Somewhere, on a sandy battlefield, Soris was desperately running for a place to shield himself from the rain of laser-bullets that was following his steps. He felt all his muscles tensed, his feet burning as if he had embers in his shoes, and the sweat falling in drips on his temples, neck, and back. His dark brown hair was all wet, the atmosphere suffocating. He didn’t know where to hide more quickly.

Finally, a big rock. He jumped and squatted behind it with high hopes. A few laser-bullets uselessly hit the upper part of the stone, then the rain of bullets stopped. Soris, mouth half-opened after the long run, couldn’t hear anything except his noisy and restless breathing. Cold sweat flowed on his arms and chest. He didn’t feel like throwing off the white protective jacket he wore.

The silence that fell around worried him. They’re probably coming little by little. He clenched his fingers harder on his pistol. A gust of wind splashed a wave of dust over him; he tried his best to cover from it by hiding his face under an arm. He couldn’t stand that annoying dust sticking on his wet face.

Now they’ll try to advance as much as they can, he thought, and got ready to attack.

As soon as the wind faded, Soris rose from behind the rock and fired laser-bullets in certain directions, where he presumed the enemies were, but there was no one in front of him. He stopped shooting. To his great surprise, the battlefield was now empty, and incredibly clear. He sat for a few seconds, absorbed by that view. Could they have withdrawn?

You're reading chapter 3 from The Arid Kingdom series - Book #1

The fire-red sky poured an overwhelming light over the plain desolate land. Observing the perfect circular contour of the sun, Soris lifted a hand up to his eyes to cover from its powerful rays. He was confused. What is this? The sunrise or the sunset? I’m so scatterbrained… Why can’t I get it?

Right at that moment, a short earthquake swept him from his thinking. Frightened, he looked around. What was that? And… and where is everybody?

The earthquake started again, and jolted him more forcefully. Soris, seeing the land getting unstable under his feet and showing signs of crumbling, fled in the opposite direction from the sun, hardly managing to keep his balance.

He heard a loud shout behind him.

“Ruuuun! We’re being attaaaaacked!”

The voice sounded familiar, but he simply couldn’t realize whose it was. Running in unsure leaps on a ground that was ruining under him, his mind was foggy. There was just one thing he repeated to himself: I must survive! I must survive!

All of a sudden, he fell into a hole. He landed on his knees on stable ground, and as he took in the new surroundings, the earthquake seemed to stop. The terrible ground-shattering noise ceased entirely.

Soris rose to his feet and looked over the rim of the hole. Rocks, sand, plain land. Apparently, he was alone. Panting, he made an effort and got out of there. Still nobody. The squalls, with their hollow sound, blurred his vision again. “Anybody here?” he shouted with a tired voice, hoping to meet the comrade he’d heard earlier, during the earthquake. He wiped the sweat from his forehead while breathing jerkily. Where are our soldiers?

Reading chapter 3 from book one of The Arid Kingdom series - survival

Just then, a rush of steps approached him from behind and, in a blink, someone jumped over to attack him with a sword.

“Haha, got ya!” exclaimed the enemy with satisfaction, and raised his weapon in the air. He was bald, pale-skinned and had tattered sandy clothes.

Soris had lost his gun during the earthquake. He drew his sword from its sheath and defended himself from the strenuous attack. He recoiled when the two blades clashed. He sat still for a second, then pushed the man as hard as he could. The enemy, unbalanced by his counterattack, swayed backwards. Soris didn’t stand idly by, but took his chance, lunged forward, and slashed him across the torso.

The unexpected attacker fell defeated on the ground. Dust clouds rose after his fall. Soris savored his short moment of victory. I didn’t expect to get rid of him so easily. Oh well, when I asked if there was anybody out there, I didn’t ask for someone like him.

All of a sudden, from afar, desperate shouts for help were heard. They seemed to be the voices of some soldiers he knew. He started for the source of the screams. He had to help his comrades.

He arrived at a path outlined on both sides by a row of spaced rocks. He had no idea where he was, exactly; he let himself be guided by the surrounding sounds, and what disturbed him the most was that no matter how much he ran, it seemed he couldn’t find anyone kin to him.

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Tired, he tripped and fell on his knees. The shouts diminished a little. Could I have gone wrong? From here, it’s muffled…

He stood up, dusting himself off. He looked ahead. Finally, in the deserted landscape between the rocks, a human being appeared. It had a peaceful pace. It seemed to be a poor old woman.

Soris went closer to her. What’s with this woman here? Isn’t she afraid?

The old lady turned to him. As soon as she noticed him, she charged at him. Soris stopped in place. The woman pounced over him with her fists, yelling, “You wicked thing! Because of you my son has died! You die now too!”

Much to his surprise, the old lady recoiled, took a gun out of her apron, and pointed it at him. With an agile move, Soris snatched it from her hand, hid it in his belt, then said in a hurry, “I didn’t want him to die, I swear! Everything happened behind my back!”

“Oh no, it’s you who brought him death! If he died, then why are you living?” The woman screamed in a hoarse voice that startled the prince. “Why are you living? Why don’t you want to die here on this battlefield?”

“I can’t! I’m sorry. I don’t live only for myself; I… I must survive at all costs!” he replied, bewildered.

At that moment, to his joy, two soldiers of his appeared and pushed the old woman aside. Barely breathing, they announced to the prince, “Your Highness, there’s a time bomb near the palace! We don’t know how to defuse it!”

Soris widened his eyes. How could I have missed that?

You're reading Chapter 3, The Arid Kingdom series - Book #1

He let them guide him to the spot. In a blink, he knelt before the bomb. The screen only showed fifteen seconds left before the bomb went off. Nervous, with some tools from around him, he opened the lid and tried to find the wires to cut. Horrified beyond measure, he discovered that inside there were a number of tangled wires of the same color, between which, no matter how much he tried, he couldn’t differentiate. With eyes wide open and hands shaking, he uselessly struggled to untie the great intricacy of wires. Everything that happened seemed unreal to him.

“Only three seconds left!” shouted the soldier at his right.

“Enough! It’s over!” shouted the one at his left, pulling him by the arm. “Wake up!”

Although he didn’t understand his behavior, Soris remained focused on the wires. He continued to study them with his free hand.

The soldier shook him vigorously, yelling at him, “Enough! Wake up! It’s over!”

Soris didn’t listen, despite his tugs. Illogically, although time was up, the bomb didn’t blow off, and Soris went forward with his research. Paradoxically, he found the desired wire and cut it as, on the screen, there were minus three seconds.

“At last! I defused the bomb!” he cried with savage happiness, while opening his eyes in some other place.

A dream.

He woke up stretched in the bed of his chamber, shaken by his personal guard, Daniel, who begged him plaintively, “Soris, come on, wake up! It’s just a nightmare! The war is over!”

The soldier who hadn’t let him defuse the bomb was, in fact, Daniel.

You're reading Chapter 3, The Arid Kingdom series - Book #1

The prince—heart still beating irregularly after the tumultuous dream—got himself half up and looked around, unsure. His eyes stopped upon the boy who’d been struggling for some time already to wake him up. Ah! It’s just another nightmare… he told himself, closing his eyes for a little while, to pull himself together. He gave a sigh of relief, then forcing a calm voice, he told his guard, “Enough, Daniel.”

Daniel let go of his arm, then straightened and took the uptight official posture of a soldier.

Soris was horrified at the thought of opening his eyes. He was aware that he looked wretched. He didn’t want to be seen by his personal guard in such a state. His dark brown hair tousled in all directions, his clear dark under-eye circles, and his night shirt—tossed by his agitated sleep—all made a definitely-not-flattering image. This was a difficult situation for him, he who had been taught as a child to take care of the way he showed himself in front of his subordinates.

He sighed a little, summoned his courage, then opened his eyes determinedly and jumped from his bed. He quickly took a dignified, straight, hands-at-back posture, fixing his eyes somewhere up on the ceiling. There was something comical in the contrast between his tight stature and his crumpled look.

Still, Daniel couldn’t notice this. He now sat penitent, eyes on the floor, knowing that it wasn’t quite proper to barge into the prince’s room.

Soris passed by him, walked around, then stopped in place so that his back would face Daniel. After clearing his throat, he asked in a firm voice, “Go on. What’s the problem, Daniel?”

“Well… umm, you know…”

“Tell me what’s the emergency. I know you wouldn’t ever disturb me unless it’s something important,” the prince urged him.

Daniel, hearing that, found his courage and said, “It’s about your parents… You’d told me a while ago to notify you if—”

“Got it; got it. No need to get into details. So it happens right now as we speak?”

“Yes, in the small conference room.”

“Good. You did well to tell me. You’re dismissed.”

Daniel hesitated a little, then respectfully greeted him and left.

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