The Book of Air
- Book info
- Author updates
The thrilling conclusion to the adventures of the four elemental dragons and their human guides, the fourth and final book of the history-spanning Dragon Quartet fantasy series.
In the fourth novel of this popular tetralogy, Marjorie B. Kellogg brings together the four elemental dragons and their human companions in a desperate quest to free Air from her as-yet-undiscovered prison—and stop Fire before his devastating reign destroys the world.
Release date: November 4, 2003
Print pages: 512
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
The Book of Air
Marjorie B. Kellogg
THE DRAGON QUARTET:
THE BOOK OF AIR
Marjorie B. Kellogg
Also by Marjorie B. Kellogg:
The Dragon Quartet
THE BOOK OF EARTH
THE BOOK OF WATER
THE BOOK OF FIRE
THE BOOK OF AIR
By Marjorie B. Kellogg with William Rossow:
(The Wave and the Flame | Reign of Fire)
Table of Contents
IN THE BEGINNING,
AND A LITTLE AFTER . . .
In the Beginning, four mighty dragons raised of elemental energies were put to work creating the World. They were called Earth, Water, Fire, and Air. No one of them had power greater than another, and no one of them was mighty alone.
When the work was completed and the World set in motion, the four went to ground, expecting to sleep out this World’s particular history and not rise again until World’s End.
The first to awaken was Earth.
He woke in darkness, as innocent as a babe, with only the fleeting shadows of dreams to hint at his former magnificence. But one bright flame of knowledge drove him forth: he was Called to Work again, if only he could remember what the Work was.
He found the World grown damp and chill, overrun by the puniest of creatures, Creation’s afterthought, the ones called Men. Earth soon learned that Men, too, had forgotten their Origin. They had abandoned their own intended Work in the World and thrived instead on superstition, violence, and self-righteous oppression of their fellows. They had forgotten as well their primordial relationship with dragons—all, that is, but a few.
One in particular awaited Earth’s coming, a young girl who knew nothing of the secret duty carried down through the countless generations of her blood. Her name was Erde, and she knew her Destiny when she faced a living dragon and was not afraid.
Thereafter, Earth’s Quest became her own, and together they searched her World for answers to his questions. Some they found and slowly, along with his memory, Earth’s powers reawakened. But the girl’s World was dark and dangerous and ignorant, and the mysterious Caller who summoned Earth could not be found within it. One day, blindly following the Call, Earth took them Somewhere Else.
In that Somewhere Else, they found Earth’s sister Water, and her Companion N’Doch. N’Doch’s World was hot and crowded and full of noise, and mysterious to Erde until she understood that she had traveled to Sometime, as well as to Somewhere. It became her task to teach N’Doch about the dragons and their Quest, for he did not know his Destiny, and did not join them willingly at first.
Water, too, had heard the Caller. She could answer some of Earth’s questions about the Work, but added many of her own. Soon, the dragons were convinced that an unknown Power not only blocked their Search, but threatened their safety. Evidence pointed to the dragon Fire, but why would their own brother conspire against them?
When the dangers of N’Doch’s World, both human and inhuman, closed in around them, the four in desperation returned to Erde’s time, with nothing but N’Doch’s recurring dream of a Burning Land to tell them where to go to continue the Search.
But in Erde’s time, conditions were deteriorating. . . .
N’Doch’s nightmare vision took the four to a farther Future, where the results of Mankind’s carelessness and greed were only too evident. War, disease and ecological collapse had razed the landscape and brought human society to ruin. Here, the four found undeniable evidence of Fire’s villainy. In the planet’s final days, he ruled as a tyrannical god over a dwindling population, preaching Apocalypse and plotting against his siblings. He even boasted of how cleverly he’d hidden away their sister Air.
But the four found surprising allies in that hot and desiccated land, resourceful men and women who knew that their survival depended on a more sympathetic relationship with Nature. The most astonishing addition to the Quest was Fire’s own dragon guide, Paia. Her fated bond with her fellow guides allowed her to repudiate her dragon’s misdeeds, and join the efforts to free Air from her mysterious prison and Paia’s people from Fire’s cruel yoke.
From out of this rebellion, an old friend appeared in a new guise, and was revealed as the fourth dragon guide. But he didn’t know where his dragon was, either.
Yet, was Fire merely evil, or was there truth to his claim of knowledge that only he possessed?
At last, Earth, Water, and Fire came face-to-face. A fiery confrontation on a barren mountaintop forced Fire into temporary retreat. But not before he had threatened murder and mayhem against all that the humans knew and loved. . . .
The Summoning of the Hero
Gone. The Fire-breather is gone.
Seconds afterward, the Librarian senses a change. A difference inside. Like the twitching of muscles he’d not even known were paralyzed.
Smoke still hangs in the heated air, the Fire-breather’s sulfurous trace. It’s the same dry dawn on the same dry mountaintop. The Librarian is alive when he didn’t expect to be, but he is not the same as he was a moment ago.
His dragon has touched him, he’s sure of it. A feather-light glancing contact, almost too brief to be noticed, yet inside him now, this entire . . . what? A reordering, an enlarging—of thought, of perception, of understanding. A more outward focus.
And the connection felt deliberate this time. Not like it’s always been for him before, at the mercy of his peculiar inner circuitry, picked out by random roving beams that stun and blind, then swing away through the fog. This was . . . almost directed. Behind the walls of the dragon’s enigmatic prison, something has changed for her, too.
She knows where to find me.
The others must hear of this, immediately. But as the Librarian tries for words, none will come, aloud or otherwise. This has not changed. Besides, the others are not ready for another dose of revelation. Not yet. Though the terrifying confrontation passed within mere moments of real time, they’re as stunned and spent as if it had been hours. Distracted. Sluggish with terror and awe. Struggling with watery knees and weakened bowels. And wondering, as he is, how they managed to come through the conflagration alive. Though urgency thrills through the Librarian’s nervous system like a drug, he knows he must allow them space for recovery.
The smoke is persistent and sullen. Unnatural, like the creature that made it. Acid, like his tongue. The Librarian coughs, waving his arms uselessly. The Fire-breather’s stench is not so easily dispelled. And it’s a long time since he’s been outside in the unconditioned air. His pampered lungs have forgotten the acrid stink of combustion and the punishment of daylight. The constant dry weight of the heat, even at dawn. The arid mountain ledges still radiate yesterday’s baking. Already they’re being baked all over again. Heat upon heat. Even stone has a life that can be burned away. The Librarian sways, overcome by a moment of synchronicity with the rock.
. . . deep-anchored to slow-time, swelling sun seared, shattered, wind-battered, groaning with the revolutions of the dying planet . . .
Motion recalls him to the mountaintop, to the dawn, to the rocky plateau that was once a landing pad. Once. When men still ruled. The Librarian sees the soldier is stirring. Has it been hours or seconds since? He mustn’t let himself drift like that, not now. He must remember how to act. He must recall decisiveness, now that his eternal waiting has ended, and time suddenly matters. Events matter. The Fire-breather has come and gone. The dragon Air has touched him. Six hundred men, women, and children wait in the caverns below, anxious about the outcome of the confrontation above. His people, who have faith in him, who believe he has the knowledge to hold off the Last Days. Does he? Of course not. It’s her knowledge, the dragon’s, that he believes in, that he preaches about. Which is why he must . . . must . . . her touch . . . there is little time left . . . she is searching, too.
Drifting . . .
The Librarian struggles to get hold of himself. He wishes for the animal body of his former days, when the ability to shake one’s self vigorously was all that was needed to feel put back in order. Every hair in place. He longs for the cool darkness of his den beneath the mountain, for the remote comforts of his screens and sensors and console. When his dragon finds him there, he can almost concentrate. Reflect rather than absorb. Deflect to the machines the bright roar of her energies. Keep the explosion in his senses within the limits of sanity . . . most of the time. With the expansion of her power over the years, the danger to him has grown also. This last century or so, without the buffer of the machines, his brain would have been burned to the proverbial cinder. The Librarian shudders. Though there is power to spare in her sendings, there is little coherency. Sometimes he fears that his dragon is not entirely sane.
But this time, this time . . . there was something different. Along with the usual kaleidoscope of images, there was a hint of meaning. More than a hint. As if a new circuit had opened, to run a message on an infinite loop: Hurry! Hurry! Hurry! No, it’s not so articulate as that. The Librarian supplies the words, which barely describe the imperative within. It sighs like wind. It tumbles like water. It groans like the earth. He is eager to get back down below, to see if the machines can detect it, deflect it, interpret it.
Across the circular pad, the soldier dusts soot from his bare forearms and scowls at the brightening skies, as if to assure himself that the Fire-breather is truly gone. He lays a hand on the bowed head of the Fire-breather’s guide. She who was lately so bold has slid weeping to the ground beside him. The soldier murmurs soundlessly without bending toward her, seeming to know that no mere word or gesture will console her. He is familiar with the aftershock of battles. The Librarian watches him as he quietly steps away across the tarmac to inspect the arc of scorched rock and heat-fused sand laid down around them by the Fire-breather’s wrath. He is not a big man, but sturdy, with a blunt, determined jaw and a restless glance. He moves quickly, economically, unmindful of the gathering heat. The rising sun glints off the carved and gilded hilt of the sword slung sheathed across his back. The sword. The Librarian remembers that sword and this man, in a more youthful version. But the memory is from a former life, and hazy. Most clearly, he recalls the man this man once served, an elder knight. Battle-scarred, a weary idealist. One has grown much like the other, over time—not physically, for the soldier is shorter, blonder, more intent. But maturity and ill-fortune have blunted his youthful arrogance, so the Librarian’s memories of both men blend in a tightening fabric. He follows the weave for a while, interested in the complex patterning of human lives. Then he catches himself.
Drifting again, Gerrasch. Not now, not now!
He flexes his pink-palmed hands, his clever fingers, his only sure anchor to the world. He sighs. His life is about to get very complicated.
The Earth-mover’s guide stirs next. As if waking suddenly, she starts and staggers to her feet, then pivots in an aimless circle, running down like a spinning top until she ends up gazing numbly at the Librarian. Her dark curls are frizzed with singe. Tears streak the ash dusting her pale smooth cheeks. But though she is the youngest of them all, almost a child, she does not give in to sobs. She gathers herself again quickly. She looks away to the others, counting heads, assessing their welfare. Beside her, the Water-bearer’s tall guide swears softly and at length, grinding his fists into his eyes.
In the Librarian’s gut, the wordless signal steps up its urgent thrum: Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!
The Earth-mover and Water-bearer themselves are still hunkered down in a silent conference of dragon outrage. They, most of all, must hear of the change in him, but though he’s only just met them, the Librarian knows enough of dragons to understand that they’ll not be disturbed until they’re good and ready, no matter what. He forgives them. They are dragons, after all. No matter the urgency, impatience is a lesson the Librarian has yet to learn. Not so the soldier, who has finished his inspection tour and has already begun to pace, though he attempts to disguise it as patrolling and limbering up, that is, useful movement. While the rest pull themselves together, the Librarian welcomes the chance for a moment of dragon study, his first since the pair’s sudden arrival to save their humans from the Fire-breather’s vicious tantrum. The Librarian has lived with a dragon inside him for all his life, yet he’s never seen one in the flesh. Suddenly, he’s seen three in less than half an hour.
Earth is vast, bronze, and plated. He crouches like a mountain of veined brown marble, rough-carved in the form of a beast. His neck is thickly muscled, his haunches massive. His tail is short and wide, and grounds him to the rock like an ancient tree root. His curved ivory horns and scimitar claws reflect the glow of the rising sun. In contrast to this unrelenting solidity, Water could be a swirl of a billion blue-green butterflies, ephemeral and phosphorescent, infinitely changeable. The Librarian understands this is only the shape she’s chosen for the moment. He wonders if there is a shape she calls her own, in which her own identity rests and is at home. Earth and Water are as different from each other as they are from their fire-breathing, golden-scaled, deadly-minded brother.
How will his own dragon look, the Air-bringer, once she’s set free to appear before him? The Librarian has no data to work with, only gut feeling and instinct. He’s built a picture in his imagination. When he thinks of his dragon, he sees the tall cloud towers of ancient summers, the white-topped, fair-weather spires that once brought soft air and warm breezes. Clouds. Only a memory from a time when the planet’s cycle of respiration was still normal. But the Librarian remembers them in passionate detail, as an icon in the landscape of Paradise. Of Arcadia. Of all that is lost.
Drifting, Gerrasch. Again, again. Focus on the dragon!
What else was new in this precious instant of contact? The Librarian replays it in his mind: reverse, fast forward, reverse, fast forward. The cloud image seems a bit more architectural than before, a sort of cloud city. An anomaly? The Librarian stores it for further analysis.
The pale girl and the tall young man have gathered themselves enough to turn to the older man behind them. Together, they ease him up from his knees and pat away his shudders of terror and outrage. For this man’s sake, the Librarian at last wills his big clumsy body toward an idea of motion. Stillness would be vastly easier, but this dark-skinned man is neither soldier nor dragon guide. Only his faith in the Librarian’s visions has brought him so near to death on a bleak and bitter mountaintop. He deserves some soothing and support.
No wind among the rocks, wreathed in heat and stubborn smoke, pressed down by the yellow dome of sky. No sound. Only the brittle rattle of pebbles beneath the soldier’s boots as he paces out the blackened circle for a third or fourth time. No one has said a word, the Librarian notes, since the Fire-breather vanished.
Ah, good, he muses, when his feet more or less respond to his orders, and shuffle him forward. Perhaps now the words will follow.
The pale girl finally finds her tongue. “We have to go after him!”
In her widened eyes, the Librarian sees the stark reflection of the Fire-breather’s long list of parting threats, each one pointed and personal. “Now! Before he . . . we have to warn everyone!”
Her name is Erde von Alte, and she is fourteen. The Librarian has met her before, in earlier times. The same time as the elder knight. Even then, she was given to overemphasis and passionate exaggeration, in the way of fourteen year olds, which is unsurprising since in the eleven hundred years since he first encountered her, she has aged but two months. The Librarian feels he has permission to note her overzealousness, having been a fourteen year old himself several times in his life, though never a girl. Besides, young Erde came to the present the easy way, dragon-back, while he has had to live each day and every year in between.
“Everyone! Please! If we don’t hurry, he’ll get to them first! He’ll . . .!”
“Whoa, girl, easy.” The tall youth stops rubbing his eyes and stands blinking. His lanky ebony body cuts a hard profile against the sun-splashed rock. “Can’t just race on off. Gotta figure where he’s headed.”
The Citadel, thinks the Librarian, so sure he’s spoken aloud that he’s confused when none of them react to the visions of seared flesh and broken bodies writhing so vividly inside his own eyes.
The girl shoves away the dark youth’s raised palms. “We’ll go everywhere, then! We’ll have to split up!”
“Maybe. I don’t know.” He shrugs, an uneasy dance of flatly muscled shoulders beneath his charred T-shirt. “Let’s see what they say.” He glances toward the two dragons and spots the soldier, still in restless, impatient motion. “Hey, Dolph! C’mon over! Battle conference!”
The tall youth is called N’Doch. He is West African, and from a time in the world’s history when his homeland was not yet under water. The older man is Luther Williams, a local in the present time, from one of the itinerant Tinker clans. The soldier is from the girl’s place and time. The Librarian is not yet sure about this one’s preference in a name. A different version is used by each of the dragon guides. The knight’s squire he met so long ago was Adolphus Michael von Hoffmann, heir to the sizable estates of Köthen. Germany, it was. Tenth century. A baron, he thinks. The Librarian cares little about such things.
The soldier glances up at N’Doch’s summons. He frowns, already pondering solutions as he paces across the tarmac to join them. Gently but firmly, as he passes, the baron scoops up the Fire-breather’s guide and urges her forward under the shelter of his arm. She leans into him, drying her eyes, flicking dubious and apologetic glances though damp lashes at her fellow guides. The Librarian feels shy as she approaches, uncomfortably conscious of his wild hair and his shambling, graceless bulk.
For this is Paia, after all. The High Priestess of the Temple of the Apocalypse, the Fire-breather’s cult. The Librarian knows everything about her. His machines beneath the mountain are hooked to her machines in the Fire-breather’s lair, though she was unaware of the connection—and of him—until their meeting mere hours ago. He’s always known Fire’s priestess was a beautiful woman, but he finds the reality of her . . . go ahead, Gerrasch, say it . . . her flesh quite overwhelming. Small wonder that Dolph or Hoffmann or Baron Köthen or whatever the soldier wishes to be called soothes her along like something precious. She is that rare occurrence, especially nowadays: unblemished, unmutated, undeformed. A perfect physical specimen. Of course the soldier is in love with her. Who could blame him?
A loose circle coalesces in the center of the old landing pad. First, all of them talk at once, a burst of babble that manages to express only their relief at being still alive. Then they fall silent to gaze expectantly at the Librarian, as if an urgent meeting has been called to order, of which he has unaccountably been elected Chair.
Not so unaccountably, the Librarian reminds himself. Not a moment to waste, and there’s a major language barrier here.
He visualizes the problem as an interlinked flow chart. For him, an image is always more articulate than words, and so, words are a wonder to him. Words are his long life’s study, which is why he comes armed with a solution.
Erde, N’Doch, and Baron Köthen have been speaking tenth century German. Though N’Doch’s native languages are twenty-first century Wolof and sub-Saharan French, he’s learned the antique German recently and precipitously from the dragons, who can download entire databases into a linked human mind, the only issue being how fast the mind can accept the input. Köthen speaks German and passable Old French, but is not dragon-linked like the guides. Still, he has a quick ear and a quicker mind, so he’s fast picking up the contemporary English that is Luther’s only tongue, as it is Paia’s—except Luther speaks his own “Tinker” dialect of English, which sounds different from Paia’s. But Paia, as Fire’s guide, is mind-linked to the other guides. Translation is automatic. Maybe the worst of this chaos is N’Doch’s slang-ridden English, learned watching old twentieth century American videos. It makes the Librarian’s teeth itch.
The conundrum is, of course, what language to use in spoken conversation? Once Köthen is more fluent, English will be the obvious lingua franca. For now, only the Librarian can resolve the confusion. Hence their breathless attention.
He fishes in the deep pockets of his jumpsuit for his remote keypad and activates the translator program. He holds up his little device like a beacon, nodding around the circle. Again, they all start in at once.
“He’ll go right to . . .”
“We gotta see what . . .”
“What about the . . .”
The soldier shakes his head and backs off a step.
“He’ll go to Deep Moor first!” Erde exclaims breathlessly.
“Why would he?”
“Wait!” rumbles Luther. “Fust t’ing, we gudda tell da uddahs.”
The Librarian is still struggling to vocalize. His voice is stuck, like an unoiled hinge. “Yes,” he manages finally, grateful for any coherent sound at all.
The echo booms in his chest as well as in his head. It makes him want to cough. The dragons have ended their private conference. The Librarian feels his brain crowd up as the other guides drop into mental contact.
Earth lifts his horned head. WE MUST POSTPONE THE QUEST UNTIL OUR FRIENDS ARE SAFE.
Yes! Erde’s slim fists ball up for emphasis. We’ll go now and warn Deep Moor!
N’Doch shakes his head. Faster if we stopped by Papa Dja’s on the way!
The Citadel is closest! We should go there first!
The Librarian recalls that he must tell them about his new difference, about his true moment with his dragon, the missing sister, and the object of their Quest. But time and minds run breakneck in the Meld. So long-schooled in waiting, the Librarian is like a timid driver on a freeway ramp at rush hour. He can’t get a word in edgewise. Need info, he offers instead.
YES. WE MUST GATHER TO DISCUSS THE BEST COURSE OF ACTION.
A chorus of distress rises from the minds in the Meld, who know how long a dragon discussion can take.
Dear dragon, we haven’t time!
So many lives are in danger!
JUST HOLD ON, ALL OF YOU. Water’s music for once rings harsh. THERE ARE A LOT OF INTERESTS AT STAKE HERE, INCLUDING A FEW YOU SEEM TO HAVE FORGOTTEN ABOUT! OUR SISTER AIR STILL LANGUISHES IN CAPTIVITY, FAR AHEAD ALONG THE TIME LINE.
Farther in the future?
The Librarian recalls now what terror had pushed from his mind. In the midst of the firefight, the dragons’ hasty revelation: We know where she is!
Erde subsides with an anxious frown. She would never contradict a dragon, not even someone else’s.
But no one’s been there. We can’t go there dragon-back without an image to travel to.
Fire’s been there. Let’s send Paia to pick his brain.
WE HAVE BEEN PONDERING THIS, AND AS YET, SEE NO SOLUTION, Earth told them.
Water reluctantly agrees. YES, FOR NOW, WE’LL DO WHAT WE CAN DO. WE’LL HELP OUR FRIENDS.
ASK THOSE BELOW TO CLEAR SPACE IN THE LARGEST CAVERN. WE ARE COMING TO JOIN THEM.
The Future. An image. A future image. What if . . .?
Can’t hold on to that train of thought against the pull of a dragon imperative. The Librarian gives up and thumbs his remote, calling up the gawky boy he’s left listening at the console in the complex far below. He summons words enough to be understood. Mattias is used to supplying the ones in between. The Librarian often dreams of vocalizing his thought-images. If, when he opened his mouth, the pictures just flowed out, as detailed and coherent as they are in his head, or as words are in the mouths of others, he’d have no problem communicating with the world. But what would the response be, he wonders, to his cloud-tower image of the dragon Air?
“Wow!” squeaks the remote. “Dragons?” The receding slap of bare feet is audible over the open line as Mattias abandons the console and hotfoots it down the corridor.
“Join hands!” Erde urges. “Lord Earth will take us down!”
Baron Köthen mutters a warning to Luther about the nauseating effects of dragon transport.
Luther says, “Mebbe we ’umins shud take da elevader.”
“Too late,” N’Doch replies.
Seconds later, the hot glare of the summit has been eclipsed by the opaque weight of the mountain. They are in darkness. Wavering points of light surround them like a sea of stars. The nervous waiting silence is broken only by the resonant, far-off thump of the circulating fans. The Librarian sucks in cool air, filtered and humidified, and expels a gasping sigh of relief. He’ll be able to think more clearly now, he’s sure of it. He sees the soldier shudder just once and swallow hard. Luther groans faintly. The Librarian has felt nothing, as if traveling disembodied through tons of solid rock is perfectly natural. As if he’s been doing it for years. Sometimes he suspects he is not yet entirely “umin.”
For instance, his nose is far too sensitive. The chill air of the cavern is redolent with the smell of humans and animals, yet he can pick out familiar individuals by their scent alone. He can still read their emotions, their lingering fear, the surge of adrenaline caused by Mattias’ announcement. In the vast, high-vaulted space, the rows of wagons and carts and campsites have been hastily hauled back. The open center is ringed by lanterns and receding, dim-lit ranks of weary, worried, awe-filled faces. Hot meals and a good night’s sleep have been rare down here for several days now. Their astonishment tickles the Librarian’s nose—a tang of citrus. After all, six people have just materialized out of nowhere, right in front of them.
The most familiar scent of all steps out of the darkness. Leif Cauldwell—a mixed scent of smoke, leather, and a hint of cinnamon. Every eye follows him: tall and golden, head priest of the Fire Temple turned rebel leader. No living human has had more experience with the Fire-breather, except Paia herself. Right now, Cauldwell smells like a man trying hard to look optimistic. Behind his firmly sculpted mouth, his teeth worry the inside of his lip. The Tinker elder Reuben Stokes limps along at his side—brisk odors of salt and pine sap. Luther immediately goes to greet them. Cauldwell’s body is in its prime and powerful, and though Luther’s chin-forward stoop betrays his age, they both tower over little Stoksie. But no matter. All three clasp hands as if they’d last parted unsure of ever seeing each other again.
“Yu wudnta b’leeved it, Leif!” Luther’s murmur is heartfelt and grateful. “Dey sentim packin’, dey did!”
For the soldier’s sake, the Librarian thumbs his translator up to max.
“No, Luther. He left, in a rage!” The remote unit mimics Erde’s girlish
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...