“Bend It To Your Will”
There’s a monster in the dark. He can’t see it, but he feels it all around: its anger, its hatred, its malice. In the blackness of the cave something is stirring and he leans forwards to peer into the shadows, his concern turning to fear as he strains to make out what it is.
And then he realises. There’s no monster in the shadows. The monster is the shadows. Around the cave, they begin to shrink and thicken, taking form like smoke in reverse, being drawn back into a fire. But there are no flames here, there is barely the suggestion of light, only the gathering darkness closing around him.
He tries to move, to back away, but there is nowhere to go, no escape, just the bare wall stretching away on every side. Little by little the creature emerges, its arms, its legs, its body, a skeletal form woven from darkness and night, all skull and ribs. It is tall, far taller than a man and, as the last wisps of shadow fall into place, it leans its face down almost touching his own. Its eyes open, two holes red with fire, and then it speaks, its voice an echo from an ancient cave.
Three words: ‘I know you.’
‘Ow!’ Montgomery jerked awake, confused for a moment by the strange surroundings of the small cottage, before he remembered where he was. He was in the Underworld, in Lundarien, the city housed in vast caverns far below London. More accurately, though, he was in his great-aunt Vala’s cottage, and he’d travelled down here for his after-school magic lesson. But instead of paying attention to what she was teaching him, he’d been…
‘Sleeping?’ said Vala, her voice its usual rough growl. The ladle she’d used to wake him up floated back to its hook on the wall above the cauldron. ‘What’s the matter, boy? Magic too boring for you, is it?’
Montgomery tried to hide a yawn. ‘Sorry,’ he said. ‘I’m really tired. I’ve only just started at my new school, remember?’
‘School!’ Vala spat the word and Montgomery had to duck sideways to avoid the flying spittle. ‘Filling up your head with all that Maffy-matticks and Jogger-fee.’
‘Do you mean Geography?’
‘Who cares what it’s called? Knowing about oxbow lakes and the capital of Paris – what use is that to anyone? This,’ she jabbed a finger at the table between them, on which sat the sort of lumpy-looking clay mug you might make in primary school, ‘is what’s important!’
‘Magic, you half-wit!’ Vala snapped her fingers and the pot rose up above the table, spinning as it did, so the red spots, that had been crudely painted across its bumpy surface, blurred together. Behind her, a stack of rectangular Underworld coins leapt into the air and span off across the room. The pot then started darting around catching them one at a time. This was called Moving, but it wasn’t the sort of normal moving people on the Surface do, using their hands or a wheelbarrow. This was Moving with a capital ‘M’, using magic.
The pot drifted back down to the table, the coins nestling inside. Vala pointed a gnarled finger at it. ‘Your turn.’
Montgomery puffed out his cheeks. ‘No pressure then!’
‘Of course there’s pressure! The people of Atlantis are on the move.’
‘So you’ve told me every day for the past week, but so far nothing’s happened. And no one else I’ve spoken to has heard any news about…’ he rolled his eyes, wishing it didn’t all sound so ridiculous, ‘about Atlantis.’
Vala scowled at him. ‘Who’ve you been talking to? Those idiot friends of yours?’
‘If you mean Jarfin, Marlah and the others, then yes.’
‘Hah! What do a bunch of whippersnappers know about the important things what’re going on in the world?’
Montgomery folded his arms, cross at Vala’s comments about his friends. ‘If it’s so important, why don’t you go and speak to the Novaristee? If Atlantis really is on the move, and Lundarien is in danger, wouldn’t it be a good idea to tell the city leaders? They’ll want to know what’s going on.’
‘Shows how much you know!’ she said. ‘The only thing people really wants to know is that nothing’s going on! I don’t get involved in all that politics stuff. Not any more.’
‘Why not? Why do you hide away in this old place?’ Montgomery unfolded one arm and used it to gesture to the cottage around them. The back of his hand knocked against what looked like, and probably was, a shrivelled up, dead rat that hung from the ceiling on a length of twine, causing its crispy tail to fall off. He ignored it. ‘You’ve got powerful magic that could help the city, so why not use it?’
Vala opened her mouth and, for a moment, Montgomery thought she was about to tell him. ‘None of your business, boy!’ she snapped and slumped back against the rickety wooden wall. She snatched a pipe from the folds of her dirty clothes and shoved it between her teeth. With a click of her fingers, it burst briefly into flame before emitting a steady stream of smoke.
‘I wish I could do that,’ said Montgomery, distracted by the magic and forgetting he was supposed to be cross.
‘One thing at a time,’ said Vala, as the coins leapt up out of the pot and landed, in a neat stack, on her outstretched hand. ‘I want to see you do a bit of simple Moving first.’ She nodded at the pot. ‘See if you can get that thing to rise up. Nice and steady, like I showed you.’
Montgomery laid his hands flat on the table and breathed out slowly. He closed his eyes and tried to focus, slowing his breathing and clearing his mind.
‘Try not to fall asleep this time,’ said Vala.
Montgomery ignored her, concentrating on his breathing. When he felt calm and ready, he opened his eyes, fixed them on the pot, and willed it to raise up off the table.
Vala plucked the pipe from her mouth and jabbed it at the pot. ‘It’s not a staring competition, boy,’ she said. ‘Remember what I told you, you’ve got to want it to move. Bend it to you will.’
‘That’s what I’m trying to do,’ said Montgomery, through gritted teeth. He narrowed his eyes, his gaze still fixed on the rough surface of the pot.
‘That’s right,’ said Vala. ‘Focus.’
‘I am focussing,’ he growled, but he was finding it hard. It wasn’t just his great-aunt’s constant interruptions. He was tired and cross after his first week at his new school in London, which had not gone at all well, and his concentration was suffering as a result. As he glared at the pot, he was struck by how much the spots looked like eyes – glowing, red eyes. They reminded him of … What had he been dreaming about just now? His gaze slid slowly away from the pot as visions of darkness and smoke drifted into his mind. Shadows with red eyes and a voice like tombstones being rubbed together. What did it mean? Was Lundarien under threat again? Did it have something to do with…
‘Focus!’ Vala snapped. ‘Concentrate on the pot. Will it to Move.’
Montgomery held his breath and stared at the pot, glaring at it, willing it, forcing it with his mind to Move. To Move.
The pot exploded, showering them both in clay and dust. He slumped back into the chair, blinking a bit of pot out of his eye.
‘That wasn’t exactly what I had in mind,’ said Vala.
Montgomery waved a hand at the mess on the table. ‘It was a rubbish old pot anyway,’ he said. ‘It looked like something my little sister would make.’
‘I made it!’ said Vala, scowling at him while puffing crossly at her pipe. Realising it had gone out, she snapped her fingers to light it again. ‘Not a very successful lesson. And I suppose you’ll be off wasting your time with those friends of yours, now?’
Montgomery looked at his watch. ‘But I’ve only been here for fifteen minutes. I-’ He was interrupted by a knock at the cottage door.
‘Told you,’ said Vala, looking smug. ‘Come on in, young Farle.’ The door creaked slowly open and, sure enough, Jarfin’s messy hair peered around the doorframe, closely followed by face. He looked nervous
‘Er, hello?’ he said, sounding equally as nervous. ‘Is Montgomery here?’
‘He’s sitting right here, ain’t he?’ said Vala, jabbing her pipe at Montgomery. ‘If you can’t see him from a few feet away, what hope do have of being a Watchman?’
Jarfin swallowed, ducking slightly back behind the door. ‘Er, can I borrow him please?’
‘There’s a … an emergency. And I really need him to come with me.’
Vala puffed on her pipe for a few seconds, narrowing her eyes at him. ‘An emergency, you say?’
‘Yes?’ The word came out as a question in a small, squeaky voice. ‘Please?’
‘Sure,’ said Vala with a sudden smile. She flicked her fingers in a shooing motion at Montgomery. ‘Off you go, boy. And once you’ve dealt with this “emergency”, I suggest you practice your Moving. Try it on something that’s not too valuable!’
Montgomery jumped to his feet, brushing pot dust from his school jumper. ‘Thanks, Vala,’ he mumbled as he nipped through the door.
He had to run to catch up with Jarfin, who was already hurrying off along the overgrown track that led back towards the Town Square and the centre of Lundarien.
‘So?’ he said, as he drew alongside his friend. ‘What’s this big emergency?’