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Angel Fire East

By
Published by Del Rey on 2000
Paperback
FICTION / Fantasy


As a Knight of the Word, John Ross has struggled against the dark forces of the Void and his minions for twenty-five years.  The grim future he dreams each night– a world reduced to blood and ashes–will come true, unless he can stop them now, in the present.  

The birth of a gypsy morph, a rare and dangerous creature that could be an invaluable weapon in his fight against the Void, brings John Ross and Nest Freemark together again. Twice before, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance, the lives of Ross and Nest have intersected. Together, they have prevailed.  But now they will face an ancient evil beyond anything they have ever encountered, a demon of ruthless intelligence and feral cunning.  As a firestorm of evil erupts, threatening to consume lives and shatter dreams, they have but a single chance to solve the mystery of the Gypsy morph–and their own profound connection.


(Paperback, 2000)
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ASIN: B0073RBEXU
ISBN: 9780345435255
EAN: 9780345435255

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■ ANGEL FIRE■ EAST TERRY BROOKS THE BALLANTINE PUBLISHING GROUP • NEW YORK ■ ■

■ ANGEL FIRE■ EAST TERRY BROOKS THE BALLANTINE PUBLISHING GROUP • NEW YORK ■ ■

Del ReyAE Book Published by The Ballantine Publishing Group Copyright © 1999 by Terry Brooks All rights reserved under International and Pan American Copyright Conventions Published in the United States by The Ballantine Publishing Group a division of Random House Inc New York and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited Toronto Del Rey is a registered trademark of Random House Inc wwwrandomhouse com delrey LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING IN PUBLICATION DATA Brooks Terry Angel re east Terry Brooks óIst ed p cm eISBN 0 345 44460 4 v1 0 I Title PS3552 R6596A8 1999 813í 54ódc21 99 26026 CIP

TO MY FATHER DEAN BROOKS Who made sacrifices as an aspiring writer then so that I could be a published writer now

ANGEL FIRE EAST

PROLOGUE Hspikesof e stands at the edge of a barren and ravaged orchard looking up from the base a gentle rise to where the man hangs from a wooden cross Iron have been hammered through the man’s hands and feet and his wrists and ankles have been lashed tightly in place so he will not tear free Slash wounds crisscross his broken body and he bleeds from a deep puncture in his side His head droops in the shadow of his long lank hair and the rise and fall of his chest as he breathes is shallow and weak Behind him serving as a poignant backdrop to the travesty of his dying stands the fire blackened shell of a tiny burned out country church The cross from which the man hangs has been stripped from the sanctuary torn free from the metal brackets that secured it to the wall behind the altar and set into the earth Patches of polished oak glisten faintly in the gray daylight attesting to the importance it was once accorded in the worshipping of God Somewhere in the distance back where the little town that once supported this church lies screams rise up against the unmistakable sounds of butchery John Ross stands motionless for the longest time pondering the implications of the horrific scene before him There is nothing he can do for the man on the cross He is not a doctor he does not possess medical skills His magic can heal and sustain only himself and no other He is a Knight of the Word but he is a failure too He lives out his days alone in a future he could not prevent What he looks upon is not un usual in the postapocalyptic horror of civilization’s demise but is sadly familiar and disturbingly mundane He can take the man down he decides finally even if he cannot save him By his presence Ross can give the man a small measure of peace and comfort 1

Beneath a wintry sky that belies the summer season he strides up the rise to the man on the cross The man does not lift his head or stir in any way that would indi cate he knows Ross is present Beneath a sheen of sweat and blood his lean muscular body is marked with old wounds and scars He has endured hardships and abuse somewhere in his past and it seems unfair that he should end his days in still more pain and desolation Ross slows as he nears his eyes drifting across the blackened facade of the church and the trees surrounding it Eyes glimmer in the shadows revealing the pres ence of feeders They hover at the fringes of his vision and in the concealment of sun less corners waiting to assuage their hunger They do not wait for Ross They wait for the man on the cross They wait for him to die so they can taste his passing from life into death—the most exquisite fulfilling and rare of the human emotions they crave Ross stares at them until the light dims in their lantern eyes and they slip back into darkness to bide their time A shattered length of wood catches the Knight’s attention and his eyes shift to the foot of the cross The remains of a polished black staff lie before him—a staff like the one he carries in his hands A shock goes through him He stares closely unable to believe what he has discovered There must be a mistake he thinks There must be an other explanation But there is neither Like himself the man on the cross is a Knight of the Word He moves quickly now striding forward to help to lower the cross to remove the spikes to free the man who hangs helplessly before him But the man senses him now and in a ragged whispery voice says Don’t touch me Ross stops instantly the force of the other’s words and the surprise of his con sciousness bringing him to a halt They have poisoned me the other says Ross draws a long slow breath and exhales in weary recognition Those who have crucified this Knight of the Word have coated him in a poison conjured of demon magic He is without hope Ross steps back looking up at the Knight on the cross at the slow shallow rise and fall of his breast at the rivulets of blood leaking from his wounds at the shadow of his face still concealed within the curtain of his long hair They caught me when I did not have my magic to protect me the stricken Knight says softly I had expended it all on an effort to escape them earlier I could 2 TERRY BROOKS

not replenish it quickly enough Sensing I was weak they gave chase They hunted me down Demons and once men a small army hunting pockets of resistance beyond the protection of the city fortresses They found me hiding in the town below They dragged me here and hung me on this cross to die Now they kill all those who tried to help me Ross finds his attention drawn once more to the shrieks that come from the town They are beginning to fade to drain away into a deep ominous silence I have not done well in my efforts to save mankind the Knight whispers He gasps and chokes on the dryness in his throat Blood bubbles to his lips and runs down his chin to his chest Nor have any of us Ross says There were chances There were times when we might have made a difference Ross sighs We did with them what we could A bird’s soft warble wafts through the trees Black smoke curls skyward from the direction of the town rife with the scent of human carnage Perhaps you were sent to me Ross turns from the smoke to look again at the man on the cross not understanding Perhaps the Word sent you to me A final chance at redemption No one sent me Ross thinks but does not speak the words You will wake in the present and go on I will die here You will have a chance to make a difference still I will not No one sent me Ross says quickly now suddenly uneasy But the other is not listening In late fall three days after Thanksgiving once long ago when I was on the Oregon coast I captured a gypsy morph His words wheeze from his mouth coated in the sounds of his dying But as he speaks his voice seems to gain intensity It is my greatest regret that I found it so rare so precious made it my own and could not solve the mystery of its magic The chance of a lifetime and I let it slip away The man on the cross goes silent then gasping slowly for breath fighting to stay alive just a few moments longer broken and shattered within and without left in his final moments to contemplate the failures he perceives are his Eyes reappear in the shadows of the burned out church and blighted orchard the feeders beginning to gather in anticipation Ross can scorch the earth with their gnarled bodies can ANGEL FIRE EAST 3

strew their cunning eyes like leaves in the wind but it will all be pointless The feeders are a part of life of the natural order of things and you might as well de cide there is no place for humans either for it is the humans who draw the feeders and sustain them The Knight of the Word who hangs from the cross is speaking again telling him of the gypsy morph of how and when and where it will be found of the chance Ross might have of finding it again He is giving Ross the details preparing him for the hunt thinking to give another the precious opportunity that he has lost But he is giv ing Ross the chance to fail as well and it is on that alone his listener settles in black contemplation Do this for me if you can the man whispers his voice beginning to fail him completely drying up with the draining away of his life turning parched and sandy in his throat Do it for yourself Ross feels the implications of the stricken Knight’s charge razor through him If he undertakes so grave and important a mission if he embraces so difficult a cause it may be his own undoing Yet how can he do otherwise Promise me The words are thin and weak and empty of life Ross stares in silence at the man Promise me John Ross awoke with sunshine streaming down on his face and the sound of children’s voices ringing in his ears The air was hot and sticky and the smell of fresh turned earth and new leaves rose on a sudden breeze He blinked and sat up He was hitch hiking west through Pennsylvania and he had stopped at a park out side Allentown to rest then fallen asleep beneath the canopy of an old hardwood He had thought only to doze for a few minutes but he hadn’t slept well in days and the lack of sleep had finally caught up to him He gazed around slowly to regain his bearings The park was large and thickly wooded and he had chosen a spot well back from the roads and playgrounds to rest He was alone He looked down at his backpack and duffel bag then at the polished black staff in his 4 TERRY BROOKS

hands His throat was dry and his head ached A spot deep in his chest burned with the fury of hot coals His dream shimmered in a haze of sunlight just before his eyes images from a private hell He was a Knight of the Word living one life in the present and another in the future one while awake and another while asleep one in which he was given a chance to change the world and another in which he must live forever with the consequences of his failure to do so He had accepted the charge almost twenty five years ago and had lived with it ever since He had spent almost the whole of his adult life engaged in a war that had begun with the inception of life and would not end until its demise There were no boundaries to the battlefield on which he fought—neither of space nor of time There could be no final resolution But the magic of a gypsy morph could provide leverage of a sort that could change everything He reached in his backpack and brought forth a battered water bottle Removing the cap he drank deeply from its lukewarm con tents finding momentary relief for the dryness in his throat and mouth He had trouble fitting the cap in place again The dream had shaken him His dreams did so often for they were of a world in which madness ruled and horror was commonplace There was hope in the present of his waking but none in the future of his sleep Still this dream was different He climbed to his feet strapped the backpack in place picked up the duffel bag and walked back through the park toward the two lane blacktop that wound west toward Pittsburgh As always the events of his dream would occur soon in his present giving him a chance to af fect them in a positive way It was June The gypsy morph would be born three days after Thanksgiving If he was present and if he was quick enough he would be able to capture it Then he would have roughly thirty days to change the course of history That challenge would have shaken any man but it was not the ANGEL FIRE EAST 5

challenge of the gypsy morph that haunted Ross as he walked from the park to begin his journey west It was his memory of the man on the cross in his dream the fallen Knight of the Word It was the man’s face as it had lifted from the shadow of his long hair in the final moments of his life For the face of the man hanging on the cross had been his own 6 TERRY BROOKS

SUNDAY DECEMBER 21 ■ ■ ■ ■

CHAPTER 1 Nof est Freemark had just finished dressing for church when she heard the knock at the front door She paused in the middle applying her mascara at the bathroom mirror and glanced over her shoulder thinking she might have been mistaken that she wasn’t expecting anyone and it was early on a Sunday morning for visitors to come around without calling first She went back to applying her makeup A few minutes later the knock came again She grimaced then glanced quickly at her watch for confirmation Sure enough Eight forty five She put down her mascara straightened her dress and checked her appearance in the mirror She was tall a shade under five ten lean and fit with a distance runner’s long legs narrow hips and small waist She had seemed gangly and bony all through her early teens except when she ran but she had finally grown into her body At twenty nine she moved with an easy fluid model’s grace that belied the strength and endurance she had ac quired and maintained through years of rigorous training She studied herself in the mirror with the same frank open stare she gave everyone Her green eyes were wide set beneath arched brows in her round smooth Charlie Brown face Her cinnamon hair was cut short and curled tightly about her head framing her small even features People told her all the time she was pretty but she never quite believed them Her friends had known her all her life and were inclined to be generous in their assessments Strangers were just being polite 9

Still she told herself with more than a trace of irony fluffing her hair into place you never know when Prince Charming will come calling Best to be ready so you don’t lose out She left the mirror and the bathroom and walked through her bedroom to the hall beyond She had been up since five thirty run ning on the mostly empty roads that stretched from Sinnissippi Park east to Moonlight Bay Winter had set in several weeks before with the first serious snowfall but the snow had melted during a warm spot a week ago and there had been no further accumulation Patches of sooty white still lay in the darker shadowy parts of the woods and in the culverts and ditches where the snowplows had pushed them but the blacktop of the country roads was dry and clear She did five miles then showered fixed herself breakfast ate and dressed She was due in church to help in the nursery at nine thirty and whoever it was who had come calling would have to be quick She passed the aged black and white tintypes and photographs of the women of her family their faces severe and spare in the plain wooden picture frames backdropped by the dark webbing of trunks and limbs of the park trees Gwendolyn Wills Carolyn Glynn and Opal Anders Her grandmother’s picture was there too Nest had added it after Gran’s death She had chosen an early picture one in which Evelyn Freemark appeared youthful and raw and wild hair all tousled eyes filled with excitement and promise That was the way Nest liked to remember Gran It spoke to the strengths and weak nesses that had defined Gran’s life Nest scanned the group as she went down the hallway admiring the resolve in their eyes The Freemark women she liked to call them All had entered into the service of the Word partnering themselves with Pick to help the sylvan keep in balance the strong core magic that existed in the park All had been born with magic of their own though not all had managed it well She thought briefly of the dark secrets her grandmother had kept of the deceptions she herself had employed in the workings of her own magic and of the price she had paid for doing so Her mother’s picture was missing from the group Caitlin Anne Freemark had been too fragile for the magic’s demands She had died 10 TERRY BROOKS

CHAPTER 2 OAs n the drive to church Nest considered the prospect of an other encounter with John Ross usual her feelings about him were mixed For as little time as she had spent with him maybe seven days all told over a span of fifteen years he had made an extraordinary impact on her life Much of who and what she was could be traced directly to their strange sad relationship He had come to her for the first time when she was still a girl just turned fourteen and beginning to discover that she wasn’t at all who she thought she was The secrets of her family were unraveling around her and Ross had pulled on the ends of the tangle until Nest had almost strangled in the resulting knots But her assessment wasn’t really fair Ross had done what was necessary in giving her the truth Had he not she would probably be dead Or worse Her father had killed her mother and grandmother and tried to kill her grandfather He had done so to get to her to claim her to subvert her to turn her to the life he had embraced himself long ago Findo Gask had been right about him Her father was a demon a monster capable of great evil Ross had helped Nest put an end to him Ross had given her back her life and with it a chance to discover who she was meant to be Of course he would just as quickly have taken her life had she been turned to the demon’s cause which was a good part of the reason for her mixed feelings about him That and the fact that at one time she believed Ross to be her father It seemed strange thinking back on it She had rejoiced in the prospect of John Ross as her father She 17

CHAPTER 3 Fpatiently indo Gask stood across the street from the First Congrega tional Church just in front of the Hopewell Gazette waiting for Penny’s return He was an incongruous figure standing there in his frock coat and flat brimmed hat his tall stooped figure silhouetted against the white stone of the newspaper building by the bright winter sunlight With his black book held in front of him like a shield he might have been a modern day prophet come to pronounce judgment on an unsuspecting populace The truth however was a good deal scarier Even as demons went Findo Gask was very old He was cen turies old and this was unusual For the most part demons had a tendency to self destruct or fall prey to their own peculiar excesses rather early in their careers In completing their transformations demons shed their human trappings reducing themselves to hard winged husks so that when stripped of their disguises they looked not unlike bats But as hard as they worked to shed their human skins they re mained surprisingly dependent on their origins To disguise them selves they were forced to resume looking like the creatures they had been To satisfy their desperate need to escape their past they were forced to prey upon the creatures they pretended to be And to sur vive in their new forms they were forced to struggle constantly against a small but intransigent truth—they hungered endlessly and helplessly for contact with the creatures they despised As a direct result they were torn by the dichotomy of their exis 28

CHAPTER 4 Dened riving home from church Nest Freemark brooded some more about John Ross It was a futile exercise one that dark her mood considerably more than she intended Ross was a flashpoint for all the things about her life that troubled her Even though he wasn’t directly responsible for any of them he was the common link By the time she parked the car in her driveway and climbed out she was ready to get back in again and start driving to some other time zone She went inside resignedly knowing there was nothing she could do to stop him from coming to see her if that’s what he intended to do nothing she could do to prevent yet another upheaval in her life She changed into jeans and a sweatshirt and pulled on heavy walking shoes then went into the kitchen to fix herself some lunch She sat alone at the worn wooden table she had shared with Gran for so many years wondering what advice the old lady would give her about John Ross She could just imagine Gran had been a no nonsense sort the kind who took life’s challenges as they came and dealt with them as best she could She hadn’t been the sort to fantasize about possibilities and what ifs It was a lesson that hadn’t been lost on her granddaughter Polishing off a glass of milk and a sandwich of leftover chicken she pulled on her winter parka and walked out the back door To morrow was the winter solstice and the days had shortened to barely more than eight hours Already the sun was dropping westward marking the passing of the early afternoon By four thirty it would 39

CHAPTER 5 Tahead he demon who called himself Findo Gask climbed out of the passenger seat of the car and let Penny Dreadful pull into the narrow garage He stretched smoothed down the wrinkles in his frock coat and glanced around at his new neigh borhood The homes were large faded mansions that had seen better days The neighborhood had been one of Hopewell’s finest once upon a time when only the well to do and wellborn lived there Most of the homes sat on a minimum of two acres of rolling lawn and enjoyed the benefits of swimming pools tennis courts ornamen tal gardens and gazebos Lavish parties were held under the stars as fine brandies and ports were sipped and imported cigars smoked and live music played until dawn All that was before Midwest Continental Steel began expanding its plant west out of the city just below the back property lines form ing a wall of corrugated iron scrap metal shriek and molten fire be tween itself and the river When that happened the well to do and wellborn migrated to less offensive more secluded sections of the city and property values began to plummet For a time upper middle class families raised their children in these old homes happy to find a neighborhood that exuded a sense of prestige and provided real space But such families lasted only a short decade or so when it be came clear to all that the cost of upkeep and the proximity of the mill far outweighed any benefits After that most of the homes were converted to apartments 50

CHAPTER 6 I ’ve come home The words didn’t register for a moment Nest struggling with the idea that it was really Bennett Scott standing in front of her no longer a little girl but someone so far removed from the child she remembered she could barely bring herself to accept that such a tran sition was possible “Home ” she echoed in confusion Bennett looked embarrassed “Yeah well I know it’s been a long time since I lived here I should have written or called or something But you know me I was never much good at keeping in touch ” Nest stared at her still trying to make sense of the fact that she was here at all “It’s been almost ten years ” she said finally Bennett’s smile faltered slightly “I know I’m sorry ” She brushed at her lank hair “I was hoping it would be all right if I just showed up ” Her words had taken on a defensive tone and there was an un mistakable hint of desperation in her voice She looked used and worn and she did not look well Nest suddenly felt the cold and grayness of the day more acutely The sun had slipped all the way west and darkness hung in the bare limbed trees like a shroud “Of course it’s all right ” she told Bennett softly The smile returned “I knew it would be You were always my big sister Nest Even when I was back with Big Momma and the other kids moved to that southern Indiana redneck farming town ” Her voice tightened and she shivered with more than the cold 60

CHAPTER 7 Finto indo Gask waited for Nest to cross the lawn to the Petersons’ then for her to come out again when the big Suburban pulled her driveway He stood without moving in the darkness virtually invisible in his black frock coat and black flat brimmed hat his leather bound book held close against his chest The night was bitter cold the damp warmth of the sunny day crystallized to a fine crust that covered the landscape in a silvery sheen and crunched like tiny shells when walked on Even the blacktop in front of the Freemark house glimmered in the streetlight When Nest Freemark climbed inside the Suburban and it backed out of her driveway and disappeared down the street Findo Gask waited some more He was patient and careful He watched his breath cloud the air as it escaped his mouth A human would have been freezing by now standing out there for better than an hour But demons felt little of temperature changes their bodies shells and not real homes Most of Findo Gask’s human responses had been shed so long ago that he no longer could recall how they made him feel Heat or cold pain or pleasure it was all the same to him So he waited unperturbed by the delay cocooned within the dark husk to which he had reduced himself years ago biding his time It had taken a bit of effort to find out Nest would be gone this evening He didn’t want that effort to be wasted He passed the time keeping watch on the house intrigued by the shadowy movements inside There were lights on in a few of the 72

MONDAY DECEMBER 22 ■ ■ ■ ■

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