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The fire eternal, p.1
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       The Fire Eternal, p.1

           Chris D'Lacey
 
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The Fire Eternal


  THE FIRE

  ETERNAL

  CHRIS D’LACEY

  For Owen and Denise

  Thanks to everyone at Orchard who’s been involved with this project, and for all your continuing enthusiasm and support. Also Andrew and Merel at J&A, one of whom is now delivering babies (mwah). I’d like to say a special thanks to Jo Williams of the Aldbourne CBG for wagging a stern finger and making me a lovely stew, and to Karen & Dennis at the Well Wisher Bookshop for looking after me and making sure I never got lost in Wiltshire! The same appreciation is extended to Ros and Julie over in the West Midlands, who’ve been there for me from day one. Also to Sam, who deserves a big hrrr for making the breakthrough and yet is still humble enough to lay some praise at my door. And last but not least to Jay … that polar bear sure was worth it.

  … the eye altering, alters all.

  William Blake

  Contents

  Cover

  Title Page

  Part One

  1 ARCTIC ICE CAP, UNRECORDED TIME

  2 A VERY SPECIAL GIFT

  3 WHAT ZANNA WROTE

  4 SEA ICE, NORTHWEST OF NORDAUSTLANDET SVALBARD ARCHIPELAGO, UNRECORDED TIME

  5 THE HEALING TOUCH

  6 A GIFT FOR THE GARDEN

  7 ARCTIC ICE CAP, NO SPECIFIC REGION

  8 A MEETING OF MINDS

  9 SEA ICE, NEAR TO THE LAST KNOWN LOCATION OF THE ISLAND ONCE CALLED THE TOOTH OF RAGNAR

  10 AN EVENING AT ALLANDALE’S

  11 THE DOOR OPENS

  12 ARCTIC ICE CAP, NO SPECIFIC REGION

  13 BEING GUDRUN

  14 ARCTIC ICE CAP, IN THE PRESENCE OF THE SEA GODDESS, SEDNA

  Part Two

  15 BREAKING THROUGH

  16 NORTH

  17 GROYNE RETURNS

  18 TEA WITH HENRY

  19 FINDING TAM

  20 CIRCLES

  21 IN THE DAYS OF THE PREMEN

  22 THE ROAD TO BLACKBURN

  23 DANDELION ALLEY

  24 A GIFT FROM HOME

  25 CHASING LUCY

  26 NO PLACE LIKE HOME

  27 TESTING LUCY

  28 IN THE CHAPEL

  29 LIZ LEARNS A TRUTH

  30 AVREL TELLS A STORY

  31 THE POWER OF OBSIDIAN

  32 SUPERNOVA

  Part Three

  33 THE FIRE ETERNAL

  Epilogue

  About the Author

  Copyright

  Part One

  From: Farrell, Tam ([email protected])

  Time: 5:22 PM

  To: [email protected]

  Subject: David Rain

  Dear hrrrpenny,

  Thanks for the feedback on David Rain. Appreciate you taking time to reply, but you’ve told me nothing more than I can find on your Web site already. Feature needs a definite angle. Some history. Circumstances of his disappearance, perhaps? If you can’t supply, will look elsewhere.

  Regards,

  Tam Farrell

  Features Editor

  The National Endeavor

  883 Cambridge Street

  Boston, MA

  1

  ARCTIC ICE CAP, UNRECORDED TIME

  It began with a wind from another world. A fury unlike any other kind of blizzard. It tore a hole in the sky and screamed at the ice, forcing them together with an elemental charge. The eddy drew a death song out of the night and with it beat a storm all the way up to the clouds. The sea shook and the tablet of ice it supported broke in a random starburst of cracks.

  And when all this had passed, what was left was a bear.

  He was lying with his paws outstretched and straight, his snout pushed down between the hump of his knees. The wind at first refused to die. It ripped at his fur, making shallow angry waves across the curves of his back. It tugged again, and again and again, but on the fourth gust his great head rose in defiance and he breathed and held in the cold, sharp air. The wind grew tame in an instant and dropped. It fell to a whimper as he opened his eyes.

  Lumbering slightly, he rose to his feet. The wind made apologetic circles around him. He ignored it and plunged ten claws into the ice. The auma of the north poured into his heart. With it came power and a terrifying knowledge, of a world disappearing too fast, too soon. He opened his jaws then and roared at the sky, until his voice became water droplets melting in the atmosphere. Snow fell on the crest of the planet.

  This was the beginning.

  And this would be the end.

  But the Earth would not know it for another year yet.

  2

  A VERY SPECIAL GIFT

  Sunday. February 14th. Valentine’s Day. The words spiraled around Suzanna Martindale’s head as she walked hand in hand with her daughter, Alexa, along deserted Main Street in Scrubbley. It had been five years to this day since her partner, David Rain, had disappeared during a student field trip into the ice-cold waters of the Arctic Ocean — and still the memory would not settle. In her mind, she replayed that dreadful moment, holding him, willing him to keep on breathing, remembering his head falling into her arms before surrendering his body to the breaking ice and the awesome power of four guardian polar bears. Tears burned her eyes, fuzzing out the street lights. She whispered his name. “David.” A gust of air as sharp as a blade replied, landing a crystal of ice on her face. She touched it, rubbing it into her tears. “David,” she said again, and squeezed Alexa’s hand.

  “Mommy, are we going to see Santa Claus?”

  The sheer sweetness of the question made Zanna chuckle. Such innocence could almost make her choke on joy. “No, darling, we did that at Christmas.”

  The little girl lifted her feet into a skip. The antlers of her reindeer hat flapped to the beat. “Are we going to see Snigger?”

  Snigger. The “hero” of David’s squirrel story. Now a bestseller and family favorite. Zanna turned her head to one side. They were passing the precinct that branched off Main Street and led toward the library and the gardens beyond. Among those trees and twisting paths, David had first been inspired to write. “No, baby. Just to the shop.”

  “Mmm,” said the child. And it wasn’t really clear if she was satisfied by this answer or not. She changed her legs, almost stumbling for a pace or two.

  “Careful,” Zanna said, and swung her to a stop.

  They were looking at a small bay window, with slightly rotting frames and gaps in the putty. It was a shop, Zanna’s shop, and it was closed for the evening. The interior was locked and dark. But in one corner of the window, on a candlestick as gothic as a vampire’s finger, a candle spilling lava trails was burning freely. Beside it was a card. A Valentine’s card. A single red heart on a tall white background. It was open, but the words were difficult to read. Next to the card sat a small clay dragon.

  “Ruffen!” cried Alexa, pointing to it.

  “Guh-ruffen,” said her mother. “Don’t forget the ‘guh.’”

  “Guh!” repeated Alexa and put her hand on the glass with just enough force to make it rattle.

  To no one’s amazement, the dragon rolled his eyes in recognition. He lifted a paw and wiggled his slightly stubby little fingers.

  Alexa responded with a happy wave. “What’s Gruffen doing?” she asked, pronouncing his name correctly this time.

  “Just guarding,” said Zanna, and feeling overwhelmed, added quietly to herself, “Just guarding Daddy’s flame.” A gallery of pictures flashed through her mind. They gathered in a spear of ice in David Rain’s heart. She took a tissue from her pocket and dabbed her eyes. “Lexie, I’ve got something for you.”

  The little girl turned on her heels.

  “Hold out your hands, together, in a cup.”

  No stranger to presents, Alexa adopted the pose right away.

/>   “Listen carefully,” said Zanna, dropping down on one knee. She brushed a curl of black hair off Alexa’s forehead. “You know we talked about polar bears and the icy place they live?”

  “Yes,” said Alexa, possibly hopeful of receiving one.

  Zanna looked at her a moment and tried to frame the words. Those eyes. His eyes. That rich, dark blue. Unsettling and comforting, all in one glance. “Your daddy gave me a dragon there once. I want you to have him, because … because Mommy can’t take care of him anymore.”

  The little girl frowned and tilted her head. “Mommy, why are you crying?” she asked.

  Zanna bracketed her hands as if she were holding an invisible piece of rock. “You have to look very, very hard to see him. But he’s there. He’s real. His name is G’lant and his is a flame that will never die out.” She opened her hands — as if she were scattering the ashes of her grief — and set G’lant down on Alexa’s palms.

  The girl looked thoughtfully at the space above her gloves. “I like him,” she said.

  Zanna sobbed, and reaching out, hugged her daughter tight. “I like you,” she said. “And I love you so much.” Her pale lips tremored against the child’s head.

  A second went by, then Alexa gasped.

  “What? What is it?” Zanna drew back to look at her.

  Alexa turned her face to the open sky.

  And from out of the darkness came fairy lights: snow.

  3

  WHAT ZANNA WROTE

  At the same time that Zanna was out with Alexa, something odd was going on in the house at 42 Wayward Crescent where they lived with Elizabeth and Lucy Pennykettle, and Elizabeth’s husband, Arthur.

  Another dragon called Gwendolen was preparing for a mission.

  Gwendolen belonged to Lucy. She was a special dragon made by Lucy’s mother, Liz. Liz was a potter by trade and well known in the town of Scrubbley for her extraordinary dragon sculptures, though none that reached the marketplace there were quite as extraordinary as the ones that inhabited the Pennykettle household.

  Gwendolen was just such a dragon. For years she had sat quietly on Lucy’s bedside table, going almost unnoticed in the shadows by the lamp. Unlike the other special dragons in the house, she had never shown any kind of magical ability. But on Lucy’s eleventh birthday, when the girl’s hair had begun to turn a deep shade of red (just like her mother’s and her distant dragon ancestor Guinevere’s), Gwendolen began to show an interest in something.

  Computers.

  It was a pursuit that mirrored Lucy’s ambitions, but one that left the other dragons wary and suspicious. For they had seen Gwendolen rise from obscurity to become the kind of dragon that understood data and symbols and code. It was unnatural, they thought. A little bit … progressive. But Lucy was Lucy, she had dragon in her blood. So no one ever questioned it and Gwendolen was left to her own devices. No one bothered her or inquired about what she was doing, and this was certainly the case on the day that she stole Suzanna Martindale’s letter.

  Some people go to church. Some people plant flowers. And some mark the anniversary of a loved one’s death by writing to them, bizarre as that might seem. Every Valentine’s Day, Zanna did just that. She would sit at her desk and compose a long letter telling David all that had happened that year. It was beautiful and romantic and healing and cathartic — and it annoyed Lucy Pennykettle to death. For she was never allowed to read them (Zanna burned them afterwards) and she knew that with every word Zanna wrote she became more and more accepting of David’s death. That was wrong in Lucy’s mind. David wasn’t gone. He couldn’t be dead. He was just … well, he was just not here.

  So Gwendolen was sent to assess the state of play. It was a good time, the only opportunity, in fact. Zanna and Alexa were out somewhere. Arthur was meditating quietly in Liz’s pottery workshop, the Dragon’s Den, where he’d been joined by the dragons Gadzooks and G’reth, who were normally fixtures on the windowsill in Zanna’s room. Bonnington, the Pennykettles’ dippy cat, was asleep on Lucy’s bed. And Liz was in the kitchen; she was always in the kitchen.

  The house was quiet. The time was now.

  Gwendolen zipped downstairs. The door to Zanna’s room was usually ajar and was again as the little dragon flew down the hall. In a moment she was inside and on Zanna’s desk. There was the letter, a fountain pen resting soulfully beside it. Four pale blue, neatly written pages. Too long for Lucy to sneak in and read without fear of being disturbed, but a mere blink in the eye of an IT dragon.

  Gwendolen made her eyes into slits and gathered her focus on the first page. A bar of violet light scanned it swiftly from top to bottom. In one flowing, nimble-clawed movement she flipped to page two and scanned that as well. It took her less than twenty seconds to raster the lot. She arranged the pages neatly and flew back upstairs.

  Lucy was already at the computer. “Did you get it?” she hissed, as Gwendolen landed beside the keyboard.

  Hrrr, replied the dragon. She pushed her tail into a port on the back of the machine. The computer beeped and reported it had found new “dragonware,” then immediately downloaded Zanna’s letter.

  Lucy clicked her mouse and saved it in conventional bits and bytes. “Nice work,” she said. “Now, let’s see what slush she wrote. Oh, yuck. What a start. ‘My darling David.’”

  Gwendolen swished her tail. She rather liked that, actually. Maybe Lucy did, too, but didn’t care to admit it. She turned her eyes to the screen and read along: For once, Valentine’s Day has fallen on a weekend and I’m able to write from the quiet of home. I always promised myself I would begin these letters at the same time each year, the closest I could calculate to the moment you left me, the moment my heart froze with yours, in ice. I’m sitting at your desk in what was your room, with memories of you all around me: the armoire door that still doesn’t quite close, cat hairs (of various shades) on the bed, a slightly threadbare Winston pining at me from the armchair opposite, Gadzooks firmly on the windowsill studying the shape of a spider’s web, G’reth right next to him, lost in thought. These days, the room has a slightly more feminine touch, floral curtains, lace pillows, scents. A yellow hot water bottle (shaped like a flounder) sits upon the bed with a woolly mammoth called Bronson and a bunch of toys. Five years and a daughter do bring change. Yet, when I look up and peer into the garden, I still expect to see you out there with Lucy, rescuing squirrels or tripping over ice blocks, just being you, being frantic, being David. I miss you so much.

  Hrrr, breathed Gwendolen, moved by the sentiment.

  “Don’t,” said Lucy, scowling at her. She trawled through the next two pages, much of which dealt with domestic issues: the progress of Liz and Arthur’s two-year-old marriage; Arthur’s promotion to Professor of Physics at Scrubbley University; what a big help Henry, the Pennykettles’ neighbor, had been since Zanna had bought her shop; and reams of sentimental nonsense about Alexa.

  Lucy raised her shoulders and sighed. “This is boring,” she said. “Why doesn’t she write about the things that David would have really cared about, like global warming and polar bears dying ‘cause the ice caps are melting?”

  Hrrr, Gwendolen responded politely, and pointed to a passage about David’s book White Fire.

  The paragraph opened: Hey, you are now officially a bestselling author. The other day, I saw someone reading White Fire on the train — a girl, not much younger than Lucy. I could see her eyes just above the pages, panning back and forth as she devoured the text, one hand feeding her hair into her mouth. Suddenly, she turned to her mother and said, “This is really, really good, Mom. It’s as if the author knows what it’s like to be a polar bear.”

  “That’s scary,” said Lucy, thinking back to what she and Zanna had witnessed on that dreadful, final day in the Arctic: a polar bear torched by the flames of a dragon; David speared by ice, bears all around him; a fire star pulsing in the northern sky. She shuddered and read on, finding a chilling passage about the alien creatures that had brought about the traged
y. The mysterious beings which Arthur called the Fain.

  It seems bizarre to think that we were ever attacked by “thought forms” from another dimension, even though you gave your life protecting us from them. I suppose, like anything else, our perception of that danger has altered with time. Even when Bonnington is wowing us daily with his shape-shifting tricks (he turned into a small black panther yesterday and almost gave the mailman a heart attack) we tend to overlook the fact that the benign Fain-being trapped inside him is responsible. But I know they’re out there, in some peculiar parallel universe, hovering on the edge of human consciousness and doing … who knows what? But maybe that’s the subject of another letter.

  And so we come to Lucy …

  “Oh, here we go,” Lucy said with a humph.

  … she’s sixteen now and a real stunner. Flowing red hair, sweet green eyes (now turned completely from blue), and the attitude of a teenage warrior queen.

  “The nerve!”

  (But true, thought Gwendolen.)

  She’s become so reclusive lately. Most days she will come in from school, go straight to her room, and disappear for several hours. We hear her tapping away at her computer, usually through a wall of music, but no one seems to know quite what she’s doing. She’s a genius at IT and even created a Pennykettle Web site so that Liz could go on selling the dragons after she gave up her market stall. (The school gave her an enterprise award and a certificate for her amazing “lifelike” animations.) It’s such a shame that she’s become so withdrawn. Every now and then she and Liz have a tense exchange about “antisocial behavior.” I used to worry that this was a problem with Alexa stealing all of Liz’s attention, but if anything, Lexie is the one person Lucy bonds with the most. She plays with her, talks to her, babysits her sometimes, and generally seems happy to have her around. I think Lucy misses you terribly and Alexa is the closest link she has, possibly more so than Gadzooks or G’reth. She point-blank refuses to believe that you are dead and cites your dragons as proof of this. That’s the fundamental problem between her and her mom. As the years go by and you show no sign of returning to us, Liz has become more accepting of the theory that a dragon created for whatever special reason can live a life independent of its owner. The fact that Gadzooks has not written on his notepad since he left me with the name “G’lant” so long ago is proof enough to Liz that you are gone. So she’s settled to an average life with Arthur, leaving her daughter angry and confused.

 
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