Saturday, 25 July 2015

Feature & competition for The Mirror Chronicles by Ian Johnston

Although this book wasn't quite for me, I've read similar books in the past so requested a feature from Ian and a copy to giveaway as I'm sure some of you will love this! 

Summary from HarperCollins
Together, they have unimaginable power. But unless they part, that power may destroy them.

As the dark lord Thoth raises a monstrous army, Sylas and Naeo discover that their new-found power could also be their undoing. At the same time, Sylas longs to find his mother, and Naeo her father. So begins a mirrored quest that will bring Naeo into our world of science and take Sylas deep into the magic of the Other. They both hope to find the one the other loves, but also the ultimate truth: of our broken worlds and divided souls, of prophecy and of Sylas and Naeo’s wondrous power.

But it’s a race against time. Even as they begin their journey, Thoth’s creatures mass at the gateways between our worlds – at the ancient circles of stone…

Me again! Now you know what this second in a series book is about (which was out earlier this month), now you can have a rare deleted scene which didn't make the published copy. That's what I call a great feature !

Deleted scene from Circles of Stone by Ian Johnstone
Note from Ian: This scene is taken from the fi rst draft of CIRCLES OF STONE....... .Sylas and his spirited friend, Simia, have returned to the city of Gheroth in their search for the truth about the two mirrored worlds and the second half of Sylas’s self: his so-called Glimmer. They must pass through the slums on the outskirts of the city, which are occupied by the Suhl – Simia’s own persecuted people. But as they reach the slums, Sylas and Simia see to their dismay that every entrance to the city is controlled by grotesque city guards, called the Tythish.
SylaS and Simia Scurried swiftly between squalid hovels and shacks, making their way ever deeper into the slums. Only when they approached the main thoroughfare did they pause, pressing themselves into a doorway to regain their breath before turning into the street and losing themselves in the crowd. 

At first Sylas was distracted by the peculiar garb and chatter of those around him, but only for a moment, because he soon noticed that each and every one of them was staring in the same direction: towards the end of the street. When he followed their eyes, his stomach twisted into a sickening clench. 

There, bridging the entire street, were the giant forms of three Tythish guards. Their hunched shoulders and curved spines threw them forwards over the queue of city folk, while their lank, bony fingers were a blur as they gathered papers from anyone trying to pass into the city. Their hooked noses occupied a good half of their giant faces, and their bloodshot eyes, which moved feverishly over the papers, took up much of what was left.  Their mouths were mean and thin-lipped but their ears were prodigious, completing the impression that if there were anything to be overheard, spied upon or sniffed out, these were the creatures to do it. 

Sylas found himself staring into their gigantic eyes, held captive by black pupils as deep and dark as graves. Even here, at the back of the queue, he felt their gaze darting across his features, interrogating his face, searching him out. 

“Don’t look at them!” hissed Simia in his ear. “I told you, they’ll see anything that isn’t normal. Pretend you’re used to them!” 

“But I’m not,” murmured Sylas. “I’m not used to any of this!” 

“Just stick to the plan!” She looked at him for a moment and then pulled him from the crowd, leading him out of sight behind a stall. “Remember, hand the guard the papers, wait until it’s looking at them and then think your way into its thoughts. Tell it what to see.” 

“Really though?” said Sylas, doubtfully. “It’ll believe these?” He held up the crumpled scraps of paper that they had picked up from the gutter. 

“I told you, that’s how Druindil works,” said Simia. “But you’ve got to believe it. I mean, really believe it.” 

Sylas stared at her for a moment then sighed. “If you say so,” he said. 

“NO! That’s not believing! You have to believe in this just like you believe in yourself, or it won’t work at all!” Simia took him by the shoulders. “Listen, I know you’ve never done this before but you hadn’t used Essenfayle until you drowned a river full of Slithen with it. You’ve got a… I don’t know… a gift!” 

“But that was Essenfayle,” whispered Sylas, eyeing a stranger as she walked past. “That’s natural. We’re not even supposed to—” 

“I told you, there’s no other way. This place is dead – Essenfayle is useless without something to work with. Really, it’ll be fine – I used Druindil loads of times when I was living in the slums.” 

“You did?” 

“Well, twice.” 

“In my world, that’s not loads.” 

“Well, it’s loads in mine,” muttered Simia, grabbing Sylas’s coat and pulling him out from behind the stall. 

They stepped back into the queue, joining the mass of people as they pressed forwards to the city entrance. The Tythish prowled over the crowd ahead, their gangly legs spanning the lane as they reached down with clawing fingers and sharp elbows, snatching up bundles of papers and leafing through them in an instant. 

Sylas watched in amazement. Surely they couldn’t be reading them so quickly? How could they possibly be sure what they were looking at? Perhaps Simia’s hair-brained scheme really did have a chance.

When he looked back she was no longer at his side. She had been drawn away by the surge of the crowd and was heading for another of the Tythish guards. They caught each other’s eye but quickly looked away – they couldn’t afford to look panicked, not now.

The queue was shorter than Sylas had expected and it was moving quickly – it would only be moments before he fell under the glare of the Tythish guard.  He forced himself to keep his eyes down: no matter how much he wanted to glance across to see how Simia was doing, he had to stay focused.  He folded his papers as Simia had shown him. 

“Imagine seeing everything as it should be,” she had said. “Imagine a name, an address, an instruction of some sort. It doesn’t matter what the name is or what the instructions are, if you do it right they’ll see what they expect to see.” 

Suddenly Sylas heard a scream ahead and he glanced up. To his horror he saw one of the Tythish guards plucking a man from the crowd and hoisting him high into the air, as though he were a scrap of litter. For a moment the poor wretch wrestled the guard’s giant fingers but to no avail – apparently they were as powerful as they were long – and then he was dropped unceremoniously into a huge leather pouch hanging from the guard’s belt. The drawstring was quickly pulled tight and in moments the guard was back checking papers while the pouch wriggled against its scrawny hip.  

Sylas felt a surge of panic. He wasn’t ready for this. He needed more time. 

The movement of the crowd was irresistible now and he was drawing ever nearer. His heart hammered against his ribcage, the blood rushed in his ears. He glanced down at the scraps in his hand. His life now depended on these crumpled papers and… what? Some kind of mind control? He wasn’t even sure that he understood what it was, let alone how to do it. 

He started to push back against the crowd, hoping that there might be  an opening in the wall of bodies, but someone shoved him forwards. 

Suddenly a guard snatched the papers from his hands. 

He saw them sail high above the crowd, bundled with four or five other sets of documents, taken from those around him. The digits were already at work, flipping through the first set of papers with incredible precision, throwing the pages back in a flurry while two monstrous eyes peered over a hooked nose, the saucer-like pupils vibrating back and forth as they engulfed words, phrases, stamps, signatures.  Immense Tythish nostrils flared and snuffled as if snorting information from the page, sniffing out the mistakes, omissions, lies.  Sylas winced as it moved onto the second document, then the third... all in the blink of a disdainful eye. Still the fingers whirred through the pages, flipping them over and over and over, the eyes processing, the nose sensing, the ears probing. 

And then it stopped. 

One of the eyes shifted and blinked.  The huge pupil shrank.  Nostrils snorted. 

The fingers were at work again, flipping back through one of the sets  of papers. 

Sylas’s papers. 

Sylas froze in horror. He hadn’t been ready! He hadn’t even tried to use Druindil! 

Dinner-plate eyes lifted from the papers and flicked to his face, the pupils contracting to a point, the irises flooding with colour, turning from pink to red. Sylas stared into them, mesmerised, and for a moment his mind went blank. Utterly blank. 

The Tythish guard drew in a long sniff, its huge head sinking between its bony shoulders. 

And then, as Sylas stared into those glassy eyes, something entered his head.  It came from nowhere, surging up from deep memory, filling the empty space. It was the document that had sent his mother to the hospital – the Order of Committal – the stark logo of the Winterfern hospital at the top and beneath it, with all the neat orderliness of a document designed to hide its true meaning. His mother’s name and address, reference numbers, a brief doctor’s report, all neatly typed between cold, hard lines and above two scribbled signatures. 

He felt a flicker of hope. 

“Imagine a name and an address, an instruction of some sort…” 

He put his imagination to work. The world disappeared, everything but the picture of the document and the guard’s huge, staring eyes. He gazed into the cavernous blackness of those pupils, losing himself in their depths, probing into the empty space and filling it with that single image: the hard orderliness of that hateful document. He saw none of the detail – it did not matter – but his thoughts were filled with the address, the order, the signature, impressed between those cold, official lines. 

Address, order, signature. 

Again, the guard’s moon-like eyes blinked and it frowned.  

Sylas held his breath. He allowed himself to take a look at its face, its hooked nose, its clutch of spindly fingers.  Surely this was the end.  

All at once the frown receded from the perspiring Tythish brow.   The piercing eyes relaxed, the jet-black pupils grew wide. The fingers purred back into life, flicking tirelessly through the remaining documents, quickly reaching the end. Before he knew it, the great hand swept back down into the crowd, depositing the papers with their rightful owners.  He found  his own slapped up against his chest and he snatched them back. 

Instantly the crowd shifted, pushing him onwards, between the bandy legs of the Tythish and into the opening of the lane beyond.  Sylas could not resist glancing up at the ranging limbs, certain that they were about to swipe him from his feet at the last moment. But the inspector had lost all interest. Its weird, angular face had turned back to the queue, and once again it was reaching out and grabbing up bunches of papers. 

Suddenly Sylas heard a terrible shriek. 

He whirled about and peered past faces, shoulders, bags and bundles.  And then, to his horror, he saw Simia sailing up into the air, clasped between Tythish fingers. She was screaming and fighting, pulling and biting at the spindly fingers, her red hair thrashing from side to side. The guard was straightening to its full, intimidating height and drawing her up towards its face for a closer look. 

Sylas forced his way back, fighting against the tide of people. But everyone had picked up pace, rushing to get away from the disturbance, making his passage almost impossible. In frustration he stepped to one side, scanning the narrow lane, looking for something – anything – that might help him. He thought of using Essenfayle, but then he remembered Simia’s words. What use was it here, amid dust, people and buildings? 

The Tythish inspector began lowering Simia into the huge pouch tied around its waist. With the free hand it pulled open a drawstring, spreading the opening to accommodate Simia’s flailing legs. 

Simia seemed to realise that this was her last chance because she stopped fighting and fidgeted with something on her chest. She was pulling at the buttons of her father’s coat, tearing at them with her fingernails, freeing one, then two, then three. 

The guard made another attempt to get her into the pouch but she threw out her legs, catching the rim. It lifted her up again and shook her in frustration. Amid this blur of motion Simia suddenly raised her arms high above her head and the splash of red hair disappeared. 

Sylas held his breath, hardly able to watch. 

The Tythish inspector stopped shaking its fist, rose to its full height and brought its hand sharply up to its face. It uncurled its fingers, opening them slowly until Sylas could see its palm. There, sat in the middle of the expanse of wrinkled skin, was a small brown coat. 

Simia was nowhere to be seen. 

The guard raised its head and let out a furious, screeching wail and instantly the townsfolk on both sides of the checkpoint began to run, fleeing the inevitable wrath of the Tythish.  Sylas was buffeted by shoulders and barged to the side of the lane. He did his best to hold his place, rising up on his toes, trying to catch a glimpse of Simia. He saw the Tythish, all of them now screeching their terrible wail of rage, clambering over the hovels of the slums. And then he saw Simia, tearing towards him, her eyes already on his. She looked terrified, but unharmed. She sprang to one side, leapt up and snatched the scarf from a woman’s head, pulling it quickly over her tell-tale shock of red hair. She had tied it even before she reached him. 

“What are you doing? Run!” she cried, half barging into him. 

Sylas turned after her. To his surprise she darted to one side, away from the centre of the city and back into the slums. She ran at an incredible speed, sprinting down narrow passageways, leaping over stalls, ducking beneath awnings, skipping over crates and piles of rubbish. It was as though she knew every twist and turn, every hovel and shack. 

All Sylas could hear between his own pants were the piercing cries of the Tythish just behind. He did not dare to look but kept his eyes ahead, desperately trying to keep up with Simia. 

They climbed a slope and immediately the environment changed. The hovels became even smaller and shabbier, the lanes between them even narrower and more labyrinthine. It seemed to be the heart of the slum, a place where people lived in awful squalor, cheek-by-jowl, struggling to survive. People were crammed into every shack, children loitered along every lane, the sick and the old lay out for all to see – the lucky ones on cots, the less lucky on the hard-packed earth. The stench was appalling, a mixture of sewage and sweat and filth. 

Still they ran, darting left and right, leaping and ducking. But they were slowing down. It was impossibly busy – people walked in front of them, tripped them up, made them halt and hesitate. Meanwhile the Tythish were close behind and still gaining, using their long limbs to pick their way swiftly over the densest parts of the slum. 

Sylas’s mind raced. Why had Simia brought them this way? It made  no sense. 

And then he heard her shout something. He missed it at first, but then she shouted it again, louder this time. 

“Suhl!” she bellowed. “Suhl!”

 In the alleyways ahead people turned sharply from their languorous lives, raising their heads, looking for the source of the cry. And then they were in motion, stepping to one side, darting into the nearest shack, clearing the path. In a moment the passage ahead was empty and, more than that, they started to hear voices calling from the dark openings, murmuring in the shacks, whispering in corners. 

“Suhl!” they cried, “Suhl!” 

And then it became a chant. Five voices became ten, ten became twenty, twenty became fifty. 

“Suhl! Suhl! Suhl!” 

Soon hundreds of voices joined together in an irresistible rhythm, a mounting thunder of noise. It swelled in the belly of the slum, rising up until it drowned even the furious shrieks of the Tythish, until they began to slow their step and glance about them with increasing panic. 

“Suhl! Suhl! Suhl!” cried the voices, “Suhl! Suhl! Suhl!” 

The Tythish thrashed about, looking for something to fight, to resist, but  they could not see their foe, because it called from every doorway, resonated in every shack, sang from every street. And it was already too late.

Sylas saw faces standing in the shadows, waiting in corners, gathering in the darkest places – the people of the slum.  They were thin and weak, pale and ghostlike, but they were united. They nodded at him as he scrambled past, pointed the way.  Some of them wore the flicker of a smile but most were stony and pale, focused on the chant – on what had to be done. 

And then they surged. 

The lanes filled with a swarm of bodies, a jostling, faceless crowd of flailing limbs, grasping hands, barging shoulders. The Tythish pulled up, startled, their brows furrowed. Then their shoulders rose and they dropped forwards, trying to force their way on through the slum, knocking over shacks and stalls as they went, sweeping aside the Suhl. 

But the chant only grew louder. More bodies filled the streets, organised now, locked in human chains, shoulder to shoulder, arm in arm. And as the spindly limbs of the Tythish forged on, they were clawed back, dragged down by the sheer weight and will of the crowd. 

“Suhl! Suhl! Suhl!” 

The Tythish screeching was no longer bold and angry, but snatched and panicked. They called out to one another, trying to rally, but they knew that they were at the hands of something greater. Something impossible to resist. Then they were losing their balance, falling forwards, staggering to one side. 

Simia turned and stood across the open lane, looking back into the slum. Sylas slapped his feet down in the dust, skidding to a halt. He followed her eyes up above the surrounding structures to the swaying, screaming forms of the Tythish, who were on their knees and elbows, still struggling to stay upright. And then, amid a cloud of dust and the crash of breaking wood, they gave up the fight, slipping out of sight. 

The chant swelled for a moment and then fell away to silence. It was over as quickly as it had begun. 

As the last Tythish guard fell, it opened its fist and released a misshapen
brown coat, which fluttered briefly on the breeze, then settled back into the dust. Sylas and Simia watched it until it dropped out of sight. 

Simia’s face was set, her lips drawn thin. 

“You did it Simsi!” said Sylas, sliding his arm over her shoulder. 

She pulled the scarf from her head, still staring into the cloud of dust where her father’s coat had fallen. She tried to say something but the words caught in her throat. 

“You couldn’t have done anything else,” said Sylas, more softly, “you had to let it go.”

 She stared past him, as though not hearing him. 

Sylas thought for a moment. “It was almost like he was looking out for you, wasn’t it?” he said. “Your dad, I mean.” 

She looked at him as though she desperately wanted to believe it was true, but then she drew her sleeve over her face and turned away.  

“Come on,” she said. “They won’t hold the Tythish for long. We need to keep moving.” 

She started off up the lane. 

It’s what he’d have wanted you to do,” shouted Sylas after her, but she kept walking. 

He hesitated, looking back to where her coat had fallen. His instinct was to run back, to hide in the confusion of the crowds and try to find it and snatch it back, but he knew that he would be risking everything.  And these people, the quiet people of the slums, had put themselves in peril to help them to escape. He had to let it go. 

He turned to see Simia waiting for him at the top of the lane. She was looking at him with a half smile, as if knowing what he was thinking, as if thanking him. But she was shaking her head. 

He pulled his rucksack over his shoulder and set out after her.

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