A fantasy adventure in progress, aimed at a young adult audience.
When Leah first sees the old necklace in the window of an antique shop, little does she know what life has in store for her. Increasingly drawn to the pentacle on a silver chain, Leah finally buys it and soon finds herself having strange dreams about Stonehenge. Trying to put the dreams to rest, she visits the ancient site; only to be transported into another dimension.
Leah arrives in a besieged land of wizardry, magic and demon might. The land needs the help of an Outlander, and to Leah’s disbelief and shock, she has been called.
Blazing torches held aloft by ancient iron brackets cast flickering, dancing shadows around the huge stone walls. Another day was reaching its end, and the hall had become silent and still as the encroaching night. The room was free of adornments, except for a banner of blue and silver on the far wall, depicting a five-pointed star. The robed figures sitting at each side of the heavy, five-sided, oak table had no need of anything else. Each of them occupied a high backed oaken chair, casting larger than life silhouettes on the ancient walls, deep in their own thoughts.
It was Algard who finally broke the silence. The discussions were over, and as he was the eldest, the final weighty decision lay with him. While running slender fingers through his long grey hair, he spoke. ‘You are right, Lendor, we have no choice. All other paths have come to an end, and our alternatives have failed. The time has come again to summon an Outlander.’ His blue eyes stared at each of his companions in turn, judging the impact of his words.
‘But, Algard,’ questioned Jeron,
twisting the silver band he wore on the middle finger of his right hand. ‘How can we be sure an Outlander will not be used to work against us? You know as well as I do how near that came to happening last time. We must remember the Mallicor Lords are even stronger now. Can we take the risk?’ Despite being the youngest, Jeron was also the most cautious. His dark eyes showed concern.
‘Can we afford not to, my friend?’ asked Algard. ‘There is no other way. I’m afraid we have reached the point where we have nothing to lose. The third section of the Pentacle has been taken. We cannot allow any more to be lost. We must make the Calling.’
Leah had never been particularly interested in antique shops so how she came to be staring into the window of one with such intensity, she couldn’t remember. One minute she had been wandering around town, the next she was in front of the shop, gazing through the rain streaked glass. By the time she focused her eyes, she was staring at a dull five-pointed star on a thick silver chain. With a feeling of being almost mesmerised, a few minutes passed before Leah could tear her eyes away and look back down the road. She didn’t remember walking the short distance from work and crossing the road. Dangerous. Nothing like this had ever happened to her before. She must get a grip. Leah didn’t know what had kept her mind so occupied. She asked herself, can I really be that tired by Monday lunchtime? She didn’t like her chances for the rest of the week. She took another look at the necklace,
then headed back to the office.
By Wednesday when the same thing happened for the third time, Leah shuddered in front of the window. She noticed the elderly guy in the shop staring out at her again. He must be wondering what was wrong with her by now. By Friday, she was wondering too.
‘Okay,’ she addressed the necklace through the window, ‘I’ll buy you. Maybe then I can stroll around in my lunch break without fear of walking under a bus.’
As Leah entered the shop, the antiques dealer smiled at her, showing uneven yellow teeth. He rubbed his hands and asked, ‘Can I help you, Miss?’
He gave Leah the impression of a spider waiting to pounce.
‘I’m just wondering how much the necklace in the window is?’ Leah asked. She had decided to buy it anyway, but didn’t want to look too eager.
‘Ah yes, the old necklace. Quite a find,’ he replied. ‘It came to me last week in a box of very good quality jewellery. I didn’t even notice it when I first catalogued the goods. That’s not like me at all, I’m very thorough, you know.’
And talkative, thought Leah.
‘Now let me see,’ he continued, staring at his hands. ‘I couldn’t let it go for under £28,’ he said, glancing up with an ingratiating smile.
‘Oh,’ said Leah, keeping her face non-committal. ‘That’s a little more than I thought. Is it real silver?’
‘Yes, dear,’ the elderly man said. ‘It isn’t marked, but I’m sure it’s silver. They haven’t always used markings, and it is very old.’
His eyes refused to meet Leah’s even once while he spoke, which she took as a sure sign he was lying. She turned to look at the door when an elderly lady entered and headed over to an old vase displayed on a round table in the corner.
The dealer added, ‘Well, I’m cutting my throat you know, but I’ll let it go for £25.’ His words almost tumbled over themselves.
Leah decided he must have wondered if she was about to leave.
Outside the shop and glad to be away from the creepy man, Leah stood looking at the battered old box in her hand. Had she really just handed over £25 for this junk? She wondered about returning to ask for her money back, but then changed her mind. What was the point? The old robber wouldn’t give her the money anyway. She’d only get angry and would start a lousy headache. It wasn’t worth it. She’d have to put it down to experience. Anyway, maybe it was silver. Yes, right.
Back home in her small, one bed roomed flat that night she took out the necklace and examined it. It blinked back at her, dull and uninteresting, swinging on its chain.
‘Well, I’ve paid enough for you,’ she said as if the necklace was to blame. ‘I’ll at least get some wear out of you.’
After putting on the necklace and looking at the star in the mirror, she made a mental note to buy some silver dip in the morning. ‘Probably melt the damn thing,’ she muttered to herself.
The evening passed in the way most did for Leah. There was nothing much on TV, and no one had left a message on her answer phone. She settled to a little freelance writing. It was at last beginning to pay with the promise of a twelve-month series on Palmistry in Destined monthly magazine. She then read for a while before she felt ready for bed.
Leah soon lay down her book, her mind was wandering so much she’d read the same sentence three times. Why hadn’t she agreed to meet Nickie and Debs at Gillies Bar in town? The girls at work must think she was so miserable. Leah hardly ever went out with them. Few of the other secretaries shared her interests though. A lot of
them were older than her, married or with partners, with lives of their own. Human nature being what it
is, the less Leah mixed with others, the less she wanted to. At nineteen, she was a bit of a loner, but life had made her that way. Things may have been different, had her early life not been so difficult.
Leah’s parents had been killed in a tragic accident when she was only four years old. They had taken her on an exciting skiing holiday, where she had her very first lessons in an organised kiddies ski club, the Snow Puppies. She was never destined to have any more, because her parents didn’t return from one of the more advanced slopes. The small avalanche had been a chance in a million. Layers of a snowpack had failed and slid down the slope, engulfing them both in seconds.
Leah’s widowed gran had taken her in, and given her all the love she so needed. Gran tried to explain to Leah that God had his reasons, and she would see her mum and dad again someday. Leah couldn’t understand why God, if he was so good, had taken her parents away. She tried to believe, because she liked to hang on to the idea of them living a different existence, waiting for her. When Leah’s gran then left her a few short years later at the cruel hands of cancer, any faith in a kind God was shattered forever.
The remainder of Leah’s early life had been spent in a series of orphanages and foster homes. She often thought about her parents, but the memories became harder to recall. A lot of what she remembered had been told to her by gran. Her mum and dad had been an adventurous couple, living life to the full. Leah sometimes wondered if that was one of the reasons she herself was so cautious. Adventures had a nasty habit of killing you.
Deep in thought, Leah stared at the wall, her eyes unfocused. She remembered how her mum had always smelled so nice, and the way she held her close. She was finding it more difficult though to remember her voice clearly, and this saddened her. She had so little, she didn’t want to lose any of it. Since those early days, Leah had struggled to feel any security, or sense of belonging. People she loved, died. It was that simple. In retrospect, Leah’s inability to show love to foster parents who tried to help her, didn’t endear them to try to keep her for long.
Leah wasn’t unhappy with the life she now led. She enjoyed being a free agent, coming and going as she pleased and having no one to answer to. Still, she sometimes felt there should be more to life, usually in the dead of night when worries and fears take on momentous proportion.
With an effort, she forced the painful memories away. Leah picked up her book again and finished the chapter. She was tired then, so got ready for bed. She was soon asleep with the happy thought that the accursed alarm clock wouldn’t be jangling her awake in the morning. The necklace, which she would have taken off had she remembered, pressed hard against her chest.
Leah was out in the open, the wind moving her brown, shoulder length hair. She tried to focus. Where was she? Fighting the blur until her head hurt, a huge stone circle came into view. It looked rugged, ancient and powerful. Light headedness hit her, and as she began to sway, forced her to put out a hand to steady herself. As she touched the nearest stone, strange warmth reached her palm, and a tingling sensation akin to electricity travelled up her arm. Leah turned to lean on the hard monolith. She closed her eyes until the dizziness faded.
When she next opened them, the view was clearer. She was leaning on just one of a circle of enormous upright stones, others lying across them far above her. She stepped aside quickly in the knowledge the stones over her could fall. Surely they couldn’t be held there so firmly? She shook herself. Stonehenge had stood like this for thousands of years, why would it topple now? Though she had never been to Stonehenge, Leah somehow knew that’s where she was. She couldn’t, however, remember how she had got there. An unreasoning weight dragged at her neck and a pain grew in her chest. As she reached up, her hand touched the star, warm and tingling like the stones. Fear gripped her.
Vague memories of the shop and the necklace she’d bought drifted through her fogged mind. How? Why? The nausea hit her in a rush of swirling stones, with her at the hub of the huge ancient wheel. She fell to her knees, but never touched the ground. She fell, and fell, into enveloping blackness.
Leah awoke with an involuntary cry of fear. She could still feel the pain in her chest. Sweating and shivering at the same time, she propped herself up so she wouldn’t drift back into sleep. The pain eased. Leah’s hand went to the necklace. Damn it, one of the points must have been pressing into her. In anger, she tried to take it off, but her sleep-numbed fingers
couldn’t work the fastener. Too tired to keep trying, she swung the star around to the back, leaving only the chain at the front, and lay down. When she next opened her eyes, it was daylight.
After stretching, Leah got out of bed and walked to the bathroom. She yawned and ran her hand through her tangled hair. As she looked at herself in the mirror, the star caught her attention. Shining brightly against her chest, it gave Leah a start. With the sight of it came the memory of the dream. She touched the star with care. It felt cold, hard and inanimate. Fool, what did she expect? It had been a very realistic dream, but hadn’t she put the star to the back? She must have been restless for the remainder of the night, and swung it around again. Leah leaned closer to the mirror. She could forget about buying the silver dip; she might have got her money’s worth after all.
‘I’m beginning to like you,’ she said to the mirror image of the star. Despite the dream, she meant it. It looked right. Her blue eyes looked back at her, and the star glinted.
At first, the dreams troubled her, but as they continued, night after night, they became intriguing. They always followed much the same pattern. She was at Stonehenge, and the stones were alive to her touch. So was the star. It even got to the stage where she thought, Ah, I’m here again. Not exactly an awareness of a dream, but a memory of a continuing process. Something expected, and meant to be. When Leah considered her dream during waking hours, she kept thinking it would eventually go further. It never did.
She read books on The Meaning of Dreams but Stonehenge didn’t figure in any of them. She’d also mentioned it in the office one afternoon, when Pat, Mr Hopkins secretary was telling them about a crazy dream she’d had. No one knew any more about recurring dreams than Leah. She’d hoped someone might.
One morning, Leah awoke with the solution. Go to Stonehenge. It wasn’t too far. Maybe that might lay the ghost to rest. Perhaps she was destined to find something, or to meet someone, there. Who knows? She would drive out the following weekend.
The dreams stopped.
At first, Leah was surprised, then annoyed. Some premonition. Maybe she wouldn’t go after all. She had made her plans though, and she’d always intended to go to see Stonehenge sometime. She made her decision.
The weekend came, and Leah set off dressed in jeans, sweatshirt and jacket. Her sense of direction wasn’t usually much to be praised, but to her surprise, the drive turned out to be easy. Her old faithful Fiesta seemed to find its own way with no real help from her.
From first sight of the circle, Leah had an overwhelming urge to enter it. After parking as near as she could, she left the car and walked towards the stones. Shouldn’t there be barriers? Everything seemed pretty odd. Where was everyone else? Where were the cars and tourists? This was a popular spot. Part of Leah knew full well that something wasn’t right. She’d seen television reports of Stonehenge at the Solstice. No one was allowed right up to the ancient circle, to prevent damage. She wasn’t dreaming again was she? Leah touched the nearest stone. It was hard, cold and rough under her fingers. She was making something of nothing. So there were no barriers today, no cars, and no people. She stopped there, because it was becoming increasingly harder to convince herself that everything was normal. Despite the fear welling inside her, she stepped between the nearest monoliths.
Jeron was the first to see the swirling mists of the turquoise image crystal begin to clear. He called out to his four companions, who ceased their muted conversation and turned to study the forming image. Firstly, the Stones became clearer, bold and powerful through the wandering vapours. Then, in the centre, a figure began to appear; as yet faceless and formless and more like a thickening of the mists rather than an actual person.
‘The Outlander has answered the call,’ said Algard softly. ‘The time has come again to go to the Stones of Tempus. No time passes for the Outlander now, but we must hurry. Time is passing for us, and with each day the Mallicor Lords become stronger.’
The white robed lords turned to leave, but on passing the crystal, Triol glanced again. ‘By the sacred Stones of Tempus,’ he breathed in shock. ‘It is a girl!’
The nausea struck Leah the moment her foot passed the stone. ‘Oh God,’ she muttered, holding her head. She turned to get out of the circle, to walk away, cursing herself for ever coming here in the first place. Her steps took her in the direction she believed to be out, so how in Hell’s name did she end up right in the centre of the circle? She groaned and swayed as the stones began to turn, her senses spinning into a vortex of oblivion. Her last thought before the mercy of unconsciousness was, it’s a dream. It’s only a dream. I must wake up. She sank to her knees.
When a vague awareness returned, Leah was lying down. Moist grass cushioned her outstretched fingers, and hard ground grazed her cheek. One eye flickered, saw the tall ancient stones, and closed again.
With the belief she must have fainted, Leah pushed herself up onto one elbow, then into a sitting position. She clenched her eyes and teeth against the sickness that welled up inside her. As she took deep breaths, the air smelt keener and sharper. She tried to calm her ragged nerves. She had never fainted before, and prayed she never would again. Despite the cool air around her, her skin was warm and clammy. After running her hand across her eyes, she opened them and blinked. Leah looked around herself properly for the first time since the faint.
‘Oh my God. What’s happening to me?’
Once she had stood up on unsteady legs, Leah staggered to the nearest stone and leaned heavily against it. Cold granite met her hand. A quick look around told her the stones remained the same, but nothing else did.
Her car was gone, so were the road she had driven along and the fields she had crossed. Leah shook her head in disbelief. This couldn’t be true. Above her, twin suns began to push through shifting clouds, drifting overhead. A pale mauve coloured sky disturbed her sense of normality. The stones she leaned against looked a strange shade, and even her skin had taken on a different hue. Leah thought she was going to be sick. She slumped to the ground, leaning against the hard rock and resting her head back onto it. Of its own volition, her hand went to the star around her neck. In frenzy, she gripped it, trying to wrench it from her throat. The chain remained firmly attached. All Leah succeeded in doing was hurting her neck and hand. Head bent to her knees, she sobbed in fear and anger. She knew she was going mad.
When her weeping subsided, Leah looked up again. Her red-rimmed eyes tried to make sense of what she knew she couldn’t be seeing. She decided for sanity’s sake, that she must still be in a faint, and hallucinating.
A strange land spread before her. In other circumstances, she might have considered it beautiful. Flat fields spread out into the distance, interspersed by blue water and grey rocks. The colours assailing Leah’s senses evoked the names of blue, green, red; but these bland descriptions couldn’t do them justice. The shades were different. They had much more depth, and a quite overwhelming vibrancy. Once again, Leah believed she must be dreaming, because only in her dreams had she ever seen such vivid colours. Maybe the strange shade of the sky was affecting the hues of everything around her? Small hills dotted with woods raised themselves from the flatness of the landscape. Even at this distance, Leah could see that the trees bore no real resemblance to any she knew. This clarity of vision both pleased and surprised her, because her eyesight had never been the best. She always wore glasses for driving, and had left them in the car. Her fears and misery were momentarily forgotten while she took in more of her clear and fantastic surroundings.
In the midst of a meadow, three huge trees stood with tall branches decked by almost silvery leaves. The thickness of the trunks of these mighty trees could only be guessed at this distance, but they must be at least two metres across. Huge snake-like roots parted the reddish brown earth in places, with blue-grey boulders wrapped in their coils. At the base of one particular boulder lay a pool of limpid water, shining silver under the twin suns with a light that came from within its depths.
After dragging her eyes away from the pool, Leah turned her attention toward a hill with a dark tower rising sheer from the rocks and boulders. Castle-like in appearance, but consisting of one central turret with a walled surround, it pointed heavenwards like a finger in warning.
Though the day was bright, orange glows came from the high window slits. Leah wondered if daylight was ever allowed inside. It gave a sense of both power and foreboding. She wished she hadn’t spotted it. At that moment, her eyes caught movement, the first she had seen in this strange place. A drawbridge lowered over the still waters of the moat surrounding the tower. The chains extended to their full length and the wooden bridge touched down on the track leading from it. Five figures rode out; one after the other. The whiteness of their billowing robes was startling in the otherwise richly coloured surroundings, as was the silver-white of the swift, sleek horses they rode. When the riders came nearer, Leah’s breath caught in her throat. It was all too clear that no horses on earth could move at such speed, and the gleaming silver horns rising proudly from the centre of each creature’s forehead made the truth obvious. The figures were riding unicorns. More to the point, they were also, without doubt, heading straight for her.
It was then she heard the wet, snuffling sound. As she looked around herself, the approaching riders all but forgotten, Leah strained to hear the sound again. She caught movement from the corner of her eye. By the time she turned her head in its general direction, all she saw was a vague sense of something disappearing behind one of the huge stones. In a panic now, frozen to the monolith against which she clung, all Leah could do was wait for it to reappear.
When it did, Leah felt her heart stop. The creature looked vaguely human, but the similarity ended there. Even stooped, it stood taller than Leah’s five foot four. Sickly white skin hung from its bony frame in long, pendulous flaps. It gave the impression of its skeleton having shrunk, leaving nothing for the excess skin to hold on to. The head was bald, apart from a few tufts of hair here and there on the scabrous scalp. Pus oozed from sores all over its body. The creature’s bloodshot eyes stared about wildly, the holes in its face dilating to sniff the air, searching. Couldn’t it see her? Was it blind? Leah didn’t move, or make a sound. Her very soul wanted to scream out and run, but she knew her life could depend on her actions right now.
The creature came nearer, and the smell of rotting flesh was overwhelming. Leah gagged, trying to hold her breath. The monstrosity turned its head, quizzically, and let out a deep sigh of annoyance. Even where she stood, Leah was sickened by the stench that came from the creature’s cracked and bloodless mouth. Something must have crawled in there and died, she thought. It turned, listening again. The holes on the side of its head dilated, as did the nostrils again. The glazed eyes turned, and stared straight at her.
Through her terror, Leah heard the galloping of hooves, and loud voices. The freak’s head shot around. There was nothing wrong with the small dark holes it used for ears. Moving with a speed Leah would not have believed possible, the grotesque shape rushed from the circle at a loping, lopsided run.
The galloping came nearer, and Leah dared to move. No longer knowing where the freak was, she risked a look around the monolith.
The five riders dashed to circle the creature. It was crazy enough to run out to attack them. Long, thin fingers ending in pointed nails reached out to claw at the nearest unicorn being ridden by a woman with short, dark hair, streaked with grey. She kicked out with a look of disgust rather than fear, and at the same time, her unicorn reared and hit the creature in the chest with flaying front hooves. A stocky man with grey peppered brown hair leapt from his unicorn, drawing a sword from the side of his saddle. He dashed to the creature as it rolled on the ground, trying to rise again, a broken rib sticking through its ripped skin. With one blow, he severed its head.
Leah jerked behind the monolith, not wanting to be hit by flying ichor. She had seen more than enough. She closed her eyes, willing herself to awaken from this terrible nightmare. She knew it couldn’t be real.
A silence followed, broken only by an occasional horse-like snort, or scraping of hoof. Leah was convinced the strangers must be able to hear her breathing. She almost stopped, only adding to her panic and dizziness.
A man’s voice finally called out in a gentle, reassuring tone.
‘Come along now, Outlander, the stalker has been dealt with. There is nothing to fear.’
Leah jumped, banging her head on the rock behind her. Forcing back a curse, she listened again. They probably didn’t mean her. They didn’t even know she was there.
Who are they talking to then, dummy? Leah asked herself. How many more people can you see trying to hide behind this giant monolith?
‘We mean you no harm, dear,’ a female voice said. ‘After all, surely you don’t want to be left up here alone?’ The woman didn’t sound threatening either, in fact, her voice sounded almost amused.
It made sense. And, anyway, what had Leah to lose? She had no way of knowing if there were any more of the creatures around.
Slowly and nervously, Leah edged around the stone, coming face to muzzle with the palest blue eyes she had ever seen. The unicorn studied her with curiosity, and then withdrew its head when the rider gently pulled the rein to get the magnificent creature to
step back a couple of paces.
‘Welcome, Outlander.’ The man smiled. ‘My name is Algard.’
Leah stared into the striking blue eyes of the tall figure, his long, straight, grey hair moving around his thin face in the breeze.
‘Where am I?’ she asked, still in shock.
‘Don’t worry,’ the robed figure continued in a gentle voice. ‘We will explain everything to you in good time. By what name are you known?’
‘Leah,’ she answered, thinking, what’s with the strange way of speech?
‘Leha?’ Algard asked, looking puzzled.
‘No, Leah,’ she replied, emphasizing the ‘a’
‘Welcome to our world, Leah. I am Algard, and my companions are Lendor, Jeron, Shantel and Triol.’
And he had trouble with my name? Leah thought. She nodded at the smiling figures Algard gestured to, and said ‘Hi.’
Any minute now, she thought, and I’ll wake up back in my room.
Looking towards the remains of the creature she asked, ‘What was that?’
‘A stalker,’ replied Triol, his white robes fouled by the creature’s blood. Leah’s attention was drawn to the old scar on the stocky mans neck, but she tried not to stare. Instead, she looked into his blue-green eyes as he continued. ‘They were brought into our world by evil forces, though we have never known them come so close to the Tower. Neither do they usually travel alone…’ His voice trailed off, a worried frown on his face.
Algard spoke. ‘We have much explaining to do, but you must be tired. Maybe you are in need of food or a drink? The transition is not a pleasant one, I’m told,’
The last thought on Leah’s mind right now was food. Was what had just happened to her commonplace to these people?
‘I could do with an aspirin,’ replied Leah, holding her head.
‘A what?’ asked Triol.
‘An asp…never mind. I’ve just got a bad headache with all the awful spinning. Not to mention banging my head on that.’ She gestured to the rock.
‘Oh, nasty,’ Shantel said with a smile. ‘Come, we can give you something to take your pain away in no time.’
Leah felt a little reassured. At least she was out of immediate danger.
‘Climb on!’ Algard said with a grin, sitting forward in his saddle.
Leah reconsidered the thought about no immediate danger. The unicorn gave her a haughty look, and snorted down its nostrils.
Algard took his foot out of the stirrup and held his arm out to her.
‘Is this necessary?’ she asked, knowing the answer anyway.
‘It’s too far to walk, dear,’ Shantel explained .
Leah noticed the woman’s blue eyes were kind, in a motherly way. She found it hard to judge the age of any of the robed figures, though Algard seemed to be the oldest. Shantel’s wavy brown hair had red highlights, but also streaks of grey like her companions.
Without much choice in the matter, Leah grasped Algard’s arm and the saddle. She dragged herself up behind the old man. The unicorn gave a pitying sigh when she finally settled.
‘Hang on,’ called Algard in an amused voice. ‘I will not let you fall, but it may give you a better sense of security.’
After leaning her body into Algard’s back, Leah hung on for all she was worth when the riders turned and set off down the rocky path. The unicorn began at a steady, unhurried pace.
This is the most realistic dream I’ve ever had, thought Leah, feeling the mounts pick up speed and the wind whipping through her hair. The hoof beats clattered over stones and rubble until finally the unicorns slowed, and Leah heard the hollow tread of hoof on wood. She sat up slightly to look around herself, getting her first real view of the structure they had reached. They crossed the drawbridge over the dancing water, into the courtyard of the dark tower beyond.