Authors: Anne Nesbet
. No, louder than that! It was the loudest sound any of the stones in that wall had ever heard. They hadn't been paying attention to the wrinkled man as he knelt on the ground fiddling with his parchments and beakers, despite the tang of magic all around him. People come and people goâthat's the way stones see it. When you've been around for eighty million years, human beings amount to a cloud of noisy mosquitoes. Not even worth swatting atâif limestone could swat.
But this bent-over smoke streak of a man did something no mosquito ever does: he made the world explode. He put his wizened, tangy palm right up against the wall, he made clickety-breathy human sounds with his mouth, and the magic went BANG and blasted its way right into the heart of those poor stones.
And in that one awful moment everything changed.
It hurt terribly.
The limestone did its best to yelp and pull away, but stone isn't good at either of those things.
So the change raced through the wall like lightning, like lava, like all of time squished into a single dreadful moment, and the limestone, shrieking silently, found itself filling up with weird poisons: a million pointy-edged words, a gazillion chattering thoughts.
I am no longer myself!
thought the wall, and was horrified to find itself thinking. All of a sudden, for instance, it knew where it had been standing all this time: on an avenue in the city of Paris, a block away from the river Seine. On one side of itself was the avenue Rapp, a proud part of France, and on the other stood a couple of buildings, an embassy, which belonged, through the peculiar magic of diplomacy and treaties, to another country (with a long, pebbly name: Bulgaria) a thousand miles away. In two places at once! That was why this wall was such a good place for magic. It knew, furthermore, that its own stone had been quarried in faraway Bulgaria; it had traveled on barges and trucks and trains to get here; that travel had taken fifty-nine days, and at the end of the fifty-nine days, the squeaky, wispy human beings had slapped some mortar down in their hasty way and thrown the stone blocks on top of one another, and the wall had been standing here quietly, recovering from all that hullabaloo, all the forty-three years since. This very minute the air was dark and cold because the date was the twentieth of the month of October, and the hour was eleven p.m., and the day of the week was Saturday. .Â .Â . In short, it knew a thousand million things no wall should ever know.
Those were facts, and it's bad enough for a wall to know facts. Worse by far was the foul thing all those facts were dragging in with them: not just words all a-jumble, but a
. That was what the smoke-streak man had been up to, the one who stank of magic. He was magicking upârude man!âa hiding place for his mind. That mind spread now through the astonished stones like a miasma, like a sour mist hugging the face of a bog, a vile clot of purposes and intentions with a name tacked on top:
Henri de Fourcroy
, said the mind as it gloated its way deeper into the stones. It was full of instructions.
You will bring me the girl. She broke me; she will mend me. And you will keep me safe for forty days!
That was the time it needed for the rest of the spell to work. The wall knew that now. The wall knew everything! The man's magic had reached into the tiniest crevice of What Is and opened a loophole there, to buy him some time.
He would be a shadow for a while. But he would mend. Once you have been immortal, you do not crush as easily as others do. No! Let others be crushed, yes. But not Henri de Fourcroy.
It all happened in a millisecond or two: the
, the awful change, the mind rushing in. A moment ago the wall had been plain, quiet stone, and nowâ
That is the sound of limestone having had enough. In less time than it takes to notice that the tasty morsel in your mouth has gone bad, bad, bad, the stone wall raced ahead of that mind and its loophole magic and spat it out.
And then the wall stood there, shaken to its very bones, and surveyed the damage. The wrinkled man was gone. There was smoke and shadow everywhere, and more of those mosquito-swarm people running up, waving their spindly little arms and squeaking the way humans do.
But oh, grief: there was a hole now in its own stone self.
I spat too hard
, thought the wall.
And was horrified to find itself
It goes to show how hard it can be to spit out a mind, especially as sticky a mind as that of Henri de Fourcroy.
Everywhere faint tendrils of that mind still remained, and they whispered poison as they coiled and uncoiled:
Maya Davidson. Find her. She broke me; she must mend me. She will pay
rouble doesn't always start with a sudden sense of well-being and the smell of warm chocolate croissantsâbut then again, sometimes it does.
Maya Davidson, almost thirteen, was walking along the avenue Rapp under leafless Parisian late-October trees, and the croissants sang out in small sugary, buttery voices from within their twists of white paper, and with every step she took, those letters in her pocket that had just come today reminded her of their presence by crinkling a little. And Maya herself feltâ
Well, how exactly did she feel?
She wrapped her arms around her wool-jacketed self and considered the question for a moment, smiling, while her breath made thin clouds in the air.
One thing was clear: she was not the same girl she had been three months ago. No. Things had happened. She had changed. In fact, so many things had happened that if an old, out-of-date version of Maya, the Maya from way back in June, were to show up suddenly, on this very sidewalk (probably looking pretty freaked out, thought Maya, to find herself suddenly whooshed all the way from California to this big French city), it would be pretty hard to explain any of it without sounding, to be honest, kind of loopy.