‘There stood the Shadow, and his memories hurt so much that they almost tore him apart. He heard them in his head, all those screams and sighs, he thought he could feel tears on his grey skin. Their fear burned his eyes like smoke. Then, quite suddenly, he felt something different, something that made him shudder and forced him to his knees. Then his whole terrible figure disintegrated, and suddenly they were all back again, all the beings from whose ashes the Shadow had been made: men, women and children, dogs and cats, brownies, fairies, and many others as well.’
Meggie saw the arena filling up with them. More and more of them were gathering in a throng where the Shadow had collapsed, all looking around as if they’d just woken from a deep sleep. She read Fenoglio’s last sentence.
‘They woke as if from a bad dream and then, at last, everything was all right again.’
‘He isn’t here any more!’ said Meggie when Mo took Fenoglio’s sheet of paper from her and put it back in the book. ‘Fenoglio’s gone, Mo! He’s in the story now. I know he is.’
Mo looked at the book and tucked it back under his jacket. ‘Yes, I think you’re right,’ he said. ‘But if so, there’s nothing we can do about it for the moment. Perhaps the story now goes on beyond the book.’ He led Meggie away with him down from the rostrum, past all the people and the strange creatures crowding into the arena outside Capricorn’s village as if they had always been there. Darius followed them. He had finally let go of the Magpie, who was now standing with her bony hands gripping the back of the chair where Meggie had been sitting. She was weeping soundlessly, her face crumpled, as if her whole being were made of tears.
A tiny, blue-skinned fairy apologised profusely when it fluttered into Meggie’s hair as she and Mo went towards the cage containing her mother and Elinor. Then a shaggy creature who looked half human, half animal stumbled across her path, and finally she almost trod on a tiny little man who seemed to be made entirely of glass. Capricorn’s village had acquired some strange new inhabitants.
Farid was still trying to get the lock open when they reached the cage. He was picking at it, looking angry, and muttering something to the effect that Dustfinger had shown him just how to do it and this must be a very special sort of lock.
‘Oh, wonderful!’ said Elinor sarcastically, pressing her face to the bars from inside. ‘So the Shadow didn’t eat us after all, but we’ll be left to starve in a cage. Well, well! What do you think of your daughter, Mo? Isn’t she a brave little thing? I couldn’t have uttered a word myself, not a single word. My God, my heart almost stopped when that old woman tried to get the book away from her.’
Mo put his hand on Meggie’s shoulder and smiled, but he was looking at someone else. Nine years are a long, long time.
‘I’ve done it! I’ve done it!’ cried Farid, pulling the door of the cage open. But before the two women could take a step, a figure rose in the darkest corner of their prison, leaped towards them, and seized the first person he could lay his hands on – Meggie’s mother.
‘Wait!’ spat Basta. ‘Stop, stop, not so fast. Where are you off to, then, Resa? To join your beloved family? You think I didn’t understand all that whispering down in the crypt? Well, I did.’
‘Let go of her!’ cried Meggie. ‘Let go of her!’ Why hadn’t she noticed the dark heap lying so still in the corner? She had just assumed Basta was as dead as Capricorn. And indeed, why wasn’t he? Why hadn’t he disappeared like Flatnose and Cockerell and all the others?
‘Let her go, Basta!’ Mo spoke very quietly, as if he had no strength for anything else. ‘You won’t get out of here, even by using her as a shield. No one will help you. They’re all gone.’
‘Oh, I’ll get out!’ replied Basta unpleasantly. ‘I shall choke her if you don’t let me pass. I’ll break her scrawny neck. Did you know she can’t talk? She can’t make a sound because that useless Darius read her out of the book. She’s as silent as a fish, a pretty, mute fish. But if I know you, you’ll want her back all the same, am I right?’
Mo made no reply, and Basta laughed.
‘Why aren’t you dead?’ Elinor shouted at him. ‘Why didn’t you fall down dead like your master, or vanish? Why not?’
Basta merely shrugged. ‘How should I know?’ he growled, keeping his hand round Resa’s neck. She tried to kick him, but he only tightened his grip. ‘After all, the Magpie’s still here too, but she always made other people do her dirty work for her, and as for me – perhaps I’m one of the good characters in the story now because they put me in the cage? Perhaps I’m still here because it’s a long time since I set fire to anything, and Flatnose got much more fun out of killing people? Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps … but anyway here I am, so let me pass, you old book-bag!’
But Elinor did not budge.
‘No,’ she said. ‘You don’t get out of here until you let her go! I’d never have expected this story to have a happy ending, but it has – and a creature like you isn’t going to spoil that at the last moment, as sure as my name’s Elinor Loredan!’ Looking very determined, she placed herself in front of the cage door. ‘You don’t have your knife with you this time,’ she went on in a dangerously soft voice. ‘You have nothing but your filthy tongue, and believe you me, that’ll be no use to you now. Poke your fingers into his eyes, Teresa! Kick him, bite him, the beast!’
But before Teresa could do as she said Basta thrust her away from him so violently that she fell against Elinor and brought her down – her and Mo, for both of them had been coming to her aid. As for Basta, he raced for the open door of the cage, pushed the startled Farid and Meggie aside – and ran away past all the people and creatures still wandering like sleepwalkers around the scene of Capricorn’s festivities. Before Farid or Mo could give chase he had disappeared.
‘Oh, great!’ muttered Elinor, stumbling out of the cage with Teresa. ‘Now that wretched fellow will haunt me in my dreams, and every time I hear something rustling out in my garden at night I shall feel his knife at my throat.’
Not only had Basta gone, but the Magpie also disappeared without trace that night. And when, wearily, they set off to find a vehicle of some kind to get them away from Capricorn’s village, they found that all the cars had gone too. Not a single one was left in the car park, which was dark now.
‘Oh no, tell me it isn’t true!’ groaned Elinor. ‘Does this mean we have to go the whole wretched way on foot again?’
‘Unless you happen to have a mobile phone with you,’ said Mo. He had not moved from Teresa’s side since Basta had made his escape. He had looked with concern at her neck, where the red marks left by Basta’s fingers were still visible, and he had run a strand of her hair through his fingers and said he almost liked it better now it was darker. But nine years are a long time, and Meggie saw how careful they were with each other, like people on a narrow bridge crossing a wide, wide void.
Of course Elinor did not have her mobile. Capricorn had had it taken away from her, and although Farid immediately offered to go and search Capricorn’s fire-blackened house for it, it did not turn up. So they finally decided to spend one last night in the village, along with all the creatures that Fenoglio had brought back to life. It was still a beautiful, mild night, and sleeping under the trees would be quite comfortable. Meggie and Mo found plenty of blankets in the now deserted houses. But they did not go back into Capricorn’s house. Meggie never wanted to set foot inside it again, not because of the acrid smell of burning seeping out of its windows, or the charred doors, but because of the memories that leaped out at her like fierce animals at the mere sight of the place.