‘Soren’ is a middle-grade fantasy story derived from my adult fantasy series – The Light and Shadow Chronicles. The adult version, ‘The Shield of Soren’ will be released towards the end of 2016. The basic plot is more or less the same, however the content is toned down for the children’s copy. Soren has a pet fox, named Dash, in this version, and this is a stand-alone book, whereas the adult version is larger because it is linked into the wider series.
10-year-old Soren is the prince of Alcherys, a land that has been at war for hundreds of years. One day, he will lead his people into battle against the kingdom of Meraxor and their deadly leader—Vincent Wilder.
Soren should be training to become a soldier, but he is more interested in causing trouble with his trusty fox cub, Dash. When one of Soren and Dash’s mischievous adventures goes wrong, they unleash a deadly virus. It appears that an age-old prophecy is finally coming to pass, and Soren and his family must take a perilous journey deep into their enemy’s land.
Can Soren fulfill his destiny or will the virus destroy him first?
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Chapter One – Ruins of the Gods
Soren Nitaya was just five years old and he was more angry than he had ever been in his life. He stood, rigid as a post, his fists clenched tightly together and his chin tucked in to his chest. He glared furiously at anybody who tried to talk to him.
A hand rested gently on Soren’s shoulder, but he shook it away. He cast an angry scowl up at his older brother, Deveron, who was nine years old.
Soren stared at his parents who stood across the hall, clinging to one another with tears marking their faces. All around the room were paintings of Soren and Deveron’s sister, Freya, who had been just fifteen when she had been killed.
“Let’s go home now, Soren,” Deveron said and tried to lead him away, but Soren stood his ground.
“No!” He crossed his arms over his chest but kept his eyes locked onto his mother and father.
“Come on. Mummy and Daddy will come later.” Deveron reached out to hold Soren’s hand.
“Don’t care. I hate mum and dad.”
Deveron paused, taken aback by his brother’s words. “Don’t be silly. You don’t hate Mum and Dad. Come home and I’ll play soldiers with you.”
Soren stamped his feet in quick succession. “No, no, no!” he shouted at the top of his lungs.
His angry voice echoed across the hall, and Soren’s mother and father snapped out of their catatonic grief.
“Hey little buddy,” their mother said, and she knelt down in front of Soren, but he resolutely looked away, screwing his nose up.
Callista Nitaya—the queen of Alcherys—looked as radiant as ever. Her long silver-blonde hair cascaded in rivers down to the small of her back. Her hazel eyes glistened with pain, but she kept a serious expression. She had been the leader of their nation for so long that she had learnt not to show too much emotion.
Beside her stood their father, Ken Nitaya. His dark eyes were unfocused, like he couldn’t concentrate on anything in particular. His dark skin was pale and sunken. Freya’s death had hit him hard.
“The funeral has finished now boys,” Callista said in an authoritative voice. “Let’s go home.”
She moved to put an arm around each of the boys, but Soren ducked away from her and crossed his arms over his chest again. He wore a deep purple uniform with the silver symbol of Alcherys stitched onto it.
“Come on Soren,” Callista said.
“I don’t want to go anywhere!” he shrieked.
“I know you’re upset but—”
“No! You don’t know anything!”
Callista looked to Ken for support but his face was blank and distant, as if he wasn’t even aware they were in the room.
“Tell me what’s wrong,” she said softly and reached out to stroke Soren’s cheek.
Soren clenched his jaw, grinding his little teeth together. When his mother reached out to him, he waved her hand away and flopped to the floor with a loud huff.
Deveron sat down in front of his brother.
“What’s up?” he asked in a calm, friendly voice.
Soren mumbled quietly. “It’s Mum’s fault. She let Freya die.”
“Why do you think that?” Deveron asked. “Mum had nothing to do with it.”
“She didn’t save her.”
Callista turned away to hide the burning tears that glistened in her eyes.
“Don’t be silly—Mum couldn’t have done anything.”
“She could!” Soren cried. “Mum has that potion. She can give it to anybody, whenever she likes. It can bring people back. She could have saved Freya.”
“It’s not like that, Soren,” Callista said quietly.
“It is! That magical potion makes people live forever. You will live forever. Daddy will live forever. Everybody does! When I reach 16, I will take it and then I can live forever. Why didn’t you give it to Freya?”
“I couldn’t—” Callista murmured.
“You could too!”
There was an uncomfortable silence.
Deveron straightened up. “He’s right, Mum. Why didn’t you just give Freya the elixir? Then she could have lived forever. She might have survived the battle against Meraxor.”
Callista’s eyes were wracked with pain. “I wish I could have, but it doesn’t work that way. You’re too young to understand.”
“We’re not babies!” Soren shouted and he leapt up to his feet. “We’re big now! We can understand.”
Deveron nodded. “Come on, Mum. We need to know why this happened. We want to know why you didn’t save our sister.”
Callista gave a sad smile and turned to her gaunt and exhausted husband.
“Ken, I’ll do it. I’ll take the boys to Alexiria and show them.”
Their father snapped out of his silence. “You can’t, Callista. It’s too far.”
“It’ll be fine. We’ll go tomorrow morning, take a cart and be back by evening.”
“Soren’s too young to travel so far.”
Callista rested a hand on Soren’s head. “Something tells me Soren will be just fine.”
* * *
The following morning, Callista, Deveron and Soren made their way to the edge of Fallway, the town where they lived. They had bags of food and jugs of water strung over their backs for the long journey. A wooden cart was waiting for them, and an elderly driver sat at the front with the horses’ reins in his hands. Soren clambered up onto the cart, eager and ready for the long trip across the country of Alcherys.
They wound through woods and meadows, weaved across tiny bridges, struggled over hills and dipped into sweeping valleys. Soren drifted in and out of sleep, curled up in his mother’s arms, his belly full of the bread and cheese they had brought along with them.
Eventually, the cart began to slow as it approached Alexiria. The boys had heard of the place before. Everybody in Alcherys had. It was an ancient city, now ruined and abandoned. Soren was quite sure there must be ghosts prowling the city and he was a little afraid. But he couldn’t stop jiggling up and down with excitement about the adventures they might find here in Alexiria.
A grey stone wall crept into view, dilapidated and covered in moss and creeping ivy. The wall was solid in places, but some parts were completely worn away by weather. Vines and plants sprouted from the cracks.
Soren, Deveron and Callista watched in silence as the cart slowly passed through the cobblestoned ruins of the city.
Callista called for the driver to stop as they rode up to the tallest building. There were enormous crumbling columns supporting the roof. Patterns and sculptures ran all around the top of the building showing parades of people, animals and what looked like humans with wings.
Callista, Soren and Deveron dismounted from the cart and Soren ran ahead, bounding up the steps.
The hall they stepped into was the size of a cavern and the walls stretched up into the air like the cliffs Soren often played by.
The stunning ceiling, at least 25 metres above their heads, was covered in splinters of coloured glass. The bright sun rays shone through them, casting kaleidoscope emeralds, rubies and sapphires across the floor.
Soren and Deveron stopped in the centre of the room, their eyes cast up to the ceiling, and their jaws nearly hit the floor.
“Welcome to the library of Alexiria, boys,” Callista said with a smile.
Hundreds of thousands of crinkly old books were stacked neatly along the shelves, covered with dust.
“What are all these?” Deveron asked, as he pulled a leather-bound book from the shelf.
Callista smiled. “These are documents, written thousands of years ago. Over the last 111 years, I have read them all. They tell of ancient history—age-old battles, angels, demons, dragons—all sorts of fantastical things.”
Soren and Deveron’s eyes were wide with fascination, watching their mother carefully as she spoke.
“How much of it is true, and how much just fairy tales, I do not know. But some of these books speak of things nobody could possibly know—of gods and monsters and even of the future…”
“The future? That’s impossible,” Soren said.
Callista smiled. “I thought so too at first, but whoever filled this library knew an awful lot about our family. How can that be, when these books were written so long ago? We can only guess that the person who wrote them had magical powers.”
Callista pointed to a marble stand in the centre of the room, where a special book lay. It was large and dusty with frayed edges and stitching so old it looked like it would fall apart.
Callista sat on the floor with her legs tucked beneath her. Soren and Deveron hurried over to sit with her as she opened the book carefully and the leather cover creaked. A waft of musty air hit them and a smell of old papyrus hung in the air.
She began to flick through the pages and Soren leaned in further as the sheets of scratchy black writing flitted past. Each page was decorated with patterns running around the edges—swords, shields, feathers, dragons, flames.
Soren’s hand shot out and he pointed excitedly to one of the symbols. “That’s ours! That’s the badge of Alcherys!” He jumped to his feet and pulled aside his jacket to reveal his deep purple uniform with the silver badge of the four daggers of eternity upon it.
“That’s right, Soren,” his mother said, patting him gently on the head. “When we set up our nation, we took that symbol from the book.”
She flicked on again until she landed on a page with the word ‘elixir’ in spiky lettering across the top of the page. She spread the book out on the floor between herself and the two children.
In the centre of the page was the knot of infinity. It looked like a figure 8 lying on its side and Soren’s eyes followed the loops round and around until he began to feel sick. His mother began to read:
“This mystical potion has the power to stop time. One sip and the drinker shall enjoy an eternity of youthfulness. Their skin will never wither and their hair shall never fade to grey. But the potion’s mystery stretches further than immortality. Even on the verge of death, this potion can bring a person back from oblivion. But beware—once the damage is too great and the icy hand of death approaches, not even the elixir can bring life back.”
Callista closed the book gently.
“Do you see, boys? The elixir, which every person in Alcherys takes at the age of 16, gives eternal youth. That is why we never age. It is why I am nearly 127 years old. When you reach 16, you shall take it too. It makes your body stronger and aging does not happen. If you are injured, and nearly dead, you could be saved by drinking the elixir. If even a single spark of life remains, you can be saved, but once that spark is gone, the elixir cannot bring you back,” she whispered and tears gathered in the corner of her eyes.
“Freya was too far gone…” Deveron said quietly, and Callista nodded.
“It was too late to give her the elixir. There was nothing any of us could do once she was in the grip of evil. There is only one person to blame for Freya’s death. The leader of Meraxor—Vincent Wilder.”