Authors: Garth Nix
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Fiction
The Keys To The Kingdom, Book 6
The secret of his own identity.
The identity of The Architect.
The complete Will of the House.
The fulfillment of his fate.
Arthur Penhaligon is getting closer and closer to these things... but not without risks, conflict, and adventure.
The Keys To The Kingdom
‘WOW! That’s all I can say—WOW.’
—Theresa Chance, 14
is a complete and utter masterpiece; one of the best books I’ve ever read. I fully recommend it for readers of all ages and I can’t wait for the next one.’
‘... a ripping yarn that can be read by adults and children alike.’
The Sydney Morning Herald
‘... an epic journey of the imagination.’
Australian Bookseller & Publisher
‘Exciting, engrossing, humorous and deliciously creepy.’
‘... relentlessly thrilling and unstinting in its amazing imagination.’
‘The action is non-stop, but it is the characterisation and the quirky invention that make the book.’
‘Nix keeps his taut and energetic series moving at breakneak pace, sustaining action and mystery until the last page.’
‘I said once that this series was better than Harry Potter, and Garth Nix just keeps proving me right.’
The Keys to the Kingdom series
Other books by Garth Nix
The Old Kingdom trilogy:
To all the patient readers and publishing folk who have been waiting for me to finish this book. And, as always, to Anna, Thomas and Edward, and all my friends and family.
Saturday, self-styled Superior Sorcerer of the House, stood in her private viewing chamber at the very apex of her dominion, atop the tower that she had been building for almost ten thousand years. This clear crystal-walled room was always at the top, the builders lifting it higher and higher as new levels were slotted in below.
Saturday looked down through the rain-washed glass, at the multitude of fuzzy green spots of light below. It looked like the tower, thousands of feet high, had suffered a vast, vertical infestation of green glow-worms, but the spots of light actually came from the green-shaded lamps that sat on every desk in the Upper House, in exactly the same position, just as each desk was set exactly in the middle of an open cube of red wrought iron, with a grille floor and no ceiling.
These cubes—the basic building blocks of Saturday’s tower—ran on vertical and horizontal rails, ascending, descending, or moving sideways according to the merits of the Denizens who worked at the desks.
Each cube was dragged into place by a series of chains that were driven by mighty steam engines, deep below the tower. The actual work of building the rails and fueling the engines was done by bronze automatons and a small number of luckless Denizens who had failed Saturday in some way. Even lower in status were the grease monkeys, Piper’s children who oiled and maintained the miles and miles of dangerous, fast-moving machinery.
Superior Saturday looked down upon her domain, but the sight of her mighty tower and the tens of thousands of sorcerers within it did not quicken her pulse. Eventually, though she fought against the urge, she stopped looking down and started looking up.
At first she saw only cloud, but then came a glimmer of green light, a darker, more mysterious green than the glow of her lamps. The clouds parted slightly to show the emerald ceiling of the Upper House, which was also the floor of the Incomparable Gardens. Saturday grimaced, an ugly look on her otherwise extraordinarily beautiful face. For ten thousand years she had been building her tower in order to reach and invade the Incomparable Gardens. Yet no matter how high she built, the Gardens moved farther away, and Lord Sunday taunted her by making sure she was the only one to see it. If any of her Denizens looked up, the clouds would close again.
Saturday curled her lip and looked away, but her new view offered no solace. Far off, on the edge of the Upper House, there was a dark vertical shadow that stretched from the ground to the clouds. Close up, it too would shine green, for it was a vast tree, one of the four Drasil trees that supported the Incomparable Gardens above.
The Drasil trees were the reason Saturday could never build her tower high enough, because the trees grew faster than she could build, and lifted the Gardens as they grew.
She had tried to destroy or stunt the Drasils with sorcery, poison and brute force, but none of her schemes had affected the trees in the slightest. She had sent Artful Loungers and Sorcerous Supernumeraries to climb the trunks and infiltrate the domain of Lord Sunday, but they had never made it further than halfway up, defeated by the huge defensive insects that lived in tunnels within the bark of the great trees. Even flying was out of the question. High above the clouds, the Drasils’ branches spread everywhere, and the trees’ limbs were predatory, vicious and very fast.
This had been the situation for millennia, with Saturday building, the Drasils growing, and Sunday remaining aloof and mighty above, secure in the Incomparable Gardens.
But all that had changed with a sneeze on the surface of a distant, dead star. The Architect’s Will had finally been released and had selected a Rightful Heir. Now that Heir was gathering the Keys from the disloyal Trustees. Arthur, his name was—a mortal whose success and speed had surprised not only Saturday.
Not that Arthur’s triumphs mattered too much to Saturday, given that she had been planning for the execution of the Will and the arrival of an Heir almost since the moment the Architect disappeared. She was not just a Trustee, with the power the Architect’s Key gave her; she was also an enormously powerful and learned sorcerer in her own right. Apart from the Old One and the Architect, she was the most ancient entity in the Universe. Therein lay the canker in her heart. She was the first Denizen the Architect had made, and she felt she should have been supreme over all others, including the Architect’s children (an experiment she had decried at the time). It was not Sunday who should dwell in the Incomparable Gardens, but Saturday. Every thing she did was directed to remedying this injustice.
A muffled cough behind her recalled Saturday to present events. She turned, her cloak of starshine and moonshade billowing up around her shapely legs. Apart from the cloak, which was an ancient thing of sorcery, Saturday wore a robe of spun gold scattered with tiny sapphires, and high-heeled shoes that were made of steel and had vicious points. Her long electric-blue hair was loose on her shoulders and restrained at the brow by a gold circlet on which sorcerous words looped and writhed, spelt out in shifting diamonds.
‘I beg your pardon, Majesty,’ said a tall, impecca bly dressed Denizen. He knelt as she turned around, his swallow-tailed coat falling on his impossibly shiny boot heels.
‘You are the candidate to be my new Dusk,’ said Saturday.
The Denizen bowed his head still lower, indicating agreement.
‘The former Dusk was your brother? Turned out of the same mould?’
‘Yes, Majesty, the elder of us by a moment.’
‘Good,’ said Saturday. ‘He served me well, and was at least partially successful in his last assignment, though he met his end. Has Noon acquainted you with all the matters at hand?’
‘I believe so, Majesty,’ said the new Saturday’s Dusk.
Saturday flicked a finger, and her Dusk stood up. Though he was easily seven feet tall, his mistress was at least a foot taller, even without her steel shoes. In any case, he kept his head bowed, not daring to look her in the eye.
‘Tell me, then,’ she said. ‘Do all my enterprises conjoin for the final victory?’
‘We believe so,’ said Dusk. ‘Though the House does not crumble as swiftly as was hoped at one time, it does fall, and our new offensive should accelerate matters. At present, our reports show that Nothing has impinged greatly into the Far Reaches and across large areas of the Border Sea and, though it is not related to our activities, there has been some considerable damage to the mountain defences of the Great Maze. It is now almost certainly beyond the power of Dame Primus, as the Will calls itself, and its cat’s paw, Arthur, to prevent the destruction.’
‘Good,’ said Saturday. ‘What of the effect upon the trees?’
‘As the Nothing spreads, the deeper roots of the Drasil are severed. This has already slowed their growth by some six per cent. However, they still lift the Gardens faster than we can build. Projections indicate that when the entirety of the Far Reaches and the Lower House have been devoured by the Nothing, we will be able to build faster than the trees can grow, and can reach the target position in days. If more of the House falls, it will be a matter of hours.’
‘Excellent!’ cried Saturday, a smile rippling across her shining, blue-painted lips. ‘I trust the Front Door remains closed, and the elevators secured? I want no interference from Primus or the Piper.’
‘The Front Door remains shut, though the Lieutenant Keeper has petitioned the Court of Days for it to be reopened. So if Lord Sunday—’
‘Sunday immures himself in the Gardens,’ Saturday interrupted. ‘He cares not for anything else. He will not interfere—at least not until it is too late for him to do anything.’
‘As you say, Majesty,’ said Dusk diplomatically. ‘All elevator entrances into the Upper House have been sealed and are guarded, but it is believed that renegade operators have opened some services in other parts of the House.’
‘Let them run about the ruins,’ said Saturday. ‘The sorceries against the Improbable Stair and the Fifth Key remain constant?’
‘Four shifts of nine hundred sorcerers each maintain the wards. Twenty-eight hundred executive-level sorcerers wait at ready desks, should they need to counter any workings of the Keys held by the Pretender or a sorcerous attack from the Piper.’
‘The Piper!’ Saturday spat. ‘If only I had managed to finish him centuries ago! At least he blames his brother. What is the latest news of the Piper? Have we got rid of his blasted rats?’
Dusk proceeded with caution. ‘We are not absolutely clear on what the Piper is doing. His forces have withdrawn from the Great Maze, presumably to the worldlet he made for his New Nithlings. But we have not yet located that worldlet, nor do we know if he masses his forces there against us or against Dame Primus.’
‘Our defences will hold as well against the Piper as they will against the Pretender,’ Saturday stated confidently. ‘They cannot enter via elevator, Stair, Front Door, or by use of the Fifth Key. There is no other way.’
Saturday’s Dusk did not speak, but the faintest frown line appeared on his forehead, just for a moment, before he smoothed it away.
‘And the Rats?’ prompted Saturday.
‘None have been spotted in five days. We have lost fourteen lower-level Clerks and some Piper’s children to the Ratcatcher Automatons, and there have been requests that they be recalled.’
‘No,’ said Saturday. ‘Keep them at it. I do not want those creatures sneaking about here.’
‘Speaking of Piper’s children, we employ a large number of them as grease monkeys and chain-hands, but there was a report that some of Sir Thursday’s Piper’s children were turned against him by the Piper. We would not want our Piper’s children to be similarly turned against us.’
‘Yes,’ said Saturday. ‘He has power over his creations, and they must answer to his pipe. It is not an eventuality that should arise, if he is kept out of the Upper House, and we need those children to maintain our building speed. However, we should be prepared. Tell Noon to detail a suitable number of Sorcerous Supernumeraries to shadow the Piper’s children—and slay them, if I so command.’
‘Very good, Majesty,’ said Dusk. ‘There is one other matter ...’
‘The Pretender, this Arthur Penhaligon. We have just had a report that he has returned to the Secondary Realms, to Earth. Do we implement the contingency plan?’
‘Yes, at once. Do we know if he has a Key with him?’
‘We do not know, Majesty, but circumstance suggests he has at least the Fifth Key.’
‘I wonder if that will protect him. It will be interesting to see. Tell Pravuil to act at once.’
‘Ahem ...’ Dusk coughed. ‘I regret to say that it is not yet Saturday on Earth, Majesty. It is some forty minutes short of Friday’s midnight, and the House and that Secondary Realm are in close temporal step.’
Saturday hesitated, weighing the situation. The Accord between the Trustees was effectively broken, but the treaty still existed, and there could be sorcerous implications if she or her agents acted outside their allotted span of power in the Secondary Realms.
‘Then Pravuil must strike as the twelfth chime of midnight fades,’ she instructed. ‘In the first second of Saturday. No later. See to it at once.’
‘Yes, Majesty,’ replied the new Dusk. After an elegant bow, he retreated to the silver spiral stair that led down to the desk cube immediately beneath the viewing chamber.
As soon as he was gone, Superior Saturday’s gaze was once again drawn to the sky, the parting clouds, and another infuriating but tantalising glimpse of the underside of the Incomparable Gardens.