The coming of the New Year was said to have brought with it many vast changes, for Alandra valentine many of these vast changes took place when she finally decided on moving to that quiet country retreat she had always dreamed of moving to.
To the outsider Haven's gate may have seemed rather quaint and picturesque, like something straight out of a fairytale, but it had a charm that was all its own. Time seemed to stand still here; people could wander through the lush greenwoods, wade through the gentle streams or stop to smell the many rare and radiant flowers without the constant worry of the merciless hands of the clock ticking away against them in a race that they could never hope to win.
It was a complete opposite to the cold suburbia of Angala city, here people actually cared about each other, they took the time to get to know one another; compassion flowed through its cobbled streets, the younger generation helped the older, and in turn the older helped to mould the younger generation into young men and women that their small village could be truly proud of.
Alandra had first heard of Haven's gate when one of her childhood friends Tara had decided to get back in touch with her. Alandra was more than a little surprised because she barely remembered Tara, it all seemed like such a long time ago, and she had been a different person back then, so insecure, so unsure of herself.
She could only vaguely remember what Tara had looked like; only that she had been one of her closest friends back then when it had felt as though the world had abandoned her.
Yet even though her memories of her friend were like a misted up pane of glass, there had been something in the way Tara had described Haven's gate that had called out to her, and that had made the small village seem almost magical, and she knew that no matter what she had to move there.
In her mind's eye she could picture it so vividly even though she had never in her life set foot there, and the clearer that picture became the more intent she became on going.
It wasn't that she didn't like Angala city or 'the city on the edge of the sea' as it was more commonly known, it was more that the city didn't like her. Ever since her parents had moved there in the vain attempt of starting their relationship afresh it had seemed like an ideal place to live, and it had been…for them…
For Alandra herself it had been anything but easy, she had been plagued with nothing but bad luck since the day she set foot there, misery like an unwanted guest kept visiting her door.
It had begun when her parents had gone their separate ways, their ideals at salvaging their marriage little more than an ideal, the strain of her fathers womanizing too much for the relationship to survive.
She had moved in with her mother, her father had simply disappeared, where to? She didn't know, and she would probably never find out.
Sometimes in her dreams she could remember sitting on his knee as a little girl, her head resting against his chest, his strong arms wrapped protectively around her, listening to the soothing sound of his heartbeat, and thinking that he was the most wonderful person in the world.
It was funny how those childish fancies had shattered soon after the divorce when she realized that he wasn't coming back, and it wasn't because he couldn't…it was more because he didn't want to. The realization of that had nearly destroyed her, she had only been five years old at the time, and to have her whole world turned upside down like that was something no little girl should have to go through.
She had been lucky that she still had her mother…to love and support her, to dry her tears, and to hold her in those dark times when she felt the most alone.
For years afterwards she had been tormented by the loss of her father, but in time the pain grew less, and the scar had slowly healed. But it had never completely vanished, and she wondered if it ever would.
But she couldn't put her life on hold anymore, or spend eternity hoping that her father would come back into her life one day, that was nothing more than a wistful fantasy…the harsh reality was that he had more than likely moved on with his life by now, and filed her away forever, an unwanted memory of an unwanted past, that was better off left in the dark where he felt it belonged.
What was it with man and commitment anyway…Alandra thought.
She had never been able to answer the eternal question of why the two were so apparently incompatible with each other…so far every man she had ever cared about had proved this theory without a shadow of a doubt, her father being the first, and then much later on her fiancé' Tom when he had left her for another woman, and in the wake of the disaster, as the dust settled on their broken relationship she had decided to move on with her life, leaving the city and its painful memories far behind her.
But there wasn't a day that went by that she didn't dream of what might have been, when her mind wasn't occupied by a million what ifs, and when she didn't wonder what life might have been like if she and Tom had stayed together.
She had never fully understood why he had left her for someone else; she had heard his excuses but hadn't acknowledged them. The hurt had been too much, and she had been in far too much pain, so in the end she had had wound up blaming herself for their relationship falling apart, even though her mother had insisted that she had been completely blameless.
Perhaps she had loved Tom too much, perhaps that had been her downfall to blindly build her world around a man who could never truly accept her for the person she was, and she knew deep down that she could never in her life be what he wanted her to be 'just a normal girl' she was different you see. She was special; she could do things most people could only dream of doing.
The first hint of this had been on her first birthday when she had disappeared in front of the guests at her party, her parents had of course been frantic with worry, and had scoured the neighborhood in search of her, they had almost given up hope when she materialized later on in her bedroom in front of them both.
For weeks after her disappearing act had been the number one topic of conversation with people endlessly trying to figure out how she did it.…her parents had simply shrugged it off by suggesting that she must have distracted them all somehow.
What everyone else didn't know though was that this wasn't the first time that something like this had happened, in fact throughout most of Alandra's childhood strange events had taken place, objects appearing then disappearing.
Plates and other things flying through the air as though propelled by an invisible force, and of course Alandra mysteriously appearing and disappearing throughout different parts of her home, and throughout different parts of the city.
Her parents had so far managed to cover up most of these incidents, mostly out of fear of what might happen to their truly unique daughter if people were to find out the truth about her.
So her mum and dad, and then later on when her father had left, just her mother had tried to make Alandra appear as normal as possible, but they were both fighting a losing battle, because if truth were known Alandra had never really fitted in to what was considered 'the norm'
For most of her life she had felt like an outsider. Forever separated from society by an invisible wall that she could never seem to break through. In school she had been excluded by the other girls who saw her as some kind of threat because of her pretty face and kind nature, but then it had been an all girl's school and in such places jealousy usually ran rife, and her school was no exception to that unspoken rule.
In many ways she knew that girls could be exceptionally crueler than boys, and no matter what she did she couldn't win …her writing, her singing…anything that brought some small amount of joy to her small world was torn apart and ridiculed by her fellow peers.
Every day they seemed to find something new to taunt her about. Her dreams, her personal life, the fact that her father had left all went through their court of proverbial judgment.
The sheer mockery of it all was that none of them had even bothered to take the time to get to know her. she had been persecuted without a trial simply because she was different, because she was a little more quiet, a little more shy than most girls her age…because her main interests didn't consist of boys and who snogged who the night before, and because of this she had been branded by many of them as strange, someone to be constantly mocked and humiliated and put to shame at all costs.
Her move to Haven's gate had been the start of a brand new life for her; a magic based community… haven's gate was the one place in the world where Alandra felt as if she truly belonged.
It was good to finally be able to talk to people who like her had unusual magical talents, and who she could speak to, without a fear of judgment. Cut off from the rest of the world Haven's gate was run by a small group of witches and wizards known as the guardians of the light who made most of the decisions concerning the village, and its people.
Months after she moved there Alandra had been chosen to join the ranks of the guardians, mainly due to her ever increasing magic skills which greatly excelled many of the villagers who had lived there for years.
When the elder guardian had spoken to her recently she had said "with patience training, and time…Alandra the lines of what is possible…and what is not will eventually blur and you will literally be able to do anything that can be imagined…and much…much more"
Alandra couldn't believe how much her life had changed. Of course she missed her mum terribly but she still wrote to her regularly, and her mum was happy that she had finally found a place to call her own.
The guardians were like an extended family to her now. When she had lived in the city Alandra had heard only whispers and rumors concerning the guardians of the light but mostly they were considered mythical beings mostly because as far as the world was concerned magic was only something that existed in storybooks.
Now here she was soon to become a part of that myth…as with all stories though there was a darker side to the myth, it had supposedly happened years ago before Alandra had even been born, and it centered around a group of villagers who having tired of the village's strict rule not to delve into the darker more sinister side of magic had left to form a faction of their own dedicated solely to the black arts.
That had been the beginning of the end for them for as their power increased their humanity decreased…that was the price they had to pay for their journey into pure darkness, and it only got worse as they wandered further into the dark becoming less and less human, and more like the nightmare creatures that we fear will leap out of the darkest corners of our minds to snatch us away.
Alandra had always feared that one day she might have to face the nightmare that these people had become. The only protection they had at present was a binding ceremony performed once at the dawn of every New Year, it was supposed to shield their villagers and the rest of the world from the threat of their lost brethren, many thought the ceremony was a waste of time, if there was a rumored lost faction then that's all it was…a rumor.
The old ways of thinking were dying out. The younger generation of the village saw the ceremony as nothing more than a ridiculous sham done more out of habit than out of a need for protection, some had even tried to get it abolished.
Yet still at the end of every year as the clock in the village square counted down to midnight, the ceremony was performed without fail in the middle of Hob's wood's… old habits sometimes die hard…
So far every ceremony Alandra had attended had gone ahead without anything untoward happening, so even she was beginning to believe the doubters maybe just a little, but tonight she didn't know why…but she had a horrible unsettling feeling, that had followed her around all day spreading like a dark storm cloud, an awful feeling in the pit of her stomach that told her that at tonight's ceremony something could and would go terribly wrong..
The sounds of the New Year's celebrations echoed throughout the desolate woods to where Alandra and the rest of the guardians where stood, huddled together in a group, shielding themselves from the cold night air. Pulling her dark cloak tighter around herself to better block out the cold, Alandra took in the scene around her; with at least half an hour to kill before midnight many of the others had decided to indulge in a little casual conversation.
Many reminisced on what they had been doing that year, the loves they had gained or lost, and the people who had drifted in and out of their lives like ghosts.
Alandra kept herself to herself on this subject, love for her was a subject she felt like a complete stranger to. She didn't mean to be so cynical, but she couldn't help it. Her personal life so far consisted of a minefield of broken relationships and shattered dreams, love hadn't even come into the equation or if it had then it had let her down in the worst possible way by promising the world, but never coming across with it.
Her past experiences with her ex fiancé' Tom had finally convinced her in the end that there were no real princes to be found, and that the world consisted mainly of frogs. Disillusionment had taken the place of hope, and her heart was too weak to try again, there were after all only so many falls a person could take before they couldn't get up again.
So for now she decided to concentrate on her duties as a guardian, locking her heart away, and putting her dreams on the shelf…for the time being. Glancing absently at her digital wristwatch Alandra noticed that there were only a few more seconds to go before the ceremony that would keep their little world safe for just a little longer could begin.
Standing against a backdrop of moonlight, its silver glare reflected in her golden hair Alandra watched mesmerized as the rest of the group began to slowly gather around one of the older oak trees in the forest.
Alandra looked at the other guardians, her gaze shifting from the elder who had her hands neatly folded, half hidden in the folds of her robes, so only the tips of her fingers were visible, her grey eyes clouded over in concentration, then over to the remaining twelve guardians who all stood silently waiting for her friend Tara to begin.
Alandra had to admit that even she was more than a little surprised when her friend Tara had been asked by the elder to read out the incantation for tonight's sacred ceremony, usually Tara hated reading out anything in public, a hermit by nature…this was a complete turnaround for her.
Perhaps that had been the reason why the elder had given her the task….in the hope that it might instill some confidence in her that she had so far been lacking, make her feel more of a part of everything..
But from the look on the dark haired girls delicately sculpted features she looked anything but confident. Her voice faltering, her nerves raw, Tara bit back her anxiety as she began to read from the age worn scroll in front of her as the clock in the village square began its steady countdown to midnight, and the New year.
"We the daughters of the Earth… ask of Gaia the mother of us all to grant us the strength to unite our powers" her voice growing steadily more confident Tara was soon joined by the rest of the guardians as one by one they continued on together
"To form a seal to protect us from harm, to keep out the evil which may arise with the dawn, to hold back the terror from days of old, to safeguard the fate of us all, to protect us and to bless us all in your name"
Hands clasped together, eyes closed silently in prayer, their voices shooting up to pierce the sky like a burning blade, merging, and molding into one powerful force. Tiny pinpoints of light emanating from their now outstretched fingertips, fusing forming into a giant ball of colour and light which slowly spread itself across the sky, then just as quickly as it had appeared the light dispersed into the nothingness from whence it came.
Minutes passed, minutes which seemed like hours, everyone stood frozen still like a photograph taken in time…then something that no one could have expected happened…
From behind them another light started to grow, started to spread as the clock finally struck twelve, becoming brighter and brighter until it hurt Alandra's eyes too much to look at it. Blanketing the sky in white, it spread itself outwards, it started to become less and less like a light and more like something else…but what?
Her heart in her mouth Alandra tried to push down the fear that was rising up inside her like a tidal wave, as she tried to focus on the thing that was forming in the sky, her mind jolting back to reality in an instant as she realized what it was that she was looking at.
It was a gateway of some kind gradually emerging from the light becoming more and more solid with each passing second, with each beat of her heart…but more than that there was something coming out of it…and it was headed right for them…
No one could believe what was happening...but their eyes betrayed the truth, and no matter how hard they tried to hide from that truth the anomaly in the sky refused to go away. Instead it seemed to mock them with its refusal to simply disappear like a bad dream does with the dawn.
Cocktail glasses fell from hands, beer bottles slid from limp fingertips. The sound of people's cries broke the deadly silence rising up to the heavens like a hymn of the damned. People stared wide eyed in disbelief, cigarettes hung from mouths slack with shock.
No one dared move, no one dared breathe, Alandra glanced over and noticed that some of the guardians were holding hands, all of the colour had drained from Tara's face, and her soft features were frozen in a mask of fear. She looked like a rabbit stuck in the glare of a cars headlights.
A thousand and one questions began to form in Alandra's mind…what had happened? How had it happened? Why had it happened? Where she and other guardians somehow responsible for the twisted nightmare that they were now stuck in the middle of? And what would be the consequences of it all for everyone?
She couldn't move, she couldn't run, her legs had turned to jelly, and refused to cooperate, all she could do was stare up at the sky in shock like everyone else.
Looking back though no one could have predicted that something like this might happen, they had all been blissfully ignorant to the possibility, snug in their own little worlds, refusing to believe that anything could get past their inner circle, that they could keep any threat away from their small village.
Like the Titanic they had thought that something like this was impossible…how naïve they had all been, and now they would have to pay for that carelessness, to make matters worse the spectacle in the sky seemed to be spreading further, even though there was no more sky for it to spread across. The moon and the stars were hidden behind it so it was the only source of light, but if she concentrated hard enough, then she could just about make out what was coming out of it.
Through the mist which rose like a predator, so thick now that Alandra feared that she would choke on it, she could vaguely make out the vague silhouettes of what appeared to be an army, a battalion of massive proportion. Though it was still to far away for her to make them out she was very much doubtful that they resembled anything remotely human.
Her fears confirmed as they strode past the last row of bushes and stood before them all. No words came to Alandra's mind that would best be suited to describe them…there were no words, all reasoning went out the window. One thought ran over, and over in Alandra's mind…surely she must be dreaming for no such vile creatures could possibly exist…even in the darkest parts of the human mind.
Bound in heavy plated armor encrusted with ruby stones which glittered in the dim light, their skin hard, and scaly, their eyes as black as sackcloth, huge bat like wings stretched out behind them casting dark shadows across the land. They appeared reptilian in nature, but could have at one time been human she assumed…from their general shape, and the fact that they could walk like a human…even if they had no right to do so.
Alandra held her breath waiting for the inevitable end to come, as they made their way towards them as swift as the wind that was whipping her hair behind her. "Any minute now I'll wake up she" she told herself but deep down she knew that what she was seeing was real, and that the monsters coming for her weren't like the monsters in her dreams or the monsters of her past.
This time there was no escape, no tunnel leading back to the real world. She was stuck in the looking glass forever with no way back home. Tara's nails were digging into the back of her ceremonial gown… as one by one she and the other guardians slowly backed away into the village square…the things closing in on them with an unnatural persistency, and Alandra fought the urge to cry out.
She could sense them towering above them all like huge hideous phantoms from some maddeningly distorted reality making Alandra feel extremely vulnerable as they got closer and closer still. She could almost feel the stench of their putrid breath on her face…their hugely heavy swords reflecting the fear on the faces of the people around them.
Then suddenly they stopped mere inches away, without reason, and without warning… someone or something was making its way through them.
The battalion separated into two groups to make it easier for whatever it was that was coming through…Alandra stared…and stared…she couldn't believe it, it was a girl....a human girl, perhaps a few years older than Alandra herself.
She was also dressed in armor but unlike the others she gave off the unmistakable presence of a leader. Statuesque like an Amazon she radiated raw sexual energy and supreme confidence.
Intensely beautiful… she wore a dark cloak over her amour which fell to her feet, and her even darker hair if that was at all possible cascaded like a silken waterfall down her back and across her shoulders, and was a stark contrast to the deathly paleness of her skin…but in her eyes…in her startlingly blue eyes there was no trace of emotion whatsoever.
It was almost like looking into the eyes of death, and finding the emptiness of death staring back. She should have been afraid she should have had the sense to run…but she couldn't have run even if she had wanted to, lost inside those lightless eyes all she wanted to do was drown.
The hypnotic power emanating from this mysterious woman prevented her from doing so. Tara literally had to drag away or else she would have stayed where she was until death came to claim her. Yet even as she was being dragged away by an impatient Tara, her eyes remained locked on the woman now standing just mere inches from her so close now that she could almost reach out and touch her.
It was almost as though she was under the effects of a spell, she just couldn't stop staring, and no matter how hard she tried she just couldn't seem to break out of it.
"C'mon" yelled Tara bringing Alandra momentarily back to her senses
"We've got to get out of here…move damn it!"
Heading in the general direction of Alandra's small thatch cottage Tara pulled Alandra along with her…it was the only way she could think of to get her best friend the hell out of there before she got them both killed.
Looking hesitantly back over her shoulder just in time to see the dark haired warrior draw two elaborately detailed samurai swords from behind her, her cloak billowing out around her, a pair of jet black wings gradually emerging from behind her cloak which had up till now remained hidden, spreading slowly outwards, her blue eyes darkening, becoming as black as her hair, and she smiled but there was no warmth to the smile…it was as cold and unfeeling as the blades she held.
Glinting menacingly they combusted into twin blades of flame as she dragged them through the dirt and debris of the party before, as she made her way towards what was left of the crowd, weaving an almost mystical pattern in the air as one by one she cut them down, the sound of their friends screams ringing in the girls ears…accompanied by the sound of maniacal laughter which echoed out into the turbulent night.
The sound of the storm rattled the windows of Alandra's tiny cottage, they had both got caught in it on the way back from the village square, and were both thoroughly soaked to the skin. For a long time neither one of them spoke…what could they say?
What could possibly justify everything that they had just witnessed?
The horror of it all was reflected in their eyes and in the stifling silence that lingered in the room making them both feel equally uncomfortable by its presence.
They sat on the two small but cozy crème armchairs that were placed on either side of Alandra's small living room, the large open fire in the centre, cracked and popped, the flickering flames casting dark shadows all around them amplifying their fears, making them see things that were not really there.
The sudden flash of light immersed them both in light momentarily. Tara flinched her small figure rigid, as it was followed by the loud roaring of thunder, she then slumped back into her chair, and resigned herself once more to the shadows.
Finally Alandra broke the terrible silence
"WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED BACK THERE?" she screamed at the darkness and the darkness like the guilt washed over her.
Somewhere at the back of her mind she could still hear the screams of the people they had left behind to die, and she feared that from now on her every waking thought would forever be filled by that sound. Like phantoms they would rise from the abyss of her subconscious, taunting her because she hadn't raised a hand to help them.
You could have at least tried…she thought, she was certainly powerful enough…her magical abilities grew stronger each day, and to what extent she could use those powers no one, not even Alandra herself knew for sure…but when she had been staring into that demon woman's eyes her mind had gone completely blank, and she had felt very much like an insect stuck in amber.
Frozen in the moment, none of it had seemed real, It had felt as though it was all happening to someone else, and that she was just a spectator watching it all from outside of her body, unable to act, able only to react, to watch the nightmare unfold out before her like the plot of some sinister horror novel.
She couldn't face the fact that she had survived when so many of her friends had died, she could still picture their faces, their last earthly moments as the warrior woman carved a path of death through them. Rubbing her eyes Alandra tried to lock those images, and the pain that came with them away in the furthest corner of her mind, she had to think of what to do next…half of her friends were more than likely dead by now, and there was still an army rampaging through their once safe village…she had to get Tara to safety…but where could she take her?
As if she had heard the inner conflict going on inside of her, Tara turned in her chair to face her, her arms wrapped tightly around herself, her eyes locked with Alandra's emerald green ones…..in her mind Alandra heard Tara's voice gently questioning her… "Is everyone dead?"...she asked
Rising from her own chair Alandra walked over the tiny stretch of rust colored carpet that separated her from Tara, kneeling down in front of her she reached out to grasp Tara's hand "I don't know" she said out loud
"It's my fault" Tara whispered softly "I must have read the scroll out wrong"
Alandra sighed deeply and lifted Tara's face up so she could look into her eyes that were now shining brightly with fresh tears.
"Don't be silly" she said with a sad smile
"It couldn't have possibly been your fault"…leaning over she wrapped her arms around the sobbing young girl, trying her best to comfort her.
"Whatever happened wasn't anyone's fault" Said Alandra
"You shouldn't blame yourself Tara…the best thing we can do now is try to find out the real reason for what happened"
Staring at the gold patterned walls around her Tara rubbed her hands nervously together "I'm scared" she said her eyes betraying her emotion
"What are we going to do when that woman gets here with her army…are we going to die aswell?"
"No Tara" Alandra reassured her "We aren't going to die…I promise you." She said giving Tara's hand a reassuring squeeze to let the young woman know that she was still there.
"But I'm not as powerful as you are" said Tara "I'll get us both killed…its better for you if you just leave me here" lowering her head in defeat Tara stared at the floor "I'm always getting in the way" she said
"That's not true…and you know it" Said Alandra "I don't know who told you that…but their wrong. You're my best friend Tara and I'm not going to leave you" Tara looked back up at her, and Alandra smiled "I'll just have to have enough power for the both of us" She said "Now you just wait here while I gather some food and clothes together"
"Where are we going" asked Tara "that army will soon be crawling all over the village."
"We won't be here"
"We won't?" Tara looked at her confused "Why where are we going?"
Alandra looked over at her, and then thought hard…where could they go? Was there anywhere safe enough? Then it came to her…she could visit her mum.
Finally she turned around to look at Tara, her green eyes sparkling "You're coming with me to Angala city" she said as she packed the last of the supplies she'd gathered and place d them into her navy blue rucksack that was still sitting where she'd left it weeks before at the foot of the chair she had just been sitting in.
"Really" stated Tara excitedly "I haven't seen the city since my childhood…I bet it's changed a lot"
"No not really" said Alandra "Same old place I left behind…at least that's what mum told me…she's going to be so surprised when I show up out of the blue…Now come on" she said ushering for Tara to follow her to the doorway "It's time we got the hell out of here"
Pulling the hoods to their robes over their heads both women opened the door, and stepped out into the cold New Year's day air, the sound of their heartbeats seemingly as loud as the thunder rumbling overhead, as they braced themselves for whatever dangers that might be lying ahead.