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My Blog is Moving

To all my followers, just letting you know that I’m moving this blog to my website, and hopefully all subscriptions will move as well, though you can, of course, unsubscribe at any time. I’ve already imported all my old posts.

Happy reading!

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Chapter 1

Why is Our Ice Breaking Up?

Cover Final October 11Crack, crack, crack.

It sounded like gunshots in the still night – but a thousand times louder. Then the ice at the North Pole shook so violently that Vixen dropped her snow-moss ice cream cone.

‘Dasher,’ she cried, ‘what’s happening?’ She was the smallest of Santa’s reindeer, but quick and graceful. Her golden eyes had black, secret centres and her silky fur rippled in the wind as though she was flying.

‘I don’t know,’ said her friend, Dasher, a tall, handsome but worried-looking reindeer.

Crack-crack, crack-craaaaaack!

The ice split in two at Vixen’s feet and jerked apart. Within seconds the gap was ten feet wide. Then twelve feet. Then fifteen, and the moving ice carried her ice cream away with it.

‘I’ll get it!’ said Dasher.

‘No,’ Vixen yelled. ‘It’s too far!’

Dasher, who was both reckless and clumsy, tried to leap the gap but landed hard on the edge of the ice. It cracked under him and he fell backwards into the freezing sea. Huge lumps of ice broke off all around him; one just missed his head.

Vixen gasped. ‘Are you all right?’

The ear-piercing screech of splitting ice suddenly stopped. For a few seconds there was silence, broken only by Dasher’s heavy breathing. Then she heard a terrifying smashing sound. The crack in the polar ice, which ran as far as she could see, was starting to close.

Dasher swam back and forth, looking for a way out, but the sides were like cliffs and sharp pieces of ice kept crashing into him.

‘Ow, ow!’ he yelled. ‘Vixen, where are you?’

‘Over here!’ She leaned down as far as she could. ‘Grab my antlers.’

‘I’m too heavy; I’d pull you in.’

Crunch, crunch. The ice jerked wildly and she started to panic. ‘Dasher, you’ve got to get out.’

‘I – can’t!’

He tried to scramble onto a piece of floating ice but it rolled over and dumped him head-first into the water.

Vixen ran along the split for thirty yards, then stopped. ‘Over here! The ice is broken into steps.’

Dasher’s teeth were chattering. The split was only a yard wide now and his antlers were touching both sides. He reached the steps but could not climb out; the wet ice was too slippery. Vixen was afraid of falling in too, but she started down.

‘Aaahh!’ Dasher yelled; the ice was squeezing his antlers. ‘No, Vixen! You’ll be trapped.’

He twisted his head around and up, freeing his antlers. But the split in the ice kept shrinking, crunch, crunch. If she couldn’t get him out quickly he would be squashed flat.

The ice above her crumbled, forcing her down toward the water’s edge. She cried out in terror.

‘Go back!’ said Dasher.

Vixen fought her fear; she had to save him. She skidded to the bottom of the steps and leaned out. ‘Hook your antlers through mine.’

‘It’s too risky.’

‘Just do it! Hurry!

He locked his antlers into hers and she heaved. Dasher was really heavy; her hooves were sliding on the ice. He thrashed his legs, trying to get out, then fell back, pulling her into the water. It rose past her knees and she was slipping deeper, deeper …

Crunch, crunch, crrrrr-unch!

Her heart was thumping painfully. ‘Dasher,’ she screamed. ‘We’ve got to get out now!’

She pulled with all her strength. Dasher tried again and fell again. He gave a desperate kick and got his front feet onto the lowest step. Vixen tried to drag him out of the water but her knees were so wobbly she could barely stand up. He kicked again, she heaved, and he was onto the ice.

‘Go up!’ he shouted.

Vixen lurched up the steps. Dasher staggered after her.

The split in the ice slammed shut. He shuddered. ‘Thank – you. You – saved – my life.’

Vixen nudged him away from the crack. ‘Why is our ice breaking up?’

He did not answer for a minute; he had no breath left. ‘Comet says – the North Pole – is melting.’

‘Why?’

‘I don’t know,’ he said grimly.

‘I’m scared, Dasher. What’s going to happen to us?’

‘We’ve got to tell Santa. Come on.’

High in the sky the northern lights twisted and swirled, making a gigantic green question mark above the North Pole. They raced back to the village, which was as neat and pretty as a fairy tale.

There was no wood or stone here, so the elves had carved every house and building from different kinds of coloured ice. Outside the blue and white railway station, the cranky station master, Old Buffer, was muttering to himself as he polished his railway lines. A cunning-eyed elf, he looked more than half goblin.

The front veranda of the post office was piled with bulging sacks of letters to Santa. Next door was Santa and Matilda’s big yellow house with its five tall chimneys and a yard full of her hideous stone gnomes.

On the other side of the street, the village elves’ gingerbread cottages had gardens of carved icicles. They grew and blossomed like real flowers, and in the autumn the plants were heavy with strawberry ices, chocolate gelato and other delicious magical fruit. All except Old Buffer’s ice garden outside the railway station. The only fruit it produced looked like blood-red leeches and black, slimy slugs.

Vixen and Dasher hurried down the main street, past the shops. Little Twiggie Twitchin, the village’s fixit elf, was sitting outside her repair shop, frowning at Santa’s magic wand. She had been trying to repair it for weeks, without success. She pointed it at her cup of coffee and said, ‘Heat it!’

The coffee froze solid and the cup split in two, the pieces skidding out across the street. It was a bad sign.

Vixen looked around for Dasher. He was gazing in the window of the cake shop, and drooling. ‘Not now, Dasher!’

She ran towards the toy workshop, then stopped. Though she had seen it every day of her life, the workshop was so marvellous that it never failed to raise her spirits.

A thousand years ago, Santa’s elves had carved a gigantic iceberg, inside and out, to form the workshop. The elves loved carving and over the centuries they had turned the iceberg into a glittering palace.

On the outside, a glorious staircase curved up the right-hand side to Santa’s office, then up onto the roof. A matching staircase swept up on the left side to the elves’ sleeping quarters. Their apartments had pretty little balconies with curved black rails, round green windows, and pointy roofs like witches’ hats.

Animals were carved all over the outside: fierce polar bears, laughing whales, yellow-tusked walruses, wrestling seals, pure white Arctic foxes and – Vixen’s greatest terror – deadly wolves. She shivered and turned away.

The elves had also carved images of their old foes from the ancient elven world: leering goblins and disgusting old trolls, and their eternal enemies – the dark elves of the underground.

Vixen and Dasher looked in through the front doors. At the back of the workshop an enormous wall clock, shaped like a black, scaly dragon, breathed white fire to mark each passing hour, and blue flame on holidays. Santa sometimes made toast in the fiery blast, which explained the scorch marks on his red hat. Once, at midnight, an extra long burst of fire had caught him unawares and burnt his eyebrows off.

Ten tall columns, each thirty feet high, supported the silver ice ceiling. Myriads of twinkling fairy lights – red and orange, purple and green – hung from it, casting coloured light over the elves’ work benches.

Vixen froze. ‘Why aren’t the elves working?’

All four hundred and twelve elves should have been tap-tapping away at their benches, making the toys Santa would deliver on Christmas Eve. But the elves were staring at one another, fearfully.

All except Lord Telver, a withered old elf with bulging eyes as yellow as mustard. He was glaring at Santa and his wife, Matilda, who had just tiptoed out a side door. Telver crushed a handful of ice in one fist, then stalked after them. He was furious.

‘Where are they going?’ said Dasher.

‘We’d better find out,’ said Vixen.

Santa and Matilda were hurrying up the outside stairs to Santa’s office, which was directly above the workshop. Santa opened the door and ushered Matilda inside. Rafe, the leader of the reindeer, was close behind. Then came Comet, limping, and finally Telver. Santa looked sick, Matilda afraid. Telver slammed the door behind him.

‘Let’s spy on them through the office skylight,’ said Dasher.

They galloped up the stairs, past Santa’s office and onto the roof. A long skylight of polished ice ran between a pair of tall orange chimneys. A rusty old satellite dish was fixed to the left-hand chimney. Puffs of coloured smoke rose from the chimney pots and floated into the sky like Christmas tree decorations. Vixen put her front hooves on the skylight, very carefully, and peered in.

Santa’s huge fireplace was made of magical blue ice. A fire burned there all year round but the ice never melted.

In front of the fire, separated by a black beanbag, were two armchairs. Santa had a battered red leather armchair with a half-eaten box of chocolates on one arm and a foot-high stack of children’s letters on the other. Matilda’s armchair was small and covered in green velvet. A shiny ice bucket stood in the centre of a long wooden table.

On a bench in the far corner sat an old-fashioned brass laptop with a typewriter keyboard and a winding key sticking up in the middle. No one at the North Pole had any money, so all their equipment had to be made out of bits and pieces.

‘I can’t see them,’ said Vixen. ‘Can you?’

Dasher stretched out his long neck. ‘Oh, no!’

‘What’s the matter?’

‘Santa and Telver are having a furious argument. Santa’s gone red in the face and Telver is waving his wand.’ A series of crimson flashes lit the office. Dasher gasped. ‘He’s exploded half the light bulbs.’

But Santa and Telver had been friends forever. Something was terribly wrong.

‘What are they arguing about?’ She crept a bit further onto the skylight but still could not see.

‘I’ll find out!’ Dasher strode out onto the middle of the skylight.

‘No, Dasher, it won’t hold your weight!’

Suddenly, from beneath his hooves, cracks zigzagged out.

‘Dasher, look out!’

The skylight broke and they fell through in a storm of snow and ice. Vixen landed on the beanbag, oof! Dasher crashed into Santa’s armchair, snapping its legs off, squashing the chocolates and scattering the letters across the office.

‘What the –?’ yelled Santa.

Telver shrieked like a cat caught in a door and his silver wand, which was shaped like a sword, fired crimson blasts in all directions. One struck the fire and it flared halfway across the room like an attacking dragon. Vixen yelped as flames sizzled her nose.

Rafe, a huge old reindeer with grey fur and gold-rimmed glasses, drew himself up until he seemed twice his normal size. His majestic antlers were more than a yard across and his eyes were brown crystals covered in frost.

‘How dare you spy on Santa?’ he thundered.

Dasher scrambled out of the ruined chair. He was almost as tall as Rafe, but lighter and his antlers were smaller.

‘Sorry, sorry!’ Dasher backed away, treading on the letters and crumpling them.

Vixen’s knees were knocking but she stood her ground. ‘Our ice is cracking up, and we want to help.’

Steam gushed from Rafe’s nostrils. ‘Out, now!’

Matilda laid a small hand on Rafe’s shoulder. ‘Dasher is supposed to be our next leader and Vixen’s a good thinker. I’d like them to stay.’

Rafe politely bowed his head. ‘Of course, Mrs Claus.’

Matilda gathered the letters and put them in Santa’s lap. He slumped into the broken armchair, picking at the squashed chocolates and staring into the fire. Whatever he was worried about, Vixen knew it was really bad.

At the far end of the room, Comet, who had twisted antlers, a scarred face, a long, tangled mane and a wooden front leg, began winding the key of his laptop, whirr-click, whirr-click.

Suddenly Telver leapt onto the ice bucket and crouched there like a gargoyle, glaring at everyone. Long ago he had been a great elf warrior, strong and brave and afraid of no one, but age had shrunk him. His legs were bowed, his back bent and his nose, enormous.

‘We’re in deep trouble,’ he said furiously to Santa. ‘What are you going to do about it?’

Santa held up the stack of children’s letters, then put them down again. ‘Telver, my magic is fading and we’re weeks behind with the Christmas toys.’ He sounded exhausted. ‘Can we talk about this in the New Year?’

‘It can’t wait!’ snapped Telver.

‘Comet,’ said Matilda, ‘It’s time.’

Comet limped forwards, his wooden leg thumping, and turned on a projector shaped like a walrus. He scratched his back on its yellow tusks then put on a pair of bright green glasses. With his magnified eyes and unbrushed fur sticking out in all directions, he looked like a mad magician.

‘Please make it simple,’ said Matilda.

‘But I’ve got a hundred pages of data to show you,’ said Comet.

‘We won’t understand it. We’re not scientists.’

‘Morons!’ Comet muttered. ‘Why do I bother?’

Matilda drew herself up to her full height, only four-foot eleven. ‘You’d better not be talking about Santa,’ she said furiously.

Though Comet towered over her, he took a step backwards. ‘I – I meant Rafe,’ he said hastily.

Vixen choked. Comet had always been rude and cranky, but insulting their great leader, Rafe, was too much.

‘All right!’ Comet snapped. ‘I’ll give you the primary school version.’ He turned to a roll of maps, like a window blind, mounted on the wall. ‘The world is getting hotter. Global warming is melting our ice, and now it’s breaking up.’

‘Rubbish!’ said Telver. ‘The ice goes for hundreds of miles.’

Comet pulled the map cord and the roll unwound to show the first map. ‘This is what the North Pole looked like in 1980.’ Ice covered most of the Arctic Ocean. He pulled the cord down to reveal a second map. ‘And this is what it was like ten years ago.’

The area of ice was only half as big! In the silence, Vixen could hear her heart pounding. This was scary.

‘And this – this is what it’ll be like next year.’ Comet revealed the third map. There was only a tiny speck of ice left at the North Pole, and it was cracked to pieces. ‘Our ice is melting from underneath. The workshop could roll over and break apart at any time.’

Vixen shivered. ‘But … that would be a disaster. How come we didn’t know?’

‘I’ve been talking about it for years,’ said Comet. ‘Why doesn’t anyone ever listen?’

‘Because you’re a rude, annoying old bore,’ Dasher said softly.

Rafe butted Dasher with his antlers, knocking him sideways. ‘Must you always act like an idiot calf?’

Dasher went as red as Santa’s armchair.

Then Comet yanked the cord right down to reveal a heart-breaking picture – a terrified polar bear and her two cubs, trapped on an ice floe the size of a tablecloth. They were surrounded by hungry killer whales.

‘Next summer,’ said Comet. ‘No cute cubs. And no North Pole.’

‘But … what’s going to happen to us?’ whispered Vixen.

‘What’s going to happen to Christmas?’ said Santa grimly.

To learn more or to order the book, please go to http://www.thelastchristmasbook.com

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I’m really excited about my new book for younger readers. It arose from an idea Roland Kulen and I had three years ago. We did 17 drafts of the outline before I even started writing, and we’ve been working on it ever since, me as the writer and Roland as the principal editor. We’ve done so much work on it that it’s rather overwhelming to finally have it as an almost finished book. It will be published as an ebook on November 8, worldwide and is on pre-order now.

Cover Final October 11

The story – The North Pole is melting, and Santa’s elves are terrified that the dark is rising again. An evil toymaker, Kroolio Snear, attacks the village, trying to steal Christmas. Santa can’t do anything because something is robbing him of his magic.

Will this be the last Christmas? Only Vixen, the littlest reindeer, can stop Snear, but can she find everyone a new home in time to save The Last Christmas?

To read more, at our special now website, or to pre-order, head to http://www.thelastchristmasbook.com

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Here is Chapter One of The Summon-Stone, Book 1 of the THE GATES OF GOOD AND EVIL, the sequel to The View from the Mirror quartet, first published back in 1998-1999.

1: THE EVIL MAN SAW ME

‘Don’t!’ a little girl was sobbing. ‘Look out! Run, run!’
Sulien!
Karan threw herself out of her bed, a high box of black-stained timber that occupied half the bedroom, landed awkwardly, and pain splintered through the left leg she had broken ten years ago. She clung to the side of the bed, trying not to cry out, then dragged a cloak around herself and careered through the dark to her daughter’s room at the other end of the oval keep. Fear was an iron spike through her heart. What was the matter? Had someone broken in? What were they doing to her?
The wedge-shaped room, lit by a rectangle of moonlight coming through the narrow window, was empty apart from Sulien, who lay with her knees drawn up and her arms wrapped around them, rocking from side to side. Her eyes were tightly closed, as if she could not bear to look, and she was moaning, ‘No, no, no!’
Karan touched Sulien on the shoulder and her eyes sprang open. She threw her arms around Karan’s waist, clinging desperately.
‘Mummy, the evil man saw me. He saw me!’
Karan let out her breath. Just a nightmare, though a bad one. She put her hands around Sulien’s head and, with a psychic wrench that she would pay for later, lifted the nightmare from her. But she was safe; it was all that mattered. Karan’s knees shook; she sat down hard on the bed. It’s all right!
Sulien gave a little sigh, wriggled around in the bed, and shivered. ‘Thanks, Mummy.’
Karan kissed her on the forehead. ‘Go to sleep now.’
‘I can’t; my mind’s gone all squirmy. Can you tell me a story?’
‘Why don’t you tell me one, for a change?’
‘All right.’ Sulien thought for a moment. ‘I’ll tell you my favourite – the story of Karan and Llian, and the Mirror of Aachan.’
‘I hope it has a happy ending,’ said Karan, going along with her.
‘You’ll have to wait and see,’ Sulien said, mock-sternly. ‘This is how it begins.’ She recited –

‘Once there were three worlds, Aachan, Tallallame and Santhenar, each with its own human species: Aachim, Faellem and us, old humans. Then, fleeing out of the terrible void between the worlds came a fourth people, the Charon, led by the mightiest hero in all the Histories, Rulke. The Charon were just a handful; they were desperate and on the edge of extinction, but Rulke saw a weakness in the Aachim. He took Aachan from them … and forever changed the balance between the Three Worlds.’

‘I’m sure I’ve heard that before, somewhere,’ said Karan, smiling at the memories.
‘Of course you have, silly. All the Great Tales begin that way – it’s the key to the Histories.

‘In ancient times the master goldsmith, Shuthdar, was paid by Rulke to make a gate-opening device in the form of a golden flute. But when Shuthdar stole the flute, and opened a gate and fled to Santhenar, he accidentally broke open the Way between the Worlds, exposing the Three Worlds to the deadly void.
‘It shocked Aachan, a world of sulphur-coloured snow, oily bogs and black, luminous flowers, to its core. Rulke raced after Shuthdar, taking with him a host of Aachim servants, including the mighty Tensor.
‘The rain-drenched world of Tallallame was also threatened by the opening. The Faellem, a small, forest-dwelling people, sent a troop led by Faelamor to close the Way again. But they failed too.
‘They all hunted Shuthdar across the world as he fled through gate after gate, but finally he was driven into a trap. Unable to give the flute up, he destroyed it – and brought down the Forbidding that sealed the Three Worlds off from each other and trapped everyone on Santhenar.’

‘Until ten years ago,’ said Karan.
‘When you and Daddy helped to reopen the Way between the Worlds … but how come Rulke was still alive after all that time?’
‘The Aachim, Faellem and Charon all lived practically forever.’
Sulien gave another little shiver, her eyelids fluttered, and she slept.
Karan pulled the covers up and stroked her daughter’s hair, which was as wild as her own, though a lighter shade of red. On the table next to the bed, moonbeams touched a vase of yellow and brown bumblebee blossoms, and the half-done wall-hanging of Sulien’s floppy-eared puppy, Piffle.
Karan stroked Sulien’s cheek and shed a tear, and sat on the bed for a minute or two, gazing at her nine-year-old daughter, her small miracle, the only child she could ever have and the most perfect thing in her life.
She was limping back to bed when the import of Sulien’s words struck her. Mummy, the evil man saw me. What a disturbing thing to say. Should she wake Llian? No, he had enough to worry about.
Karan’s leg was really painful now. She went down the steep stairs of the old keep in the dark, holding onto the rail and wincing, but the pain grew with every step and so did her need for the one thing that could take it away – hrux!
She fought it. Hrux was for emergencies, for those times when the pain was utterly unbearable. In the round chamber she called her thinking room, lit only by five winking embers in the fireplace, she sat in a worn-out armchair, pulled the cloak tightly around her and closed her eyes.
What had Sulien meant by, the evil man saw me? And what had she seen?
Being a sensitive, Karan knew how to replay the nightmare, though she was reluctant to try; using her gift always came at a cost, the headaches and nausea of aftersickness. But she had to know what Sulien had seen. Very carefully, she lifted the lid on the beginning of the nightmare –
A pair of moons, one small and yellow spattered with black, the other huge and jade green, lit a barren landscape. The green moon stood above a remarkable city, unlike any place Karan had ever seen – a crisp white metropolis where the buildings were shaped like dishes, arches, globes and tall spikes, enclosed in a silvery, oval dome. Where could it be? None of the Three Worlds had a green moon; the city must be on some little planet in the void.
In the darkness outside the dome, silhouetted against it, a great army had gathered. Goose pimples crept down her arms. A lean, hard man wearing spiked armour ran up a mound, raised his right fist and shook it at the city.
‘Now!’ he cried.
Crimson flames burst from the lower side of the dome and there came a cracking, a crashing, and a shrieking whistle. A long, ragged hole, the shape of a spiny caterpillar, had been blasted through the dome.
‘Are – you – ready?’ he roared.
‘Yes,’ yelled his captains.
It was too dark for Karan to see any faces, but there was a troubling familiarity about the way the soldiers stood and moved and spoke. What was it?
‘Avenge our ancestors’ betrayal!’ bellowed the man in the spiked armour. ‘Put every man, woman, child, dog and cat to the sword. Go!’
Karan’s stomach churned. This seemed far too real to be a nightmare.
The troops stormed towards the hole in the dome, all except a cohort of eleven, led by a round-faced woman whose yellow plaits were knotted into a loop on top of her head.
‘Lord Gergrig?’ she said timidly. ‘I thought this attack was a dress rehearsal.’
‘You need practice in killing,’ he said chillingly.
‘But the people of Cinnabar have done nothing to us.’
‘Our betrayal was a stain on all humanity.’ Gergrig’s voice vibrated with pain and torment. ‘All humanity must pay until the stain is gone.’
‘Even so –’
‘Soon we will face the greatest battle of all time, against the greatest foe – that’s why we’ve practiced war for the past ten millennia.’
‘Then why do we –?’
‘To stay in practice, you fool! If fifteen thousand Merdrun can’t clean out this small city, how can we hope to escape the awful void?’ His voice ached with longing. ‘How can we capture the jewel of worlds that is Santhenar?’
Karan’s hands flew to her chest. This was no nightmare; it had to be a true seeing, but why had it come to Sulien? She was a gifted child, though Karan had never understood what Sulien’s gift was.
Abruptly, Gergrig swung around, staring. The left edge of his face, a series of hard angles, was outlined by light from a blazing tower. Like an echo, Karan heard Sulien’s cry, ‘Mummy, the evil man saw me. He saw me!’
Momentarily, Gergrig seemed afraid. He looked down at a green glass box. Lights flickered inside it, then his jaw hardened. ‘Uzzey,’ he said to the blonde warrior, ‘we’ve been seen.’
‘Who by?’
He bent his shaven head for a few seconds, peering into the glass box, then made a swirling movement with his left hand. ‘A little red-haired girl. On Santhenar!’
Karan slid off the chair onto her knees, struggling to breathe. This was real; this bloodthirsty brute, whose troops need practice in killing, had seen her beautiful, gentle daughter. Ice crystallised all around her; there was no warmth left in the world. Her breath rushed in, in, in. She was going to scream. She fought to hold it back. Don’t make a sound; don’t do anything that could alert him.
‘How can this be?’ said Uzzey.
‘I don’t know,’ said Gergrig. ‘Where’s the magiz?’
‘Setting another blasting charge.’
‘Fetch her. She’s got to locate this girl, urgently.’
‘What harm can a child do?’
‘She can betray the invasion; she can reveal our plans and our numbers.’
Pain speared up Karan’s left leg and it was getting worse. Black fog swirled in her head. She rocked forwards and back, her teeth chattering.
‘Who would listen to a little kid?’ said Uzzey.
‘I can’t take the risk,’ said Gergrig. ‘Run!’
Uzzey raced off, bounding high with each stride under the low gravity.
Karan’s heart was thundering but her blood did not seem to be circulating; she felt faint, freezing, and so breathless that she was suffocating. She wanted to scoop Sulien up in her arms and run, but where could she go? How could Sulien see people on barren little Cinnabar, somewhere in the void, anyway? And how could Gergrig have seen her? Karan would not have thought it possible.
Shortly the magiz, who was tall and thin, with sparse white hair and colourless eyes bulging out of soot-black sockets, loped up. ‘What’s this about a girl seeing us?’
Gergrig explained, then said, ‘I’m bringing the invasion forward. I’ll have to wake the summon-stone right away.’
‘So soon? The cost in power will be … extreme.’
‘We’ll have to pay it; it isn’t easy to prepare the way. The summon-stone must be ready by syzygy – the night the triple moons line up – or we’ll never open the gate.’
The magiz licked her grey lips. ‘To get more power, I’ll need more deaths.’
‘Then see to it!’
‘Ah, to drink a life,’ sighed the magiz. ‘Especially the powerful lives of the gifted. This child’s life will be nectar.’
Gergrig took a step backwards. He looked repulsed.
To drink a life! Karan doubled over, gasping. In an awful flash of foreboding she saw three bloody bodies – Sulien, Llian and herself – flung like rubbish into a corner of her burning manor.
‘What do you want me to do first?’ said the magiz.
‘Find the red-haired brat and put her down. And everyone in her household.’
A murderous fury overwhelmed her. No one threatened her daughter! Whatever it took, she would do it to protect her own.
The magiz, evidently untroubled by Gergrig’s order, nodded. ‘I’ll look for the brat.’
Gergrig turned to Uzzey and her cohort, who were all staring at him. ‘What are you waiting for? Get to the killing field!’
Ah, to drink a life! It was the end of Sulien’s nightmare, and the beginning of Karan’s.

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I’m currently working on the long-awaited sequel to THE VIEW FROM THE MIRROR, a trilogy which I’ve called THE GATE OF GOOD AND EVIL. The tentative book titles are:

1: The Summonstone

2: The Secret Art

3: The Fatal Gate

Here are the first two chapters of The Summonstone. I’ve taken a small liberty with so called ‘facts’ reported in THE WELL OF ECHOES by an (evidently) unreliable narrator – Karan and Llian have only one child, a daughter, Sulien.

CHAPTER ONE: THE BEATING

What was she to do about Llian?

The ban, which had been in place for seven and a half years now, was eating him alive. It should have been lifted six months ago but the masters had refused, and there were ominous signs that they were going to make it permanent.

A faint, staccato beating sound broke Karan’s train of worry, though before she could identify it, it faded away. A lifetime ban would destroy Llian. Why did they hate him so? What threat could he represent to their smug and well-fed existences?

The beating returned, a little louder – a triple thump followed by a double, two singles and another triple. It repeated again, then again, growing stronger with each cycle. She rolled over and pressed an ear to the middle of Llian’s cool back. His heartbeat, though faster than it should have been, sounded normal.

The beating grew louder, louder. Sulien! Karan threw herself off the high box-bed, landed awkwardly and pain splintered through the thigh bones and pelvis she had broken eight years ago. It was all she could do to stifle a scream.

She clung to the side of the bed, gasping. The flagstones were cold under her bare feet; she pulled a night cloak around herself and limped down the hall towards her daughter’s room. But the pain grew with every step and so did her urgent need for the one thing that could take it away. Hrux!

She suppressed it. Hrux was for emergencies only … for those times when the pain was utterly unbearable.

Sulien lay on her side, her knees drawn up and her arms wrapped around them, breathing steadily. Her hair, as tangled and untameable as Karan’s though a lighter shade of red, fanned out to cover the pillow.

The panic eased. She stroked the child’s brow and Sulien gave a little sigh. Karan smiled and kissed her and shed a tear, and stood there for a minute or two, gazing at her seven-year-old daughter, her small miracle, the only child she would ever have. Triunes were generally sterile, and even after Karan had become pregnant, the terrible injuries had made childbirth perilous for her and the baby. Yet out of all the torment had come the most beautiful, perfect thing in her life.

The beating rose and fell, rose and fell. She pressed a fingertip into each ear but the sound did not change. It was inside her head. Could it be a sign of the madness that had taken her poor mother? No, the beating was real … and sounding increasingly like a threat.

Karan shivered, returned to bed and snuggled against Llian. Where was it coming from? What had just changed to cause it? It felt like an alien heartbeat, freshly woken.

Her right thighbone throbbed. Then the left, and the right again. After she had been hurled against the metal side of Rulke’s construct, on the desperate day that had changed the fate of three worlds, the healers had thought she would never walk again. Had it not been for the healing hands of Idlis, once her enemy, she would be a cripple to this day.

Sleep would not come. She rose and paced down the hall, grimacing with every step. The signs were clear now – the pain would get worse until it became unendurable. Through teeth-gritting force of will she forced it down; she had to be strong, for Sulien’s sake, and Llian’s. She could not give in at the first moment – only at the last.

Karan returned to the bed chamber, took a chain of braided silver wire from the top drawer of the corner cupboard, felt for the little, dangling key and went down the stone stairs in the dark. She dipped hot water from the iron kettle hanging over the embers of the fire and made a cup of chard. It tasted like wet hay and probably was; they could no longer afford real chard. She tossed it out and went outside, looking across the shadowed yard of Gothryme Manor.

There had been little summer rain and none so far this autumn. The ground was so dry she could smell it; dust, lifted by a cool breeze, tickled the back of her nose. The drought was unending and the coming harvest was going to be the smallest in her memory. How was she to feed her people this coming year, if she were still here at all? One disaster after another had taken all her resources and unless a miracle happened – like Llian’s ban being lifted – she would have to sell Gothryme to pay her debts.

Her family’s home for more than a thousand years, gone.

A brutal spasm struck her left thigh. Karan fell to one knee, cracking her kneecap on stone and jarring all the way up to her hipbone. Pain shrieked through her and this time it wasn’t going away. Hrux! She had to have it now.

She lurched back into the kitchen. Her hands were shaking so badly that it took five clicks of the flint striker before she could light the wick of a lantern. She got out a stepladder, took it into the larder and, with great difficulty, climbed up. Only by standing on tiptoes could she reach the small box bolted to the back of the top shelf, well out of sight. She unlocked it, the key rattling in the keyhole, withdrew a small package in a wooden case and opened the lid.

The stench, even from so tiny a piece of hrux, was nauseating. She hesitated. There was barely enough left for two doses and she had no way of getting more. Only the strange and terrifying Whelm knew how the perilous drug was made, and they lived far away. Because Karan had spared Idlis’s life three times, he brought her a small supply once a year, in part-payment of the obligation, but his next visit was weeks away. And what if he was delayed, or waylaid? Or died?

Panic stirred. She fought it down. Dare she try a half-dose? It had failed the first time, but the pain had been so much greater then. She took the box to the kitchen bench, cut off a pea-sized piece of hrux and put it in the middle of her palm. But, though the longing was desperate now, she endured the pain. Not yet … not yet …

Karan had taught herself to put up with it a little longer each time. To do otherwise, to give in too easily, was to risk the hrux claiming her. And hrux addiction was worse than any physical pain.

The pain howled; it shrieked; it battered at her like a mad thing. She couldn’t bear it another second … and another … and anoth–

Karan slammed her palm against her open mouth, chewed the little pellet furiously and washed it down with a mug of water. She doubled over, shuddering; it was bitter as well as foul. After washing the knife carefully, three times, she put it away, replaced the case in the box and locked it again. She settled the silver chain around her neck and felt her troubles ease.

Her head swirled. Tingles ran up and down her legs. She headed for the stairs, then turned back. The effects of hrux could be unpredictable; she might shout or scream and that would wake Llian and Sulien. Karan closed the door to the stairs and sat in a battered armchair in the dark, waiting for hrux to bring its blessed relief.

Waiting …

The beating had stopped. She fingered the chain, which had belonged to a crippled young woman, Fiachra, long ago. Traces of an enchantment laid on it to protect her still lingered. Karan hoped it did a better job than it had done for Fiachra, who had been murdered to cover up a terrible crime.

The room was cold. She pulled the night cloak more tightly around her and lay back in the chair, enduring the shooting spasms in her bones, praying that the dose would be enough and it would not take long to work.

What was she going to do about Llian? He was both a brilliant chronicler of the Histories and a masterly teller of the Great Tales, a rare combination. He was also the first teller in hundreds of years to have crafted a new Great Tale, the Twenty-Third, the monumental Tale of the Mirror. And yet, at most everyday things he was awkward, clumsy, and singularly useless. The Great Tales were his life and his passion, and if he could not practice his art, what did he have left? The ban must be lifted, but how?

Karan put the problem aside for the morrow and closed her eyes, willing herself to sleep. She imagined she was surrounded by a downy blanket, insulating her from all the troubles of the world …

Pain sneaked up her thigh, dull now. She opened her eyes but saw only fog. She must be dreaming, though it did not feel like a dream or a hrux hallucination. No, this was a true seeing, and it was showing her a place she had seen years ago – the void. Karan was a sensitive, and she had been mind-roaming under Rulke’s direction as he tried to find a way through the pitiless void that surrounded Santhenar and all the worlds.

The fog thinned a little, and she jumped. Eyes! Eyes in a man’s face, a heavy black beard, close-cropped, and a jagged tattoo – a glyph she did not recognise – on his forehead. She shrank backwards in her chair. The eyes did not blink but she could tell it was a living person, not a painting.  Could he see her? She slid sideways but the eyes did not follow her. They were looking down at an object in front of him, though she could not see it clearly enough to tell what it was – a piece of stone, perhaps. He touched it and the beating sounded once more.

A burst of light reflected in his eyes. They were unusual, deep-set, and a unique colour, indigo blue with hints of carmine. Shivers ran across her shoulders, for that was enough to tell her what he was.

Charon.

And the Charon had been far more than human, physically and intellectually. With just a century of his fellows – The Hundred – Rulke had once captured a world.

The man stood up. He was a foot and a half taller than her, and strongly built. He reached out in her direction as if testing an invisible barrier separating them, and momentarily the scene went out of focus. He dropped his hand, she saw him clearly again, then he looked over his shoulder. More Charon were gathered behind him, heavily armed young warriors, male and female, and all with that jagged tattoo on their foreheads. There were dozens of them, no, hundreds – a mighty force armed as if for war.

Karan scrambled to her feet, her heart thundering. How could this be? There were no Charon any more. After Rulke’s death eight years ago, Yalkara had taken his body away. She and the few dozen surviving Charon, all age-old, had been the last of their kind. She had said they were returning to the void, to face their extinction with dignity.

Clearly, every word had been a lie.

CHAPTER TWO FOLLOWS, BELOW.

The ebooks of THE VIEW FROM THE MIRROR are now available worldwide from Amazon. If you don’t have a Kindle, don’t despair, you can read them on an iPad/iPhone or other tablets with the free Kindle app. The books will be available on the iTunes iBookstore soon.

CHAPTER TWO: BENIE

‘It was just a dream,’ said Llian when she told him. They were eating breakfast – gruel with onions and small cubes of fried bacon – on the terrace at the rear of the manor, facing the range known as the Hills of Bannador. They would have been called mountains anywhere else, save that the real mountains reared up behind them, white-capped and unclimbable. ‘It doesn’t mean anything.’

‘I was wide awake.’

‘You’d just taken hrux.’

‘Only a half dose.’

‘It’s a powerful, dangerous drug. Maybe it was a hallucination.’

‘I know what a hrux hallucination is like,’ snapped Karan. ‘This was a true seeing. I saw hundreds of armed Charon, massing in the void as if planning an attack.’

‘On what?’

‘I don’t know.’

Llian sighed. ‘The Charon are extinct,’ he said, evidently trying hard to be reasonable. ‘Rulke was the last fertile one, and when he died the handful of survivors – all elderly – went back to the void to die.’

‘So they said. But the ones I saw last night were young.’

‘Then they can’t have been Charon. Besides, you said they all had forehead tattoos. None of the Charon we met had tattoos.’

‘Who else could they be, with those eyes?’

He shrugged. ‘I heard Rulke’s tales from his own mouth. And I can tell truth from lie – it’s part of my teller’s gift.’

‘I also know when to trust my gift.’

‘Even when you’ve taken hrux?’

Karan fought an urge to whack him. Stupid man! ‘Those soldiers were real, and they were gathering for war. What if it’s war on us?’

‘Why would it be? There could be a million worlds in the void.’

‘I saw them clearly. As if they were on the other side of a window.’

‘But the void folds back on itself – they could have been on the other side of the universe.’

‘Why are you determined to deny everything I say?’

He softened. ‘Because we’ve got more than enough to worry about as it is.’

Karan leaned against him. He put his arms around her.

‘I’m afraid, Llian. Afraid we’re going to lose Gothryme. And if we do, where can we go? We’re practically bankrupt –’ She broke off, but too late.

He wrenched away and threw himself into a chair at the far side of the table. ‘And that’s my fault,’ he said bitterly. ‘I’ve let everyone down.’

‘It wasn’t your fault Wistan banned you from practicing your art.’

‘Yes, it was. He said it all at my trial.’

‘I was there. I don’t need to hear it again.’

But Llian ploughed on, flogging himself in a vain attempt to lift the burden of guilt. ‘I broke the chroniclers’ first law, interfered in the Histories. I manipulated Mendark just to find the answer to a historical curiosity, and a hundred prisoners burned to death in the citadel cells. I still have nightmares about their deaths.’

‘I know, but you didn’t set fire to the citadel. Mendark did – and he tried to burn you alive as well.’

‘But that wasn’t enough for me – oh, no! I provoked Tensor, using my teller’s gift –’

This was too much. ‘You bloody idiot, you were trying to save my life!’ Karan cried.

‘And it went catastrophically wrong, as usual. Tensor ambushed Rulke, treacherously cut him down, and that drove the brilliant, noble Charon into extinction.’ He looked down at his hands as if expecting them to be drenched in blood. ‘That’s why I was banned, and rightly so. I can’t work as a chronicler or a teller … and it’s all I’m good for.’

‘I knew that when I chose you,’ she murmured.

‘You couldn’t have known how bad it was going to get.’

‘I can put up with anything as long as I have Sulien and you.’

But she didn’t have him – that was the problem. A barrier had grown between them and she did not know how to overcome it. He could not confide in her, and they were keeping secrets from each other. Secrets that could tear them apart.

Karan looked across the swan pond, now dry save for a muddy, reeking pool in the middle. Llian took the burden on himself, yet he could do nothing about it, and if he kept on this way it would break him. But what could she do? She had no influence with Wistan or the other masters who maintained the ban. Well, she was not giving up. She was determined to get the old Llian back, infuriating though he could be.

Suddenly Llian cried out, sprang to his feet and made for the axe standing by the woodpile near the door.

‘Ugh!’ she yelped, clutching at her pounding skull. The beating was back.

He froze, his right hand outstretched. His fingers closed, then with an effort he drew back. ‘Karan?’ He turned back to her, his head moving jerkily. His eyes had a shiny, feral glint.

The sound cut off. ‘The beating … it was like a drumbeat, thundering inside my skull.’

The light faded from his eyes and he was Llian again. ‘I can’t hear any beating,’ he said.

‘You’re not a sensitive.’

‘You can say that again!’ His hands clenched and unclenched, involuntarily. His breathing was ragged.

‘Llian, what is it?

‘Just then I felt – I wanted to –’

It was as if he were afraid to say it. No, ashamed to say it. He jerked his head sideways. She followed the gesture, to the axe.

He sat down on his hands, as if to keep them in place. ‘I felt a wild urge to … to run amok. Break windows with the axe. Chop up the plates in the kitchen. Smash the last wine bottles in the cellar …’

She attempted a joke. ‘Given your prodigious appetite for red wine, that’s really worrying.’

He did not smile. ‘I’m afraid, Karan. Afraid of what I might have done.’

She swallowed. Llian had many flaws, but violence was not one of them. With him, anger turned inwards, not out.

‘How long have you been having these feelings?’ she said delicately.

‘Never – until now. It was as if I was drunk. It took all my will-power to pull back from the axe.’

And it had happened at the precise moment the beating started again.

‘Karan!’ came a hoarse cry from the back door. ‘Llian! Come, quickly.’

Rachis, her ancient steward, was hunched in the doorway, panting. Age had withered him; his frame, once tall and upright, was reduced to spindly bone and skin like wrinkled leather. A fluffy white annulus highlighted his bald brown dome. In his eighty-two years Rachis had seen everything, and he was normally unflappable, but now his mouth was opening and closing, his watery eyes staring.

‘Benie,’ he croaked. ‘Benie …’

‘What about him?’ said Karan. Benie was the cook’s apprentice, a good-hearted lad of seventeen, though accident prone. ‘Has he cut himself again? Is it bad?’

‘He’s – he’s murdered Cook. Stabbed him through the heart.’

‘Benie … killed Cook?’ It was preposterous.

But when they reached the kitchen, Cook lay on his back on the flagstones, his arms outstretched. Blood soaked the front of his apron and he was, clearly, dead. Benie was backed up against the door of the larder, a thin-bladed boning knife hanging from his left hand, shivering. Blood dripped from the tip.

Karan held out her hand. ‘Can I have the knife, Benie?’

He handed it to her at once. He looked dazed.

‘What happened?’ said Karan.

‘I – killed – Cook,’ said Benie, shaking his head as if he could not believe it.

‘What did he do? Did he attack you?’

‘No … why would he?’

‘Cook’s got a caustic tongue,’ said Rachis. ‘But he’s not … he wasn’t a hard man.’

‘Why did you do it, Benie?’ said Llian.

‘I don’t know.’

‘There’s got to be a reason.’

‘No. None at all.’

‘Did you hear voices in your head?’ said Rachis. ‘Telling you to kill Cook?’

Benie shook his head. ‘I was boning out a leg of mutton – and suddenly I felt furiously angry.’

‘Why?’ said Karan. ‘What happened?’

‘Nothing. It came from nowhere and couldn’t stop myself. I – just – stabbed – him.’ He looked down at Cook’s body, blanched, and Karan saw the little boy in him, bewildered and terrified. He began to shake and, once started, could not stop. ‘Poor Cook. He taught me so much. I wanted to be as good as he is … better …’

‘Did anything odd happen, before you did it?’ said Karan.

‘No,’ said Benie. ‘Except for that thumping sound.’

‘What thumping sound?’

He tapped it on the bench, the rhythm that Karan kept hearing, the beating. ‘I heard it just before …’

Karan exchanged glances with Llian.

‘What’s going to happen to me?’ said Benie plaintively. ‘They won’t hang me, will they?’

Karan swallowed. He’d been a mischievous little boy, always getting into trouble, but there was nothing she could do about this trouble.

‘I’ll put him in the old cellar,’ Rachis said heavily. ‘And send for the bailiff. Come with me, lad.’ He led Benie away.

‘I didn’t want to hurt him,’ Benie wailed. ‘Cook was good to me. Karan, please help me!’

Karan stood there, fists clenched by her sides. Why, why?

‘Sulien will be down soon,’ said Llian. ‘We’d better do something about the body.’

They carried Cook down to an empty coolroom and locked the door. Llian cleaned up the blood. There wasn’t much. They went out to the orangery and sat among the trees. The small, green fruit were sparse, and the leaves hung straight down, badly wilted. Everything was wilted this year.

‘Is there anything we can do for him?’ said Llian.

Karan sat, head bowed. Benie had been part of Gothryme all his life, and more than half of hers. His mother had died in childbirth, his father was unknown, and he had simply been taken in.

‘It’s got to be the beating,’ she said at last. ‘It affected you too.’

‘But not you.’

She slipped a finger under her braided silver chain. ‘There’s a protection on this. I always feel safe when I’m wearing it … safer, at any rate.’

‘Benie’s a good lad,’ said Llian. ‘He’s worked hard these past years, and we owe him a duty. Do you think we should …?’

‘Let him escape?’ said Karan bleakly.

‘Yes.’

‘How can we? He killed an innocent man, for no reason. Will he kill again, the next time the beating sounds? And the time after that? I can’t take the risk.’

‘What if we hide him somewhere? Lock him up where he’ll be safe.’

‘Forever? No, we can’t. Cook’s poor wife is now a widow, his three children are fatherless, and without his earnings they’ll starve. I’ll have to take them in, and they have to know what happened, and why. It’s only justice.’ She shook her head. ‘How am I going to tell them? Benie, of all people.’

She contemplated that dismal prospect. Llian paced between the orange trees.

‘Benie will be convicted of murder,’ he said.

‘I’ll plead for him,’ said Karan. ‘I’ll do everything I can …’

‘But he’ll still be put to death.’

She covered her face with her hands. There was no solution; the beating had made sure of that. Llian put his arms around her and she scrunched herself against his solid chest.

‘What if they’re connected?’ Lian said after a long pause.

‘What?’

‘You seeing the Charon, and the beating.’

She recalled how it had started again, right after the Charon man had touched the stone. ‘Maybe they are.’

‘What if it’s happening in other places as well? What if the beating is affecting other people?’

Karan hadn’t thought of that. What was it for, anyway?

‘I’ve a very bad feeling, Llian. That we’re standing on the edge of the abyss, and everything we care about, everything that matters, is about to be swept away.’

***

I look forward to your thoughts. https://www.facebook.com/ianirvine.author

More samples will follow in a while.

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Here are my brand new The View from the Mirror covers, finished at last. They were done by my son, Simon. The books are available from Amazon now, and Kobo and the iBookstore shortly. They only have these covers in places where I hold the rights, such as Australia, New Zealand, Africa, Asia and the Pacific. In the UK, Europe and North America, where they’re published by my long-time publisher, Orbit Books, they have the old covers.

Click the first cover to see them full size, as a slide show.

Here’s how they were done, from Simon.

“Yeah it’s pretty simple.

– Start with a 3D model of the triune symbol which is the same for all 4 covers. [Model created in Maya, an incredibly complex program used to create movie special effects]
– Light the model from a different corner of the cover each time, this creates highlights and shadows on the symbol and spheres.
– Then light it from the top with a powerful spotlight, this creates a halo effect around the symbol.
– Light the background with colored lights to force a strong color difference between the cover backgrounds.
– Use different surfaces on the spheres to differentiate them across the covers.
– Apply different light effects to additional lights to create the corruption and/or texture on various selected elements. Up to 15 digital lights are used.
– Jiggle it all around until it looks decent, and apply the notes from the boss (that’s me) as they come in.”

Simple, ha! We went through about 15 drafts and it was about 8 days work for Simon plus a day and a half for me.

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To try before you buy, the first chapters of every one of my books and stories can be found on my website. For instance, Rebellion:

THE TAINTED REALM TRILOGY

BOOK 2. REBELLION

 CHAPTER 1

‘Lord Rixium?’ The girl sounded desperate. ‘You gotta get up now. The enemy are coming. Coming fast.’

Image

Rix’s right wrist throbbed abominably, and so did the back of his head. He groaned, rolled over and cracked his ear on a stone edge. His cheek and chest were numb, as if he’d been lying on ice.

‘What …?’ he mumbled. ‘Where –?’ His eyes were gummed shut and he didn’t want to open them. Didn’t want to see.

‘Chancellor’s stolen Tali and Rannilt away, to milk their healing blood.’

He recognised her voice now. A maidservant, Glynnie.

‘And Lord Tobry’s been chucked off the tower, head-first. Splat!’ said a boy’s voice from behind Rix.

‘Benn!’ Glynnie said sharply.

Rix winced. Did he have to be so matter-of-fact about it? ‘Tobe was my oldest friend.’

‘I’m sorry, Lord,’ said Glynnie.

‘How long was I out?’

‘Only five minutes, but you’re first on their death list, Lord. If we don’t go now, we’re gonna die.’

‘Don’t call me Lord, Glynnie.’

‘Lord?’

‘My parents were executed for high treason,’ he said softly. ‘House Ricinus has fallen, the palace lies in ruins and I betrayed my own mother. I am utterly dishonoured. Don’t – call – me – Lord!’

To read the next 20 pages or so, see First Chapters on my website:

http://www.ian-irvine.com/rebellion_ch1.html

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