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Owen walked down the riverbank, straddled the log that acted as a bridge over the water, and shinned quickly across. It was a fine sunny day with a brisk cold wind blowing up from the sea. The wind stirred the branches of the trees over his head, where the first colors of autumn were just creeping onto the edges of the leaves.
He stopped at the end of the log as he always did and looked up at the dark bulk of the ruined Workhouse towering above him. It was hard to believe that it had been only a year since he had stumbled across a secret organization called the Resisters who were hidden inside, asleep until the world needed them.
He shivered at the memory of the deadly Harsh, the enemies of mankind and of life itself, who had sought to turn back time, spreading cold and darkness throughout the whole world. They had constructed a device called the Puissance, which was like a huge whirlwind, sucking in time. But the Resisters had emerged and Owen had joined with them to defeat the Harsh, imprisoning the Puissance in the mysterious old chest in his bedroom.
When the battle was over, the Resisters went back to sleep in the chamber known as the Starry, hidden under the Workhouse. They waited there until they were called again. It was his friend Cati’s job to watch for danger and to wake them when it came. She was invisible to the ordinary eye, hidden, as she said, in the shadows of time.
“Hello, Watcher!” Owen shouted as he always did, knowing she could see him even though he couldn’t see her. He paused and scanned the shadows under the trees, wondering if she was safe and if he would ever see her again. Time, he had learned, was a dangerous place.
He strode briskly along the path toward his Den. Owen had made the Den in a hollow formed by ancient walls and roofed it over with a sheet of perspex he had found. The entrance was cleverly disguised with branches, so it was almost impossible to find unless you knew where it was. He moved quickly. He was late for school, but he had an errand.
He uncovered the entrance and ducked into the Den. Everything was as it had been the evening before. The old sofa, the pile of comics, the battered old kettle and gas stove, the truck mirror on the wall. The only thing that had changed in a year was the empty space on the wall where the Mortmain had hung, the object that he had thought was an old boat propeller, the object that turned out to be the key to defeating the Harsh. It was a magical thing, whose properties he didn’t really understand. It resembled a battered piece of brass a little larger than a man’s hand, with three leaves coming out from the center. When activated, it transformed into an object of wonderful intricacy and power. The Mortmain was now in his bedroom as well, acting as a lock to keep the Puissance in the chest.
Owen looked at himself in the mirror. His face had filled out and the thin, worried boy of last year had gone. His brown eyes were still wary, but that wasn’t surprising, given the danger he’d gone through.
Quickly he opened the small box he had left on the old wooden table. He reached into his pocket and took out what looked like a jagged stone, one that glowed bright blue. It was the piece of magno that Cati had left as a keepsake, the stone filled with a power that the Resisters harnessed like electricity. He had taken it home with him the evening before, but he wasn’t comfortable leaving it in his bedroom. It belonged in the Den, close to the Workhouse. He shut the magno in the box, took a last glance round, then left.
Once outside, he climbed up the side of the bridge onto the road. His mother had forgotten to give him lunch again, so he ran toward Mary White’s shop. He had to stoop down to get into the tiny dark shop with the whitewashed front. As always, Mary was standing in the gloom behind the counter wearing an apron and pinafore, her hair in a bun.
“Have you been down at the Workhouse recently?” Mary asked. Owen remembered that the Resisters had spoken of her and seemed to have a great deal of respect for her. How much did she know about them and their battles with the Harsh?
“Be careful down there,” she said. “Be very careful.” For a moment the shop seemed to grow even darker and Mary’s face looked stern and ancient. Then she smiled and things went back to normal.
Owen bought a roll and some ham. He put the money on the counter and Mary looked at his hands, which were unusually long and slender for a boy. Just like his father’s, Mary thought. Hands that were made for something special.
What People are Saying About This
Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2008:
"Another walloping good read from a master of the trade."