I’m delighted to share the Prologue of my novel ‘The Key of Alanar’! You can download it as a PDF file here. In addition, over the next few days I’ll be sharing the first FOUR chapters of the book. Don’t miss it. If you can’t wait and are eager to read more, the book is now officially published. You’ll find it on Amazon and multiple retailers. Visit the official launch page for buy links, background information and much more.
THE KEY OF ALANAR
Year of Atania, 4999
It took only seconds for an entire civilization to perish.
Ardonis watched as the shockwave tore through the city in every direction. The golden metropolis was laid to waste with devastating ease: the buildings collapsing into smoldering ash, scattered by the wind; the crowd of thousands incinerated in the blink of an eye.
Fire and cinders spiraled from the rubble as a rising cloud of smoke devoured every last trace of daylight. The only illumination came from the object of the city’s destruction—the gateway. Towering above the ruins, its metal pillars stood miraculously unscathed, at the centre of which the pulsating whirlpool of blue-violet light continued raining down sparks of electrical charge.
His city was gone, but Ardonis knew that the worst was yet to come. He watched with a sense of dread as an object emerged through the portal: an airship puncturing the thin membrane between universes, shooting into the sky above the rubble. Closely followed by another, and then another, the black metallic craft soared over the ruins like carrion birds in search of prey.
A stream of ground troops followed; wraithlike reptilian creatures with gnarled, distorted faces, armed with rifles and blades. The metal-clad soldiers marched through the gateway, spilling into the dead city like an infestation.
Ardonis knew it was no coincidence these demonic creatures had arrived in the aftermath of such carnage. He watched them feed off the destruction around them; ingesting it as though death itself was a vital nourishment. He could sense their hunger. Finally freed after eons of captivity, they were ravenous and would not stop until their hunger was satisfied.
It wasn’t just Ardonis’s beloved city that had fallen. His entire world had now been thrust into an unending age of terror.
Alanar was dead.
* * *
That morning Ardonis decided that his day would begin as it always did. Wrapping a blue cloak around himself and placing the golden headdress of the High Priest upon his crown, he made his way from his chamber, through the temple and onto the rooftop. The air felt cool against his skin and birds chattered contentedly as they welcomed in the new day. He stood, hands clasped behind him, gazing across the horizon, where the first rays of sunlight streaked across the indigo skyline. Watching the sunrise from the rooftop was a ritualistic start to his day and something that he had done for more years than he’d care to count. But today was a day unlike any that preceded it. Today, he realized, would be the last time he would ever see the sunrise.
As the twin suns of Alanar made their ascent above the mountainous horizon, Ardonis looked down into the valley. Surrounded by forestland and a winding river, the City of El Ad’dan glistened in the morning light. From this vantage point, the houses, towers, spires and domed temples of the city almost looked like little golden trinkets. Even from this distance Ardonis could see signs of activity as the city began to stir. In just a few hours the procession would commence and people from all across the kingdom would congregate at the central plaza for the activation of the gateway. A new era, the king had promised; a new dawn for the people of Lasandria. It was a time of excitement and jubilation across the land. But while the gateway promised all the glories of the cosmos, it was about to unleash a force of evil beyond imagining.
Ardonis knew, for he had seen it, over and over again. For days now he had been unable to close his eyes, much less sleep or meditate, without being bombarded by visions of annihilation. Each time the visions grew ever more intense and vivid; as though he was actually there, being forced to witness the destruction of his home.
It came as little surprise, for he had been aware of the shadow looming over the land and its people for many years now, possibly as far back as the day he was initiated into the Priesthood. He knew what it was and what it meant. It meant the end—the end of an entire civilization. It was an ancient, advanced civilization at that; a people whose work and achievements, whose art and culture spanned millennia. Alas, all that they had striven for, all of their hopes and dreams, beliefs and fears, now faded into irrelevance; consigned to imminent oblivion.
The hour drew close. Ardonis had accepted as much. But what he couldn’t accept was that he was powerless to prevent this catastrophe. He was the High Priest of Lasandria. His people, at least those still loyal to the Priesthood, looked to him to guide and protect them. In the past that was exactly what he had done. But this time was different. This time he was powerless to act. Or was he?
Startled by the sound of his name, Ardonis turned to see his senior aide Jarado standing behind him. There was a noticeable look of urgency upon the old monk’s lined and careworn face. “Please forgive the intrusion, High Priest.”
“You bring news, my friend?”
The monk nodded. “The Council of Elders has sent word. They wish to see you now.”
Ardonis felt a tightening in his stomach. “I see.”
“You think they will agree to help us?”
“That I cannot say,” Ardonis said. “But I pray they will heed my petition, for it is the only hope we now have.”
Joining the High Priest at the edge of the rooftop, the old monk glanced down into the valley as he draped his indigo robe across his shoulder. “What about the king? What if you spoke to him again and tried to reason with him?”
“You were there yesterday, Jarado. I did everything I could to get him to abort the project. The harder I tried, the angrier he became. In the end all I did was make matters worse.”
“Then you really believe he will disband the Priesthood as he threatened?”
“Of that you can be certain. Dua-ron has been waiting for the opportunity to strike me down for years and I finally gave it to him. The Priesthood is dead, Jarado. Not that it even matters, for so too is our kingdom.”
Jarado looked up, desperation in his voice. “The Guardians will surely listen. They have to!”
“I wish I shared your confidence. But as you know, the Guardians play by their own rules.” Ardonis paused. “Either way, it is time to find out. I will make my way to the portal chamber. You go attend to your duties, Jarado. I will join you shortly.”
With a bow of his head the monk departed, leaving the High Priest alone once more. Ardonis took one last look at the golden city in the heart of the valley. Rays of sunlight shone upon its towers, peaks and rooftops as the suns climbed their way above the rugged peak of Mount Alsan, suffusing the dawn sky with vibrant washes of gold, red and orange.
El Ad’dan. A place of beauty, power and history; a place of destiny. It was here that their civilization had been born all those millennia ago, and here that would see its demise. Unless, that was, one man could now change its fate and alter the destiny of an entire world.
Ardonis hurried through the temple, his footsteps echoing as he strode along the corridors and through the main hall. In keeping with the rest of the temple, the hall was constructed of ornately carved sandstone and lined by statues of saints, sages and prophets of centuries gone by. Ordinarily a place filled with monks, initiates and devotees, today it was tellingly empty. Passing under an archway and down several flights of steps, the High Priest entered a torchlit passageway apparently leading to a dead-end. Marching to the end of the corridor, he stopped and placed the palm of his hand against one of the bricks. Uttering the words “shada daban norine,” he removed his hand and took a step back. A section of the wall shimmered and dissolved, revealing an enchanted doorway accessible only to high levels of the Priesthood. Ardonis passed through the opening, the wall reappearing behind him.
The portal chamber stretched before him; a crystalline cavern around which the entire temple had been constructed. Quartz clusters of varying size lined the chamber, jutting out of the ground, walls and ceiling. Self-luminous and pulsating with blue-white light, they illuminated the cavern in a turquoise glow. A low level hum permeated the chamber: an almost subliminal sound, like the music of a thousand different realms coalescing at a single point in space and time. The hot air tingled with faint electrostatic charge as he advanced through the cavern.
Ardonis approached a towering crystal upon a raised platform at the heart of the chamber. Rising to a pointed peak, a hexagonal mirror had been set into the base of the crystal, cast in a gleaming silver frame. Far from an ordinary mirror, this was the Portal of Arazan, a device built by the ancients with the ability to create inter-dimensional gateways, enabling instantaneous travel throughout the cosmos. Clearly such technology carried with it great responsibility, which was why the portal lay buried deep within the temple, where it had been safeguarded by the Priesthood for millennia. Until recently, that was. Some time ago the portal chamber had been violated and nothing had been the same again since. In a sense, this was where Lasandria’s downfall began.
Ardonis climbed the steps onto the platform and came to a stop before the mirror. His crystal-clear reflection stared back at him: that of a bronze-skinned man with pale turquoise eyes and long dark hair. Beneath a blue cloak, his muscular body was clad in a loincloth and sandals, his neck and arms adorned with beads and talismans. Replete with the customary golden headdress, he had all the regality and power befitting a High Priest. Yet his soul was heavy and the strain etched upon his ageless face. Eyes fixed ahead, he inhaled deeply, bracing himself for the encounter ahead.
“Bala’naron ista kar’on!” The moment the words left his mouth, the portal exploded into life. The amethyst crystal lit up from within; discharging waves of surging electricity. With a whir, the mirror surface dissolved into a pool of blue-violet energy. Ardonis could feel the waves of kinetic force passing through him as he stood at the mouth of the portal. He had turned the key and opened the door, now all he had to do was state his intended destination. “Take me to the Court of Shanadon.” Mustering all his fortitude, he then stepped through the portal, disappearing into the vortex of light.
Had he not travelled through the portal many times before, he would likely have found himself disorientated, for he had stepped from the dense physicality of the third dimension into the ethereal realms of the fifth. Here the constraints of physicality loosened: solidity gave way to fluidity and form dissolved into pure energy.
Exiting the gateway, Ardonis found himself again in the realm of the Guardians. Although he had often been asked by his initiates to describe it, he found it hard to convey in words the beauty of a world so unlike that of the physical realm. Everything was brighter, lighter, and pervaded by a fluidic sense of unity and interconnectedness. Before him stood the Court of Shanadon, a cathedral-like structure built in multiple tiers at the heart of a crystalline city. Far from solid, the walls, colonnades, terraces and archways were translucent, swirling with an interfusion of rainbow color. A cloudless pink sky arched high above, amid which a single golden sun shone down, infusing the entire city with dancing rays of light.
The gateway disappeared behind him. Entering the Court, Ardonis was met by a man in a flowing white robe. One of the administrators of Shanadon, the man’s face shone with a light from within, his body noticeably less solid than Ardonis’s, as though made of wispy vapor rather than flesh and blood. Ardonis stated his business and with a nod, the man guided him along the opaque glass-like corridors.
The corridor terminated in an arched doorway leading into the immense, cylindrical Council Chamber. A pillar of white light dominated the chamber, reaching down from the high ceiling and plunging beneath into a bottomless drop. Waves of luminescence danced out from the static beam of light, rippling through the air and merging into the blue crystalline walls. The administrator ushered Ardonis into the chamber and quietly departed.
Ardonis stepped forward, the quartz walkway beneath his feet leading to a platform at the heart of the chamber, encircling the pillar of light. There, gathered around a semicircular table, sat the Council of Elders: the twelve Guardians charged with overseeing the mortal realm. Six men and six women, all clad in white robes, their faces were shining and luminous, as though they were rays of sunlight that had merely assumed the visage of human form. The High Guardian Malkiastan sat at the head of the Council: an imposing, regal being with long locks of silver hair, glowing with a radiance that almost obscured his corporeal form.
Ardonis bowed before the Council as waves of energy from the pillar of light passed through him, making every cell of his body tingle. Malkiastan acknowledged his greeting and motioned for the High Priest to come forward. Bracing himself, Ardonis came to a stop before the Council. “Thank you for agreeing to see me.”
Though none of their mouths moved, the Council spoke with a single, unified voice: a harmonious intermingling of all twelve of their voices, emanating from all around and echoing throughout the chamber. “You are always welcome here, Ardonis.”
“I am sure you already know why I am here. Indeed, I have a feeling it is you who are responsible for my visions…”
“The visions were granted for a reason. It was necessary that you know what is to transpire.”
“Then things will happen as I have foreseen?”
“It is inevitable.”
Ardonis shook his head. “No, there must be something you can do.”
The Council said nothing.
“You cannot allow this to happen. You must intervene!”
“We cannot stop what is now to happen.”
It was as he had feared. The Council could not—or would not—do anything. But Ardonis wasn’t going to stand by and accept this. He would fight to save his people, and if that meant taking on the Council of Elders then so be it. “I mean no disrespect, but how can that be true? You have the power. You could stop this from happening in an instant!”
“These events were set in motion by the free will of the Lasandrian people. As you know, the Council is forbidden from direct intervention in mortal affairs. To do so would violate universal law.”
“I do not care about universal law,” Ardonis cried, ignited by a flame of indignation. “All I care about is the fate of my people. You yourselves have shown me what is to happen. Millions will die—an entire civilization annihilated! Please, I implore you, you cannot sit by and allow that to happen.”
“This chain of events cannot be halted. It is simply too late.”
Ardonis cast his eyes to the ground. “So this is how it ends?”
“There are no endings. There are no beginnings. All that is, has been and ever shall be.”
Ardonis looked up. “That is easy for you to say as you sit here in the Court of Shanadon, fearless and omnipotent. You are immortal! Nothing can touch you here. But what of those in the mortal realm? Such words are meaningless in the face of impending annihilation.” Ardonis immediately regretted his words, which were disrespectful and ill-befitting a High Priest. Yet he was the one link between Alanar and the cosmic realms. It was his duty to bridge the two worlds and to speak for those that could not.
The Council appeared to let his outburst pass without response. “What is to take place cannot be stopped. But with regard to the future, all is not lost. The Council has conferred at great length and has agreed to offer a dispensation.”
Malkiastan rose from his seat at the centre of the Council and addressed Ardonis directly. “We cannot change the rules,” he said, his voice deep yet soft and melodious. “But we can bend them.”
“Please, tell me what you have in mind.”
“It is twofold. You must return to your world and gather as many people as possible: all those who remain loyal to the Priesthood and anyone else willing to listen. You are to take them through the portal. A place of safety has been arranged. They will be spared the impending upheaval.”
Ardonis had considered this himself, although he was uncertain how many would be willing to leave Lasandria. It was a sad fact that the days when people paid heed to the Priesthood over the government and monarchy were long gone.
As if sensing his concern, Malkiastan continued: “Although your civilization may be lost, if even a handful of your people can survive and keep their spirit alive, they will endure throughout time. Their legacy will continue. And there will come a time in your world’s distant future when they will have the chance to rise up and reclaim all they had lost. Thus will the circle complete itself.” The High Guardian paused before continuing. “Darkness is coming, Ardonis. You know this. What you have foreseen will inevitably come to pass. But your people, and your world, have been granted the chance of a future…a future that now lies in the hands of another.”
Ardonis felt his brow crease. “Another…?”
The fountain of energy at the heart of the chamber intensified. As the light grew brighter, an aperture formed at its centre, sending rays of dazzling light shooting outward. Ardonis watched through squinted eyes as a figure emerged through the cascading light, coming to a stop beside the Council. It was a man. No, barely a man at all—it was a boy; an adolescent boy.
“Behold Arran, the timeless one,” Malkiastan said as he approached the boy. “He is your future, Ardonis. He alone has the power to save your world. Only he can safeguard your future.”
Ardonis stared at the boy in astonishment. Who was he? Where was he from? And why had he been chosen to shoulder such a burden of responsibility?
He was about to speak, when Malkiastan raised his hand and Ardonis suddenly felt his body and mind engulfed by a wave of golden-white radiance. His eyes closed and he promptly lost all sense of space and time. Linearity dissolved as he became aware of flashes of insight; moving images flooding his mind…
He was back on his world, several hours from now, standing amid the streets of El Ad’dan.
The central plaza was filled with people, rife with excitement as they gathered to witness what they were promised was the crowning glory of the Lasandrian people. Whereas the few that still followed the ministrations of the Priesthood had retreated to pray for salvation, the rest conceitedly celebrated their ingenuity, believing the king as he spoke so rousingly of this glorious new dawn for Lasandria.
The countdown had begun. The countdown to annihilation.
All looked up in wonder as the gateway powered up. Towering above the golden buildings of the city centre, the gateway comprised an enormous metal obelisk supported by two smaller pillars and connected by a metal wheel. Amid much excitement, the device was activated. The spinning wheel exploded into a vortex of blue-violet energy, stretching from the rooftops to the ground as it spewed out lightning-like sparks of electricity. The entire plaza lit up in a blue glow as the crowd reacted in awe.
“Behold the gateway,” King Dua-ron called as he stood before the magnificent portal. “The gateway to our liberation!”
Ardonis knew what was coming next, for he had been forced to witness it so many times before. Moments after the gateway opened, the portal exploded; an explosion the likes of which the planet had never before seen. A shockwave shot outward, pounding what remained of the city to rubble and killing every man, woman and child in a blinding flash.
Blackness pervaded, the only illumination now coming from the open gateway; all that remained of the Lasandrian people.
In the aftermath of the blast, the invasion began, just as he knew it would. Air craft and ground troops stormed through the portal; driven by an unending thirst for death that would lead them to consume this entire world.
But there was more; more that Ardonis hadn’t previously seen. He now realized that all was not lost. All hope now rested with a single boy: the one known as Arran. Ardonis saw the boy racing through the rubble of El Ad’dan. Sent by the Guardians, he had been spared the destruction; his sole purpose to close the gateway and seal off whatever other horrors it would yet unleash. No matter the cost and no matter the sacrifice, he had to succeed.
Time had somehow fragmented and the fate of multiple timelines—past, present and future—all seemed to converge upon a single moment in time. A moment that would determine the fate of not just this world, but possibly an entire universe.
The images subsided and Ardonis opened his eyes.
As he again became aware of his surroundings, his gaze fell upon the teenage boy standing ahead of him. The boy watched him with equal curiosity, his brown eyes betraying a weary knowingness that intrigued Ardonis. Whoever this boy was and wherever he was from, he had obviously suffered a great deal. It saddened him to see such pain in eyes so young, yet beneath the surface Ardonis could sense a reservoir of unfathomable inner strength. Moreover, there was something unspeakably familiar about him. He didn’t know how or why, but Ardonis somehow knew this boy. He knew his thoughts, his dreams and his pain as intimately as he knew his own reflection.
Malkiastan placed a hand upon the boy’s shoulder and motioned for Ardonis to come forward. As Ardonis approached, Malkiastan smiled. “It has been decided,” he said. “The future now rests with you. And it is time. You must go forth. Go forth and fight for it.”
* * *
“Run! We do not have much time!”
Ardonis ushered his people down the torchlit corridors of the temple and into the portal chamber. Upon his return, he had done as the Council directed and gathered anyone that would listen and told them of the need to leave the city immediately. This was the third and final group of evacuees: men, women and children who had gathered as few belongings as possible and had been taken into the heart of the temple.
“Quickly now!” Ardonis shouted as they passed through the wall and entered the portal chamber. He directed them toward the gateway at the centre of the cavernous chamber, which was already activated in a blaze of cobalt light. Initially the evacuees hesitated, having never seen anything of the like. But one of Ardonis’s monks led the way, climbing the steps to the portal and disappearing into the vortex of light. At the behest of Ardonis, the evacuees began streaming into the portal one by one, assured that they were going to a place of safety.
So little time…
The last of the escapees had now entered the portal. Ardonis ensured that his remaining monks and initiates made it to safety.
That was it! He had done it. They were safe. With a sigh of relief, the High Priest climbed the steps and was about to enter the portal himself—only it was too late.
A wave of fire blasted through the temple. With a force of unfathomable fury, it consumed everything; tearing through stone, metal and flesh alike with devastating ease.
Before Ardonis even realized what was happening, he was gone—his body instantly incinerated. All that remained of both he and his beloved temple was a wall of ash, and even that was soon dispersed by the wind.
The kingdom of Lasandria had been destroyed, and the world of Alanar plunged into an abyss of darkness.
* * *
Drifting. Ardonis drifted upon the oceanic current of Infinity; an endless sea of light, calm and rhythmic.
His journey was not yet over. His physical body was gone, cast off like a worn garment; and yet he remained.
There was no end. There could be no end. Such had it been throughout the timelessness of Infinity.
* * *
Following his ordeal amid the final moments of Lasandria, Ardonis rested, his consciousness dormant.
His death had been sudden and violent. It took him much time to recover from his abrupt departure from the mortal realm.
Yet he soon began to regain his strength. Awakening to a whole new world, he retook his place in the realm of the Guardians.
It became clear to him that his role as overseer of his people was not yet over. The only difference was that he now served from a new and higher vantage point, unconstrained by previous limitations.
* * *
Looking down upon the mortal realm, Lasandria was gone. The once-great civilization stood in ruins. But it was not the end. The cycle of life continued unabated and eternal.
The years passed into centuries and the centuries rolled into millennia.
All the while it was clear to Ardonis that the mortal realm had yet to release him from its grip. His role in the grand unfolding was not yet complete. In truth, it was only just beginning.