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 Prologue, Chapter 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…
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.
“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…”
“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.”
“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…”
“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!