At the end of The Midnight Charter, Mark and Lily had been cast out of the city of Agora. Now, they must survive in a dense forest filled with strange villages, terrifying nightmares, and powerful witches. It's even more frightening than the slums and secrets of Agora. In an adventure that expands with every turn of the page, David Whitley delivers a novel as thrilling and horrifying as his characters' darkest dreams.
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David Whitley began his prestigious writing career when he was just a teenager. At age twenty, he was the youngest person ever to win the Cheshire Prize for Literature. The third and final book in the Agora trilogy will be available from Roaring Brook in April 2012. David Whitley lives in England. davidwhitley.co.ukExcerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
GRADUALLY, Lily became aware that she was being watched.
Shielding her eyes against the low, winter sun, she swept her gaze over the gnarled, bare trees that stood gray and silent around her.
But still, she couldn’t shake the feeling that somewhere, a huge pair of eyes had turned upon her.
When Lily had first glimpsed the forest a couple of days before, it had looked forbidding—a silent, dark mass at the base of the mountains; the leafless, twisting branches clustered so thickly together that the light barely penetrated.
But as she took her first steps on the soft leaf mold beneath the trees, she had begun to hear it—the rustling in the undergrowth, the flap of wings overhead, the occasional birdcall, so harsh in the still air that she would jump and turn, and catch only a glimpse of black feathers. The earth shifted beneath her feet and yielded up things that moved and writhed and scuttled. Even the trees themselves, within their thick, cold bark, were alive. She had always known that; she had seen a few trees in the orchards of the city, but these were nothing like those ordered rows. Those trees were tamed; these looked as if they could reach for her.
Something moved in a nearby tree, and Lily jumped, letting the mushrooms she had been gathering fall to the ground. She looked closer.
Two dark, round, shining eyes peered back at her from the ancient bark. She caught her breath.
Then, there was a faint ruffle of feathers. Lily breathed out. The eyes belonged to a large, gray owl, which sat, brooding, on a branch, just next to the trunk, its mottled plumage making it almost invisible against the mossy bark.
The owl regarded her with a penetrating stare, and Lily returned it, unblinking. She tried to imagine what it would make of her. Would it see this dark-skinned human girl, wrapped in a mud-streaked apron, as a curiosity or a threat? Was she a guest here, or an intruder? The rational part of her nature laughed at the notion that the tree itself had been watching her. But at the same time, the owl was no less fascinating.
After all, she had seen streams of pure, liquid anger, and watched a captured voice float through the air. She had known things that seemed supernatural. But in all her fourteen years of life, she had never been so close to a wild animal.
A moment later the bird ruffled its wings and swooped down and away, breaking the stillness. As it did so, the breeze began to stir, and Lily shivered, wishing she had not left her cloak at the camp. Now was not the time for nature watching. Wearily, Lily gathered up the small pile of mushrooms again, and, feeling the ache of the cold in her steps, she made her way back through the forest.
* * *
As she walked, Lily began to smell the smoke from the campfire. Now she could make out a dark shape against the brightness—the silhouette of a boy, the firelight darkening his blond hair. He sat hunched against the cold, his legs drawn up to his chin, Lily’s cloak tight around his shoulders. Unlike Lily, who was wrapped up in many layers of dress, petticoats, and apron, the boy wore only a shirt and breeches, which looked as if they had once been of fine quality, back when they were clean and new. Every now and then, he poked the fire with a long stick. He did not look up as Lily approached, or when she sat beside him. His gray eyes stared into the flames, his expression grim.
Lily spread out her apron on the ground, showing the pile of mushrooms. She hoped she had brought enough. The mushrooms were not appetizing, but they had both been eating them for three days and they had not been poisoned yet.
“I brought some food,” she said cautiously. The boy didn’t reply. Instead, he pulled his stick out of the fire and, without looking at her, he speared a mushroom and held it over the flames.
Sighing Lily did the same. She was not especially talkative herself, but the forest magnified their endless silence. Every tiny rustle or distant call of an unknown animal seemed huge and terrible.
And still, Mark would not meet her eyes.
It had not been so bad, at first, back in the mountains. But then, the first couple of days were a blur in her mind. She remembered being ushered through the tunnels beneath the city, saw the door being opened for her, and the light streaming through, and then ...
It wasn’t seeing Agora from the outside that had shocked her, even though it was an amazing sight. Without the city buildings to hide them, the stark gray mass of the city walls had loomed over her. She had spent her whole life believing that Agora’s walls were the limit of the world, and for the first few minutes, she found herself touching the stone, unable to accept where she was. But even so, she had prepared herself for that. She had made the decision to leave the city.
No, it was when she turned away from the walls to look outward, that her senses deserted her. The mind-numbing grandeur of the mountains rose up on all sides, shielding Agora in a deep, wide valley. Lily had seen the most incredible sights of Agora, from the Directory of Receipts to the Astrologer’s Tower, but beside the rugged peaks, silhouetted against the dawn, they were nothing at all. By the time she heard Mark shouting, screaming to be let back into the city—she could barely speak. She thought that she had mumbled something about it being “beautiful.”
At first, they had tried to find the river Ora, walking around the city until they reached the place where it flowed out through a vast, rusty grille set into the base of the city walls. Mark had insisted that they stop, to see if there was any way of lifting it, of getting back into the city that had been their world. But although huge, ancient chains plunged into holes in the walls, they couldn’t move the grate. Even so, they camped there the first night, huddling together for warmth, just in case anyone appeared to tell them that it was all a mistake and to welcome them home. No one did.
The next morning, they had turned their backs on Agora, and Lily, steeling herself, had told Mark everything.
After that, Mark had stopped talking. But at least in the mountains, it had been a passive quietness—almost as though he was elsewhere. It had been as though the shock of this new world had left him without anything to say.
But over the last couple of days, as they had entered the forest, that had all changed. He was still tight-lipped, but now one look at his face told her that he had plenty to say. And once he started, she knew that she wouldn’t like what she heard.
* * *
The last of the evening light faded away. As they ate, the world around them shrank until it extended only as far as the circle of light cast by the campfire. Lily glanced up again at her companion and, tentatively, she reached out a hand to him.
“Mark...” she began.
He snatched his hand away and turned, hunching his shoulders. He had grown early, and could sometimes be taken for older than his fourteen years, but sitting like this, he seemed so like a child.
On previous evenings, this had been how it had ended. Lily had scanned the clearing for lurking creatures, and then settled down by the fire and tried to sleep. Neither of them had slept well. Not that Mark told her, but she could tell from the dark circles forming under his eyes. It was as though the tension of the days, the oppressive atmosphere between them, was seeping into their nights. The next day they would take turns searching. Lily said that they were looking for food, but both of them knew the real reason. They were looking for any signs of another human being.
But tonight, perhaps because her nerves were frayed from lack of sleep, Lily jumped up and stalked around the fire, until she was facing Mark again. She knelt down in front of him, forcing him to look at her.
“Mark, we have to talk...”
“Go on, then,” Mark replied, staring back at her, his eyes cold in the firelight. Lily, taken aback, lost her resolve and sat back on the ground to gather her thoughts. She knew what she wanted to talk about, and also knew that if one thing were guaranteed to make Mark worse, it would be that.
“We need to keep moving,” she ventured after a moment’s thought. “We should try to find the river again. If anyone lives out here, they must live by the river, there’s no other freshwater—”
“Seen anyone yet?” Mark cut across her fiercely, “or is this another guess?”
“There must be someone else,” Lily said soothingly. “The Director said that others had left the city before...”
Lily stopped herself too late. She had not meant to mention the Director again.
“Pity he didn’t tell us what happened to them,” Mark said, and then added, in a strained voice. “Sorry, pity he didn’t tell you.”
For the hundredth time, Lily wished that she had not told Mark about the agreement she had made with the Director of Receipts, the ruler of Agora. It had seemed so simple—the chance to leave the city, to escape those dreadful streets, where everything and everyone was for sale. The chance, moreover, to find out the truth behind the dark secrets that had plagued their lives, plots that had already led to the death of a friend. The possibility, somewhere in this strange world, of finding her own vanished parents. It had been a once in a lifetime offer, and the price had seemed so tiny—that Mark would accompany her. At the time, Lily had been sure that he would leap at the chance. How could he complain, when he had lost everything? When Lily had last seen him, he had been rotting in a prison cell, dying from fever, and being watched over by a man he hated for selling him when he was younger—his father.
If his fever had only lasted one more day, Lily would have been...
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Book Description Square Fish, 2012. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P110312600917
Book Description Square Fish, 2012. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX0312600917