Twenty-six

‘What is this place?’ Henry asked. Although it was his third visit to the Realm, he’d never actually been in the city before. It was a peculiar experience, like stepping back in time. He kept thinking of drawings he’d seen of Elizabethan London and the movie Shakespeare in Love. The city seemed to be entirely composed of narrow, dirty streets, tiny windows and overhanging buildings. The river might have been a wider version of the Thames. But despite the similarities, there were some spooky differences. This was definitely one of them.

‘It’s a Fizz Parlour,’ Pyrgus said.

The frontage was decidedly garish. Spell coatings caused luminous bands of colour to crawl and intertwine with no concession to good taste. Above the door was a spinning spiral that had an hypnotic effect on passers-by. Henry noticed it was attracting a steady parade of insects and small birds.

‘It’s not some sort of tavern, is it?’ Henry asked. ‘Only I’m not allowed in pubs.’ Even if it wasn’t a tavern, he wasn’t sure he wanted to go in. He was feeling a whole lot steadier now, but his muscles still ached and all he really wanted was to lie down somewhere and sleep. Somehow he doubted this was what Pyrgus had in mind.

‘No, it’s not a tavern. We can go to a tavern if you like, but I thought this might be better for you.’ Pyrgus frowned. ‘Why aren’t you allowed in taverns?’

‘I’m too young.’

‘You’re the same age as me.’

‘Yes, I know,’ Henry said, and let it go. He eyed the entrance suspiciously. ‘It’s not… an opium den, is it?’

‘I don’t know what opium is,’ Pyrgus said. ‘But if you want a den, we can go to a saturation den. They’re stimulating too.’ Then he added brightly, ‘But this is completely organic.’

‘This’ll be great, Pyrgus,’ Henry said tiredly, belatedly remembering his manners.

The door beneath the whirling spiral opened into a winding tunnel that looked like the inside of an intestine. Walls, ceiling and floor were glistening pink and the whole thing undulated slightly as if pushing them along. Henry didn’t like it much – he felt as if the building had digested him – but the intestine proved mercifully short.

They squeezed through a soft, squishy sphincter into a brightly lit open-plan chamber. There were white leather seats arranged in twos across the entire space with tiny little tables between them. Cables snaked from each seat into small black boxes bolted to the floor. Floating overhead was an immense, spell-driven sign in Gothic

letters that announced: THE ORGANIC FIZZ EXPERIENCE

‘Grab those seats over there,’ said Pyrgus. ‘We want to be near the door in case there’s a power outrage.’

‘What happens in a power outrage?’ Henry asked urgently, wondering what a power outrage was. But Pyrgus was already on his way to a booth, presumably to pay somebody.

Henry slid cautiously into one of the seats. It creaked and groaned a little when he moved, behaving exactly the way a leather seat should. He looked around. The Fizz Parlour – whatever it was selling – seemed to be doing mediocre business. There was a scattering of couples, seated facing one another, but the place was far from full.

Pyrgus returned and climbed into his seat, grinning broadly at Henry.

‘What happens now?’ Henry asked warily.

‘They’re sending somebody across,’ said Pyrgus.

The somebody turned out to be a rather pretty girl with elfin features. She was carrying a tray with two tall glasses and, rather to his relief, Henry saw they were filled with nothing more threatening than carbonated fruit juice. He reached out as the girl unloaded her tray, but Pyrgus hissed urgently, ‘ That’s for afterwards!’ as if he’d made some sort of social gaffe.

The girl smiled at Henry, reached down the front of her dress and pulled out a gleaming key on a length of string. She leaned forward to insert it into a small slit in the middle of the table.

‘Enjoy your Organic Fizz Experience,’ she said professionally, then left.

‘What happens now?’ Henry asked again. He hoped it was nothing strenuous.

‘Just wait,’ said Pyrgus, grinning.

Henry waited.

After a minute, Henry whispered, ‘What are we waiting foRRR – YIPES!!’

A bolt of soft, smooth electricity charged up his spine. His head exploded like a Roman candle. His whole being shattered into colours dancing to the coolest music. It hurled the fractured pieces of his mind into a juggler’s heaven and kept them there, whirling and plunging, while a heady excitement welled up in his stomach – where was his stomach anyway? – until he felt about to burst. Then suddenly it stopped.

‘Wasn’t that great?’ Pyrgus exclaimed, his eyes shining.

Henry reached for his glass and discovered that his hand was shaking.

Once, on a holiday in Spain, Henry had been served tamarind juice and this had the same sweet-tart taste. But that was where any resemblance ended. From his first sip, the liquid wriggled in his mouth like a cat getting comfortable. It was weird to begin with, but after a moment he decided he liked it. In fact – he leaned back in the chair – he decided he quite liked a lot about the Organic Fizz Experience. He very much liked Pyrgus and the Faerie Realm. And talking. He wondered why he wasn’t talking now.

‘My aches have gone away,’ Henry heard his voice say. He smiled.

‘Really?’ Pyrgus said. ‘Have they really?’ He took a large pull of his own drink.

They discussed Henry’s pains for several minutes, or possibly most of the afternoon. They concluded Henry had been under a lot of strain and Mr Fogarty’s new transporter hadn’t helped a bit. They decided he was lucky it hadn’t sent him mad. This struck them both as funny and they laughed a lot.

‘Speaking of lunacy,’ remarked Pyrgus later, ‘are you in love with my sister?’

‘Oh, yes,’ Henry said at once. He felt no embarrassment, either at the question or his answer.

Pyrgus set down his glass. ‘She’s trying to start a war.’

‘How peculiar,’ Henry said.

There was a privacy spell around each pair of tables – or so Pyrgus claimed – so they felt free to discuss the matter at length. They discussed Hairstreak’s offer and chewed around Blue’s response. They considered how many people – and animals, Pyrgus put in quickly – might get killed if full-scale war broke out. They carefully examined Blue’s attitude since she became the Faerie Queen.

‘All power corrups,’ said Henry soberly. ‘An asolute power corrups

… asolutely!’

‘Wow!’ Pyrgus exclaimed admiringly. ‘That’s so true.’

They discussed corruption for a while, then decided it was Henry’s duty to persuade Blue to give peace a chance.

But when they got back to the Purple Palace, Blue was gone.

Contents