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Authors: Charlotte McConaghy

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Arrival

BOOK: Arrival
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Charlotte McConaghy

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Charlotte McConaghy began writing
Arrival,
the first book in ‘The Strangers of Paragor’ series, when she was fourteen. She set out to write the sort of book she wanted to read—an exciting, romantic epic adventure. Charlotte needs to put pen to paper every day, or she would go a bit mad.

TABLE OF CONTENTS
Charlotte McConaghy
Prologue
Characters

For my mother

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Prologue

“There will come a time when greatness is needed. Strength, passion—goodness. For in the land of Paragor an oppressor travels closer. Six is the sacred number, and it is only by looking beyond ourselves that we will find salvation, and only through love that we will defeat the darkness that threatens to consume us forever.

“It is too easy to give in to sorrow—too easy to make a friend of pain. But sometimes this can only be learnt through those who can see us with all our beauty, and all our sorrow. Who can see us in all our splendour, and all our putrescence.”

—Words of The Great One

His job had been simple. An angelic being can make itself invisible to the eyes of mortals. It should have been easy.

But now, because of his folly, he could feel the icy wind biting at his skin as he struggled to fly. The two perfectly aimed arrows protruding from his back were doing their job too well. His wings were sticky with his silver blood and were not moving properly through the air. He winced as another arrow found its mark. A burst of strength took him out of range and up into the clouds.

Finally he made it out of the atmosphere and arrived on the landing strip of the fiery star. Normally he would have stopped to speak with the guard, but he barely had the strength to utter a word. Others were brought to his aid, but he was so adamant about his destination that they gave up trying to tend his wounds and directed him into the fortress.

He stumbled on, down countless hallways and through countless doors, until he reached the door he was looking for. The two guards at the door ruffled their wings in surprise. They could tell he was using all his strength just to stand there, but still they held out their spears in warning. This was not just any door.

“I must enter,” he said as his legs gave out. The guards knelt to check him and in doing so, he was recognised.

“You are the angel who was sent to spy, are you not?” one of them asked sharply. They lifted him up and prepared to take him in, but a loud voice called for them to halt.

The guards turned to see one of the Gods—a sight that was almost painful in its potency. It was Odin, God of War—his hair and eyes aflame as he approached them with an air of arrogance.

“Who gave this lower order angel permission to enter the sacred council?” Odin asked.

“He is the spy, my lord, and we thought that in his condition he really could do no harm ... surely the council would want to speak to him?” The guard’s voice trailed off at the ice in Odin’s stare.

“Leave him with me. You are dismissed.”

After the guards hurried off, the God dropped the angel roughly on the floor. A groan of pain escaped the angel’s lips, and then “Please ... I have ... I have a very important message...” But he was silenced as the God willed it. “Oh I’m sure you do,” Odin said softly. “But there is no proof of your intentions. How do I know you are not part of an assassination attempt?”

“There is no time for this ... I must tell them ... your existence could depend on it,” the angel spoke again, a note of frustration entering his voice.

Odin’s eyes flashed coldly. “Not my existence. But theirs, maybe,” he whispered, nodding towards the door.

Before the angel had a chance to realise the implications of Odin’s words, the door opened, blinding them both with bright golden light. Without a word, the angel was lifted effortlessly and gently off the floor and into the room, where the door closed behind him.

If he had been in any state to look around, he would have seen a beautiful room. It was circular, the walls made entirely of glass, that looked out onto an endless field of whiteness dotted with red fires—the surface of the evening-star, Elendial. A long white table ran around the room. Seated behind it were figures peering intently at him. Power of a different kind emanated from each one, and the angel could feel the overwhelming presence of them all. With his last breath he whispered, “They are coming.” At that precise moment the atoms of his body were scattered into the air, and a lower order angel who had had the power to save the one remaining true star died, leaving the Gods with the dilemma of eternity.

Part 1
The Crossing

The young woman urged her horse faster as she galloped through the hills. They were gaining on her. She could not be caught, for it would mean her life and those of her allies. She was strong, but she had no illusions as to the power of the torturers if they decided to question her.

The wind swept back her blonde hair and threatened to slow her down, but she pushed on and regained the ground lost to her pursuers. Coming to a fork in the road, she slowed. And then, remembering Altor’s words, plunged down the smaller path which would lead her into thick forest and to the dock of Lapis Matyr. Altor’s country, where she was forbidden to be.

“Are you crazy?” she had asked Altor when he had advised her which path to take.

“They won’t find you if you go that way—it’s too crowded. Once there, stay inconspicuous until sunset, and I’ll meet you on the dock. Trust me, Liessen.”

Galloping down the narrow path, branches scraped at her legs and face.

She slowed her horse to check if she had lost her attackers. A mistake, it turned out. An arrow skimmed her arm and drew blood. She gasped with pain and surprise both, then kicked her horse into a faster gallop.

Looking over her shoulder, she judged there to be about five men. She could probably manage that many, unless there was an El~ariah amongst them.

“Never fight an El~ariah,” Altor had said, “for you cannot win.”

She had not needed his warning, for even Frescanians knew to run from the El~ariah. Mere mortals could not hope to beat the forgotten army. She would just have to trust that they would not catch her.

She was a good rider. So good, in fact, that she had won the Frescana country race three years in a row and was the envy of all the young boys. She was only seventeen after all. Seventeen-year-old girls were not supposed to win the national race. They didn’t know she was an Amazonian, of course. Amazonians were banned from competition.

She did not mean to stop—she had not been planning it.

But suddenly there was a sharp slice of pain in her arm, and she looked down in alarm to see an arrow protruding from it. Reigning her horse to a sudden halt, she looked down at the wound. Clenching her teeth against the pain, she wrenched the shaft of the arrow out of her flesh and threw it angrily to the ground, ignoring the blood that oozed from her wound. Her eyes, now alight with something new, flashed to her pursuers.

It was out of her control now. Princess Liessen of Frescana, Amazonian warrior, was not going to let these pitiful men shoot her and get away with it. It was the curse of her blood—that damned pride.

Her eyes never left her foes. No one was going to put an arrow in her arm and get away with it, El~ariah or not.

The five soldiers approached warily, then after a moment, charged her. Liessen dispatched one with her sword and dodged the other four, briefly registering the shadowy figure waiting to the side of the fray.

The soldiers returned for another charge, and she reined her horse hard to the left. Liessen’s sword caught one across the chest, then swung and sliced another in the neck. Both fell to the ground.

The remaining two dismounted and Liessen did the same. She dropped her sword and undid the tie that bound her pole to the saddle.

It took little time to kill the two soldiers, for the Amazonians were, perhaps, the best trained of all warriors. She took no pleasure in it, but being who she was, Liessen was no stranger to the realities of survival.

The princess turned from the bodies to look towards the dark man, a few metres from her.

Never fight an El~ariah.

She walked forward to meet him but he didn’t move. It was not until her first blow that he reacted with a swiftness that was frightening. Suddenly he was behind her. Yet still he did not attack. Liessen spun around to throw more blows, but still he evaded them easily. Why was he toying with her?

She knew that if he wanted it, she would be dead. So why did he play with her like this, and make her feel like a fool?

“What are you doing?” she asked angrily.

He stopped and peered at her. His skin was very dark, as were his eyes. His teeth gleamed, but he didn’t reply.

“Why won’t you fight me?” she yelled.

“I only fight when ordered,” he murmured.

Liessen’s eyes narrowed. “Why were you not ordered to kill me?”

“I take orders from a different man to them,” he said, pointing to the five dead soldiers.

“From whom do you take orders?” she asked.

“A man who wants you alive, evidently.”

“Altor?” she asked, but he did not reply.

He shook his head when she asked him again.

“Will you let me leave?” she asked and he tilted his head, something ancient and weary in his eyes.

Liessen remounted and gave him a last look as she rode on to the dock. She galloped to the markets that surrounded the dock, leapt off her horse, let it free and joined the throng of people.

Sunset was a long time away. Her arm hurt, and her exhausted body ached for something to sustain it. There were stalls full of food, but she had no coin with which to buy anything. She came across a fruit merchant, so busy he couldn’t possibly watch every corner of his stall. Liessen moved closer and reached quickly for an apple, but froze when a hand reached down to clamp around her wrist. She looked up and saw a grubby, middle-aged man leering down at her—the stall owner.

“Filthy jungle wretch! I will teach you to steal from me.” And as he snarled, he drew a large curved knife from a sash around his waist and raised it high above his head. Liessen’s heart clenched in horror—how could she have been so foolish? And more to the point—how had he managed to recognise her? But just as he was about to cleave through her arm, there was a hiss and a thunk, and an arrow pierced the stall holder’s hand, making him drop the knife with a scream.

Liessen didn’t stop to see who had come to her aid, but used the time to run into a smaller alleyway. The commotion caused by the shrieking man had attracted the king’s guards.

Liessen turned into an even smaller alleyway, and hoped that it would not bring her to a dead end. As she turned a corner, a hand snaked out and covered her mouth, stifling her scream. Without thinking, she dug her elbow into the stomach behind her.

Turning around, she realised that she had made a terrible mistake. Altor was doubled over and breathing hard.

“Altor, you fool! You’re early!” she gasped.

“Trying to save you!” he wheezed. “But I guess I should know by now not to bother. I will not breathe comfortably for a week!”

“It is your own fault. You know not to sneak up behind me.” But she was interrupted by his kiss.

“Do not do that while I am talking,” she mumbled, wiping her lips pointedly.

Altor straightened and they looked at each other. He, with his celebrated blue eyes, and she with her heartbreakingly dark ones, so strange for her kind.

His hand skimmed her arm and came away bloody. “You’re hurt.”

“It’s nothing. Come on, we have to move or they’ll find us.”

They ran down the dark street, staying within the shadows. She followed him to the side of a building and up a thin ladder to the roof of the storehouse. They would be safe up there, he said. The building itself was empty. They had a good view of the stalls from the roof, so they spent the rest of the afternoon watching the hustle below.

At dusk the wharf cleared of people and it was safe for them to leave their perch.

They walked to the end of the pier, not touching, and sat with their legs hanging over the water.

Uns Lapodis was nearly three days sail ahead of them. Frescana was further west. Liessen would be headed there in the morning. Home.

She had to go back—she had duties to attend to and a land to take charge of. A part of her was overjoyed at the thought of seeing her family again. Another part of her died a little each time she parted from Prince Altor. She didn’t know how long they would be apart this time. A tear slid down her cheek.

Liessen tried to hide it but Altor saw, and was shocked, for he had never seen her cry.

“Liessen, do not do that!” he said, alarmed. “You will be back in no time, I promise. When I’m king, I will change the law, and we will marry. I won’t let them tear us apart again. This is the last time. I will make it so.” His voice was so full of passion that she had to smile.

He was still so young. Too young to be king—she could see it in his eyes. He was not ready to be corrupted.

“Don’t try to bring it about too soon, Al. You need to live. Do not worry about me—I will be fine.”

He smiled, and then his expression changed and he looked worried.

“Liessen, you are wonderful. You do know that, don’t you? You do know how much I need you?”

Looking deep into his eyes, and unable to speak, she nodded.

She sailed away in the morning. Away to a home that had become so distant to her heart that it did not feel like a home to her anymore. She did not know that she would be sailing back to that land with the seed of a child inside of her, one that would, in the end, be far more than her elite society could ever have expected.

BOOK: Arrival
6.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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