The Alchemist meets fantasy with a splash of space opera.
Viola Alerion, a renowned storyteller in the Haldrian Empire, wants to be left in peace. For years, she’s been hounded by her past, never to find a moment’s rest. Then she meets a boy who wants to become her apprentice. He refuses to take no for an answer, and she reluctantly yields, even though she knows taking him with her could endanger his life.
As their journey progresses, Viola begins to understand she’s not the only teacher in the equation. The nameless boy also has something to teach, but Viola makes for a reluctant student.
Can she give way to possibility and embrace a future in alignment with what she’s always wanted? Can she find the courage to embrace the principles that will transform her life? Can she overcome her circumstances and face her past? Or will she keep on running with nowhere to hide?
And what of the boy who guards untold secrets and exhibits mysterious powers that defy belief?
Targeted Age Group:: 16+
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
This book is the result of a combination of "coincidences" and the journey I've been on for the past ten years. It was partially inspired by a series of vivid dreams that have stayed with me, as though I really lived them. The Apprentice Storyteller is also inspired by a song. Wishmaster by the Finnish band Nightwish sparked the idea of a story about a wandering storyteller and her apprentice.
The philosophical approach in Paolo Coelho's The Alchemist, combined with my journey to become a certified transformational life coach became the catalyst and helped me transform an idea into the novel I present to you today.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Viola Alerion is very much based on my paternal grandmother. On the surface, she's a grumpy old woman who doesn't tolerate much, but when you start digging deeper, you find an insecure but kind and warm-hearted woman who can overflow with love.
The apprentice drew on a variety of characters and stereotypes around me to become a very unique character. I've never written anyone like him before and it was a fun challenge to get into his head.
A short while later, they come to a cluster of shacks sprinkled between the road and a pond. A few children sit in the shade offered by overhanging roofs. They make no sound. The boy wonders what ails them and the hairs on his arms prickle. They’re listless, and their eyes are hollow, and his gut clenches at the sight. Viola stops at the first building and speaks to the only visible adult, a wizened old man with but a few teeth. His weather-beaten visage reveals the harshness of the life he’s lived.
“Good afternoon,” Viola begins bowing her head. “We seek shelter from the midday heat. Would your village be able to offer us any?”
The man turns his head, and the boy sees milk-white eyes staring out into nothingness. “There’s nothing but ruin and death here,” the man rasps. “All those who could have left. Go, while you’re still able. There’s nothing but oblivion here.”
Ice stabs through the boy’s veins and a multitude of shivers convulse him, making it impossible to hear the storyteller’s reply. Uneasiness settles in the pit of his stomach, and he begins to back away.
Viola strides from the village. She’s beside him and appears unaffected by the situation. He glances up at her, but her face is unreadable. When the village lies some way behind, he ventures, “What of those children?”
Viola’s jaw twitches. “Their death sentence was signed when the others left the settlement. They were probably abandoned because they had the sickness. Being struck by the blight is certain death.”
After close to another hour of trudging, they see one lone tree off the road. Taking shelter under the sparse shade, the boy begins once more with his tale, but he falters after less than a minute. He glances back the way they’ve travelled. The cluster of houses is well out of sight, but his mind continues to drag the image of that place of doom before his eyes. It swims into view, superimposed over the shimmering panorama.
He stands, conviction coursing through him. “We have to go back. They can’t just be left to die out there.”
Viola pulls him into a tight embrace. She holds him until tears well up, spilling from him in a silent howl. “The blight has taken them,” she murmurs. “There is nothing to be done, and all you will get for going back is to catch it too.” When the flow of his sobs ebbs, she adds, “It is admirable that you care so much. Hold onto that. It is rare in this empire. Do not let the horrors you encounter diminish your humanity.”
He nods, not trusting his voice. Gazing out over the bushes, hints of luminescence on their leaves, he observes the corrupting purple that blankets the earth around them. “What is wrong with this place?”
One of Viola’s eyebrows curves into her forehead. “You mean you have never encountered the blight before?” When he shakes his head, she says, “This planet is overrun by it. There are few places that are not affected. Anyone living a long time in a blight-stricken region will succumb to illness. The area we are in shows mild signs of blight. How don’t you know this?”
The question pulls his mind into a memory that’s filled with gentleness. He remembers how his family used to work. His father and sister side by side, her charcoal hair gleaming in the suns as she wove her fingers through the air. Their voices raised in song as they moved up the hillside bordering the farmstead. Other members of the clan dotting the entire valley, walking and motioning with their arms, singing about purity and wholesomeness. They were cleaning the air and purifying the earth. The realisation comes as a surprise. I always knew it was important, but the purpose was never clear.
His thoughts return to the offish-purple in the sand and to Viola’s question. He gathers himself before replying. “My family dedicated their time to cleaning it. I didn’t understand then, but now I realise that was why we moved so often, going from one place to another. It was to purify the natural world.”
“How? The blight is untreatable.”
The boy bites his lip. Can’t say too much. That could be dangerous. “I don’t know. I wasn’t able to do it.” He sees curiosity spark in Viola’s eyes, but he shakes his head, looking at her meaningfully. “I was never like them. I can’t do what they can.”
Viola frowns, but before she can say anything, they hear a rustle in the bush a short distance away. They both look up. A thin creature, the same shade as the sand, sits on its haunches, front paws lifted to its chest. It’s around two handspans high and looks straight at them with its pointy face. Then it raises its dark snout and lets out a chattering call.
A pause follows in which the animal turns its attention back to the boy and Viola. He feels a shiver run up his spine when he notices the creature’s eyes. They’re bright yellow, and they glow. His ears pick out the sound of answering chatters from all over the scrub, and he feels the hairs on the back of his neck rise.
Within moments, they’re surrounded by more of the knee-high creatures. There are dozens of them, all rushing up to a distance of a few yards and then sitting back on their haunches, watching, waiting. With a shudder, he sees their ears, tails and paws are a violent shade of purple.
The boy’s attention is drawn to Viola, who is rummaging in her pack. Her face is frantic and redoubles his sense of foreboding. He glances back at the creatures. Some of them are drooling, others foaming at the mouth. Their stance is menacing, and their sandy-brown coats are tattered, tufts missing in places, as though they’re wont to fight.
Voice trembling at an unbidden thought, he asks, ”Are we food?” His hands shake. He’s a leaf buffeted by the winds of fear, being tugged towards the abyss where terror will consume him.
Viola pulls out a four-inch bamboo stick and meets his gaze. Her expression is grim. ”Yes.” She starts twisting at the stick, pulling a section out and lengthening it to four times the size. As she does so, she explains. ”Blight-struck meerkats like the taste of meat. In a few moments, we shall have a mob, a hundred strong, descending upon us, lusting after our flesh. They will rip and tear at our bodies until we succumb to blood loss and then they will feast on us until nothing but white bones remain.”
The grim, matter-of-fact way she says it is hair-raising. She’s seen someone go that way. Another shudder tears through him.
Viola swings the now waist-high stick about her in a practised flurry. Her expression is fierce. Then she slips the quartz crystal from her pocket and fastens it to one end of the staff. The boy watches the stone glow and wonders what help it might be, but he finds the gleam in her eyes somewhat reassuring.
A violent screech goes up, sending chills knifing into the boy’s already petrified insides. He’s paralysed as he watches wave upon wave of the creatures scurrying towards the tree where he stands beside Viola. She shoves him towards the tree trunk, and he loses his balance, tumbling against the sturdy column, bark scraping his cheek. ”Stay there!” she orders. ”Don’t get in my way.”
She whirls her staff in an arc, creating around her a glowing crescent of shimmering light. The first meerkat launches itself into the air, a wild shriek coming from its foam-flecked jaws. Its dayglow eyes are fixed on Viola.
The boy watches, heart pounding in his throat, as Viola lifts her stick and catches the animal across the abdomen. It hurtles to the ground and lands with a soft thump next to the boy’s foot, and a cry strangles in his throat. He can’t tear his eyes from the limp form in front of him. The mad luminescence has disappeared from the creature’s eyes, which are now a glazed black. His brain focuses on details—the unnatural angle at which the creature’s hind leg lies twisted, the utter stillness of this broken body as it lies on the ground, a pink tinge creeping into the saliva and staining its small teeth.
Faced with the death of this tiny animal, a knife twists in the boy’s heart. His mind runs a course of thoughts sharp and focused, but also detached from what is happening around him. He hears the stern voice of his father. ”The sanctity of life is something precious that must be guarded.” Yet, here he is, a boy of thirteen, faced with kill or be killed. Panic fills him. He knows that the fact of this shattered corpse at his feet is wrong. It goes against everything he’s learned and believes in.
Viola’s staff whirls into his vision, and he’s drawn back to the intensity of the moment. He watches her tool of death curve, hitting several creatures and then, as another ten or more of the meerkats leap at her, the crystal at the top of the staff pulsates, sending out a rush of power, hurling all of them out into the scrub. Smashed bodies litter the ground around them, and the boy feels his breath crush him. He sinks to his knees. The horror of the moment pulls him down into a world of nightmare. It’s not supposed to be this way!
Inside him, something snaps. It’s a jarring, irreversible breaking. His eyes fly open. Viola is barely able to keep the mob of crazed animals at bay. She’s sweating, and in a flash, he sees desperation in her eyes. She mutters something and raises the staff, leaving herself open to the first row of creatures who seize their moment and bite into her exposed legs. He watches as the staff begins a downward motion.
In that instant, the boy knows she will release a spell so powerful it will blast all the meerkats surrounding them into obliteration. His mind screams. Care for all living things.
”Stop!” he bellows.
He’s on his feet from the impact of his outburst. His breaths, coming in rapid succession, rasp in his ears. Stillness meets his gaze. Everything is frozen. Viola stands, her staff a hands-breadth above the ground, her short hair plastered to her face. One meerkat hovers in mid-leap; another is frozen with its teeth at the point of ripping through her trousers.
There’s absolute silence. The sea of furry creatures has closed in on them—a rising wave stopped right at the crest before it breaks to come crashing onto the beach. Not even a breeze rustles. Only the blazing disks of the two suns witness the boy’s feat.
He exhales, then steps between the frozen mass of creatures and removes the staff from Viola’s fingers. He lays a hand on her shoulder, and she comes back into motion.
Her arm moves with decisive downward action, the intention of a moment before thwarted by some unknown power. She stops and looks up at the scene of stillness about her. ”What the—” she exclaims, confusion sending turmoil through her eyes.
Her gaze falls on the boy, and he lowers his head. ”I needed it to stop.”
”What—?” Her voice dies. He wonders whether she wanted to say ”What needed to stop?” or ”What did you do?”
”I needed the killing to stop,” he says, stepping through the wave of creatures and putting distance between himself and the limp forms littering the ground.
She folds her arms, irritation glinting in her eyes. ”Well, if I had known you could do this, I would not have needed to kill any of them. It is not as if I wanted to.”
”I didn’t know I could do this. I don’t even know if it was me who did it,” he says gesturing at the frozen creatures. He turns around, away from the carnage. His insides are thawing, but he still doesn’t feel like himself: his heart flutters and faintness tugs at his mind. Crouching down and looking out over the land where these creatures live—flat expanse stretching out into the distance—he thinks, It’s their home. We’re passers-by, and we didn’t respect them as we should. Please, Mother-Father, forgive this transgression. He bows his head.
“Why aren’t you relieved?” Viola asks, her voice uncomprehending and glacial.
“How can you be happy with so much death?” He can’t keep the anguish from his voice. Now he’s staring her in the eye. “We committed sacrilege against the Great Parent. Care for all living things. That’s the teaching I was raised on. I can’t rejoice in this loss; I must show I learned my lesson. I won’t let something like this happen again—not for my sake.” His tirade fades at the look in her eyes. Her face is a blank mask. He falters, then adds, as an afterthought, “This is what I know is right: I must do what I can to avoid the catastrophe that will come with such wilful neglect of the ordinances.”
Viola extricates herself from the mob of meerkats now trapped in time. She struggles to get her trouser leg free from the jaws of one overzealous creature. Once liberated, she sets off towards the road and calls over her shoulder, ”Please, don’t mind me. I have no qualms about living today.”
The boy lifts his face heavenward once more and whispers, “Thank you for your guidance and protection. Thank you for your gift of power that saved so much life today. Please give these creatures the gift of your blessing and healing.”
He rises to his feet and his eyes cast over the wave of creatures, frozen in their attack. He brushes a fingertip over the nearest purple tail. It’s his gesture of remorse. Then he turns and joins Viola on the road.
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