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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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‘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!

‘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!

DOWNLOAD FROM AMAZON.COM

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

My Tao Te Ching book is now available to buy!

Hi everyone! I’m pleased to announce that the paperback version of my Tao Te Ching book is now available on Amazon and is currently on sale at cost price. The Tao Te Ching is a remarkable gift, and I wanted to be able to share it as such.

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Five years ago I set myself the challenge of creating my own version of this ancient text. I wanted to encapsulate the best of my favourite translations, retaining the text’s integrity and poetic flourish while making some of the more cryptic statements (of which there are a great many!) a little clearer and easier to understand.

I spent time reflecting on each verse and pondering the meaning of Lao Tzu’s words and then wrote a commentary on each one. I did this for myself more than anything, but decided to share it on this and my prior blogs. A lot of people have really enjoyed my take on the Tao, which has subtly evolved over the years as my own understanding has grown. Here is my introduction to the text.

I’ve been posting the content of this book in this blog for almost two years now, and will continue to do so until I have posted all 81 verses. If you’ve enjoyed it and want to have the complete work to hand, then this is for you! It’s been available to download on Kindle and Smashwords in ebook format for some time now, and the paperback edition looks beautiful I have to say. It’s a book that’s great for keeping at your bedside and dipping into for a little inspiration and insight.

Click here to view the book on Amazon US

Click here to view the book on Amazon UK

It should also be available in most other territories. The Smashwords ebook edition (which includes Kindle, ePub and many other formats) can be found here)

Hope you enjoy!

I’ve also just finished my second novel, which follows on from ELADRIA. It will be published in the Spring, along with a whole range of surprises. It’s a work I’m very proud of and a story that has been with me most my life. I can’t wait to share it with you. Hopefully now this major project is out the way, I will be able to get back into a more regular blogging routine!