The White Foxby James Bartholomeusz
Jack Lawson lives an average and ordinary life in a typical southern English town, until the day a white fox introduces himself as Jack's guardian spirit and gives him a mysterious talisman. Jack's life continues to spin out of control when his friend Alex, after warning that the town is in grave danger from demons controlled by the Cult of Dionysus, is kidnapped… See more details below
Jack Lawson lives an average and ordinary life in a typical southern English town, until the day a white fox introduces himself as Jack's guardian spirit and gives him a mysterious talisman. Jack's life continues to spin out of control when his friend Alex, after warning that the town is in grave danger from demons controlled by the Cult of Dionysus, is kidnapped by the cult. Enlisting the help of his friend Lucy, Jack embarks on a journey unlike one he could have ever imagined.
"A story written by a teenager for a teenage audience, this work encourages readers to reconsider their assumptions about the fantasy genre while deciphering the book's parallels with real-world mythology and philosophy." www.DadOfDivas-reviews.blogspot.com
"In the tradition of Christopher Paolini, Garth Nix, and Jonathan Stroud, Bartholomeusz. . . . The writing is polished and the scenes are vivid. . . . Fantasy-saga devotees will want to give Jack a try as he wends way, gaining and losing friends, encountering potential romantic interests, and fighting for peace of mind about his future safety." —Booklist (February 2012)
"The White Fox [is] a very fun, engaging book." —www.figment.com (December 2011)
"This is an entertaining quest fantasy written by a teen for a teenage audience. . . . Mindful of Michael Ende's The Neverending Story though targeting an older audience, readers will enjoy James Bartholomeusz's exciting The White Fox while looking forward to more of Jack's adventures." —Harriet Klausner, www.MidwestBookReview.com (December 2011)
"The White Fox is very suspenseful, keeping me on the edge of my seat almost every second. I found it difficult to put the book down. . . . In my opinion, The White Fox should win many awards. A good story lies within this book. It was very enjoyable to read, and I will read it again." —William (6th grade student), www.booktrends.org (December 2011)
Meet the Author
James Bartholomeusz is studying English literature at the University of Exeter, Devon. He is the first young adult author writing for young adults to be published by Medallion Press.
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The White Fox
By James Bartholomeusz
Medallion Press, Inc.Copyright © 2011 James Bartholomeusz
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBeyond Good and Evil
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.
Glass-like tower structures, each one engraved with a similar rose, formed a wide circumference around the central flooring. All but one was filled by another black-cloaked figure. There were thirteen altogether.
The man bowed briefly to the seat directly opposite him, which was also the tallest, and took his place at his own.
"What news, Archbishop Icarus?" the figure in the highest seat intoned. His voice was soft, yet it hung in the air seconds afterwards as if it had been shouted. It held concealed venom, like a snake waiting for a mouse in tall grass.
"It is done, Your Majesty," Icarus replied. "No one will be seeing that planet for the foreseeable future. No mortal, at any rate."
"Excellent. You have done well, despite your lateness."
"I apologize, my liege, for the siege was almost complete when I received your message."
"It matters not. Now to the issues of the moment."
Every figure in the room turned towards the Emperor in the highest chair. Amidst this wraithlike throng, he was the only one who could be considered short. His robes and gloves were also black but laced with swirling silver on the edges. His throne was not carved with a rose but with a spiked crown.
"Through much toil, I have uncovered the location of one of the Doors." The atmosphere in the room, already attentive, tautened.
"Two, in fact. Abject credit must go to Archbishop Iago for supplying us with our source."
Another figure, a few seats down from the Emperor, nodded.
"Where are these Doors, master?" another figure asked.
"The first one we discovered is on the planet Rauthr in the Small Magellanic Cloud. It lies within a volcanic crater at the heart of Mount Fafnir, which falls under the jurisdiction of the kingdom of Thorin Salr. I feel that in this case little regard need be given to the ruling party."
"The mining folk, Your Majesty?"
"Naturally. This is good. They are ignorant of our arts, and their stubbornness should ensure that they will not seek to learn more of them in an attempt at resistance."
There was silence as all the figures contemplated the operation at hand.
"Who is to go?" voiced one.
"I think Archbishop Iago deserves that privilege," the Emperor said slowly, turning towards one of the disembodied cloaks. "But you must understand the implications if you fail. It would displease me greatly if you were to not succeed."
"Yes, master. I shall not fail."
"And you know what must be done to release it?"
"A volcano? I have an idea already."
The Emperor nodded, his lip, the only part of his face visible, curling in satisfaction.
Iago bowed his head solemnly and held his forearm out so that the back of his hand faced the Emperor. A rose pattern, the same one as engraved on the floor, traced itself around his veins in faint violet light. Beginning at his feet, his body unravelled into black smoke. The cloud of shapeless gas swirled for a moment before shooting upwards in an arc and disappearing through the high window.
There was a pause before the Emperor continued. "As for the second Door, it is on the planet Terra in the Senso Latteo galaxy. Another easy target. Fortune has indeed smiled upon us. Icarus, you are familiar with that world. You will go there and open the Door."
"I would be honored, Your Majesty."
"The same repercussions apply to you as to Iago. Do not fail me, Icarus. You know what is at stake here."
"Of course, master. I will leave immediately." Exactly mirroring Iago, Archbishop Icarus bowed his head and gave up his form to the Darkness. The wisps of black smoke trailed upwards through the roof and out into the freezing air. He hung for a moment, then, like a gigantic bird spreading its wings, dropped diagonally downwards. Despite the stratospheric gale, he maintained his course. He circled the tower once, then dived down to the east, towards the Garrison, to collect his Chapter.
* * *
The elf staggered up the end of the slope and collapsed onto the rock face, rasping heavily. Wind sliced around the mountain like a rapier snake, cutting into his body with glacial air. His breath made clouds of steam; they were instantly sucked from his chapped lips into linear arrows of brief warmth, then lost into the blackness. All around, the mountains extended, the sublime white peaks visible miles around in the clear night. Far below, an odd rock formation jutted out of the side of a cliff, overshadowing a small valley full of mining pits. A river, enclosed on all sides by the stone monoliths, slithered down to the sea to the east and broke out into an estuary of jagged rocks.
Gathering his strength and hugging the wall, the elf, bent double against the gale, moved over to the door. It was crafted of some heavy metal set into the rock face as if to force apart the small opening like a brace. A crimson glow wafted up the passage within, and by its light he saw the carvings around the edge. The ancient dwarves of these parts had used cuneiforms rather than runes to communicate. Here, the crude markings were of wicked, licking flames, howling people, and charred corpses.
The elf gazed at these for a moment longer, then slipped into the passage. A wall of unbearable heat blasted into him, and he stumbled backwards. He raised his arms, and a barrier, only distinguishable by a slightly blurring of the air, formed around him. The heat subsided. A narrow, artificial passage barely tall enough for him stretched deep into the mountainside. The glow surged up here, harshly highlighting the crevasses and crannies of the tunnel. He began down it.
He emerged at the bottom onto a small platform of rock. Hundreds of feet below him, boiling as if the basin were a gigantic wok, was a lake of magma. The bright crimson and orange mass bubbled and seethed, and here and there patches of black froth collected on the surface, dissolving in a wave of superheated liquid. Wreathes of steaming atmosphere rose hypnotically, some disappearing into the darkness above the summit to be blasted away into the midnight sky. There was apparently no way forward; on the edge of this platform, a bluestone bridge could be seen, but after a meter or so it crumbled away into nothing. The opposite end of the crater was distorted and blurred, and there too the edge of a bridge was broken off like the other one. A thick chain was slung across its diameter, high above the platform; a large, charred birdcage suspended from its apex.
The elf knelt down and brushed the rock below him. A trace of black powder came off onto his glove. He sniffed at it and recoiled. Not volcanic sulphur. Something else. Something that stank far worse.
He stood and lifted his arm, moving it through the air slowly and methodically. One by one, symbols flickered into life around him, oddly transparent in the steam. They hummed slightly, the full five making a strange chorus of vibrations. He flicked his arm, expecting them to flash over to the broken bridge and reconstruct a replica.
He moved his hand over them again, and again they did not respond. He reached outand touched one. It shuddered and liquefied, the droplets of black liquid splattering over the rock like melted metal. Like blood.
The elf backed away as the remaining symbols dissolved.
A column of dark fire blasted upwards from the pit with a horrific roar, the vertical streaks of flame rocketing the cage on its chain.
The elf's eyes widened in shock, he turned to run, but before he even lifted his foot, a tendril of darkness extended out of the chaotic tornado and passed through him. His eyes widened even further for a moment, then glazed over He sagged and fell forward, hitting the rock hard. The powder and droplets sprayed over his face. A few bones crunched.
More tendrils extruded from the darkness, wrapping around him and raising him high into the air. They lifted him in a high arch and flicked him into the cage, the door bouncing off the frame after him. The tendrils retreated back into the tornado, and it swirled back into the magma, now ready to take shape.
* * *
"Fragments. Fragments in the dark."
The man was seated by the hearth, his gaze fixed into the middle distance. The last embers of the fire pulsated from under its shroud of ash and charred wood, edging one half of the man's face with an orangey glow. The wooden pieces scattered over the chessboard in front of him were half-etched with amber, half-dissolved into shadows that flickered over the black and chestnut squared board. The room was dark—the arch of soft moonlight from the window and the cold rectangle of laptop screen the only other sources of light. The only sound came from outside: the soft rustling of the evergreens in the breeze and the call of a tawny owl.
"Fragments?" the second man asked. He was using the laptop and sat at the ornate oak desk underneath the bookcase across the room. He tapped a few more keys.
"Yes," the first replied, his gaze remaining fixed upon the fire. "Loose pieces to a puzzle. What do these events have in common?"
The second man did not speak, still tapping, so the first continued. "One: in November, Isaac goes missing, presumed dead, in Chthonia. A month later we get his last letter, and it's the writings of a madman. We presume he committed suicide. Two: in February, a schoolgirl abducted in Khalese on a hiking trip. Six friends with her murdered, and the crime made to look like a rock slide in a botched cover-up. But she was taken. No sign of her since. Three: in the space of a month, four stars in completely different positions in the sky disappear. All should have been visible at this point in our orbit. All entries taken on clear nights. All gone." The man paused, now gazing into the hearth.
"What if they're unconnected?" the second ventured after a few seconds.
"You know as well as I do that they're not. We know who's behind this. But we're blind. We're seeing the edges of a master plan—only the teeth of a behemoth that's coming out of the dark to swallow us whole. Something's changing here, and it's for the worse." He fell silent again.
The second man finished typing and closed the laptop. "That's sorted. The others are asleep. We should be too." He waited a moment, then made to leave the room.
"'If you stare into the abyss long enough, the abyss stares back into you.'"
"Thus Spake Zarathustra?"
"Beyond Good and Evil."
The second man did not reply. He paused for a moment longer to examine the chess game. Only the two kings remained in stalemate, one space apart from each other in the center of the board. Then he left the room, the door creaking shut behind him.
Excerpted from The White Fox by James Bartholomeusz Copyright © 2011 by James Bartholomeusz. Excerpted by permission of Medallion Press, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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