Authors: Paul Stewart,Chris Riddell
Tags: #Ages 10 and up
For Joseph, William, Katy, Anna and Jack
ar far away, jutting out into the emptiness beyond, like the figurehead of a mighty stone ship, is the Edge. Shrouded in mist and bordered by open sky, it is a place of forests, swamps and rocklands.
There are many who inhabit its various landscapes; from the trolls, trogs and goblins of the perilous Deepwoods to the phantasms and spectres of the treacherous Twilight Woods, from the bleached scavengers of the Mire to the white ravens of the Stone Gardens. While in Undertown – that seething urban sprawl which straddles the Edgewater River – there are creatures from all over the Edge who have travelled there to discover what they hoped would be a better life than the one they left behind.
Not all the inhabitants of the Edge live with their feet on the ground however. Some – the citizens of the great floating city of Sanctaphrax – live with their heads literally in the clouds. Dwelling and working in their sumptuous palaces and lofty towers, they are academics, alchemists, sub-acolytes and apprentices, plus, of course, all those who make their lives of research and study possible: the guards, the servants, the cooks and cleaners.
Secured by the great Anchor Chain to the centre of Undertown below, the rock upon which Sanctaphrax has been constructed is still growing. Like all the other buoyant rocks of the Edge, it started out in the Stone Gardens – poking up from the ground, growing, being pushed up further by new rocks growing beneath it, and becoming bigger still. The chain was attached when the rock became large and light enough to float up into the sky.
Over the years, successive generations have built more and more impressive buildings upon it; ever grander, ever higher. The once-splendid Great Library and erst-while Palace of Lights are now dwarfed by the College of Cloud, the palatial School of Light and Darkness, the Twin Towers of the Mistsifters and, of course, the magnificent Loftus Observatory. The latest additions to the Central Viaduct – that grand marble walkway which spans the air between the Observatory and the Great Hall – are the most grandiloquent and ornate so far.
Overseeing it all, is the Most High Academe, an individual chosen by the Sanctaphrax academics for his intellect and independence. In the past, this post was filled by one of the earth-study librarians. Today, with the sky-scholars in control of Sanctaphrax, it is from their ranks that the current Most High Academe has been selected.
His name is Linius Pallitax. He is a father and a widower. In his enthronement speech he spoke of the need for the sky-scholars to work with the ousted earth-scholars once again for the betterment of all. What he is to discover, deep down inside the floating rock itself, is that when the earth and sky come together for the wrong reasons, then there is no room for the greater good, but only for the greatest evil.
The Deepwoods, the Edgelands, the Twilight Woods, the Mire and the Stone Gardens. Undertown and Sanctaphrax. The River Edgewater. Names on a map.
Yet behind each name lie a thousand tales – tales that have been recorded in ancient scrolls, tales that have been passed down the generations by word of mouth – tales which even now are being told.
What follows is but one of those tales.
· CHAPTER ONE ·
THE PALACE OF
he great vaulted entrance-hall to the Palace of Shadows was silent save for the hiss of the wind and the soft, yet echoing, footfall of the immense insect-like creature that teetered unsteadily across the marble floor. High up above, beams of dim light streamed in through a circle of arched windows and criss-crossed the shadowy air. And as the floating rock of Sanctaphrax – fixed in place by the Anchor Chain – turned slowly in the breeze coming in from beyond the Edge, so the light swooped and the shadows danced.
The spindlebug paused for a moment at the foot of the sweeping staircase and looked up. The skin, as translucent as the high arched windows above, revealed blood pumping through veins, six hearts beating – and last night's supper slowly digesting in a see-through belly. The light glinted on quivering antennae, and on the goblet and oval-shaped bottle of cordial which stood
on the burnished copper tray clutched in the creature's claws. The spindlebug was listening intently.