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‘For My Family who have never stopped believing in me’
The Darkness Within
The coming of the New Year was said to have brought with it many vast changes. For Alandra Valentine, many of these changes took place, when she finally decided on moving to that quiet country retreat she had always dreamed of.
To the outsider, Haven’s gate may have seemed rather quaint and picturesque, like something straight out of a fairytale, but it had a charm that was all its own. Time seemed to stand still: people could wander through the lush greenwoods, wade through the gentle streams, or stop to smell the many rare and radiant flowers, without the constant worry of the merciless hands of the clock ticking away against them in a race that they could never hope to win.
It was a complete opposite to the cold hard suburbia of Angala City, here people actually cared about each other, they took the time out to get to know one another; compassion flowed through its cobbled streets. The younger generation helped the older, and in turn the older generation helped to mould the younger into young men and women that their small village could truly be proud of.
Alandra had first heard of Haven’s gate when one of her childhood friends Rhinona Summers had decided to get back in touch with her. Alandra was more than a little surprised, more so because she barely remembered Rhinona, it all seemed like such a long time ago, and she had been a different person back then, so insecure, and so unsure of herself.
She could only vaguely recall what Rhinona had looked like, only that she had been one of her closest friends back then when it had felt as though the world had abandoned her.
Rhinona had always been so scared of everything, and everyone around her, she was always walking around with her hair in her face. Always staring at the floor, never daring to show her face, too afraid to look up at the world, always wanting to be accepted, but never being given a chance , always trying to fit in but never being able to.
She and Alandra had attended the same school, and as Alandra was going through the same kind of thing they had become quite close… Like Alandra, Rhinona had special abilities, but unlike Alandra she was unwilling, and unable to keep them hidden. So she and her family finally decided to move away to a place that would be more willing to accept their unique gifts.
Yet even though her memories of her friend were like a frosted up pane of glass, there had been something in the way Rhinona had described Haven’s gate that had reached out to her, and had made the small village seem almost magical, and she knew that no matter what, she had to move there.
In her mind’s eye she could picture it all so vividly even though she had never in her life set foot there, and the clearer that picture became the more intent she became on going. It wasn’t that she didn’t like Angala City or ‘The city on the edge of the sea’ as it was more commonly known. It was more that the city didn’t seem to like her. Ever since her parents had moved there in the vain attempt of starting their relationship afresh it had seemed like an ideal place to live, and it had been…for them…
For Alandra herself it had been anything but easy, she had been plagued with nothing but bad luck since the day she had set foot there. Misery like an uninvited guest kept visiting her door. It had begun when her parents had gone their separate ways, their ideals at salvaging their marriage little more than an ideal, the strain of her fathers womanizing too much for the relationship to survive.
She had moved in with her mother, her father had simply disappeared, to where she didn’t know, and she would probably never find out. Sometimes in her dreams she could remember sitting on his knee as a little girl, her head resting against his chest, his strong arms wrapped protectively around her, listening to the soothing sound of his heartbeat, and thinking that he was the most wonderful person in the world.
It was funny how fast those childish fancies had shattered soon after the divorce when she realized that he wasn’t coming back, and it wasn’t because he couldn’t, Alandra’s mother had never stood in the way of him seeing Alandra. It was more because he didn’t want to. The realization of that had nearly destroyed her. She had just turned sixteen at the time, and on top of all the problems she was already going through, and all the changes that were happening to her body as it transformed from a child’s into a woman’s…to have her whole world turned upside down like that was an experience that she wouldn’t have wished on anyone.
She had been lucky that she still had her mother…to love and to support her, to dry her tears, and to hold her in those dark times when she felt the most alone. The pain of her father’s loss was an open wound that refused to heal. The years passed but the pain lingered on along with the nightmares that would rise up from the darkness of her mind…always the same one…her father being torn away from her by an invisible force that she couldn’t see or couldn’t fight.
In time the pain grew less, and the nightmares stopped, and as the years passed by the scar slowly healed, but had never completely vanished, and she wondered if it ever would. But she had to face up to the truth. She couldn’t put her life on hold any longer, or spend eternity hoping that her father would come back into her life, that was nothing more than a wistful fantasy. The harsh reality was that he had more than likely moved on with his life by now, and filed her away forever, an unwanted memory of an unwanted past, that was better off left in the dark where he felt it belonged.
What was it with men and commitment anyway? Alandra thought.
She had never been able to answer the eternal question of why the two things were so apparently incompatible with each other. So far every man she had ever cared about had proved this theory without a shadow of a doubt. Her father being the first, and then much later on her fiancé’ Tom when he had left her for another woman, and in the wake of the disaster, as the dust settled on the broken ruins of their relationship she had decided to move on with her life, leaving the city and its painful memories far behind her.
But there wasn’t a day that went by that she didn’t dream of what might have been, when her mind wasn’t occupied by a million what ifs, and when she didn’t wonder what life might have been like if she and Tom had stayed together.
She had never fully understood the reasons that he had left her for someone else; she had heard his excuses but hadn’t acknowledged them. The hurt had been too much, and she had been in far too much pain.
So in the end she had wound up blaming herself for their relationship falling apart, even though her mother had insisted that she had been completely blameless. Perhaps she had loved Tom too much, perhaps that had been her downfall to blindly build her world around a man who could never truly accept her for the person that she was.
She knew in her heart that she could never in her life be what he wanted her to be ‘just a normal girl’ she was different you see. She was special; she could do things that most people could only dream of doing. The first hint of this had been on her first birthday when she had disappeared in front of the guests at her party, her parents had of course been frantic with worry, and had scoured the neighborhood in search of her, they had almost given up hope, when she had materialized later on in her bedroom in front of them both.
For weeks after her disappearing act had been the number one topic of conversation with people endlessly trying to figure out how she did it: her parents had simply shrugged it off by suggesting that she must have distracted everyone somehow.
What everyone else didn’t know though was that this wasn’t the first time that something like this had happened. Throughout most of Alandra’s childhood strange events had taken place, objects appearing then disappearing. Plates, and cutlery flying through the air as though propelled by an invisible force, and of course Alandra mysteriously appearing and disappearing throughout different parts of her home, and throughout different parts of the city.
Her parents had so far managed to cover up as many of these incidents as possible, mostly out of fear of what might happen to their truly unique daughter if people were to find out the truth about her. So they had tried to make Alandra appear as normal as possible, but they were fighting a losing battle, because if truth were known Alandra had never really fitted in to what was considered ‘The norm’.
For most of her young life she had felt like an outsider. Forever separated from society by an invisible wall that she could never seem to break through.
In school she had been excluded by the other girls who saw her as some kind of threat because of her pretty face and kind nature, but then it had been an all girl’s school and in such places jealousy usually ran rife, and her school was no exception to that unspoken rule.
In many ways girls could be exceptionally crueler than boys, and no matter what she did she couldn’t win. Her writing, her singing…anything that brought some small amount of joy to her small world was torn apart and ridiculed by her fellow peers. Every day they seemed to find something new to taunt her about. Her dreams, her personal life, the fact that her father had left, all went through their court of proverbial judgment.
The sheer mockery of it all was that none of them had even bothered to take the time out to get to know her; She had been persecuted without a trial simply because she was different, because she was a little quieter and a little shyer than most girls her age, and because her main interests didn’t consist of boys and who snogged who the night before.
Because of this she had been branded as strange, and would always be viewed as someone to be constantly mocked and humiliated and put to shame at all costs. Her move to Haven’s gate had been the start of a brand new life for her. A magic based community, Haven’s gate was the one place in the world where Alandra felt as if she truly belonged.
It was good to finally be able to talk to people who like her had unusual magical talents, and who she could speak to, without a fear of judgment. Cut off from the rest of the world Haven’s gate was run by a small group of warlocks, and witches, known only as the guardians of the light’…the elected council of the village, they made most of the decisions concerning the village, and its people.
Alandra hadn’t been aware of it at the time, but from the day she moved there, the elder of the guardians Silvius Alarah had been watching her. Until one day she had pulled Alandra aside and asked her if she would be willing to join the ranks of the guardians…she said that she had become increasingly aware of Alandra’s developing magic skills which greatly excelled many of the villagers who had lived there for years.
“You have been given a wonderful gift Alandra,” Silvius had said,
“And it will take time but with patience, and training the lines of what is possible…and what is not possible will eventually blur and you will literally be able to do anything that can be imagined…and much…much more.”
With her sliver streaked hair, and twinkling grey eyes, Silvius reminded Alandra of her grandmother Dariena, her grandmother had died a few weeks after her father had left the family, but what memories she had of her were happy ones. She could remember spending long weekends in her grandmother’s small apartment on the Granger Estate, drinking cold smoothies, or just talking about school.
She had shared a very special bond with her grandmother, and in some ways the bond they shared was far stronger than the bond she shared with her mother. Her grandma was always there for her, and not once did she let her down, whenever she felt as if she couldn’t cope with life’s problems. Whether it was the gap her father had left in her life the day he had walked out the door, or just problems with the girls at school, her grandma was always available with a kind or comforting word or two.
Sometimes she felt as though her grandmother was still watching over her, still making sure she was allright. In many ways Silvius was a lot like her, but whereas her grandmother had been very open, and had kept very little hidden from her only granddaughter, Silvius was the opposite, and was very dark, and secretive, and spoke very little of the past, saying that it must be old age creeping in because she could remember very little about it anyway.
The only thing she would reveal was that Amy her daughter who she had introduced Alandra to on her first day in the village, was also a guardian, and in time she and Amy became firm friends. Alandra couldn’t believe how different her life was from the one she had left behind in Angala City.
The timid and frightened girl she had once been was gone. She had changed so much that if any of her former school colleagues had crossed her path, they would have hardly recognized the confident young woman that she had become.
Of course she missed her mum terribly but they still wrote to each other on a fairly regular basis, and her mum was happy that she had finally found a place to call her own. The guardians were like an extended family to her now: when she had lived in the city Alandra had heard only whispers and rumors concerning the guardians of the light but mostly they were considered mythical beings, because as far as the world outside Haven’s gate was concerned magic was only something that existed in storybooks.
Now here she was soon to become a part of that myth…as with all stories though there was a darker side to the myth. Alandra had been told about it just a few months after she had settled in to Haven’s gate. It had supposedly happened a long time ago, before Alandra had even been born, and it centered around a group of villagers who having tired of the village’s strict rule not to delve into the darker more sinister side of magic had left to form a faction of their own dedicated solely to the black arts.
That had been the beginning of the end for them, for as their power increased their humanity decreased, that was the ultimate price they had to pay for their journey into pure darkness, and it only got worse as they wandered further into the dark becoming less and less human, and more like the nightmare creatures that we fear will leap out of the darkest corners of our minds to snatch us away.
Alandra had always had a subconscious fear that one day she might have to face the nightmare that their lost sisters and brothers had become. The only protection they had at present was a binding ceremony performed once at the dawn of every New Year, it was supposed to shield their villagers and the rest of the world from the threat of their lost brethren.
Many thought the ceremony was a waste of time, for if there was a rumored lost faction then that’s all it was…a rumor. The old ways of thinking were quickly dying out. The younger generation of the village saw the ceremony as nothing more than a ridiculous sham done more out of habit than out of a need for protection, some had even tried to get it abolished.
Yet still at the end of every year as the clock in the village square counted down to midnight, the ceremony was performed without fail in the middle of Hob’s woods…old habits sometimes die hard.
So far every ceremony Alandra had attended had gone ahead without anything untoward happening, so even she was beginning to believe the doubters maybe just a little, but tonight she didn’t know why but she had this horribly unsettling feeling. A small voice of doubt that had crept into the back of her mind, continually nagging at her that at tonight’s ceremony something would go terribly wrong…and as the ceremony drew nearer and nearer, that little voice had started to get louder and louder
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