Kill the Past, Destroy the WorldRory Mackay / Fantasy / Science Fiction
Kill The Past, Destroy The World
A Short Story
by Rory B Mackay
Prelude to the Novel
“THE KEY OF ALANAR”
Copyright 2015 Rory B Mackay
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Kill the Past, Destroy the World
Excerpt from The Key of Alanar
About the Author
Prior to the publication of The Key of Alanar, I wanted to write a couple of short stories to serve as prelude to the main events of the novel, as I did for my first book, Eladria.
As I began wracking my brain, trying to figure out what stories would tie in well with the book, I felt compelled to explore the character of Mailyn. Although she’s only mentioned once or twice in the novel, appearing briefly in a flashback scene, in some ways she is one of the most important characters in the book, for her actions are the catalyst that set the story in motion.
I thought it would interesting to get into the head of this complex character and find out why she does what she does. I found her a fascinating character to write, at times sympathetic and other times very cruel—and ultimately very dangerous. The idea of a sorceress on a rampage of revenge is a rather scary one. This is quite a dark story, and, taking place immediately prior to the opening pages of The Key of Alanar (an excerpt of which has been included here) it sets up the core conflict that drives the story and will affect an entire world for millennia to come.
I hope you enjoy it.
— Rory Mackay
KILL THE PAST, DESTROY THE WORLD
There was no way to make the past right, and no way to redeem this wretched world that had broken her. Yet Mailyn knew what she had to do. This was the final day of the Lasandrian kingdom. It was her last chance to erase her past and exact the revenge she had so long craved. Today she vowed to destroy the demons of her past. Tomorrow, the world.
Ordering her personal guard to stay put with the transport, Mailyn made her way through the surrounding forest. With decisive direction and an unrelenting pace, she marched past the towering pines, firs and blossom-heavy lavender trees, the branches swaying and leaves rustling in the breeze. Birds chattered and cooed, while high above the forest canopy the twin suns of Alanar blazed amid a cloudless, blood-red sky. Her slim, spindly body clad in a form-fitting black dress and a satin black cloak, Mailyn’s dark, greying hair flowed behind her as she strode onward.
It had been many years since last she had been here, but she knew her way through the forest only too well. Her feet crunching on twigs and withered leaves as she advanced, the sorceress soon reached the edge of the forest, beyond which lay the village she had once known so well.
Although it had expanded somewhat, it had changed surprisingly little over the years. Comprising a hundred or so mud-brick houses and wooden huts, it was as as small and impoverished a village now as it was back then. Smoke rose from the chimneys and washing, dancing in the breeze, hung from rope stretched across the uneven, muddy streets. The village people went about their daily business, carrying water jugs and woven baskets, crafting fabrics and textiles and farming in the adjacent fields. The old and infirm sat in doorways or street corners, while children ran about the streets dressed in rags or without clothes at all. Goats, pigs and dogs roamed the village, their waste adding to the already filthy streets.
Mailyn stepped onto the dirt track leading into the village, her senses bombarded by sights, sounds and smells that triggered memories of so long ago: memories of loss, heartbreak and suffering. As she approached, the villagers looked up in curiosity and mild alarm. Some nearby children stopped their ball game and called out to her, greeting her in the local dialect. Ignoring them, she made her way down the congested street, past the hovels that housed oversized families all just struggling to survive.
She pitied them. She’d long ago escaped this squalid deprivation, led by the angels to a new life in the City of El Ad’dan. Living in the royal palace, hers was now a life of comfort and luxury, enjoying a position of immense power and influence. In fact, little did the people of Lasandria know the true extent of her power. She, a girl from the outlying provinces, no less: places long ignored and exploited by the Lasandrian government while the town and city dwellers lived lives of pampered excess and extravagance.
Why did you come here? a voice echoed in her mind.
“I told you, I had to see it one last time,” she responded, already well aware that the villagers were staring at her. “It is my last chance to end this.”
“The hold this place has over me.”
Stepping over a stream of water spilling down the street, Mailyn came to a stop outside a crumbling mud-brick house with a thatched roof, stained whitewashed walls and two small glassless windows. “Here,” she said. “The house where I was born and lived as a young girl.”
Memories flooded her mind and most of them were painful. An only child, her mother had died in childbirth. Her father, broken and bereft, had always blamed Mailyn for her mother’s death and despised the infant from the start. Neglectful and cruel, he drank excessively and made it clear to the young girl that he resented her very existence.
It was probably inevitable that they would part ways at the first opportunity. When she was seven years old, her father sold her to the village sorcerer, who was looking for a young apprentice. Mailyn recalled leaving the house for the last time. The sorcerer, a tall, shaven-headed man wearing a long emerald cloak and brandishing a wooden scepter, held her hand as he led her from her emotionless father, who stood slouched in the doorway, most likely drunk.
It was as it had to be, the voice assured her. It led you to us.
“Yes, it did.”
Mailyn turned and continued down the rubbish-strewn street, her cloak gliding behind her as she strode toward the sorcerer’s home. Although her presence continued to elicit attention from the villagers, it was clear that none of them knew who she was. This was hardly surprising, for she was unrecognizable as the frightened little girl she had been all those years ago. Her rags had been replaced by the finest of clothing, and her fear and uncertainty given way to an air of cold, regal authority. She could tell that the peasants were intimidated by this stranger in their midst, and rightly so.
The sorcerer’s abode stood perched upon a raised grassy mound at the far edge of the village. A simple wooden cabin, it had changed little over the years. That it was still standing was a miracle in itself. As far back as she could remember it had been falling apart: the wood paneling eroded by the passing of time and the corrugated iron roofing in clear need of repair. Inscriptions in ancient Eloramian encircled the doorless opening, painted in faded greens and red. Unlit glass lanterns hung from the front of the building along with gemstone charms discolored by mud and grime, dangling from string and swaying in the breeze.
“He’s in there,” Mailyn muttered as she came to a stop before the hut. “I knew he was still here.”
What are you doing to do?
“I am going to reintroduce myself.”
The first time she’d entered this building had been as a scared little girl dragged along by a stranger and still aghast that her father had abandoned her. Now she stood, no longer a girl, but a mature woman with not a trace of fear or uncertainty. By the end of the ten years she had spent as the sorcerer’s apprentice, all that remained in her was an unaccountable fury that had only exacerbated in the decades that followed. It was a rage that had led her to lie, deceive and manipulate her way to power; to commit murder and to bring an entire kingdom to its knees.
Stepping through the doorless opening, she found the cabin exactly as she remembered: dark, cold and starkly furnished. An empty stone altar stood at the heart of the chamber like a sacrificial slab. She vividly recalled the times she’d been tied to the altar and left for days without food or water. A metal furnace sat at the far end of the cabin, along with antique tables strewn with all manner of objects, from books, parchment and glass jars to knives, stones, skulls and bones, both animal and human. An oil lamp flickered, casting a dim light in the windowless abode. The air was stale and thick, scented with the sickening smell of burning herbs that she remembered so well.
Forty years. It had been almost forty years since last she had been here, yet barely a day seemed to have passed. A small part of her inwardly recoiled; perhaps the little girl that still resided somewhere in the recesses of her psyche. Pushing the involuntary hesitation aside, she stepped forward and caught sight of a figure slumped over a chair in a shadowy corner of the room, a blanket draped across his elderly body. He was sickly pale, aged like a withered moth, with a bald head and a sparse silver beard of considerable length spilling down his sunken chest. He looked up, a flicker of recognition upon his dim, cataract-ridden green eyes. His thin lips pursed in the slightest of smiles. “I knew you would come,” he said in a weak voice.
“Did you now?” Mailyn stepped toward the pitiful ghostlike figure. “Time is cruel, is it not?” she remarked with a hint of malice as looked down at him. How unlike the vibrant, intimidating man he had been: tall, broad, imposing in his trailing green robes, his bearded face filled with vigor and passion. A sorcerer his entire life, he was someone the other villagers lived in reverence and fear of; a man of supernatural abilities whom they sought to appease and generally avoid.
Although the old ways had long since died out, most villages and towns in the provincial regions still had their own sorcerer, who served as a healer, seer and protector. These days many of them were frauds and tricksters who used deceit to secure their position. Some however, still possessed genuine power and skill. Altan was one such man. Mailyn knew from the moment she had met him that he harbored an unnatural and horrific power. She duly accorded him the utmost respect and was careful never to cross him. If only she’d known just how much he would make her suffer in his attempts to mould her into the perfect apprentice.
“Time means nothing to a sorcerer,” Altan croaked.
“Really?” Mailyn sneered. “If you could but see yourself. You are a pathetic sight, Altan. A faded, desiccated husk.”
“What you see is but appearance. A sorcerer’s power ever remains.”
“Then make yourself young again,” Mailyn challenged him with an icy glare. “Stand up and face me. You knew I would come back because you know there is unfinished business between us.”
The old man again smiled. “I have followed your progress these years. I watched from afar as you left the outer lands and made a life for yourself in the capital. Only you, Mailyn, would have the determination and tenacity to leave here and end up in the palace of El Ad’dan, maid to the royal children.” He paused. “Such a shame that only one of them survived. Not that the king and queen had much time to grieve before they too died. Terrible that such tragedy should befall the royal family. I am glad that you were spared…”
“Is there a point to these ramblings?” she said, her voice but a growl.
“I know what you are trying to do, Mailyn,” he said. “You raised King Dua-ron as the perfect little puppet. Oh, you pull his strings so well. No one knows the true extent of your influence. Except Ardonis. He will try to stop you, you know. Even now he is on his way to the palace, determined to put an end this little plan of yours.”
“He is of no consequence. And neither, dear mentor, are you.”
“I am disappointed that you still harbor such anger toward me. Your bitterness is misplaced. I taught you everything you know. I made you what you are.”
Mailyn took another step toward the old man, her narrowed eyes still fixed upon him in a menacing glare. “You taught me much, it is true. You taught me the ways of sorcery, of harnessing the force of Infinity and using it create and destroy.”
The old man nodded. “I gave you the greatest of all gifts.”
“I was seven years old when you dragged me here,” Mailyn said. “I didn’t want your gifts. I didn’t want what followed: the years of purging and purification, the deprivation and torment. Why did you have to be so cruel?” Her voice wavered as she continued. “I was a child. All I wanted was to be loved, to be cared for. You took me and used me; you beat, tortured and broke me. Why?”
“The way of the sorcerer is a difficult one. The apprentice must be prepared to wield power, and that preparation is not easy. The unwilling ego must be beaten into submission. For only when we are broken can we be made whole.”
“But I was never made whole. You took my life from me and made me endure years of cruelty and pain. Oh, the villagers clearly knew what was happening but they were afraid of you, so they said and did nothing. And my dear father undoubtedly thought it no less than I deserved for having killed my own mother—by virtue of simply being born.”
“But look what you became because of it. Look at what you are now.”
“What I am, I became in spite of you, not because of you. It was the angels that saved me, Altan. When I finally found the courage to leave you and set out on my own—that was when angels came to me.”
“An ancient term from another place and time, predating our ancestors’ arrival on Alanar. In the darkest of days, they came to me and made a connection that has never been severed. They led me to the palace and directed me to do all that I have done; to make necessary sacrifices and to prepare for this time of atonement.” She paused. “The angels are coming. Tomorrow we cast open the door and they will come forth and purge this world of its chaos and suffering. Though there will be pain, we will finally be freed by the light and fire of the angels.”
Altan let out a hoarse laugh. His body shook as his laughter increased, much to Mailyn’s fury. “You have been deceived, girl,” he exclaimed. “You of all people should know never to trust appearances. Your angels are but demons…and you are about to set them loose upon this world.” He let out another laugh, which enraged Mailyn even more.
“I did not come here seeking your opinion, you old fool,” she hissed. “I came here to give you a taste of the suffering you inflicted on me. I never knew love because of you. I never knew comfort or care. I never belonged anywhere. You stole my life from me, all to make me in your own image.”
“You were my apprentice, girl. I gave you the gifts that were given me. And you have used them, for good or for ill. Set aside your anger and listen to me. If you release your so-called ‘angels’, they will tear this world apart piece by piece. I no longer much care what happens to Alanar. My time here is at an end whatever happens. But if you wish to redeem yourself and make your life have some kind of meaning, then you must put an end to this insanity. You must free yourself of these demons.”
“That is exactly what I am here to do.” Without warning, Mailyn unleashed her attack. She had waited so many years for this. The very power that Altan had given her would now be used against him. What perfect irony. Raising her hands, she projected a blast of lightning that shot through the air toward the frail old man. To her surprise, he was ready for her. The lightning impacted an invisible shield around him and fizzled harmlessly into the air.
With surprising suddenness and agility, Altan leapt up from his chair and stood to face his one-time apprentice. Though his posture was stooped, a willful determination shone in his misty eyes. With a sweeping gesture, Altan unleashed a fireball projectile that shot toward her. Mailyn dodged as best she could, the heat singeing her skin as it passed by and struck the wall behind her. “You have been holding out on me,” she noted as she readied herself to initiate a counter-offensive.
Altan smiled. “The body may burn out like an old candle, but a sorcerer’s power remains, for it is not of this world. When I die, my power will merge back into the ocean of Infinity, and I along with it.”
“Then let me hasten you along your way.” Mailyn had long dreamt of this day. Revenge was finally within her grasp, although Altan wasn’t going to make this as easy as she had expected. The aged sorcerer unleashed a series of fireballs, one after the other, shooting through the air and bouncing off Mailyn’s hastily constructed energy shield. The fireballs, deflected at oblique angles, collided with the walls of the cabin, the flames setting the building alight. She smiled, perversely delighted that he was destroying his own home. “Watch this place burn, you old fool,” she said. “I give you one last chance to apologize for all that you put me through.”
“Apologize for what?” The old man stared at her. “I raised you as I was raised. I taught you as I was taught. I gave you the greatest of gifts, and you repay me with bitter, vindictive blindness. It is you who should apologize to me!”
Enraged, Mailyn struck out at the sorcerer, sending a wave of kinetic force blasting outward, forcing him back several paces, almost knocking him back into his chair. Nevertheless, his invisible shield still held strong—and as long as it did, he was impervious to whatever she unleashed.
Realizing that she needed extra help to defeat him, Mailyn reached out to the angels, beseeching their assistance. They were always with her, her constant guides and companions and a source of unerring power and strength. She could feel their presence around her: beings of fiery light, their appearance in her mind constantly shifting, at times changing from an incorporeal formless light to a strangely reptilian shape. Standing around her, these invisible beings infused the sorceress with a power not of her world: a surging electrical force that poured through the crown of her head and down her spine, irradiating every cell and atom of her body. Using the focused power of her mind, she directed the energy outward with the intent of obliterating Altan’s energy shield. This it did, and in a flash of light, the bubble around the old man burst.
Realizing his sudden vulnerability, the sorcerer backed off as she strode toward him, her arms raised and hands pointing toward him. “This is for everything that you did to me.” A current of blue lightning erupted from the palms of her hands, engulfing Altan’s frail form, causing him to fall to the ground, his entire body crackling and convulsing with electricity. Mailyn stood over him, continuing to unleash the lightning as his body writhed on the dusty floor and he screamed out in agony.
Moments later, in an explosion of light and sound, a circular wave of red energy shot out from Altan’s body, passing through the fiery walls of the cabin. All movement ceased and the sorcerer’s body went rigidly still. Flames now rapidly consumed the cabin; the air hot and thick with billowing smoke. Lowering her hands, Mailyn stared down at the unmoving body. She had expected to feel something at Altan’s demise. But there was no joy, no pleasure, nor even any great measure of satisfaction. She could feel nothing.
Turning, she exited the burning cabin. Many of the villagers, aware of the disturbance, had gathered at the foot of the cabin, staring up in shock and fear as the flames hungrily devoured the old sorcerer’s dwelling.
Silhouetted against the dancing flames, Mailyn turned her attention to the village. Again harnessing her power, she pulled down a thread of unmanifest energy and projected it outward. Shaped by her intent, it took form as a ball of blue lightning hovering above the the centre of the village. The villagers reacted in alarm as they observed the lightning ball pulsating above their homes, discharging surges and sparks of electricity. Mailyn raised her voice as she addressed the villagers. “You have ten minutes to evacuate the village,” she called. “I suggest you make haste. Anyone failing to leave in that time will be killed.”
Standing by the blazing cabin, she watched as the poor wretches gathered their families and whatever belongings they could carry. Mailyn had no qualms about what she was doing. This village had to die. It was the only way to release the demons of her past. This place, the source of so much misery and anguish, had to burn. She had no desire to inflict harm on these ignorant villagers, who were themselves the victims of a corrupt and unequal society, and so she waited as they evacuated. Their lives were most likely to end soon anyway, but she would not be the one to take them. The angels would decide who was worthy and who was not. Her only regret was that her father had not lived to see this day; to see her finally erase the misdeeds of the past. He would have been the first to suffer.
Mailyn was nothing if not patient. Standing on the mound beside the smoldering remains of the cabin, she gave the villagers their allotted time and a little extra. She watched as they fled their homes and scrambled across the fields and into the surrounding forest like an army of oversized ants. Having killed their sorcerer, their protector of almost a century, they knew that she would be true to her word and would kill any failing to heed her edict.
Satisfied that everyone had fled, she was ready to strike. Raising her arm, she mentally took hold of the blue lightning ball and, lowering her hand, she brought it down through the air and into the village. Slicing through the buildings with impunity, the moment it touched the ground it ignited, sending an explosive wall of energy crashing through the shabby huts and hovels, pulling them to the ground. Instantly pulverized, the remnants of the village burst into flames. Angry billows of smoke danced upward, rising above the surrounding treetops and high into the crimson sky.
Mailyn remained on the mound watching the desolation, content that she had done what she had set out to do. She had killed the past. Now all that remained was to make the future burn along with it.