For your reading pleasure, here’s an excerpt from the first chapter of my next book, The Elves of Andromeda (Imperium Chronicles, Book 5):
On the planet Aldorus, but miles from the capital of Regalis, the Dharmesh Monastery rose from the peaks of the Palatine Mountains like a granite ghost. Lit with torches, the otherwise darkened hallways hosted the sounds of young acolytes practicing their psionic mind powers and the monks admonishing them to do better. Down one of these corridors, away from the rest, a heavy door barred the entrance to the Abbot’s study. Inside, the elderly Dahl was perched behind a desk like a bird nesting in a clutter of tomes, tablets, and loose papers.
Dressed in the amber robes of his order, the Abbot stared at a book of Dahlvish history while wisps of his gray hair dangled around his pointed ears. He was so enthralled with what he was reading, the Abbot failed to notice the shimmering blue image of a female Dahl hanging in the air in front of him.
“Ahem,” the apparition said, clearing her throat.
The Abbot glanced up and felt his heart skip a beat.
“Blynora!” he exclaimed.
“That’s Elder Blynora,” she corrected him.
“My apologies, Elder,” the Abbot replied. “I wasn’t expecting a psionic projection this morning…”
The ghostly image of the Elder, projected by Blynora’s mind all the way from the Dahlvish home world, wore pale robes of white to match her long, silver hair. An intricate headpiece, made of platinum with a sapphire at the center, adorned her forehead.
“One wonders if you’ve lived too long among the humans,” she remarked acerbically.
“I keep my distance as much as possible,” the Abbot assured her.
“Yet, you have a continuing mentorship with one of them. What was her name?”
“Miss Doric,” the Abbot said. “Jessica Doric.”
“As a matter of fact,” the elderly monk went on, “Miss Doric has shown a true appreciation of our culture. I see no harm in fostering her enlightenment.”
“Is that why you have failed to retrieve the artifact in their possession?” Blynora asked.
“I assume you’re referring to the beacon?” the Abbot replied. “Although they call it the Singing Lantern as I recall…”
“It is a powerful relic of our people’s past. Far too powerful to remain in the hands of humans.”
“There’s not much they can do with it,” the Abbot said, “and they’ve taken safeguards to prevent anyone with psionic powers from using it either.”
The shimmering image flickered with irritation.
“Regardless,” Blynora said, “it should be studied by our scholars, not sitting in a rich human’s display case. To that end, Prenwyn University has once again requested access to the artifact.”
With some embarrassment on his face, the Abbot hesitated.
“As you say,” he replied, “Lord Maycare has been reluctant to part with it…”
“If this human woman is indeed your protégé,” Brynora said, “perhaps she could use her influence with Lord Maycare. She is, after all, his paramour.”
The Abbot nearly swallowed his tongue.
“No, no,” he replied, coughing. “Their relationship is purely platonic.”
“Really? With Maycare’s reputation as a playboy? I just assumed…”
“Miss Doric leads the Maycare Institute of Xeno Studies,” the Abbot said. “She’s a consummate professional.”
“I see,” Blymore replied. “Well, perhaps she can appeal to Lord Maycare by some means?”
The Abbot nodded. “I’ll see what I can do.”
Without saying goodbye, the projection faded, leaving the Abbot again alone in his study.
“Bother,” the old Dahl said with a sigh. “I’m sure this will end well…”
The private library on the Maycare estate was a long room full of shelves with tables in the center and a fireplace on either end. Jessica Doric sat at one of the tables, poring over a tome of Dahlvish love sonnets.
She brushed away the dishwater blond hair hanging in front of her pale brown eyes, careful not to spill a cup of tea perched precariously on a stack of other books. These were more consistent with her role at the Institute of Xeno Studies, including publications about history and lore, and anything that might mention the whereabouts of ancient artifacts.
Although the Maycare library was extensive, Doric had often wished she had more access to the Pool of Memory at the Dharmesh Monastery. The pool was a liquid computer containing the sum total of all Dahlvish knowledge, but only the Dahl were permitted its use except in the rarest of cases. Even her mentor the Abbot had refused all but the occasional visit.
Beside the teacup, a datapad began buzzing with the photo of the Abbot on the screen. Doric quickly closed the poetry book and slipped it between the other tomes before answering the call.
Touching the screen, the Abbot’s real face smiled back at her.
“Hello,” Doric said.
“Miss Doric,” the Abbot replied warmly. “So good to see you. I thought about projecting myself psionically, but you humans react so adversely as if you’ve seen a ghost!”
“I supposed that’s true,” Doric admitted, “although I don’t believe in ghosts.”
“Well, wait until you meet one!”
Doric wasn’t sure if the Abbot was being serious or not, so she merely nodded.
“What can I do for you?” she asked.
“Funny you should ask,” the Abbot replied. “I need a favor…”
“Of course. Whatever you need.”
“It’s about the Singing Lantern,” the old monk said, “apparently Prenwyn University on my home planet wanted to study it.”
“Oh,” Doric replied, flushing red. “I don’t know if that’s possible…”
The Abbot waved his hand. “Yes, yes, I realize Lord Maycare keeps a tight grip on his trophies, but I was hoping you might have a word with him.”
“I’ve tried,” Doric said, “but you know how he can be.”
“Quite right, but–” the Abbot said before hesitating, “you see, Elder Blynora herself made the request.”
“The head of the Elder Council?” Doric replied, suddenly aware her mouth was hanging open. “What an honor!”
“If you say so,” the Abbot said, “although I’ve always found her unduly demanding…”
“But why now? We’ve had the artifact for over five years.”
“I really couldn’t say,” the Abbot replied, “but Elder Blynora made clear she would feel more comfortable with it in Dahlvish hands.”
“I’m sorry, Abbot,” Doric said, “I don’t think Lord Maycare will change his mind.”
The monk’s expression became thoughtful.
“You know, Miss Doric,” he said, “if you were to accompany the artifact on the journey to Gwlad Ard’un, it’s possible you could take part in the study.”
Doric’s eyes widened. “Really?”
“After all,” the Abbot continued, “it would be a great opportunity to see my home planet.”
Doric felt her pulse quicken.
“I’ve never been there,” she said.
“But it’s a shame that someone with such a short attention span as Lord Maycare can’t be persuaded to part with his toy, even though he’s surrounded by newer trinkets I’m sure…”
“I’ll talk to him,” Doric said, straightening in her chair. “Maybe he can see reason.”
“Maybe he can!” the Abbot replied. “I have every confidence in you!”
Saying goodbye, Doric ended the call, the screen on the datapad going dark. Breathing heavily, she felt the surge of excitement flowing through her petite frame. Then, with a thump in her heart, Doric realized she had no idea how she would convince Maycare to give her the artifact, let alone take it all the way to Gwlad Ard’un.
“Shit,” she said.
Henry Riff’s apartment was poorly lit, the drapes drawn across the single window, but this made the television screen brighter as a result. Henry’s goldfish, Finneus Finnegan, watched the TV from his bowl without comprehending what the words on the screen meant:
ENJOY MIASMA MIST!
THE NEWEST PURPLE FLAVOR OF SPASTIC COLA!
ANOTHER FINE PRODUCT FROM MOFOCO!
From the television, the goldfish’s bulging eyes meandered to the floor where fast food wrappers and other debris cluttered the carpet. One item, a soda bottle, lay empty except for a few drops of purple cola.
The door to the bathroom opened and Henry emerged, his face even paler than usual. Holding his stomach with one hand, he steadied himself against the door frame with the other. His hair was uncombed, and his rumpled clothing gave him the appearance of someone younger, living in a college dorm or perhaps under a bridge.
Henry dragged himself over to the couch, collapsing onto the cushions while Finneus looked on.
Henry moaned when he felt something vibrating beneath him. Thinking he needed to rush to the bathroom again, he stood up only to realize it was a call on his datapad. Henry lifted one of the cushions and retrieved the pad underneath, swiping the screen to reveal Jessica Doric’s face staring disapprovingly back at him.
“Henry?” she said.
“Yes?” Henry replied weakly.
“Have you been drinking Spastic Cola again?”
“I had a coupon…” he said.
Doric rolled her eyes. “I need you at the Maycare estate.”
“Are you busy?” she asked.
Henry glanced at the various things he should be cleaning up in his apartment.
“No,” he said.
An hour later, he arrived in the West End, the exclusive district of Regalis where most of the nobles lived and much of the Imperial government was located. The Maycare estate in particular was built like a castle with turrets and stone walls. Henry let himself in and found his employer and former professor, Jessica Doric, in her office.
Henry had managed to comb his hair somewhat and exchanged one set of shabby clothing for another, slightly less shabby set. Doric didn’t seem to notice.
“We have a problem,” she said.
“Oh?” Henry replied.
“The Abbot called me–“
“How is he doing?” Henry asked.
“The Abbot called me,” Doric went on, “and he really wants us to hand over the Singing Lantern.”
“But Lord Maycare doesn’t want to do that…”
“I’m aware of that, Henry,” Doric replied. “Any ideas?”
Henry scratched behind his ear. “I dunno.”
“The Abbot said Prenwyn University wants to study the relic on Gwlad Ard’un,” she said, “and I could bring it there myself.”
“Wow,” Henry remarked.
“I could probably bring you too,” Doric added.
“Yes, so it’s a real opportunity for both of us.”
“Okay,” Henry replied, and then after a pause, “Maybe we could appeal to Maycare’s selfless nature?”
Hearing his words hanging in the air, Henry and Doric both snickered.
“Well,” Henry corrected himself, “we’ll think of something…”
Down the hallways of the Maycare estate, artifacts of Lord Devlin Maycare’s journeys were on display in all their glory. Maycare had always contended that he was saving these relics from falling into the hands of Warlock Industries or other nefarious entities. Ostensibly, that was the reason he founded his Institute of Xeno Studies and hired Jessica Doric to run it. Doric was thankful for the job, especially since she had just been laid off from Regalis University at the time, but she remained skeptical of Maycare’s true intentions. He was an egotist, and Doric secretly suspected her employer was more interested in adding more trophies to the many he had already won during various sporting events.
In fact, it was in his trophy room where Doric, with Henry in tow, found Lord Maycare, his deep, masculine voice emanating from inside while they remained still in the corridor. Beside Henry stood a display case labeled The Singing Lantern, the glass surrounded by a shimmering force field. Behind the glass, the relic’s concentric disks of crystal, roughly in the shape of a lantern, had a dull luster, but Doric knew psionics would make it glow. It was, in fact, a powerful artifact in the wrong hands, and Doric had insisted that Maycare install the force field to keep it safe and prevent anyone from accessing its powers.
Maycare’s voice drifted into the hallway. “Maybe over there…”
“I don’t think it will fit,” the voice of Benson, Maycare’s butlerbot, replied.
Doric motioned for Henry to follow as she went inside where trophies, both big and small, were crammed on shelves reaching from floor to ceiling. Benson was holding a particularly large cup forged from silver and engraved with names, presumably one of them being Lord Devlin Maycare.
“I bet that would hold a lot of cereal,” Henry remarked.
Maycare turned around. “What?”
“Nothing…” Henry muttered.
In his late forties, Maycare was a tall, muscular man with broad shoulders and warm, brown eyes. His tailored shirt was perfectly starched and his family’s crest, a white stallion, was embroidered with golden thread just above his heart.
“Are you busy, Lord Maycare?” Doric asked.
“Jess!” he replied with a jolt of energy. “Help me find a place for this, would you? Benson is no help at all!”
The robot focused his eyes on the ceiling as if he would rather be somewhere else. He offered the heavy cup to Doric who waved it off.
“No, thanks,” she said.
“Come on, Jess,” Maycare pleaded. “I’ve run out of room!”
“What’s this one for anyway?” she asked.
“Yacht racing, I think,” Maycare said, casting an eye at Benson who nodded. “I was victorious… apparently.”
Doric surveyed the collection of shiny objects on the shelves. “Why do you need all of these?”
“What do you mean?” Maycare asked.
“At some point,” she went on, “don’t you have enough?”
Maycare took a moment to digest the question before laughing. “No, of course not!”
Doric’s shoulders slumped.
“How silly of me,” she said.
“I see your point though,” Maycare admitted. “Why should I keep winning if I’ve nowhere to put the evidence?”
“That’s not exactly what I–“
“Unless there’s a trophy for most trophies…” Maycare said, again his eyes falling on Benson who, this time, shook his mechanical head.
From behind Doric, his voice tiny in comparison to Maycare’s, Henry spoke up, “Maybe if you took out this wall?”
“What’s that?” Maycare asked.
Doric stepped out of the way while Henry did his best to seem bigger.
“If you took down this wall,” he said meekly, “you could extend the room into the hallway.”
Everyone, including the butlerbot, stared at him.
“That’s brilliant!” Maycare shouted at last. “Why didn’t you think of that, Benson?”
The robot shrugged.
“But what about whatever’s in the hallway now?” Maycare asked.
“The Singing Lantern is just outside the door,” Henry said.
“Actually,” Doric said, “they’ve been asking to study the lantern on Gwlad Ard’un and wondered if they could borrow it for a while.”
Maycare rubbed his expansive chin. “I don’t know, Jess…”
“If it’s under my supervision,” she replied, “I’m sure it’ll be alright.”
“Think of all the extra space you’ll have with that bulky display case out of the way,” Henry said. “You could fit another ten trophies for sure.”
“Hmmm,” Maycare murmured. “I hadn’t considered that…”
Benson set the cup on the floor with a clunk. “Just say yes.”
“Alright!” Maycare replied, turning to Doric. “But I expect you to take good care of it, Jess.”
“I will!” she said, her eyes brightening. “You won’t even miss it.”
“That reminds me,” Maycare said, addressing Benson. “Enter me in another ten races next week. I’ve got more trophies to win!”
Copyright © 2021 W. H. Mitchell