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The Chosen Ones

The Chosen Ones

The Chosen Ones 28


  ‘And so you saved your father, and let Skylurian lock herself in a vault to starve to death.’

  ‘I feel a bit sorry for her,’ said Effie.

  ‘Yes, well. She brought it on herself. How did you know that it was her plan, and not Albion Freake’s?’

  ‘My friend found out that Albion Freake can’t read. Pretty hard to be a Last Reader if you can’t read a book. We worked out the rest of it from there.’

  ‘Brilliant,’ said Pelham. ‘Well done.’

  ‘Can she really not escape from the vault?’ asked Effie.

  Pelham shrugged. ‘She’d have needed to make it completely secure so that the book could never be discovered and read again – at least not before it had decayed. She had to make completely sure she was its Last Reader, so I’d say she’s stuck in there. She’s not a mage, and so can’t go to the Underworld. I don’t think she has any direct way to the Otherworld. She’s a galloglass anyway, so would have been expelled a long time ago.’

  ‘Oh.’

  ‘You did well out there last night, Effie. Another outcome had Laurel and Raven dead – and perhaps even you, too – with Skylurian on the loose ready to plan another nefarious scheme. That factory of hers . . .’

  ‘I found out what it does, by the way,’ said Effie. As quickly as she could she told Pelham what she’d found out about Miss Dora Wright and the capsules. ‘But I think in the end it was all a scheme to fuel her attack on the Otherworld.’

  ‘And that can’t happen now, thanks to you.’

  ‘How do you know so much about what happened last night?’

  ‘Oh. People talk. I get around. It turns out there was no Diberi plot to get to the Otherworld this Sterran Guandré at all, apart from this one of Skylurian’s. I think the European Diberi are planning something big, but I don’t know what it is. So anyway, you were really the most useful of all of us last night. And we want to thank you. We’re planning a big party for you in the Otherworld. But everyone wants to know when you’re going to arrive.’

  Effie sighed. ‘Never,’ she said sadly. ‘But give everyone my love.’

  ‘What do you mean, never?’ said Pelham.

  ‘I lost the card,’ said Effie, tears coming to her eyes. ‘I had to sacrifice it so that Skylurian would release my father and then lock herself in the vault. It’s down there with her.’

  ‘You do know she can’t use it?’

  Effie nodded. ‘I suspected that. But it doesn’t matter. I’ll still never get it back.’

  ‘I still don’t see what the problem is,’ said Pelham. ‘You don’t need the card to get to the Otherworld. Did you think you did? Oh, child, how quaint. You get the card merely as a symbol of your having the boon, but the real boon is inside you. Come on, do you think we care so little for you that we’d let our connection rest on a small piece of cardboard?’ He shook his head. ‘Look, it’s three o’clock in the afternoon here. How about you come with me to Truelove House for a week of celebrations? You can be back here in time for supper.’

  ‘But . . .?’

  ‘Just follow me,’ said Pelham. ‘Where do you normally go through?’

  ‘There’s a hedge, five minutes’ walk from here.’

  ‘Good. Well, let’s go.’

  29

  ‘So I never needed the card at all?’ said Effie to Pelham as they walked down the street.

  ‘You probably did the first couple of times. But the energy transfers to you. It’s hard to explain.’

  ‘So I can go to Truelove House whenever I want, from anywhere?’ said Effie.

  ‘It takes practice,’ said Pelham. ‘For now I’d stick to travelling through the impression you’ve already made between the dimensions. And we’ll give you a new card when we get back. Just to be on the safe side. Travelling using a card is like riding a horse with a saddle. What we’re about to do is more like riding bareback. But it should work. Now, you say there was a hedge . . .?’

  Effie and Pelham walked through the cold afternoon until they reached the old village green by the Black Pig pub.

  ‘Right,’ said Pelham. ‘I want you to concentrate and do exactly what you would have done if you’d had the card.’

  ‘I would have looked at it, and . . .’

  ‘Well, look at the space where it would have been,’ said Pelham. ‘And go into a meditative state.’

  ‘All right,’ said Effie.

  ‘Ready?’

  ‘Yes.’

  It was bright and warm in the Otherworld as usual. Effie walked through the gates of Truelove House and across the gardens with Pelham Longfellow by her side. Bees buzzed, birds sung, butterflies flapped about. Effie could smell flowers all around her.

  ‘See?’ Pelham said to Effie.

  ‘Thank you,’ she said back, grinning. ‘I can’t tell you how pleased I am to be back. I thought I’d never come here again.’

  ‘Your sacrifice truly was a great one if you thought that,’ said Pelham. ‘Anyway, come on – I think everyone’s waiting for us.’

  Effie followed Pelham Longfellow in through the doors to the large glass conservatory. Inside the air was sweet and damp. Clothilde was there watering the plants, clearly waiting for them to arrive. When she saw Effie she immediately put down her watering can and smiled and clapped her hands.

  Then, while Pelham went to get something from upstairs, Clothilde took Effie’s hand and led her through the house to the large drawing room. The vast but delicate white curtains were billowing in the breeze coming from the open French doors. Effie could see on the table a pile of gifts, all wrapped in silver and gold paper and tied with turquoise ribbons. Was it someone’s birthday?

  ‘Cosmo wants to see you now,’ said Clothilde. ‘And then we’re going to have a picnic tea on the lawn. Tomorrow Pelham’s going to take you to Froghole to get your Keeper’s mark, and your consultation, and any books and supplies you think you’ll need while you’re here. Then we’ll have a big party.’ She grinned, and pushed a lock of hair out of her eyes. ‘Oh!’ she said. ‘We’re going to have such fun together. And one day Rollo’s going to cover for me in the library so I can take you clothes shopping. You can’t imagine how perfect it’s going to be!’ She bit her lip. ‘I’m so sorry you almost died because of us. And you had the Yearning.’ Clothilde touched Effie’s arm. ‘I can’t imagine what that must have been like. Anyway, we’re here.’

  While she had been talking, Clothilde had been leading Effie through the French doors and out across the lawn, where a picnic rug was ready for afternoon tea. Then they had walked down a thin pathway until they came to a summerhouse.

  ‘He’s in there,’ said Clothilde. ‘I’d better leave you to it and go and see how Bertie’s getting on with the tea.’

  Effie knocked on the door. When she heard Cosmo’s gentle voice say ‘Come in’, she almost felt like crying, although she wasn’t sure why. Not in a sad way, just with a kind of relief.

  ‘Oh, child,’ he said when he saw her. ‘I’m so glad to see you in good health again. Last time you were here . . . Well.’ He shook his head sadly. ‘Sit. Tell me everything. But not if you’re too tired. We can have tea first, if you like.’

  But Effie wanted to tell him everything, so she did.

  ‘You made a great sacrifice for us,’ said Cosmo. ‘Why?’

  ‘Because you’re my family,’ said Effie. ‘And because . . .’

  ‘Go on.’

  ‘Well, this is the nicest, most beautiful place I have ever seen. I just think it needs protecting. No one should be allowed to destroy it, or use it for evil. If I had to never come here again in order to protect it, then I would make that choice. I mean, I thought I had made that choice.’

  ‘You can always come here, child,’ said Cosmo. ‘Whatever happens.’

  ‘Unless I lose all my lifeforce again,’ said Effie.

  ‘Yes,’ Cosmo nodded. He sighed. ‘Yes, well, there is that. But now you are friends with a mage who will travel to the Underworld and bring back deepwater
for you. That is something none of us has ever had before. It’s a true blessing.’

  ‘Yes,’ said Effie. ‘He’s a very special friend.’

  ‘And I’m sure you won’t go into the library again until you’ve been taught how to do so safely.’

  ‘No. I won’t. I promise.’

  ‘It wasn’t your fault,’ said Cosmo. ‘The book led you in.’

  ‘Cosmo,’ said Effie. ‘What is the Great Library? I know it’s very important, but I still don’t know what it does. And why does everyone see it differently?’

  ‘Excellent question. You do know how to get to the heart of things, don’t you? We experience the Great Library differently because it exists in another, higher dimension. We can only see in three dimensions, so anything more complicated than that has to be sort of folded down to fit our consciousness and made into shapes we can comprehend. Out of a many-dimensional library, your brain has to make something in three dimensions that it can understand.’ Cosmo stroked his beard. ‘Hmm. It is extremely hard to explain.’

  ‘I think I understand, sort of,’ said Effie. ‘And what is the importance of the books? I mean, what does the library do?’

  ‘What do you think it does?’

  Effie shook her head. ‘I don’t know. Something to do with reality . . . But I don’t know what.’

  ‘Excellent,’ said Cosmo. ‘But what makes you say that?’

  ‘Just a feeling,’ said Effie. ‘And I suppose if it’s where everyone wants to invade . . .’

  ‘Your instincts are good, child. So I shall tell you as simply as I can – although this is very, very difficult for ordinary people to understand. The Great Library holds the blueprint for the whole universe. People from your world sometimes refer to it as a “source code”, although it is in no way digital. It is much more fundamental and ancient than that. Every book in the library controls some aspect of reality. Section F04 concerns the Big Bang, for example. Section B03 is music theory. The numbers G20–29 deal with quantum physics. And G18 and 19 are relativity. We have dictionaries for every language ever spoken. It’s very important that the books are not disturbed. We look after them, read them, maintain them . . . It takes all our time. But looking after the Great Library is one of the most important jobs in the whole universe.’

  ‘Why do you read the books?’ asked Effie.

  ‘Books need to be read. These ones especially. And they must never, ever be the subject of a Last Reading, at least not during the normal lifetime of the universe. They would confer too much power on the reader. One of the tasks of the Trueloves is to keep reading the books, century after century. We also shelve new books and—’

  ‘Where do the new books come from?’

  ‘Your world or our world. If something important is discovered – like Einstein’s relativity, for example – and if enough people believe it’s true, then the book goes in the library and becomes part of the source code of existence. Getting the book in is a very complex process, as it should be. But we are still making the universe, and the books reflect that. In our world, wizards like me are bound to go on a wizard quest every ten thousand moons or so. Roughly every thirty years. If we find new knowledge as a result of the wizard quest, then we can make an application for the knowledge to be bound and stored in the Great Library. But it happens very rarely.’

  ‘Can a book end up in the library by accident?’

  ‘Oh no, child. No.’ Cosmo frowned, and shook his head.

  ‘But The Chosen Ones is there. My mother put it there. Was it deliberate?’

  There was a long pause, almost as if Cosmo hadn’t properly heard Effie say that the book was there, or didn’t want to hear it.

  ‘Now that is a difficult question to answer,’ said Cosmo, frowning. ‘You must be tired, and we’ve talked enough for now.’ He stood up. ‘I think it’s time for tea. And before that – presents!’

  ‘Is it someone’s birthday?’

  Cosmo chuckled. ‘In a manner of speaking, perhaps. We hear you are an interpreter as well as a true hero. That’s a very valuable art indeed. So we’ve all been shopping and found you a few gifts. Come.’

  Effie followed Cosmo back into the house. There, waiting by the table, were Clothilde, Pelham, Rollo and Bertie. They were all smiling at her. The pile of gifts looked huge – even larger than before.

  ‘Well,’ said Clothilde, ‘are you going to open them?’

  ‘They can’t really all be for me,’ said Effie.

  ‘They are,’ said Pelham. ‘Come on. Get on with it. I want my tea and cakes. Bertie’s made cream puffs.’ He smiled and handed Effie the first package. ‘This one’s from me,’ he said.

  Effie took the small silver box and carefully undid the turquoise ribbon. Inside was a beautiful silver watch with two rose quartz faces.

  ‘Now you’ll be able to tell the time in the Realworld and the Otherworld simultaneously,’ said Pelham. ‘I’ve got one too. It’s invaluable.’

  ‘Thank you,’ said Effie, putting it on.

  The next present was a brass key on a piece of light red ribbon.

  ‘It’s for the Great Library,’ said Cosmo. ‘Although we’ll train you properly before you go in next time.’

  Effie opened another parcel to find a large box of Otherworld Fourflower chocolates, which were her favourite thing to eat in the world. Another box contained a beautiful new silk jumpsuit from Clothilde, all wrapped up in turquoise tissue paper. It was a dark mauve colour, with gold stars on it. Then came fabric-bound notebooks, a pen and pencil set and a collection of inks in the most beautiful Otherworld colours: ivory gold, rose silver and the deepest turquoise.

  ‘And I thought you’d make good use of this,’ said Clothilde, passing Effie a book-shaped package.

  Inside was a very old-looking book bound in thick cream cloth and edged with silver. It had a pure silk cloud-coloured ribbon with which you could mark what page you were on.

  ‘It’s a universal dictionary,’ said Clothilde. ‘You can use it to look up any word in any language. I think you’ll like it.’

  ‘Thank you,’ said Effie. She hugged Clothilde and gave her a little kiss on each cheek. ‘It’s wonderful.’

  Soon there was only one package left. It was a long thin shape with bulges near one end.

  ‘Impossible to wrap,’ said Rollo. ‘But I did my best.’

  Inside was a beautiful polished rosewood caduceus. The main shaft had two wise-looking snakes wrapped around it, and two carved wings at the top. It was beautiful, but also very big. Effie was just wondering how she would take it anywhere with her when Rollo took it from her and somehow shrunk it down to the size of a hairpin, which he held in the palm of his hand.

  ‘I thought this would look nice in your hair,’ he said. ‘Although you could always just put it in your pocket, or wear it around your neck with your Sword of Light. It’s up to you. You can also carry it around full-size if you want to, if you were on a long journey or something and wanted to use it as a staff. But – and this is the really exciting bit – it also works when it’s small. The craftsman who made it was very proud of it. He said it had been in his shop for years, but I knew when I saw it that it was the right one for you.’

  ‘Thank you,’ said Effie. She had always been a little frightened of Rollo, but now, as he drew her into a slightly stiff hug, she realised that he did mean well, even if he didn’t always express it in the warmest way. He wanted what she wanted: what was good for Truelove House. And now she knew what they were looking after here – the source code for the entire universe – she also understood why he took it so seriously.

  Effie took the small wooden hairpin in her hand. She was about to ask how to make it full-size again, but then she realised that she already knew. She thought about the technique that she used to travel through the calling card – when she’d had it – which had worked even without the card. The feeling she had when she concentrated on her Sword of Light. The feeling she’d experienced when she was trying to m
editate her way out of the Yearning. She now looked at the small wooden caduceus and dropped her mind down into the deepest, calmest frequency she could reach. She willed the caduceus to grow again, and it did.

  ‘I see you’re learning magic, child,’ said Cosmo.

  ‘Yes, I suppose I am,’ said Effie.

  She shrunk the caduceus again and put it in her hair. She couldn’t wait to begin using it to help her with her translations, and with working out what the Diberi might get up to next. One thing was for sure: she was always going to protect Truelove House, as long as there was blood in her veins. It was what it meant to be a Truelove.

  ‘Well,’ said Clothilde. ‘Shall we all go and have tea?’

  Effie followed Clothilde, Cosmo, Rollo and Pelham out into the warm afternoon, knowing that she was about to have the best week of her life. What would follow that, she didn’t know. Probably more heartache, pain and difficulty as she continued with the fight against the Diberi. But she had her friends, and she had her family, and the sun was shining down on her from a perfect blue sky. For now, that was enough.

  Acknowledgements

  Thank you, as always, to my partner Rod Edmond, who read every draft of this book with love and care, and who has been the most wonderful companion on this adventure so far.

  Thanks also to my family: Mum, Couze, Sam, Hari, Nia, Ivy and Gordian, for all the love, support and happiness you have given me. And many thanks as well to my extended whānau: Daisy, Ed, Molly, Eliza, Max, Jo, Claire, Murray, Joanna, Marion, Lyndy and Teuila.

  Francis Bickmore deserves a special thank you, as always, not just for being my long-standing editor but for being such a lovely friend.

  Thank you as well to all my other friends, students and colleagues, in particular Teri Johns, whose help and wisdom has changed my life for the better, David Flusfeder, Sue Swift, Alex Preston, Jennie Batchelor, Amy Sackville, Vybarr Cregan-Reid, Alice Bates, Steve Bates, Pat Lucas, Emma Lee, Charlotte Webb, David Herd, Caroline Greville and family, Martha Schulman, Katie Szyszko, Amy Lilwall, Tom Ogier, Roger Baker, Suzi Feay, Stuart Kelly and Gonzalo Garcia.