A KINGDOM FALLS
PART 1: BIRTH PANGS OF THE NATTUS ACTIO
A mere 6,500 light-years from Earth, in the constellation of Orion, midway between the stars Betelgeuse and Bellatrix, there glowed a small star called Sandyx. Around the yellowish-orange sun spun the warm and majestic, half-sized world of Adamas. Perrens comprised most of the intelligent inhabitants—one of two races of small humanoids living simple, medieval lives.
And a Regal Family dwelled in a yellow-stoned castle in the Kingdom of Metus. Their ancestors had peacefully ruled the beautiful land for five hundred years—until the current era became pregnant with a new one: the Nattus Actio—and then something very out of the ordinary happened.
PRINCESS ON THE RUN
Lysentia darted through the passageway door and plowed into the backs of two enemy guards in her bedchamber.
Spinning around, one of the Excubian Guards lurched forward and grabbed a handful of her regal-green gown. “Here’s how she produced the disappearing act. There are secret passageways in the castle walls.”
Lysentia yanked on her gown. “I am the Princess Secundus … and the second Princess of the Kingdom of Metus should not be treated in such a manner.”
The guard wrapped a burly arm around her neck and pulled back. “I’ll show you how a Princess should be treated.”
Lysentia’s tongue shot out as her airway closed. She grabbed the big perren’s arm, raised one foot, and shot it downward heel first. The guard’s manly voice morphed into a girl’s shriek. He loosened his grip, allowing Lysentia to jump back.
The second guard slapped one hand on his sheathed Ferrus Gladius sword and thrust out the other as though beckoning a pet. “Here, pretty, blue-haired Princess. Step forward.”
The Princess spun toward the passageway entrance, but the second guard dived and grabbed a handful of hem. Glancing back and discovering the first guard about to spring, she leaped to the left. The first guard missed and sprawled across the second, the weight of one knocking loose the grip of the other—and Lysentia sprang free.
Darting into the passageway, she slammed the door shut. Panting, she fastened the makeshift lock her younger brother Festinato had installed last year to fool her into thinking the door had jammed. Not funny then, it now provided her with extra time to flee.
The fifteen-year-old Princess didn’t dare wait until her eyes adjusted to the faint, bluish glow of the arderi stone lining the passageways. With her left hand trailing along the nearest wall, she dashed to the first corner, turned left, and sprinted toward the secret castle exit. The top half of her body leaned far ahead of the rest. She fell and tumbled across the rocky floor.
The Princess lay as still as a mountain pond on a windless day, breathing hard while tasting the humid mustiness of the passageway that always smelled of rotting mushrooms. She and her thirteen-year-old brother had played there all their lives, sneaking from room to room, visiting their older sister, Nobelena, and their eldest sibling, brother Secta; and the two youngest had always complained about the odor.
Now, everything had changed in an instant. The horrible smell didn’t seem to matter. On this, the last evening of her family’s rule, she remained concerned only in putting as much distance as possible between her and her pursuers.
A crashing sound echoed along the narrow corridor and Lysentia glanced back, her eyes now adjusted to the glow of the arderi stone.
That oaf-like noise can only be the Excubian Guards breaking down the passageway entrance.
The time had arrived to jump up and run again—to flee from the huge, ugly men she once ordered around as Princess Secundus. Now, the Kingdom of Metus had been gruesomely transformed into the Republic of Metus—and she only knew one thing—
I must run from them! Run like a musculus mouse from the gaping jaws of a wild lupus dog!
Lysentia pulled up her right sleeve and stared at the yellow blood oozing from her elbow.
Surely my knees are bleeding as well.
Staring at her once pretty frock, it hung all torn, smeared with her own urine.
For all the honor, tradition, history, and respect my position once commanded, I have only bruises, blood, pee, and rags to show for it.
Pushing herself up, she sped off again. Hearing a distant galloping, her mind ran also—racing with all the winds of her mixed-up, airy thoughts.
What did Nobelena mean by fortitude in her suicide note? What could have possessed my sister to write such a thing about me? I have no inner strength. And what of Nobelena’s mention of resilience? I have no ability to bounce back from bad situations. She’s wrong about me … completely wrong. I don’t care about bouncing anywhere except away from here to save myself. I’m as weak as Nobelena claimed herself to be.
Lysentia stopped at the little vault by the castle exit, threw its door open, and dug through the clothing lying within.
Nobelena reigned as the Princess Primorus, the firstborn Princess. She had the presence, the understanding, the intelligence … also the fortitude and resilience. She should be here beside me now … in the lead, guiding me, molding me into her own courageous image.
Realizing she would have no time to change, she yanked out a hat and rammed it over her pinned-up hair.
“There she is!”
Glancing down the passageway, Lysentia barely discerned a lumbering guard in the distance. She thrust a hand into the vault, grabbed a handful of clothing, and exploded through the outside entrance into the night.
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