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Authors: Chris D'lacey

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The Last Dragon Chronicles: Dark Fire

BOOK: The Last Dragon Chronicles: Dark Fire
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www.orchardbooks.co.uk

ORCHARD BOOKS

338 Euston Road

London NW1 3BH

Orchard Books Australia

Level 17/207 Kent Street, Sydney, NSW 2000, AustraliaISBN 978 1 40831419 7

First published in Great Britain in 2009

This ebook was published in 2011Text © Chris d’Lacey 2009

The right of Chris d’Lacey to be identified as theaccordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patentsauthor of this work has been asserted by him in

Act, 1988.

All rights reserved.

A CIP catalogue record for this book

is available from the British Library.

Orchard Books is a division of Hachette Children’s

an Hachette UK company Books,

for Lisa Ann Sandell

Everyone at Orchard Books, both here andoverseas, knows how much I value theirsupport for this long, ongoing ‘organic’project. Trust me, Paul, it
 
will
 
come to aconclusion one day; the plain fact is, astory is as long as it needs to be. Praiseand warm regards to Catherine C, whohad the tricky job of judging my moodwhilst giving, as it turned out, valuableeditorial guidance. And one wonders howmany artists would be fazed if asked todraw the language of dragons on paper? Not so T.D.Bradshaw, who seems to beable to turn her artistic hand to anything. Thank you, Ptery, for inspiring the final

artwork.

Finally, I want to thank the many thousandof fans, worldwide, who buy these books. Without you, there would be little point inwriting them. Welcome, once again, to the Dragons’ Den.
 
Hrrr
 

I saw that in its depths thereare enclosed,

Bound up with love in oneeternal book,

The scattered leaves of allthe universe –

Substance, and accidents, andtheir relations,

As though together fused insuch a way

That what I speak of is asingle light.

The universal form of this

commingling…

Dante,
 
Paradiso

Prologue

Seal Point, near the Inuit

village of Savalik

It had been the custom in Savalik for

centuries: that the old, knowing that their spirit was tired of this world, should be allowed to die in the manner of their

choosing. This much Christopher Apak understood as he guided his grandfather to the sled hooked onto the back of his

snowmobile. The old man, Taliriktug was his name, had been sour for weeks, ever since the great mist had fallen on the North. His face, once as ruddy as the blood of a bear, had now become as yellow as lichen. The flesh was sinking into his bones. His eyes stared inwards.

So too his toes. When he walked he was

like the newborn caribou, fragile, at angles, twigs for legs. But unlike the caribou, Taliriktug would never learn to stand again. The only food he had taken in this period of decline was a few sips of broth, made from
 
mattak
, the meat of whales. Medication – the white man’s

penicillin   –   he   had   sneered   at. Furthermore, he had put away his feathers and charms. This, people muttered, was a greater sign that his living was done with than any liverishness or tired shamanic ramblings. Even the comfort of a single bed, heated by a blanket fed by electricity, had been rejected. Taliriktug was ready to ride a sled. It was his time to sit upon the ice, he had said. In the modern way, this

was forbidden. But when a raven landed

on the roof of his house, the wise ones in the village had noted the omen and turned their eyes away from the laws of the South. From that moment on it was clear

to all that Taliriktug would die in the ways of his fathers – alone, without help, stranded in the wilderness, there to be claimed by the spirits of the North.

“Are you comfortable, Grandfather?”

The old man pulled his furs around him. His mouth, long devoid of any consistency of enamel, with only bunched, dried wrinkles to indicate lips, did not say ‘yes’ and did not say ‘no’. He was sitting cross-legged, facing away from his final destination, pointing at each of the wooden shacks that were built into the

land that curved around the bay, as if he was counting them, or possibly even blessing them. This place had been his home since he could first gut a fish. Yet no one stood on the shoreline, watching. That was the Savalik way.

Apak fired up the snowmobile. Gently opening the throttle, he nudged the machine forward. The rope that bound the sled jerked itself tense. Taliriktug gave a nod as they began to move. The hood of his coat slipped back a little, revealing a line of thinning black hair. Then he began

to   chant.   A   breathy,   incongruous,

unharmonic  wail. A song for the ghosts of his ancestors. Apak let in a little more gas, keeping his gears low and his speed to a funereal constant. In the South he had

heard that this was a ritual: to travel at a

duck’s pace to the place of burial. But his speed had little to do with respect. He was merely fearful of any sudden bumps that might ship his grandfather onto the ice too soon. That would have been a legend of embarrassment, one worthy of his own demise.

As the snowmobile eased across

Savalik bay, the north wind bled into Apak’s face, cutting lines above hisgoggles and spiking both his nostrils andthe corners of his mouth. He steered

towards open ice, well away from any ridges that might be giving shelter to a hungry bear. Bears. The thought of them made him frown. Lately, they had been on everyone’s tongues, especially in the news

reports filling up the television screens. No-one had seen Nanuk for weeks, and every day scientists would speak their piece about it. Some were making claims that bears had merely disappeared from view, lost in the cloud that had formed

across   the   Arctic,   following   their observed migration north. Others were sure they had drowned. Apak did not believe this. How could the great white servant of Sedna one day be walking and the next day be not? Yet he could not deny that this very same worry had darkened the hearts of the villagers of  Savalik. Peter Amitak, his neighbour, an experienced hunter, had taken out his dogs when these rumours had begun and searched the known bear runs for three complete days.

He had come back saying that Nanuk waseither shy or had turned himself to snow. Not a hair or a single print could be found. Some villagers, hearing this, had shutthemselves away and boarded up theirwindows. The End of Days was uponthem, they said. And no one wanted to seeit.

Taliriktug had been consulted, ofcourse. The oldest and wisest shaman in

the region had studied his charms, then asked for a drum to be sounded from the

highest rock at the edge of Seal Point. The beat was kept slow, to match the pace of Nanuk’s heart, to encourage him to find himself, here, within the village.
 
Thump
 
. Across the ocean.
 
Thump
. Across the

land.
 
Thump
.
 
Thump
 
.
 
Thump
 
.
 
Thump
 
.

Like a ball bouncing from the earth to thesky. Then, during the fourteenth hour, alight had appeared in the pillows of themist and the inua of the bear had come to

Taliriktug. The old man had risen up andput on the bear’s cloak, giving out nothingbut hisses at first, before slobbering like Nanuk and speaking in his roar. This mistwas a living thing, the bear said. Abreathing organ. A spirit of fire. Long ago,the world had been nothing but an egg,laid from the innards of a giant bird.  Nowthe bird had returned to its nest. And all

the world was about to know it.

Apak had been present when thesewords had been uttered. It always chilledhim to see his grandfather taken by a voicefrom the ancient spirit world. Afterwards,

when the spirit had departed, the old man had collapsed, exhausted, and Apak had left him to the care of others and stepped outside to light a cigarette. He nudged the shale around his feet with the toe of his

boot. Then the tobacco caught in his throat and a great anger came upon him. He cursed and stamped the earth. It did not feel like the shell of an egg. An egg would have cracked and spilled its yellow heart. The world was solid. Real. Unbreakable.

What ‘mist’ could possibly change it?

And so, as he drove into the first wispsof vapour, two miles, maybe three, fromthe safety of the village, he did not let histhoughts stray far from the rifle bouncingin its harness across his back. For he

could find no meaning in this talk about

birds, but plenty of reasons to still believe that hungry bears roamed freely around him.

The mist closed in, quickly like a fist. Without   warning,   the   snowmobilefaltered. The engine coughed. The singleyellow headlight flickered and died. Apakrubbed a glove across the frosted fuelgauge. Two points  green. Juice enough. With a spit of anger he twisted the throttlegrip back and forth, slapping it cruellywhen it had no effect. The engine coughedagain and immediately cut. Apak pulledsideways, curdling a long arc of snow ashe stopped. He dropped his shoulders,cursed his maker and the makers of

machinery, then looked back.

Taliriktug was not on the sled.

Apak felt a wave of panic in his chest. He knew it was the accepted tradition thatthe elderly should simply roll off the sledwhen they considered they had ridden farenough. (The sudden change of courseonce momentum had been lost would have

prematurely aided that.) But as his mind sent roots into the origins of his fear, Apak came to realise that what he was feeling had  nothing  to  do  with  his   poor manoeuvring. He was experiencing a primeval terror, one to do with the greater unknown. He was thinking now about his brother,   Tootega,   who’d   been   lost mysteriously out on the ice some five years before. A disappearance which gnawed at Apak’s superstitious heart just as surely as the voice of the bear that had

flowed out of Taliriktug’s entranced mouth. He dismounted the snowmobile

and looked warily around him. A bleak, unnatural darkness had descended, one that pressed against the jelly of the eyes. And though he  could not conjure up a reason why, Apak felt the darkness had killed the engine. Was it the spirit of his brother, perhaps? Angry. Vengeful. Come to take them both.

BOOK: The Last Dragon Chronicles: Dark Fire
3.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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