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Read ‘The Key of Alanar’ Chapter Four: “The Gift”

This is the final chapter in an extended preview of The Key of Alanar! If you haven’t already done so, be sure to check out the PrologueChapter One, Chapter Two and Chapter Three. Set ten years after the events of the opening chapters, this opens with a disturbing vision and sets up the core events of the book. It’s David’s nineteenth birthday and a gift is about to forever change his life–and the fate of an entire world…

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Chapter Four
THE GIFT

Year of Alejan, 15,009

David knew he was in mortal danger. The darkness was impenetrable and smothering, the air thick, musty and cold; the silence broken only by the drumming of his heartbeat and the uneven motion of his breath as it passed in and out of his body. 

Although now a young man on the verge of adulthood, David felt as vulnerable and defenseless as a child as he crouched down low, praying that he would remain unseen by whatever it was that pursued him. He could feel its presence all around, an ancient, primordial evil, lurking amid the blackness; reaching out, sensing, searching—for him. There was no escaping it. It was too strong, too powerful, and it was getting closer by the second. Closer and closer…

Overcome by desperation, David realized that he couldn’t give in to it. He had to do something: he had to try to escape. He picked himself up from the ground and began to run. Squinting in the dark, he could barely see more than an arm’s reach ahead, but he relied on every other sense, not least his intuition, to guide him. He got only a fleeting sense of the environment around him as he ran: cavernous, cold and forbidding.

The moment David started to move, he had made himself visible. Behind him the enemy’s minions gave chase. Demonic shadow men, they were little more than soulless husks, like corpses animated by whatever dark force was pursuing him.

Hastening his pace, David raced as fast and as far as he could until he was forced to stop dead in his tracks. The path ahead was obscured by a gaping abyss. There was nowhere left to go.

Staring ahead, he saw a figure appear on the other side of the chasm: a girl, illuminated by a pale white light. She was around his age, perhaps seventeen or eighteen, dressed in a blue-violet tunic and trousers, with dark locks of hair falling to her shoulders. She reached out her arm and called to him from across the abyss: “David!”

He didn’t know why, but she seemed intimately familiar to him, as though he’d seen her face a thousand times before. But where? Struggling to process his memories was like trying to piece together a thousand half-forgotten dreams. Whoever she was, he knew that she was there to help him. If he could just get to her…

But almost the moment he stopped his pursuers were upon him. He felt their nails digging into his skin, drawing blood as they grabbed hold of him and reeled him back. With deformed faces contorted with malice, their was skin pale, thin and blistered, and their eyes sunken, reddened and leaking pus. He tried to fight them off, to break free of their grasp, but they were too strong and they quickly overpowered him. A pair of bony hands grabbed his throat. He struggled as they tightened their vice-like grip.

As he choked, David felt a wave of darkness crawling over his skin, penetrating his body and mind, seeping into and overwhelming him. It consumed him from the inside out, like a cancer devouring him until there was nothing left but a void of blackness.

* * *

David sat bolt upright in bed, his skin covered in sweat and his chest heaving for breath. Disorientated, it took him a moment to realize where he was and what had happened.

A dream…it was only a dream. It had felt so real, the images and sensations so intensely vivid. His pulse racing, he felt nauseous and his throat was tight and constricted, as though someone had indeed been trying to strangle him.

He crawled out of bed, feeling as though he’d been mauled by a wild animal. Wiping a band of sweat from his forehead, he pulled back his curtain and peered out the window. It was still the middle of the night; the velvet black sky punctuated only by the twinkling of distant stars.

David lit an oil lamp and carried it through the house to the washroom. He set the lamp down by the basin and poured some water from the ceramic jug. Splashing his face with the cool water, he tried to wash away the nauseating sense of terror.

He dried off his face and hands and filled a large glass with water. He was about to take a sip when something caught his eye. It was his reflection in the mirror. Somehow drawn to it, he gazed into the mirror as if seeing his own reflection for the very first time: his tousled shoulder-length dark hair framing a tanned, square-set face, illuminated by the flickering lamplight. His glistening dark eyes seemed to draw him in, as if they were a gateway to a whole other dimension; a hidden world that seemed to promise answers to questions he hadn’t yet dared ask. He snapped out of his strange reverie when he inadvertently tipped his glass and spilled the water.

By now he felt calmer and the specifics of the nightmare that had so disturbed him slipped away like grains of sand through outstretched hands. Returning to the warmth of his bed, he was soon overcome by a wave of sleepiness and any lingering thoughts pertaining to his dream were dispelled as he drifted into an altogether more restful sleep.

* * *

David awoke to the sound of birdsong and rays of sunlight streaming through his window. As he got up, washed and dressed, he could recall vague fragments of a disturbing dream he’d had during the night. But before long it was relegated to the back of his mind as he began to anticipate the day ahead. It was a special day, for it was his nineteenth birthday, and it would be a busy one too. As it was harvest season, he’d spend the morning laboring in the fields. It wasn’t a job he particularly enjoyed, but all the islanders worked together to assist the farmers, such being the ethos of life in the community.

It was the afternoons that David truly lived for. That was when he worked with Janir, training as his apprentice. From the moment he’d first met Janir all those years ago, David had been determined to spend as much time with him as possible and to learn all that he could about him. He was delighted when Janir had accepted him as his apprentice and his training had begun about a year ago. Thus far his lessons had been fairly rudimentary. Janir had educated him in the uses of various herbs and roots in medicinal application and given him lessons in physiology, nature and methods of healing. All of this interested him, but David was certain that the truly fascinating lessons were yet to come. He was convinced that Janir’s knowledge extended far beyond the mixing of herbal remedies.

Letting out a yawn, David put on a sleeveless white shirt, buckled the belt around the waist of his black trousers and reached down to lace up his boots. Ready for the day ahead, he went through to the kitchen where his mother was preparing first meal. She looked up, the corners of her eyes creasing as she smiled. “Good morning David, and happy birthday!” Arms outstretched, she reached out and gave him a warm hug.

“Thank you.”

“Nineteen years old,” she said proudly. “I can hardly believe it.”

Of course it wasn’t his real birthday, for that was as much an unknown as the place of his origin. Rather it was the anniversary of the day his father had found him on the mainland. “What are we having for first meal?” he asked.

“Your favorite, of course: junjat with olak. But first, I have something for you.”

Jesanda picked up a wooden box from the table. David looked at with curiosity, wondering what could be inside. Jesanda opened the box and held it out for him to see. It was an amulet: a turquoise crystal shaped like a half moon, attached to a silver chain. The smooth, transparent stone was engraved with a symbol: what looked like half a star, suggesting the amulet was incomplete, that it had been broken in half. “What is it?”

“When you were a baby,” Jesanda began awkwardly, “when your father found you in the forest of Senrah, this was the only possession you had with you aside for the blanket you were wrapped in. You were wearing it around your neck, although of course it was far too big for you at the time.”

“Why didn’t you tell me about it before?”

“Your father and I decided to safe-keep it for you until you were old enough. We both agreed that on your nineteenth birthday you’d have come of age to receive this part of…your inheritance.”

David didn’t know what to say. He was fascinated by this missing link to his past. He was also a little annoyed that it had been kept from him all these years. It was his, after all. Yet another secret kept from him. But he could see how difficult this was for his mother. She had never been comfortable when it came to discussing his true origin and this was clearly a difficult occasion for her. Deciding not to make it any harder on her, he set aside his grievance.

“Maybe I should have given it to you sooner, I don’t know,” Jesanda said, as if having read David’s mind. “It’s been difficult knowing how best to deal with things. But you’re nineteen years old. You’re a young man now. And this belongs to you.”

Jesanda held out the box. David reached over and picked it up. The moment he touched the amulet a jolt of electricity surged through his body. He yelped and staggered back, dropping it to the ground.

“What happened?” Jesanda gasped, reaching out to steady him.

David looked down at the amulet, lying upon the floor at his feet. “I don’t know. When I picked it up, I felt this…surge…”

“That’s never happened before.”

He reached down to pick it up. At first he was cautious, testing to make sure it wouldn’t shock him again. Fortunately it didn’t, but as he lifted it he noticed something strange. “Look! It’s changed color.” The stone had changed from its original turquoise to a deep violet with dashes of sapphire.

“That’s never happened before either…”

David was baffled and intrigued by the object. It was almost as though it was alive. He wanted to know everything about it; what it was, what it symbolized and why it had been left as his sole possession in the world. Jesanda however seemed unnerved by it. It was alien to her and served as a pointed reminder that so too was her son. It represented a part of him that she’d spent many years trying to forget, perhaps for fear that she might one day lose him. “Do you want me to put it somewhere safe for you?” she asked, holding out the box.

David shook his head. “No, I want to wear it.” He undid the clasp on the silver chain and handed it to her.

“Are you sure? What if it shocks you again?”

“I’ll take that chance.”

With a barely concealed frown, she took the amulet and fastened it around his neck. David looked down at the crystal hanging over his heart and felt a measure of excitement. It was as though he’d been reunited with a missing part of himself.

Swept up in the moment, he failed to heed an ominous feeling deep inside. On some unconscious level he knew that the moment he’d taken possession of the amulet, some kind of danger had been stirred: a danger that would soon catch up with him, with devastating consequences.

* * *

By the time David left the house, the suns were already blazing against a clear lilac sky. The air was fresh and invigorating, scented with the late-season blossom of the tuanya trees lining the streets of this, the island’s east side. Proudly wearing his amulet, David made his way to work, passing through the centre of town and taking the road leading off to the farm.

“David,” he heard a voice call from behind. Turning around he saw his friend Darien. Darien was about four years older than David and was one of the most popular young men on the island, a fact largely accountable to his roguish charm and lithe good looks. Taller and more muscular than David, Darien had long black hair tied into a ponytail, mischievous dark eyes and an air of confidence and self-assuredness that people found either endearing or arrogant.

“You’re actually on time for once?” David laughed mockingly. “What’s farmer Doran going to think? Something must be terribly wrong with the world if Darien’s on time for work.”

“I wouldn’t want to get myself a reputation for being predictable now, would I?” Darien shrugged as he caught up with David. “So birthday boy, how does it feel to be nineteen years old?”

“I don’t know, it feels good.”

“What’s that?” Darien motioned to David’s amulet.

“A present from my mother.” David held up the amulet. “Apparently, this was the only possession I had when I was found in the forest of Senrah as a baby.”

“Nice,” Darien said, raising an eyebrow. “You know you’re bound to attract the girls’ attention with that. Even if it’s only because they’ll be jealous of it.” As Darien laughed, something caught his attention. “Speaking of girls…look.” Ahead of them, a young woman appeared from  one of the side-paths leading from the farm house, carrying a wicker basket. Darien’s eyes lit up. “It’s Janna!”

Janna was the life-long object of Darien’s affections and it wasn’t difficult to see why. Even when wearing only simple overalls she had the ability to turn heads, for she possessed a captivating, exotic beauty. With wavy blonde hair, she had a tanned complexion that accentuated her alluring blue-green eyes. David didn’t know that much about Janna other than the fact she was around Darien’s age and worked in her father’s bakery in the town square. David recognized some traits in her that he could relate to himself, particularly from his childhood. She seemed quite shy and spent most of her time alone. While she was friendly and polite, she clearly disliked being the centre of attention and spent much of her time trying to fade into the background. Perhaps she would have been more successful had she not been blessed by a beauty that drew attention rather than deflected it.

“I’m going to ask her,” Darien said.

“Ask her what?”

“What do you think? If she’ll go to the Festival dance with me!”

“I’ll believe that when I see it. You’ve been saying you’re going to ask her for weeks now.”

“And I will. I’ve just been waiting for the right opportunity,” Darien whispered. He grinned boyishly as Janna approached. “Good day, Janna!”

“Good day,” she replied with a slight air of nonchalance.

“Beautiful day, isn’t it?”

David smiled politely and, taking Darien’s lead, stopped to talk to her. Janna didn’t seem particularly keen to engage in conversation, but nonetheless felt obliged to stop. “Yes,” she replied, looking up at the cloudless purple sky.

“So what are you doing this morning?” Darien asked.

“I’ve been doing some deliveries for my father. And you?”

“David and I are just on our way to the farm. We’re working in the fields again today. It’s been really busy with harvest and all.”

Though David was by no means an expert on girls himself, he knew that such banal small talk was not the way to win a woman’s heart, especially a woman who posed as much of a challenge as Janna. Darien was going to have to try a lot harder than this. “It’s the Festival next week,” Darien blurted. “I was wondering if you would…if you would like to go to the dance with me?”

There was an awkward pause as she considered her response. “Thanks for the offer,” she said with a genuine smile. “But I never go to the dance.”

Darien however was not going to give up without a fight. “But you really have to make an exception this year. You’ll enjoy it! I promise you.”

“Is that so?” she said. “What makes you so sure?”

“Because I’ll be with you!”

Janna smiled and rolled her eyes, which probably wasn’t the reaction Darien was hoping for. “You never give up, do you?”

“Oh, I give up. Just not when I’m so close to achieving victory.”

For a moment, David could see that Janna was actually considering Darien’s offer, as if part of her was tempted to say yes. But ultimately something stopped her and whilst her final answer was delivered gently, it was nonetheless resolute. “I appreciate the offer, but the dance isn’t my kind of thing. I hate big gatherings. I’m sure you’ll have no problem finding someone else to go with.” She paused for a moment. “If you’ll excuse me, I really have to get back to work. Have a good day.”

“You too,” replied a crestfallen Darien.

Janna smiled apologetically and set on her way. “Don’t worry,” David tried to console his friend. “She’s right, you will find someone else.”

“But I don’t want anyone else. I want her. And I haven’t given up on her yet.”

“Come on, we’d better be going.”

“Have you found a date for the dance yet?” Darien asked as they started walking.

“Didn’t I tell you? I asked Cara yesterday and she said yes.”

“So what do you have that I don’t have?” Darien frowned.

David shrugged. “I suppose I just don’t set my sights on impossible goals.”

“I don’t believe in impossibility. I’ll win her over in the end, you’ll see. I guess I just need to readjust my strategy.”

“You don’t have a strategy…”

“Yeah, and what would you know about it?”

“What would I know? I’m the one with a date.”

“Let’s just get to the farm, all right?” Darien huffed as they continued down the road. “My day’s off to a bad enough start without you making it worse.”

* * *

The morning passed quickly, with David in high spirits. His thoughts kept returning to the amulet. It was a link to a world he had long dreamt of as a child. As he’d grown up and made a life for himself on the island, it was a dream he’d more or less abandoned. The practicalities of day-to-day life and his responsibilities on the island had served as a barrier to his dream of setting out into the world and finding his true home. And after all, he’d come to accept where he was and what his life was to be. His romanticized childhood fantasies had long ago been set aside. Yet this amulet served as a reminder of who he really was and had reawakened an old yearning to unravel the mystery of his existence.

Farmer Doran provided refreshments at midday, after which the morning workforce finished up and left to attend their other duties. All able-bodied islanders had a job; a person’s vocation usually determined by the family line of work. For instance, Darien came from a family of fishermen and it was a job he loved; indeed, he wasn’t truly at home unless he was out at sea. Most people were happy to follow in the family tradition, although some opted for a different line of work. David was one such example. When Janir arrived on the island he quickly became renowned for his skills as a healer and following the death of Sania some years back, had been appointed the island’s head physician. David was honored to be have been accepted as Janir’s first and so far only trainee.

After making plans to meet up at night for his party, David said farewell to Darien. He hurried through the Sharedo forest and down to the eastern shore of the island, where Janir still resided in one of the caves. Although the island council had offered him a ‘proper house’ on several occasions, Janir had stubbornly refused, insisting that he was perfectly content with his current dwelling. The cave suited him well and was a home that he had made quite his own. He’d explained to David that it made him feel connected with nature and also provided him with a solitude he relished.

“Janir,” he called as he entered the cave, eager to show Janir the gift from his mother, wondering if he might recognize where it came from.

Janir was nowhere to be seen. As David surveyed the cave he was again struck by what an alluringly otherworldly and mystical place it was. Lit by a number of oil lamps and candles, the shadows of the furniture and decor danced across the stone walls, which were draped with tapestries and the rainbow silk that had always mesmerized David. Alongside various trinkets and ornaments from far-off lands, crystals, geodes and bouquets of flowers provided vibrant bursts of life along the tables and shelves.

Assuming that he was in the back compartment of the cave, David peered through and found Janir sitting cross-legged upon the ground, cradling a spherical metal object in his hands. It was the arcane timepiece he had been working on for several weeks. Janir seemed entranced by the rhythmic swing of the pendulum. Sensing David’s presence, he looked up. “David,” he said. “Forgive me, I must have lost track of time.” He stood up, placed the timepiece upon a nearby table and took a deep breath.

“Is everything all right?” David asked, noticing that Janir seemed out of sorts. For a start, it was most unlike him to have lost track of time. Janir was ordinarily a man two steps ahead of time.

“I don’t know,” Janir said, narrowing his eyes. “Something isn’t right. Something has changed…”

“What?”

“I can’t tell yet. But it’s something important. I could see it in the stars, I could sense it in the darkness and I can feel it in the air. It’s subtle as of yet, but even the subtlest of changes can yield the most far-reaching of consequences…”

David had no idea what Janir was talking about and he knew that he wasn’t likely to be more forthcoming anytime soon. So he opted to change the topic of conversation. “Do you notice anything different about me today?”

It took Janir a moment to refocus his thoughts and notice the crystal around David’s neck. David watched as Janir’s eyes fixed upon the amulet. He remained silent as he moved closer to inspect the talisman, cautiously lifting it up, drinking in every last detail. “Where did you get this?” he asked in a hoarse whisper.

Janir listened as David explained the story behind the object. “So what do you think? Do you recognize it?”

“I don’t know,” Janir said, still unable to take his eyes off the amulet.

“Have you seen it before?” David pressed. “Or anything like it?”

“No. No, I’ve never seen craftsmanship of the like.”

But David knew that he was holding something back. Janir raised his hand to his forehead and ran it over his greying hair, which was tied behind his neck in tight plaits. David studied his face, desperately trying to gauge what he was thinking. His forehead was creased and his eyes distant. “How could I actually have forgotten?” he whispered to himself before turning his attention back to his young protégé. “David, I need some time to meditate on this. We will discuss it later.”

“Why not now?”

“It is not the place of a student to question his mentor. I need some time alone. I must find the answers before I can possibly hope to share them.”

David nodded in reluctant compliance. “When will I come back?”

“Shall we say tomorrow afternoon, same time as usual?”

“But you’ll be at my birthday celebration this evening, won’t you? It’s in the town square. Everyone is coming.”

“Oh…yes. Yes, I shall try to make it,” Janir responded. But David could see that his mind was elsewhere.

Without another word, David bowed before his teacher and departed, confused and discontented by his reaction. Trudging his way back through the forest, his eyes were drawn back down to the violet crystal. He hadn’t known what Janir would have to say about it, but he hadn’t anticipated such a strange reaction. Janir seemed shocked, even scared by it—and David had never seen Janir scared by anything.

* * *

The taste was bitter. Nevertheless Janir chewed and swallowed the perota root. It had been many years since he had last traversed the inner planes and he felt the need of a medicinal aide. He soon felt the effects of the drug as it coursed through his nervous system. He assumed his meditative posture and, closing his eyes, tried to focus his mental energy upon reaching the gates of Shanadon.

And, soon enough…

His mind became the universe…

And the universe became his mind.

“Welcome back, Janir,” he heard an echoing voice.

Janir found himself on an endless stretch of beach. Beneath the cloudless lilac sky the tide was far out, the water a glorious cobalt blue, the sand luminous golden-white, each grain shining as though it was a whole world of its own. In front of him appeared Delei, his guide. She looked just as he remembered her: radiant and ethereal, draped in flowing white robes, her silver hair cascading over slender shoulders. Yet there was something different about her. She exuded anxiety and concern, two emotions he would previously have thought as being antithetical to her very nature. “It has been a long time,” she said.

“It has. For which I apologize…”

“You tried to ignore it. You tried to forget. Only now you can do so no longer. The time has come, Janir.”

“For what…?”

“The endgame: the final battle in a war that has been waged for countless eons across innumerable universes. The end draws near. Victory or defeat will soon be decided.”

“Then it’s true, isn’t it? The prophecies were correct. He is the one…”

“You already know this to be true.”

“Yes, I suppose I’ve known it all along. As I settled into to life on the island it became all too easy to forget; to forget the things I’d been told and to ignore what was standing right before me. But when I saw him with the Key, I knew I could no longer deny the truth, or hide from the inevitable. Please, Delei, tell me…tell me what I must do; tell me what I need to know…”

“Ten years have passed since you left the outer lands behind. In that time much has changed…”

Janir saw images flash before him: images of places and lands he had once known, including Taribor, his homeland. A spiraling black cloud engulfed the cities and towns in a pall of darkness. He saw the soldiers of the enemy—bleak, terrifying and inhuman—marching across the land…armies numbering in their tens of thousands…massive airships looming over the cities, obscuring the suns…processions of troops trampling through the towns, weapons in hand, killing anyone who stood in their way. A feeling of terror accompanied the images: stark, primal fear, exacerbated by the helplessness of defeat…

“The Alliance has continued its conquest of the inhabited territories,” Delei told him. “Its power has grown exponentially in terms of territory, military strength and technological advancement. They stand on the verge of world domination. But as you know, world domination is not enough; and the Alliance is but the instrument of a much darker force. Alanar is being torn apart, Janir. There is only one hope…”

“David…?”

“Yes. The Key has been awakened—and they know it has. They have been silently lurking in the shadows for centuries, waiting for this moment, watching for this signal. Now they know that the Key exists they will find it…and soon. Danger stirs and it will not take long for that evil to find what it seeks.”

“What must I do?”

“Prepare. Events have been set in motion to assist you along your path. You must wait until you receive the appropriate signal and then follow the directions you are given. You must trust us implicitly, Janir. Everything depends upon it.”

* * *

David relied on the moonlight to guide him along the darkened forest path. His birthday celebration was now over and everyone had gone home, their bellies full after a hearty meal and their spirits satisfied following a night of song and dance. Not every birthday was celebrated in such a manner but one’s nineteenth was considered a significant occasion, marking the true onset of adulthood. It was therefore customary for family and friends to gather for a big celebration: one with plenty of food, drink and merriment.

Jesanda had pulled out all the stops to ensure that the party was a success and David had thanked her for such an enjoyable evening. He had eaten all he could manage, drank perhaps a little too much wine, received a number of wonderful gifts and had fun sharing stories and laughter with his friends and fellow islanders. No so long ago he’d have found being the centre of such a social gathering uncomfortable and awkward, but the fact he had enjoyed it so much highlighted just how much he’d relaxed into island life.

His only disappointment was that Janir had failed to turn up. David had mentioned the party to him several times now and he had agreed to attend. It was unlike him either to forget or to go back on his word. Given his puzzling behavior earlier that day, David was concerned. So, as his mother and the others headed home, David decided to go and check on him. Something wasn’t right; he could sense it. Janir’s mysterious behavior and cryptic comments began to play on his mind.

All around him the trees stretched up like tall sentinels, the canopy of leaves waving in the evening breeze. The stars sparkled like static fireflies in the sky, alongside the moon, a silver orb that bathed the forest below in a translucent glow. Aside for the rustling of the trees and the cooing of a distant owl, silence pervaded.

Striding through the forest, David began to feel as though someone was watching and listening amid the silence; straining to catch every last whisper in the breeze. It’s just because it’s dark, he chastised himself. Don’t be such a child.

But rationale failed to placate the uneasy feeling in his belly. As he quickened his pace, he heard a noise. There was someone here. Their presence was unmistakable. He could feel eyes drilling into the back of his head. He spun round, but there was nothing to see. Hastening his speed, he again heard a noise behind him: footsteps crunching on the fallen leaves carpeting the forest floor.

Someone was following him.

He began to run. But in the darkness he could barely see where he was going and, his senses dulled by one too many glasses of wine, he tripped on a stray log and came crashing to the ground.

As he looked up he caught sight of his pursuer: a man, unrecognizable in the shadows, bearing down on him. David recoiled, but his assailant reached down and grabbed his arm, yanking him off the ground.

Unsteady on his feet, David tried to free himself, but the man held him firm. A wave of dread swept over him as his eyes settled on the man’s face. David had never seen him before. Whoever he was, he did not belong on New Haven.


It doesn’t end there! The story has only just begun. The Key of Alanar is now available to buy on Amazon and multiple retailers in both paperback and ebook format. Visit the official launch page for buy links, background information and much more! ad2

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Read Chapter One of ‘The Key of Alanar’: “The Stranger”

If you missed The Key of Alanar‘s darkly dramatic Prologue, you can still find it here! This, the first chapter of the book, is set 10,000 years after the apocalyptic events of the Prologue and the fall of Lasandria. Set in a completely different time and place, the story shifts gears as we meet David, the book’s central protagonist, on a day that will change his life forevermore.

If you are eager to read more, The Key of Alanar is now available to buy on Amazon and multiple retailers in both paperback and ebook format. Visit the official launch page for buy links, background information and much more.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000037_00050]

Chapter One
THE STRANGER

Year of Atahl, 14,999

Standing on the edge of the riverbank, David gazed into the trickling water. A fragmented, ghostly reflection stared back at him: that of a nine year-old boy, lost and utterly alone. Reaching down, he picked up a stone and threw it at the water. As it hit the water surface, his reflection shattered and vanished. He felt a strange sense of envy. Why couldn’t he too simply blink out of existence? After all, what did it matter; and who would really care?

David had lived on the island of New Haven his entire life. It was therefore his home and the people he lived with were his family. Yet although it pained him to admit, he could feel no real connection to them and no sense of belonging to this place. Even from an early age he had known he was somehow different to everyone else. His parents cared for him deeply, and he them, but he had long known there was something about him that made them uncomfortable. But what was it? What was it that was wrong with him?

Today he had finally learned the truth; and he now knew why he felt so innately like a stranger in his own world.

Sitting down upon the grassy riverbank, the sunlight shone through the swaying trees, the light sparkling upon the water in a rhythmic, strangely hypnotic dance. But the distraction was only momentary, for again his troubled mind returned to the events of earlier.

It had happened after school. A chance encounter that brought his entire world crumbling down.

David had never much liked school. He preferred spending his time alone and hated being forced into social situations that only reinforced the awkwardness he had interacting with others. But he nevertheless endeavored to behave in the ways that were expected of him and was always polite and courteous. He certainly wasn’t one of the more popular children, but he gave no reason to be unpopular. Not that such a reason was always necessary.

Situated on the edge of the Sharedo forest, the island school was just a short walk from the main town. Classes were finished for the day and David was making his way home. While the other children gathered in groups to talk and play, David usually walked alone, often trailing behind everyone else. As he passed by a grove of blossom-heavy fruit trees, the path forked to the right and he found the way ahead obstructed by three boys playing an aggressive game of tagball. David’s heart sank upon recognizing them. Their ringleader was the notorious Dahn, a burly blonde-haired boy from two years above him, known throughout the school as a vindictive bully.

Over the years David had developed the knack of blending into the background, avoiding drawing undue attention to himself. While it seemed to work most of the time, there were occasions when it didn’t—and he had very much become an object of Dahn’s attention. Several weeks ago he had come across Dahn beating up one of his classmates, a short, skinny boy called Antan. Dahn had chased Antan into one of the farmer’s fields, pinned him down and bloodied his nose. He twisted the boy’s arm behind his back as he cried out in pain. Unlike the other children, who knew better than to get involved, David found himself unable to turn a blind eye to someone in need of help. Mustering a courage that he never even knew he possessed, David intervened, squaring up to Dahn and demanding that he leave Antan alone. Dahn, clearly astounded that someone had the nerve to challenge him, released Antan and thereafter David became the focus of his attention.

A loner with no real friends, David was a prime target for a bully and Dahn subsequently initiated a campaign of intimidation against him. He hadn’t resorted to physical violence but had adopted a subtler, more insidious form of bullying, repeatedly trying to unnerve him and undermine  his confidence. Whenever they crossed paths at school, Dahn would fix David in his sights and glare at him menacingly, pointing him out to his thuggish friends; making jokes and jeering at him. David knew that this was merely the warm-up to a looming confrontation, and today, the moment he laid eyes on Dahn alone in the forest, he knew that his adversary was ready to move in for the kill.

Upon catching sight of David, Dahn and his friends stopped their game and circled around him like flies over a slab of meat. Dahn’s two henchmen, Gerdan and Robb leered belligerently and made a grab for his schoolbooks. David pulled back from them, clutching his books to his chest. Surprisingly Dahn wasn’t joining in, but was watching with a dark glint in his eye.

“So where d’you think you’re going?” sneered Robb, his rounded and unpleasant face permanently flushed, accentuating his reddish freckles.

David said nothing, keeping his face neutral yet defiant.

“School’s over!” Gerdan cried, reaching out and snatching the books from his arms. “You won’t be needing these.” The tall, stocky boy threw the books to ground and kicked them across the path, sending the pages flying. Robb leapt over and kicked them even further, until they landed in a puddle.

David looked around helplessly. The other children were far ahead, out of sight. There was no one to help. He felt his heart pounding in his chest as he struggled to hold his own against Dahn’s minions. They began pushing him around, passing him to each other as though playing some kind of bizarre ball game in which David was the object of play. David tried to break free but they were far stronger and easily overpowered him.

“Let him go,” Dahn suddenly barked.

Somewhat surprised, Robb and Gerdan did as he said and released David, who pushed himself free and took a step back. He watched as Dahn stepped toward him. “Don’t mind them,” Dahn said slowly, motioning to Robb and Gerdan, who looked on, puzzled. “Their mothers obviously never taught them any manners.” As Dahn continued, an insincere smile played across his lips. “We’ve never really had the chance to get to know each other, have we?”

David was initially taken aback by this inexplicable change in Dahn’s behavior. He might even have believed this façade of friendliness had it not been for the malicious glint lingering in his eyes. “I think we’ve been too hard on you,” Dahn continued. “I mean, it must be difficult for you. I don’t know how I’d cope in your situation.”

David eyed him suspiciously. “What situation?”

“You know, not having a real family. Not having real parents. Not belonging here.”

“What are you talking about? I have a family. I have parents!”

“Yeah, but they’re not really your parents, are they?” Dahn smiled and shrugged. “They just took pity on you. You don’t have a real family.” A moment of silence followed. Dahn was clearly enjoying every second of this. “I mean, how could you? You don’t even come from the island.”

David stared at him blankly.

“They found you on the mainland when you were just a baby. You were abandoned and they took pity on you…”

Unable to respond, David stood still, numb with shock.

“You did know that…didn’t you?” Dahn asked in mock surprise. “I mean, surely they told you all this? After all, everybody knows it: that you’re an orphan, an outsider, that you don’t belong here…that you’re only here out of pity…”

Dahn’s words cut through him like a blade. Unable to speak, David was overcome by a barrage of conflicting emotion: shock, anger—and sudden, blinding clarity. All he could remember next was the sensation of something exploding inside him. He lashed out at Dahn and knocked him to the ground with such ferocity that his friends backed off in alarm.

After that, he ran. His mind numb and his senses blurred, David didn’t even consciously know where he was going and was oblivious to both his surroundings and whoever he happened to encounter along his way. As if pulled by instinct, he found himself in the depths of the Sharedo forest. The forest was in a secluded part of the island; a safe haven where he spent many hours enjoying the peace and solitude. Once certain that he was safe and alone, he collapsed against a tree trunk. His knees buckled and he sank to the ground, engulfed by the storm of emotion he had thus far managed to hold at bay. He was only nine years old and his entire existence had been revealed as a lie.

Initially he wondered whether Dahn’s words were to be believed. It could have merely been a cruel joke on his part, yet something deep within him knew that it was the truth. He’d finally been given the answer he’d sought his entire life. Everything made sense: his nagging, life-long inability to feel at home, the way other people treated him, and his yearning to be somewhere else; to find a place that he could truly call home.

He sat alone for what seemed like hours. He now had to accept the truth that he really was different to everyone else on the island. It was something he’d pretty much known his entire life and yet in spite of this, the eventual confirmation was no less painful. How many times had he wished and prayed that he could just be like everyone else? Fitting in and feeling as though he belonged here had been an elusive dream that was now forever dispelled by the light of truth. He had to accept that. And yet, if he didn’t belong here, where did he belong? Basically it came down to one simple question:

Who am I?

He threw a large stone at the water with a force fueled by the depths of his desperation. The stone landed with a resounding splash, drops of water splattering onto his face. Wiping his face with the back of his hand, he looked upward. Judging by the position of the suns in the mauve sky, he guessed it was now early evening. His parents would be worried about him. Although what did it matter? They weren’t really his parents.

David stood up, brushed himself off and found himself wandering through the forest. Birds cawed and cooed and the tree branches danced in the breeze as he climbed over fallen logs and tromped along the uneven terrain, his footsteps crunching in the twig-strewn undergrowth. He passed through a thicket of dense evergreens, scraping the skin on his arms as he pushed his way through.

He soon found himself at the edge of the forest. Ahead of him a steep drop gave way to the rocky shoreline. Across the turquoise ocean he could see the faint outline of land on the horizon. His eyes settled upon the distant landmass. He felt a pull toward it, a deep yearning, for he now realized that his home was not here on New Haven but was out there, somewhere across the waters. If he ever truly wanted to know who he was and where he belonged, then that was where he had to go.

In that moment, he made the decision. He was going. He was leaving here and setting out to find his true home. He had been lied to and deceived his entire life and he now wanted the truth.

He looked down at the shore. On the edge of the cove was a jetty with a small rowing boat, bobbing up and down on the water. While the main port and harbor were on the west side of the island, there were a few boats moored along the circumference of the island. As this was a secluded spot, rarely used, he should be able to leave the island unseen.

His mind was set; the decision was made. Tomorrow he was taking the boat and leaving here. Tomorrow he was going home.

Bolstered by this grandiose conviction, he decided that it was time he went home and faced up to the wrath of his parents. He would need a good night’s sleep, for he knew that tomorrow’s endeavor would require as much strength as he could muster.

As he turned to leave he saw something out of the corner of his eye: a man standing at the edge of the forest, watching him. Yet the moment he turned in that direction, the figure was gone. Whoever it was, he’d vanished! Or had he just imagined there was someone there? Puzzled, he nevertheless dismissed the incident and set on his way.

As expected, his parents, Jon and Jesanda, had panicked when he hadn’t returned home from school. Despite being relieved to see him when he eventually turned up on the doorstep, they were angry at his ‘irresponsibility’ for having wandered off without notice. “Where were you anyway?” Jon demanded.

David didn’t want them to know what had really happened. “I just went to play in the forest after school,” he mumbled in response.

“Well, in future you’re to let us know beforehand. Is that clear?”

“Yes,” David sighed.

It was dark by the time they sat down to eat evening meal, and there was an awkward silence around the table. David wasn’t at all hungry, but he knew that he had to keep his strength up for tomorrow, so he ate somewhat laboriously, then excused himself and went to bed.

In spite of his tiredness, sleep eluded him. His mind continuously went over his plans for the morning. The day would begin as it always did: he would get up and leave for school, only he’d head for the edge of the Sharedo forest and set out on the boat. He knew it would be a long and difficult row. He had been to the mainland before and it was at least a half day’s journey from New Haven, and that was with adults at the helm. There was no telling how much longer it would take him.

He did feel a pang of remorse at the prospect of leaving his parents. He knew that they loved him. Yet they weren’t his real parents. They’d lied to him his entire life. Maybe it was a lie born of kindness, but that was beside the point. He needed to know the truth. The thought of setting out into the world alone was daunting and he knew he’d miss them, but it was a choice he was willing to make. He had to. He’d never been more certain of anything.

Morning came and he could only have slept for a couple of hours at most. With a yawn he pulled back the covers and climbed out of bed, the floor cold on his bare feet as he stepped over to the window. He opened the curtain and looked out, disheartened by what he saw: an overcast sky, churning with rain clouds. The island had enjoyed a long stretch of fine weather, which made this sudden shift all the more frustrating. But unfortunate though it was, he decided it wasn’t reason enough to call off his plan.

He wasted little time in washing and getting dressed. His mother had laid out clothes for him: a pair of dark cotton trousers and a sleeveless grey tunic. He tied up his boots and ran his hand through his short brown hair as he made his way through the hall into the kitchen, the smell of cooking wafting through the house.

The atmosphere had eased considerably following the previous night’s drama. It was with a sense of sadness that David realized this would be the last meal he would share with his parents. He took his seat at the wooden table and sipped a glass of freshly squeezed olak juice as his mother served up some stewed apples and spiced oats. His mind was elsewhere as his parents discussed the day’s plans. “We’ll be leaving before you again, David,” Jon looked over at David, who was absent-mindedly staring into his bowl. “You’ll be okay to lock up, right?”

David looked up. “What?”

“We have to leave early,” his mother said as she joined them at the table. “It’s been so busy on the farm this week. It’s always the same during planting season. Hopefully after the next couple of days it’ll settle down again.”

“Uh, that’s all right,” David answered. In fact that would work to his advantage. When they left the house he’d have the opportunity to grab some supplies before heading off.

After they’d eaten and cleared up the dishes, Jon and Jesanda readied themselves to leave while David pretended to prepare for school. As she was about to leave, his mother reached out and hugged him goodbye as she always did, her wavy brown hair tickling the back of his neck as she held him. It was with a great sense of sadness that David said goodbye to his parents. As far as they were concerned they were just parting for the day, but David knew he might never see them again. Such a thought being too painful to reconcile, he made a pledge that someday he would return to New Haven to see them again.

The moment the door clicked shut, he sprang into action. He packed several changes of clothing, filled a large water-skin flask and, raiding the pantry, stock-piled enough food to last several days. For sentimental reasons he also included one or two personal items, such as an engraving that his mother had created depicting the family. He stuffed them into a leather bag and slung it across his shoulder. Exiting the house, he locked the door and left the key behind the base of the purple luveria bush.

He could feel a sense of apprehension as he walked down the street and crossed the wooden bridge leading across the Jaran River and onto the outskirts of town. The air was cool and heavy and the sky thick with ever-darkening cloud. Rain seemed imminent. Groups of children made their way out of the town thoroughfare in clusters, sauntering along the path to school. David kept his head down, hoping to avoid running into anyone he knew. Fortunately he knew a detour by which he could bypass the school lane and slip into the heart of the forest unseen. He followed a dirt track round by a series of warehouses and crossed a grassy field beyond which stretched the dense woodland of the Sharedo forest. As he traipsed along the forest path, the trees waving back and forth in the wind, he felt a knotted sensation in his stomach. He didn’t know whether it was a feeling of excitement or trepidation, but he tried to dismiss it and kept on going.

When he again came to the edge of the forest, he stopped and looked across the choppy grey waters to the horizon. Visibility was poor today. He couldn’t make out the headland at all. Indeed, the clouds across the sea were about as dark as he’d ever seen them. Ignoring this, he scrambled down the embankment onto the shoreline. The wind was picking up, blustering in gusts, forcing him to lift his arms to keep his balance as he stepped across the uneven rocks and onto the jetty. Below him the water thrashed against the wooden stilts, sending a mist of salty water spraying upward, wetting his skin and clothes. He climbed into the little red boat and laid down his bag. The boat lurched back and forth in a relentless rocking motion, banging against the side of the jetty. David felt his stomach lurching along with the boat, but he ignored his discomfort and prepared to depart. He awkwardly untethered the boat from its mooring, casting off the line as he sat down and took hold of the oars.

Continually buffeted by the tide, it took him a number of attempts to maneuver the boat away from the jetty. At one point he almost rammed into an outcropping of rock. Clearly this was more difficult than it looked. He eventually managed, with considerable exertion and a large measure of luck, to row the boat out of the cove and into the open expanse of the ocean.

It was a moment that was in equal measure exhilarating and terrifying, and one in which he knew there was no turning back. He looked across at the island, the only home that he’d ever known, and with mixed emotion silently bade it farewell.

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Read the Prologue of ‘The Key of Alanar’

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.

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THE KEY OF ALANAR

Prologue

The End

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?

“Ardonis.”

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.”

“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…?”

“Behold.”

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.

‘The Key of Alanar’ is Officially Released Today!

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Hi everyone! It may be Monday morning (ugh!) but it’s also 14th September, a day I’ve been looking forward to for some time now! I’m delighted to announce that The Key of Alanar is now available online from multiple stores in both ebook and paperback format. You can also order it through your local bookshop or library, too!

My website has been updated with full details about the book, including information on the characters and setting. You can also order a SIGNED COPY directly from me. All you need to do is select your region and click ‘buy now’ and your payment will be processed via Paypal. It really is as simple as clicking a button. All orders will be promptly dispatched and will include a free bookmark. Click here to visit the Key of Alanar launch page!

Here are the direct links to Amazon and Amazon UK. There are more purchase links on the launch page.


Synopsis

Lasandria. An ancient civilization, consigned to oblivion by the greed and power lust of its own people.

The coming apocalypse heralds the arrival of a new evil that will ravage the world of Alanar for an entire age. Yet on the eve of Lasandria’s destruction, the ethereal overseers of the mortal realm grant a dispensation—a promise of hope for the future.

That hope lies with an orphaned teenager named David, born some ten millennia later; a boy whose isolated and uncertain existence leads him on a journey upon which hinges the fate of not just his world, but countless others.

On the run from a brutal military force, David’s quest is one born of shattered dreams and tainted by the thirst for revenge. As an inter-dimensional war that has been waged since the beginning of time threatens to consume his world, the dark force that destroyed Lasandria lurks in the shadows, ready to take possession of the one thing that will either save Alanar or destroy it: David.


From the official press release…

SCOTTISH AUTHOR RELEASES LIFE-CHANGING NOVEL 20 YEARS IN THE MAKING

Sometimes perseverance really does pay off. Scottish author Rory Mackay has spent two decades working on a single novel: The Key of Alanar, an ambitious fantasy/science-fiction thriller with a metaphysical twist. Originally conceived when the author was still in high school, it’s a story that has been with him most his life—and a story that has changed his life.

While Rory spent years developing the ideas behind this and subsequent books in the planned series, little direct progress was made on the book as he focused on education and work. A chronic illness brought him to a crossroads in life and enabled him to rediscover his true passion as a storyteller. Determined to pursue his dream in spite of all challenges, Rory continued working on the book through countless drafts, rewrites and edits. In the meantime he had another novel published in 2013, Eladria, a critically acclaimed prelude to The Key of Alanar (available from Cosmic Egg Books – and currently on a 99p / 99c sale!).

Finally released this month, The Key of Alanar marks the completion of a 20 year project—and one that helped the author through some difficult times. Rory’s work reflects his interest in the potential of mythology and fiction to elevate mood and consciousness: to make people think, to inspire, provoke and ultimately to heal.

An action packed, emotionally charged adventure, The Key of Alanar has an element of philosophy subtly woven into the narrative, serving as an exploration of life, death, reality and how, on a personal level, we can move beyond grief and suffering to become all that we are capable of being. A tale of transcendence and redemption, The Key of Alanar is a book that will likely stay with the reader long after they have read the last page.

Watch the official trailer! It truly captures the epic, cinematic scope of the novel:

Click here to visit The Key of Alanar launch page, for order links and to purchase a signed copy!

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Stay tuned for exclusive extracts in the next few days and some cool behind the scenes information on the making of a book!

An author in the spotlight: Rory Mackay answers 4 questions!

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Nothing beats the power of a good question. Questions make us think, reflect and explore things in different ways. I’m all for questions, and I always endeavour to give good answers! So here I am taking part in a challenge I saw online several months back, in which an author answers four simple questions. Well, I’m an author, and without any further ado, here are the questions…

When did you begin writing?

I’ve been writing since childhood. Creativity was an innate and essential part of my nature as far back as I can remember. When I was younger I was more visually focused, as I loved drawing and painting. What I did was always connected with storytelling, however. I created characters, worlds and adventures and made my own comic books from the time I was about 7 or 8 years old. My longest running series was called King Croc, a quirky and comical fantasy series about a reptilian anti-hero whose job was to conquer the galaxy but who really couldn’t be bothered. He would rather sit at home eating doughnuts that conquer planets. Who wouldn’t? I still have some of those comics in a drawer.

When I was in my teens I began work on a very different project; laying the groundwork for what would eventually become the novel I am about to publish, The Key of Alanar! This was originally intended as a serialised television series or series of movies, but not knowing how to even begin with such a lofty project, I decided to make it a series of novels instead. Having worked on this for the best part of my life, and invested so much time, energy and love in it, I’m truly excited that I am finally able to share this creative vision with the world. (The Key of Alanar is already available to preorder on Amazon for a 14 September release!)

What inspired me to write my first books?

I grew up with a great love of science fiction and fantasy. Already something of a dreamer, it really stirred my imagination and I loved nothing more than to transport myself to other worlds, times and places. But for me the genre was far more than simple escapism. Even in my early teens I really loved that sci-fi and fantasy could be used as a means of exploring ideas, themes and human potential. I was always a bit of a deep thinker, and I loved when books, films and television had a little depth; a purpose behind telling a story.

As I grew up, I became fascinated by mythology and archetypal tales of heroic quests and journeys. Initially my first series of books was called ‘The Journey’, as a reflection of the journey we all take through life, in search of happiness and wholeness. I wanted to explore what makes us tick, and why we live as we do. I didn’t just want to entertain people, I wanted to make people think and say something about life. The development of my books ran parallel to my development as a person as I grew up, learned, experienced many things, and ultimately devoted myself to the pursuit of spiritual knowledge, truth and understanding the nature of life and who we are. I like telling fantastical stories that fire the imagination, stir the emotions and, above all, make people think. In my view, the greatest stories inspire, challenge and enlighten. They are stories that heal. They leave people the better for having read them; a kind of gift shared between author and reader. That is why I wanted to write and why I still keep writing.

How do you write?

I need to be clear about what I’m writing before I start the first sentence. I learned early on the necessity of starting with a blueprint, or at least a firm plan of how the novel will begin, develop and end. My stories are quite complex and multi-layered, so I need to make sure I’ve worked everything beforehand or else I would be liable to write myself into a sticky corner and waste significant time on something that just doesn’t work out. One day I’d actually like to just start writing with no idea in ind how it will end, but it certainly won’t be for my current series, which requires forward planning. There are simply too many balls to potentially drop otherwise!

So, I wait for the ideas to start flowing. It’s almost like my mind is working on the story even when I’m not consciously thinking about it. There comes a time when I can feel the creative energy flowing and I just sit down with paper and a pen and allow the ideas to spill out. I get them structured into a clear framework, and then, when I’m satisfied with what I’ve got, I start writing away. First drafts are usually best written as quickly as possible, to keep the creative momentum flowing smoothly. Then I’ll write three, four or more subsequent drafts and spend a long time editing. With my first published novel, Eladria, I spent one year writing the first few drafts and then another 18 months or so editing and polishing it. As Phyllis A Whitney said: “a good book isn’t written, it is rewritten.” The key is really in taking that mud-covered diamond and scraping and polishing it until it gleams.

Do you have any writing advice you would like to share?

Yes. Write because you love to write. Have no expectations. Follow your passion and pour your heart and soul into it. Don’t expect anything back; even if you write a complete masterpiece, there are so many books being written and published right now that it’s hard to get anyone’s attention. Have no expectation, but stay true to your own unique creative vision. Write a story you feel needs to be told. Share ideas, share experiences and dreams and thoughts. Write a book that will make the world a better place for your having written it. Think of it as part of your legacy, which it is, and make it as wonderful as you can. Don’t rush it necessarily, take your time and let your heart guide you. Whether you then sell ten copies or ten thousand, you’ll have contributed something special to the world. And that why being a writer is one of the coolest things in the world.

‘Kill the Past, Destroy the World’ – Short story ebook now FREE on Amazon Kindle for 72 hours!

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If you haven’t already downloaded my latest short story, the provocatively titled prelude to my new novel, now is your chance! For a limited time, Kill the Past, Destroy the World is available to download for FREE on Amazon Kindle. If you have read the story, then I do hope you will share it with anyone else you think might enjoy it.

Kill the Past, Destroy the World tells the story of Mailyn, an embittered sorceress who returns to her homeland, determined to settle some old scores and seek revenge for the sins of the past. Guided by mysterious beings she believes to be ‘angels’, Mailyn is part of a dangerous plot that could spell the end for an entire world. With Mailyn determined to set Alanar alight with the fire of the angels, only one man, the High Priest Ardonis, can stand against her and prevent her from unleashing a planetary apocalypse.

Leading right into the opening pages of The Key of Alanar (which is now available to preorder!) this is one of the most morally ambiguous pieces I’ve ever written and I loved exploring the backstory that leads into an incredibly epic tale that spans 10,000 years and multiple dimensions. The adventure now begins…

Be sure to grab your copy now!

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The story is also available from every other Amazon region, be sure to check it out!

The Power of Storytelling and Mythology

Art by Josephine Wall

Stories have power. Whether in the form of a novel, short story, film, TV series–or even a video game–a good story story has the ability to transport us from our everyday reality to whole other worlds. By engaging our mind, imagination and senses, stories can bring us excitement and wonder, making us laugh and cry, feel, dream, love, hope and think. They have the power to encourage, motivate, educate and heal–and they can help us better understand and relate to others and this world we’re all a part of.

I’ve always been aware of the power of storytelling. I knew that I wanted to be a writer from the time I was 6 or 7 years old. I could often be a bit of a precocious and unsociable kid. While everyone else was out playing I would be sitting in my room, paper and pen in my hand, creating new worlds and characters and setting them off on all kinds of epic adventures. I actually came up with the idea for my first novel when I was still in primary school! I was a born storyteller. I always knew that I had stories inside of me; stories that I wanted to be able to tell and share with the world.

As I grew up and started learning the craft of writing, I was determined to find of exactly why stories matter to us. Why do human beings have this innate compulsion to tell stories and why do we love hearing, reading and watching them?

An aspect of human nature

What I came to realise was that storytelling plays a vital role in human culture, and it always has. You might even say it’s part of our very nature. According to cognitive scientist Roger Schank:

“Humans are not ideally set up to understand logic; they are ideally set up to understand stories.”

So storytelling is basically hard-wired into us. It’s one way in which we understand and process reality.

Stories aren’t merely for the purpose of entertainment. They actually have the power to change the world and change us. The art of storytelling has been a key part of human culture as far back as we know. As Ursula Le Guin says:

“The story is one of the basic tools invented by the human mind for the purpose of understanding. There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.”

Ancient stories

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Ancient cave paintings are believed to be the earliest records of mythology. They were essentially narratives created by early man in an attempt to understand and explain the nature of life, the world, animals, nature and the mystery of existence.

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Language is a relatively recent development in human evolution, so the earliest stories weren’t spoken or told in words, but most likely enacted and danced. In fact a number of cultures still do this such as Native Americans and other indigenous tribes. The cave paintings weren’t just created for the sake of it or to make the caves look decorative, but were believed to have been records, reminders and prompts to keep the tribe’s stories and myths alive.

Myth and mythology is the world’s oldest form of storytelling. Today the word ‘myth’ has come to mean something that’s false or untrue; a fabrication or lie. But the word stems from the Greek word ‘mythos’ which means story or tale. Myth is a story or set of stories holding significant symbolic meaning for a particular culture. As language developed, myths were generally delivered by word of mouth through speech, conversation or song. It’s only comparatively recently, in the past few centuries that they came to be recorded in the written word.

The purpose of myth is to help us make sense of the universe and our place in it. These myths might be based on factual accounts of events, discoveries and realisations, but were more often deeply metaphorical and filled with symbolic meaning. In other words, myths aren’t literal accounts of truth, but are stories with lots of hidden meaning. To understand them, you have to look beneath the surface and peel away the layers of meaning.

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The ancient myths often featured various gods and goddesses, demigods, supernatural heroes and ordinary humans, as in the ancient Greek myths. The Greek and Roman myths in particular had an enormous effect in shaping their respective cultures. The exploits of the gods and their adventures were almost akin to a modern day soap opera. The people were enthralled and spellbound, and the myths themselves served a number of important societal functions.

I first learned of these functions when I came across the work of Joseph Campbell, an American scholar and world-renowned expert in comparative mythology. As a young man, Campbell was fascinated by the legends of the Native Americans, which began a lifelong fascination and passion for mythology. His most famous work, “The Hero With A Thousand Faces”, which I came across when I was about 21, was a book I found fascinating on multiple levels. It not only changed the way I looked at writing and storytelling, but it changed the way I looked at life.

The Four Functions of Myth

Campbell outlined four primary functions of myth. Bearing in mind that myth is the origin of storytelling as we know it today, this has relevance and can even be applied to some extent to literature, art and media in our culture too.

1. Metaphysical

The first function, which Campbell also believed was one of the most important, was what he termed the metaphysical. This refers to the ability of mythology to awaken a sense of awe and wonder about the very nature of existence.

This is something that we’ve lost in our culture. Young children naturally possess this innate sense of awe, but as we grow up we generally lose it. We get bogged down in the physical, our everyday mundane existence, taking everything for granted–least of all the fact we’re alive, that we exist!…which is a miracle in itself.

The conditions necessary for Earth to sustain life are innumerable and exact. The planet has to be just the right distance from the sun. It needs to spin precisely the right way and have the right amount of gravity, oxygen and various other elements in perfect combination before it can support life. The fact that we exist at all is beyond amazing, yet we totally take it for granted.

This Einstein quote sums up this function of myth perfectly–and it’s a great quote to live by:

“There are two ways to live your life: You can live as if nothing is a miracle, or you can live as if everything is a miracle.”

And one of the most important functions of myth–and all the great stories–is to get us to remember how incredible, wondrous and precious life is.

2. Cosmological

The second function is cosmological. Cosmology is the study of the Universe and its components, how it was formed and evolved. Cosmology was born of questions such as “what’s going on around me” and “how does the universe work?”

For millennia mankind used myth (specifically creation myths) as a means of explaining and understanding the physical world and universe. These myths were created to help early man make sense of nature, weather, the passing of the seasons and the cycle of birth and death.

For example, to explain the functioning of nature and the elements, cultures often assigned different gods or deities that controlled for the rain, sun, fire and water. Nature itself was personified, usually as woman–indeed, there are countless variations of the Mother Earth, Gaia, or Earth Goddess archetype across many different cultures.

3. Sociological

As a sociological device, myth and storytelling have the ability to validate and support the existing social order and promote social norms, customs and beliefs. Shared stories can create a social bond between people, enabling them to share the same beliefs, outlook and understanding of life, which brought about a sense of social cohesion and community. In ancient times, mythology was part of the glue that held tribes and societies together.

4. Pedagogical

The pedagogical aspect refers to mythology’s ability to guide the individual through the different stages of life–from childhood to adolescence, adolescence to maturity, maturity to old age and from old age to death.

As we go through life we encounter many psychological, emotional and even physical challenges. Mythology provided guidance and signposts, often reflected in rites of passage and initiations. People weren’t left to struggle through these life changes on their own. They were given clear guidance through ceremony, ritual and myth and they knew clearly what was expected of them. Ancient India for example divided life into four stages: the student stage, the householder stage, the elder adviser stage and the renunciate stage where the individual leaves behind all worldly ties to seek final enlightenment.

Without this kind of guidance, confusion and psychological suffering usually result, as this is widespread in today’s world. We grow up in an unsettled, constantly shifting world, pretty confused and unclear about what’s expected of us and how we’re supposed to ‘make it’ in the world. In many ways we’ve got more choice than ever before, but this can actually make things harder and more overwhelming than if we have clearcut guidelines about what we’re ‘meant’ to do in life. Myth gave guidance, encouragement and motivation and a sense that we weren’t alone in life; that we weren’t on this journey without a map and compass.

Campbell described myth as being an outplaying of the various parts of ourselves that are in conflict with each other: our desires, hopes, fears and ambitions; the conflict between what we want in life and what we can get; between who we are and who we want to be. The mythological battles between heroes and demons–all the sacrifice and bravery, love and cruelty, victories and defeats–are metaphors for the conflicts of the human psyche. Myths originated from realisations of some kind that were then expressed in symbolic form to guide us. Many of them deal with the maturation of the individual, growing from dependency to adulthood, maturity and old age; and they explored how we relate to other people, society, our culture and the world at large.

The form of the myths change with the passing of time. To remain relevant to the culture they’re part of, they must evolve, adapt and transform as the world continually changes. If they don’t, they become obsolete. They lose their meaning and become dumb, irrelevant stories that confuse and mislead.

krishna-playing-fluteThe song of the universe

Joseph Campbell was astounded to discover extraordinary similarities between the great myths from vastly different cultures across the millennia. In fact there was a distinct and definite pattern that most of these myths seemed to follow.

He found that all stories, regardless of the time, place and culture in which they came from, tend to share a common structure. They are essentially the same story being told in an infinite variety of ways. Campbell had evidently cracked a secret code, the pattern behind all the greatest stories ever told. The whole human race, he believed, could be seen to be reciting a single story…a story with immense psychological, sociological and spiritual importance. Myth, he said, was the song of the universe, being sung by a thousand different peoples and cultures.

The way in which this story is delivered can be infinitely varied, but it has the same basic structure. Furthermore, when stripped down, it is always a story about universal human themes and questions such as: Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going? What am I here to do? Is this all there is to life?

This story helps us explain the universe and our place in it, dealing with themes of identity, meaning and purpose. As science is discovering, humans aren’t wired to understand logic directly. Instead, logic is best grasped through the use of narrative and metaphor–and this is why stories can be so powerful.

As this universal story evolves through time, it takes different forms depending on the context of a particular culture. The story is told in an infinite variety of ways, but the fundamental elements remain strikingly familiar. Campbell called it the monomyth…or the hero’s journey.

The hero’s journey

The hero’s journey is basically the journey of every human being as they go through life. It’s relevant to all of us, because we’re each the hero of our own particular story. The hero’s journey is a guide to life; a map to help us along the challenging road we all have to take through life.

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The hero’s journey has a distinct structure. If you analyse great myths, epics, novels and even many films and television dramas, you can often see how they fit into the pattern basic of the hero’s journey, even if the elements are significantly rearranged or modified.

The basic structure is that the hero must undertake a journey, leaving their comfortable everyday surroundings and venturing into a new, challenging, unfamiliar world. They face all kinds of challenges and then return enriched by the experience, learning or bringing something of value to aid the world.

There’s always an emotional component to the journey. In any satisfying story, it’s necessary that the hero grows and changes in some way; that they go from one state of being to the next–from incompleteness to wholeness, from lack to gain, weakness to strength, ignorance to wisdom. It’s the emotional journey of the hero that captivates the reader and keeps them hooked and engaged.

Campbell outlined the Hero’s journey as having 17 distinct stages, but others have streamlined the model. The one I’m sharing was adapted by Christopher Vogler and is a bit simpler, using less archaic language.

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Here’s a simple breakdown of the hero’s journey.

1. The Ordinary World

The hero starts off in their ordinary, everyday world. It’s a world that might be considered humdrum, or uneventful. Often there’s a sense of restlessness or incompleteness experienced by the hero. Everything’s ticking along nicely, but the hero somehow doesn’t quite fit in. On some level they know that they’re destined for something different.

2. The Call to Adventure

The story begins with a call to adventure. Something happens that initiates the story. The hero is called away from their ordinary existence into the unknown. A problem or challenge of some kind befalls the hero.

3. Refusal of the Call

Many times the hero hesitates. They’re reluctant to leave their home, their friends and their familiar, safe world. The unknown is terrifying–especially when the stakes have been revealed. Often it’s a life and death quest they’ve been called to embark upon.

4. Meeting the Mentor

By now many stories have introduced what Campbell called the ‘supernatural aid’ which simply means a guide or mentor; someone who imparts information or guides the hero in some way, setting them in the right direction. The mentor might be a wise old man or woman; a veteran of some kind; a wizard, a teacher, a hermit or wanderer. The mentor helps prepare the hero for the journey into the unknown.

5. Crossing the First Threshold

The hero has committed to the journey and is ready to step into what Campbell called ‘the belly of the whale’: the special world! This is the moment the story really takes off. The hero sets off on their quest.

6. Tests, Allies and Enemies

Campbell called this the road of trials. The hero begins to learn the rules of the new world through much conflict and challenge. There’s usually a series of events and conflicts in which the hero begins to learn how to navigate the special world. Along the way they meet new people, good and bad, and make new allies and new enemies.

7. Approach to the Inmost Cave

The hero has been tested repeatedly. He or she has learned a lot about this new world and made allies and adversaries. Now they near the inmost cave, a dangerous place, sometimes a dark place underground, perhaps the lair of his or her greatest enemy, where the object of the quest may be hidden. The hero often has to overcome significant danger and barriers that prevent them entering the inmost cave.

8. The Ordeal

This is the hero’s darkest moment so far. They must face their toughest challenge where, for a time at least, all seems lost. In the myths this was a moment of death and rebirth. The hero dies a symbolic death and is reborn as something greater–with greater courage, greater power, or greater wisdom and understanding. It’s a brink of death moment; a moment in which everything really looks like it’s going to fall apart.

9. The Reward

Once the supreme ordeal is overcome the hero emerges stronger for it. They’ve come into their own power and are ready to seize their destiny. They take possession of the treasure (whether literal or figurative; the treasure, the ‘object’ they’ve been seeking, could be many things: a magical sword, a healing elixir, the object of their romantic affections, or perhaps knowledge or wisdom of some kind).

In ancient traditions, the tribe’s shaman didn’t get his supernatural powers until he’s experienced a death or sorts; a terrible illness, accident or hardship that almost kills him. His life is set in flames and only then, as he rises from the ashes, does he acquire the powers and wisdom of the shaman. Rebirth can only come from death.

The worst has now passed, the quest may have succeeded, but usually it’s not over yet…

10. The Road Back

The hero now has to deal with the consequences of confronting the dark forces during the ordeal. There’s usually a retaliation of some kind; they may have gotten away with the reward, but the villain isn’t going to give up so easily. There’s often an element of chase as the hero, having achieved his or her goal, attempts to return to the ordinary world. This is a turning point. It may involve a change in the aim of the story; a story about achieving some goal might become a story of escape, or a focus on physical danger might shift to emotional risks. It’s another moment of crisis that launches the hero on a new road of trials.

11. Resurrection

This stage is a second ordeal, almost a replay of the life and death struggle of the ordeal. It’s one last, final test for the hero in which they must face their greatest challenge and face a symbolic death and rebirth. Everything is on the line and the hero must use all they have learned during their journey.

In ancient times, hunters and warriors often had to be symbolically purified before returning to the tribe because they had blood on their hands. The hero therefore must undergo a transformation–a final life and death struggle–in which they emerge reborn prior to returning to the Ordinary World. The hero has been transformed in some way; they have grown, changed and learned. There has to be some element of change or growth in the hero to make an emotionally satisfying story.

12. Return with the elixir

The hero now returns to the ordinary world. They’ve come full circle and are back where they started, but they bring with them some kind of elixir, which may be a treasure, a gift, a piece of needed information or wisdom; or something that will solve whatever crisis had originally initiated their departure from the ordinary world. The journey is complete and the hero has come full circle, but is changed and can never be the same again.

A key theme of the ancient myths was the hero departing, going through literal or figurative hell, and then returning with new powers, new wisdom and new understanding.

This basic hero’s journey structure can be found in many of the greatest myths, fairytales, legends and in more contemporary stories–in literature, films and sometimes television. These are our modern day equivalents of mythology. But the hero’s journey isn’t just something that’s just applicable to stories. Recall that myth is a reflection of life; a symbolic means of navigating our way through life and understanding the nature of ourselves, others and the world around us. We’re each the hero of our own story. Our daily life is our hero’s journey and we go through those 12 stages all the time.

So the hero’s journey is a great tool not just for writing and analysing stories but also as a guide and compass for managing daily life. Whatever situation we’re in and whatever stage we’re currently at, we can know that it is all part of an ongoing process; a journey toward wholeness, healing and redemption–and that every stage is a step closer to our ultimate goal.

Hollywood takes notice

Joseph Campbell’s work became more and more influential through his lifetime. By 70s and 80s his work came to the attention of certain Hollywood screenwriters and producers, including George Lucas who created Star Wars. Lucas openly acknowledged that Star Wars was greatly inspired by Campbell’s monomyth and this can be seen quite clearly. Like the greatest myths, it follows the structure of the hero’s journey perfectly.

Luke_Skywalker

A Hollywood screenwriter and producer named Christopher Vogler wrote a 7 page memo that outlined the practical applications of the Hero’s Journey and this inspired a whole generation of screenwriters.

The influence of the Hero’s Journey can be seen in a great many films, including The Lion King, The Matrix, Harry Potter, Avatar, Back to the Future, ET, Pirates of Caribbean, the Batman series and numerous animated films such as Finding Nemo, Shrek, Wall-E and Kung Fu Panda.

Films like those, which are popular entertainment for a modern audience, have a structure that echoes that of ancient myth, something that’s hardwired into us and which perhaps explains some of their enduring popularity.

There were criticisms at one time about writers using the hero’s journey too indiscriminately, adopting it as a kind of lazy formula without fully engaging their creativity. Upon its release, George Lucas’s fantasy film Willow was cited as one such example. There’s always a danger of stories becoming rigidly formulaic when they are built according to a set blueprint. So the hero’s journey is best applied not as a rigid framework, but a diagnostic tool for ensuring that all essential bases are covered to provide a satisfyingly coherent and structured story; a story that captures the transcendent power of the greatest of myths and stories.

In terms of my own writing, I never consciously set out to use the hero’s journey as a template. But when analysing my novels Eladria and The Key of Alanar , I discovered that they matched the pattern of the hero’s journey quite extraordinarily. Any times I have struggled, I found it helpful to read up on Campbell’s work and explore some of the ancient myths. This gave me an understanding of how stories work. The best stories have a clear beginning, middle and end, and a basic pattern and structure they follow, even if that structure has endless variations. One of the most important things I ever learned about writing is that there’s not just an art to it–there’s a science too. Taking some time to study not only how stories work, but why stories work, is an essential part of learning the craft.

story-telling

The true power of storytelling

The greatest stories, from ancient times right up to today, aren’t just a means of entertainment and passing the time. They’re a means of understanding life, exploring ideas and learning — learning about ourselves, the world and our place in it. When a writer or storyteller of any kind begins a story, they’re asking for an investment of your time; they want to take you someplace, and it helps if there’s a payoff to that; a reason for telling the story.

Like many things in our culture, most books, films and television are simply churned out to make money, to fill a demand, and there’s perhaps not much depth to them or thought goes into them. Stories like that don’t last. Myths, legends and fairytales have endured for centuries and millennia because they touch upon some core human themes–they speak to us about life, albeit in the language of metaphor.

Some people believe that the ancient stories don’t have much relevance in our postmodern age, but I’d disagree. We’re not ostensibly any different to the way we were thousands of years ago. Our culture has changed a lot, but human beings are the same . We go through the same stages of life, we all want to be happy, to find love and meaning, fulfilment and joy. We still ask the same questions about life, about why we’re here and what it’s all about.

As Campbell says, all mythic narratives–and all the truly great stories–are variations of a single great story: a story about transcending our limits, overcoming adversity and becoming all that we’re capable of being. These stories give us hope and guide us.

A culture without mythology is doomed

We explored the functions of mythology and why it has importance to society, acting as a kind of glue that binds us together as well as providing guidance for our journey through life. But what happens when a society loses its mythology?

Campbell believed that without a functioning mythology to make sense of ourselves and reality, society degenerates and breaks down. We’re arguably seeing this throughout the world today. Campbell warned that:

“When a civilisation loses its mythology, the life goes out of it.”

The mythology we tend to hold as a culture is a materialistic one that puts consumerism above all else. We’re trained to think that the purpose of our lives is to make as much money as we can so we can buy as much stuff as possible. We’re taught to believe that we have to buy our way to happiness. We’re not even people anymore, we’re just consumers. This mythology is causing widespread suffering and destruction of the planet, because it is an unsustainable way of living.

So we desperately need new, healthier mythologies to give us a greater vision of who we are and what life is about. What we’re really looking for is deeper meaning and a more vibrant and vital experience of being alive.

They had that in ancient and premodern cultures. In order to move forward we sometimes have to look back–and if we’ve strayed off the tracks, retrace our steps a bit until we find ourselves back on the path.

Campbell said that the goal of life is to make our heartbeat match the beat of the universe. We save the world, he claimed, not by trying to rearrange the world, but by saving ourselves–by coming fully alive and “following our bliss” (a famous quote attributable to Campbell, summing up his philosophy of life). He said that the influence of a vital person has a vitalising effect on others and the world.

He warned us not to just become consumed by the system, but to follow our own way, to be a maverick and to align our personal nature with the essential nature of life and to be in harmony with that.

“But if a person has had the sense of the Call — the feeling that there’s an adventure for him — and if he doesn’t follow that, but remains in the system because it’s safe and secure, then life dries up. And then he comes to that condition in late middle age: he’s gotten to the top of the ladder, and found that it’s against the wrong wall.If you have the guts to follow the risk, however, life opens, opens, opens up all along the line. I’m not superstitious, but I do believe in spiritual magic, you might say. I feel that if one follows what I call one’s bliss — the thing that really gets you deep in your gut and that you feel is your life — doors will open up. They do! They have in my life and they have in many lives that I know of.”

Living in this way changes our mythology! And the modern myth-makers, the writers, storytellers, artists, musicians, songwriters and all kinds of creative people have an important role in society and one that might even save our culture, by providing us with new, healthier mythologies by which we can understand and make sense of life.

Campbell said that “if you want to change the world you have to change the metaphor”. This is what takes us from a place of lack, loss, suffering and confusion to a place of wholeness, aliveness and redemption. That is the true power of storytelling.

 


 

(This article is based upon a talk I gave to some high school classes a couple of years ago. An accompanying Prezi presentation is available to view online here.)