"We have to get out of here," Larry said through clenched teeth.
"You have to get out of here," Alexandra said. She looked at her Lost Traveler's Compass. "New Amsterdam Academy is that way." She pointed.
Larry grabbed her arm. "I'm not going to let you pull one of your insane stunts just because you think being reckless and bold always works!"
"You're not going to let me?" Alexandra tried to shake free of his grip. "And since when do you care?"
Larry flushed, but didn't let go.
Alexandra looked over her shoulder. The dragon was shaking its head, and its great, muscled, serpentine neck swiveled about, sizing up the people, the vehicles, the buildings.
"Okay, Larry," she said. She leaned over, put her hands on either side of his face, and kissed him.
Their lips met briefly. His teeth grazed her lower lip. Then he pulled away.
"That wasn't Amortentia this time," he said.
"No." Alexandra reached into her backpack and pulled out a small bag. "Hold this for me."
"What?" Without thinking, he held out his hand, and Alexandra dumped her Portkey into his palm.
"Redire," she said. He vanished with a startled expression on his face. "Sorry, Larry."
She wheeled her broom about and threw a hex directly at the dragon, which was just about to unleash a stream of fire at the nearest group of Muggles. The hex flashed against its snout and the dragon roared.
"Get out of here!" Alexandra screamed at the spectators. "What is wrong with you?"
She flew in a circle around the dragon, pelting it with more hexes until it was whipping its head around to track her.
Through the breach the dragon had made in the subway station's glass streetfront, two small orbs came flying out into the intersection.
Alexandra shot up into the air.
"Come get me, thunder lizard!" she yelled, and threw a Stinging Jinx in the dragon's eye.
The beast howled and its jaws opened wide. A torrent of flames shot up two stories, lighting the intersection with a fiery display that drew appreciative and startled Ahs from the crowd.
Then, just when Alexandra began to fear it wouldn't move, the dragon crouched. The SUV it was perched on collapsed as the dragon leaped into the sky. It came at her fast, much faster than she expected; she shot straight up and still felt a wash of hot air against her back as the dragon spat more flames.
The dragon flapped its wings in angry pursuit, and Alexandra kept flying up, up, higher and higher, rising past the twentieth, thirtieth, fortieth floors of the buildings on either side of her, occasionally seeing someone inside pointing as she and the dragon continued ascending, until the street was hidden in the mist below and they were finally higher than any of the buildings. Still Alexandra climbed, now surrounded by even denser fog.
To the west, where New Amsterdam Academy sat in its hidden block next to a forgotten park, there was only darkness and howling wind and the crackle of lightning.
The dragon screeched at her. Alexandra tossed another hex to keep its attention, and leveled off. She glanced at her Lost Traveler's Compass, and pointed herself north.
She began leading the dragon away from the city, out over the river, and toward Storm King Mountain. Behind them flew the Eye-Spy and the Snitch.
A dense fog bank beneath a layer of storm clouds had descended not just over the city, but the entire river valley. Alexandra could see nothing above or below her. Occasionally she heard distant horns from boats and trains far below. Much closer, the dragon's wings beat the air as it kept veering and swooping to catch up to her.
It was difficult staying close enough that the dragon wouldn't lose her, but far enough away to avoid getting roasted or snapped up in its jaws. Clumsy but fast on the ground, the dragon was a nimble, powerful flyer, and Alexandra had to perform aerobatic tricks to keep drawing it onward. Sometimes she dropped altitude and slowed to a crawl, then rose behind the dragon to let it fly straight ahead until its confusion led it to swerve off-course. Then she would throw another hex at it, and the beast would roar in fury and come at her again, and she had to once again dive and zoom out of reach and let it chase her in the correct direction.
She worried about it tiring before they reached her destination, but it showed no sign of giving up. As she plunged onward through the fog, she also felt a welcome presence ahead of her.
Charlie had found her father. She didn't know if the attack on New Amsterdam had been precipitated by her message — that wasn't what she'd intended. But rather than coming back to her, Charlie was waiting at the destination she'd given her father, which meant he must have directed her familiar there somehow.
Did that mean Abraham Thorn was waiting for her at Storm King Mountain? Or was he back in New Amsterdam, joining the warlocks of the Dark Convention in wreaking destruction?
I'm coming, Charlie, she thought.
Her familiar and the Lost Traveler's Compass guided her onwards, though she was flying blind, glad that neither wizard nor Muggle was likely to be out flying over the Hudson in this unnatural fog.
Eventually, even the dragon began gliding more, conserving its strength. Alexandra worried it might finally be tiring and would look for someplace to land by the side of the river. She hit it with another Snapping Jinx, and it responded with another snap of its jaws, followed by a screech like a teakettle and a gout of flame.
It hated its tormentor. Alexandra couldn't blame it.
It was chilly. Alexandra had been dressed for the underground, so the fog didn't bother her much, but she was glad when Charlie's presence grew stronger and she saw in the firmer positioning of the Lost Traveler's Compass's needle that they were nearing the end of their flight.
Storm King Mountain was not very impressive compared to the mountains in Dinétah, or even the Ozarks. It rose like a hump in the fog, and Alexandra circled it once in its entirety, while the dragon followed her. Alexandra banked and flew into the fog, while pointing her wand in the opposite direction to cast an Echo Charm. Her words taunted it from the direction of Storm King Mountain: "Come get me, thunder lizard!"
The dragon's roar echoed off the mountain as it flew after her voice.
Alexandra continued circling the mountain. She sensed Charlie even before she heard the raven's wings flapping nearby.
"Stay away, Charlie," she said. "We've both flown a long way. But I'm not done yet."
"Fly, fly!" said Charlie.
"Shh," she said, and commanded the bird away.
Storm King Mountain sat in the middle of the Hudson River, and was visible to Muggles every day. They hiked up and down it, but none of them saw what Alexandra could clearly see with her Witch's Sight, even through the fog: a path at the top of a steep rock face that would require a broom or Apparition to reach.
She could also see the other thing she was looking for — a crack in the world. She thought it might be the same shimmering seam that ran all the way back to New Amsterdam. All the way up the Hudson, it had gleamed and faded beneath her, like a ribbon that twisted in and out of sight, closer then farther, a fissure between this world and a world away.
She landed on Storm King Mountain at the top of the hidden path, in front of a humble wooden door set far back in the stone mountainside. Only a very intrepid Muggle rock-climber would ever reach this spot, and that not very likely because of the Muggle-Repelling Charms. She was alone, surrounded by rocks and bushes, with the river on either side obscured by fog and the dragon somewhere lower on the slopes — she could hear its claws scraping rocks loose as it lumbered around. She hoped no one would actually be hiking here on such a foggy day.
Alexandra saw no guards or anything else protecting the door. But she remembered Drucilla telling her that she probably couldn't simply walk in there.
She took out her yew wand. It was uncooperative and temperamental, but it showed its temper most generously when invoked with proper fury.
"Defodio!" she said, and blasted the wooden door. The yew wand was amenable to the destruction, and wood and chunks of stone flew.
The dragon roared again, and Alexandra heard its wings flap as it took off, rising toward her. She flicked a Stinging Jinx through the air with her other wand, and the dragon, attracted by the commotion of her Gouging Spell, roared in indignation as the jinx struck it on the snout.
Alexandra carved the entrance wider. Robed wizards within ran to see what was happening, and Alexandra advanced with a barrage of hexes that sent them ducking for cover. One reached for his wand, and she Disarmed him. She ran into the entranceway that she'd just made considerably wider, as the walls and ceiling shook.
The entranceway led into a corridor cut through stone, probably with Gouging Spells much like the ones she was using now. She looked behind her and saw the dragon trying to squeeze through the mouth of what was now a small cave.
In front of her, two older wizards looked over her shoulder in horror.
"Better run," Alexandra said. She tried to Apparate back outside. It didn't work, and the attempt caused a spasm of pain to run through her fingers and toes and teeth. Anti-Apparition spells, as she'd figured.
"You're under arrest," said the wizard she hadn't disarmed yet. He pointed his wand at her. The other wizard ran away in terror.
"Whatever," Alexandra said, and opened the crack in the world.
The wizard in front of her turned green. Everything around the crack turned an unnatural green, except her. Green flames washed over him, and he screamed. Alexandra shuddered, and said, "I told you to run." Before she could see any more, she walked through the crack, and Storm King Mountain twisted and bent around her, making her dizzy. When she stepped out of the world away, she was elsewhere.
It was dark, but she was still in a stone corridor. A different one, lit by a single torch. She moved cautiously forward. There were a couple of doors, all thick, dark wood that looked as if they hadn't been opened in centuries, but as she stood there, one of them opened. A witch in gray and brown robes stepped out, holding an armful of scrolls, and stopped when confronted by Alexandra.
Alexandra pointed her wand at her. "Hi. Can you tell me where the Accounting Office is?"
The witch frowned. "I don't think you're authorized to be here."
Alexandra said, "Incendio!"
The other witch screamed as her scrolls burst into flames. With another incantation, Alexandra levitated the witch upside-down into the air, her feet kicking against the ceiling.
"Where's the Accounting Office?" Alexandra asked.
"You're not allowed to be here!" the witch cried out.
Alexandra bounced her several times against the stone floor, head-first, and asked again.
The witch, dazed, said, "This… is… the Accounting… Office… All of it…"
Alexandra let her fall to the ground.
She heard a teakettle roar echoing from above. She cast an Incarcerous Spell on the witch, then went into the room the woman had just exited.
It was a records room of some sort, with racks stuffed full of scrolls from floor to ceiling. Alexandra unrolled a few and looked at them. They seemed to be Confederation census records. Names and addresses, Territories, birthplaces, family trees. She shook her head, frustrated. She wasn't even sure exactly what she was looking for.
She stepped over the unconscious witch on her way out, and walked to a door at the end of the corridor. It didn't open when she tried it, so she tried an Unlocking Charm. To her surprise, this worked. She went down the steps on the other side and found herself in another stone corridor practically identical to the one she'd just left. Several robed wizards scurried up and down it. A younger man in a red vest and cloak contrasted with the gray and brown robes worn by the others. He already had his wand out. Alexandra Stunned him first. One of the other wizards drew his wand and tried to cast a Body-Bind Spell at her, but Alexandra deflected it and Stunned him too, followed by the other wizards, who were too startled to defend themselves.
She stood in the corridor listening, but no one else came running.
She chose the oldest of the wizards she'd Stunned, a plump, gray-bearded warlock whose brown and gray robes were worn and faded, and said "Rennervate!" The old man blinked and lifted his head.
"I'm looking for records that were relocated from the Territorial Headquarters Building of Central Territory," Alexandra said.
"How did you get down here past the Aurors and Doomguards?" the old man asked.
"They're busy with a dragon. I took a shortcut." Alexandra stuck her wand in his face. "I probably don't have much time, though, so I'll feel guilty for interrogating an old man, but not too guilty, if you know what I mean."
His mouth opened, and he was speechless for a moment. Then he said, "You look familiar."
"Alexandra Quick, daughter of Abraham Thorn. Nice to meet you. Records?" Sparks crackled at the tip of her wand. The wizard turned pale.
"They could only have been relocated by an Actuary," he said.
"Okay," Alexandra said.
"Unless I know the name of the Actuary, I wouldn't be able to find your relocated records."
Alexandra frowned. "Franklin Percival Brown."
"Ah," said the wizard. He held out a hand. "Help an old man up?"
"Expelliarmus!" Alexandra said, and the old man cried out as the wand he'd been reaching for with his other hand went flying down the hallway. She grabbed his hand and yanked him to his feet, and conjured a cloud of gas that billowed over the unconscious bodies she'd left scattered about.
"Don't piss off a Dark sorceress," she said. "I've had a really difficult day."
The wizard rubbed his hand and glared at her. Then he turned and walked down the corridor, holding his sleeve up over his mouth and nose. Alexandra followed, using her wand to dispel the mist around her.
The corridor was very long — ridiculously long. It was an unending stone hallway without a door in sight. Alexandra thought they must be all the way across the river, and was suspecting another trick, when she finally saw a wooden beamed door at the end of their long trek. The wizard led her to it, and said, "Through here."
There was something surreal about this door at the end of a long empty corridor. It reminded her of a movie she'd once seen about Alice in Wonderland. Her orientation was quite confused now — she had no idea if they were still under Storm King Mountain, or if the tunnel they'd hiked had taken them under the river and elsewhere, or if they were in some wizard-space that didn't match outside geography at all.
"You first," she said, gesturing with her wand.
The old wizard sighed, and opened the door. Cautiously, keeping her wand leveled at him, Alexandra followed him into the room on the other side of the door.
It looked much like the room she'd seen on the floor above, the one the other Accounting Office witch had emerged from, except much, much larger. Racks of scrolls and ledgers, stacked and piled in shelves from floor to ceiling, but here the ceiling was high overhead. The smell of ancient papyrus and leather and dust was thick enough to make her sneeze.
There were no gas lamps or chandeliers here, only torches set in the walls. Alexandra found this a strange choice for a room full of paper and leather. She assumed that magic kept the torches burning.
The chamber was much larger than the Census and Records Office back in Central Territory's Headquarters Building, and the number of volumes stored here was immense. Alexandra couldn't even imagine how many years' worth of records were being kept here. But as she followed the wizard in gray and brown robes, she realized that all the shelves were arranged around the edges of the room, and at its center was a large stone table on an elevated dais. Sitting on the table, lit by all the torches, which were arranged radially around the room so their light fell upon it from all directions, was a huge, leather-bound book. It lay open, and each half was over a foot thick. An ink quill stood straight up over one of its pages, motionless, as if held in place by an invisible, steady hand.
Still watching the wizard warily, Alexandra approached the dais. The wizard said nothing, but tucked his hands into his sleeves and folded his arms.
Alexandra asked, "What is it?"
"That book contains the Confederation's actuarial tables," the wizard said.
"Actuarial tables?" Alexandra frowned. "Like, for insurance and stuff?"
"I am not sure what you mean by insurance. But any names and records that were… relocated here will be recorded in that book."
Alexandra stared at the book and the motionless feather. Curiosity almost impelled her to step up onto the dais to get a closer look. Then she turned to the wizard and raised her wand again.
"Get it," she commanded.
"Excuse me?" he said.
"Pick it up."
The wizard scowled, and she thought she detected a hint of disappointment. But with a nonchalant expression, he walked over to the dais, stepped up to the table, and very carefully slid it out from beneath the feather. He grunted with effort as he carried it to her, holding it open with both arms.
"Here you go," he said. "Whatever name you're looking for, say it aloud, and it will turn to the appropriate page."
"You're an Actuary, aren't you?" she said.
"No, only an Estimator."
"What is this book?" she demanded.
He held up the book, almost shoving it in her face. She turned her face aside, and pointing her wand, cast a Blasting Hex. The huge book tumbled to the floor, and the old man went flying. She stalked over to where he lay doubled-up on the ground.
"What would happen if I looked at it?" she asked, pointing her wand at him.
The old man's face reflected pure malice in the torchlight. Gritting his teeth in pain, he said, "It's cursed, of course. Read it, and your eyes will melt from your skull. Touch it, and your hands will blacken and rot away. You're already doomed, sorceress. The Doomguards are on their way."
Alexandra knelt, and held open her backpack. "Accio liber."
The book slid across the floor, its covers slapping shut, and Alexandra carefully maneuvered it into her pack without touching it.
The wizard laughed, a harsh, coughing sound as he clutched his ribs.
"Do you think you can Apparate out of here?" he asked. "Even if you could, the book is anchored here by the strongest of curses. It's impossible to remove it from this room."
"Impossible," Alexandra said. "I hear that a lot."
She stood, and heard something else. A rhythmic clanking sound, like armored joints in motion, and metal-shod feet stomping over stone. She had last heard that sound on Eerie Island.
"Whatever you do to me, the Doomguards will be impervious to your hexes," the wizard said. "If you throw down your wand, I might be able to hand you over to the Aurors first."
"No thank you," Alexandra said.
She opened the crack in the world, and stepped through.
The top of Storm King Mountain was aglow. Alexandra could see it from where she stood in a little flat clearing overlooking the river. She didn't think it was from the dragon's flames — she suspected that something she'd done had caused it. The glow was an unearthly color, and it shimmered eerily.
She'd emerged from the World Away tingling all over, and when she first looked at herself, her skin was dark, limned in white, like a photographic negative, while her dark pants glowed brightly. Her wand radiated a strange, flickering, blind-spot aura, as if she'd been dipped in glowing ink in some black-and-white mirror universe.
Charlie landed on a rock next to her. The inky black of the raven's feathers were like an anchor of solidity in a ghostly world.
"Alexandra," Charlie said.
Alexandra was afraid to touch Charlie. But as she examined her hands, she saw they were beginning to revert to normal.
"It's all right, Charlie. It will be all right." Alexandra said this more for her own benefit than Charlie's. She closed her eyes to shut out the flickering inverted hues.
"Father," Charlie said.
Alexandra opened her eyes.
Abraham Thorn stood before her: a dark, imposing figure as always, bearded, gloved, wrapped in a long cloak. His eyes were raised to the top of Storm King Mountain.
"What hast thou wrought, daughter?" he asked, sounding almost proud.
"I've wrought a lot." She looked herself up and down. "Am I going to be okay?"
Abraham Thorn inspected her. "I… am not exactly sure what you did to yourself." The admission seemed to trouble him. "What have you done, Alexandra?"
"I did what I told you I was going to do," she said. "I went to Storm King Mountain."
Abraham Thorn was incredulous. "Even I could not enter this place and leave again, at least not without considerably more force and preparation." He folded his arms. "I was quite intrigued by the letter your raven brought to me. You asked for a 'distraction,' and for me to meet you here, but you were quite vague about details."
"Yeah, I was quite vague on the details myself." It was a first for Alexandra, to face her father and find him puzzled, not in possession of all the answers. But she had questions of her own. "You attacked New Amsterdam. Again."
"Yes," he said. "It seemed an opportune time to strike. I hoped whatever you were up to might be distracting, and a distraction was what you desired —"
"You attacked New Amsterdam while I was there!" she said, raising her voice and causing him to frown. "While my friends were there! What are you doing, you and the Dark Convention?"
Abraham Thorn was silent for a moment. He looked up at the mountaintop again, still glowing in the gathering gloom of evening, surrounded by the persistent heavy fog.
"We are waging war against the Confederation," he said at last. "And given what you did yourself, my dear — not that I am displeased. Indeed, I'm rather impressed. But it's a bit cheeky of you to be taking me to task for causing calamity. I daresay you've done your part today."
"Maybe more than my part," Alexandra said. "I did go into Storm King Mountain. And I brought something out."
In the dark, Abraham Thorn's expression was hard to read, but she thought she sensed his eyebrows going up.
"Do you know what an actuarial table is?" she asked.
Her father was silent, but his head moved slightly and she thought he was examining her somehow.
"What did you bring out of the Accounting Office?" he asked.
Alexandra opened her pack, and dumped the enormous book on the ground.
"Be careful, it's cursed," she said. "One of those wizards in gray and brown robes said if you touch it, it'll rot your hands, and if you read it, it'll melt your eyeballs."
"I see." Abraham Thorn leaned over the book. "Yes, indeed."
He made some complicated wand motions and uttered incantations whose meaning Alexandra couldn't begin to understand, despite listening as hard as she could. The book jumped once, then burst into white flames, which did not consume it, and then Abraham Thorn raised his hand and it levitated into the air.
"Be careful!" Alexandra said, concerned in spite of herself.
There was a flash of light where Abraham Thorn's fingers brushed its cover, and a wisp of smoke curled around the book. He chuckled. "How very archaic… and absurd of them."
He held up his wand and said, "Lumos." Then he opened the book, which was now floating in the air before him.
Alexandra watched him. Her father's eyeballs did not melt as he scanned the pages of the great volume. His face transformed, however, his expression darkening, then glowing with wonder.
"So," he whispered. "The Dark Lord was right."
At last he turned to her. "How?" he asked. "How did you do this?"
"No," she said, standing tall and facing her father. "You answer my questions now. Explain this to me. Tell me what it's all about. Tell me why you're doing all the things you're doing."
Abraham Thorn held the huge book in one hand, and with his wand in his other hand, still ran his fingertips over whatever was written on the pages before him. He stared at Alexandra for a long time.
Finally, he asked, "Are you truly ready to know?"
Alexandra shrugged, trying to dispel her nervousness. "If I'm not now, I never will be. I think I've earned it."
Abraham Thorn nodded.
"What is the Deathly Regiment?" he asked.
Alexandra frowned. "I know what it is. You know I know."
"Tell me," he insisted.
Alexandra looked around, as if she might find eavesdroppers who should not hear. "Every seven years, a child of the Elect is sacrificed to the Generous Ones," she said. "It's part of some… compact the Confederation made. The Generous Ones send one of our children to the Lands Beyond. The Confederation gets to keep the gates to the Lands Below closed. Is that right?"
"Yes," Abraham Thorn said. "That was the original purpose of the Deathly Regiment."
"The original purpose?" Alexandra frowned.
"The power to control the Lands Below did not end with the defeat of the Indian wizards who opposed the Confederation," Abraham Thorn said. "An entire world apart, filled with magic. Magic in its soil, magic in its stones, magic in its creatures… And Colonial wizards needed far more magic than they brought with them to create a new wizarding world."
"So they used the Lands Below to build the New World?" Alexandra wasn't sure how that would work — it wasn't as if magic were something you could mine or harvest. Yet… didn't you need magical materials to create wands? And the Ozarkers, storing all their accumulated magic every seven years, demonstrated that magic could be preserved, so why couldn't it be taken?
Her father nodded as she began to understand. "Sending trains through the Lands Below was only one of the cruder uses to which it was put. The purpose of the Deathly Regiment is to power the machinery of the Confederation. To preserve the magic that sustains it. To keep it hidden, keep it running, keep it secret and safe. Wizard schools atop gates, in the middle of Muggle cities. Wizard rails running through mountains, across the continent." Now his eyes fairly glowed, the way hers sometimes did, burning in the dark so she seemed to be facing something more than a man.
"Now tell me something, Alexandra. I know you have not studied Life Magic or its darker branches. You would not know the equations for the weight of a soul, or the value of a Dram of Life. But you did take basic Arithmancy at Charmbridge Academy, did you not? And you have studied magical theory? Lucilla and Drucilla tell me you are an apt pupil, when you apply yourself."
Puzzled, Alexandra said, "Yes?"
"There is a reason Life Magic, the basis of the Healing arts and many others, is also easily turned to the darkest of Dark Arts," her father said. "A human life, sacrificed and rendered for its power, is great and terrible. But it is not without limit. It is still just one human life. Do the sums in your head, Alexandra. Even the wildest approximation is sufficient. You know the span of the Confederation. Could one child every seven years account for all that?"
Alexandra opened her mouth. She stood there, mouth agape for a moment, as the implications hit her.
"It… doesn't seem like enough," she said weakly.
"Not nearly enough," Abraham Thorn said. He handed the book to her.
Alexandra held it open and read what was written on the pages in front of her, as her father held his wand overhead.
It was a list of names.
Lilian Celina Ainsworth…11/4/2002 — 5/30/2012.
Ambrose Cuthbert Moen…6/19/2002 — 5/31/2012
Kimberly Jane Meyers…4/3/2001 — 6/1/2012
Fabian Michael Drew…5/23/2002 — 6/2/2012
"I… don't understand," Alexandra said. She flipped the pages back.
Lila Rose Hill…3/24/2000 — 10/21/2011.
Forrest Fleming…5/23/2000 — 10/22/2011
Amberlee Crescent…8/16/2000 — 10/24/2011
Gisela Ellefson…6/3/2001 — 10/25/2011
"What is this?" She grabbed a handful of pages and flipped further back.
Wendy Adelaide Harriman…12/30/1954 — 4/14/1965
Robert Samuel Prozensky…11/1/1954 — 4/15/1965
Nikita Elena Petrovich…6/2/1954 — 4/16/1965
Herbert Grant Creevey…7/11/1953 — 4/17/1965
"Oh my God," Alexandra said, as realization sank in. She continued flipping back through the actuarial tables.
Lydia Lane Llewellyn…7/22/1868 — 7/23/1879
Ygnes Collinsworth…2/10/1875 — 7/24/1879
Magnus Jonathan Smith…5/11/1868 — 7/25/1879
"No," she said.
Susanna Boyd Earl…8/8/1775 — 9/11/1787
William Harp Cothren…8/12/1776 — 9/12/1787
Quiet Elk Tokinah…-/-/1776 — 9/13/1787
On every page was a list of names. A name for every date: every day, every week, every year, year after year, decade after decade, century after century…
William Friedrich Hansel…4/-/1648 — 7/7/1660
Artur Danelagh…10/17/1648 — 7/8/1660
Cassandra Michal Thorn…5/19/1650 — 7/9/1660
To the beginning of the Confederation.