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Excerpt for Origins Unknown - The Kindred Chronicles: Book 1 by , available in its entirety at Smashwords



THE KINDRED CHRONICLES

Book I: Origins Unknown



By



James Foard


First Published by Mirador Publishing at Smashwords

Copyright 2018 by James Foard

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

All right reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without permission of the publishers or author. Excepting brief quotes used in reviews.

First edition: 2018

Any reference to real names and places are purely fictional and are constructs of the author. Any offence the references produce is unintentional and in no way reflect the reality of any locations involved.

A copy of this work is available through the British Library.

IBSN : 978-1-912601-20-2



For Gill, Tom and Max.


Thank you for your understanding, patience and belief during my total absorption in this novel.


It means more to me than I could ever convey verbally or in the written word. I couldn’t have achieved this without your endless support.

I love you all very much.

Bring on book two!

 

Thank you to everyone else who has assisted me in any way. No matter how big or small, you have all helped in bringing this novel to fruition. There will be no claim on any royalties though

 

Thank you to Mirador for taking a chance on my novel and on me as a debut author.

You have helped make this dream come true.




1.

The Outcast



Throughout his whole life, Alex had never felt like he belonged. He could never explain his overwhelming desire to avoid social situations or why he felt so much more comfortable in the company of animals, particularly his only real friend, Axis, his loyal pet dog. Axis had been with him for as long as he could remember. He felt that his dog understood him far more than anyone else ever had. His parents treated him quite well in so much as they fed him, clothed him and put a roof over his head, but there was never any real affection shown towards him. They never spent any time with him, engaged him in conversation, or challenged him in any way. In Alex’s mind, they preferred it when he was out of their way, which he often was.

He spent countless hours roaming the nearby woodland with Axis. This was a place that he could escape to and not have to deal with another soul. On their walks, they always ended up stopping by the same huge tree that was located in the densest part of the forest. Alex always felt completely at ease there, so he would sit on the ground, lean against the monstrous trunk and daydream. Other than school, when he was by this tree was the only time Axis would leave his side. Alex always assumed that he was off chasing rabbits, as he was never gone for too long.

****

Axis was a huge, muscular dog of indeterminate breed, with a shaggy black coat. He was fiercely loyal to Alex and also seemed abnormally intelligent. When they were walking or running in the woods, he would keep in step, almost as if he were guarding him. When people saw them together they often had to double-take because at first glance it appeared that Alex was being flanked by a shaggy haired bear, such was Axis’ size.

Alex would often confide in him, he felt quite silly sharing his innermost feelings with a dog, though he was convinced that he could see understanding in Axis’ eyes. He found great comfort in this.

****

At five foot ten inches, Alex was tall for his twelve years. Despite his height, he wasn’t gangly; he had a strong, athletic build that belied his young years. This had no doubt been honed during his daily ritual of walking and running for countless hours in the woods.

He was cripplingly shy which may have been one of the reasons that he wore his hair so long – a subconscious way of shielding himself from people. If you could see behind the mass of shoulder length black hair, you could see that there was a huge amount going on behind his dark blue eyes.

****

He had moved home many times in his short life. This probably contributed to his sense of detachment. If he had ever wanted to make friends, it would have proven difficult as he was never in one place long enough to get to know people or integrate properly. Initially, he would ask his mum why they had to move. She would brush over it and say that it was to do with his dad’s job. Alex never really believed this and as time moved on he stopped asking about the impending move, as it had now gotten to the stage that another home and another school were inevitable, so why bother putting up a fight?

School never really had any major appeal to Alex, he wasn’t a disruptive influence but he just found the whole process uninteresting. Despite this, he did still manage to achieve at an above average level without ever really exerting himself. This was enough to keep his teachers satisfied. He was neither a slacker nor an academic, so they never really felt the need to either discipline or encourage him. This suited Alex just fine. The only teacher that did show any kind of encouragement towards him was Mr. Beauchamp, his P.E. teacher. Alex was a natural athlete and excelled at most sports. He loved to run, and run he could. No other student at the school stood a chance in a race that he was involved in, they weren’t even in his league. Mr. Beauchamp tried to push him towards competing nationally, but the thought of being around so many people and having large crowds watching, filled him with dread. For someone who wanted to fly under the radar of life, this was a veritable nightmare. Every time Mr. Beauchamp would mention it, Alex would politely decline and usually used his parents as an excuse not to compete.

“My parents wouldn’t want that, they don’t believe in forcing children into competition,” would be his stock excuse.

“Let me talk to them, Alex, I am sure that I could convince them otherwise. You have too much talent to let it go to waste,” would be Mr. Beauchamp’s reply.

“Thank you. But I’d really rather you didn’t. They are easily offended.”

Mr. Beauchamp would let it lie at this point, but always brought it up at every P.E. lesson.

One thing that would bring Alex out of his shell was bullies; he hated to see people being picked on. He would come to the aid of anyone who found themselves in this predicament, even if the perpetrator was much older than him. Even if there was more than one, it didn’t matter to him, he would stand his ground and a combination of his size and appearance would usually see the bully or bullies turn tail and run off.

His time at school only served to intensify his need to avoid people. Other pupils would point and snicker at him as well as making derogatory comments about his height or the length of his hair. He would generally fix the perpetrators with the sort of stare that said so much more than words ever could. The mocking would cease immediately and they would move on. A few of the pupils had taken to referring to him as The Outcast. All of the other teasing, he could cope with but being called this name particularly struck a nerve with him, as an outcast was precisely what he felt like.

Alex was intelligent enough to realise that the signals that he was sending out to people contributed to the teasing and name calling and the fact that he didn’t have any friends. Although he couldn’t help this, he could accept it for the most part, but as much as he wanted to avoid people, he also wanted more than anything to be liked by them. He really longed to make that one special friend, someone who understood him and liked him for who he was. It was quite the paradoxical situation.

Most school days were quite uneventful; he would keep his head down, do the work assigned to him and then disappear as soon as the bell rang to signify the end of another mundane school day.

But one Monday morning, something very different happened.




2.

Connection



It was the eve of Alex’s thirteenth birthday as he filed into classroom 8M on Monday morning preparing for his tutor and also his head of year, Mrs. Danksworth to go through her dreary registration process. Doris Danksworth was a bitter woman with a voice like a blocked vacuum cleaner. You could tell straight away that she didn’t really like children. Alex often wondered why she actually chose this profession. He thought that a purveyor of ancient torture devices would have suited her far better.

“Settle down, everyone and take your seats,” came her nasal drone.

“Karen West?”

“Here.”

“James Foote?”

“Here.”

Alex felt himself drifting off, in part due to Mrs. Danksworth’s monotone drawl and also due to his lack of sleep of late. For the last week he had been having extremely vivid dreams. These dreams were always in the same setting, a seemingly far off land with rolling woodland and fields, leading onto a huge lake that led up to a walled city that was shrouded from behind by a mountain range whose peaks were obscured by cloud cover. The focal point was a huge fortress that was elevated on an outcropping that overlooked the entire city.

“Emma Wilkinson?” Mrs. Danksworth droned on.

In his dreams, he would always be moving at speed towards the city from the first person perspective. Sometimes he would be approaching from the air and sometimes on land, either over a mountain pass or the lake embankment. Every time he drew near to the city’s entrance he would wake up in a cold sweat.

“Alex Masterson…? Alex Masterson!”

Alex jerked back to reality. “H-here.”

“Just barely,” quipped Mrs. Danksworth. A sneer broke across her face as she glared at him. She was visibly pleased with her attempted witticism.

The sneer that she had generated was still present as her eyes scanned to the next name on the register.

“Eliza Anderson?”

“Here,” came a slightly timid voice.

Alex spun round when hearing this new name being read out.

“Everyone. Eliza is new to the school, so I expect you all to help make her transition a smooth one.” Mrs. Danksworth forced a smile at this point, which actually looked like it was causing her a good deal of pain. Whether she meant it or not, the effect was quite menacing.

“Bradley Jones…?”

Alex tuned out everything else in the class, something that he was very practised at and looked at Eliza. He was trying not to stare but he seemed to be drawn to her, it was almost as if he had known her his whole life.

Throughout the rest of the morning, he was completely oblivious to his schoolwork. He was far too intrigued by Eliza. He couldn’t quantify in his own mind why he felt this way, but kept feeling his gaze drawn to her. He had to keep wrenching his eyes away as he didn’t want her to think he was staring, but on more than one occasion he caught her staring back, only for her to realise and quickly avert her eyes.

Like Alex, at five foot seven inches, Eliza was tall for her age. She had a runner’s build, long blonde hair that almost stretched the entire length of her back and piercing blue eyes. She was very pretty, with a very expressive face. But as pretty as she was, there was far more to what Alex was feeling than pure adolescent attraction.

The last lesson of the day was English. Alex arrived late to the class, a fact that didn’t go unnoticed by his teacher Mr. Chancell. “Nice of you to join us, Mr. Masterson, hurry up and take a seat.”

Alex apologised and then scanned the room for a free chair (ideally a free table); he spotted one at the back of the class. He made a beeline for this, sat down and took out his books. Just as Mr. Chancell had managed to settle everyone down, the classroom door opened and Eliza tentatively entered the room. Hushed chatter started to break out on a few of the desks. Mr. Chancell looked slightly miffed that he was going to have to go through the process of settling the class down again, but managed to compose himself. He looked at his register. “You must be Miss Anderson?” Eliza gave a shy smile and nodded. “Welcome. I’m Mr. Chancell. Please take a seat.” She scanned the room much like Alex had just done. He saw her look in his direction and slowly, she started to draw closer. Alex felt a sharp, sudden pain in his forearm. He grimaced as he looked down at it. The pain’s centre seemed to be within a mole cluster that he had on the underside of his right forearm.

Eliza took her seat next to him and despite the pain he smiled and said, “Hi.”

Eliza smiled and returned his greeting. As she took out her books and drew up her chair, Alex couldn’t help but notice that she flinched slightly and favoured her arm.

Throughout the lesson the pain that Alex was suffering from seemed to intensify. He needed some fresh air so he asked Mr. Chancell if he could be excused in order to go to the toilet. Mr. Chancell was reading through some emails on his tablet and without looking up, gave Alex his permission. Alex made his way to the boys’ bathrooms still rubbing his forearm as he walked. He got into the bathroom and immediately went to one of the mirrors; he looked quite pale. He studied his forearm around the source of the pain, but there was no obvious indication of what was actually causing it. With that, he splashed some water over his face, took a few deep breaths and then decided that he should probably head back to class.

He had his head down as he exited the bathroom. He bumped into someone. “Sorry,” he said and as he looked up he saw that it was Eliza.

“No problem,” she said and gave him a bashful smile. “Are you okay?” she enquired. “You ran out of class in quite a hurry.”

“Oh yeah; I was just in a bit of discomfort,” he said as casually as he could.

Eliza noticed that he was favouring his forearm and as she looked closer, she spotted the mole cluster. She stared at him for what felt like an hour.

“This is really freaky,” she said and showed Alex her forearm. She had the exact same mole cluster, in the exact same position. “I have been suffering from a pain in my arm too!”

Alex, looking startled asked, “When did yours start?”

“When I first came into English,” she replied.

“Mine too,” he said, trying not to sound too shocked.

They stared in silence for another few moments, before Alex said, “This isn’t meant as a line or anything, but I really feel like I know you, have we met before?”

Eliza thought about this for a moment and then said, “This is so weird! I have been thinking the same thing since I saw you this morning. I feel like I know you, but just cannot place you.”

Again they stared in silence, both having so many questions but unsure of how to broach them. The silence was interrupted by a ringing bell, signifying the end of the school day.

“We really should be heading back to class to collect our bags,” stated Alex. “Can I walk home with you? We can talk some more.”

Eliza smiled, “Sure.”

He couldn’t explain it, but he felt an immediate connection to her. He just felt so comfortable in her presence. All his life, he had struggled to talk to people and was always concerned that his shyness came across as arrogance or hostility. But with Eliza just now, his words came out with consummate ease.

As they wandered in the opposite direction to the majority of the pupils, some of which were pointing and smirking at them both, they spotted Mrs. Danksworth. She was approximately twenty-five foot ahead of them in the corridor and she was not alone. They could only see the back of them, but they could tell that she was being flanked by a hulking man who must have been at least seven foot tall. Not wanting to be questioned by Mrs. Danksworth, they both hung back. But they were curious as to who the man was, so they kept them in sight.

After a few moments, Mrs. Danksworth and her guest slowed and turned left off of the main corridor. Alex and Eliza looked at each other and without exchanging any words they decided to continue to follow. This route would take them past their English classroom, but their bags could wait, they were intrigued. To their surprise, Mrs. Danksworth and her large companion stopped outside Mr. Chancell’s classroom.

Mrs. Danksworth knocked and opened the door. Both her and her guest disappeared through the door and they heard it slam firmly shut behind them. Alex and Eliza picked up pace now so that they could get to the classroom as soon as possible and try to find out what was being said. As they approached the half glazed classroom door, they ducked so that they were hidden from view by the wooden panel that adorned its lower half. They both strained their ears to try to hear what was being said, but to their surprise, they could both hear every word with comparative ease. They heard Mrs. Danksworth’s familiar drone. “I’m terribly sorry to bother you, Andrew. This is Mr. Canly. He is from Social Services and has requested this opportunity to have a conversation with Alex Masterson.”

Andrew Chancell seemed a little sceptical about this request. “This seems a little unorthodox; shouldn’t Alex’s parents be present for something like this, Doris?”

Alex and Eliza then heard a voice that was so guttural they were sure that the glass in the door that they were pressed up against shook. “There is a suggestion that there has been some abuse in the home. I wanted to speak to Alex independently so that he could speak freely without the pressure of his parents being present.”

The sound of Mr. Canly’s voice was so intimidating that they could both hear fear in Mr. Chancell’s voice when he replied. “Oh, I-I see, this sounds like a very serious allegation. Well you are in luck, Alex left to use the toilet a short while ago, so he should be back to collect his belongings very soon.”

Alex was extremely confused and taken aback by what he had just heard. His parents weren’t the most attentive, but they had never so much as laid a hand on him. He wondered where Social Services had received this information from.

He regathered his thoughts and turned towards Eliza who looked just as confused as he was. They both had an ill feeling. Alex looked at Eliza and in a hushed voice said, “Forget our bags we can get them later. Let’s get out of here!”

Just as they had started to creep away from the door, it creaked open and they heard Mrs. Danksworth’s dreary voice, “Ah, Mr. Masterson and Ms. Anderson. We have a gentleman here who would like a conversation with you, Alex. Ms. Anderson, you can collect your belongings and go.”

As he turned to face her, he got his first look at Mr. Canly; he was the scariest looking person that Alex had ever seen. His face appeared to be frozen with an expression of pure, gleeful rage. But there was something else, Alex was convinced that for the briefest moment, he saw the man’s eyes flash red and show an outline on his face of some kind of creature. He looked across at Eliza who, judging by the look of horror on her face had seen the same thing.

“Run!” Alex shouted and they both bolted at top speed down the now clear school corridor.

“Stop! Get back here!” they both heard Mrs. Danksworth yell.

Alex looked back almost apologetically only to see Mrs. Danksworth being thrown clear across the school corridor and crashing through the closed door of the classroom opposite. In her place was Mr. Canly still wearing that same expression. “You may as well come quietly as you cannot escape,” he bellowed. “You would be most unwise to make me have to chase you.”

This seemed to propel them both on. Alex was a natural athlete, by far the fastest runner in his year, if not the entire school, but he was amazed to see that Eliza had overtaken him. As he caught up to her he raised his eyebrows, partly in admiration and partly in exasperation. But there was no time to dwell on this. One longer corridor, followed by a left hand turn would see them at the school exit. From here, they could run across the playground and onto the school field. The woodland that Alex loved to explore so much backed onto the school field, so he was confident that if they could reach it, he and Eliza could lose Mr. Canly in the countless acres of trees. Alex could hear a noise behind him. He turned expecting to see Mr. Canly giving chase, but to his horror it seemed they were being chased by some sort of huge beast. Was that a wolf? Surely not!

Alex, who had always had an overactive imagination, thought that the stress of the situation was causing his mind to play tricks on him. He kept running. He looked across at Eliza who looked completely freaked out.

“Was that a wolf?” she screamed.

“No, of course not,” said Alex, but he was not totally convinced by his own response. As they approached the sharp left hand turn that would take them towards the exit, they heard an explosive crash coming from behind them that caused them to both look back. Lockers had been scattered everywhere and in amongst the twisted, crumpled wreckage, they could see a huge shape start to emerge. Alex decided that Canly must have lost his footing.

That should slow him down a little, he thought to himself.

They had both reached the exit at this point and Alex looked back once again expecting to see a dazed Mr. Canly. His worst fears were confirmed. Emerging from the wreckage was a huge wolf! It did look slightly disorientated though. Alex and Eliza took this opportunity to tear across the playground at full speed. They reached the edge of the school field.

Alex shouted to Eliza, “Get to the fence at the bottom of the field; we’ll lose him in the forest!”

Eliza nodded and like a gazelle, made for the trees. They heard the crash of the exit door explode against the wall behind them. They didn’t dare look back and continued to sprint towards the fence line.

As they ran, it seemed like the trees were pulling further away from them. They could hear the heavy paws of the huge beast thundering on the ground not far behind them. Alex didn’t dare look back, but at this point, he knew that he wasn’t going to be able to outrun the wolf. He could, however, save Eliza. Suddenly, he broke off to the left, and this sharp change of direction caused the wolf to lose its footing and go careering along the ground to the right. Eliza who was a few foot from the fence line stopped and shouted,

“Alex, what are you doing?”

“Run, Eliza! Get yourself to safety!”

She stared back, “I’m not leaving you!”

The wolf had now regained its footing and was bearing down on Alex. All of a sudden there was a thud and the wolf let out a huge yelp. It turned to see what had hit it; Eliza was standing there, stones in her hand. She had reached the fence line and had searched for any sort of weapon that could be used against their pursuer. The wolf started to make for her.

“Eliza, get away!” Alex yelled. But she seemed frozen in time. Realising this, he started to yell at the wolf in an effort to get its attention. He looked around for a weapon and found the large stone that Eliza had hit it with moments earlier. He scooped it up, took aim and hit the wolf on the side of the neck. The wolf yelped and wheeled around on him. The speed of this took him by surprise and he slipped and fell over, the back of his head impacting onto the grass. As he tried to regather himself, he could see that his shot with the rock had drawn blood on the beast. The wolf prepared to pounce. Alex was prone and could not defend himself – was this the end?

In slow motion and out of nowhere, Alex saw a huge black shape crash into the side of the wolf, sending it sprawling. As his eyes came into focus he saw Axis staring back at him. But then he heard something that he didn’t expect, “Get to the forest, Alex and make for our tree, I’ll meet you there!”

“What the…” Alex started to retort. Had he heard Axis speak to him? He must have hit his head harder than he had thought when he fell. The wolf was starting to stir.

“Get to our tree, Alex and take Eliza with you – now!” Alex got to his feet and stared at Axis in disbelief. Eliza was quite far ahead of him, but even at that distance, the shock on her face was evident. The wolf was now back on its feet circling Axis. “Go now!” barked Axis, “I’ll hold him off!”

Alex stared in shock as he staggered his way into a run and caught up to Eliza. He took one look back at Axis, who was preventing the wolf in its efforts to give chase and with that, he and Eliza disappeared into the trees.




3.

Any Tree in a Storm



“What on Earth just happened?” Eliza asked.

That was the first time either of them had spoken since they entered the forest.

Alex was still trying to compute everything. Mr. Canly, the wolf, Axis…

“I don’t know,” said Alex. “What I do know though is that wolf would have killed us had it not been for Axis.”

“You know that… dog?” asked Eliza incredulously.

“He’s my pet and my best friend,” said Alex with a mixture of pride and sorrow, as he was sure that the wolf would have killed Axis.

“Well I think that it is safe to say that he is much more than just a dog,” said Eliza. “I can’t believe it, sorry, he, spoke.”

Neither could Alex. “You heard it too?”

Eliza nodded. “I heard it as clearly as I am hearing you now. How is that even possible?”

Alex did not know how to respond to this as he had no idea. His mind was spinning as they continued to wend their way deeper into the forest.

After what seemed like hours, they arrived at a small clearing, the focal point of which was a gigantic tree that seemed to rise far above and beyond the canopy of the forest. The tree was huge, so much bigger than any of the other trees in and around it. It looked ancient, with its huge, knotted trunk and twisted, gnarled branches that stretched ever upward.

Despite everything that had just happened, Alex felt a small sense of relief as he moved into the shadow of the familiar tree. As he stepped towards it, he felt warmth wash over him. Exhausted, he sat down and leant against the trunk. He invited Eliza to do likewise. They both felt somehow protected under its huge branches and unwittingly, they fell into a deep sleep.

Alex awoke with a start to a cracking sound; somebody or something was heading in their direction. He gave Eliza a gentle shake in order to wake her, she too woke with a start and was about to say something when Alex put his hand lightly over her mouth and indicated that she should remain quiet. He silently pointed behind him and she understood straight away. He then motioned that they should move around the other side of the tree and climb.

They managed to get about twelve foot off the ground when a black shadow appeared in the clearing. It was dark now and only a few intermittent shards of moonlight were able to permeate through the thick tree covering. But despite this, Alex could make out that whatever it was, it was limping.

Is it the wolf? Has Axis injured it whilst trying to protect us?

The black shape didn’t approach the tree but instead disappeared behind the huge trunk of a fallen tree some fifty yards from where they were hidden. They heard rustling and cracking noises and all of a sudden, the ground began to shake. They both clung extra tightly to the thick branches from fear of falling, or was the greater fear being spotted by the dark shape?

The shaking stopped and after some time they heard the rustling of the leaves that littered the forest floor and the cracking of twigs. The dark shape was about to re-emerge! Out it came from behind the huge tree trunk. This time it was fixed on heading towards the tree that was hiding Alex and Eliza. They both stared wide-eyed at one another not even daring to breathe as the shape approached. Then something strange happened, as it drew closer, there was a blinding flash of blue light that completely engulfed the creature. Once the light had cleared, they could still see a dark shape, but it was somehow different. From a crouched position, it drew up to its full height. Alex strained his eyes and realised he was now looking at a man! A tall, heavily built man with a face almost completely obscured by a thick black beard. He also had long black hair that along with the beard, served to almost completely hide his facial features.

The man looked all around him and then shouted, “Alex!” As he said this, he flinched and favoured the upper part of his right arm. “Alex! Are you here?” The man had a voice that immediately commanded respect. Alex didn’t know what to do, who was this strange man and how did he know his name? “Alex, show yourself. You are not in any danger – it’s Axis.”

“Axis,” Alex mouthed silently to Eliza. He looked completely bewildered.

Axis scanned the tree and then called again.

“Alex, I see you and Eliza in the tree. Please come down, we need to talk.”

A thousand thoughts raced through Alex’s mind. Most were what terrible things might happen to he and Eliza should they descend from the comparative safety of the tree. But in spite of this, he began to make his way down. He looked up at Eliza who too, had started her descent.

Alex’s feet hit the ground and he was now face to face with the man (it was actually more like face to chest). He heard Eliza’s feet hit the ground just behind him. Axis was a giant of a man. He was at least six foot eight inches tall and was solid muscle. He had an intimidating air about him. What could be seen of his face was focused and stern. But despite this, Alex saw kindness and a familiar look of understanding in his dark eyes. Alex noticed that he was still favouring his arm and saw the crimson of blood trickling through his fingers.

The three of them stood in silence for a few moments until Axis said, “Alex, Eliza, it is so good to see you again, through these eyes.” He then proceeded to hug them both. It was how one would imagine an anaconda would hug.

They were both taken aback by this and by the time Alex had regained his breath he asked, “What do you mean, ‘these eyes’? What is going on?”

“There is so much I need to tell you both,” said Axis. “I just need a bit of help with this first.” He removed his hand from his arm; he had a huge wound in the shape of a bite mark. “Canly took a chunk out of me and then made off into the woods.”

Alex started to look around frantically.

“Don’t worry, Alex,” smiled Axis. “He can’t find us here. You remember the blue flash of light that you just saw?” They both nodded. “That is called a Ring of Protection. It is designed to let only certain people in and once you enter it, you see a person in their true form.”

Alex didn’t speak. He took off his school jumper and tore off one of the arms. He then proceeded to tie this around the wound on Axis’ arm. Axis thanked him and put on a long black coat that he had obviously retrieved when he was behind the felled tree.

“What do you mean ‘true form’?” Alex inquired.

Axis smiled a tired smile. “Where do I begin?”




4.

A Brief History



The three of them were now seated on the ground, by the tree. Both Alex and Eliza were listening intently to Axis. “I have so much to tell you, some of it will sound ridiculous and some will be hard to accept. I know that you will have about a million questions, I don’t have all of the answers but I will give you all that I know.”

Axis addressed Alex directly.

“I am not going to beat around the bush. That wolf was a hunter sent to kill you.”

Alex looked stunned.

“Kill me! Why would anyone want to kill me, I haven’t done anything wrong – I am no one of importance?”

“You may be many things, Alex, but you are not unimportant. In fact, you and Eliza may well be the only hope for the salvation of our entire world.”

Both Alex and Eliza looked extremely confused.

Axis continued.

“Alex, you know how you would tell me on a regular basis, how you didn’t feel like you belonged here?” Alex looked away feeling slightly embarrassed. “Well that is because you don’t – neither of you do.” They both had confusion etched on their faces.

“What do you mean ‘don’t belong’?” asked Eliza.

“I mean that you are not from this place – this world.”

Eliza accidentally let out a slightly sarcastic laugh. “Of course I am from here, my parents, my home.”

“They are not your parents and this isn’t your home. These were just necessary illusions created for your protection.” Eliza was about to retort when Axis said, “Did you ever wonder why your adoptive parents never paid any real attention to either of you and left you to your own devices, or why you have moved home so many times in your young lives?”

They went silent as this comment resonated with them both.

“As I was saying, you were both put here for your protection. After your parents were killed, your real home was no longer safe for you.”

“Killed!

“How? Why?” they both asked.

“Patience. I will get to this.”

Axis continued.

“We all come from a place called Ignius Novus. It is affectionately referred to as Igni. In some ways it is similar to Earth in terms of the atmosphere and landscapes. But in many ways, it is very different.

“We are Derma-morphs. Our true form is human but due to a slightly different sequence in the structure of our genetic makeup, we have the ability to transform into creatures that are representative of our personalities.”

Both Alex and Eliza laughed at this.

“This is no laughing matter!” Axis snapped. “I am providing you with details of your true history and identities.”

They both looked on apologetically, before Eliza spoke.

“If we are Derma… whatevers, and can turn into creatures, then surely we should be able to transform? I don’t know about Alex, but I have never changed.” She had a slightly self-satisfied look on her face.

“You can, but not until your thirteenth birthday. A restriction was put in place by the Elders of our world, many years ago. They believed that anyone younger than thirteen wasn’t deemed responsible enough to possess this ability.”

Axis looked at them both. “Show me your right arms,” he said.

“What, why?” asked Alex.

“Just do as I say.”

Reluctantly, they both stretched their right arms out for Axis to see.

“You see this?” said Axis pointing to the mole clusters on the underside of each of their forearms. They both nodded. “It is called a Hindrex. This will basically restrict your ability to morph for a given period of time.” Eliza and Alex looked on silently.

“Have either of you been feeling any sort of pain or stinging in and around the Hindrex?”

They both nodded but both had a look of, ‘how could you possibly know this?’ on their faces.

“This pain indicates that you are almost of age and that the power of the Hindrex is starting to wane.

“Alex, your parents – Cordium and Amara are, were, king and queen of Arcamedia.

“Arcamedia is the largest city on Ignius Novus. Under their rule, we had enjoyed our most prosperous times for almost a millennium. But as is the case when things are going well, there are those who wish to derail it.” He paused, seemingly for effect. “Eliza, your parents were the rulers of Kessler, a neighbouring realm. During our times of prosperity Arcamedia held a strong alliance with Kessler. So strong was the alliance, it was decided that both realms would be merged, so your parents entered into a pact that would see the first born male and female from each family promised to one another. You feel a connection to each other do you not?” They both looked surprised at his knowledge of this, but nodded. “This is because once this promise has been made it creates an unbreakable bond between the two of you. A bond that will intensify over the years. You also spent a good deal of time together as each of your parents became firm friends. This only served to solidify the bond.”

They looked at one another, even though they had only really known each other for a few hours, there was an undeniably strong connection between the two of them.

Axis continued, “Both of your mothers would travel together and it was during one of these excursions that tragically, their carriage broke free and fell off the side of a cliff into the freezing cold waters of Lake Ancora.” Both Alex and Eliza let out audible gasps at this point. Axis let this sink in for a moment and then continued. “I am afraid that the sad news doesn’t end here. Stricken with grief, Eliza, your father took his own life, orphaning you in the process. You were then taken into care by your Guardian.”

“Guardian?” said Eliza.

“Yes,” said Axis, somewhat impatiently. “I am Alex’s Guardian, your Guardian was Aroura.”

“Our dog?” said Eliza.

“The very same. She passed away last week did she not?” Eliza nodded solemnly. “That is why you were moved here under my temporary Guardianship until a replacement could be sent. The truth be told, Aroura was killed protecting you, Eliza. As is the case with Alex, a hunter was sent to kill you and Aroura performed her duty. She was a good soldier and a good friend.” Axis paused looking solemn; he then composed himself and continued. “It was pure bad luck that the hunter found you as you do not become visible to them until your thirteenth year. To him, you would have been just a normal human child. He must have recognised Aurora in some way.

“Kessler grieved the loss of both of your parents. But without their respected leaders at the helm, the city soon fell into disarray. It is currently under the stewardship of Aldar Molia. He is a corrupt man who only cares about his own interests; he is ignorant to the suffering of the people of Kessler. Besides, ultimately he answers to one person.”

“Who?” Alex and Eliza asked in unison.

“This would bring us to your stepmother, Alex.”

“Stepmother?” Alex repeated.

“Yes. After your mother passed, your father was distraught beyond measure. He would shut himself away from everyone, leaving others to oversee his duties. I was the head of your father’s guard, his confidant and closest friend; it pained me to see what he had become.”

His voice trailed off.

“This was when somebody who I believe has always craved power saw the opportunity to swoop in and take advantage.

“Magissa Veil.” The disgust in his voice was evident.

“Magissa was a prominent member of your mother’s entourage, Alex. She played the role of loyal subject almost to perfection. But I started to notice a few things that alerted me to her and as a result, I decided to watch her more closely from then on. I started to follow her more and more and I came to suspect that she may have been involved in both of your mothers’ deaths somehow, though I couldn’t provide any proof.”

Axis continued.

“Soon after the accident, I tried to talk to your father about this, Alex, but he would not hear of it and banished me from Arcamedia. By this point, your father was totally disconnected from you; it was almost as if he wasn’t even aware of your existence.

“During my monitoring of Magissa, I came to find that she is practitioner of witchcraft and not the good kind. I also noticed that she had moved in on Cordium very soon after the accident – too soon. His behaviour seemed to change immediately. Initially we thought that this behavioural change was due to grief, but it soon became clear to those that were closest to him that he was under some kind of spell. We tried to reach out to him, but it was too late, she had a total hold over his thoughts and actions.

“Fearing for your safety, I made preparations for you to be evacuated from Arcamedia. I sensed that Eliza would also be targeted by Magissa, so I contacted Aurora and made her aware of the evacuation plan.”

“Why would we be unsafe?” asked Alex. “It seems to me that we swapped one set of negligent parents for another.” This was a harsh comment that he regretted immediately.

“There is far more to it than that, Alex!” said Axis with a raised voice. He then calmed himself. “As I pointed out earlier, you and Eliza were bonded at birth. Through your parentage and this bond, you would become the eventual rulers of Arcamedia and the surrounding realms. Should you no longer be in the picture, Magissa would have an uncontested rule over all the realms.”

The reality of the situation sunk in with them both.

“So she was the one that sent the hunters after us?” said Eliza.

“That is correct,” said Axis.

“Magissa also has full control over what happens in Kessler. Aldar Molia is completely devoted to her and ensures that her commands are carried out to the letter. I believe that he sees himself ruling by her side – the misguided fool!” he spat.

An uncomfortable silence then set in before Alex asked, “Are there likely to be more hunters coming?”

“Undoubtedly. It is likely that they are already here and have been alerted to your whereabouts by Canly,” said Axis.

“So we cannot stay here then?” said Alex.

“No, we cannot.”

“Well where can we go?” asked Eliza.

“We have to go back to Ignius Novus,” said Axis.

Alex and Eliza looked horrified.

“Surely we are more likely to be caught or killed if we go there?” they protested.

“We still have a few allies there, something that we do not have here. You both share a birthday, so you will both be thirteen in a matter of hours. I need to get you to a friend – Maven Cowlark. He can help increase the protection for you both. Aside from this, there is another pressing reason to get back to Igni, but I will let Maven explain.”

“How exactly are we supposed to get there?” asked Alex.

“A very good point, follow me.”




5.

Inhuman Travel



“Follow me, come on,” Axis called to them both.

Alex’s mind was spinning, this was so much to take in and was all so bizarre, yet something in his head told him that Axis was speaking the complete truth. He had only known Axis the man for a few hours, yet he already felt a strong sense of trust growing towards him. He sensed that he should be feeling sadder to hear the news that his real mother had died and that his father was under the control of an evil witch, but felt slightly numb to it. How can you feel deep sorrow for people that you have no memory of?

He then thought of the two people who he thought were his parents. Although they left him to his own devices most of the time, they would be concerned if he didn’t get home soon. Then it dawned on him, what if Canly and the other hunters trace him back to his home?

“We need to go back to my home first,” Alex stated.

“No, Alex. There is no time, we must leave for Igni,” Axis replied.

“But what about my parents? They will be worried about me if I don’t return soon. And worse still, what if the hunters track me back to them?”

Alex’s words had obviously twigged the same realisation in Eliza as she echoed his concerns.

“I have already told you, they are not your parents. You have said yourself that they were negligent,” came Axis’ infuriated response.

“They may not be our real parents, but they are the only ones that we have ever known. You cannot be with people for that length of time and not care for them,” Alex retorted.

Axis nodded. “You are right. I did not mean to make light of your feelings for them. But you don’t need to worry, before I came here, I relieved them of their duties.”

Both Alex and Eliza gasped.

Axis suddenly realised what he had just said. “No, no, not in that way, my friends. I mean that they no longer have the burden of looking after you. I have taken them back to the point in their lives before either of you were a part of it.”

“What do you mean?” Alex asked.

“They have moved back to their first homes and they have no memory of either of you ever having been a part of their lives.”

“How is that even possible?” asked Eliza.

“All you need to know is that I used something that Maven had created for this eventuality. The important thing is they are safe and the fact that each of your adoptive parents no longer has any memory or knowledge of you makes them even safer.”

Eliza didn’t look totally convinced, but accepted what she had been told with a nod and a slightly forced smile.

Alex on the other hand knew that what Axis had told them was true and although he was relieved that his adoptive parents were safe, there was a part of him that felt sad that they would not remember him in any way, shape or form.

They made their way over to the felled tree that Axis the dog had emerged from a few hours earlier. Axis stopped and said, “On Igni we have learned to harness the power of gemstones in different ways.” He reached into the inside pocket of the long coat that he was wearing and withdrew a gem. Alex and Eliza watched as he rotated the crystal in one of his shovel-like hands and stared as it started to glow. It was the most striking blue colour that either of them had ever seen.

“Now I must warn you both, this will not be particularly pleasant. When I release the gem, we must all join hands and we will then be teleported to Igni.”

“Teleported? That’s impossible,” said Eliza.

“Everything else that you have experienced so far today would fall into that category, wouldn’t you agree?” Axis responded with a knowing glint in his dark eyes.

Neither of them had a response to this, so they stood quietly, awaiting further instruction.

“So on three, we all join hands. Brace yourselves, this will be over soon.

“Ready?” They nodded nervously.

“One…Two…Thr… Oh, one more thing, whatever you do, do not let go of my hands.”

“You are not filling us with confidence,” said Alex. “Can we start agai…”

“Three!” shouted Axis.

Both Eliza and Alex felt Axis grab their hands and then the whole forest seemed to glow blue. There was an eerie calm and then all of sudden Alex was gripped by a force so strong he felt like his bones were being pulled out of his body. He let out a scream of pain. He could hear Eliza screaming too. He tried to open his eyes to check that she was okay, but the force or whatever it was, was preventing this from happening.

After what felt like an age, the crushing pain that he was feeling subsided. It now felt like he was just floating in space. “Are you both okay?” he heard Axis call.

“I… I think so,” said Eliza.

“Good – Alex?”

“Um Y…yes.”

“Excellent. We are almost there, remember, don’t let go – hold on!”

Out of nowhere, Alex started to spin uncontrollably like he was being sucked into a giant whirlpool. Again he heard Eliza scream, this time it was strangely comforting as it indicated that she was still with them. The spinning then increased to the point where he felt like he was going to explode, then just when he didn’t think he could stand it anymore, it stopped. He was floating again. Moments later, he felt himself touch down onto something solid.

“Okay, open your eyes, slowly,” said Axis.

Alex obeyed. His first thought was for Eliza, he tried to focus but everything was so blurry. Are those trees?

“Here, drink this.”

Alex groped about in the air and felt a strong grip take hold of his wrist, followed by the feeling of something being pushed into his hand and then, against his will, his hand was moving towards his face. As the liquid touched his lips, everything seemed to normalize immediately. Moments earlier, he felt like he had been put through a blender and now it was as if nothing had happened. He looked ahead, everything was in perfect focus. He saw Eliza, she looked totally disorientated but as Axis helped her drink, he could immediately see that she too was feeling the healing effects of the anonymous liquid.

“What did you just give us?” Alex asked as he pointed at the silver hipflask.

“It’s called Leirix,” said Axis. “As you can probably tell, it has healing properties. If you needed further proof that you are not entirely human, a human would not have been able to survive what you just went through.” He trailed off. “Thank goodness. We wouldn’t want them to do to Igni what they have done to Earth.”

Alex and Eliza looked at him, expecting him to qualify his last comment. Nothing was forthcoming. Axis continued, “Without the Leirix, you would have been extremely ill and disorientated for days, but your life would not have been under threat. You do get used to it.” He smiled, “But only as an adult will it not affect you.”

Alex looked around, he had seen trees. They were in a forest – right next to a familiar looking, gigantic tree.

“Have we actually gone anywhere? This all looks the same,” he said as he pointed to the tree.

“We are on Igni,” said Axis. “The reason why you felt so comfortable by the tree was because it was from your home.”

“How could it be?” Alex asked.

“That’s… impossible?” smiled Axis.

“Once you passed through the Ring of Protection, you were home, well… in a way. The small area around the tree was a projected illusion that was intended to give you the impression that you were home. It not only kept you safe but also helped to maintain your connection to Igni.”

Axis looked skyward, it was getting dark. “We must get you both to Maven.

“Normally I would make camp for the night, but it is imperative that he applies the protection to you before midnight.”

“Why?” asked Alex.

“It is best that Maven explains; he is the Mystic after all. Come on. We must move. Magissa is certain to have patrols in the area. We must take a longer path to Maven; we are less likely to be spotted on this route.”

Axis pointed to the left. “This is our road. Walk where I walk, keep up and be silent.”

They set off.

It was a clear dark night and there was a full moon in the sky. Considering Axis’ huge frame, he barely made a sound as they proceeded deeper into the forest. As Axis had requested, they moved without uttering a word. It was very dark now and Alex was amazed at how well he could see. He assumed that Axis was holding a torch of some kind just in front of them. He peered ahead only to realise that Axis had his arms down by his sides and there wasn’t any light glowing in front of him. How could he see so well? He looked over at Eliza, she must have felt his eyes on her and she turned to look at him. Alex double-took and Eliza lurched back. Her beautiful blue eyes were glowing much like the crystal that had brought them here. Judging by the way that she was staring at him, he guessed that his eyes must have had a similar glow. He pointed at her eyes and then at his own, Eliza nodded very slowly, still seemingly trying to take in what she was seeing.

At some point during this silent exchange they must have stopped walking. Some distance ahead they could clearly see the huge man that was Axis. As he turned, Alex could see that his eyes were glowing a burnt orange colour. He motioned to them to catch up. Quickly and quietly, they caught up to him. Without a word and through a series of hand gestures, he made it clear to them that they needed to move on and stay in step with him.

It seemed like hours had passed since they had set off on their silent march through the forest. The tree cover was becoming thicker which would only allow the moonlight through intermittently. Alex was aware that he couldn’t see quite as clearly as he had earlier. He looked over at Eliza who met his gaze and he noticed that the glow in her blue eyes had dimmed slightly. All of a sudden Axis froze and raised his hand, indicating that they should stop. Both Alex and Eliza froze on the spot. They watched as Axis slowly scanned the area. His deliberate movements made him look like some sort of huge cyborg. They heard a rustle some way off to the left. Axis’ head immediately spun in the direction of the noise. As he attempted to locate its source, there was another rustle, but this one was much closer.

Axis motioned to both Eliza and Alex to get down and hide behind a nearby tree stump. He then spun around and silently made off in the direction of the disturbance.

Eliza and Alex looked at each other wide-eyed and scared, neither of them dared to move a muscle. Another rustle, this one was close – too close. They both peered around the side of the tree stump in the direction of the noise and to their horror, they could now make out the clear outline of a person and he or she was making their way to exactly where they were hiding. They both pressed up against the tree stump and tucked themselves into the foetal position, hoping not to be spotted. The figure was getting closer. They had been spotted! Then a noise that sounded like a person clearing their throat emanated from the figure’s direction. “Hel... arghh!” came the sound and the figure rose into the air. It was being held up by another huge figure that they recognised as Axis.

“Maven! What the devil are you doing?” roared Axis.

“Axis – Axis my old friend, put me down,” croaked Maven.

Axis lowered him gently to the ground.

“What are you doing out here? I could’ve killed you.”

Maven coughed, “I got your message. I was getting concerned that you had not arrived so decided to come out to look for you. I didn’t announce myself straight away as I thought that you might have been one of Magissa’s patrols. For the last two weeks they have been venturing deeper and deeper into the forest. I’m not sure why, I can only assume that Magissa must have sensed something.”

He turned around, “Ah, you must be Eliza and Alex! My name is Maven Cowlark and I am at your service.” He removed his hat and bowed so low that his beard brushed the forest floor.

Both Eliza and Alex looked somewhat taken aback by this. They both smiled. Eliza said hello and Alex raised his hand in welcome.

Maven Cowlark was eccentric looking. He was tall and thin with long brown hair that was flecked with grey and a long brown-grey beard that started thick and wide at the point of his chin. Its width decreased until it ended abruptly in a sharp point just past his sternum. He wore clothing and a hat which both appeared to be made out of some sort of plant leaves, as well as a silken scarf and he carried a staff that was covered from top to bottom in intricate carvings. They noticed that his eyes had a faint orangey-brown glow to them.

“Right, I must get you all to my home and quickly,” said Maven. “There is much to do.”



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