There are twenty-three worlds in the Protected Zone. Officially, it is the DeCorte Special Protectorate, named for one of the men who negotiated the treaty that created it almost a thousand years ago. Within the zone, worlds get to choose how much contact they want with the wider galaxy, get to decide their own path when it comes to societal evolution. Many are what the rest of the galaxy would call primitive, others are quaint, would be tourist attractions if the most of the planets would allow tourists. Most have no global governments. Many seem frozen in time. That’s what the people who live there want. Thousands—millions—are born in the Protected Zone, live and die never knowing how much there is beyond the boundaries of their world. The Zone has its own magic.
Which is to say the people of the Protected Zone still believe in magic. They believe in it for what it is—a gift, a curse, something special to be used by those who can for good or evil. Of course, it exists beyond those worlds. The galaxy just treats it differently outside. It becomes less somehow, more a tool than something wondrous. There’s something incredibly sad about that.
Much of the Zone falls into territory granted to the Hybrean Concord, territory that the ruling family has defended fiercely since before the treaty, a swath of space that has been held by the Kelley family for so long, only legends remain about how they came to rule on Tearmann, of how the Concord came to be.
The Kelleys were the kings and queens of the Concord for thousands of years, the only line in the galaxy that never seemed to be broken.
But everything ends someday.
Eamon Kelley had three quarters of the galaxy looking for him, some for good and some for ill, but for three solid years, there was no sign of him. It was as if he was as dead as the rest of the royal family of the Hybrean Concord, dead thanks to what was described by investigators from the Veritan League as a tragic misadventure, the combination of a seemingly inexperienced pilot and an experimental ship being inspected by the court. Most didn’t talk about how the royal family wouldn’t have been there if not for an invitation from the League to inspect the newest in a line of exploration vessels. The League had been courting the Concord, seeking funding for an expedition beyond the Seal, the thick band of nebulae that separated the swath of human worlds from the rest of the galaxy.
Perhaps if both the Queen Dowager and the High King had not been so fascinated by the possibilities of simply exploring the nebulas, the whole affair never would have happened.
The loss would not have been so tragic if the king’s two teenage children, the younger prince and princess, had not been on school break and were on the trip with their parents and the Queen Dowager. It would not have been so tragic if not for the sailing accident that took the life of the king’s brother six months earlier, if the line had not narrowed so much in the last generations.
And yet, though the line had dwindled thanks to accident and misadventure and simple chance and choice down to a narrow one, the Hybrean Concord would not abandon it. Eamon Kelley was their king from the moment his father passed from life into death. It didn’t matter that no one had seen the prince for more than two years before the accident. He was their king, and he needed to be found.
So the galaxy searched. They searched for three years, and in those three years, there was no sign of the lost prince, the uncrowned king of the Concord. Some began to speculate that he, too, was dead, but the Council and Parliament of the Concord refused to believe that. Perhaps they knew something more than everyone else.
A regency council was put together quietly and without fanfare. It would keep the Concord in trust for the missing prince, the king who would be.
And they searched in all the places a missing prince might be except for the place where he really was. He might have stayed hidden, too, if not for a misstep.
Some things are simply not meant to be.