I am alice, p.1

I Am Alice, page 1

 

I Am Alice


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I Am Alice


  Contents

  Cover

  About the Book

  Title Page

  Dedication

  Character Profiles

  Map

  Epigraph

  Prologue

  Chapter 1: A Price to Pay

  Chapter 2: The Kretch

  Chapter 3: What Manner of Creature?

  Chapter 4: The Skelt Domain

  Chapter 5: The Downcast Dead

  Chapter 6: Predators and Prey

  Chapter 7: How it Began

  Chapter 8: The First Scars

  Chapter 9: The Reluctant Soul

  Chapter 10: Blood Spots

  Chapter 11: Do You Need Blood?

  Chapter 12: Betsy Gammon

  Chapter 13: A Horrible Thing

  Chapter 14: What Can You Do?

  Chapter 15: Elizabeth of the Bones

  Chapter 16: The Dance of Death

  Chapter 17: You Little Fool

  Chapter 18: The Dark Moon

  Chapter 19: An Old Enemy

  Chapter 20: Jaws Wide Open

  Chapter 21: A New Threat

  Chapter 22: The Bones of Beelzebub

  Chapter 23: The Blood-Filled Eye

  Chapter 24: The Throne Room

  Chapter 25: The Testing

  Chapter 26: The Strong Ones

  Chapter 27: The Spider Daemon

  Chapter 28: Poor Brave Thorn

  Chapter 29: Heart of Darkness

  Chapter 30: Good News and Bad

  About the Author

  Also by Joseph Delaney

  Sneak Preview

  Copyright

  About the Book

  ‘A lot of dark stuff happened when I was young that I’ve never even told to my dearest friend, Tom Ward. Dark and scary things that I hoped I had left behind for ever . . .’

  Over the years, Alice has fought side by side with the Spook and his apprentice, Thomas Ward. But now Alice is alone – in the realm of the dark. And the creatures she has helped to banish there, now have the chance to take their revenge.

  Alice must seek the final weapon to destroy the Fiend. If she fails, the world will fall into despair and darkness. If she suceeds, it means facing her death at the hands of her dearest friend. But can she prevent the darkness from overtaking her completely . . . ?

  The penultimate instalment of the Wardstone Chronicles follows Alice, Thomas Ward’s loyal companion, to the most terrifying place of all.

  for Marie

  CHARACTER PROFILES

  ALICE

  Alice is related to two of the most evil witch clans (the Malkins and the Deanes) and was trained as a witch against her will. Whilst she was born of a union between malevolent witch Bony Lizzie and the Fiend himself, Alice counts herself as an ally of the light, and for years she has fought alongside The Spook and his apprentice, Tom Ward. In her battles she has increasingly been forced to rely on dark magic to save her friends, and she fears that every time she does will draw her closer and closer to the dark.

  BONY LIZZIE

  Bony Lizzie was a powerful witch who murdered children and used their bones in dark rituals. For two years she trained Alice to become a malevolent witch. After freeing her grandmother, Mother Malkin, from a pit in the garden at Chipenden, Lizzie found herself bound by the Spook in the exact same pit. She subsequently escaped and was briefly able to establish rule over the Isle of Mona, but she later died there after the bird witch Adriana summoned a flock of seagulls to peck her to death.

  GRIMALKIN

  Grimalkin is the current assassin of the Malkin witch clan. Very fast and strong, she has a code of honour and rarely resorts to trickery. Although honourable, Grimalkin also has a dark side and is reputed to use torture. Recently she has forged an unlikely alliance with Tom Ward against their common enemy, the Fiend. But can a true servant of the dark ever really be trusted?

  THE FIEND

  The Fiend is the dark made flesh, the most powerful of all its denizens and the very oldest of the old Gods. He has many other names, including the Devil, Satan, Lucifer and the Father of Lies. Together, Tom Ward and his allies managed to sever the Fiend’s head in battle, but their fight to destroy him once and for all had only just begun . . .

  Hell has many names.

  Some call it the Underworld,

  Others Hades or the Abyss.

  We witches simply call it ‘the dark’.

  It is our beginning and our end.

  THE DESTRUCTION OF the Fiend may be achieved by the following means. Firstly the three sacred objects must be to hand. They are the hero swords forged by Hephaestus. The greatest of these is the Destiny Blade; the second is the dagger called Bone Cutter, which will be given to you by Slake. The third is the dagger named Dolorous, sometimes called the Blade of Sorrow, which you must retrieve from the dark.

  The place is also important: it must be one especially conducive to the use of magic. Thus the ritual must be carried out on a high hill east of Caster, which is known as the Wardstone.

  The blood sacrifice should be made in this precise manner. A fire must be constructed – one capable of generating great heat. To achieve this it will be necessary to build a forge.

  Throughout the ritual the willing sacrificial victim must display great courage. If she once cries out to betray her pain, all will be lost and the rite will fail.

  Using the dagger Bone Cutter, the thumb-bones must be taken from the right hand and cast into the flames. Only if she does not cry out may the second cut be made to remove the bones of the left hand. These also are added to the fire.

  Next, using the dagger Dolorous, the heart must be cut out of the victim and, still beating, cast into the flames.

  I WAS BEING trained as a witch, wasn’t I, when I first met Tom Ward, the Spook’s apprentice. We should have been enemies, but after a very uncertain start we ended up friends. I helped him and fought the dark by his side, and it was during that time that I learned a terrible truth about myself – I was one of the Fiend’s daughters, and Bony Lizzie was actually my mother.

  But I carried on helping Tom and Old Gregory, the Spook. Despite my background I couldn’t let myself go over to the dark. We fought the Fiend together, with the help of Grimalkin, the witch assassin, and eventually we dealt him a terrible blow: we chopped off his head and bound his body with silver spears so that he was trapped within his dead flesh.

  Knowing that his servants would pursue us relentlessly, Grimalkin went on the run with the Fiend’s head wrapped in a leather bag, fighting any creature she encountered. It would only be a matter of time before she was caught, I was sure – not even the powerful witch assassin could defeat so many dark entities. Once they killed Grimalkin and retrieved the head, they would take it back to Ireland and reunite it with the rest of the Fiend’s body; then he would be set loose in the world once more and a new age of darkness and terror would begin.

  There is just one chance to stop him – just one way to destroy him for ever. My friend Tom Ward has to complete a sacrificial ritual at midnight next Halloween, now less than four months away. It involves the use of three blades known as the hero swords. Tom already has two of these weapons in his possession, but the third is located in the dark, and it is up to me to retrieve it.

  The details of the ritual had been communicated to him by his own mother, who was the first and most powerful of all the lamias. She’d died in Greece fighting the Ordeen, one of the Old Gods, but her spirit was still very strong and she had been trying to aid us in our attempt to deal with the Fiend.

  But there was something about the ritual that Tom had withheld from me. Something that I’d had to find out for myself . . .

  It involved a sacrifice. There had to be a ‘willing sacrificial victim’. Someone had to die.


  Tom had to sacrifice the person he loved most of all.

  That someone was me.

  So I am off to the dark to find the dagger called Dolorous – the blade that will eventually be used to kill me.

  Just one thing worse than the dark, ain’t there? And that’s what’s inside it – the things that call it home . . .

  Lots of my enemies were in there – supporters of the Fiend. So I cloaked myself using the most powerful magic I had. I wasn’t sure it would be enough. The dark is where magic comes from, and it’s the dwelling place of the Old Gods. And I was alone.

  I’d been there once before – snatched away by the Fiend. Each of the Old Gods has a home in the dark – a territory, a personal domain that belongs only to them – and there was one god who’d helped me. Brought me back to the world, he had. Pan, like some of the others, wants to be left alone – completely alone – and doesn’t take kindly to intruders. If I found a way into Pan’s domain, none of my enemies would be waiting for me there. Course, that didn’t guarantee that he wouldn’t destroy me for invading his space.

  Pan has two aspects, two different forms. One, which I hoped I would never see, is terrible – most folk would be driven mad just by gazing into his face; the other form was the one I hoped I’d be able to talk to.

  To get into Pan’s domain with my powerful magic should be relatively easy. He mostly dwells in the dark, but he’s also the god of nature. His home is never that far from our world.

  Anyone who’s been alone in a forest has sensed his presence. There are times when everything becomes still and silent; everything that can breathe seems to be holding its breath. There are no rustles in the undergrowth; no breeze; just a sense of a gigantic unseen presence.

  Which means that Pan is close.

  So I chose a forested area south-east of Chipenden, not too far from the river Ribble. If I did manage to get back safely with the dagger, I wouldn’t have far to go to find Tom Ward again.

  I selected a lonely spot, sat in the long grass and made myself comfortable with my back against a tree. I was scared, my whole body trembling, so I took long, slow, deep breaths to calm myself. Then I waited for the conditions to become right.

  It happened very close to dusk.

  Everything became still and quiet, just as I knew it would. Pan was nearby. It was as if he were just behind a curtain, so close I could have touched him.

  I used my magic and tried to enter his domain. It was much more difficult than I expected – it took me a long time to find a way in. It was like searching for a tiny lock in a big door with my eyes blindfolded. It was difficult to locate, and it resisted my attempts for so long that I thought I was sure to fail. Then, very suddenly, I was in, and a mixture of feelings raced through me: elation at my success; nervousness at entering Pan’s domain; and a touch of fear.

  I was standing close to a lake that was gleaming bright green. Above, the sky was dark so I knew it wasn’t reflected light. Everything around me was glowing with that same green – even the tree trunks. Green is the colour of Nature. Green is the colour of Pan.

  At the river margin were tall reeds, and beyond them, on the far bank, thin ash saplings, but all was absolutely still. Nothing moved but my chest, which was rising and falling rapidly. I took three deep breaths, trying to slow down my heart.

  I had to stay calm.

  Just beyond the saplings was the edge of a forest – tall deciduous trees of a type I didn’t recognize. They were covered in blossoms that suggested early spring – but rather than being pink or white, they were green too.

  It was as if the forest were alive and listening to my fluttery breaths and the thumpety-bump of my heart. The word ‘panic’ comes from Pan’s name; they say that if he appears in his terrible form, a strong sense of dread is experienced at his approach. Few have lived to tell the tale.

  Was he approaching in that aspect now? If so, I wasn’t feeling the dread.

  At that moment I heard high, thin musical notes in the distance. Could it be Pan in his more benign form, playing his reed pipes?

  I could only hope for the best.

  So I circled the green lake, pushed my way through the thicket of saplings and entered the forest. I hurried towards the sound of the music and came to a wide clearing that was thick with ferns. At its centre they had been flattened by many creatures: hares, rabbits, rats, mice, voles, a couple of badgers and a bushy-tailed red fox, while above, the branches were laden with birds. All were silent and still, held in thrall to the source of that exquisite music.

  Looking like a young, pale-faced, fair-haired boy, Pan was sitting on a log playing a reed pipe, just as I remembered him. His clothes seemed to be made out of grass, leaves and bark. The face appeared human, but the ears that poked out through his long unkempt hair were elongated and pointy. I also noticed the green toenails of his bare feet. They were so long that each curled upwards into a spiral.

  The Old God looked at me and stopped playing. Immediately the spell of the music was broken, and the creatures of the forest fled, while the birds soared up into the sky, making the branches overhead dance. Moments later we were alone.

  He glared at me and his face began to distort into something fierce and bestial. I felt a cold dread wash over me. In seconds the boy would be gone and I would face his other terrible aspect.

  ‘Please! Please!’ I cried. ‘I’m Alice. Remember me? You helped me once before. Please listen to me. Didn’t mean to cause any offence, did I?’

  To my relief, the change stopped and slowly reversed until I was looking at the boy once more – though his face looked very serious, without even a hint of a smile. Then it flickered with anger.

  ‘You assume too much,’ he snarled. ‘Tell me why I shouldn’t strike you dead on the spot.’

  ‘Don’t mean no harm,’ I told him. ‘Sorry to intrude without permission. Helped me once before, you did, and I’m really grateful for that. And now I need your help again. I have to fetch something from the dark, and this is the safest place I could think of to enter. Got lots of enemies here, I have. But I know they won’t dare come here because of you.’

  ‘But you dared! And there is a price to pay for such presumption.’

  ‘I’ll pay whatever you want,’ I told him, ‘as long as you don’t take away my life. I ain’t afraid to die – we all got to go sometime – but I need to give it to someone else. My life has to be sacrificed. Help me, please. I have to find a blade that’s hidden under the Fiend’s throne. Just guide me to the edge of his domain and let me escape back this way afterwards . . . That’s all I ask.’

  Pan looked intrigued. ‘And why is the recovery of this blade so important?’

  I had learned that I was to be the sacrifice by scrying, but later, when Tom Ward lay unconscious, recovering from his battle with Siscoi, the vampire god, I’d taken the letter from his pocket and read it several times, so that I’d remember it. I saw no reason why I shouldn’t now tell the god. After all, he already knew how we’d bound the Fiend. It was that weakening of the Fiend’s power which had made it possible for Pan to return me to the world above.

  ‘We need three sacred objects for the ritual that’ll destroy the Fiend for all time – the hero swords forged by the old blacksmith god. They must be present when Tom Ward carries it out.’

  ‘These blades are known to me,’ said Pan. ‘And they have brought much misery and suffering to humans. Which one is hidden here in the dark?’

  ‘Tom already has the Destiny Blade and Bone Cutter. The one I’m here to find is the one called Dolorous,’ I told him.

  ‘Ah, but the Blade of Sorrow is by far the worst of the three. It would be better for humankind if it were not returned to your world.’

  ‘But by using it we can destroy our worst enemy.’

  Pan slowly shook his head and regarded me with an expression of extreme pity. ‘Foolish human – don’t you see what will happen? You may be able to destroy the Fiend, but you cannot destroy the dark, for it will
always find a way to achieve balance with the light. End the present situation and a new equilibrium will develop. Destroy the dark’s most powerful entity, and another will eventually grow in power and replace it.’

  These were not words I wanted to hear. Did it mean I was going to sacrifice my life for nothing? But that was for the long-term; it was the situation now we had to deal with. What happened in the distant future seemed less important.

  ‘If that happens, it happens, and I can’t do nothing about it, can I? But we have already attacked the Fiend and hurt him badly. If he recovers and returns to his former power, his revenge will be terrible. Ain’t just talking about me, Tom and Old Gregory – the whole world will suffer. So we got to stop him somehow. And the ritual has to be carried out this coming Halloween or it will be too late.’

  Pan stared at me for a long time and my knees began to tremble. I had strong magic at my disposal, and for a moment I thought about using it, but I knew that I had no chance against one of the Old Gods in the heart of his territory. He might kill me on the spot, and all I’d done would have been for nothing.

  Then he gave me a quick nod. ‘Tell me more about the ritual,’ he commanded.

  ‘It has to be done on a special hill in the County called the Wardstone. A forge has to be built there,’ I explained. ‘The victim must not cry out, no matter how terrible the pain. The dagger called Bone Cutter is well named – that is the blade that will cut the thumb-bones from her. If she cries out when the bones of her right hand are cut away, the sacrifice fails. After the bones have been thrown into the fire, a second cut does the same to the left hand. The other dagger, the one I’ve come to get, is then used to cut out the victim’s heart, which is cast, still beating, into the flames.’

  ‘You say the “sacrifice”, the “thumb-bones” and the “victim’s heart” as if they belong to somebody else. But this terrible thing will be done to you! Do you not know this?’ Pan asked me.

  I nodded and, unable to meet his fierce gaze, lowered my eyes. ‘Of course I know. Detaching my mind from it is the only way I can deal with it . . .’

 
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