so she followed his voice to the kitchen and found a young man about her age, huddled in a corner of the kitchen, his arms dripping blood from where the glass had cut him and sprouting from his back was a pair of great white wings. She screamed louder than she’d ever screamed before and the house began to shake again, lightbulbs flashed on then exploded, and the objects in the kitchen took flight and spun around in a small circle. The boy with the wings took off through the back door and Benson followed him.
The sound of sirens woke Maximillian St. Clare with a start. He peeked out his window and saw a squad of cop cars at the Quincey residence. Quickly, he dressed and went out into the living room where his roommate sat quietly pouring over documents.
“It’s happening sooner than I expected.” His roommate observed.
“I suppose even you can be wrong,” Max said flatly as he stared out the window. “What the hell happened?”
“You didn’t hear that?”
“The scream. Goddesses, that girl has a pair of lungs on her. I would have thought the Earth moving beneath your feet would have woken you but no. It was the sirens?”
“Is Astrid okay?” He asked in a barely disguised panic.
His roommate put down the document he was working on and looked at him, his brown eyes laced with compassion. “Yes, Max. The girl is fine.”
Max rubbed his face in an effort to wake himself up. “So, it begins now. I supposed Relz Bonik is on his way.”
His roommate scoffed. “I suppose he is. Why the Oracle felt it necessary to get him involved, I’ll never understand. That man cannot be trusted but I trust her and her judgment implicitly.” His roommate chuckled softly. “I hope you’re ready for this.”
Max shot him a wry smile. “Of course. Are you sure you want to sit this one out?”
His roommate twirled his pen in his hand thoughtfully. “I’ll have my part to play in latter days.”
“Whatever you say, old man.” Max buttoned his vest and left his roommate to his studies, heading over to the Quincey residence.
When he arrived, the flashing of police lights blinded him. The cops watched warily as he advanced and one approached him, holding out a hand and shaking his head. Other neighbors had begun to gather around the police tape. He tried to explain that he knew Astrid but the cops refused to let him through. Some of the neighbors were whispering and looking at him. He could feel the heat of their gaze on the back of his head. He turned his head and gave them a grotesque grin and they squealed and backed away from him. Astrid, who was speaking to a cop, saw him and threw off the blanket she had wrapped around her shoulders and ran into his arms.
“Max! I’m so glad you’re here. Oh, god. The lights, the house it shook, and this boy with wings. I’ve never been so scared. Look at me I’m shaking.” Astrid Barnett held out her trembling hands, observing them.
“What are you babbling about? Slow down.”
“I don’t know. I just. There was a boy with wings. Max, it sounds crazy but he had wings.”
Max did not balk because it didn’t sound crazy at all to him. He squeezed her shoulder reassuredly. “I’m sure you’ll feel better in the morning. Let’s go inside, I’ll make you a milk toddy. We can talk again once you’re rested.” He took her by the elbow, steering her inside but she pushed him away.
“No, I can’t go back in there. I can’t.”
Max nodded. “I understand. Why don’t you stay at my place tonight? It’ll all make more sense in the morning.”
She nodded and began to follow him then stopped abruptly. “No, Benson! God, Benson ran after him. He must be so scared. I have to find him.” Astrid began to turn on her heel but Max grabbed her by the arm and pulled her to his side. “Whoa, slow down there, purple head. I’ll help you find the dog in the morning. We’ll ask the cops to keep a lookout for him.”
“No, no you don’t understand!” Astrid babbled. She was crying and her voice squeaked in a way that she could scarcely be understood. “I promised Quinn. I said I’d keep him safe- I said- I promised. I have to find him.”
She was delirious, Max knew, she was shaking violently now, so violently, it felt as if the earth beneath her shook. Then he heard the windows rattling and saw the cops staggering on their feet. There are no earthquakes in Florida, he thought absurdly. The windows of the cop car exploded and glass sprayed everywhere. Max released his grip from Astrid to shield his face. The siren and a car alarm in the distance began to go off. The cops looked at one another perplexed, checking to make sure everyone was alright but Astrid was gone. He turned to see her running off towards the woods behind Quinn’s house and Max called after her as she disappeared into the Florida brush.
“Sure could use your help right now, old man.” He cursed his roommate under his breath as he plunged into the darkness after the girl with the purple hair.
Layla was a fine ship no matter what anyone else said. Relz Bonik loved Layla like he loved nothing else. He’d fixed her up after finding her abandoned in a dusty old ship graveyard at Centoria. He paid sixteen yatz for her. That’s less than he charges Schleck for a draft of Ginklian Ale. She’d been faithful to him ever since. It was a long way to Terra Minor from his little bar on Quaylar VII, however, and once inside the Sol system, there were no space stations for light-years. Layla began to rattle at the stress from such a prolonged nonstop trek. He placed a reassuring hand on the console and told her everything would be alright – just a bit longer.
Terra Minor was now in view, a strange little blue-green planet with only one moon. They were a primitive society, or so he had been told, who had yet to master as simple of a concept as space travel beyond their own moon. He often heard these hoomons referred to as savages and he wondered why Queen Treasa would choose such a hostile world to send young Princess Lila but it made sense in a way. Who would ever think of placing someone on Terra Minor for their safety?
Layla began to stir and squawk, rousing Relz Bonk from his musings. He turned on the display to see a great black and white ship not far off behind him. He leaned back in the spoon-shaped white chair that jutted from the floor and stared at the brightly lit and pulsing console before him. He pulled his ponytail to the side and in front of his shoulder tracing his fingers through his hair.
“That’s not possible.” He said to himself as his mind reeled. He was finally beginning to understand why the Oracle wanted him specifically on this mission– the writing was already on the wall. Layla lurched forward and a panel ejected itself from the smooth rounded room. Sparks flew and the lights dimmed as a soft orange light began to pulse. He pulled a lever and Layla zipped ahead with a start, the floor creaking in agony.
“I know girl just hang on. We gotta get away from this guy. We're no match for him.”
The ship behind him crept towards him. It was a massive ship of white and black with sharp edges and it moved like death – silent and heavy. Relz watched as its forward cannons dropped and began to glow with reddish ember as it prepared to fire. His fingers deftly swept through the keys on the paneling before him to input an evasive maneuver but the torpedo hit Layla hard. They had anticipated his move. He adjusted course again but the silent ship copied every move with ease. Layla hobbled along towards Terra Minor with the massive ship cruising not far behind. Another shot hit Layla and a panel exploded.
“Emergency protocols activated. All non-essential crew members should be evaluated immediately.” Layla said as warning klaxons began to blare.
“Layla, sweetheart, it’s just you and me and I’m not going anywhere." Terra Minor was almost within range. “Hold on girl, I’m prepping us for an emergency landing.”
“An emergency landing is not recommended.”
The giant ship fired again and hit Layla square in the stern, propelling them forward. Relz Bonik realized that he no longer had control of his ship as he hammered away at his control panel vain. He leaned back in his chair in silent resignation as he thought to himself, “well, this is it. Either I’m going to live or I’m going to die.”
As they approach Terra Minor palm trees, oak trees, and strange prehistoric looking brush came crashing into view. Right before they hit the ground, Layla chimed in helpfully: “An emergency landing is not recommended.”