Authors: James Bartholomeusz
Jack heard the scream. Then the lights went out.
The darkness slithered down the hill. One by one, coming closer and closer, the faint orangey lamps flickered and died. Behind it, an impenetrable wall of pure black. Jack did not pause. He began walking quickly, trying to keep ahead of the slowly growing mass. The sheets of fog parted as he moved forward. He crossed from the pavement into the middle of the road, where it was the lightest. There were no cars around, and he would be completely incapacitated if he walked into a wall or a lamppost.
He stood still, listening for anything that might be coming his way. The faint fluttering of autumnal leaves in the wind. The engine of a solitary car rumbling in the distance. Other than that, complete silence.
Then there was another scream. Jack whipped around. Silhouetted against the deep sky was the hill around which the town was built. At its very peak, the topmost trees bent in gnarled shapes against the horizon. Something howled. It was like a wolf, yet at the same time it had a grinding, shrieking edge that no animal on Earth could have ever produced. It was followed by another and another and a fourth, all entering into the horrific nocturnal chorus. It was the sound of a hunt beginning.
In memory of
Grandad John and Granny Pip
Published 2011 by Medallion Press, Inc.
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is a registered trademark of Medallion Press, Inc.
If you purchase this book without a cover, you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”
Copyright © 2011 by James Bartholomeusz
Cover design by Arturo Delgado
Typesetting and interior illustrations by James Tampa
Edited by Lorie Popp
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission of the publisher, except where permitted by law.
Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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Though it seems clichéd for a page entitled Acknowledgments, there are a lot of people I owe thanks to for the writing of this book. Alastair Jolly, Mark Pedroz, Ian Murray, Noel Cassidy, and the librarians at St. Albans School for helping me develop my interest in literature. Jonathan Stroud, my favourite young adult author, who I had the privilege of meeting at the age of twelve. Those members of the Department of English at the University of Exeter who I’ve been lucky enough to have been taught by and Philip Hensher for his advice on the publication process. And, though they will certainly never read this, I feel I should credit some of those writers—living and dead—who have inspired and influenced me: Neil Gaiman, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Garth Nix, Thomas Paine, Philip Pullman, J. K. Rowling, Edward Said, J. R. R. Tolkien, and W. B. Yeats.
I also must give my thanks to all my family and friends who’ve encouraged me through this and who’ve enabled me to be a socially functioning son/sibling/student as well as a writer. The two don’t always go together.
In addition, I’d like to thank everyone at Medallion Press for helping me publish my first novel—particularly Lorie Popp for her extensive editing—and Gloria Goodman for her work representing
The White Fox
at book fairs across the world.
If all goes to plan, then Jack, Lucy, and everyone else will be returning in
The Black Rose
in December 2012. Until then, enjoy reading.
“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”
“The Second Coming”
W. B. Yeats
Jack stood on the precipice, looking into the abyss. A pit of absolute darkness, a void carved out of this place, dropping downwards forever. All the others had gone, and he was alone.
For what felt like an eternity, he seemed to exist outside himself. He saw it all: the sinuous thread of fate weaving delicately through his life from the very outset, right up until where he now stood. Everything, he realized, from that moment on top of the hill on Earth, had been part of the rhythmic march towards this point. Somehow he’d imagined it differently. He would have had others here now, his friends and companions with him, but he was alone on this boundary, this edge of stone, this edge of his future.
He glanced behind him. That rectangle of golden sky through the open door. The Light was still there, still within reach, just a single step backwards from this brink of brinks. It would be so easy to walk out that door and be free. But no. To do so would betray everything that he and others had sacrificed to reach this point. Along the way there had been many times he could have taken another course. But not now. His life had become a linear narrative, and everything had become simple. There was no room for stepping back anymore.
He turned to the frontier again. He readied himself, making sure the Seventh Shard was secured around his neck. Then he jumped, diving into the Darkness.
The silence was broken by a slight whistle of wind. Black smoke spilled over the ramparts, coiling upwards to form a tangible shape. It solidified. Where a second before there had been a bare stretch of wall, a man now stood. He was tall and skeletally thin, so much so that he looked more like one of the surrounding gothic statues than any living creature. He was swathed in a jet-black cloak down to his ankles, his hands and feet encased in dark gloves and boots. His head was completely obscured by a hood.
He was on top of a high wall, complete with crenulations, made out of deep grey stone. Behind him another wall of stone rose up, with a small window out of which a miniscule amount of amber light illuminated the weathered barrage. From his position, only the sky was visible—its cloudy mass seemingly frozen, and yet in reality it shifted and churned as roughly as a storm-ridden sea. Gargoyles clutched the battlements—writhing forms of bats, serpents, wolves, and many lesser-known creatures. Their screaming expressions were frozen in the moonlight, leering over the low courtyard.
Far below, barely touched by the light and wedged between the square stone like an ancient crab, was a rocky cave entrance. It struck diagonally down into the earth, the cracks and nooks splintering the sheer crimson light that yawned upwards from its depths. Too red for fire and yet too natural for a mechanized light. He pondered it for a second, deep in thought at what it suggested. Then he straightened up and strode off down the rampart, the sharp cracking of his boots echoing loudly around the deep alcove.
The figure turned a corner, and the walls fell away. A narrow walkway, darkly extravagant and aesthetically impossible, stretched out before him. Either side, the view dropped a thousand feet to the city below—a jumble of thin side streets, claustrophobic alleys, and cramped buildings lost in the gloom. Dotted blue lights were everywhere, glimmering out of regimented windows. Every so often the skyline was interrupted by a skyscraper with its own surfeit of windows, but such was the height of this bridge that it rose above all of them. In the distance, from any angle, the ocean roared—the ongoing battle of sea monsters seeking to rise and engulf the airborne city. The perpetual midnight air blasted inwards from the rocky edges, speeding between the buildings like a horde of maddened ravens, then up to the fortress to spasm villainously high in the clouds.
At the end of the bridge, a tower stabbed up from the rocks below. Lit windows glowed farther down, but at this height the circular overlook resolved into a steep chandelier of black magnificence. A tall, thin double door, carved with rose patterns, stood at the end of the walkway. It was towards this that the man made his way.
As always, the chamber was dark and circular, like the outside, reaching upwards into shadow. The shimmering black floor reflected the open flames in brackets above—a ghostly sapphire that seemed to not shed any light at all. Dim moonlight from a hole high in the ceiling illuminated the immediate foreground. The floor was decorated with an ornate black rose, whose extended thorny branches drew everything in the chamber inwards towards its center. The effect was hypnotic.