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The Fall (The Seventh Tower, #1), Castle (The Seventh Tower, #2), Aenir (The Seventh Tower, #3), Above the Veil (The Seventh Tower, #4), Into Battle (Th. Years ago I've got my hands on two first parts of Garth Nix's Seventh Get an ad- free experience with special benefits, and directly support. i'd like to know too.
Garth Nix. The first stage only lasted a few seconds. He felt himself being carried upside down, his face almost scraping the floor. Then he blacked out again. The next time he came to, he tried to move his hands and couldn't, because they were tied behind his back. He was sick and threw up. Someone cried out in disgust and hit him, bringing the darkness back.
That wouldn't help either of them, or the family. As before, his only chance lay upward, with the Sunstones.
Tal faced the Veil once more. He'd made a mistake going into it slowly before. This time the thing to do was to reach up, get a handhold, and climb through as quickly as possible. He took several deep breaths and stood up fast, with his hands outstretched above his head. His knuckles grazed stone, and then he felt something he could hold on to.
A moment later, his head entered the Veil. Once again, there was total darkness. But now, Tal was prepared for it. He pulled himself up onto the next gargoyle and thrust his hand up for another handhold. He found one, climbed again, and then repeated the process. He still hadn't come out of the Veil, and his breath was going. Hesitantly, he took a small breath. It worked, but his fear of not being able to breathe was soon replaced by another terror. What if he was lost in the Veil?
Maybe it was impossible to climb through it, except inside one of the towers. Maybe he was trapped inside the Veil forever! He climbed faster, not caring that his hands were scratched and his knees bruised. Several times he almost fell, but even that didn't scare him as much as staying inside the Veil.
He had to get out. Suddenly, he broke out into the exact opposite of darkness. Tal screamed as the searing light of the sun hit his eyes. Again, he almost fell, but his shadow-guard was already weaving itself across his head, shading his eyes with its strange substance that could be as light as air, as flowing as water, or as solid as human flesh.
Tal hung on, half in the Veil, half out, as the burning slowly disappeared from his eyes. He could feel his shadowguard on his forehead, and the unfamiliar heat of the sun on his cheeks. Slowly, Tal opened his eyes and looked around. There was a patch of blue sky directly above him, strange and unfriendly compared to the soft darkness of the sky under the Veil. Around this patch of blue there were puffy gray clouds, some already drifting down through the Veil, bringing a promise of snow.
Right in the center of the blue was the sun, so bright he could not look directly at it. It felt dangerous, giving off so much light and heat that Tal felt as if he might suddenly burst into flame. The Red Tower, like all the others, continued to soar up into the sky.
But now, instead of gargoyles and spikes and carvings, the Tower walls were covered in long, protruding bronze rods as thick around as Tal's middle. Most of the rods had nets of silver mesh hanging from them. And in those nets, there were Sunstones. Tal knew that Sunstones grew from small jewels brought back from Aenir, the spirit realm, but he had not yet been taught how they were prepared.
Tal didn't want to know either. Not now. All he wanted to do was climb up farther, because the most powerful stones would be higher up. Slowly, he eased himself out of the Veil and crouched on the stone ledge, staying as close to the wall as possible. He couldn't see any Spiritshadows, or other Chosen. There was a half balcony farther up, though, and someone could easily be standing there, or on the walkway that went right around the top of the Tower, a hundred stretches above him. At the same time, he concentrated on his Sunstone so it shone with the same red color as the Tower walls.
He felt the shadowguard moving, and saw a long, thin finger of darkness stretch across and touch the stone. Instantly, the color of the stone bled into the shadow, until it was red as well. Then Tal felt the shadowguard spreading itself across his back and down to his ankles. In a few seconds, Tal was covered in a hooded cloak exactly the same red as the Tower walls.
As long as he climbed up slowly and didn't make too much noise, he would be almost invisible. Carefully, he started to climb. The bronze rods were slippery, not as easy to grasp as the stone outcrops below, but they were closer together.
Tal could use them like steps, moving around the Tower as he climbed. He was almost to the balcony, when he looked up and saw a hideous head staring over the railing, directly at him. It was a Spiritshadow head, grotesque and scary, with multiple eyes and a mouth that stretched the full width of its face, lined with multiple rows of small but very sharp teeth.
It was one of the largest Spiritshadows Tal had ever seen. This meant it was one of the most powerful. Far too powerful to be in the service of one of the Red, for they were the weakest of the Orders. He stayed frozen for what seemed like minutes. Clouds crossed the sun overhead, and suddenly it was much darker, making the Spiritshadow harder to see. Tal kept absolutely still, hardly breathing. His heart sounded loud, so loud he was sure the Spirit-shadow could hear it.
Then it started to snow. Snowflakes began to drift down, only to be caught by the wind around the Towers and whipped sideways in sudden flurries. Tal knew what snow was.
He'd seen it many times through the triple-glazed windows of the Outer Walk. But he'd never been outside the Castle before. He'd never felt snow. The Spiritshadow up above hissed and leaned over the rail. Tal held his breath, but it was too late. It had seen him. It leaned over still farther, revealing a body like a snake's, all long, smooth, and twisting. For a second Tal thought it was going to fall over, but the Spiritshadow slowly uncoiled down toward him.
Its eyes, black points darker than the rest of its Shadowflesh, were firmly fixed on him. Tal fought the feeling that it would capture him and he would be taken before the Lumenor of the Red, and then to the Hall of Nightmares.
He would never gain a Primary Sunstone and would all too soon be cast down to join the ranks of the Under-folk. From there, he would be unable to help his mother, or Gref, or Kusi. The Spiritshadow didn't try to grab him, though. It suddenly shot forward, and its toothy maw opened large enough to take Tal's head off in a single bite.
Tal's shadowguard pushed him over as the Spirit-shadow struck. Despite his shock, Tal instinctively grabbed a rod and locked his legs around it. Upside down, Tal stared up as the creature pulled itself back for another strike. His own shadowguard was letting out a shrill whistle, its warning sign, as it turned itself into a boy- sized shadow and pushed Tal away. Tal pulled himself out along the bronze rod toward the Sunstone nets. He couldn't believe what was happening.
Spiritshadows couldn't hurt one of the Chosen! The Spiritshadow laughed, a horrible, high-pitched cackle that cut through Tal's shock and made him swing himself upright and move farther along the rod. Then the Spiritshadow spoke, scaring Tal even more. Spiritshadows could speak, unlike the shadowguards, but they never did so in public. They only spoke to their Masters, in private. He didn't know any Words, not ones that might work here.
He'd never heard of the Keeper. Surely its Master would look over the balcony soon and stop it! The Spiritshadow coiled itself completely around the other end of the bronze rod that Tal was sliding on. Tal's shadowguard balanced behind him, in the shape of a four-legged creature with claws and lots of teeth. It would try to guard him, but Tal knew it was too small and weak to slow the Spiritshadow for more than a few seconds.
The snake Spiritshadow shrieked and slowly wound itself forward another stretch. It seemed in no hurry to get to Tal, though its mouth was working backward and forward, almost as if it were chewing. He didn't care who came now, or how long he might be sentenced to spend in the Hall of Nightmares, or if he would be instantly demoted to the Underfolk.
Anything would be better than facing the creature that was inching toward him. It arched its long body forward in a sudden movement that sent Tal leaping forward into one of the nets. Frantically, he tried to stand up, but all he could do was roll around.
One of his feet broke through the mesh and caught fast, sending a small shower of Sunstones falling through the hole. Tal bent forward and tried to free his foot, ignoring the Sunstones that were everywhere around him. He'd just gotten it free when the Spiritshadow struck.
Tal flinched and gasped, but he was not the target. His shadowguard squealed as the thing's mouth closed on it. Instantly it lost its cat shape and began to change shape so quickly that Tal couldn't keep track. It was a Morlyx, a boy, a toppet, a bird-headed monster, all sorts of shapes and sizes. No matter what it changed into it couldn't get free of those terrible teeth and the grinding jaws. Finally, the Spiritshadow tossed it aside, and it hung off the net, a formless lump of shadow.
Tal bit back a sob. His shadowguard had always been with him, always at his heels. It had saved him from troubles both large and small. Now it had been destroyed in a few seconds. He couldn't believe this was happening. Spirit-shadows didn't damage shadowguards. They couldn't hurt the Chosen.
Unless, he thought suddenly, all the rules were different beyond the Veil…. Snow whirled behind it like a cloak of white. Tal could see inside its huge mouth, see all the rows of teeth. There were strips of cloth and other things stuck in the teeth, accompanied by an awful, rotting smell. In that moment, Tal realized that this thing had killed before. It was going to kill him, too. It did not matter that he was one of the Chosen of the Castle, a Lightbringer of the Orange Order, a potential Shadowmaster.
Falling, he hit a net on the next level below. For the briefest second, Tal thought he was safe. Then he bounced out in a shower of Sunstones, out into the air, too far out to be caught in the nets below.
Tal saw the Tower spinning above him as he hurtled down, along with the snow clouds and the whirl of snow and the Sunstones that fell with him. The wind picked everything up, boy and snow and Sunstones, and blew them farther away and farther out, beyond any chance of being caught in the lower nets. When he hit the Veil, everything went black.
His mind, overloaded with fear, went black, too. He had only an instant before he became unconscious, time enough to break through the Veil and see the twinkling lights of the Castle so far below. Tal's search for a new Sunstone began the day his father disappeared. Eight days later, this search would lead him to the Red Tower, the nets, and the terrible Spiritshadow. His whole life as a Chosen had been transformed one otherwise ordinary day, when he'd been called out of the Lectorium during a lesson and told by Lector Roum himself the fateful words.
Tal had initially fought back the tears, but they came freely as he ran through the bright corridors and down the Orange Stair to his family's residence. He tried to wipe them away as he ran, ignoring the stares of other Chosen of the Orange Order and the sideways glances of the Underfolk. It could not be true. Tal wouldn't believe his father was dead. He was missing, but that wasn't the same thing. Lector Roum hadn't been able to give Tal any details.
All that was known was that Rerem hadn't returned from a mission for the Empress, down in the deep caves beneath the castle. He could be lost down there, Tal thought, imagining his solid, powerful father stranded in the darkness. But he would find his way back. He loved Tal, his brother and sister, and their mother too much to leave them.
He was too strong to be killed. Outside the door marked with his family sigil, an orange ,Sthil-beast leaping over a seven- pointed star, Tal stopped and dried his eyes properly. He had to lead the family. He must not show them a crying boy, but a young Chosen who was strong enough to help. That's what his father had said before he left. I'm depending on you. How could he have known how long he'd be gone?
How could he have known how much those words would mean to Tal? Tal took several deep breaths, then entered his family's quarters. In the outer room, an Underfolk servant took his school tunic and helped Tal put on the flowing, orange-trimmed white robe he wore at home.
Tal hardly noticed that it was a new servant, and a fairly clumsy one at that. Underfolk were assigned to families by the Deputy Lumenor of the Orange Order. For some reason, since Tal's father had first gone away on his unexplained mission, their Underfolk servants were constantly being removed and replaced by others who weren't as capable.
Tal's mother, Graile, was where she had been for several months confined to her bed, struck with some sort of wasting sickness that was beyond the healing powers of the Chosens' magic or medicine. The only things that helped her were light and warmth, so her bed had been moved into the family's sunchamber, a room where every inch of the walls and ceiling was covered in tiny Sunstones.
It was always bright there, and very warm. In addition to the Sunstones, the room had its own steam vent, filling it with hot, moist air from the Castle's central heating pools far below. Tal went to his mother at once, striding through the antechamber so quickly that the three people there didn't have time to stand up and offer greetings, or get cross because Tal had failed to bow to his seniors and offer them light from his Sunstone. Tal knew that they would complain later.
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Two of the three were Lallek and Korrek, his mother's female cousins, and complaining about Tal was one of their favorite activities. He didn't know the third person, a man with broad orange stripes on his robe and a collar of mirrors and Sunstones, signifying high rank in the Order. The Spiritshadows of all three were quicker than their masters. They loomed up from the floor as Tal approached.
His cousins' Spiritshadows both had the shape of a Dretch, quite a common inhabitant of Aenir. They each looked rather like a seven-foottall, grotesquely thin cross between a stick insect and a spider, complete with eight legs and bulbous eyes. Tal thought they were slightly more appealing than Lallek and Korrek themselves.
Tal didn't recognize the man's Spiritshadow. It seemed very short and broad, until it reared up.
In the few seconds that it took to reach the door on the other side of the room, Tal caught a glimpse of something that had to bend under the nine-foot ceiling and was roughly egg- shaped in the middle, with a rather lizardlike head, four legs, and a tail.
Tal forgot about it as he went into the sunchamber. As expected, his mother was there. She had both Kusi, Tal's three-year-old sister, and Gref, his nine-year-old brother, in bed with her, holding them tight. They had all been crying. Tal wished he could crawl in, too, just for a moment's comfort. Graile's Spiritshadow was under the bed, only its round, strangely blurred head visible.
It had faded as Graile grew weak. Once it had been strong, taking the shape of a huge owl, with great tufted eyebrows, and had been one of the few Spiritshadows in the Castle that could fly a long way from its Master.
Now, it looked like a melted wax model of an owl, its Shadowflesh light and almost transparent, even in the sunchamber. Graile was obviously very sick. Her skin was gray and sweating, and she had lost so much weight in her face that she almost looked like someone else. Tal felt like crying again as he looked at her. He couldn't believe his father wasn't coming back, and his mother looked so close to death. Even the Sun-stone around her neck was going dark. It didn't flash as Tal raised his own and made his formal greeting.
Graile smiled a little, but could not take an arm away from her other two children to raise her Sunstone. Gref and Kusi looked at him and started crying again. I think he will come back, in time. But until he does, we must all be brave. Can you be brave, for me, and for your father? Gref and Kusi nodded, both unable to speak. She will give you orange-cake and sweetwater. Tal helped Kusi down from the bed, her shadow-guard slipping down first so it would be ready to catch her if Tal slipped.
The little girl seemed almost happy to be going to Hudren and orangecake. Hudren was the one Underfolk servant they'd managed to keep assigned to them for any length of time.
She had been Gref's nurse, and was now Kusi's. He was almost five years older. Gref scowled at Tal, but went. But we must decide what to do if he has not returned by the Day of Ascension. Tal paused. He had been so concerned about the news, and about his mother, that he hadn't thought about himself.
He would be thirteen and three-quarters in two months, and shortly after that, on the Day of Ascension, all the Chosen would enter Aenir. Since he would have come of age, his shadowguard would be free, and he would have to find a creature of Aenir to bind as a Spiritshadow. Tal had been preparing for that day for what seemed like forever.
It would be his chance to bind a powerful Spiritshadow, to show his strength and mastery of light. Deep in his bones, he knew that his father had trained him well, and he had a natural gift. He would come back with a great and terrible Spiritshadow. With its help, he would one day rise beyond the Orange, to the Yellow or even the Blue. Tal's parents had lifted the family two levels within Orange.
Tal would make sure that his own children would start from higher still. But Tal couldn't enter Aenir without the help of a Primary Sunstone. He'd never had to think about that in the past, because his father had one, and had used it to help the whole family enter Aenir. Now, with Rerem gone, so was the Primary Sunstone. Unless his mother had one…. Most adult Chosens' Sunstones were Primaries, strong enough to enter Aenir. Graile raised one very thin hand to her chest and touched the Sunstone on the silver chain around her neck.
It barely sparked as her finger touched. You know what will happen if we cannot enter Aenir. Tal nodded. If he was unable to enter Aenir and bind a Spiritshadow to himself, he would be separated from his family.
Demoted, not just to the next Order down, the Red, but right out of the ranks of the Chosen. He would become one of the Under-folk, a servant for the rest of his days. Worse than that, his mother's last chance of a cure would be lost. The spirit realm of Aenir was a place of magic and marvels, of creatures and beings that had wisdom as well as power.
There, Graile might be cured, her life saved if she could last until the Day of Ascension. It was forbidden to enter Aenir before that day. Graile nodded and squeezed his hand, her touch as light as a faint breeze. Her eyes closed, and she seemed to slip away from Tal, her face slowly smoothing into sleep.
Tal sat by his mother for a long time, thinking of how he could get a new, powerful Sunstone. He could think of only three ways, and all carried some risk. The first would be to ask his mother's cousins, Lallek and Korrek. They were higher up in the Orange Order, rumored to be going Yellow soon.
They both wore several Sunstones in their silver circlets, in the rings that flashed upon their fingers, even set in the points of their mirror-bright shoes. Tal thought they must have won them gambling.
He'd never seen Lallek or Korrek do anything else. But Lallek and Korrek were not known for their generosity, and Tal thought that they particularly disliked him. He couldn't understand why, though when he was younger he had set up a bucket of ash to fall on them, dulling their brilliance just before a family dinner.
It had only been a joke, but they seemed to hold a grudge. Of course, it hadn't just been ash. Still, Tal thought, they were family. And they were just outside, in the reception room. Though that was probably only because everyone would expect them to come, now that the news was out about Rerem's presumed death. Tal sighed. His shadowguard, catching his mood, changed shape from a two-headed Corvile to an almost normal shadow.
It shivered and made a sort of throwing-up motion, before slipping back into the long, catlike shape of a Corvile, though with only one head. It made Tal smile.
Even his shadowguard disliked Lallek and Korrek. This time, Tal stopped at the door and made the proper bow to his elders. He raised his Sunstone and said, "I greet you, Korrek, Lallek, and…".
Korrek and Lallek did the same, so Tal had to raise his hand to shield his eyes. The light grew brighter still, and Tal felt an unpleasant heat on his hand. His shadowguard let out a low whistle, so low only Tal could hear. Tal felt anger building inside him, as hot and bright as the light. His cousins and this unknown Shadow-master - a title that meant he served the Empress directly, in addition to his rank in the Orange Order would never have dared treat him like this if his mother or father were around.
The light disappeared, and Tal brought his hand down. None of the three had bothered to get up, but their Spiritshadows had moved forward and were standing over Tal, unpleasantly close. The Shadowmaster's, Tal realized, was a deepwater Shellbeast. It had a flat shell or carapace that covered its middle. The Shadowmaster grunted. He looked like a pig, Tal thought. He had a fat face, ready to grub at any trough, like the pigs the Underfolk herded in the farm caverns far below.
They landed on the ground, since Tal was too shocked to catch them. He bent to pick them up, slowly slipping each one over his hand, onto his wrist. Deluminents were visible punishments, marking an offense against the Order or the Empress. They could only be removed by someone higher than the person who'd given them in the first place. If Tal picked up seven deluminents, he would be demoted to the Red Order.
Seven more after that, and he would be joining the Underfolk, even before the Day of Ascension.
After putting on the third bracelet, Tal stopped and looked at the Shadowmaster. Three deluminents was a ridiculously harsh punishment for not greeting his superiors properly. But the Shadow-master had thrown four! He had never had more than a single deluminent in his life. You must learn to pay proper respect. Slowly, Tal picked up the fourth deluminent and slid it on to his wrist. The bracelets were made of crystal, and jangled as they touched.
This Shadowmaster seemed to want him to be disrespectful. He was even reaching into his sleeve pocket to jangle the deluminents there, while he watched Tal struggle with his feelings.
He didn't really understand what was going on. Why was this Shadowmaster so hostile to him? He expected his cousins to be nasty, but this man was a stranger, a servant of the Empress.
He took a handful of dried shrimps out of his voluminous pocket and stuffed them into his mouth, still talking. Must keep up with your studies. Tal felt sick, watching the huge wad of pink, munched-up shrimps churning about in Sushin's mouth. The man was a pig and a bully. Shrimps were his mother's favorite, and hard to come by, since they were rarely trapped in the deep underground streams by the Underfolk.
Tal had been trying to get her some for weeks, without success. Despite the anger he felt at having to ask permission to speak in his own home, he had no choice.
He took another handful of shrimps and washed them down with a glass of sweetwater, spilling it down the deep furrows where his bloated cheeks met his mouth. He turned to his cousins, who were smiling, but not in a nice way.
They seemed to be looking forward to something. Their Spiritshadows jiggled in front of Tal, almost dancing, so he had to talk between them. I ask your help, as close cousins to my mother. Grant us a Sunstone of sufficient power to be a Primary Sunstone.
Lallek and Korrek looked at each other, and their smiles grew wider. Then they looked at Sushin and everyone smiled. Except Tal. Tal stared at them, his fury growing. Dimly he was aware of his shadowguard gripping him around the knees so he couldn't charge forward. He gripped his own Sunstone, wishing that he could throw light-spears from it, or the rain of sparks, or any of the other combat magic that he had only just begun to learn in the Lectorium. Sushin broke the tension by shoveling the last of the shrimps into his mouth and pushing himself up out of the chair.
Lallek and Korrek hastily jumped up as well. By rights, all three should have bowed to Tal, as they were in his house. But they didn't. Sushin just walked out, followed by the two women. The Spiritshadows backed away slowly. They knew, even if their masters did not, that Tal was very close to some sort of crazy attack.
When the Underfolk servant closed the door behind them, the shadowguard let Tal go. His breathing started to work again, and he could think.
His first plan to get a Sunstone had failed miserably. He would have to move on to the next plan. And he would have to try to find out why Shadow-master Sushin wanted him to fail. He raised his arm and jangled the deluminents. I'll get my Sunstone! His shadowguard grew an arm and shook it, too, in silent protest. It kept on after Tal stopped and had to race to catch up with him as he went to see how Gref and Kusi were coping with the terrible news.
Tal's second plan would have to wait for seven days, when he could enter the next Achievement of Luminosity. While he waited, he tried very hard to be a model student. Whenever an idea for a practical joke came into his head, or he got bored as the Assistant Lector droned on about recursive light or spectral shifting, the soft chink of the deluminents on his wrist would remind him to behave.
Even with his best efforts, it was a hard week for Tal. After every evening meal Kusi would forget and ask for her father to put her to bed. She cried when he didn't come, and was too young to understand that it wasn't because he didn't want to.
Graile was too weak to get out of bed herself, so it had fallen to Tal to tuck the little girl in and tell her a story. He then had to make sure that Gref actually went to bed at all. It was all a constant reminder of his father's absence. Tal would lie awake at night, hoping that he would hear his father's footsteps outside his room and his familiar voice asking him if all was well.
Unfortunately, Tal was much more likely to hear Gref's voice saying something like, "Tal, why don't I sneak over to Lallek's rooms and steal a Sunstone? Or, "Tal, I bet I could drop a blanket on Korrek and get her bracelet off and she wouldn't know who did it.
Or Gref's most constant question, "Tal, why can't I help you get a new Sunstone? Kusi was not much better, in her own way. Besides having to read her a story, most nights he had to help her get back to sleep. She'd lie in bed looking up at him with her huge blue eyes and say, "I don't want Tal.
I want Mummy. To make matters worse, Shadowmaster Sushin seemed to have spread the word that Tal was to be picked on. Older Chosen he had never seen before tried to get in his way and blame him for the collision. Strange Spiritshadows followed him so often he stopped using the smaller stairways. He even avoided the best shortcut in the Castle: Tal didn't want to meet a Spiritshadow in the laundry slide.
Being in the slide was the closest you could get to real darkness in the Castle. There were no Sunstones inside. The only light came spilling in around the hatches on each of the forty-nine Order levels.
These faint lines of light were also the only way for chute riders to know where they were, so they could push their feet out and bring themselves to a stop, usually with some damage to the soles of their shoes.
So Tal kept to the main stairs and the Colorless Corridors, the wide passageways that were not part of the realm of any particular Order. In the Lectorium they were taught that all light served the Empress, that all the Orders were like a family. Tal knew this was a load of shadowspit.
The Chosen in the lower Orders were resentful of the higher ones, and the Chosen of the higher Orders liked putting everyone in their place. The children were the worst. If they caught Tal creeping about, they'd gang up to blind him with their Sunstones, a blindness that sometimes took days to fully wear off. Tal just tried to avoid trouble. It was even more difficult because he had to look after Gref as well.
His brother was in a different Lectorium, and he hadn't complained to Tal about any problems. Still, Tal tried to keep an eye on him. Gref had a genius for trouble. He was very good at making it, and at avoiding responsibility for it. But even getting away with things eight times out of ten meant getting caught twice. Gref's genius did not serve him well when it came to being picked on.
Tal wasn't so much worried about what might happen to Gref, but what his younger brother might do to take revenge. The case of the boy who had drawn a picture of Gref as a two-headed toppet was never far from Tal's mind. Gref had saved his allowance for seven months, then paid a much older student to create a light-puppet of himself as a truly vicious toppet, which he'd managed to get into the other boy's room at night.
The boy had woken up with a scream they could hear in all seven Towers; he still couldn't see a light-puppet show without shaking nervously.
Gref's glory hadn't lasted long. It was clear to the authorities where the light-puppet had come from, with Gref's face on it. What worried Tal the most was that even after being punished, Gref said it was worth it - and he'd do it again.
Luckily he wasn't old enough to be given deluminants. All of this trouble was a constant worry for Tal, but it was nothing compared to the continuing absence of his father.
If he came back, everything would be all right. With every day that passed without him, Tal's secret fear that his father might really be dead grew stronger.
He had to think harder about getting a Primary Sunstone. If only the horrible Lallek and Korrek had just given him a Sunstone, he wouldn't have to try to win an Achievement of Luminosity. The Achievements of Luminosity were held every quarter month, and were technically open to everyone who wished to demonstrate their skill and artistic abilities. It was rare for someone who only had a shadowguard, like Tal, to participate.
The Achievements were divided into several categories, each held in different parts of the Castle. While all Achievements tested the participant's skill with a Sunstone and sense of light, each category tested other specific talents and abilities as well. Tal had put his name down for the Achievement of Body. This Achievement was essentially an obstacle course, where fitness and dexterity were as important as light control. It was held in the Hall of Mirrors, which added an extra level of difficulty.
Light had to be tightly controlled there, because the slightest slip would mean thousands of embarrassing reflections. Over the week, Tal practiced on the course every afternoon after he finished at the Lectorium. There were seven obstacles, each of which had to be jumped, climbed, swung across, or crawled under.
The ancient obstacles were made of solid light, a magic that was now lost to the Chosen, though some thought the Empress might know the secret ways. Participants could make the obstacle change into something else by directing a beam of light from their Sunstone at exactly the right spot, in exactly the right color.
The secret to doing well at the Achievement of Body was to turn all the obstacles in front of yourself into something easy, like a Gasping Hole, which could be jumped across. At the same time you had to turn your competitors' obstacles into more difficult things, like a Surprising Wall.
Sometimes obstacles flickered through multiple combinations right up until the last second, as light beams shot everywhere. It was not unknown for a Gasping Hole to become a Surprising Wall in the same instant that a competitor jumped, resulting in an unpleasant collision.
Tal wasn't worried so much about that. Getting knocked out by smacking his head into a Surprising Wall or tripping over a sudden Deep Tunnel wasn't a problem. The audience would just laugh.
But any disregard of the rules of light could lead to more deluminents, and Tal couldn't afford that. The winner of the Achievement was usually advanced several levels within his or her Order, or was permitted to ask for a Sunstone or some other reward instead.
Tal intended to be the winner. He'd always been good at the trial Achievements, which all the children competed in. The practices were going well. What could go wrong? On the morning of the Achievements of Luminosity, Tal found out exactly what could go wrong. Nervous, he went to the Hall of Mirrors a good hour early - and discovered that his name was not on the list for that day's Achievement of Body. It wasn't on the list for next time, either, or the one after that.
The Half-Bright who had the list for the Achievement of Body shrugged. He was a low-ranking Chosen of the Red Order, better than a Dimmer but not much above an Underfolk, which was why he had an actual job. Most Chosen didn't do anything so menial, devoting themselves to their hobbies or interests, or in advancing themselves through Achievements or the politics of the Empress's court. His Spiritshadow was as lackluster as he was, a six-legged animal of some kind that slept around his ankles.
Tal nodded and sped away. Behind him, he heard the man snort something like "Orange idiot," but Tal didn't look back. He remembered exactly what he'd signed up for.
The Seventh Tower Series
He couldn't have made a mistake…. Unless he'd signed up for the wrong Achievement. What if he'd signed up for the Achievement of Combat, or the Achievement of Healing? He wasn't properly trained for either of those. He'd get the White Ray of Disgust from the audience for sure, and have his arms loaded with deluminents.
He'd become an Underfolk, his mother would die, and Gref and Kusi would follow him down into the dark servant halls below the Castle. He stopped running and carefully bowed and gave light to a Brilliance of the Violet who passed by.
He still had half an hour left. Taking deliberate, slow breaths, he walked quickly toward the Registry. It was the Achievement of Music. Tal stared down at the Registry, unable to believe that his name was there. But it was, complete with his family sigil, etched in light.
The Achievement of Music! After Combat and Healing, that was probably the worst. Tal didn't even have a composition to use. He couldn't withdraw, either. That wasn't allowed, unless he was sick or injured. For a moment Tal thought of throwing himself down one of the steeper stairways. A broken arm or leg would let him off. For now. But then he would have no chance in any of the Achievements. Tal glanced at his Sunstone, looking at the bands of color to work out the time. He had less than twenty minutes before he would have to perform an original composition of light and music.
It was impossible. Like all the Chosen, Tal was a trained musician. But he had never displayed any great talent, and he certainly didn't have time to write an entirely new piece of music. His only chance would be to use an old one. It would have to be something that had never been performed before, or so old no one recognized it. His shadowguard caught his thought and changed from a very ugly sort of lungfish into a thin, stooped man much taller than Tal, with a very pronounced nose.
It was a caricature -one that Tal recognized. His great- uncle Ebbitt! Ebbitt would help! Tal was off again, racing through the corridors. He had to forget about being careful, and took every shortcut he knew. Two minutes later, Tal was throwing himself feet first into the laundry chute.
A huge bag of clothes hurtled just ahead of him, then Tal was sliding down himself, counting the levels. At "Red Two" he stuck his feet into the sides of the chute and felt the sudden heat through the soles of his shoes as friction slowed him down. Ebbitt lived in Red One, the very lowest level of the Chosen. Below that lay the work caverns of the Underfolk. Tal had never been there. He knew there were few Sunstones in the Underfolk caverns, just enough to create a dim twilight so the servants could work.
It was said to be perpetually steamy as well, from the hot pools that supplied the Castle's warmth. Below the pools, tunnels of lava flowed. The lava collection pools were the creation of the Castle's builders, the Chosen of long ago, who wielded many powers the current generations had long lost. Tal felt a chill go through him as he climbed out of the chute. Soon he might be forced to join the Underfolk, and might never return to the bright levels of the Chosen.
Even today, if he completely failed in the Achievement of Music and was given more deluminents…. He checked his Sunstone again.
He only had fifteen minutes left until the Achievement. If Ebbitt wasn't home, Tal didn't know what he would do. He set off at a run, hoping that he didn't meet any Red Half-Brights or Dimmers who would be delighted to politely delay an Orange boy. They wouldn't do any serious harm, but they would waste his precious time. Ebbitt had once been a Shadowlord himself, a Brightblinder of the Indigo Order, the second highest in the Castle.
Ebbitt had been the shining hope of the family and had seemed certain of climbing Violet. But something had gone terribly wrong for him when Tal was a baby. He had been forced all the way down to Red, and the lowest level. He was a Dimmer now, a single step above the Underfolk.
Somehow he managed to stay there, despite his strange ways and outspoken tongue. He chose to live in twilight, at the end of a rough tunnel, without a door. His weird collection of constantly rearranged furniture occupied a good hundred yards of corridor, and Ebbitt himself could be found anywhere around it. Tal had no idea how he stopped people coming in, or stealing his things. But he had never seen anyone there except family, or invited guests.
Today, a large wardrobe of white stone marked the beginning of Ebbitt's realm. It completely blocked the corridor, and Tal was momentarily stumped by it. Then he opened the door and saw that the wardrobe had no back. He went through, shutting the door behind him.
After carefully making his way around several chairs and desks, a huge birdcage, and a bronze orrery, Tal found Ebbitt sleeping on an old gilded throne. It had obviously once been studded with Sunstones, because it was covered in holes and scratch marks from when they had been removed. Ebbitt himself was wearing a plain gray robe without any of the proper markings of his Order or position. He wore a single small Sunstone in a silver ring on his index finger.
It flashed as Tal approached, and Ebbitt's Spiritshadow stepped out of the darkness behind the throne. It was a huge cat, with a great mane around its head and a ridge along its back. Completely black even in the dim light - the mark of a powerful Spiritshadow it yawned as Tal approached, showing lighter shadows inside its enormous mouth.
Tal's shadowguard turned itself into a smaller version of the maned cat, in tribute. Tal took a few steps forward, but not too many. He'd always been a bit afraid of Ebbitt's Spiritshadow, even though he knew it wouldn't hurt him.
As Ebbitt still didn't move, he said it again, a bit louder. Ebbitt still didn't move. Tal took another step forward and almost shouted, "Uncle Ebbitt!
The huge cat Spiritshadow leaped forward. Tal jumped back and fell over a small three-legged stool, hurtling toward the hard stone floor. At the last moment, Tal's shadowguard shot underneath him, cushioning his head so he didn't knock himself out.
Ebbitt laughed as Tal slowly got up, and the maned cat slunk back to sit beside the throne, at the old man's right hand. Tal got up angrily, but managed not to show it. There was no point in getting angry with Ebbitt. He just laughed and wheezed. Ebbitt might be a pain when it came to surprises and practical jokes, but he was a lot more use than Korrek and Lallek when it came to helping out. His laugh was gone, and he didn't look an old fool anymore.
Obviously Tal's face and tone had told him that whatever the boy was concerned about, it was serious. We have to get a new one. I asked Lallek and Korrek, but they wouldn't help, I think because Shadowmaster Sushin told them not to. So I put my name in for the Achievement of Body. Only somehow… I must have made a mistake… I'm in for the Achievement of Music. But I don't have a composition. The Achievement is in… oh! We've got the low-down on the complete series. Titles included in this Set are: The Fall, 2.
Castle, 3. Aenir, 4. Above the Veil, 5. Into Battle, 6. The Violet Keystone. Would you like to tell us about a lower price? If you are a seller for this product, would you like to suggest updates through seller support? Read more Read less.
Frequently bought together. Total price: Add all three to Cart Add all three to List. One of these items ships sooner than the other. Show details. Buy the selected items together This item: Customers who bought this item also bought. Page 1 of 1 Start over Page 1 of 1. Garth Nix. Across the Wall: A Tale of the Abhorsen and Other Stories. The Lost Abhorsen Old Kingdom. Goldenhand Old Kingdom. Read more. Product details Paperback Publisher: English ISBN Tell the Publisher!
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Please try again later. Paperback Verified Purchase. I bought this series because it was one of my favorite growing up. I am 21 now, and I still love reading these books! I think they are ideally written for children around , but the story is so enjoyable that I still find pleasure in them after all of these years. I genuinely recommend this series. One person found this helpful.
My grandson loves this series!!!
This series is a great introduction to the writing of Garth Nix.