Queen’s Gambit is up to ~17,500 words, give or take, and coming along nicely. I’d be farther along, but things didn’t work out on that. I’ll go into it a little here in a minute, but I’m definitely going to have some delays this upcoming week.
My editor got Chosen of Chaos back to me on Friday, which was too late for me to meet my original plan of releasing it on Monday, but it was quick enough to allow me to set it up for Tuesday, which is a lot better than I was afraid of. Honestly, I’m just happy that the editor was safe, considering everything I’ve heard about the storm in question. Going over the book and prepping it for release took most of Friday, though, along with something else. I hadn’t contacted a narrator about Chosen of Chaos yet, so I put up an advertisement looking for auditions on the project Friday as well. Going over the different applications is likely going to take a fair chunk of my time this upcoming week, but I’m going to do what I can to make the week as productive as I can.
Incidentally, I’m really excited to share Chosen of Chaos, so here’s the prologue!
Chosen of Chaos Prologue
“That’s it. I’ve had enough,” Empress Evelyn Esendria Tarth said, glowering into the wardrobe, then closed it firmly, letting out a hiss. She resisted the urge to set the contents on fire, but it was a near thing.
Two years. It had been only two years since Evelyn had conquered the kingdom of Peldra, then its two neighbors when they’d decided that attacking when Peldra was weak was the ideal time for conquest. The other nations across the ocean had quickly assured her that they had no intention of following in their footsteps, accompanying their assurances with lavish gifts, and for a time Evelyn had been content. She hadn’t exactly intended to conquer the continent, but with how things had worked out, she’d thought that the power would be a nice change of pace. Oh, how wrong she’d been.
After two years of tedious paperwork, dealing with the excesses of a few of her subordinates, as well as managing the desires of everyone who surrounded her, she was sick of it. Especially considering the dozens of people who seemed to think that she should marry them and produce an heir. She was sick and tired of everything.
“Milady?” Fya asked, tilting her head in confusion, though there was a faint sparkle of mirth in her eyes.
Evelyn turned to look at her deceptively perfect and loyal handmaiden, and came to a decision, smiling coldly. “I have a task for you.”
Fya instantly understood Evelyn’s tone, and bowed deeply, her outfit warping into a dark red and black uniform, while her hair and eyes turned a bright shade of blue.
“Of course, Milady. How may I serve you?” Fya asked, a hint of excitement in the djinn’s voice. Apparently, Evelyn wasn’t the only one who was bored.
Evelyn stalked into the throne room, excitement pulsing through her with every footstep, something she hadn’t felt in years. She was wearing her armor, with her energy sword hanging from her left hip and her pistol on her right. The second she emerged, the soft conversation in the chamber ceased, though it echoed for several more seconds.
The cavernous expanse of the throne room could have housed four hundred soldiers standing in formation, let alone the hundred and sixty-six individuals currently standing below her dais and the throne. They were composed of elves, dark elves, orcs, a few humans, a pair of dwarves, a half-elf, and five dragons in human shapes, all of whom paused on seeing her.
They were her officers, generals, nobles, and the merchants who’d supported her in her conquest, which primarily made them opportunists who’d been in it for themselves. Most were dressed opulently, men, women, and others, and she thought that all of them were armed, or didn’t have need for weapons. Magic was useful that way, though there weren’t many combat magi. However, some of their anticipation seemed to either vanish or grow greater, since she hadn’t appeared before them in armor in quite some time. This time she wasn’t going to drag things out or give them time to argue, though. She’d had enough of debates.
“If you wish to avoid bloodshed, I suggest you run for the doors now,” Evelyn said, pausing for a moment to see if anyone was wise enough to do so. Instead, there was a soft furor as they looked at one another in confusion, but none of them headed for the doors. She smiled coldly at that and nodded. “Very well.”
With a snap of her fingers, the entire room shimmered, and force fields sprang up along the walls and ceiling. That provoked a reaction, and Evelyn smiled broadly when they began shouting, demanding explanations.
“You are here for a trial by fire. I have had enough of ruling Peldra, and it is time for me to step down, one way or another. You will either kill me, or I will kill all of you,” Evelyn told them evenly, drawing her sword and igniting its glowing red blade at the same time as she drew her pistol. A hint of terror filled the room, and she smiled more widely, adding, “I have removed the imperial aegis from my person to make it a fair contest, and whomever kills me will receive it. Now, enough talking. Come, entertain me.”
The next moment one of them reached for his gun, and Evelyn launched herself off the platform, laughing as she descended on them.
Vania Peldra the Second glanced out the window of the tower nervously, pacing back and forth as she wondered what was happening. Technically she was a princess, but with her kingdom overthrown, it was an empty title.
Out the window, aside from the palace’s shields being active in a shimmering blue curtain, the city looked no different than normal. Shuttles took off and landed normally at the spaceport, aircars cruised along their designated lanes, and the massive fountains continued flowing in the center of the city, the water flowing through the canals, then returned to the river in waterfalls, heading to the ocean.
It was a serene sight… but she’d heard and felt the explosions below. Almost half an hour had passed since she’d felt the first vibration, and she wondered what was happening. Vania’s lunch hadn’t arrived on time, something which had never happened in the two years of her captivity, and neither had her handmaidens been allowed to come upstairs. That only happened when the tower was on complete lockdown, something which had only happened twice since she’d been incarcerated.
Vania paced, her anxiety slowly growing, as even the news channels didn’t tell her anything. It was kind, relatively speaking, of Evelyn to allow her to listen to the news and receive other entertainment broadcasts, but sometimes that made her captivity even more maddening.
Beeping interrupted Vania’s thoughts, and she spun as the doors slid open. The first thing she noticed was Evelyn the Usurper, but the second item was almost as startling, as the outer doors of the airlock-like entrance to her prison was open as well. That had only happened when she’d been placed in the prison to begin with, so it left her reeling, though not as much as the sight of Evelyn did.
“What happened to you?” Vania demanded, her eyes huge as she looked over Evelyn. “Another assassination attempt?”
Evelyn was a tall, striking figure most of the time. She was an elven woman with cool mannerisms and dry humor, with a severe sort of beauty that was accented by her black hair and deep red eyes… well, and the red gemstone in the middle of her forehead. That was only accentuated by her choice of clothing, which was usually black with red and silver accents. None of that even considered the explosive power one could practically feel around her. Evelyn had crushed Vania’s bodyguards almost effortlessly when she’d finally breached the palace, including Rasien, one of the most powerful knights in the kingdom.
That appearance wasn’t in evidence when Evelyn entered the room, though. She was wearing armor, but it’d been cracked and even melted away in places, while a shard of black metal that looked suspiciously like the broken blade of a sword pierced through her upper left shoulder. The long, black hair that normally hung almost to her waist was up in a bun, but some of it looked like it’d been caught in a blowtorch. The gem on her forehead was cracked, there were several cuts and burns on her face, and she limped heavily, favoring her right leg. If someone could do this to her, Vania didn’t want to meet them.
“Assassination attempt? Hardly that, though people certainly were trying to kill me. That’s only fair, since I was trying to kill them at the time,” Evelyn said, circling a chair and flopping into it, the jagged piece of metal coming partway out of her shoulder as she did so, but Evelyn barely flinched as blood began oozing out of her shoulder. “No, this is my fault.”
“Your fault? How is that?” Vania asked, blinking in confusion, but she kept her distance, also glancing at the doors, which still hadn’t shut. It made her nervous. “And why are the doors open?”
“You were right, you know.” Evelyn said, ignoring Vania’s questions. “That I didn’t deserve to rule.”
It took a few seconds for Vania to place the comment, and she almost gaped, as she barely remembered the conversation which had occurred shortly after she’d been imprisoned. She’d been exceedingly upset, for understandable reasons, but her anger had cooled over the years, partly due to how Evelyn had treated her.
The usurper had conquered the nation, certainly. She’d built an alliance of individuals that Vania would never have trusted, then crushed everything in her path like an implacable juggernaut, but at the same time, there was an odd… precision to her actions. The first time Vania had heard of Evelyn was when a seer had prophesied that she’d overthrow the kingdom, and one of the local nobles had decided to deal with Evelyn before that happened. The resulting deaths of the noble’s subordinates had made Evelyn an outlaw, and it felt to Vania that every time they targeted Evelyn, she’d escalated the conflict until… things had ended up this way. At least, that’s how she felt looking back on it; at the time Evelyn had been a looming specter of destruction.
Yet once imprisoned, Evelyn hadn’t mistreated Vania. She gave her nice rooms, plenty of exercise equipment and entertainment, and several loyal handmaidens who could keep her company. The usurper even dropped in two or three times a week for a chat. They never became close, but Vania had been startled to realize that if things had been different, they might even have become friends. That was half the reason she hadn’t rushed for the door. The other half was that Evelyn could destroy her easily, even if she was half-dead.
“Why are you talking about that?” Vania asked, frowning. “It’s been years.”
“Doesn’t change the fact you’re right. I never had the temperament to rule,” Evelyn replied, letting out a soft sigh as she shook her head. “Debates, discussions, deals, politics… I never was one to enjoy them. I looked into my wardrobe this morning, and I realized that I’d had enough. I didn’t want to deal with it anymore. So… I did something about it.”
A chill ran down Vania’s spine, and she swallowed hard, then ventured. “What did you do?”
Evelyn smiled. It was the lazy smile of a predator, and one of the most terrifying things Vania had ever seen. It was also one of the happiest expressions Vania had seen on her face.
“I lowered the imperial aegis, then set it to go to whoever kills me. Then I invited all of my most loyal, powerful followers to the throne room, and trapped them there with me. Either they killed me, or I killed them. As I’m here, you can see that I won,” Evelyn replied, letting out a sigh, then grimaced as she reached into a compartment of her belt and pulled out a set of keycards. “Here’s the master keys to the palace, and what you need to finish the job.”
She set the cards on the table, then placed her pistol on top of it, and Vania’s eyes widened more.
“What?” Vania asked a note of horror creeping into her voice.
Evelyn gave Vania a patronizing look and let out a heavy sigh. “I didn’t think you were that dense, princess.”
“I’m not! I just… you’re telling me to kill you? Why?” Vania demanded, color rising in her cheeks now, along with emotions she couldn’t quite untangle.
“Isn’t it obvious? If you have the imperial aegis, even if you’re as weak as you are, you’ll be able to survive the handful of guards I didn’t get out of the palace, and who are foolish enough to resist or try to take over,” Evelyn said, gesturing toward the door with her uninjured arm. “In addition, do you think anyone will rest easy while I live? Even if you trapped me in a tower like I had you, they’d fear. Even with magical dampeners and if you gave me a lobotomy, they would fear me. Fear of me led to me conquering the nation. Fear allowed me to conquer when all it would have taken to stop me was a proper uprising, or your neighbors responding to your requests for aid. Instead, they allowed me to conquer, gave me time to create the imperial aegis, then gave me gifts to try to placate me.”
Evelyn paused for several moments, then spoke calmly, looking at Vania. “The only way you’ll be able to quell those who would overthrow you is if I’m dead. Those who fear that you had the ability to do it, those who will stop at nothing for my death, or even those who will worship you as a savior. Besides, you hated me on first sight. You told me as much.”
Vania opened her mouth, then shut it before speaking, bile rising in her throat. She couldn’t say what she wanted to, and there was something… she paused, looking at Evelyn more closely, then took a step to the side, keeping as quiet as she could. The woman’s gaze didn’t track her, which confirmed Vania’s suspicions. It was terrifying, how Evelyn acted as if she could see everything, even when she was blind.
“How would I even manage to take the country back? I don’t have an army,” Vania said at last, wondering what she should do. As she spoke, she noticed Evelyn’s eyes shift toward her again.
“Simple. I sent Fya to remove the guards from the military prison and to reprogram the robots. They should have realized that they are free at this point and found the handful of transports out front that have weapons, armor, and the other supplies they need for an insurrection,” Evelyn said dismissively. “Coupled with me locking down all military equipment until you unlock it with those keys, and they should be more than enough to turn things around. Particularly if you have my body available. Now, make your decision, princess. I’m having trouble tracking you, and I can tell that you know that I’m dying.”
Vania didn’t reply for a moment, then she slowly reached down to pick up the pistol. The grip was elegant, almost perfectly fitting her hand, and she could see the runes carved into it, adding enchantments to the energy bolts it could fire. Vania wondered just how many people had died on the other end of it.
“How? You seemed unstoppable when you came for me,” Vania asked at last, her voice soft, even as she felt a shocking sense of… regret? Pity? Something like that, at least.
Evelyn snorted softly, her voice calm as could be. “Hardly that. I’m gifted, with powerful magic, a powerful body, and an instinct for battle, but hardly invincible. Remember, the same prophecy that claimed I’d conquer said that some child from a farm would be my undoing. I faced a room full of over a hundred and fifty people in combat, five of them dragons. Of course I was badly injured. I could have healed afterward, of course, but I decided otherwise.”
“You know… you were raised on a farm. Could the prophecy have been talking about you there as well?” Vania asked, her eyebrows rising.
“Possibly. Prophecies are unreliable, opaque things,” Evelyn said, pausing for a moment, then sighed. “I apologize, princess. I should have just left to begin with, this was all a mistake.”
Heat welled up in Vania’s eyes as she hesitated… then she raised the pistol, taking careful aim as she blinked back the unexpected tears in her eyes.
“You’re right.” Vania agreed.
Then she pulled the trigger and couldn’t hold back the tears anymore.