When best friends, Jacob and Orla find a mysterious diary written in an unknown language, they head off in search of an artefact that has the power to bring elemental magic back to the world of Lozaro.
But the president of a superpower nation wants the artefact for himself and has dispatched the sinister Gunnar Veto to beat them to it.
The dangerous journey pushes Jacob and Orla’s friendship to the limit while Veto’s secret link to Jacob’s past threatens dire consequences in the present.
Targeted Age Group:: 13+
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I always wanted to write a book with interesting young characters thrust into the dangers of a world they underestimated. I love fantasy books that move at a quick pace but still leave room for character development and the chance to tease a world just beyond what the reader can see. I believe Crestmore: The Lost Elmkey, is exactly what I set out to write in the beginning.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I created Jacob and Orla to be polar opposites but still close friends. I loved the idea of two naive individuals leaning on each other for support throughout a dangerous journey that could save a nation. Jacob is very much like myself at 18, in the sense that's unassuming and has dreams of escaping the status quo. Orla is a strong, independent young woman with dreams of leading her nation. I love that type of character as opposed to the boring "Damsel in Distress," trope that's always been so offensive.
A decade had passed since Jacob swapped the small town of Oakhedge for the Capital of Uthovaya, but life in the big city had proved to be anything but the paradise he believed it would be. Everyone was less friendly, for a start; too busy rushing from place to place to offer so much as a friendly hello. The roads were busier, too. If you didn’t hurry across, you risked not making it to the other side.
Oakhedge was a close-knit community by comparison. A place where everybody knew each other’s business. There was also no chance of being knocked down by careless drivers or mugged while out for a leisurely stroll. In fact, Jacob reckoned Oakhedge was superior in every way, except for one small detail: his foster parents, Pirlie and Raszlo lived there.
The two oddities had raised him in a small house on the edge of town, only a stone’s throw away from the Polan Burn. All the local kids played on the banks of that burn, but Jacob rarely got to join them. He spent most of his time cooped up in the house, hidden away like a monster too hideous for the world to see.
Jacob escaped to the Capital on his tenth birthday, and for years after, he wondered why his foster parents had treated him so horribly. It was only when he got older that he began to suspect their behaviour stemmed from the fact he wasn’t Human, like them.
Jacob was a Mixling, and like all Mixlings, he was born to a Dakew and a Human. Some people struggled to tell the difference between the Dakew and Mixlings, but Jacob was usually ready with an explanation. The Dakew were similar to Humans but had hairless skin, a flatter nose, and more rounded eyes. Mixlings predominantly inherited the physical traits of the Human parent, with the only exception being a flatter nose that came from the Dakew side.
Jacob had no memory of his birth parents, but often wondered why they gave him up. Would life have been different if they had stuck around? Jacob had no idea, but he was sure there would have been no Pirlie and Raszlo.
His past still scarred him, and he always vowed never to return to Oakhedge without good reason. Right now, as he struggled through the Capital’s busy streets, trying to avoid the stares from passers-by who studied the contents of his trolley, he could not think of a single one.
Although he was tired, footsore, and hungry, Jacob knew he had to keep going. Dragging the trolley made things more difficult, especially with the dead creature on top, lying underneath a white sheet. He dabbed his forehead with a grey cloth and then looked across the busy street at the Hunters Depot sandwiched between two run-down office buildings.
Just a few more tugs.
Visiting the Hunters Depot could be a long and tedious experience, but Jacob had gotten used to the process since becoming a fully-fledged hunter almost two years ago. He knew it was a means to an end, the struggle before the big payday. Once he reached the counter, he would collect his reward for a hard-earned kill. Payment could be anything from food parcels to money, and although Jacob had never received the latter, he felt quietly confident his latest kill was worth at least fifty nova.
Such a large sum of money would enable him to buy edible food. No more of those out-of-date parcels from the depot. Maybe, the money would even stretch to some new clothes. His tatty grey t-shirt was full of holes and two sizes too small, and his brown jacket was faded and dirty.
Still dreaming of a substantial payday, Jacob joined the queue of battle-scarred hunters, each one spending what probably seemed like an eternity shuffling towards their payment. One hour later, Jacob reached the counter, and was greeted by an overweight, middle-aged Human attendant he had never seen before. She tapped on the bullet-proof glass and ordered him to come closer.
“Name?” she barked through the speaker.
“Your full name,” she said, sounding exasperated with his response.
“I don’t have a surname.”
“Everyone has a surname.”
“Not me. I haven’t used mine since I came to the Capital.”
The attendant stared blankly. “Why not?”
It was a good question. The thought of using Pirlie and Raszlo’s surname made Jacob feel physically sick, but he had no intention of admitting that fact to a total stranger. He shuffled from side-to-side, hoping the attendant would get the hint.
“Never mind,” the attendant finally said. “What have you brought us today?
Jacob could hardly contain his excitement as he pulled the white sheet away and let the lady’s gaze settle on his kill – a terrifying beast with six-legs, three arms, and two red eyes. Capable of camouflage, even in death, it had turned dark blue to match the colour of the trolley.
“H-how did you catch one of those?” the attendant stammered, forcing glasses onto her plump face.
The other hunters broke from the queue, chatting excitedly about the youngster who had single-handedly slain a Villfaar Dragon. The attendant signalled a colleague over, and a short man in a crumpled suit made his way around the depot counter to inspect the haul.
“Impressive, huh?” Jacob grinned, enjoying the positive attention from his fellow hunters. Praise was a rare commodity for him, so he intended to make the most of the adulation. He took a deep breath and then puffed his chest out.
“Where are the others?” the man in the suit asked.
“Come on, kid. There’s no way you caught this by yourself. You obviously worked with a hunting party and then plundered their haul.”
“No, I ha –”
“Or you’ve swiped it from a hunter’s camp.”
Jacob could not believe the gall of the man. Capturing the Villfaar Dragon was his crowning achievement as a hunter to date. Yet this perfect stranger wanted to take the credit away from him. How dare he?
“I nearly died three times trying to capture this creature,” Jacob said in a tone that was a mixture of anger and hurt.
“Maybe if you had been killed, I might have believed you.”
It was a ridiculous statement, but the man in the suit seemed completely oblivious to his own stupidity. He clicked his fingers, and two staff members carrying shotguns burst from the depot. Without saying a word, they began to drag the trolley away.
“Leave it!” Jacob cried.
“I’m afraid not.” Said the man in the suit. “We’re keeping your haul. You’re lucky I’m not revoking your licence as well.”
Jacob dashed forward to block the trolley’s removal, but a third armed guard exploded from the depot to keep him at bay. Exasperated, he turned back to the man in the suit.
“I can’t face going home hungry. Is there any way we can resolve this?”
But the cold-hearted man barely mustered a change in expression. “On your way, thief.”
Jacob looked on helplessly as his trolley disappeared into the depot. Too tired and hungry to continue his protests, he started the long walk back to the place he called home, a derelict army recruitment centre in the backstreets of Capital-West. He was overcome by dizziness on the way, and the environment around him adopted a dreamlike quality, as hunger began to affect his mind, leaving him weary and disorientated.
By the time he arrived at his bomb-damaged home, Jacob was exhausted. He collapsed on the cold hard ground but managed to pull a threadbare grey blanket over himself. He looked up at the stars through the broken roof, counting them one by one, and hoping they would take his mind off the hunger pains stabbing into his belly like a thousand knives. Perhaps, tomorrow would bring some luck.
The next morning, Jacob threw the blanket away and peeled himself off the ground, just as the bell from the nearby Church of the Dakew began to chime. Although he didn’t believe in a higher power, Jacob never complained about the bell. Its familiar ring meant he had made it through another cold winter’s night.
After a long stretch, he trudged to the closest water fountain for a wash and then made his way to Main Street, hoping to find a familiar face amongst the claustrophobic mess of bodies and traffic. Eventually, he found one in the form of the local tailor, a jolly Dakew by the name of Mr. Janmano, who was seated inside a vehicle that stood out from the everyday cars, trucks, and motorbikes whizzing past.
“You don’t see many Fast-Wheels around here,” Jacob said, as Janmano brought the single wheeler with a seat at either side to a halt.
“What can I say? Business is booming,” Janmano replied, twirling his long, pencil-thin moustache. “Where are you going today, ma’boy?”
Jacob tore himself away from the smooth surface of the impressive vehicle.
“I’m going to meet Orla.”
Orla Paton was eighteen years old; two years younger than Jacob and had been his best friend since he arrived in the Capital. Three days ago, she had gone for an interview at North-West University, hoping to gain a place in next term’s Political Science course. Jacob had agreed to meet her at the train station when she returned.
“Need a ride?” Janmano asked, pointing to a passenger seat on the left side of the wheel.
Jacob nodded. “Train Station West, please.”
“Yes, sir,” Janmano replied, starting up the engine.
Jacob hoped his friend could not hear his stomach screaming for attention as the disc rolled through the congested streets. There was a sandwich wrapped up in a see-through bag beside him on the passenger seat but looking at it only made his hunger worse.
Finally, the Fast-Wheel came to a stop outside the dilapidated station, and Jacob jumped onto the pavement. “Thanks for the lift.”
“No problem, ma’boy.”
Janmano pulled out three nova from his pocket and thrust them into Jacob’s hand.
“Get yourself some breakfast.”
“Are you sure?” Jacob replied, secretly hoping Janmano wouldn’t change his mind.
“Of course.” He beamed. “I’m off to work now. Say hello to Orla for me.”
Jacob waved goodbye and then studied the money in the palm of his hand. Was there time for a quick bite to eat? No, he concluded, Orla’s train was due to arrive any minute. His rumbling stomach would have to wait.
He scaled the dirty marble steps at the station entrance and made his way towards a grim-faced Human employee sitting inside a worn-out booth. There was a sign situated above the employee’s head, instructing all Dakew and Mixlings to check-in. Jacob took a deep breath and prepared to do what he always did whenever he entered a public place – swap his dignity for a permission slip.
“Sign this form,” the man at the booth ordered, pushing the piece of paper through a gap underneath the glass.
“Does your job not embarrass you?” Jacob replied as he signed the form and passed it back.
The man behind the booth ignored the question and handed over a blue permission slip.
“That’ll be a no, then?” Jacob added, shoving the slip into his pocket.
“Look, I’m not happy about this either, but I’ve got a wife and two kids to support. If you’ve got a problem with how things are done, take it up with the Antantan government. They’re the ones who make the rules; I only enforce them.”
Jacob knew he had a point. It was hardly the man’s fault that Uthovaya was under the control of another nation. The Antantans were Humans who hailed from the country of Antantis, possibly the strongest superpower in the world of Lozaro. Antantis was ruled by a maniacal president who hated the Dakew and Mixlings in equal measure. It was the president who had ordered his troops to storm the Capital, murder the royal family, and take control of the country, twenty years ago.
Jacob reached the timetable screen and scanned the jumbled-up words and numbers, but his lack of schooling meant understanding them was difficult. A kindly old lady came to the rescue, explaining the train would arrive on time at platform fourteen. He thanked her and then sprinted to the platform in question, feeling dizzy and weak again by the time he got there.
“Can I help ya?” a rough voice asked as he leaned against the nearest bannister.
Jacob spun around and came face to face with a muscle-bound military man decked out in the silver full-face helmet and matching uniform of the Antantan army.
“I said, can I help ya?” the soldier barked.
“No thanks,” Jacob replied, turning away.
The soldier wasted no time in swinging him back around by the shoulder.
“Don’t even think about it, boy.”
Jacob wriggled away, but the soldier appeared to sense his discomfort and stepped further into his personal space, leaving him almost frozen with fear. Jacob took a backwards step, but the soldier came forward again, making him feel even more uneasy.
“Leave me alone. I’m waiting for someone.”
“Not in this spot, you’re not.”
Jacob held up his permission slip. “I have as much right to be here as you do,”
“Your kind will never have as much rights as me,” the soldier spat. “Anyway, this area is being kept clear for the Antantan army recruitment drive. Be on your way.”
Scared he would be ejected from the station, Jacob hurried to another spot and waited for the train. It arrived minutes later, stopping with a hiss and the release of thick white smoke. The doors opened and passengers spilled onto the platform. Orla was among them, sporting a smile and clasping a light green duffel bag. She looked smart in a grey trouser suit and crisp, buttoned-up cream shirt. Her strawberry blonde hair was clipped to the top of her head, making her look older than her years.
“Hey, you,” she greeted him.
“Hey, yourself.” Jacob grinned in response. “Well, don’t keep me in suspense. How did you get on at the interview?”
“Brilliant.” She squealed. “I start the Political Science course next week.”
“That’s the best news ever,” Jacob replied, doing his best to look happy.
Although he supported Orla’s dream of becoming a politician, he did not share her view that she could make a difference for the people of Uthovaya. The Antantans had installed their own government and would never allow a Uthovayan to call the shots. Not to mention the course would require her to relocate to Capital North-West. Jacob would be lucky to see her once a week, and that wasn’t enough as far as he was concerned. He wanted Orla to succeed in her goals, but the prospect of life without her came with almost painful loneliness. Not that he would ever voice his feelings on the matter. Orla would probably feel betrayed if she knew the truth.
“Let’s get going,” Jacob said.
He reached out to take her bag, but she playfully snatched it away and burst out laughing.
“Fine.” He said, pulling a funny face and then wandering away.
“Oh, you’re terrible,” she quipped, slinging the bag straps over her shoulder, and then jogging to catch up with him.
“And don’t I know it.” He grinned.
They chatted back and forth as they walked through the station, mainly about what Orla could expect when she started her course. Before they reached the exit, two Antantan soldiers stopped them in their tracks, demanding a closer inspection of Jacob’s permission slip.
“What’s the problem?” Orla asked.
“Stay out of this.” one of the soldiers replied.
Jacob did not resist as the soldiers dragged him away from Orla and bundled him into a squared room. There was an examination table inside with a tray of medical instruments on top.
“Make it quick.” Jacob snapped, glaring at the two soldiers.
There was no response, but he felt anger and shame burn inside him as they conducted a full-body search.
“Are you two finished?”
“Keep it zipped,” one of the soldiers snarled. “Ah, what do we have here?” The soldier removed Jacob’s hunting pistol from his cocoa-coloured trousers. “Care to explain why you have a firearm in a public place?”
“I’m a hunter; I use it for hunting.”
“A likely story,” the other soldier remarked as he slipped the gun into a small grey pouch with tie strings. “We have a bit of a problem here.”
“How you intend to pay your fine, for a start.”
“Licensed hunters can carry their registered weapon at all times. Page two, paragraph seven of the Hunter’s Law. You guys should have done your homework.”
“This will have to do,” the first soldier crowed, as he held up the money Mr. Janmano had given Jacob.
“That’s mine,” Jacob countered, his voice shaking from a combination of anger and fear.
“It was yours,” The soldier laughed, putting the money into his breast pocket. “Put your clothes back on and get out.”
Jacob dressed quickly and then headed back outside to Orla. She put a hand on his shoulder and gave him a sympathetic look. It was a look he had seen many times before. A look he hated.
“They didn’t even check the slip.” He whispered.
“Those soldiers are beneath contempt,” Orla spat. “Are you OK?”
“I’ll just have to be.”
Despite the bravado, Jacob was more than fed-up with the constant mistreatment, tired of being a second-class citizen. Even after a decade in the Capital he had not gotten used to Antantan persecution.
As they left the station, Jacob felt a deep rumbling coming from down the street, shaking the ground. A group of protesters had gathered across the road, screaming obscenities at passing Antantan soldiers. Suddenly, two monstrous tanks rolled past them in single file., leaving the trail of raging protesters in their wake.
“Another day, another round of intimidation,” Orla said quietly.
Jacob nodded. “C’mon, I’ll walk you home.”
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