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"The Lives of Christopher Chant"

Chapters 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

The pain stopped the instant the Gate shut. Tacroy lowered Christopher gently to the floor, looked at him to see if he was all right, and made for Miss Rosalie.

"Gosh - look!" said the Goddess, pointing at Gabriel.

Tacroy did not look. He was too busy hugging Miss Rosalie. Christopher sat on the floor and stared with the rest of the people in the operations room. As the Dright's magic left him, Gabriel was growing up in bursts. First he was a young man with a floral silk tie and a keen, wistful look; then he was an older keener man in a dingy suit. After that he was middle-aged and bleached and somehow hopeless and desperate, as if everything he hoped for was gone. The next instant, this man had pulled himself together into a brisk, silvery gentleman; and then the same gentleman, older and grimmer. Christopher stared, awed and rather touched. He realized that Gabriel had hated being the Chrestomanci, and they were seeing the stages by which he had come to terms with it. I'm glad I'm going to find it easier than that! Christopher thought, as Gabriel finally became the grim old man that Christopher knew. At which point, Gabriel tottered to Tacroy's trance-couch and folded down onto it.

Beryl and Yolande rushed forward with cups of tea. Gabriel drank Beryl's (or Yolande's) at a gulp. Then he took Yolande's (or Beryl's) and sipped it slowly with his eyes almost shut. "My heartiest thanks, Christopher," he said. "I hope the pain has gone."

"Yes, thanks," Christopher said, taking the cup of tea Erica handed him.

Gabriel glanced to where Tacroy was still wrapped around Miss Rosalie. "By the look of him, Mordecai has even more to thank you for than I have."

"Don't let him get sent to prison," Christopher said. And there was the bootboy to ask about too, he thought distractedly.

"I'll do what I can," Gabriel promised. "Now that I know the circumstances. That fearsome Dright has much to answer for - though I may be right in supposing that Mordecai went on working with you for your equally fearsome uncle because he knew that any other spirit traveler your uncle chose would have turned you into a hardened criminal before long. Would you agree?"

"Well," said Christopher, trying to be honest. "I think some of it was because we were both so keen on cricket."

"Really?" Gabriel said politely. He turned to the Goddess. She had found Proudfoot and was holding her lovingly in both hands. Gabriel looked from the kitten to the Goddess's bare feet. "Young lady," he said. "You are a young lady, are you not? Pray show me the sole of your left foot."

A little defiantly, the Goddess turned around and tipped her foot up. Gabriel looked at the purple-blue mark. He looked at Christopher.

"Yes, I am really Asheth," said the Goddess, "but you're not to look at Christopher like that! I came here of my own accord. I did it quite capably."

Gabriel's eyes narrowed. "By using the Goddess Asheth as your second life?" The Goddess looked down from his eyes and nodded. Gabriel put down his empty cup and took the full one Flavian handed him. "My dear girl," he said as he sipped it, "what a very foolish thing to have done! You are clearly a powerful enchantress in your own right. You had no need to use Asheth. You have simply given her a hold over you. The Arm of Asheth is going to haunt you for the rest of your life."

"But I thought that the magic I can do came from Asheth!" the Goddess protested.

"Oh no," said Gabriel. "Asheth has powers, but she never shares them. The ones you have are yours."

The Goddess's mouth dropped open. She looked as if she might cry. Flavian said apologetically, "Gabriel, I'm afraid the Arm of Asheth is all around..."

There was a violent CRASH from below as the Lobster Pot came down.

Everyone raced for the stairs, except for Gabriel. He put his cup down slowly, obviously wondering what was happening. Christopher dashed to the stairs and then, for speed, did what he had always longed to do and slid down the rosy curve of marble banister. The Goddess followed him. When they tumbled off at the bottom, Gabriel was already there, standing by the black rope gazing down at his limp transparent life. But no one else had eyes for that.

Uncle Ralph had come through the pentacle in a suit of armor, carrying a heavy mace. Christopher had thought he might. If he had brought any anti-cat spells, however, these obviously did not work on Temple cats. The Lobster Pot had come down precisely over the pentacle, trapping Throgmorten in with Uncle Ralph, and Throgmorten was doing his best to get Uncle Ralph. Through the wreathing smoke of dragons' blood, Uncle Ralph could be seen tramping slowly around and around inside the cage, smashing cat-saucers under his metal feet and taking violent swings at Throgmorten with his mace. Throgmorten could move faster than Uncle Ralph, or his mace, and he could climb the walls of the Lobster Pot, but he could not get at Uncle Ralph through his armor. All he could do was make shrill metal scratches on it. It was a standoff.

Christopher looked around to find Gabriel beside him. Gabriel's face had a most unusual big wicked smile on it - no, not unusual, Christopher thought: it was the same smile Gabriel had worn when they levitated the man in Eleven.

"Shall we give the cat his chance?" Gabriel said. "For one minute?"

Christopher nodded.

Uncle Ralph's armor vanished, leaving him in his foxy tweed suit. Throgmorten instantly became a seven-legged, three-headed, razor-clawed, flying, spitting fury. He was up and down and all over Uncle Ralph several times in the first second. So much blood got shed that Christopher was quite sorry for Uncle Ralph after fifteen such seconds. After thirty seconds, he was quite glad when Throgmorten vanished with a snarl and a jerk.

Throgmorten reappeared kicking and struggling over the Goddess's arm. "No, Throgmorten," she said. "I told you before you're not to go for people's eyes. That's not nice."

"Nice or not," Gabriel said regretfully, "I was enjoying it." He was busy winding something unseen into a careful skein over one hand. "Simonson," he called. "Simonson, are you in charge of the cage? I got his magic off him while his mind was elsewhere. You can move the cage now and shut him up until the police can come for him."

This produced another standoff. Throgmorten leaped for the space under the cage as soon as it started to rise. Uncle Ralph screamed. In the end, one of the stable lads had to climb up and unhook the cage from the chandelier chain. Then the cage was shoved across the floor with Uncle Ralph stumbling inside it and Throgmorten prowling after, uttering low throbbing sounds.

As soon as the cage was off the pentacle, a silver pillar rose out of the blood-spattered floor. The pillar looked human, but it was impossibly tall for a human, a good foot taller than Gabriel. Up and up it rose, a woman robed in silver, wearing a silver mask and carrying a silver spear.

The Goddess wailed with terror and tried to hide behind Christopher. "Silver," he warned her. "I can't help against silver." His teeth chattered. For the first time, he realized how naked and soft it felt to have only one life.

The Goddess dashed behind Gabriel and clutched his black frock coat. "It's Asheth! Save me!"

"Madam," Gabriel said politely to the apparition, "to what do we owe the honor of this visitation?"

The apparition looked keenly through the slits in its mask, first at Gabriel and the Goddess crouching behind him, then at Christopher, then at the Lobster Pot and the general chaos in the hall. "I had hoped to find this a more respectable establishment," she said. The voice was deep and melodious. She pushed up her mask to the top of her head, revealing a severe narrow old face. It was the kind of face that at once made Christopher feel very silly to be dressed in a tiger rug and earrings.

"Mother Proudfoot!" exclaimed the Goddess.

"I've been trying to get through this pentacle ever since I traced you, child," Mother Proudfoot said testily. "I wish you had talked to me before you bolted like that. You surely knew I would have stretched the rules for you if I could." She turned commandingly to Gabriel. "You seem respectable enough. You're that Twelve-A enchanter de Witt, aren't you?"

"At your service, Madam," said Gabriel. "Do forgive our present disorder. There have been problems. We are usually a highly respectable body of people."

"That was what I thought," Mother Proudfoot said. "Would you be able to take charge of this Asheth Daughter for me? It would suit me ideally if you could, since I have to report her dead."

"In what way - Take charge?" Gabriel asked cautiously.

"See her educated at a good school and so forth - consider becoming her legal guardian," said Mother Proudfoot. She stepped majestically down from what seemed to be her pedestal. Now she was about the same height as Gabriel. They were quite alike in a gaunt, stern way. "This one was always my favorite Asheth," she explained. "I usually try to spare their lives anyway when they get too old, but most of them are such stupid little lumps that I don't bother to do much more. But as soon as I knew this one was different, I started saving from the Temple funds. I think I have enough to pay her way."

She swept her trailing skirt aside. The pedestal turned out to be a small strong chest. Mother Proudfoot threw back the lid of it with a flourish. Inside, it seemed to be full of blurred glassy quartz in little pieces, like road gravel. But Gabriel's face was awestruck. Christopher caught sight of Tacroy and Flavian mouthing a word at one another with their eyes popping. The word seemed to be "Diamonds!"

"The diamonds are uncut, I'm afraid," said Mother Proudfoot. "Do you think there will be enough of them? "

"I think less than half that number would be more than adequate," Gabriel said.
"But I had in mind a Swiss finishing school too," Mother Proudfoot said sharply. "I've studied this world and I want no skimping. Will you do this for me? Naturally I shall make sure that followers of Asheth will do any favor you care to ask them in return."

Gabriel looked from Mother Proudfoot to the Goddess. He hesitated. He looked at Christopher. "Very well," he said at last.

"Gosh, you darling!" said the Goddess. She scrambled to the front of Gabriel and hugged him. Then she hurled herself on Mother Proudfoot and hugged her mightily too. "I love you, Mother Proudfoot," she said, all mixed in silver drapery.

Mother Proudfoot sniffed a little as she hugged the Goddess in return. But she pulled herself together and looked sternly at Gabriel over the Goddess's head. "There is one tiresome detail," she said. "Asheth truly does require a life, you know, one for each Living Asheth." Christopher sighed. Everyone in all the Anywheres seemed to want him to give them lives. Now he would be down to the one in the Castle safe.

Gabriel drew himself up, looking his most forbidding.

"Asheth isn't very discriminating," Mother Proudfoot said, before he could speak. "I usually strip a life off one of the Temple cats." She pointed with her silver spear to where Throgmorten was stalking around the Lobster Pot making noises like a kettle boiling. "That old ginger's still got three lives or so left. I'll take one of his."

The kettle noises stopped. Throgmorten showed what he thought of this proposal by becoming a ginger streak racing upstairs.

"No matter," Gabriel said. "Now I think of it, I have a spare life, as it happens." He stepped over to the black ropes and picked his limp transparent likeness out from among the library chairs. Courteously, he draped it over the end of Mother Proudfoot's spear. "There. Will this one serve?"

"Admirably," said Mother Proudfoot. "Thank you." She gave the Goddess a kiss and descended majestically into the ground beside the chest of diamonds.

The Goddess shut the chest and sat on it. "School!" she said, smiling blissfully. "Rice pudding, prefects, dormitories, midnight feasts, playing the game - " She stopped without changing the smile, although it was not a smile anymore. "Honor," she said. "Owning up. Sir de Witt, I think I'd better stay in the Castle because of all the trouble I caused Christopher. He - er - he's lonely, you know."

"I would be a fool not to have realized that," Gabriel said. "I am in the middle of arranging with the Ministry to bring a number of young enchanters here to be trained. At the moment, you know, I am only able to employ them as domestics - like young Jason the bootboy over there - but this will shortly change. There is no reason why you should not go to school..."

"But there is!" said the Goddess. Her face was very red and there were tears in her eyes. "I have to own up, like they do in the books. I don't deserve to go to school! I'm very wicked. I didn't use Asheth as my second life in order to come here. I used one of Christopher's. I didn't dare use Asheth in case she stopped me, so I took one of Christopher's lives when he was stuck in the wall and used that instead." Tears ran down her face.

"Where is it?" Christopher asked, very much astonished.

"Still in the wall," the Goddess sobbed. "I pushed it right in so that no one will find it, but I've felt bad ever since. I've tried to help and atone for it, but I haven't done much and I think I ought to be punished."

"There is absolutely no need," said Gabriel. "Now we know where the life is, we can send Mordecai Roberts to fetch it. Stop crying, young lady. You will have to go to school because I should be misusing your chest of diamonds if you do not. Regard that as your punishment. You may come and live in the Castle with the rest of the young enchanters during the holidays."

The Goddess's blissful smile came back and diverted the tears on her face around her ears and into her hair. "Hols," she corrected Gabriel. "The books always call them the hols."

That is really all, except for a letter that arrived for Christopher from Japan soon after New Year.

"Darling Christopher,

Why did you not tell me that your dear papa was settled here in Japan? It is such an elegant country, once one is used to the customs, and your papa and I are both very happy here. Your papa's horoscopes have had the honor to interest some people who have the ear of the Emperor. We are already moving in the highest circles and hope to move higher still before long. Your dear papa sends love and best wishes for your future as the next Chrestomanci. My love as well.


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