For Tenna, Katerina, Esther, and Helena, their world is only the Northern Monarchy, Nicosia, and the Protectorate. Tenna, a street child in the capital city of Merigold, survives by stealing and begging; Katerina, the eldest of the Royal Family, rejects her heritage and tries to fight back against organized crime; Esther and Helena try to make the best of their life in the orphanage they call home in the desert of Nicosia. They each begrudgingly play their roles, trying to make a difference in the world. But when a man from beyond their world mysteriously arrives, they find themselves thrown into a chaos that threatens the very fabric of their reality…
Here is an excerpt from The Chaos of Life:
“Why did this happen, Esther?” Helena asked shakily, the droning from the engine of the slave transport adding an annoying buzz that made it difficult for Esther to hear.
“I don’t know, Helena. We were just an inviting target, I suppose,” Esther replied, her soul drained. If it weren’t for Helena and the other children, Esther would have tried to escape – or tried to kill herself.
“Why us? What did we do? Are the Seven angry with us?” Helena was barely above mumbling, her pain was so intense. Sister Zuzanne said it was a miracle she even awoke. It had been an arduous journey so far, with Sister Zuzanne and Esther doing everything they could for Helena. Then the slavers took Sister Zuzanne away – fulfilling the boss’ promise that she would be sent to the Protectorate. The anguished screams of the children and Helena’s sobs did nothing to soften the slavers; they simply fired their rifles to calm them down. Sister Zuzanne had simply smiled at Esther and embraced her with a firm hug. Then she had whispered into Esther’s ear, “Never lose your faith, Esther. It has been tested in so many ways over the past few days. Do not allow that evil man to take it from you.”
Esther could not bear to tell Sister Zuzanne the truth: she had already given up on the Seven. Her faith died the moment that man plunged the knife into Helena’s eyes. In its place was a raging hatred, a hatred that rivaled the power of the Ebony Crystal. Esther vowed that she would get her vengeance, as soon as she could guarantee the safety of the other children; that was now her key purpose in life. The Seven had taken everything from her – now she would take everything from the Seven.
“Esther? Are you still there?” Helena asked. Esther drifted away from her thoughts and back to Helena. She squeezed Helena’s hand.
“Yes, I’m here. I’m here, Helena.”
“What’s going to happen to you, Esther? I heard some of the men talking; they say that you’re going to be with the boss tonight.”
Esther did not want to give Helena more to worry about, so she tried to bluff her way through what she knew was going to happen. “Because Sister Zuzanne is gone, I’m responsible for everyone. The slaver’s boss expect me to provide reports on everyone’s health and status.” Esther surprised herself in how cold and robotic she sounded. She hoped her tone of voice would mask her bluff.
“Please, Esther. Tell me the truth. I have to know,” Helena said. Even though Esther knew she couldn’t see her head, Esther shook it all the same.
“No. It’s better that you don’t.”
“He’s not going to hurt you, is he? Esther, please!”
Esther had hardened her heart, but she felt a lump in her throat as she had to commit this one sin to protect everyone. “Helena, calm down. There’s nothing you can do about it. It’s out of your hands. You have to let go of me – for your sake and the sake of the others. I am already dead. I died with Father Petrov. Esther is no longer here.”
Helena sniffled and gripped Esther’s hand tighter. “No, Esther! You’re still here! With us!”
“Helena! That’s enough. I know it’s hard, but you have to let go. You’re all that’s left for the children. I can help you and them no longer. This last act is all I can do to protect you. Just let it be.”
Helena sighed and rubbed her face. “Run, Esther. You don’t need to sacrifice yourself for us. You can get away.”
Esther scoffed. “To where? There’s nothing but desert out here. I would die from the heat before I made fifty paces.”
“Better to die in the graces of the Seven than to live as a slave.”
“And if I die, you will all die as well; I won’t make that decision for you. You still have a chance.”
Helena sobbed slightly, letting go of Esther’s hand. Esther looked off in the distance and noticed the sun was setting. Soon, the boss would drag her away, just as he said he would. One of the slavers signaled to stop the convoy and prepare to settle in for the night. And if I get the opportunity, I will kill him in any way possible.
The driver killed the engine on the transport, bringing the convoy to a stop. Slavers rapidly grabbed equipment off of the transports, setting up tents and living quarters. One of the slavers started coming for Esther. So it begins. The end of my mortal form.
“It’s time. Goodbye, Helena. Look after Johnny for me, please,” Esther said, preparing to get off the back of the transport. Helena did not acknowledge Esther beyond a stifled sob.
The slaver came up to Esther and pointed to her. “You, girl – the one they call Esther. The boss wants to see you.” Esther nodded and steadied herself as she jumped down. The slaver motioned for her to stick her arms out, which took her by surprise.
“Boss says you might try somethin’. Wants to make sure you’ll not give him any problems. Sorry miss, but I gotta bind you.” The slaver wrapped a small piece of rope around Esther’s wrists, tightening them and leaving a small end to lead her with. He checked it one last time to make sure it was tight, then started to walk away.
A scream permeated the air and Helena jumped out of the transport, crashing into the slaver and knocking him over. Esther was jarred to the side and looked back with surprise as Helena started hitting the man.
“Run, Esther! Run!” Helena shouted, just as the man gave Helena a solid punch to the face, knocking her out. Without thinking, Esther started running off into the desert, trying to use what light remained to navigate her way.
“Hey! Stop!” The slaver shouted, his gear clattering as he tried to run down Esther. Esther scaled a dune, then looked for a good way down. The clattering got louder, so Esther took a leap and rolled partway down the dune. The slaver stayed on his feet and quickly descended the dune, giving him a huge gain over Esther. Esther was running as fast as she could, but her bound hands restricted her motion. Then the end of the rope caught under her feet and the force jerked her arms down, sending her tumbling. The slaver caught up to her and held her down, rolling her to see his face.
“I told you to stop! What is wrong with you, girl?!” The slaver looked around for a moment and tried to catch his breath. He noticed that no one from the convoy could see him.
“Well, how’s about that. Maybe the boss won’t mind me taking first dibs. You a pretty girl, y’know that?”
Esther gasped. “No. No!” She whined, trying to squirm to get away, but the slaver held his weight on her.
“Oh c’mon. You’ll like it. All gi-” The slaver’s voice was cut off with a nasty liquid sound. Esther frowned as she looked at his frozen form, then she felt blood on her lap. The sound of bone cracking permeated the desert air; then his body started rising, his voice gagging, his breath choking, and his arms flailing toward his chest. It looked like something invisible was lifting him up, but Esther could not fathom as to what.
A strange whirring sound filled the air, and a figure appeared behind the slaver. It looked human, with its left arm held at the side and its right arm behind the slaver.
“Wh-wha-what’s… Happ.. En… Ing…” The slaver mumbled, causing the figure behind him to speak.
“Your death. Now. In this desert. By my hand. Insect.” The voice was masculine, but inhibited by something – it sounded alien to Esther; almost inhuman. The figure moved its right arm around to come face to face with the slaver.
“What-” Was all the slaver managed to blurt out before the figure shoved its left hand into the slaver’s face and another strange sound echoed over the air. To Esther, it sounded like a knife moving at an impossible speed. She focused and she could see what looked like a human hand in the back of the slaver – a human hand that had grabbed his spine and broken part of the vertebrae away from the rest of his back. The figure discarded the lifeless body of the slaver, his gear making a clattering thunk as he hit the sand. Esther looked at the figure standing before her and was somewhat surprised to see a smaller man than she had imagined.
The man looked at his right hand and opened and closed his fist. In doing so, Esther thought she heard another strange sound emitting from it; the man then opened it up and held it out to Esther.
“Can I help you, miss?” The man said, this time in almost perfect, high-class dialect, the kind Esther’s father used to speak in. She was dumbfounded, and his features difficult to discern with his back toward the sun. Not even thinking, Esther reached out with her hands and took his offer. His hand felt strange, almost metallic mixed with the hide of a horse. She carefully stepped around to get a better look at him and finally, in the light, she could make out his features.
He wore a strange cap with a bill over his face, a strange emblem above the bill, and his eyes were shrouded in some kind of tinted glasses. His right temple had a central hub of some kind, with what looked like dark vessels radiating out under his skin. His arms were the strangest features, appearing an alternating black-gray, with yellow vessels moving between them. Several holes in them made it appear as if they were mechanical in nature – in a way that Esther had never seen before. She looked over his face – what little she could see of it – and he seemed to be in his third decade, maybe his fourth. She allowed herself the possible belief that he might be in his second decade. A strange rifle was slung over his shoulder and a pistol hung on his right hip. The rest of his torso was covered in accessories that she assumed were for the pistol and rifle. His legs seemed to be the most normal part of him, with a light tan pair of pants covering them, though having various pockets on their sides. His feet had a pair of shoes that seemed to be an odd lace-up type.
After a seemingly eternity, the man once again spoke. “I’m sorry, I must have missed your reply. Are you OK, miss?” His polite tone caused Esther to speak up.
“I… I… Yes… I’m OK. Can you cut these bonds?” Esther asked.
“Not a problem.” The man pulled a knife from his pocket and flipped it open, then in one solid move, cut the rope. Esther felt blood flowing back into her hands, then remembered that the others were still with the slavers.
“Helena!” Esther shouted, running back the way she had come. The man followed Esther, the strange whirring coming from his arms as he moved.
“Pardon me, miss, but what’s going on?” The man asked. Esther did not bother to reply; she was focused on scaling the dune. She crested it and looked back at the slaver convoy, seeing Helena being interrogated by the boss. The man came up behind her and looked at the convoy.
“I count 12 armed troops. Low grade armor. Primitive weapons. No biological or mechanical enhancements. One of them seems to be the leader,” the man remarked.
Esther looked at him, amazed he could make that out from the distance. As if hearing her thoughts, the man looked at her, then pointed a finger at his eyes.
“Bio-mechanical enhancements. At least, I think that’s what they are.” The man took off his strange glasses, causing Esther to jump back at what she saw: his right eye was a glowing yellow, while his left eye was as close to the lens of a camera, she thought. She would have thought it lifeless if not for the fact that it seemed to look and focus as if it were a normal eye.
“Oh, apologies. I try not to do that,” the man said, slipping his glasses back on.
“Save them!” Esther shouted, her sense of urgency overriding her curiosity. The man looked out and nodded.
“Wait here. This won’t take long.” The man stepped forward and then a sharp screech echoed in Esther’s ears. In a flash of light, he seemed to disappear and Esther wondered what had just happened. Then, merely an instance later, she saw a flash of light in the distance, near the convoy. Throwing caution into the wind, Esther made a full bore run back toward the convoy when she heard gunfire. She got close enough to see the remaining part of the battle clear enough and it was a sight of awe for her.
The slavers fired aimlessly into the desert, trying to hit this new threat that seemed to be able to engage and disengage at will. One slaver tried to take cover behind a vehicle, only for the man to emerge out of thin air and tear the slaver’s throat out, seemingly with no effort. Another slaver fired at where he had been, then found himself face to face with the man, suddenly lifted up into the air by something concealed in the figure’s palms. His lifeless body was dropped to the sand as the man once again seemed to vanish into thin air.
“To hell with this! I’m outta here!” One of the slavers shouted and took off running. Helena’s mysterious benefactor then displayed a new ability: he grabbed a fuel drum from one of the vehicles and sent it flying toward the fleeing slaver – without touching it. The drum flew forward with incredible force and crushed the slaver with a massive blow.
All over, the slavers were falling, one by one, until there were only two left – the boss and one subordinate.
“What do we do? What do we do?” The panicked subordinate frantically mumbled, fear paralyzing all of his thoughts. The slaver boss did not acknowledge him, simply looking around, trying to find their hidden tormentor. Then a rifle shot broke out and the subordinate fell dead. Esther decided it was safe enough and started running back, toward Helena, when she heard a voice in the distance. She recognized it as the strange man again.
“I can kill just by thought, you worthless sub-human scum. I lack the vocabulary to truly express my hatred for you. But right now, I would prefer to put a bullet in your head. A cheap lobotomy operation.” Esther tried to look around and see where the man was at, but she couldn’t find him. She kept running back, not caring about anything but Helena. She found her, sitting up next to the wheel of one of the transports.
Unfortunately, the slaver boss saw Esther and pointed his rifle at her. “Hey! You! Stop!”
Esther ignored him and skidded across the sand to stop next to Helena. Esther checked Helena’s breathing, and let out a sigh of relief when she found she was still alive.
“If you don’t show yourself, I’ll kill them!” The slaver boss shouted, his rifle pointed directly at Esther. Esther gave the boss a cold stare, brimming with all the hatred from before. Then her view was blocked by a brief flash of light and then the man standing between her and the boss.
“Who are you?!” The boss shouted.
“The end of your pathetic existence, insect,” the man responded.
In a panic, the boss fired off a round, but some field around the man deflected the round into the sand.
“My turn.” The man drew his pistol and shot the boss in the knee. He screamed and dropped his rifle, grasping his knee. The man walked up and grabbed the boss by his throat, lifting him up in the air. The sound emanating from the man’s arms seemed to grow louder as he lifted the boss higher in the air. Then the man walked over to Helena and pointed a finger at her.
“Do you see this? Do you see what you have done? An unspeakable act, by an unspeakable animal. No, I take that back; that is an insult to animals.”
“Screw… You!” The boss spat out.
“I have the perfect fate for you, insect.” The man slammed the boss against the transport, dazing him with the blow. Then the man let go and the boss slumped to the ground, next to Helena.
“Let us see how you react to the pain,” the man mumbled, grabbing the boss by his throat again. Esther thought she knew was about to happen and reached out to stop the man.
“No. Don’t. There’s been enough torment for one day,” Esther said, fighting back her desire for revenge.
“Not for him, there hasn’t,” the man tersely replied, but instead of drawing out his knife, he reached down and gently caressed Helena’s hand. Helena seemed to relax, almost as if she was experiencing a drug high; the boss was not so lucky.
The boss started groaning, then screaming. Esther stared at his face and watched his eyes turn bloodshot, then start to bleed. He flailed his arms and grabbed at his eyes, his screams piercing the desert air. Esther knew she shouldn’t be staring, but she didn’t care. She felt vengeance in her heart, seeing her tormentor tortured in the same fashion as he had tormented her.
“Do you feel it now?! Do you see?!” The man shouted at the boss. The boss only returned incoherent screaming.
“What’s that?! You can dish it out, but you can’t take it?!” The man seemed to be applying righteous fury directly to the boss.
“No! There’s no escape for you! You chose this path! Now you shall reap what you have sown!” Blood was now pouring from the boss’ eyes, more than Esther ever thought possible could come from the human body. Then finally, the screaming stopped, and his body lay lifeless. The man let go of both the boss and Helena, then he looked at the boss.
“Pathetic. This girl endured far more than you gave her, yet you lost it at a fraction of her pain.” The man stood up and looked off in the distance. Stars were just becoming visible in the sky and he seemed to pick one at random. He looked back at the boss’ body, then to Esther.
“Excuse me for a moment, ma’am. I must do something.” The man grabbed the boss’ body, then disappeared again in a flash of light – taking the body with him. No more than a few second later, he reappeared, this time with a pop sound. Esther looked at him in awe.
“Are you one of the Seven?” Helena asked. Esther looked at her and smiled, then sobbed with tears of joy.
The man seemed to frown, then addressed Helena. “That’s odd. I know your name, Helena. Yet for the life of me, I cannot remember my own. No, I am not one of these ‘Seven.’ Seven what?”
Esther frowned and looked at the man, trying to figure out what exactly he was.
“Who is Kate?” Helena asked, causing the man to gasp.
“How do you know Kate? Did she talk to you? What did she say?” The man squatted down, trying to see into Helena’s eyes, seemingly unaware that she had none.
“I heard her. She said she was looking for you. She said it was time to come home.”
The man shook his head. “Impossible.”
Esther gave the man a look of confusion. “’Impossible’? You are the definition of impossible. I watched you appear, then disappear, travel without moving, moved things without touching them, deflected a bullet, and killed twelve men with your bare hands! “
“No, that’s all easily explained. Gene mods allow me to displace myself in space-time, altering my…” The man realized that his explanation was going over Esther’s head.
“Esther? Did he really do that? Maybe he is one of the Seven,” Helena said.
Esther looked at the man and shook her head. “No. He’s not one of the Seven. He’s our savior. And he doesn’t know who he is.”