Authors: A. J. Hartley
“Okay, Alex,” said Rich.
“You hit me with a chair?” said Eileen, one hand straying to the back of her head. The question wasn't outraged so much as baffled, as if she was straining to recall something just beyond her reach.
“You don't remember,” said Rich. “Any of it? You don't remember what you were doing? What you did beforeÂ .Â .Â .Â ?”
“It's okay,” Darwen inserted. “It was an accidentâright, Rich?”
Rich gave him a look, saw the determination in his eyes, then shrugged. “That's right,” he said. “Just an accident.”
“That's okay then,” said Eileen, massaging her scalp and smiling. “I'd hate to think I had made a fool of myself and couldn't remember what I did.”
Darwen held his smile as long as he could, then looked away, blinking back tears. It wasn't her fault. Telling her what she had done as the Fixer, particularly to his parents, would only devastate her. That wasn't fair. Her body but not her mind was guilty. She had been under the control of first the Guardians, then Greyling, but that control had been broken, and with it that part of her past had died. Darwen would not resurrect it.
On the other side of the square, chair-strewn lawn, something small and dark stirred, shaking off a pile of rubble and sitting up, its eyes bright.
“Weazen!” Alex exclaimed, running over and snatching the creature up. “I didn't think you'd made it!”
“Took a bit of a tumble,” muttered the Peace Hunter. “And got more than a little singed byÂ .Â .Â . hey! Watch it! Stop! Put me down!”
But Alex was dancing around the quadrangle, Weazen held tightly against her chest, kissing his scorched and matted fur, till even Darwen found himself grinning. As she cavorted around, he gave Mr. Peregrine a sidelong glance. The old man was beaming too.
Darwen returned his gaze to Alex, who was still dancing with a struggling Weazen, and he began to laugh outright.
“Check it out!” shouted Alex, in between croons and kisses. “This right here? This could have been our bit in the talent show.”
he semester concluded
without another class meeting. The school was closed pending “structural remodeling” and various investigations over exactly what had happened the night of the end-of-term gala. For a few evenings, the story made local headlines, but as the true nature of events failed to emerge, the TV reporters seemed to lose interest. Every time it came on, however, Darwen would find himself watching his aunt's face, trying to see what she remembered. She still worked long hours, but she had taken to turning her phone and laptop off while they sat together for meals, and when the news items about Hillside started, she would become strangely still and focused. The pattern was always the same. She looked confused, like she was straining to recall something important from long ago, and then she would offer to make him a sandwich, or bring him a Coke, and would wind up sitting silently next to him on the couch with her arm around him. Her embrace was always a little too tight for comfort, a little desperate, and she avoided his eyes, but Darwen was glad of it.
Mr. Peregrine was somehow a teacher again, or so he said. Principal Thompson had been placed on administrative leave indefinitely, whatever that meant, and the new principal was Mr. Sumners, the math teacher. He had reinstated Mr. Peregrine without ever trying to get a solid explanation for why he had been absent so long. It seemed that with all the negative publicity the school was getting, he could not afford to turn any teacher away who wished to stay on. He never knew that Mr. Peregrineâthe real Mr. Peregrine rather than the Jenkins creature that had worn the Mr. Peregrine flesh suitâhad never actually taught a class at Hillside.
Two nights after the abortive gala, Darwen, Rich, and Alex went through the oven door to the Great Apparatus and up to the council chamber, where they found Lightborne, Jorge, and the others seated as if they had been expected.
“Mr. Arkwright,” said Lightborne, rising. “I believe we owe you a debt of gratitude.”
“You do,” said Darwen, with such simple certainty that he felt them suddenly tense. “And I will tell you how you are going to repay me.”
Lightborne's benevolent smile flickered. “You have our undivided attention,” he said.
“Good,” said Darwen quietly. “You have shown yourselves unwise. You have been deficient in your governing of Silbrica. Worse, you have made alliances with the enemies of Silbrica to preserve your own power and have resorted to treachery and murder.Â .Â .Â .” His voice faltered. Everyone in the room looked at him. “Murder,” he repeated, “including that of my parents, to give yourselves tools against those who might oppose you.”
“Darwen, there are things you do not understand,” said Lightborne. “I see how our methods must seem extreme to youâ”
“Seem?” Darwen interrupted. For a moment he thought he would rage at them, scream and point, accuse and bellow till his lungs bled, but those, he suddenly felt, were the actions of a desperate and powerless child, which he was not. He smiled thoughtfully. “You may explain your actions any way you like, but it will not excuse them. I am suspending the council immediately. You are all fired.”
“On what authority?” gasped Lightborne, genuinely surprised now.
“That of the mirroculists,” said Darwen, “and their allies, who, as you know, will come if we call them.”
That silenced them.
“The boy has a point!” called a voice from the stone seats lining the chamber. It was Weazen. He was eating pizza again, his muzzle shiny with oil. Beside him, as if suspended in the air, was a tiny but constant green light. Moth was with him.
Darwen smiled and felt his conviction grow.
“If you think you are worthy to join the new body that will replace you,” he added, “you may apply to Mr. Octavius Peregrine, the dellfey called Moth, Weazenâthe Peace Hunterâand Ms. Blodwyn Evans, who, you will be pleased to know, is fully recovered and back to her old self. They will be in charge of the process. Consider carefully how much of your past you want exposed before applying.”
Lightborne looked thunderstruck, but he also knew when he was beaten. He shrugged off his formal robes and let them lie where they fell, then he walked away, up the long stairs and out of the chamber. The others followed suit.
Jorge went last, and he did so after first smiling at them and nodding. “This,” he said, “is good. Silbrica is a wondrous place, Darwen Arkwright. Pay attentions to its health.”
When they had all gone and Darwen, Rich, and Alex were alone in the great chamber, Alex approached the shimmering energy dome. “So you've gotten rid of the old guard,” she said. “Who will take over? Silbrica requires a group who will be bound together mentally to oversee the good of the world. Where are you gonna find people who will get it right?”
“The Guardians aren't from here, remember?” said Darwen. “They ruled over the place, but it wasn't really theirs. It's not surprising that Greyling was once one of them.”
“So what's the alternative?” asked Rich.
“We turn Silbrica over to the people who live here,” said Darwen. “We build a council of dellfeys and mammoth herders, pouncels and zingers, snorkies and whatever else can think and communicate and share a vision for what Silbrica is.”
Rich whistled. “That's a pretty tall order, Darwen,” he said. “They have lived separately for a long time. Not sure how well they'll work together.”
“That's for them to determine,” said Darwen. “They came together to protect not just their own loci but the whole world. I think they can keep it up. Mr. Peregrine will help.”
“And you?” said Alex. “What about you? What about us?”
“We did what we had to,” said Darwen. “Greyling is gone and our fight is over. Now we get to explore, to enjoy the world we helped save. I don't know if Mr. Peregrine is right, if I'll be able to open the portals forever, but I, for one, intend to use the gift as if I might one day lose it.”
“Me too,” said Rich.
“Try and stop me,” said Alex, grinning. She took each of their hands. “Mirroculists together forever, whatever happens.”
“The Peregrine Pact,” said Darwen, pulling them a little closer.
“I told you,” said Alex. “First day you arrived, I knew we'd be best friends. You didn't believe me, but I was
on the money.”
“That's right,” said Darwen, grinning at Rich. “I didn't believe you.”
“Yeah, whatever,” Alex sneered. “Laugh it up. You didn't see it coming, but now I'm the most important person in both of your lives. It was inevitable, really.”
“That's right,” Rich agreed, rolling his eyes. “You are the star of the show.”
“And don't you forget it,” Alex shot back. “So what do you say we pick a locus we've never visited before and see what it has to offer?”
“Maybe tomorrow,” said Darwen. “I promised my aunt I'd bring you guys over for dinner tonight.”
“She still feeling just guilty enough to give you whatever you want?” asked Alex.
“Pretty much,” said Darwen. “She's not sure why, but she can deny me nothing.”
“You should ask for pulled pork,” said Rich. “With Texas toast and baked beans.”
“Seriously?” said Alex as they began to walk down to the Great Apparatus and the chute up to Darwen's room. “She's reeling from nearly killing him and you want to exploit that by asking her for barbecue? That's just sad. You should ask for a car. Something sleek and fancy that I'll look good in. Heck, Rich can already drive, so long as we don't have to cross any bridges in traffic.Â .Â .Â .”
“I did just fine on the bridge,” Rich inserted.
“Whatever, tractor boy,” Alex returned. “If I hadn't been navigating and yelling every time you almost bashed a cop car, we would have been in the ocean.”
As Rich sputtered his protests, Darwen smiled to himself, casting a long look over the circle of portals in the center of the room, all leading to strange and astonishing places, a near infinite network of wonders to explore. Without him and his friends, none of this would be here. They had stood their ground against Greyling and his scrobbler army and they had won. Silbrica at last knew peace and freedom.
“You coming, man?” Alex shot back from the chute. “I thought we were having dinner.”
“I'm coming,” said Darwen. “Just taking it in.”
“It will all still be here tomorrow,” said Alex. “You can check it out then.”
“Yes,” said Darwen, turning his smile upon her. “Yes, I can.”
Thanks to my wife and son, who read early drafts of the manuscript and provided invaluable feedback, to my agent, Stacey Glick, to Ben Schrank, Sarah Van Bonn, Natalie Sousa, Kristin Logsdon, andâ especiallyâGillian Levinson at Razorbill. I am also particularly grateful to the teachers, students, and booksellers whom I have met in the last couple of years as I toured schools. You remain a constant inspiration.