Today I’m sharing the first chapter of THE QUEEN OF THE NIGHT. I don’t have an official release date for this book yet, but it will be soon. I hope you enjoy!
***Note: This is a new first chapter for those who’ve read the additional material at the end of THE RAIDER’S CURSE.
Alturis 1285; Nienna’s third year as a student at Alturis University
Stars glittered like diamond dust between the double milky band that dissected the firmament. Nienna’s third-year cartography class held session on a small island’s rocky shore in the middle of Lake Alta. They were learning to use the stars to create their latest map.
She’d rarely stayed up so late; however, the view of the celestial brilliance above was worth it. The night was deep enough that most of the noise and bustle from the city had gone to bed. Crickets and frogs sang their chorus to the hum of a thousand waterfalls.
Nienna’s professor, Serian Kettle, stood in the center of her students, waiting. A three-foot wide plant in a pot rested next to the striking woman. When Nienna asked about it, the professor only gave her a wink.
“Quickly, class. Finish your assignments and turn them in. We’re entering the deepest part of the night, and I promise you won’t want to miss this.” The bangles on Kettle’s arms jangled as she adjusted her purple teaching robes.
A frantic Annalynn scrawled on her parchment, handing in her assignment just as the professor gave the last call. When her friend found a blanket and settled in next to Nienna, she opened her mouth, likely to share more gossip.
“Ready, class?” Professor Kettle asked.
“So Uriah said—” Annalynn began, but Nienna held up a hand to stall her friend.
“Tell me once we’re on the ferry. I want to pay attention.”
There was no moon tonight, though Nienna swore her professor smirked as her eyes landed on the pair. The teachers and students only knew Nienna as Nina Rostock, a wealthy merchant’s daughter. However, Kettle often gave her the impression of knowing more than she let on.
“Good. Now, who remembers the coordinates for the Four Pillars? You should have marked that on your map.”
“Which Pillar?” a student asked.
“Nice catch,” the professor said. Her smile had grown. “The North Star.”
“It’s 90.274 degrees north by 79.121 degrees west,” he recited.
“Correct,” Kettle said. “Who can tell me why we call this star and its companions the Four Pillars?”
Nienna spoke up. “Because they’re the only stars that remain in their positions all night. They create the foundational compass used in mapmaking.”
“You’ve been doing your homework, Nina. Yes, the Four Pillars never waver in their positions in the night sky. If one star did this, it wouldn’t seem so odd. But to have four stars remain stationary strains credibility. And yet here they are. Who knows the story behind these stars?”
Nienna had never read about it, and apparently, neither had anyone else.
Kettle pursed her lips. “Our folklore is withering away because of superstition. The taboo topic can land you a night in the bricks. For this reason, we’re here on this island tonight.”
Several hushed whispers broke out. Professor Kettle waited until they’d died down before continuing.
“As of this moment, our class has officially ended. You must zealously guard the information I’m about to share. We must keep this knowledge alive, although not at the expense of your career or your life.”
Nienna’s full attention was on Professor Kettle now. If their class was officially over, this could only be one thing. No wonder the older students were mum when she asked why this class was special.
“The most ancient and consistent accounts state these stars represent the four Guardians who created this world.”
Few topics interested Nienna like the Guardians. Though none were more dangerous. After the collapse of the Comstock empire, no one could openly speak of them except to curse their names. After centuries of this, knowledge of them withered, making it hard to discern between fact, fiction, and outright lies.
“Aros, the North Star,” Kettle was saying, “created the sky, wind, and weather. Serene, the West Star, ripples her light like the water she formed. Fiora, the South Star, has a reddish hue like the fire that keeps us warm at night. Then there’s Tellen, the East Star.”
Hissing and quick curse words accompanied this name. A few students took three fingers and dragged them crosswise to ward off evil. Owen, her elder brother, had given her many sleepless nights with tales of this Guardian beneath blanket forts as children.
“Tellen is perhaps the most notorious of the Guardians, despite giving us the soil, plants, and animals,” Professor Kettle said.
Nienna shuddered as Kettle said the name of the Earth Guardian again. He was the reason the Comstock empire collapsed a thousand years ago, nearly taking the Tellidine kingdom with it. Tellen’s name was synonymous with black magic.
“Oh, class, look!” Kettle exclaimed.
Everyone craned their necks to see what the professor was pointing at. “It’s the Queen of the Night. Her constellation just appeared in the northeast quadrant of the Pillars.”
“The what?” Annalynn asked.
“Surely you’ve heard of the most infamous thief Tellidus has ever known,” Kettle said.
“Why was she so infamous?” a boy asked.
“According to legend, the Queen of the Night robbed Tellidus of half its wealth while halting nearly every industry, from logging to masonry to farming. She was also a favored servant of the Earth Guardian.”
Nienna knew this. Every history book her tutors gave her said as much. The Comstocks instilled a hatred of the thief in every generation.
“They never caught the woman until our king and founder, Saul Comstock, took up the hunt. He beheaded her for her crimes. Or so stories say.” Kettle gave them a sly grin. “I believe the thief still walks among us.”
Nienna stared at the professor. Then something strange happened. A dozen blooms on the potted plant opened on the dark green foliage, shimmering with white light. The petals unfurled, casting their brilliant glow on the professor.
“When the Queen of the Night appears in the heavens, always between Aros and Tellen, this plant opens its blossoms,” Professor Kettle said. “It’s called the Queen of the Night flower. It only blooms while the constellation remains in the sky. The smell is intoxicating, making it irresistible to night feeders.”
Sure enough, several bats and moths swooped in to drink the sweet nectar. Even one hungry hummingbird appeared, took its turn at a flower, then zipped away faster than before. The professor picked a shimmering blossom and brought it to her nose.
“These flowers are unique from other flora in these woods. They offer the drinker enhanced vitality, whether human or animal. While this flower can enhance your abilities, the effects wear off after a few hours. This will leave the drinker weak and ill.”
Nienna leaned forward to get a better view of the flower. They reminded her of bloodroot blossoms with their golden center.
Kettle continued. “Those who ingest the nectar repeatedly, especially within a brief time span, will find their lungs shutting down. The nectar will rob the person’s ability to breathe if not treated quickly. Just like a thief in the night.”
Those students closest to the plant scooted a safe distance away.
“The white glow of the flowers is also unique. When we dry them to harvest their bioluminescent qualities, the color turns gold. This is why they’re used in the summer solstice celebration inside the sugar globes.”
Talk of the summer solstice sparked a fresh wave of chatter among the students. Professor Kettle waited until the whispers quieted before going on.
“To return to their namesake, some stories say the thief changed into a bird, flying away before Saul could execute her. As Tellen’s tears fell, these flowers sprang out of the ground. Others say her death caused the fall of the Guardians.”
Nienna studied the glowing flowers. Pockets of white light always appeared around the gorge late at night. She’d always thought they were groups of people going for nighttime hikes. Now she realized they were these flowers.
Professor Kettle bent to inspect one of the biggest blossoms. “For all we know, the Queen of the Night is a grand story. Likely made up to explain the constellation and this magnificent flower.”
A few of the class members tittered. Most myths were just grand stories. Why should this one be any different? However, the longer Nienna stared at the potted plant, she was certain the truth existed somewhere in Professor Kettle’s story.
She brought her eyes back to the constellation circling above her. There were many unanswered questions about the Comstocks’ past.
Nienna sighed. What she wouldn’t give to know the truth.
Thank you for reading. This text is copyrighted material. No reproductions or copies may be made without the written consent of the author.