Authors: A. J. Hartley
“Maybe we should go outside,” suggested Alex, who was also starting to get antsy.
“This is Silbrica, remember?” said Darwen. “Who knows what's out there?”
Normally this remark would have had a serious, weighty quality to it, but with the windows showing only the early evening falling softly on acres of manicured gardens, even Darwen knew he sounded paranoid.
“You don't even know that those gardens are real,” he insisted. “Might be a trick of the windows, an effect to make the house feel nicer. Maybe if you step outside, you're actually in some underground cave crawling with monsters.”
“One way to find out,” said Alex, moving to the French windows.
“No!” said Rich. “Not yet. We should see what there is to find here before we go wandering off into whatever dangers are waiting out there.”
“Right,” said Alex, considering the view from the window. “Wouldn't want to risk the perils of a formal English garden. We could prick ourselves on a rosebush or have to run from servants trying to serve us cucumber sandwiches.” She turned abruptly to Darwen. “I take it you didn't have a garden like this at your house?”
“No,” said Darwen flatly.
“Huh,” said Alex, as if this was disappointing but to be expected. “The version of England you came from sure isn't like the movies.”
“Right,” said Darwen. “'Cause all English people live in palaces or thatched cottages, and take tea with the queen.” He rolled his eyes.
“Hey!” protested Rich. “What did
Darwen picked at his bandage.
“He's just feeling a bit less special than he did before you became a mirroculist,” said Alex with a careless shrug.
Darwen saw the hurt confusion flash through Rich's face and shot Alex a murderous look.
“What?” she remarked. “I'm just sayin'.”
“Well, don't,” said Darwen. “It's not that, Rich. It's just this stuff about how I became a mirroculist. And my leg,” he added for good measure.
Rich didn't look completely convinced, but he nodded.
“We should search the house,” said Eileen, as if coming to the end of a private debate. “There must be clues as to where we should go, portals, perhaps.”
“I know we have to find Mr. P and all,” said Alex, “but what about going home? Our families are going to start looking for us about now. If we're not back in an hour or two, my mom will call out the national guard.”
Darwen hadn't thought of this.
Eileen frowned as if just remembering what a pain it was to be dealing with kids who couldn't drive wherever they wanted to go at any time.
“Well,” said Darwen, “we can't go back the way we came. The Atlanta mansion clearly isn't safe. We're going to have to find another way, so I say we start looking. We're supposed to be connecting with allies to stand against Greyling, remember? Maybe we can learn about where Mr. P is at the same time.”
“So we split up and search the house first,” said Eileen.
“No way,” said Alex. “When we split up in the other house, things got bad faster than Rich's dad at an all-you-can-eat barbecue.”
Darwen shot Rich a glance to see if he was offended, but the other boy just shrugged. “The man likes his pork,” he said.
“Together then,” said Eileen. “Darwen, can you walk?”
“Not right fast,” said Darwen, getting to his feet, “but yeah.”
“Okay,” said Eileen, her face set grimly. “Let's do this.”
The Map Room
t took ages
to search the mansion. The building was, at least structurally, an exact copy of the Atlanta building, so that by the time they were done, the light in the gardens outside had dropped to almost nothing. There were caryatids holding up the second story of the lobby, and the house had the same sprawling and irrational collection of rooms. But there were differences. Apart from the windows lining the perimeter walls, the Silbrican version of the watchtower was quite empty: no bed, no observation mirrors, no bathroom door beside a long case clock. So far as they could see, there were no portals of any kind anywhere.
Back downstairs they found another room that had no parallel in the Atlanta house. It stood at the end of a wide hallway hung with brownish paintings of distant hills and waterfalls, behind a pair of polished oak doors. They had seen nothing like these doors in the other mansion, and Darwen instinctively knew that they had found what they were looking for. There was a momentary hesitation as he, Rich, Alex, and Eileen decided they were ready for whatever they would find on the other side; then Eileen, still cradling the almost empty blaster, pushed the doors open.
The room on the other side was one of the oddest Darwen had ever seen. It was circular, and sunken, so that the landing on which they emerged was actually a kind of second story that ringed the chamber below like the gallery in a round theater. Along the rail of this gallery were set copper plates marked with numbers, each one with a pair of buttons beside it, one red, one black. The room below was empty except for a curious tiled floor overlaid with a giant spiderweb of copper wire and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of old-fashioned lightbulbs set into the ground, each one marked with a four-digit number.
“It's a circuit board,” said Rich.
“It's a map,” said Alex.
“It's both,” said Darwen, pushing one of the red buttons on the rail. On the floor below, an amber bulb came to life and throbbed softly. Darwen looked at the plaque next to the button.
“It says 5547,” he read. “Wait. I know what this is. It's a plan of all the gates in Silbrica! Look there, in the middle! That's the Great Apparatus: a circle of a hundred portals.” He pressed the black button, and as the amber bulb died, half a dozen others in different parts of the room lit up. He frowned thoughtfully. “What does that mean?” he mused.
“Let me try,” said Alex, punching buttons at random so that half the floor seemed to glow.
“Stop that,” said Rich. “We can't learn anything if you push things willy-nilly. We've got to be scientific. Everyone stop pushing buttons!”
Grudgingly Alex obliged, though she mouthed
“Okay,” said Rich. “So the red buttons light one bulb, which marks a portal. But the black buttons light upÂ .Â .Â . well, it varies. Sometimes it's only one or two, sometimes it's more, and they aren't all grouped together. That light over there comes on when I hit this black button
when I hit this one, but the other lights that come on at the same time are completely different.”
“Isn't it obvious?” said Alex.
“Not to me,” said Darwen.
“The red button shows the location of the portal,” said Alex. “The black button lights up wherever that portal leads.”
Rich's scowl deepened. “Maybe,” he said, “but how can we be sure?”
“Simple,” said Alex. “Look. Push this black button for portal 2339, five lights come on. One of them isâlet me seeâ4231. Okay, find the buttons for portal 4231.”
Eileen and Rich walked quickly along the great circular walkway, scanning the controls on the rail.
“4231!” shouted Eileen. “Got it.”
“Push the black button,” said Alex.
Eileen did so and eight lights came on, includingÂ .Â .Â .
“2339!” Alex confirmed. “Easy peasy. So this should give us a way to get to every single portal in Silbrica.”
“The observation windows in the watchtower all had numbers!” shouted Darwen. “Including the one where we could see Mr. Peregrine.”
“Don't suppose you remember the combination?” asked Rich, who looked a little shamefaced.
Darwen flushed and shook his head.
“Try 8449,” said Alex.
Everyone turned to look at her.
“You think that's right?” asked Darwen.
“Pretty sure,” she said.
“How on earth did you remember that?” asked Rich.
“My birthday is in August,” she said, as if that made everything clear.
“So?” said Rich.
“August is the eight month, half of eight is four, plus another four to get us back to the eight, then add one for the final number, nine. See?”
Rich's eyes narrowed. “That makes no sense at all,” he said.
“Works, though, doesn't it?” said Alex.
“But there's no system,” said Rich. “It's just random.”
“Guys,” said Darwen, and everyone stopped and looked. He had pushed the red button beside the plate reading 8449 and a crimson bulb had come to life over on the far side of the room. “That's where he is.”
“If we can trust Alex's completely arbitrary method for remembering stuff,” Rich qualified.
“That's where he is,” said Alex with such certainty that even Rich let it go.
“Why is the bulb red?” Rich asked, but no one answered.
“So how do we get there?” asked Eileen.
“Should be easy enough to find out,” said Darwen, pushing the corresponding black button with a rush of hope he hadn't felt for weeks.
That hope stalled immediately.
No lights came on.
Darwen pressed the button again and again, but nothing happened.
“Maybe the map is broken,” said Rich.
“Let's see,” said Alex, hoisting one leg over the rail and dropping softly to the floor below before anyone could stop her.
“Careful!” shouted Rich as she began picking her way across the copper wires on her tiptoes.
“Good suggestion,” said Alex dryly. “'Cause I never would have thought to be careful with all these little glass bulbs and an electric current down here.”
“Fair point,” said Rich.
“I see the problem,” said Alex, squatting delicately close to the only bulb that was still lit, the bulb for portal 8449. She pointed, tracing the spiderweb strands of the copper wire out from that one glowing red spot. “These have all been cut,” she said. “Every wire connecting to this bulb has been clipped. Why would the Guardians do that?”
Darwen's heart sank.
“If we assume the map represents the actual setup of the gates,” said Rich, thinking it through, “then the portal where Mr. P is being held was once on the Guardians' grid, but there's no way to reach it. In fact, that entire section has been cut off. Why?”
“Greyling,” said Darwen. “So we're stuck. We can't reach him.”
“We could get in from our world,” said Rich.
“But we don't know which part of our world connects to the portal!” Darwen shot back, his temper getting the better of him. “And even if we did, we have no chuffin' way of reaching our world from 'ere anyway.” He slammed his hands against the rail, and the sound reverberated around the room like a shot. “We fought our way through 'ere,” he shouted, “and nearly got chuffin' killed in the processâ
âand what do we have to show for it, eh? Chuff all. We're no nearer to finding Mr. Peregrine, and we've got NOTHING!”
That last word bounced around the room like an accusation, and for a long moment no one spoke. They all stood still, looking at the floor. Then Alex looked up.
“You done?” she said.
Darwen nodded once.
“Good,” she said quietly. “And we don't have nothing. Look what I found.”
She held up a battered and stained notebook the size of a paperback. It was brown, dotted with reddish wax and soot, and bound shut with a leather thong. On the cover someone had sketched in spidery black pen the image of an elaborate doorway surrounded by intricate scrollwork.
“What's that?” asked Rich as Alex untied the thong and flicked through what looked like columns of numbers.
“It's basically this,” she said, gesturing at the floor map. “Tables of portal numbers so you can figure out how to get from one gate to the next. Pretty useful, huh?”
Rich agreed that it was, then looked to Darwen, who nodded.
“So now what?” asked Eileen.
“We've searched the house,” said Alex, climbing back up to the gallery, the notebook in one hand. “Darwen's right: there are no portals. So now we go outside and see what we can find out there.” She nodded at the darkened French windows and the night beyond, and as Darwen winced with apprehension, she led the way outside.
But once they were out in the gardens, they found only the beautiful rolling lawns, carefully clipped hedges, and extravagant fountains with elegant spouting statues. In spite of the darkness, it was peaceful, even beautiful.
“I bet this is what Versailles is like,” said Alex happily as they moved down the long, straight gravel path that led from the front steps of the house out through the grounds. “That's in Paris. Have you been?”
“No,” said Darwen.
“Even though it's in Europe and you're from Europe,” Alex said, something she had observed several times in the past.
“There are a lot of things in Europe,” said Darwen testily.
“Most of which you haven't seen, apparently,” Alex agreed.
“These gardens go on forever,” Rich mused. “I wouldn't want to mow this lawn. It would take days. And what kind of grass is this? It ain't Bermuda or fescue.”
“What kind of grass?”
Alex reposted. “It's grass. What's the difference?”
“Well, Bermuda dies off in the winter,” said Rich, “and spreads by surface runners, whereas fescueâ”
“I didn't mean
what's the difference
please explain a
ll about the different types of grass
,” said Alex, shaking her head. “I mean I don't care.”
“If you worked for a lawn care company like my dad's, you'd care,” Rich grumbled.
“You got that right,” Alex muttered darkly.
“What's that supposed to mean?” Rich returned.
“Will you two give it a rest?” said Eileen. “I'm looking for clues that might lead us to Mr. Peregrine. You two are doing nothing for my inner calm.”
Darwen grinned at her in spite of himself, the first time he had ever done so. Eileen, realizing as much, looked surprised, then flushed so that he thought her cheeks turned pink in the low light.
Rich was right. The gardens just seemed to go on forever, and as the house got lost in the dark trees behind them, Darwen began to think that the locus might somehow be infinite, or some kind of loop like Moth's forest, where if you kept walking, you would eventually come back to where you started. But even as he thought this, he saw an elegant array of pale columns arranged like a miniature version of an ancient Greek temple, and he immediately recognized the colonnade for what it was.
“Portals!” he said, pointing.
“Maybe,” said Eileen.
“No,” said Darwen, not sure how he knew. “Definitely.”
Eileen frowned but said nothing, and when they got close enough to see the elegant controls set into the colonnade, she gave a grudging shrug of acknowledgment. “We don't know where they lead though,” she said. “They have no numbers.”
“Not sure it really matters at this point,” said Darwen, “so long as we can get back. We're supposed to be exploring Silbrica anyway. Looking for clues and allies, right? That's what I promised the Guardians.”
“It just seems a bit random,” said Rich.
“While wandering the Infinite Garden is making real progress, you mean?” asked Alex.
“Let's at least look,” said Darwen.
Eileen shrugged again, and Rich, nodding, offered her his hand. Once they were all touching, Darwen led them through. There was more marble on the other side, a once elegant walkway lined with statues of noble-looking beasts, now smashed, spattered with oil and disfigured by large, greasy handprints. There were carefully laid out gardens here too, but the lawns had been churned to mud by the treads of some huge-tracked vehicle. The flower beds had been tramped under foot and the ornamental trees had all been axed or pushed over. Why was anyone's guess, though the damage looked less like construction and more like vandalism.
“More of Greyling's handiwork,” said Darwen, biting his lip. “He's probably trying to disrupt the way the Guardians communicate by having his scrobblers destroy as many portals as he can get access to. Do any of these still work?”
Apart from the gate they had just come through, all but one pair of columns were broken, and the mechanisms set into them had been smashed in. The surviving portal was carved with the numbers 2713.