Sorry guys. For various reasons, I have slept about three hours. I’m going back to bed, but I have a book out this week, so I’ll do that.
Lewis and Clark in the Arcane Territories
Kevin J. Anderson
Sarah A. Hoyt
When Halley’s Comet was destroyed above our Earth in May, 1759, so was our old way of life, along with the natural science I had studied so intently. The Sundering did just as its name suggests: it sundered the Old World from the New.
This dramatic event created an entirely separate American continent where the laws of magic vie for equal and, sometimes superior, place with the laws of nature. The Sundering created an America where sorcery and science sit in unlikely and uncomfortable partnership. As for Europe…no one knows. That continent is lost to us. The great barrier across the Atlantic has proved impenetrable to all our best efforts, even mine, even now that I control the powers of lightning!
But Europe need not be lost to us forever. The passage east across the ocean appears closed permanently. So, my darling Keira—and any else who read these words—we must consider that the way West may be open! Unknown, yes. Perilous, undoubtedly. But open for anyone who dares to explore.
Ah, would that I were seventy again!
From the Arcane Autobiography of Dr. Benjamin Franklin; Printer, Scientist & Mage
Fire and Parry
My Dear William,
I am writing you to request you join me in a great and exhilarating enterprise. There is no one else I’d rather have at my side than you, and I am thus hastening to tell you before my mind has even ceased reeling.
But first I suppose I should explain how I came to be called to this great mission of discovery. As you might know, I was lately in St. Louis with the charge to discover a medicinal plant said to be a cure-all to the French settlers in that area.
During my visit, the great sorcerer Benjamin Franklin was also due to make an appearance. As you can imagine, I could not resist going to see, if only from a distance, a man of such immense age and such wise learning. Little did I know what I would actually witness. It changed my life forever.
—Letter from Captain Meriwether Lewis to Captain William Clark, St. Louis, February 10, 1803.
In the warm sunshine, Meriwether Lewis realized that he should not have worn his great coat with its many capes. It wasn’t exactly warm in St. Louis in early February, but it was warm enough to make the icicles drip from the eaves of the great white houses, and the ice that covered the street mud crackle underfoot. As he walked along, swinging his cane, he began to feel too warm.
Of course, the heat he felt might also be due to his excitement.
When he’d come to St. Louis to procure black sage, much mentioned in the correspondence of the French Colonists in this city as – made into tea – being a sovereign remedy against pain, he’d never expected this would give him a chance to cross paths with the ancient wizard Ben Franklin himself.
Since the cometary explosion and the magical aftermath that had isolated these American shores from the rest of the world, Ben Franklin had made the sort of name for himself that in other times would have made him a demi-god.
Maybe that was true, regardless, with the New World shaking and resonating with all the changed rules of unleashed magic. And Meriwether now had a chance to meet the great man….
He quaked with trepidation and subdued excitement. As a rational man, he knew it was not likely that Franklin would even notice him. Everywhere the great wizard went, he was surrounded by admirers, well-wishers, sycophants, and those who would be his pupils to learn the arcane sciences. If Meriwether managed to see more of the man than (what remained of) his famously coiffed locks bobbing amid the crowd as the man spoke his famous witticisms, he would be greatly satisfied, even thrilled.
And yet, he felt a strange sense of expectancy.
In the more than forty years since the comet’s arrival and the shift in the world, Meriwether couldn’t say the coming of magic had done much for him. He had been born into it, fifteen years after the change, and so this was the world he had always known since childhood. Perhaps the increased magic had enhanced his ability with herbal healing, which he had learned from his mother in childhood. Or perhaps not. Who could say? He did possess a sense that when he touched a plant he could know what it might do, but how was he to know whether that had always been in this world, even before magic started working? His mother had certainly displayed a similar skill and talked of his grandmother having it, too, which was well before the 1759 return of Mr. Halley’s comet.
But Meriwether also experienced odd, unnatural dreams from early childhood—the feeling of wings and fire, the portent that something was about to burst forth within him. Though he was a man of twenty-nine now, he still had those dreams, still felt that brooding presence. He both feared it and desired it in a way he could not explain.
The streets here in St. Louis were more spacious than those in the East. Those original American cities had modeled themselves after the cities of Europe, the cramped and crammed together sort of life one could expect in the weary continent that had birthed and been swallowed by civilization. But in the West, the proportions of sky and land allowed for expansive building such that in many streets three carriages could have driven abreast without danger of collision.
And yet, as he approached the government house where Franklin was due to speak in a few minutes, Meriwether could barely move through the throngs in the streets. Well-dressed men and women walked cheek to jowl with people in work clothes, all moving in the same direction. Only with the greatest determination could Meriwether make his way to the outer edges of the plaza outside the government house. Then his progress halted completely.
And so that’s it, he thought, half amused and half exasperated. I should have known it was foolish to hope for even a glimpse of old Franklin, much less dream of making his acquaintance. At least I shall be able to describe to my friends in Virginia the press of people occasioned by an appearance of the great wizard from Philadelphia.
Meriwether debated turning back just to escape the overwhelming crowd, which would entail moving against the prevailing flow of people, but he decided to stay here, hoping he might hear some hint of his speech passed back through the crowd, sure that Franklin’s words would be distorted and exaggerated by unreliable listeners.
What he heard instead was a loud scream close up ahead.
At first he took it to be an expression for excitement of the occasion, an overexcited man or a nervous and flighty woman, but he quickly realized that something was genuinely wrong. The scream held too sharp a note, containing too much shock and fear. And then another scream resounded, and another, coming from the other side of the plaza, right across from government house.
Perhaps the famed wizard had let loose with his notorious electrical magic, Meriwether strained to see above the turmoil of bodies, hats, coats. Then he heard the sound—not the zap of electricity, but more a sound like when the household staff would beat the rugs in spring. It was a flap, flap, as of a great piece of fabric against the air—except the fabric must be truly immense, and the sound was coming straight toward—
Though the bodies were packed together in the St. Louis square, the crowd managed to move like a living thing as people screamed and ran. Caught by surprise, Meriwether swung his arm and his cane to ward off the panicked crowd about to trample him, but he lost his footing and almost went under onto the dirty street .
Thrashing, trying to save himself, he twirled and swung his cane in all directions, forcing the maddened and blind crowd to deviate around him. When he cleared a small space, he barely managed to pick himself up, prodding with his cane to ward off the human stampede.
As he dragged himself back to his feet, he was aware of other people stumbling and being trampled. He heard the screams and sounds of pain and wished to help, knowing he could not.
Meanwhile from above came that infernal sound again, the flapping of enormous rugs in the air. He nearly gagged with a smell of brimstone.
He risked a glance upward and saw a big, red bulk swoop around in the air and head for government house again, which launched a fresh stampede, and new screams.
Dragon, the back of Meriwether’s head said. Dragon!
And just like that, he found himself running, not with the crowd in blind headlong flight, but against it. His movement was so fast, so desperate, that he bowled people out of his way with the force of it. He had the strange, irrational thought that only he could protect the people of St. Louis from the dragon. It was the same reckless feeling that made him go into fever-ridden households, to help and save whomever he might. Arrogance, perhaps, but some part of Meriwether Lewis’s constitution led him to the certainty that matters sometimes depended on him.
When he broke through the scattering crowd into the clearing in front of the government house, he came upon sheer confusion. A carriage was now on fire, completely engulfed in flames. The horses, still in their traces, reared and pulled, spreading the fire to tree and bush as they went.
Government House was on fire, too, the tall wood and brick mansion set ablaze in an instant. Yellow flames and black smoke strained skyward.
Meriwether rushed toward the horses, desperate to free the screaming, terrified animals. Embers from the burning carriage sprayed on their hides, driving them into greater frenzy. He could not bear to let even the poor animals be consumed in his sight.
As he reached the horses, using all his knowledge of frightened creatures acquired through years of woodcraft, he avoided the pounding hooves and saw that another man was running to the horses from the opposite side. Without much thought, he registered that the man looked like the representations of old wizard Franklin he had seen, all the way down to the suit of inexpressible pink velvet. But this man looked maybe seventy years old, spry and showing his age, but far too young to be the ancient wizard, who was said to be very nearly a hundred years old. Now he was sidestepping the terrified animals with as much grace and ease as Meriwether himself.
Seeing him, the old man called out, “If we each get hold of the pins where they attach to the carriage, sir, we can release these unfortunate animals.” He puffed slightly, out of breath as he spoke. “Even if they drag the traces behind them, they will find it a better alternative than burning alive.”
Without wasting breath on an answer, Meriwether dashed to the burning carriage, using both hands to grab the pin that held the long poles to the burning carriage. With the spreading fire, the pin was hot even through his thin gloves. He inhaled smoke and coughed, but he grabbed hard at the pin, yanking it with all his might. The other man was fighting to do the same on the other side. Meriwether’s eyes watered, and he was sure he could feel ashes and embers sifting down on his head.
Though he struggled, the pin would not budge. Due to the heat of the fire, the metal had expanded and now fit more tightly than ever. He felt as if his flesh were burning. The horses screamed, dragging the conflagration with them.
The pin gave so suddenly that Meriwether stumbled backward, and the other man must have experienced success at the same time, because the horses galloped free and the burning pile of carriage lunged forward and collapsed. He jumped out of the way.
Now he watched the old man in fine clothes standing in place, waving a wand about, jabbing toward the sky. Up in the sky, the monstrous dragon had flapped away, gaining speed and altitude, and now came back for another pass. Like a cat playing with a mouse.
Any minute, Meriwether was sure he and the old man would be cinders. The people had fled the square and the empty circle around them was like a killing zone. The older man stood defying the dragon, as if confident he would not be consumed by the furnace breath. There was nothing Meriwether could do to help.
Behind them, he heard the noise of feet and hooves retreating, or perhaps it was the sound of his blood beating a drumbeat past his ears, making it impossible to think. Meriwether could not make himself run away from what was sure to be certain death, and he couldn’t even tell why. It depends on me. He simply knew that as long as the stranger in his soot-stained pink velvet suit stood there, he could not leave.
“Sir!” he cried, but his voice came out unaccountably small and squeaky, as though he weren’t a full grown man. “Sir,” he said.
Ignoring him, the man swept his hands apart and uttered words that Meriwether thought might be Greek. Maybe the man was a foreigner, trapped here for nearly fifty years since the magic severing of America from the rest of the world?
“Sir!” he cried again.
When the man spread his hands and swept his wand about like an orchestra conductor directing a great piece, cracklings of electricity and lightning united his two hands like a rope.
Meriwether could only gasp, his ears blocked by the panicked spinning of his blood. The back of his neck prickled, and his hairs attempted to stand on end. Seeing this obvious magic, he was more certain than ever that this was truly the wizard Benjamin Franklin. This was the great man he had come to see.
But he hadn’t counted on a dragon….
The red monster hove into view directly overhead, its shadow darkening the sky, Meriwether realized that Franklin could not possibly defeat the thing. The creature was as large as the plaza, end to end. Meriwether felt the wind from its wings, smelled its hot pumice stench. Rows of fangs filled the gigantic mouth that yawned open, large enough to swallow whole buildings if it tried. At the back of the reptilian throat something flared like the spark given off by flint and steel.
Meriwether had no weapon to fight a beast like this, but he grabbed for the knife in its sheath at his waist, an affection of his walks in the woods; he felt naked without it.
Before he could draw the blade, an explosion occurred—and it did not come from the dragon. A stream of light like a captive lightning bolt escaped Franklin’s hands, a roiling ball of electricity like a giant, spinning ball of dazzling blue and white. It hurtled through the air toward the dragon’s open mouth and struck the monster with a sound like a deafening, suspended musical note. It seemed to echo from the beginning of time and would sound until the world itself vanished in blackness and chaos.
When it ceased, two more balls of lightning flew from Franklin’s hands, slamming the dragon between the eyes, and the giant reptile keened like a creature slain. The second crackling sphere singed the great flapping wings. The old wizard from Philadelphia hurled two more electrical balls, and then two more.
Meriwether stood rooted on the street, his begrimed clothes rough and heavy upon him. His eyes and his throat burned, and his body seemed to vibrate with an echo of magic. And as he watched, aghast, the dragon shimmered and shifted. For a moment, hanging in midair, it wasn’t a great primeval beast, but instead became a conjunction of geometric patterns: circles and triangles, squares and shapes, all glowing angles and strange junctions flowing into each other.
He blinked the stinging sweat out of his eyes, and he found himself looking at the dragon again. The huge wings flapped like scaly rugs, and Meriwether felt something touch his mind for just a moment.
More ball lightning flew, fast, fast, from Franklin’s hands, too fast for Meriwether to even see which parts of the dragon were hit.
“Be gone!” The magic echoed in Franklin’s voice, resonating with the same loud and unbearable cadences he’d heard before.
The dragon spun, a streak of movement, a dancing center of magic, too graceful and quick for a beast so big and unwieldy.
Meriwether no longer had the strength to stand. Awareness and force flowed out of him, like a liquid seeping through his feet. Before darkness swept over him, he heard a sentence, not in Franklin’s voice, but in another, stranger accent—inside his head. “We will meet again, Meriwether Lewis…son of Wales.”
He was absolutely sure it was the dragon speaking.
If you wish to buy the book, do so here.