Harpminster Abbott whirled around at the precise moment Archibald lunged, so instead of striking his back, the letter-opener sliced his face. The force of his thrust sent the old man crashing down to the metal floor. Shocked seconds ticked past. A few crimson drips trickled along a thin red line, then blood gushed from a gaping hole in Harpminster’s cheek, and he kicked Archibald’s torso savagely. Sarah shrieked for him to stop, but her uncle’s heavy boots connected again and again with the elderly man’s rib cage.
An arm swept Sarah aside—her father, holding a dagger—Tony Spellings pointed his weapon at Harpminster Abbott’s chest.
“That’s enough,” Tony growled.
Harpminster Abbott tried to speak, but when he opened his mouth a gout of blood poured out, and splattered on the tank floor. One of the soldiers ripped a first aid kit from the hull, tore it open, and handed the Highest Seat a white roll of gauze. For a brief moment, Sarah was proud of her father, and then like a poisonous gas, a wash of despair filled the tank. Sarah had never felt so awful; she hadn’t known it was possible to feel so utterly hopeless. Tony dropped his dagger. Holding gauze to his wound, Harpminster Abbott climbed the hatchway, and the soldiers followed him out.
As soon as her uncle was gone Sarah’s bad feeling receded. She hurried to Archibald’s side. The old man was breathing in shallow, pained gasps. Placing her hands on his back, she immediately felt the welcome warmth of healing energy flow down her arms. The hexagon’s golden glow pulsed like a heartbeat. Under her hands, Sarah sensed frail bones knitting together. She pictured fixing a broken china teacup, gluing delicate pieces back into a whole.
“Thank you,” Archibald whispered.
The magic faded from Sarah’s hands. Her father coughed, and looked embarrassed.
“I should have told you everything a long time ago. I’m so sorry, Sarah.”
After his betrayal, and weeks of waiting for him to act, Sarah wasn’t ready to forgive her father. “We have to find Sammy,” she said, ignoring the apology.
Tony Spellings retrieved his dagger, wiped it clean, and slipped it into a holster strapped to his chest. The floor was slick with Harpminster Abbott’s blood. Had her father planned to stop her uncle at the last minute, by himself, with a single, inadequate weapon? What a ridiculous plan, Sarah thought. She felt weak, and wanted to rest. But Sammy was out there somewhere, separated from his family, and Grizzella Sticks was in danger.
“We’ll come back for you,” Sarah promised Archibald.
Sarah and Tony climbed out of the tank. They were on a broad lawn, in front of a fancy building. Parleyment soldiers were milling about on the expanse of snow, looking confused, while Harpminster Abbott tried to communicate through a wad of bloody gauze. The other two tanks had disgorged their passengers. Sarah recognized Milton, quick and nimble as a weasel, and Pietro, chubby and awkward. Ichamus Nickel and a small band of Parleyment soldiers trained armed slingshots on the building.
The Pavilion at Stanley Park, two stately stories of stone and wood, was decorated for Christmas; candles shone in the windows, and red-and-cream plaid ribbons adorned the facade. An evergreen tree beside the main entrance twinkled with hundreds of tiny, multicoloured lights. Two broad staircases flanked by garland-festooned shrubs led to a wraparound porch. The second floor balcony ran the length of the Pavilion’s main hall, and above this, massive wooden beams supported a high, peaked roof. Trees towered behind the building, framing the scene. Fresh snow added a merry final touch, like icing on an elaborate cake.
The decorated Pavilion worried Sarah. Evidently the people of Vancouver had been celebrating the holiday, and were ignorant of Parleyment’s Christmas Day attack, which meant her imprisonment had been useless—the microphone outside Violet’s house had malfunctioned, or been found. Or maybe Spex had heard about the invasion, but failed to tell Grizzella in time. The double front doors of the Pavilion opened, and warriors in black and green armour marched out purposefully. They wore silver helmets, held oval shields emblazoned with leaves, and carried long, sharp spears—the crew of the frigate! The warriors lined the broad staircases, two per step, and held their spears ready for launch.
“Hol’ yer fire!”
Harpminster Abbott’s order was garbled by blood and bandages. The Parleyment soldiers were now vastly outnumbered, but the warriors waited patiently, spears aloft. Sarah held her breath. Grizzella Sticks appeared on the second floor balcony of the Pavilion, in an elaborately embroidered robe and a red velvet hat. Gripping a wooden railing, she surveyed the tanks, and the tattered remains of Parleyment’s Army.
“We do not wish to fight!” Grizzella shouted. “This is a day to make peace. Lay down your arms. We offer you food and cheer, and I guarantee your demands and concerns will be heard. As the leader of the free city of Vancouver, I promise to negotiate in good faith. Stand down, and join us.”
“Shloot ‘er!” Harpminster Abbott screamed.
Parleyment soldiers stretched their slingshot catapults, but hesitated a crucial second. A whistling onrush came from behind the building, and a barrage of bright projectiles flew over the lawn. Flaming arrows struck the ground, WHOOSH! thwack thwack thwack! Harpminster Abbott gurgled, pointing at the balcony, but Grizzella Sticks had retreated inside the Pavilion. Too late, a jittery soldier obeyed the Highest Seat, and fired his slingshot. The steel ball flew up to where Grizzella had been standing and shattered one of the glass balcony doors. The soldier grabbed his bum and howled; two silver throwing stars were embedded in his rear end.
Sarah scanned for a natural element she could use to fight, but nothing inspired her. She was numb, and exhausted. Some of the Parleyment forces had begun to retreat; others still aimed slingshots at the Pavilion. Pietro crawled between fizzled arrows, returning to the tanks. Snowflakes drifted from a gloomy sky. The Parleyment soldiers awaited commands, but their leader was clutching a wad of bloodstained bandage and grimacing. The armoured warriors stood their ground, balancing their spears in gloved hands.
Sarah’s father rushed forward. With a dramatic flourish, he unsheathed his dagger, and pointed its trembling tip at Harpminster Abbott’s chest.
“It’s over,” said Tony. “You’re surrounded. Surrender, Harpy.”
“Ichamus,” Harpminster choked out, sounding bored.
Ichamus Nickel aimed a loaded slingshot point-blank at Tony’s head.
“You’re turning on me, Ichamus?” Sarah’s father spluttered. “After all these years?”
“You’re the traitor,” Ichamus drawled.
“Ichamus, it’s the same as when we were kids, all lies and fear,” Tony pleaded.
Tense moments passed. It seemed the impasse would continue indefinitely when a familiar voice called out.
“Sarah, behind you!”
Rough hands grabbed Sarah’s arms, and twisted them painfully behind her back. Suddenly Milton’s lips were too close to her ear, and his hot breath was on her neck. Something hard and cold touched her exposed throat.
“Grizzella!” Milton yelled. “Give yourself up, or your little mascot here dies.”
The armoured warriors lifted their spears.
“Throw a spear and I’ll slit her throat,” said Milton.
Harpminster Abbott’s shoulders shook with laughter.
“She’s your niece!” Tony cried out.
At this, Sarah’s uncle laughed even harder. Milton yanked Sarah’s head sideways, and pressed the knife blade hard against the tendons of her neck.
“Show yourself Grizzella, or Sarah Spellings dies!” Milton shrieked.
The Pavilion doors opened, casting warm yellow light on the battleground. Buttery, homey smells of gravy and pie drifted outside. Grizzella Sticks walked slowly through the doors.
“Let Sarah go,” said Grizzella, “and come celebrate Christmas with us. Everyone is welcome; we offer complete amnesty, and a turkey feast, to anyone who surrenders right now.”
Wintry evening darkness had encroached on the lawn, and the jolly hall beckoned. Parleyment soldiers had been eating Twonkies and macaroni for weeks; Grizzella’s offer was a great temptation. Surrender, Sarah urged them silently. She shivered as heat spread across her chest, and the hexagon necklace glowed. A strong gust of wind lifted loose snow and began to spin. Milton was pelted with stinging ice needles, but maintained his grip on her arms. The wind blew harder, and whipped round and around. Sarah imagined herself as the eye of a snow hurricane. Her father, Harpminster, Milton and Ichamus staggered in the sudden icy storm. Her strength returning, Sarah kept the snow spinning, but into this white whirlwind came a shock of blonde hair and a ferocious face.
Quinn tackled Milton, and Milton cut Sarah’s neck.
The pain was sharp and clear, like glass. Sarah collapsed, and covered her neck with her tingling fingers. Milton and Quinn wrestled beside her. Milton elbowed Quinn’s nose, and blood spurted. Milton grinned, raised his knife—and the hulking forms of Hanx and Trig thumped him from either side. He sprawled across the snow, and the giants sat on his skinny frame. Ichamus had swung around and steadied his slingshot, aiming at Grizzella, but a clump of white and tan fur clamped onto his leg. Ichamus, thrown off balance, released his shot. A scream of agony ripped across the lawn.
Sarah was lying on her back, holding her neck. A bird descended from the sky. Laxgi sunk her talons into Ichamus, and tore his scalp with her yellow beak.
Ka–BOOM! A cannonball ripped a smoking hole through the Pavilion.
The armoured warriors left the steps at last, and stormed the tanks. Bram led the charge. There were no Parleyment soldiers left on the lawn; their hunger had won the battle, and they had all filed inside, hoping for a hot Christmas dinner. Soon warriors emerged from a tank, marching a prisoner at spear-point: Pietro, stammering protests. A nimble figure dressed in black emerged from the shrubs: Song, holding a long, curved sword. Sarah’s hands had cooled, leaving her palms sticky with her own blood. She sat up, and blinked into the night. Where was her uncle?
Quinn, blood pouring from his nose, had seized a chance to subdue Harpminster Abbott. With his left hand, Quinn held a hank of auburn hair. Sarah father stood by in shock.
“Surrender,” said Quinn, through clenched teeth.
Red lines scribbled across the whites of Harpminster Abbott’s eyes. Quinn exhaled forcefully, as if he’d been punched, and then started to sob. All the warriors burst into tears. Hanx and Trig, still sitting on Milton, wailed like big babies. I’m hopeless, Sarah thought. I’m useless. Her powers were an illusion, and her dreams of independence were a joke. If people died today, it would be entirely her fault. The grove was a silly venture, and Quinn’s journey through time was pointless. Sarah cried. She was devastated, and so was everyone else in Stanley Park.
Harpminster Abbott walked away. Nobody had the heart to follow him.