Quint, the son of a sky pirate captain and new apprentice to Linius Pallitax, the Most High Academe, has been given some highly important tasks. Just how important, Quint is about to find out as he and Linius's only daughter, Maris, are plunged into a terrifying adventure that takes them deep within the rock upon which Sanctaphrax is built.
About the Author
Chris Riddell, co-creator of the Edge Chronicles, is an award-winning illustrator and political cartoonist. He lives down the street from Paul Stewart in Brighton, England.
Read an Excerpt
The 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.
'Where are you, master? Where are you?' he murmured to himself.
He cocked his wedge-shaped head to one side. The antennae quivered impatiently. They picked up the soft murmur of voices throughout the vast building: the inconsequential chatter of the old woodtroll nurse, the soft humming of a girl - the young mistress - intent on some absorbing task, and there, unmistakable, from up in the master-study, a dry cough.
'I hear you, master,' the creature responded. 'I'm sure you could do with a little pick-me-up to go with the news I bring,' he trilled to himself. And with the goblet clinking against the bottle, he began the long climb up the staircase.
It was a staircase the spindlebug knew well - but then he knew every single nook and cranny of the sprawling Palace of Shadows well: its hidden chambers, the murder holes, the corridors that led nowhere, the great balcony from which, for centuries, High Academes had stood to address the plotting, scheming academics below. What was more, the creature knew all the palace's secrets, his antennae picking up the whispers, the gossip, the rumours and cries.
He stopped at the first landing, wheezing heavily, breathlessly aware that he wasn't getting any younger. Indeed, even for a spindlebug, he was old. A hundred and eighty years had passed since he had first hatched out in the underground gardens of a gyle goblin colony, far away in the Deepwoods. So long ago, so very long ago . . .
The slavers had come. They'd destroyed the precious fungus beds and enslaved the spindlebugs who tended them. But not Tweezel, oh no. He was a young bug then, fast, quick-thinking. Hearing the slavers breaking through the walls, he had hidden himself away, making himself invisible in the shadows. Then he hadfled into the Deepwoods, keeping to the shadows; always listening, always on his guard. Shadows were his friend.
Tweezel reached the second landing, the place where he'd first laid eyes on his new master - Linius Pallitax, the youngest Most High Academe anyone could remember - and his young wife. She had been standing by the entrance to the robe-chamber, Tweezel remembered, laughing at her husband's ill-fitting new robes and the Great Seal of High Office round his neck. Big with child, and so pretty and full of life, she had seemed out of place in the dusty old palace.
But soon after had come that terrible night, when her cries of joy became cries of pain. He didn't like to think about it: the woodtroll nurse running back and forth, the terrible screams from the birthing-chamber, the sobs of the young master. Pitiful sounds. Terrible sounds. And then, silence.
Tweezel shook his head and climbed to the third landing. He still remembered how long the silence had seemed to last and how impenetrable it had been. Despite his sensitive antennae, he had had no idea what had happened. The seconds had ticked past, one after the other . . . And then all at once, shattering the deathly silence, had come the most wonderful sound of all - the sound of a baby crying. The sound of the young mistress.
Linius Pallitax had suffered a terrible tragedy: he had lost his wife in the throes of childbirth, yet he had also brought life back into the Palace of Shadows. It had been, Tweezel thought, almost like the old days when he'd first come to the great floating city, and the palace had been a noisy, bustling place, bursting with life.
Back then, the academics of Sanctaphrax had been primarily earth-scholars, fascinated by the flora and fauna of the Deepwoods. Why, even he, Tweezel, had been considered a marvel! The High Librarian himself - the greatest earth-scholar of all - had found him starving in the slums of Undertown and brought him up here to the palace. Oh, happy, happy memories!
In those days, of course, the Palace of Shadows had been known as the Palace of Lights and, with its countless windows of coloured glass which bathed everything inside in jewelled light, it had been the most magnificent building in all of Sanctaphrax. And he, Tweezel, the strange creature seemingly made out of glass, had been appointed its custodian.
The ancient spindlebug reached the fourth landing and paused to catch his breath. But times had changed. The sky-scholars had begun to take over. Earth-study was no longer fashionable, it seemed. All over Sanctaphrax, the towers of sky-scholarship had begun to sprout; taller and taller they grew, reaching high into the sky. With the completion of the College of Cloud, the Palace of Lights had finally been surrounded totally, and thrown into deep shadow.
The Great Purges had begun soon after; earth-scholars had been expelled from Sanctaphrax in wave after wave, and Tweezel's magnificent palace had become the Palace of Shadows. Tweezel sighed. There had followed the lonely years. The old librarian had died and a sky-scholar had been elected new Most High Academe. He had chosen to live in one of the magnificent new towers, and Tweezel had been left on his own to look after the empty palace as best he could.
But shadows were his friend. He had stayed, and listened, and waited.
And then - some sixty years later - Linius, the young Professor of Mistsifting, had become the Most High Academe. Just another sky-scholar, Tweezel had thought. But he'd been wrong. Linius was different. He respected the old ways. He had moved back into the palace, stood on the balcony and called for an end to the rivalry and faction fighting, and the beginning of a new era where earth-studies and sky-scholarship would complement one another, rather than compete.
The sky-scholars hadn't liked that one bit - then or now. They muttered, they plotted - Tweezel heard them - but what could they actually do? Linius was the Most High Academe.
Tweezel stopped at the door of the master-study and knocked three times.
'Come in, Tweezel,' came a weary voice.
'I bring news of Wind Jackal, master,' said Tweezel, entering the smoky room. 'He sends word of his estimated time of arrival.'
'Which is?' said Linius.
'Three hours, master.'