Once in the throne room, Jip pranced towards the Pagemaster's throne, and sat upon the velvet upholstery like he himself was a proud king. He barked before he spoke to Richard and Chloe in the doorway.
"Watch what I do." Tapping his paws together three times, he vanished in a pop and an explosion of magical sparkles. The sparks fell gently on the seat while Richard and Chloe moved to follow their friend. And one by one, they sat on the throne, and clapped their hands together three times. When Richard followed that motion, he forced out a breath while he was whisked away through a colorful space, like the rainbow-vacuum that had first brought him and Chloe into the throne room at the beginning of their adventure; was it really that long ago that they had come here for the first time?
After not breathing in the tight portal for several seconds, Richard found himself stumbling onto a hard marble floor, feeling the vibration of his fall in his knees. His eyes felt strange after seeing so many bright colors. But now there was nothing around him but a dark ocean blue, and a gentle whirling of light, like sunlight streaming through water. Air whooshed into his lungs while the vast space registered in his mind, and for a moment he felt lightheaded, stumbling around until he finally fell to his hands and knees on the cold floor.
"Still haven't gotten used to those portals have you, boy?"
Richard shot his head up at the familiar voice. Sir Hugo was standing beside Jip and the Pagemaster, in front of a giant crystal dome. It was small compared to the size of the seemingly-infinite room, but the bright light swirling from the top of the dome showered the room in gentle starlight. The whirling light fell upon every face in the room, seeming to spread around Richard for several yards, while they looked upon him and a newly-appeared Chloe.
The moment that Chloe popped neatly into the room, the room erupted in applause, ringing through the space like a football stadium.
Chloe was smiling widely at the applause, but Richard was in utter rapture at the crystal dome with the starlight streaming from it. The way it sparkled divinely against the dark blue slammed a feeling of déjà vu into his mind, which absolutely refused to let go until he said it out loud, to no one in particular.
"This is where we will go back home," he whispered.
"The world awaits!" the Pagemaster called to the whole room, as if he had heard Richard's low voice, beckoning with his staff for Richard and Chloe to step up.
Then, when they both stood facing the Pagemaster, he lowered his hand to the ground, and in a gentle voice, said, "Kneel."
The room fell into a hush, while the Pagemaster conjured two objects in the air above his hands. Even though they were both beautiful crowns of gold and silver, speckled with jewels inscribed with intricate words, the room remained entirely silent.
Only when the Pagemaster moved to take them into his hands, did the crowd start to murmur collectively. But Sir Hugo held his hands up high, and like he had cast an instant spell, the whispering stopped in a snap.
"Richard Tyler. Chloe Dewey," the Pagemaster started. "There is so much I could say to you both about the glorious deeds you have done for us all, but, it would take the rest of my eternal life to say so. Therefore, let us proceed with your coronation."
"Coronation?" Richard blurted. What? Did that mean…?
The Pagemaster nodded serenely. "I am an eternal being, my dear boy, but it would be wrong to give up two such special people from my kingdom. Truthfully, I do have many good people in the Binding Order, but we have waited for so long for your powers as the Proverbs to come about. Therefore…" The Pagemaster held up the great, golden crown above his head for the whole room to see. He then brought it gently down through the air, and the sparkling gold touched the scruffy blonde hair on Richard's head.
Chloe sucked in a gentle breath of awe, while sweet warmth passed over Richard's head. He didn't see it, but the jewels were glowing, the words inscribed into them whispering throughout the room in a gentle breeze, while magical sparkles wafted around the space. They twinkled like the dome's starlight, making Richard's eyes glimmer, and his whole body glow like an angel. The crowd raised their hands to clap loudly, their voices shouting congratulations to their newly-crowned hero.
The Pagemaster took the silver crown in his hands now, touching it to Chloe's head. She closed her eyes in pleasure as the warmth took her over, the silver shining through the jewels that also whispered to the room. Richard watched the spectacle from the corner of his eye, suddenly realizing what all the whispering was about when he had been crowned. He couldn't help but smile with all his heart- how beautiful Chloe looked, finally being rewarded for everything that she had done. Perhaps he could reward her some more later, she would like that…
The Pagemaster raised his hands. "Arise, Richard. And arise, Chloe."
They both stood up, absolutely still while the Pagemaster raised his hands even higher, seeming to address the entire crowd, as well as the magnificent, magical starlight, which swirled in intricate patterns above their heads.
"My good people, I give you, with the greatest pleasure bestowed in all the books beyond, Richard and Chloe- Prince and Princess of the Imagination."
There was an absolute uproar in the room, as hats were thrown to the ceiling and whistles of rejoice echoed throughout. Some people were jumping like little children, pumping their fists in the air. And slowly, more and more people started to close in on their new royals, tapping them on the back and pinching their shoulders in congratulations. Richard and Chloe both struggled to stay upright and keep their crowns on, but they greeted the enthusiasm warmly. All of their allies from the front line greeted them both at the same time, hugging them and shaking hands.
A little face, in a new, crisp dress, also joined the crowd, her sweet voice breaking through almost instantly to the two Proverbs.
"Richard!" she called.
He turned his head, and among the tall people trying to reach him, he spotted a little head of blonde hair, tied back with a thin headband. When she jumped up, her blue dress fanned out like a flower, her little eyes glittering. With a swift gasp and in a single bound through the crowd, Richard picked her up in his arms and hugged her close.
"Alice!" he shouted, stroking her hair like a loving father. "Wow! I thought we'd never see you!"
"You've saved us all!" Alice said loudly. "Oh, Richard, you and Chloe were so brave! However did you do it?"
"Need I really explain it?" Richard asked modestly. "I'm just glad you made it back in one piece!"
"I was as lost as ever," she said, "until I was suddenly thrust into some curious, colorful space that took me back to my house. I suppose I owe it all to you, Richard. I just cannot believe that it's all over now!"
"I know," he said, while Chloe joined the huddle. "And that means me and Chloe have to go back to our home."
Alice instantly dropped back down to the floor, still holding Richard's hands. "What do you mean?" she wanted to know. "You are the Prince and Princess of the Imagination. We truly missed the old Prince when he went to the other world. I don't know what we'll do without you both here." She looked up helplessly at the Proverbs, flicking her eyes between them.
"We're sorry, Alice," Chloe answered. "We belong back in our own world, because we still have parents and families and lives there."
"Although I'd miss having powers and not having to worry about final tests too much," Richard said with a shrug.
Chloe laughed, while Alice just frowned.
"I don't like it at all," Alice said. "But I suppose if you truly must." Alice wiped her arm across her eyes. "I'll miss you both very much."
"And we you," Chloe answered, taking her little friend into her arms. "But we'll be back before you know it. Even when we're there, we'll still be the Prince and Princess of the Imagination, even though we won't have our powers."
"Yeah. I guess we'll just be normal again," Richard murmured. "It'll be interesting to see how long we've been gone."
"I don't think we'll have been missed," Chloe said. "The first rule in books, Richard, is that no time passes when you visit a whole other world."
Richard shrugged again, while Alice turned to him for a hug.
"If that's so, then goodbye," Alice said, clearly fighting tears.
"Goodbye, Alice," Richard and Chloe both said as they made their way back to the crystal dome, and the Pagemaster.
When they were standing before him, the Pagemaster turned away and gestured with his great staff towards the glowing crystal dome. "Shall I send you on your way?" he asked.
"We're ready," Richard answered, stealing a glance at their reflections in the crystal. And for a moment, he almost saw him and Chloe, lying back in the library rotunda, with books scattered all around them like old friends…
"The world awaits!" the Pagemaster repeated, while Richard and Chloe started to rise off the floor with a magical glow. "Godspeed to you both, my friends!"
The room erupted once more with cheers and calls of goodbye. Looking below him, Richard saw the entire room waving to them, with Alice and Peaseblossom and the fairies standing at the head of them all. Richard and Chloe both turned back to wave goodbye, while the magical twister of starlight atop the dome carried them away into the flashing void of magic.
With a jolt of his body, Richard forced his eyes open. The back of his head hurt where he had hit the marble floor of the rotunda, his blood throbbing in his skull. The falling through the mural had surged his body with adrenaline, but he couldn't get up. His head hurt too much. Rubbing his hands through his hair, Richard felt for a bump.
Instead, he felt no crown.
New adrenaline surging through him, Richard sat bolt upright, and looked around him. There was a book cart nearby, with a lonely book lying on the floor. Everything looked the same as when they'd left it, and so, he didn't see his crown anywhere.
"Chloe?" he said, turning quickly to her. "What happened to my…?"
She was slowly stirring too. But she didn't answer his question right away. She gasped loudly enough to fill the silence of the empty library, when her head zipped around, her eyes flicking in her skull furiously. When she didn't find anything too different, she lifted her arms and legs for a better look, and Richard gasped too. In gazing at himself, he noticed that his old clothes were back; the scratchy denim of his jeans felt strange after so many weeks, as did the cold cotton of his T-shirt. Chloe was back in her yellow tunic, denim skirt, and clogs, her crown gone also.
Chloe was silent and still for a long moment, before she fell on her back. "My god," she whispered. "I cannot believe we're actually back."
"Yeah," Richard breathed, nodding his head slowly. It felt like years and years ago since he had last seen the ordinary library around him. But then, could he really call this place ordinary, after such a grand journey? Now, there was absolutely no denying it. Since Mr. Dewey's presence in the library, the magic from his world had actually come with him, casting its spell upon anyone who dared explore the world of books. Somehow, Richard couldn't help but smile. The longer the library was kept open, the more wonderful journeys were sure to ensue.
Chloe didn't say much else. She just sat there, breathing long, heavy breaths, staring upward at the still mural on the ceiling. "It'll really take some getting used to being normal again," she said. But she closed her eyes anyway, her lips pursed in concentration. As Richard expected, nothing around them changed. Not even the book lying near them transformed in any way. Chloe opened her eyes, and grimaced.
"Dang!" she hissed, and Richard chuckled.
"Real world, Chloe," he said. "I can't do anything either." He reached for the book on the floor, and opened it, pointing to a random passage, while nothing happened.
"Aw, don't worry about that," Chloe soon said. "We'll be back before you know it. After all, we're taking over for my grandfather. The magic's got to stay here, and we've got to keep our titles!"
"You said it," Richard agreed, as he stood up slowly from the floor. He smoothed out his jacket, and reached for his car keys in his pocket. "Okay, what say we go back home? After weeks and weeks of not sleeping in my own bed, I'm looking forward to collapsing on a real bedspring mattress again."
"You mean you won't miss the cold, hard ground, and just zapping up your own mattress?" Chloe asked playfully.
"Hey, even when I do come back, I'm not going to use my powers straight away," Richard answered. "I've seen enough magic to last me a long, long time. But, I'm not going to back out on staying a Proverb."
"As if you can," Chloe said while they started out of the rotunda. "But I agree. I'll always love going into that world, but I'm ready to return to normality."
Richard smiled lopsidedly at her while he put his hand around her waist. "To start off, you want to meet me tomorrow for…for…?"
"How's ice cream and French fries downtown?" Chloe said. "That's as normal as you can get on a first date."
Richard chuckled softly, nodding. "Fine by me."
By this time, they were passing the front desk, with its various folders and the ancient computer monitor. Richard frowned and smiled at the same time, remembering watching Mr. Dewey work so hard and happily behind that counter. He could see him smiling like the Pagemaster himself while he handed a book to a customer. It was too bad though, that such a person couldn't do that anymore.
But there would be someone new taking over the library right? Could the magic of the book world still stick around, even though its original source was gone for good?
Well, maybe it didn't have to be gone forever…
"Say, Chloe," he said, as they opened the door. "What do you think about getting a job here for the summer? Someone's got to take over from Mr. Dewey, and keep the magic of this world alive for him."
Chloe looked from the door, just as she had lifted the latch. "I've never had a job before," she said. "But I like the idea of being a Proverb, and helping to run that world from afar."
"You can become the magical Imagination Proverb anytime…" Richard said, lifting his eyebrows.
"And you can hunt magical demons for me anytime…" Chloe and Richard both laughed, as Chloe opened the door and they stepped out into the spring air.
As they made their way to the dark street, Chloe leaned against Richard, and he stroked her back with his thumb. He didn't even try to sum up everything that had happened, though he could say he was excited now. If a job at the library was possible, running it with a new boss, and Chloe, it would definitely make time between baseball practices worthwhile.
He smiled too, thinking of the future he had with Chloe. No matter how many lessons he had yet to learn, or how many books he would read in a lifetime, Richard could guarantee that as long as Chloe was beside him, the library they held so dear would never go away.
His grin widened, as he unlocked the car door, and let a droopy-eyed Chloe inside. Proverb or not, Mr. Dewey would be proud of her.