Ash Princess by Eve Langlais

Prologue





When humanity first emerged from the ground, poking their heads out of the tunnels they’d lived in for generations, they discovered the Earth had changed. Gone were the civilized cities and towns. Wiped out were all the forests and lakes and rivers. New Earth was a harsh land, scoured by fierce storms, the very air dangerous to breathe. Not a conducive place for mankind.

But humans are good at adapting. They built domes around habitats to protect themselves from the worst, and they flourished. They thrived under the rule of the Enclave, the government that formed when everything else failed. It went on for many generations, the blossoming population expanding across an entire continent named Ozz. The domes they erected rose like determined pustules on the surface and fought back against the death that awaited outside the protected walls.

As New Earth recovered from the Fall—the meteor shower that pulverized the world—the conditions above ground improved. Eventually some areas discovered they no longer needed the bubbles over their towns.

The Sapphire Kingdom rid itself of its domes first. They lived within the lushest of lands. They had the most freedom, too. Most recently, the Sapphire Kingdom split into two because a Marshland upstart who styled himself king claimed the swamps.

The Sapphire court had no interest in the swaps. Ensconced in their fiefdom overlooking Port City and the Ocean, they didn’t protest much when Roark, a nobody, stated he was taking them. Let someone else deal with the uncivilized savages that were nothing like the city citizens.

A recent peace was achieved between the two kingdoms. The daughter of the murdered Sapphire king took power. She was betrothed to the brother of the new Marshland king. It all worked out very well.

But moving onward…

To the south of the continent, the Lazuli once thrived. They were the ones still closely attuned to the old sciences. Especially that of medicine. In their quest to improve mankind, they took things too far and were now on the path to extinction.

Rumor had it a monster they created had done severe damage to their capital. Add in the tragedy at the Red Keep and they were a people in danger of dying out. Perhaps for the best given what they’d done.

Toward the center of Ozz, past the massive mountain ranges, were the ever-harsh lands of Emerald, where most citizens still lived inside domes because the outside—the Wasteland as they called it—had more than a thousand ways to kill a human.

Soon to be one thousand and one. Just when a person thought they knew them all, something killed them by fluke.

The world was not a nice place, and in Emerald, it actually hated humans.

Moving from there, that left two more kingdoms. Ruby existed on a mix of barren wasteland and rolling grasslands. The grasses were long and lush, always swaying, the edges sharp like scythes. A wind rustling the grassy blades or the predator hiding in them, both could end up being deadly. Ruby kept to itself, more occupied with the pleasures of the flesh and mind than what happened elsewhere.

Finally, there was the Diamond Kingdom, a place with only a week here and there of temperate days, a frozen wasteland the rest of the time. A powerful kingdom with its famous Cloudring city and a king that eschewed most modern conveniences. They were one of the few who welcomed those willing to work for the privilege of living within their cold lands.

Until a generation ago when a disaster befell the kingdom. No one knew for sure what happened only that the air turned poisonous and a deadly ash covered the land.

All trade immediately grounded to a halt, mostly because those who entered Diamond never returned. Not one person emerged from the kingdom after calamity struck, and given the deadly nature of the problem, no one dared to search for survivors.

Where was a hero when you needed one?





Chapter 1





Around the time the Iron Pirate became the pirate king…



“You will soon embark on a dangerous journey to a place none ever return from.”

Good thing those words weren’t directed at Cam because they sounded awfully ominous. What idiot went on a one-way trip? Life was too precious to toss.

He strode past a vendor table, not paying it much mind, when the same voice that uttered the sinister fortune said his name. “Camden, I am talking to you.”

He almost groaned. Now what? He’d read enough adventure stories by now to know what happened if he acknowledged the old woman. She’d say something ridiculous and wise sounding.

He’d end up agreeing to an impossible quest and—

I’d get out of here. Suddenly, that sounded like the best idea in the world.

Cam pivoted and eyed the speaker, who turned out to be a crone, sitting behind a table in the marketplace. Unlike some of the stalls scattered throughout the space, she had no sign. No flashy wares. Just her, the simple wooden table, and the oddly shaped stones spread out before her.

“How do you know my name?” Because Cam didn’t recall meeting her before, and rarely used his full name. Not to mention, he did not think she could actually see him. The orbs of her eyes shone milky white in a wrinkled face framed by the frizziest of gray hair.

“The bones tell me many things.” The old woman waved her hands over the bits, and they rattled even though she never touched them. “They told me you are the son born of no woman, a boy with no father, an exile from his homeland, the brother of a queen.”

He snorted. “You obviously know who I am.” Meaning she wasn’t actually blind. She’d probably seen him before at some stupid court function his sister made him attend and now thought him an easy mark to ply her tricks on.