Magus of Stonewylde Book One

BOOK: Magus of Stonewylde Book One
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Also by Kit Berry from Gollancz:
 
Magus of Stonewylde
Moondance of Stonewylde
Solstice at Stonewylde
Shadows at Stonewylde
MAGUS
of
STONEWYLDE
The First Book of Stonewylde
KIT BERRY
 
The Stonewylde Series
is dedicated to the memories of
Jean Guy, my best owl aunt
and
Debbie Gilbrook, my dearest friend
.
Contents
 

Cover

Title

Dedication

Also by Kit Berry from Gollancz

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Acknowledgements

Copyright

S
lowly, silently, the moon rose over the tower blocks. Patterned with bright squares of light, the great steel and concrete structures thrust up into the city sky like modern megaliths. Inside these teeming hives of activity, people sat mesmerised before flickering screens, busying themselves with electronic devices and gadgets
.

The rising of the full moon in the night sky passed unnoticed, except by one girl. Trapped up high in her block, she stood at the window and cried for release. Like a delicate moth, she beat against the cold glass of her cell again and again, desperate for escape. As the moon grew smaller overhead, the wildness in her heart slowly withered and died
.

Silent and still at last, she gazed out into the night. No stars were visible; in the city they were outshone by artificial light. Her eyes scanned the skies hoping for one bright jewel of starlight, but found only the winking of satellites and aeroplanes. She looked down. On the swarming streets far below, long white and red snakes of car lights crawled home. The slick pavements reflected a kaleidoscope of yellow, blue and green neon light; the air was heavy with relentless, droning noise. She turned from the bright window in despair, as another month of her life seeped away
.

An owl hooted long and low from the dark woods. The boy climbed the hill to the standing stone at its summit, his boots glittering with frost and his breath in icy clouds about him. He hunkered down, his back against the tall monolith, and looked out towards the distant sea. The silver moon danced over the landscape and glinted in the
boy’s eyes. He gazed up at the dusty white rainbow arched across the black velvet sky; millions upon millions of sparkling stars, bright diamonds flung over the cloak of night
.

He sensed the movement of hares further down the hill. Creatures of the full moon, they gathered at this special stone every month and seemed to welcome his silent presence. He took a shuddering breath and touched his cheek. The cut had begun to heal, closing over into a thin scar that would mark him for life. The boy shut his eyes and hugged his knees, shivering and alone in the moonlight. Up here, by the stone on the hill, no one could touch him. Up here no one could hear him cry
.

1
 

S
ylvie gazed through the barred window at the white bird of prey circling high overhead. Round and round it flew, just clearing the grimy tower blocks as it marked its territory, waiting for the moment when she became too weak to struggle. Would it then swoop low and carry her away into the dirty sky, a streak of vapour trail proclaiming its kill? She swallowed, her throat parched, and reached towards the water jug. But the coils of tubes prevented her movement. Snaking around her thin arm, they held her fast to a machine that beeped and flashed. Reality flickered in and out of focus. She closed her eyes; everything was just too much effort, even a sip of water.

Sylvie groaned as the pack of white coats approached her bed and surrounded her. A circle of curious faces – snouts, open mouths, bright eyes – watched hungrily as she lay defenceless among them. The alpha male frowned from beneath tufted eyebrows. He scanned her with a practised eye as he picked up her notes. Sylvie’s hunted gaze sought out the one kindly face in the group: a young intern who’d befriended her in this terrifying labyrinth of wards, disinfectant and needles. Hazel, fair-haired and rosy-cheeked, gave Sylvie a quick smile.

‘Comments?’ barked the consultant.

‘She’s responding quite well to hospitalisation, sir. She’s put on some weight.’

‘There’s evidence of intolerance to wheat and dairy foods; hence the eczema.’

‘But it hasn’t even started to clear, despite the diet. And she’s under-developed for her age. She’s what – fourteen coming up to fifteen? I think—’

‘Those who’ve read the case notes,’ growled the leader, ‘will know her mother was concerned about possible anorexia. She’s failing to thrive, though this could be due to acute food intolerances rather than an eating disorder. Whatever the cause, she’s clearly wasted away quite dramatically.’

‘What about ME, sir? It would account for the listlessness and inability to engage with any stimulus.’

‘Mmn, possible but not conclusive. The blood tests show no viral anomalies although she does react to all the usual allergens – house dust, pollen, exhaust particles, propellants. We’ve now concluded our battery of tests and there’s little more we can do for her at the moment.’

‘It’s as if she’s given up on life.’

All eyes turned to Hazel.

‘That’s your professional diagnosis, Doctor?’

‘No, but without the will to thrive, the body starts to shut down. It seems to me that Sylvie’s rejected everything around her. She can’t cope with the stresses of city life and now she’s become allergic to everything, even the air she breathes.’

The consultant wrinkled his nose at this. He picked up one of Sylvie’s wrists and felt her pulse, ignoring the tubes and bruising.

‘So you propose the symptoms are purely psychosomatic? The self-inflicted result of a refusal to engage with life?’

Hazel shot Sylvie a glance of apology.

‘No, not self-inflicted exactly. Rather a physical rejection of the twenty-first century and the artificial and unnatural environment we’ve created. Sylvie’s body can’t deal with it any longer.’

‘What a fascinating theory. But in the meantime, medication will continue and her diet will be strictly controlled. We’ll discharge her at the end of the week and see what happens. An interesting case, I’m sure you’ll all agree, but we need the bed.’

Later Hazel came back alone and sat down, taking Sylvie’s hand.

‘I’m sorry, Sylvie, discussing you this morning as if you weren’t there. How are you feeling now?’

Sylvie shrugged. Her ravaged face and pale hair against the pillowcase gave her a look of transparency, as if she were slowly dissolving into nothing. Hazel tried not to stare at the strange girl who’d fascinated her since her admission to hospital a couple of weeks ago. She knew that Sylvie had been ill for some time, and that her mother was frantic and the doctors baffled. What had started as headaches, stomach pains and depression had, over the months, developed into blinding migraines, acute vomiting and chronic tiredness. The food intolerances had become so severe that Sylvie now found it impossible to keep anything down. She was pathetically thin and fragile, her skin sore and cracked with eczema. Her allergies had reached the point where she could often barely breathe, and these frightening symptoms were exacerbated by the constant scans, blood tests and prescribed medication. Hazel knew that Sylvie was only being discharged for expediency, not because she’d been cured or even properly diagnosed.

‘I meant what I said, Sylvie, though the other doctors didn’t understand. You’ve rejected this world, haven’t you?’

Sylvie’s unusual silver-grey eyes met Hazel’s kind ones. She knew that Hazel was almost fully qualified now and would make a compassionate doctor.

‘I expect you’re right,’ she croaked.

‘But Sylvie, you can’t just give up on everything! What about school? Don’t you miss your friends?’

Sylvie closed her eyes; school was the dark place of her nightmares. The very thought of those endless corridors and classrooms made her shudder. She recalled the smell of the place, the dirty hugeness of it like the lair of a hydra. No sooner had one hideous head been dealt with than two more reared to take its place, snarling and voracious for blood.

‘I didn’t have any friends,’ she whispered, her tongue dry. ‘I missed a lot of school and when I did manage to turn up, everyone seemed to hate me. They said some horrible things,
though I guess they were right. I do look weird and ugly and I’m stupid too. I could never catch up on what I’d missed and I was always so tired …’

‘Oh, Sylvie, that’s not—’

‘It’s okay, they weren’t the sort of people I’d ever choose for friends. I’m better off away from that school.’

What she didn’t add was just how bad it had become. She was the misfit in a teenage society that prized conformity. The more time she spent off school, the harder it was to go back and face the relentless bullying. It had reached the stage where she simply couldn’t do it. Her illness had slowly become her whole life. And if she continued to deteriorate, her doctor had implied, it would also be the cause of her death.

Hazel looked at her with sympathy. She knew a little of Sylvie’s background from the case study. The girl lived with her single mother in a tower block flat in a run-down part of the city. Hazel had seen her poor mother at visiting times, exhausted from teaching all day and wracked with fear for her ailing daughter.

‘Couldn’t your mum get a teaching job somewhere in the country? Maybe fresh air and a bit of healthy outdoor living would help you get better.’

Sylvie shook her head listlessly.

‘We’ve talked about it but it’s much too expensive to move and everyone’s trying to leave the inner city schools. Mum’s had so much time off in the past couple of years looking after me she’d never get a good reference. We’re stuck here.’ She was silent for a moment, gazing at the grey clouds that blotted out the sky. ‘I’d love to go to the countryside though. I feel so stifled in the city, like it’s a prison closing in on me, crushing me. Even the trees are dirty and grim.’

BOOK: Magus of Stonewylde Book One
10.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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