AS THE TAXI DROVE away, Feckniss walked toward the Square of Ashes. The Square commemorated the burning of London during The Blast, as well as all the death and destruction it had caused the world over. Tall black columns rose from each corner of the Square of Ashes. Rounded gray stone surrounded the base of each column, symbolizing the ash remaining after the last fires had finally burned out. At the top of each column, fire flew. Bright red and orange phoenixes unfurled wings of gold.
So many lost. So much destroyed. Yet the people of London endured. Rebuilt. Re-imagined. Kept going. And remembered.
Feckniss tried to imagine what the world must have been like right after The Blast. Every schoolchild around the world learned that on October 16, 1834, Night’s Day, the first day of year 0 AB, After Blast, a mirror eclipse had shone with a dark sun and a white sun. To this day no one knew why it had happened—but only a few months ago, the world had paused again, holding its breath when the sky shimmered under another mirror eclipse. No one yet understood what had happened in Agamuskara, India, on that far too recent day, and those rebuilding the city would not talk about it. Deep Inc. operatives had been there, trailing Rucksack, but before they could report back they had died in the disasters that had destroyed much of the city.
The Blast had begun in Galway, then blossomed outward like a terrible flower, changing the entire suffering world. Fires swept over Ireland. Galway had been decimated. Today its lands remained blackened and uninhabitable, yet England had fared far worse. As the power of The Blast swept west over the Atlantic Ocean and east over Ireland, it crossed the Irish Sea and set fire to the fields and cities of England. Today there was still The Char, a wide black band that stretched from Galway in western Ireland to the Black Cliffs of Dover at the edge of southeastern England, the burned lands of the path of The Blast. One hundred and thirty years later, people were only just beginning to return to many of those regions.
As England burned, its global empire had shuddered—and fallen. Beginning with three heroes who rose in Ireland, Scotland, and India, in the wake of The Blast, in the midst of the confusion and loss England had suffered, the colonies had rebelled and regained independence, most with little or no loss of life. The island of Britain shattered into three countries, and a whole and free Ireland quickly rebounded. Simmering tensions between countries and peoples cooled—having seen enough devastation, peaceful resolutions to difficulties resounded throughout the shuddering world.
In the British colonies military and business forces relented. Most cared only for what had happened at home, boarding ships for England to learn the fates of loved ones, to see the devastation with their own eyes. But above all, the soldiers and clerks, ambassadors and businessmen, had left the former colonies for one simple reason. In one moment, much of England had become a black and desolate land—but that didn’t matter. It was still home, and home had been hurt, so they returned to do what they could for where they had come from.
Of all the damage, all the lives lost, London had fared the worst. Some now talked of the decimation of London as similar to the Great Fire of 1666, when much of the city burned, destroying the homes of over seventy thousand in a city of eighty thousand. But far more had died in The Blast than in the Great Fire. Despite all the rebuilding, despite those who had come from other lands, many accepting English citizenship in exchange for helping clean up and rebuild, London still felt like it wore clothes that it hadn’t grown into yet.
As Feckniss walked through the Square of Ashes, he thought about the former city of Galway. Once a hub of trade and culture, the ruin of Galway was now a blackened place where none could enter but the specialized scientists who worked at the research center there. It was said that Galway now had ash instead of dirt, and the very air was gray, as if it still singed. All the land was black, as were the waters of Galway Bay. Despite years of study, no one knew how The Blast had happened, what it was, what caused it—and whether or not it could happen again.
Feckniss passed over the stone plaza, famous for its delicate, subtle shading that progressively lightened from black at the edges of the plaza, to gray, until the center. In a circle at the very center of the square, calm waters shimmered in a clear, shallow pool of milky white stone called the Moon of Hope. Behind the pool, at the edge of the plaza, a tall column was topped by the golden Sun of Tomorrow.
A man gazing into the waters turned to Feckniss and said, “Do you ever wonder what London would be like if The Blast hadn't happened?”
Feckniss shrugged. “This place would probably just commemorate a battle or something.”
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