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The house of power, p.1
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       The House of Power, p.1

           Patrick Carman
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The House of Power

  Begin Reading

  Table of Contents

  A Preview of Rivers of Fire

  Copyright Page

  In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the publisher constitute unlawful piracy and theft of the author’s intellectual property. If you would like to use material from the book (other than for review purposes), prior written permission must be obtained by contacting the publisher at [email protected] Thank you for your support of the author’s rights.

  For the people of Aduana Dos


  After days and nights of incredible labor and fatigue, I succeeded in discovering the cause of generation and life. Nay, more. I became myself capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter.






  “It won’t be long now. Things are already beginning to change.”

  There was a long, static-filled pause, followed by a distant response.

  “I know, I know. I hope we haven’t moved too quickly. I’m not sure they’re ready yet.”

  “Why must you always talk such nonsense? We’ve waited long enough.”

  “I agree. It’s just… We have no idea what’s going to happen.”

  “That’s always been your trouble, Luther. You’re indecisive, always wavering. It sometimes makes me wonder why I’ve kept you around these long years.”

  “One thing is certain—some people are going to be very unhappy.”

  There was a strange sound from the other end of the line, as if a secret moment of quiet laughter had occurred.

  “Indeed—there will be some miserable people. I do believe you are about to be one of them.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “Luther, you can’t have seriously imagined I would allow you to use my creation for your own gain.”

  The voice trailed off, replaced by the cracking and popping of electricity in the air. Then it returned.

  “You know as well as anyone that this place is mine. I formed it. And I won’t part with it. I won’t have you meddling in my business any longer.”

  “Dr. Harding, what on Earth are you talking about?”

  “It belongs to me. It’s my creation and I’ll do with it as I please. I believe I’ve had enough of being told what I can and can’t do. Our time has come to an end, Luther.”

  “What do you mean to do, Maximus? You cannot disengage from the rest of the world.”

  There was a stillness, then labored breathing and the sound of heavy objects being moved.

  “Goodbye, Luther.”

  “Maximus? Maximus!”

  Static poured from the receiver. Then the line went entirely dead.

  What did it mean? Had he gone mad?

  Dr. Luther Kincaid looked up and whispered into the night sky.

  “May God forgive us our reckless making of a new world.”




  In Mr. Ratikan’s grove there lived a boy. He was not well-to-do, but his needs were met and he was happy most of the time. His name was Edgar.

  Some would say that Edgar was skinny like all the other boys who worked in the grove, but they would only be half right, for everyone knows there are two kinds of skinny children: Some are fragile as paper while others are nimble as wire. Edgar was the wiry kind, strong and quick as a jackrabbit.

  Deep in the heart of the grove, a thick canopy of leaves hung low overhead, and in the heat of the day it was a cool, quiet place to lie in the grass and take a nap. But Edgar was not the kind who enjoyed sneaking off to nap under the trees like some of the others. He was far more likely to be found doing something mischievous, which is precisely where we find him as our story begins.

  Somewhere in a silent part of the grove, Edgar had been swinging violently back and forth on one of the tree branches, trying to gain enough speed to fling himself across the grassy path to a branch five feet or more away on the other side. Twice Edgar had let go too late and flown through the air feetfirst, landing on his back in the middle of the path with a terrible thud.

  Undeterred, Edgar made a third attempt, which sent him careening through the air so fast he smashed into the tree’s trunk and was rewarded with a bloody nose.

  The ruckus caught the attention of the owner of the grove, Mr. Ratikan, a tall, hunchbacked man who was always determined to put an end to Edgar’s fun.

  Edgar was in the middle of his biggest swing yet, brushing the leaves in the tree with his arms as he came forward. When he swung back, Mr. Ratikan struck Edgar on his bare feet with his walking stick.

  “Come away from there this instant!” yelled the angry man. Mr. Ratikan had chalky white skin, and his mouth was perpetually turned in a scowl, making his thin lips and long mustache seem like nothing more than red and brown ribbons around an unhappy mouth.

  The walking stick had failed to knock Edgar free. Swinging his feet high up in the air, Edgar let go, arms and legs flailing. This time he caught hold of the branch on the other side. But the moment he did, the branch snapped off and he crashed to the ground.

  This was exceptionally bad luck for Edgar, since nothing made Mr. Ratikan quite as irritated as someone damaging one of the precious trees in his grove.

  “Now you’ve done it!” Mr. Ratikan shouted, poking Edgar in the ribs with his walking stick.

  “I was only having a moment’s fun before coming to find you,” said Edgar as he tried to dodge the stick, his voice cracking and dry. He scrambled to his feet and dashed behind the trunk for protection, wiping a bit of blood from his nose.

  Mr. Ratikan’s walking stick crashed against the trunk of the tree, barely missing Edgar’s head. “Get to work on the saplings—and don’t you stop until you’ve finished twenty!” He rapped the stick against the tree once more, and Edgar jumped back. “If I ever catch you playing in the trees again, there’ll be no dinner for a week!”

  Edgar sized up the space across which he’d flown. Though he would have to work an extra hour for his misbehavior, it had been worth it.

  “GO!” cried Mr. Ratikan, slapping his walking stick over and over against the tree and hoping to catch one of the boy’s fingers in the process.

  Edgar sprinted down a winding pathway leading through the shade of the grove until he was well out of sight of Mr. Ratikan. That was a reckless thing I did back there, he admitted to himself, despite the fun he’d had. It won’t do to stir up watchful eyes. Someone might see what I’ve been doing.

  Edgar slowed to a walk as he reached the oldest stretch of trees, where the limbs grew wide and long. Little bits of light were shooting between the leaves, and he tried to catch them in his hand as he went. Edgar was easily amused, and he would have made a good friend for someone, but he stayed by himself a great deal. He was a boy with a secret, and he kept it well.

  Edgar made his way along the twisting path until the canopy of leaves fell away. He had come out into the full light of day where there was a cliff wall reaching so high into the air he couldn’t see where it ended. Down its side, roaring vigorously, a waterfall crashed to the ground, and Edgar observed a familiar sight nearby. Several men stood around the pool at the bottom of the waterfall, guarding it from anyone who might approach out of turn. While three of the men stood on alert, others rationed water in small wooden buckets to a line of people from the village. There were three such waterfalls coming from the top of the cliffs, but this was the only one near to the grove. The others were far off in places Edgar had never been.

  The careful distribution of water was one of t
he troubles of living in Tabletop, but Edgar thought it must be better than life in the Flatlands beneath him, where the water supply was limited to what little spilled over the edge of Tabletop. It was hard to imagine anyone below surviving for very long. In the world of Atherton, those in the Highlands above controlled the flow of water, and they could do with it as they pleased.

  Suddenly there came a sound of a twig snapping from somewhere nearby in the grove. Edgar froze, wondering what he might do if Mr. Ratikan came out from the shadows again, swinging his walking stick. I should have known he would follow me, Edgar thought with regret.

  “You’ve got twigs and leaves caught in your hair,” came a small voice from behind a tree.

  Edgar felt some initial relief that it wasn’t Mr. Ratikan, but he still wasn’t altogether happy when he realized who was speaking to him.

  “Come out from there, Isabel.”

  A head of tangled, dirty hair emerged from behind the trunk of the tree, then a brown forehead, and finally a dark eye with a thick black brow hanging over it peered out.

  “Did Mr. Ratikan knock you down again? Did he hit you with that awful stick of his?”

  As usual, Edgar ignored her questions. “Why must you always follow me, Isabel?” Edgar shook his head back and forth to free the rubbish from his hair, but the twigs and leaves only danced back and forth like little animals clinging to a nest.

  “I can get those out for you,” said Isabel as she leapt out from behind the tree. She was tiny compared to Edgar, younger and skinny in a way that made Edgar think he might be able to snap her in half if he wanted to.

  Edgar brushed the leaves and twigs from his mop of brown hair, and then he turned to go.

  “Oh, but you can’t just go,” said Isabel. “You need to tell me what happened. Did Mr. Ratikan throw you to the ground? Is that why you’ve got leaves in your hair?”

  Edgar was about to scold the girl as an older brother might do when he felt a slight rumbling beneath his feet. Isabel felt it, too, and they both stood quietly, trying to understand what it was. It had happened before—this faint trembling of the ground in the grove—and so the two were not so surprised by it. Still, it was a little stronger this time, as though someone were banging a drum in the ground beneath them, trying to get their attention.

  “My father says it’s nothing,” said Isabel, “but it does feel strange, doesn’t it?”

  The feeling stopped, and Edgar began to walk away without answering. It was getting late and he still had twenty trees to trim.

  “We’ll talk tonight at dinner,” said Isabel. “Whatever Mr. Ratikan did to you, it’ll be our little secret.”

  She ran back into the grove, content for the moment to let her imagination run wild about how Mr. Ratikan had beaten Edgar with his walking stick.

  Edgar licked his dry lips as he walked the last little path toward the sapling field. He would have to wait until dinner to get a cup of water, but Edgar had grown used to this routine—everyone had—and soon his mind was on other things.

  Edgar gazed out past the edge of the grove. He often daydreamed about what his world might look like from far away, and he had devised a rather accurate image in his mind. Atherton was situated on three circular levels, each one wider than the one above it. The broad Flatlands were at the distant bottom. Edgar thought that if a person fell off the edge of the Flatlands, they would fall forever. Tabletop, where Edgar lived, was a large plateau at the top of a steep rock face rising from the middle of the Flatlands. And then there were the Highlands, the most mysterious place of all. It sat at the top of the imposing cliffs in the center of Tabletop. People who lived in Tabletop often wondered what they might find in the Highlands. There were rumors of giant animals and abundant water, of powerful people and beautiful places.

  Edgar, too, had always been curious about the Highlands, though he’d never been there. Travel between the three levels was strictly forbidden. No one from Tabletop knew what was at the top of the cliffs, because no one was ever invited.




  By the time Edgar finished trimming his twentieth sapling, late afternoon had come to the grove. Trimming was one of the more time-consuming tasks, though fortunately it wasn’t very difficult, because Edgar would need his energy when evening came. The moment he was finished with the saplings he started off toward Mr. Rati kan’s house for his evening ration of food and water.

  When he arrived for dinner, all the other workers from the grove were already in line. Not everyone from the village worked in the grove, because there were a great many other tasks to be done. There were sheep and rabbits that needed tending and figs from the trees to be processed. Animal bones and parts that weren’t eaten or used to create useful items had to be taken to the edge and thrown into the Flatlands along with other debris from Tabletop. But all the work stopped when dinner hour arrived in the grove, and everyone came to Mr. Ratikan’s house.

  Isabel spotted Edgar almost immediately. She waved at him to join her in the line, but Edgar tried to ignore her. Soon she had left her father’s side and moved to the back of the line, where she proceeded to bother Edgar immensely with a lot of questions he didn’t want to answer.

  “That Mr. Ratikan is awful, don’t you think? Did you get some water today? I got a little, but hardly any. I wonder what we’ll work on tomorrow. Do you think we’ll go to the third-year grove? I like the third-year grove best.”

  Isabel talked until the two of them reached the front of the line, and she proceeded to ask some of the same questions of Mr. Ratikan as he rolled his eyes, filled her bowl and cup, and tried to move her along. Mr. Ratikan wouldn’t let anyone onto the steps that led to a tiny porch in front of his door, for entering his house was forbidden. This made it difficult for him to get rid of Isabel without picking up his walking stick and waving it at her.

  “Why must you always try to hit people with that horrible stick of yours?” said Isabel, her dark eyebrows set in a scowl.

  Mr. Ratikan responded by pinching his face in such a ghastly expression that Isabel snatched her cup and bowl and scurried away from the house.

  When Edgar arrived at the front of the line, Mr. Ratikan’s attention was turned away. There was a strange sound coming from the direction where Mr. Ratikan was looking, and Edgar turned to see what it was. A man who had become sick was standing against a tree. He was leaning over, as though he were trying to throw up, though nothing was coming out of his mouth.

  “Pay attention, boy!” Edgar turned back to the porch and found his caretaker looking directly at him. Apparently Mr. Ratikan had seen all he cared to of the sick man in the grove. He squinted with one eye, trying to decide how little he could offer to the boy and still expect a good day’s work from him.

  “Did you finish the saplings?” he asked, scratching at the edge of his greasy moustache with one hand, and pointed his walking stick at the boy with the other.

  “Twenty of them,” said Edgar. He really was very fast, probably the best worker Mr. Ratikan had.

  “Fine,” said Mr. Ratikan, lowering the stick away from Edgar’s face. “Tomorrow you can go back and do thirty more.”

  Edgar handed him a small wooden cup, and Mr. Ratikan dipped it carefully into a pail of water that sat on the porch. He handed the cup back to Edgar along with a bit of something that looked like dough and a slice of dry, overcooked mutton, which was the only way Mr. Ratikan ever prepared it. Nine meals out of ten it was tasteless mutton Edgar ate for dinner. The tenth was often no meat at all.

  Edgar sat down under a tree away from the others, as was his habit. The dough was the best part of the meal and Edgar savored it, tearing small pieces off and eating them bit by bit with his dirty hands. The dough—as with so many other important items in Tabletop—came from the fig trees in the grove. If the trees were cut down after the third harvest and split open, a spongy, orange core could be easily pulled out from the inside. Mixing the substance with a
little water turned it into dough that tasted like sweet cocoa.

  When the last bite of dough was gone, Edgar sipped what remained in his wooden cup and quietly snuck away from Mr. Ratikan’s house.

  Once he was out of sight of the others, Edgar reached down into a large pocket on the front of his shirt and pulled out a fig. It was no ordinary fig, though—it was a dead one that had fallen off a tree. Such figs were slick, black, and heavy, about the size of his palm. Most of them were collected and used for fires, for they burned hot and long in the cool evenings and didn’t create much smoke. Some of the children liked to make up games with them, but Edgar had his own ideas about what to do with the dead figs.

  Next from his shirt pocket Edgar took out a sling made from long, thin strands of twisted bark from the second-year trees, attached to either side of a square of rabbit skin in the middle. He doubted that Mr. Ratikan would allow him to have a sling, because Edgar wasn’t supposed to peel tree bark. He had never shown it to anyone for fear that it would be taken away and he would be punished for using it.

  Edgar looked around to make certain no one was near. Then he chose a tree trunk in the distance as a target, loaded the black fig into the sling, and knelt down in the grove. He swung the heavy ball over his head. As it went faster and faster it made a terrific whirring sound until—snap!—he let go of one end of the string. The black fig flew through the grove, hit the tree where he’d aimed, and ricocheted out of sight.

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