A BBC Audio Book, broadcast on
BBC Radio 4 Extra on 30th Sept 2012, released by AudioGo on 19 Apr 2011
When I travelled all those years ago, I saw such things. But do you
know, for all the alien worlds and all the spectacular sights of the
Universe, there is nothing quite so beautiful as our own planet, and
nothing quite so strange as the things that happen here, and nothing in
the whole of Time and Space is quite the same as helping on a school
trip. One coach, two teachers, three helping adults, thirty-six
children, and no toilet. All right, there was a bucket in case of
emergency, a different sort of emergency, because Maria's friend Sam
gets travel sick, but I don't think I need to record that here for
posterity. No, in fact, definitely not, because this is a casebook of
the weird and the strange, the extraordinary and the bizarre. I'm in
the business of undead rampaging alien warlords, not the school sick
The coach journey was about an hour, once we'd escaped from the London sprawl, and I'm pleased to say that the bucket wasn't needed.
We spent most of the day at Saint Margaret's House Museum. It's not as stuffy and boring as it sounds, because they re-enact life from Victorian times. There's a laundry where the maid shows the children how to do the washing. They laugh at the mangle, and get to play with soap bubbles, which probably amuses the younger ones, but by Luke's age - well, the age he seems to be - that's not terribly interesting, unless you can stuff the soap up somebody else's nose, of course, but Mr Bradbury put a stop to that pretty quick.
There's a school room too, and the children get to sit at old desks and get stern looks from a severe woman who's supposed to be a Victorian teacher. That went down a storm, of course. Lots of recitation and even drill, which is like army exercises for the children to keep fit. I think Luke quite liked that. Then Maria found it dull, and Clyde was slouching, so he had to sit with a pole behind his back to improve his posture. Well, you can imagine. I stood at the back and tried not to tell them when they got something wrong. I so wanted to call out, "Actually, I've been there and this is how it really was", but I didn't. It would have embarrassed Luke.
Everyone had a packed lunch, which we ate on the coach because it started raining. We used to have boiled eggs when I went on school trips, but they don't seem to anymore, which, thinking about it, is probably is progress.
On the way back, Mr Bradbury arranged for us to spend an hour at the new visitors centre, at the Stone Whisperers. Which sounded innocent and simple enough. I mean, what harm can there be in wandering around a stone circle for a few minutes? I should have known better, or at least I should have asked Mr Smith to do an internet search on the Stone Whisperers and give me some background. As computers go, Mr Smith is even better connected than most, so I'm sure he would have found something useful and interesting.
Luke had seen something about the Stone Whisperers on the News.
I had to sit with the adults, well away from Luke. I tried not to look back along the coach too often. I mean, I didn't think when they asked for people help, well, it didn't occur to me that Luke might not actually want me there. Not until we were waiting for the stragglers to get back to the coach. I went over to ask Luke about the Stone Whisperers. He was sitting with Maria, and I said, just to make conversation, that I was surprised Maria's dad hadn't come along.
She laughed. "Oh, who wants their dad on a school trip?" she said.
She just said it, she didn't mean anything, but Luke looked at me, then he looked away, which ... well, it hurt. And I didn't ask about the Stone Whisperers at all, I just ... smiled and walked away. I asked Mr Bradbury instead.
"Ah yes," he said. He starts everything with, ah yes, including his lessons, according to Luke. Clyde does a good imitation actually. "Ah yes," like that dog on the insurance adverts?
"Ah yes, the Stone Whisperers. Just a stone circle, really. Wouldn't bother if it wasn't on our way, except they've just built this new education centre. A lottery grant, or something."
"Wasn't it on the news?" I asked.
"Ah yes. Terrific feat of architecture, sort of mini Millennium Dome over the whole site, with the circle in the middle. Then there are lecture rooms and so on off to the sides and lots of interactive stuff. Should keep this lot quiet for a bit. You never know - they might even learn something."
I laughed politely. "Ah, you never know." I think he mistook my politeness for enthusiasm.
"Tell me, Miss Smith. Have you ever been to Sutton Hoo?" He didn't wait for me to answer. "Ah yes, medieval history is so much more interesting that old stones put up for no reason, don't you think? Did you do medieval history?"
"I have certainly done medieval," I said. I spared him the details though. It might have ended the conversation. Might have earned me a padded cell and a strait-jacket, too. As it was, I ended up next to him on the coach, getting the full guided tour of Sutton Hoo without even having to go there. Maybe strait-jackets aren't so uncomfortable.
By the time we all left the coach again, I had no hesitation in attaching myself to Luke and Maria whatever they might think.
"Mind if I tag along with you two? That man is driving me barmy."
"Barmy?" Maria teased. "Is that like bonkers?"
"Worse," I told her.
"It means full of balm," Luke told us seriously. "That's an old word for yeast, so frothy and excited. It's medieval."
"Stop right there," I said. "I don't want to know. I've had enough of medieval for today. Let's do ancient history instead."
I was surprised to see Clyde hurrying past us towards the entrance to the dome.
"Hey, this is great," he told us. "Old stuff - I love it."
"I won't take it personally," I muttered. Out loud I said, "It's good to see you getting into history, Clyde."
At last, it was something about him I could relate to.
"Oh, man," he told me, "it's just so random."
It was a strange twilight world in the dome. It was bright and sunny outside now the showers had stopped, but inside there were no windows, just puddles of light, and one large splash from a massive skylight in the middle of the dome that illuminated the dozen standing stones. They weren't a circle at all, but rather a semi-circle, and you couldn't get close enough to touch them as the area was cordoned off behind a waist-high railing. Mr Bradbury was getting everyone together to listen to a talk from the curator. The children crowded round and the adults stood at the back, and tried to look interested. The curator, Doctor Riley, was a small grey-haired man with dark-rimmed spectacles who fiddled nervously with the I.D. badge hanging round his neck. His first halting words of welcome were enough for some of the children, who slipped away to explore - and were soon lost in the carefully-placed shadows. I saw Luke working his way slowly around the central area, reading the various plaques and boards as he went. Maria was walking beside him. She looked as bored as I felt. Doctor Riley started with a description of the new visitor centre, but his enthusiastic description of the "interactive facilities and educational exhibitions" were a poor substitute for the real thing, so I slipped away as well to find out about them first-hand. I found Luke and Maria at the far side of the dome, in a small area set back from the circular walkway around the stones. They were peering into an open area. There was a sign above the doorway: The King Stone. Maria turned as I approached, though Luke seemed absorbed. There was a single standing stone in the area, tall and proud and encrusted with moss.
"It's just another stone," Maria said.
"Maybe it used to be in the circle," I said.
"It isn't a circle," Luke pointed out without turning round, "but maybe it used to be and some of the stones got moved. What for?" he asked.
"Well, I don't know. Perhaps people took half the stones away or moved them, centuries ago. Used them for building materials or something? That's possible, isn't it?"
"I suppose," Luke conceded.
"They might tell us if we listened to the talk," Maria said.
But by now I was staring at the stone standing alone in the semi-darkness. It was over two metres high, hewn from a pale rock, like granite. I could see speckles of quartz embedded in the surface and glittering as they caught the light, and...
"Oh, wait a minute," I said. "It's glowing!"
Maria sighed. "It's a slight natural phosphorescence. That's why the lights are turned down so low in here so you can see it. Tells you all about it on the sign. Look."
She was right. "A natural effect caused by the composition of the rock," I read. "Well, that doesn't tell you anything."
"But why is it called the King Stone?" Maria wondered.
"If you'd listened to Doctor Riley," a voice said, "he would have told you, eventually."
There was a woman standing behind us. I hadn't heard her arrive. She was wearing a white lab coat and holding a clipboard. Her fair hair was tied up behind her head and everything about her said 'efficient' and 'professional.' "Though I can quite understand you not waiting for that bit," the woman went on. "His lecture does go on, rather. Life's too short and all that."
"I'm sorry," I said, cutting in. "Sarah Jane Smith. I'm with the school trip. Just helping. This is "
"Maria." Maria said.
"Luke." He didn't look away from the stone.
"Professor Jacqueline Lawton."
"You work here?" Well, it seemed obvious she did.
"On attachment, bringing scientific light and enlightenment to the gloomy corners of archaeology, as practised by Riley and his mob. He's big on the myths and legends, not so hot on the facts."
"Bet he just loves this place, then," Maria said.
"Actually, he does. He's coming round to the notion that science can help. But when I got here six months ago he thought carbon dating and dendrochronology were cutting edge."
"I ask you."
"Well, quite," I said. "That's working out the age of wood from the tree rings, isn't it." I added, to show I wasn't completely thick.
"So what is cutting edge?" Luke asked, turning away finally from the stone.
Professor Lawton checked her watch. "I'll show you. I was just on my way to get the first results from a rather exciting piece of work."
"Really?" Luke was enthralled already. Maria gave me a look and rolled her eyes.
"Something that should finally dispel the myth that this stone is an ancient warrior king who was captured by the twelve knights that form the circle."
"It isn't a circle," Maria pointed out.
"It used to be, I think that's obvious. Back in antiquity there was a complete circle, and this one stone standing outside it."
"The King Stone," I said, "because of this myth."
"That's right. According to legend," Lawton said, "the stones were once knights who defeated a tyrant king in battle. The king tried to escape, but the knights chased him and cornered him here."
"And they turned him to stone?" Maria said.
"It's just a story. Apparently, the knights knew the only way to keep the King prisoner and stop his evil reign was to invoke a powerful magic that turned him to stone. Then to keep him in his prison, the knights also turned to stone, holding him forever as a prisoner by their power." She smiled. "It's a load of old nonsense, of course, but it makes a good story."
"And hence, the King Stone," I said.
"Yes. Though it's also called the Thirteenth Stone for obvious reasons."
"But that isn't right, is it?" Luke said. "I mean, when did they start calling it that?"
Professor Lawton shrugged. "The name seems to date back as far as any records for the stones. Further, I would think, given the mystic qualities associated with the number thirteen."
Luke was frowning at this.
"What is it?" I asked him.
"If the circle was complete, there would be twice as many stones in it," he said, "which makes this the twenty-fifth stone, not the thirteenth."
"Oh, tell Riley," Lawton said. "He'll love that. Probably got some explanation from his legend, though."
"You mentioned some research results," I prompted her.
"It's rather interesting, actually."
Maria yawned. I glared at her.
"You know how ground-penetrating radar can reveal the rock strata and composition below the ground at a site, to help you find ancient earthworks and so on?"
"Yes," Luke said before Maria and I could admit our ignorance.
"Well, we've managed to do something similar, but on a smaller scale. Actually scanning into these stones themselves. We have a computer suite, and I've dedicated a machine to each of the stone scans. They should be completing the analysis and ready to show us just what these stones are made of in a few minutes."
"But surely, they're just granite or something," I said.
"Well, we don't know till we find out. The stones in the circle - the sentry stones as they are called - do appear to be fairly ordinary, but no-one has yet managed to work out why this stone glows."
"Natural phosphorescence," Maria said, glancing back at the sign.
"Mmm." Professor Lawton raised her eyebrows. "Which could mean anything, couldn't it?"
Doctor Riley had finished his mini-lecture and the rest of the children were now hurrying around the exhibition. Luke and Maria and I followed Professor Lawton round the walkway past the semi-circle of sentry stones, avoiding a couple of boys who seemed to be playing tag.
"Hey, where are we going?" Clyde asked as he joined us.
"We are going to see Professor Lawton's scientific research results," Maria told him.
"Way cool. Hey, you know these stones are really knights who've captured some king?"
"Course they are," Maria said.
"It's just a story," I told him.
"Well, yeah, but a good one."
"The qualitative analysis of Professor Lawton's radar scan results should dispel that myth," Luke said.
"You can't spoil a good story," Clyde grumbled. "So, where are we going?"
"Computer suite," I told him.
"Installed last year when this place was built," Clyde said. "Cost a mean two million quid, half of which came from the Lottery."
"That's right," Lawton said as she overheard Clyde. "Have you been here before?"
"No. Geezer with the glasses said. I even know where the fire exits are, which day the novelty keyrings get delivered and what make of soap they put in the toilets."
"Really?" Luke was impressed.
"Yeah, well, not the soap. Made that up."
There were offices and lecture halls arranged around the edge of the dome. One of these was the computer suite.
"Are we allowed in here?" Clyde asked in a loud whisper as we followed Lawton through the door. She had to key a code number into a pad to open it.
"Shh." Maria warned him.
"It's up to me, so yes," Lawton told us. "You can come in, just don't touch anything."
"Well, you're very kind," I said.
"Oh, that's all right. I was a bit worried there'd only be me to see the results when they come in. It's good to share it with someone. To be honest," she said, lowering her voice, despite the fact that there was no-one else within earshot, "no-one here really appreciates what I'm doing."
"We'll do our best to be impressed," I said. "Just warn us when to clap and cheer."
She smiled, and I saw for the first time that she was actually a bit nervous. I guess she'd put a lot into this research. If it came up trumps, she'd be glad to have us there to witness her success. But if it turned out to be a waste of time, she'd be having to explain why it cost what Clyde had called 'a mean two million quid.' That's enough to make anyone nervous, however confident they might be.
It certainly looked impressive, though whether it looked two million quid impressive, I don't know. I strongly suspect that Mr Smith in my attic could out-perform the computers Professor Lawton had arranged round the room, but then, he's priceless in every sense. The sort of computing power that money can't buy - not yet.
There was something unsettling about the way the computer room was arranged. It took me a minute to work out what it was. I watched Luke and Maria examining one of the many screens. Even Clyde seemed impressed for once. Or at least, he walked the room making comments like "Ice cool. Well random," and " Holy." Well, needn't get too specific there.
"Are these the latest multiprocessor high density Blade machines?" Luke asked. It's like a different language. But apparently they were.
It seemed odd to me that all but one of the computer screens were arranged round the curved wall of one side of the room. The other screen was against the opposite wall, facing them. Each screen showed a progress ribbon inching its way across. Each was almost at the end, ready to display its results. I counted the screens. There were thirteen in all. And that's when it struck me.
"It's the same," I said. "Exactly the same."
"Same as what?" Clyde wondered. "Oh, don't tell me you've got a set up like this in your cellar."
"You do not want to know what I have in my cellar," I told him, only half joking.
"You're right," Luke said. He'd seen it too, and was turning slowly to look all round the room. "Exactly the same."
"And for us thickies?" Clyde asked.
Professor Lawton was smiling at our astonishment. Maria had seen it too now. "Oh, the screens are arranged just like the stones out in the main dome."
Lawton nodded. "That's right." She tapped at a keyboard, and the ribbon strips on the screen disappeared to be replaced by digital photographs of the stones themselves. Okay, they were smaller and only pictures, but the effect was quite weird. The stone circle - semi-circle - reproduced in the computer room.
"Why go to all that trouble?" I wondered aloud.
"We feed the data on each stone to the screen in the same relative position. Makes it much easier to cross-reference and tabulate the data."
Clyde was sitting in the chair by the screen showing the King Stone, apart from the others. He put his hand up in a mocking imitation of being in class. "Mr Thickie over here has noticed something too, actually."
"Something random?" I asked.
"Quite the opposite. Come over 'ere." We all stood round him as he nodded and smiled, and pointed back at the other screens. Professor Lawton was frowning. She had just as little of an idea what Clyde was on about as we did.
"So?" Maria said.
"Yes?" Luke added. "What have you noticed?"
"Can't you see?"
"Course we can. That's why we're asking." Maria added.
Clyde heaved a theatrical sigh. He can be quite infuriating when he wants. "Look!" He pointed at the screen on the other side of the room. "What do you see?"
"Screens, in the same relative positions as the sentry stones," Professor Lawton told him. "Forgive me young man, but - we know that."
"Yeah, and you said that originally there was a circle, right?"
"A fair assumption. Why would anyone build just half a circle?"
"Half a circle with a stone opposite it?" Clyde corrected her.
"That makes a difference?" Maria said.
"It does." Clyde was swinging annoyingly in the chair with an even more annoying smirk plastered across his face. "Those screens - they're all the same positions as the stones, yeah?"
"Yes," Lawton said patiently.
"Angled the same way?"
"Actually they are. The work-bench was built that way. It seemed to make sense."
"Makes more sense than you think."
Luke was frowning, looking round at the screens. "They're all facing this way," he said.
"Oh, you've got it!" Clyde raised his hand for a high-five. "Sitting here," he explained, "you see each screen full-on, exactly angled this way."
Professor Lawton was staring at him in astonishment, and I could see what he was getting at now. "You mean those stones"
Clyde finished it for me. "Are all looking at this one." He turned and patted the side of the screen behind him.
"The sentries are watching the King," Maria said. "That's spooky."
"That's ridiculous," Professor Lawton said. "Stones don't look at anything." She shook her head as if to say, 'Kids!' and went over to one of the keyboards.
"It's a parabola," Luke said. "The shape the sentry stones make. Like a reflector behind a light, or a lens aimed at the thirteenth stone."
I opened my mouth to answer, but I really don't remember what I was going to say, because at that moment there was a chime from each of the screens, and the pictures of the stones were replaced by a large message window. Data Analysis Complete.
"At last!" Lawton said.
The message changed to say Rendering.
"What's it doing now? Maria asked.
"The system will use the data to produce a map of each stone, like a climate chart or a relief map, with different colours showing the different types of material that it's composed of. The main computer server is programmed to render the stones in order from here." Professor Lawton pointed to the screen on the extreme left of the semi-circle. "Then when that one's done it will move onto the next and so on, until they're all mapped and displayed, and we can compare them and see what they're made of."
As she spoke, the message disappeared from the first screen, and an outline of the corresponding stone traced over the screen. It started to shade in from the bottom up, as if liquid colours were being poured into it. Bright washes of yellow, red, orange and blue, each filling their own areas, but the centre remained black. A dark silhouette amid the rainbow.
"So, what's it made of?" Luke asked.
"The yellow is sandstone, the blue granite, orange for quartz ..." Professor Lawton's voice faded as she watched the screen. The black patch was distinct now and growing. "That's odd."
"What is?" I asked.
"Black isn't defined. The computer uses it for material it hasn't been programmed with. For anything it doesn't ... recognise."
"Could be a fault in the scan," Luke suggested.
"Maybe it just hasn't filled that bit in yet," Maria said.
"Saving the best till last," Clyde agreed. "In a minute it'll fill up green or something." He made a pouring motion with his hand to demonstrate. "In it goes, give us that green, whoosh."
"If you add all the colours together, that might make black," Maria said. "So maybe it's just a muddle."
But it didn't look like a muddle to me. It looked like a shape. A distinct, defined shape.
"Ah yes," a voice said from behind us. "There you are, Miss Smith." Mr Bradbury was standing in the doorway. "Just given everyone a five-minute warning, then it's back aboard the Magical Mystery Tour, if your party can be ready?" He waited, evidently expecting a reply.
"Of course," I said quickly. "We'll be right there. Professor Lawton was just showing us how they analyse their data."
"Ah yes. Well, remember it's History today, not IT." He switched on a broad smile.
"I think you'll find that IT is a part of History these days," Professor Lawton said rather sharply. She didn't look away from the screen.
Mr Bradbury blinked, and his smile faded. "Five minutes," he said, pulling the door sharply shut behind him. But we were all intent on the screen where the outline of the stone had almost filled in with colour now. All except the centre - that was still black. A dark silhouette.
"It looks ..." Professor Lawton broke off, and gave a nervous laugh. "Well, it looks a bit like a figure."
"It looks," Maria said, "very like a figure."
"It is a figure," I said. It wasn't just one of those ink blot shapes you get in tests, where you try to see a pattern that is or isn't there. "It's definitely a figure, crouching down, like he's about to run a race or something."
The next screen flickered into life. The outline of the second stone traced across it, then began to fill with vibrant colour like the first, and again, the middle of the figured swirl was utter blackness.
"It's a sentry," Clyde announced. He jumped up from the swivel chair he'd been driving and went to the screen. "He's crouched down like you said, ready for action. On your marks. Look. That could be a helmet." He traced his finger round the top of the dark shape. "And this point here? Oh! That's a sword, isn't it? Ready for action."
"It's just a coincidence," Lawton said, but she sounded nervous and unconvinced. "There's a fault in the data, or ... more likely in the analysis. The processing has gone wrong, and it's just left out an area it hasn't managed to quantify."
The second stone was complete, and the third was outlined on the next screen along the line.
"Two coincidences, then," I said. "Two sentries."
"Same data, same coincidence. Same area left black," Lawton said.
"Except it isn't," Maria pointed out. "It's a different shape. Still looks like a crouching soldier holding a sword, but it's not the same shape at all."
"Three coincidences," Clyde said as the third stone began to take digital shape on the screen. "Ah man, this is a ten on the spooky scale."
I could hear the sound of the children tramping past outside as they hurried back to the coach. Mr Bradbury and another teacher, Mrs Reiki, were shouting at them not to run, not to touch, to stop mucking about, but I wasn't about to leave until I'd seen the rest of the stones rendered on the screens. I don't think I was frightened, or even anxious. I don't think any of us were. Except Professor Lawton, who wasn't sure if she was looking a monumental error, or a breakthrough discovery. But we were intrigued, transfixed. There was something almost hypnotic about the way the images drew themselves on the screen, slowly taking shape, like they were being revealed by a conjuror. As one we turned to face the final lone monitor. The semi-circle of screens on the other side of the room showed a dozen poised soldiers, swords at the ready, depicted in black silhouette against a halo of colours. We watched the thirteenth stone begin to take shape on the screen. No-one spoke, as the same blackness formed at the centre of the image. Only this time, it was different. There was a texture to the darkness. Greys and browns, like folds in a cloak draped round the figure that stood tall and proud inside the ancient monolith. By the time the computer drew the head, we were all leaning closer to the screen, struggling to make out the detail and entranced by the process of revealing the figure. The King. Then we saw the face, shadowed and dark. Angry. A face twisted into an expression of agony and fear. Screaming! We all took a step back. The sudden shock was so intense. All of us, except Luke. He was standing to the side of the screen still staring intently at it. His face was blank, expressionless.
"Luke?" I said, aware of the nerves and the tremor in my own voice.
He glanced at me, but without any sign of interest or recognition. Then he looked back at the figure on the screen. And the dark silhouette of the King turned slightly, and looked at Luke.
I gasped, Clyde swore, Maria said something I didn't catch, Professor Lawton gave a little shriek, a hand to her mouth. That's how we all were at that moment. The moment when the trapped King turned to look at Luke. The moment the other twelve screens blanked out. Luke collapsed suddenly to his knees. The lights went off. Finally the thirteenth screen flickered, the image trembling before it too vanished.
Silence and darkness. Then after a moment the emergency lights came on, and the computer suite was bathed in a blood-red glow. My first thought was for Luke of course. I ran to him, pulling him to his feet from where he was kneeling close to the dead screen. His face was still blank, but there was a shadow across it. I wanted to check he was all right, so I turned him slightly to look at him properly. And the shadow, it didn't move. It was still there, unchanged, defying the light that shone full red on Luke's face. It was the same shape as the darkness on the screen, the face of the King Stone, darkness imprinted across Luke. Oh, poor Luke. Only now, it wasn't screaming in agony from inside its granite prison. It was laughing.
"I think we should get out of here." Maria was right. Ever the practical one is Maria.
"I think everyone else has gone," Clyde said. He opened the door, and we could see that the main dome was lit with the same eerie red emergency lighting.
"It must be a power cut," Professor Lawton said. "We've never had one before. Perhaps we should wait for the power to come back on."
"Yes, well, we'll wait outside if you don't mind," I told her. It looked like everyone else had already left, either getting back to the bus, or because of the power failure - if it was just a power failure. 'Oh, come on,' I told myself. 'Of course that's all it could be. Just one of those things.' This was a school trip, not an alien invasion. Sometimes I think I'm getting paranoid. Other times, I know they're out to get me. And somewhere deep inside, I knew that this was one of those 'out to get me' times. Or out to get Luke. I couldn't take my eyes off the shadow on his face. It seemed to be deepening, becoming more clear, moving ... Like I said, it looked like it was laughing. Another mouth overlaid on Luke's own mouth, twisted into a vicious smile, and I shuddered. "Come on," I said, "school trip or not." I held his hand. At the same moment, Maria took Luke's other hand. She nodded at me, encouraging but anxious. Together we pulled Luke towards the door.
"It's just a power cut," Professor Lawton said quietly. She had sunk into one of the office chairs in front of a blank screen. "I hope the data hasn't been corrupted."
"Never mind your precious data," I told her, but she wasn't listening.
"There's an automatic backup," she said to no-one in particular. "Surge protectors."
Luke was shuffling with us, but he didn't seem to know where he was or what was happening. Clyde was holding the door open and we struggled through into the main exhibition area. As well as the red emergency lights, a pool of pale sunlight spilled through the circular skylight in the top of the dome, and illuminated the semi-circle of stones. Even as I watched, the sky clouded over and a darkness fell across the stones. The red lights cast their shadows long and dark into the middle of the broken ring. The tips of the shadows met, forming a fan of red and black. The point was aimed at the thirteenth stone, like Clyde had said, focussed on it.
"Seriously spooky," Clyde said, leading us round the circular walkway towards the main doors. I was relieved to see they were standing open. Beyond the doors the coach was visible in the car park. I could see children milling round it. They weren't getting on yet. They were pointing at the darkening sky, or looking back at the dimly-lit dome of the Exhibition Centre.
We made our ponderous way along, almost dragging Luke now. His eyes were wide open, but he was doing little to help us. The shadow on his face seemed deeper and darker. It still twisted and turned. I stared at it, conscious of Maria also looking. Her own face was set in an expression of concern and fear.
"What is it?"
"I don't know," I admitted. "Just ... shadows."
"But ... like on the screen? Like inside the stone?"
Clyde was marching on ahead, and having to stop every few steps to let us catch up. But even now he'd seen there was something seriously wrong. "Hey, what's up with you, Luke?" He turned to Maria. "Has he got a problem?"
"No," she told him through gritted teeth. "That's why we're helping him."
There was a figure standing in the doorway ahead of us. "Miss Smith?" it shouted. "Miss Smith, are you and your party still in there? Is that you?" Mr Bradbury was shielding his eyes and peering down the walkway towards us.
"On our way," Clyde yelled back at him.
"Ah yes, good, because I really think we should be making a move."
I opened my mouth to reply. I was going to shout at him to call an ambulance. I didn't know what was wrong with Luke, but I wasn't going to take any chances. Only, before I could say anything, Luke stumbled and fell, pulling me and Maria with him. Clyde hurried back to help, and behind him, the main door slammed shut, and the emergency lights flickered on the walls, like torches in some mediaeval castle. Believe me, I know.
"Luke? Luke, you have to help us," I told him urgently. Can you hear me? It's ..." I almost said 'It's your mother.' "It's Sarah," I said. "Please answer me. Tell me what's wrong."
We managed to get Luke to his feet. Clyde ran to the doors, and heaved at them. I tried my sonic lipstick, but it was no good.
"Reckon we're in here for a while?" Clyde looked at Luke, concerned. "Shall we, like, bathe his face or something?"
"That's for a temperature." Maria said.
"Does he have a temperature?"
"How should I know?"
"Might do some good then," Clyde pointed out. "Toilets are back that way. Doctor Riley said."
"Oh, very helpful," Maria told him.
"Might be," Clyde grinned suddenly. "Ha. I saw you when the lights went out. Would have been useful then. You nearly"
"Oh, I did not!" Maria interrupted. Remembering Clyde's trivial boast from earlier. "What about the fire exits?"
"Fire exits?" For a moment he looked as blank as Luke.
"You said you know where they are," Maria reminded him.
"Oh yeah. Er, that was before the lights went out."
"They won't have moved," I said. "Look, we need to get out of here. We need to get help for Luke."
Maria was thumbing her mobile. "There's no signal," she said.
"So - fire exit," I prompted.
Clyde was still looking rather odd. He was staring past us, back towards the stones in the semi-circle in the middle of the dome. "Back that way," he said, and his voice was strangely tight and nervous. "But ... I don't think that helps."
Maria and I struggled to turn while holding Luke upright. "Why not?" I asked.
But as we turned, I could see exactly what Clyde meant, even before he said, "Because ... we have to get past those."
We all started at the stones. The shadows were moving, the red lights shimmering across the uneven surfaces. But it wasn't the lights that were moving. It was the stones. The whole surface of the dozen monoliths seemed to shimmer and pulse, then with a loud crack like a gunshot, the nearest stone shattered. Maria gave a little shriek of fear. Clyde said something I won't repeat. Maybe I shrieked with Maria, who knows? A dark line split across the surface of the stone. It widened, darkening as the surface crumbled away. Chunks of rock fell to the ground. The stone was twisting and shaking, dust hung in the air like smoke. A hand punched through the rock surface - a clenched fist, black as coal but shiny, like it had been dipped in oil, then the whole surface of the stone crumbled and fell, revealing the dark figure inside. It was a figure we'd seen before, silhouetted on a computer screen. The figure moved, uncurling from its poised position. It straightened up, looking round. It wore a helmet like a Viking warrior, black on black. Eyes glowed like burning coals in its shadow-dark face. He was wearing close-fitting armour that glinted in the low light. The blade of the sword the figure was holding shone so much it looked wet, and behind the knight that was staring across the walkway at us, another stone shattered, and another knight straightened up from his long sleep.
"Guess we should have realised," Clyde said.
"We should have put two and two together," I agreed.
"Four," another voice said. The third stone exploded as the figure inside smashed its way out. A fragment of rock whipped past my cheek, so it took me a second to realise that it was Luke who had spoken.
More of the knights were emerging from their rock cocoons. They swayed on their feet, looking round slowly to get their bearings, but most of my attention was now on Luke.
"You're okay," I gasped in relief.
"I don't think he is," Maria said.
Luke's expression was still a blank. Did I imagine it, or did the shadow on his face turn slightly to look at me with amusement?
"He's gone again," Clyde agreed. "He gets like that in Maths. Switches on when it's tricky question time, off when it's boring stuff that us humans struggle with."
"Back to the computer room?" Maria suggested. "We can maybe barricade the door."
"And trap ourselves inside?" Clyde said. "Good plan."
"You got a better one?" Maria shot back.
My mind was turning over what Clyde had just said. "Wait a minute."
"Maths? Oh, come on," he protested as we frantically dragged Luke back along the walkway, and a final warrior knight erupted from the last of the standing stones. "Isn't History enough for you right now?"
"No," I told him. "Luke's better at Maths - like you said, problems. Like putting two and two together."
"Four." Luke immediately answered again. Maybe I was looking too hard for it, but - I thought I saw a flicker, just an instant of expression on his face as he spoke, as if working out the answer, however easy, had encouraged his brain to start up again.
"What's the square root of ... a hundred and twenty four?" I demanded.
"Homework?!" Clyde exclaimed in astonishment, but Luke was already giving us the answer. I gave up listening after 'eleven point one three five five,' but he was back with us. Just while he had to work out the answer his mind was back. He smiled thinly as he spoke as if to say it was okay, and he was still in there. I could feel him getting steadier on his feet too. I clapped a hand over my mouth to try to stop a sob from escaping. I didn't want to upset him. I didn't want him to think I was anything less than confident and in control. But behind us the glistening dark figures of the warriors were all looking straight at us. In unison they raised their swords, levelling them at us. I thought they were going to charge, but they advanced slowly, warily. Luke was suddenly heavy again and was falling as we helped him away from the approaching warriors.
"Forty one thousand seven hundred and fifty-nine divided by eight hundred and eighty-three," Maria said quickly.
"Forty seven point two nine one two..." Luke started to reply.
Together we staggered round the walkway. All the time the knights turned to follow us. Luke finished his answer, but instead of going limp again he pulled away from us. When he spoke, his voice was deeper and darker. It was Luke, and yet it wasn't.
"Don't think that will save him for long," he said.
I knew it wasn't Luke. It was something else. The shadow on his face - it twisted into a laugh, and the sound shook Luke's body.
"Oh, get me out of here if you want to save him." Luke pointed past us to where the first of the warriors was clambering over the railing onto the walkway. "Get me away from them."
"Give him back," I said, trying to keep my voice level and calm. "Give Luke back now."
"Never," the shadow that wasn't Luke snarled.
"Geography," Maria said, and I could hear the nerves in her voice. "What's the capital of Brazil?"
It was Luke's voice that answered. "Brasilia of course."
Clyde frowned. "I thought it was Rio di Janeiro."
"It doesn't matter," I told him, "just keep asking questions."
"Okay. What the hell is going on?"
"Not me. Ask Luke the questions," Maria said. "Give me the value of pi to as many decimal places as you can."
"Is that tricky?" Clyde wondered.
Luke was already rattling it off. "Three point one four one five nine..." He paused long enough to tell Clyde "It's been calculated to over a thousand billion decimal places. It goes on for ever." Then he carried on where he'd left off. "Two six five three five."
"Take a while, then." Clyde murmured. "That's good. It's good, isn't it?"
I had a feeling I might die of old age before Luke finished. I couldn't believe he knew pi to that many decimal places, but he could probably work it out. Just now though I was worried about other ways we might die. Like a sword thrust from an undead zombie warrior made of stone that had recently hatched out of an ancient monolith.
The warriors on the walkway had blocked off any chance of us getting back to the computer room. Professor Lawton would probably be all right provided she stayed where she was, fretting over her spoilt data, probably. If only she knew there was a live demonstration of what that data actually meant happening outside her door. Swords gleamed in the red light, giving 'cutting edge' a rather different meaning.
Luke was still spouting numbers as we tumbled through the nearest door. It was one of the lecture rooms used for school trips that were a bit more formal and structured than ours. Less of the stone warrior demons or whatever too, I should think. Since Luke had walked pretty much on his own while he was reciting the value of pi, Maria and I helped Clyde heave a couple of tables and stack of chairs against the door. We'd no sooner finished than our makeshift barricade creaked and moved. The warriors were trying to barge the door open.
"What now?" Maria said.
The door shuddered again, and the point of a dark sword erupted from the splintering wood.
"Well, we can't stay here," I said - like it wasn't obvious.
Clyde was ahead of us. "Out the back door." He ran over to it and swung it open, quickly checking that there wasn't a stone warrior waiting on the other side.
I hoped the door led out of the dome, but it gave in to another lecture room. We helped Luke through and barricaded that door too. From back in the first room, there was a crash as chairs and tables shifted, toppled, fell.
"We need to know what's going on," I said. "We can't keep Luke reciting pi forever."
"He's been possessed," Clyde said. "Taken over."
"Yeah. Thanks for that," Maria said.
"That mark across his face - it's like on the screen."
"The thirteenth stone," I realised. "The King Stone. Was there a warrior inside that? I didn't see it break open - did you?" The others shook their heads.
"When the time is right," Luke said, breaking into his recitation. "Soon, very soon, I shall emerge to rule again." Luke was frowning and blinking. "The pathetic forces ... three two nine seven ... of the sentries, my jailers ... seven three one ... cannot stop me now." His voice was shifting between Luke - my Luke - and whatever was trying to take over his mind.
"The King - or whatever it was - it's the legend," Clyde said. "The story, don't you see? It's all true."
Maria was more concerned with Luke. "We're losing him."
"We won't lose him," I snapped. "Let's get to the thirteenth stone. Maybe that will help."
"How will that help?" she said.
"Look, I don't know, but we have to do something and we can't stay here."
The door to the second room heaved under a heavy impact, reinforcing the point. We hurried out onto the walkway again, relieved to see the warriors had all followed us into the first lecture room.
"Not very bright, are they?" Clyde whispered.
"They are soldiers, no more," not-Luke rasped. "It takes more than a simple psycho-molecular prison to keep Ravage bound." For a moment he was Luke again. " I can't. I'm sorry." Then his face clouded over - literally clouded over. Clyde and I grabbed Luke's arms and dragged him towards the area where the last stone was still standing intact. As we approached, the faint gleam I'd noticed before brightened to a dull orange glow. Pulsing like a heartbeat, the vivid colour framed the same dark centre that we'd seen on the computer screen, and the face of the silhouetted King was the exact shape of the shadow on Luke. His whole face was dark as thunder now. Luke's mouth twisted to match the insane laughter that came from it. "They thought they could imprison me." he announced, and his voice was a deep, throaty rasp, "trapped for all eternity inside the stone."
"That stone," I said, all too aware how my voice was shaking, "the King Stone, the thirteenth stone?"
"Twelve warriors of Amital to watch over my prison." Luke threw his head back and let out another burst of laughter. "It took the combined armies of the republic to defeat me. And they thought a handful of sentries could stand guard, and I would not escape."
"Who are you?" Maria demanded. "What's happened to Luke?"
Luke threw his arms wide as he proclaimed, "I am Ravage. I am the might and the power of Amital. I am its future and its past, its anointed King and protector, ruler and sovereign."
"Ravage?" Clyde said. He sniffed. "Guessing they don't have elections where you come from."
"I seized the throne by force of arms," Luke - or rather, Ravage - confirmed. " I slew those who opposed me. I cleansed the Senate and went to war against our enemies. I was the greatest leader Amital has ever known."
"Yeah," Clyde told him. "That'll be why they locked you up inside a stone, then?"
"I don't think you should annoy him," Maria hissed. She was probably right. But it wouldn't be long before the warriors were after us again and I wanted Luke back. Desperately wanted Luke back. Our best hope - maybe our only hope - was to find out as much as we could about this Ravage and what had happened.
"And Luke - my Luke - what have you done with him?"
Luke's shadowed face turned slowly towards me. "He struggles to be free inside his own mind. I can feel him stirring, resisting, but soon he will sleep forever."
"No!" I lunged at him. I didn't know what I was going to do, but Luke's arms caught me and hurled me aside. I knocked painfully into the pole holding the sign explaining about the King Stone. It rocked on its heavy base and clattered to the ground. I found myself sprawled on top of it. I know it wasn't really Luke that did it, but even so.
"You're killing him," Clyde accused. "He's our friend, and we want him back."
Ravage just laughed, while Maria helped me to my feet. "I'm all right," I told her. "We have to get Luke back somehow."
"Maths?" she suggested.
"Worth a try. What's eleven times fifty-seven point nine nine six?" I demanded.
The laughter stopped. Ravage hesitated. When he spoke his voice was quieter, less arrogant. It was still Ravage, but the words seemed forced out of him with a tremendous effort.
"You ... bother me with ... trivia."
Luke was still in there, I realised. "Answer the question," I insisted. "Luke? Answer the question."
"Yeah," Clyde said. "Not like you to bottle out of a maths quiz."
"What's the answer?" Maria demanded.
Again the voice was strained, but recognisably Luke. "Six ... three ... seven ..."
"That's it," I encouraged him.
"Point nine ... five six." Luke's body trembled with the effort.
When he spoke again, it was Ravage, not Luke. "The boy has more spark, more soul than I expected."
A terrible thought occurred to me. "That's why you chose him, isn't it? Something to do with Luke's mind, his background."
"New, unformed and impressionable," Ravage agreed. "Soon he will be subsumed."
Somewhere behind us, a door burst open. I could hear the tramp of heavy feet on the walkway. The warriors didn't know where we were but it wouldn't take them long to find us.
"You were imprisoned inside the stone - this stone," I said, hoping to get something out of him, some nugget of information that might help, that might give us a clue what to do.
"The warriors sacrificed themselves, gave up their remaining life-force to keep me in prison. Noble, heroic, but doomed to failure. The warriors were arranged to focus their energy on the stone where I was held."
"Yes!" Clyde punched the air. "Said so. Am I just amazing or what?"
"Not helping," Maria told him shortly.
"Over the years their power depleted, and with the crude application of technology, mine grew."
"Crude app ...? You mean Professor Lawton's scan," I realised.
"It flowed power along the lines of focus, transferred energy from the warriors to me."
"But ... you're still trapped," Maria said. "You - the real you - is still inside that stone. We can see him."
Ravage turned to look at the glowing monolith. "My body no more. It may be trapped, but my mind is free. Free to inhabit this mind. This new unformed, impressionable mind."
"But - why Luke?" I asked. "Why not ... why not me?"
"With your wealth of experience and imagination and personality?" Ravage's face twisted into a cruel smile. "Your mind would expel me in an instant. I should have nowhere to exist. My mind would dissipate, fade and die. But here ..." He lifted his hands to his head, to Luke's head, "... here I found a ready template still taking on the personality it will become, and now it will be my personality. I have waited so long for a mind like this to come to me, so I could leave my stone prison without fear of dissipating, of being lost forever as my mind floats away."
"I want Luke back," I said quietly, trying to keep my voice under control. "I want him back, now."
The sound of marching warriors was getting steadily closer.
"So - what do they want?" Maria said.
"They're on our side," Clyde said. "They don't want this Ravage bloke back any more than we do."
"But how are they going to stop him?" I wondered.
"You will help me escape the warriors," Ravage said. "You will get me away from here."
"No chance," I told him. "I'm not saving you."
"Then you condemn your Luke to death. That is how they will try to prevent my escape - by destroying this new body I have taken."
Maria clutched my arm. Behind, a warrior stopped on the walkway, right outside the small area where we stood beside the thirteenth stone.
"To keep me imprisoned," Ravage said, "they will kill your friend Luke. Your only chance of ever saving him is to help me escape."
The warrior on the walkway was turning slowly towards us. He seemed to be alone. The others must be searching elsewhere.
"I will save Luke," I told Ravage. "Don't doubt that for a moment."
He started off on another rant about sovereignty, being the greater leader. The warrior stepped off the walkway, advancing slowly towards us with its sword raised.
"What was pi again?" Maria asked, and with Luke's painfully weak voice hesitantly reciting the numbers, we turned to face the advancing warrior.
"When I hit him, you run for it, okay?" Clyde said.
"Hit him? You're crazy," Maria told him.
"He does have a sword," I said.
"You want to escape or not?" Clyde stepped past us, and Maria hurried to help Luke. His face was his own, shadowed but smiling weakly.
"You can do it," I told him. "We just need to get away from these warriors, but you can do it. You can drive him out of your mind, I know you can. We'll help you."
The warrior's sword clashed down at Clyde, the ring of metal on metal as Clyde somehow parried the blow, or got in the way of it anyway. It almost knocked him over, but miraculously he was all right.
"Come on, guys!" he shouted as he attempted to fend off the warrior again. Not with a sword - he was holding the pole the notice about the stone was attached to, the pole I'd knocked over when I fell. Of course, it was no match for the warrior's sword any more than Clyde was a match for the warrior's skill and strength, but he did manage to distract it just long enough for the rest of us to get past. Further along the walkway, other warriors were turning, alerted by the noise of the fight. They stepped out of the darkened lecture rooms and emerged from the red-lit gloom. Maria and I dragged Luke past Clyde and the warrior, and hurried in the opposite direction. Clyde was backed into a corner, but the warrior turned away from him as it realised we were escaping. Luke was all but a dead weight. My poor boy. His voice was more hesitant, fading away.
"The next numbers," Maria urged. "Tell us the next numbers. Luke, think. What is pi? What comes next?"
There was a warrior ahead of us on the walkway. Wherever the fire exit was, even if it would open, we couldn't get to it now. They were coming at us from both sides. I climbed over the railing, Maria ducked under it. We helped Luke through the gap beneath, down into the circular exhibition space where the stones had been. The warriors turned to watch like an audience at a Roman arena, waiting for the fun to start. There was a cry. I caught a glimpse of Clyde tumbling away from the warrior he'd been trying to stop. Behind him the thirteenth stone was burning bright, pulsing with unearthly light.
"Okay. I'm ... okay," Clyde shouted from somewhere out of sight. "Don't worry about me."
Time stood still. Maria and I stood defiant in the middle of the dome. The warriors stood arranged around the circular walkway, swords raised. Luke was on his knees, rocking back and forth, sobbing out the numbers that were keeping him with us, that were keeping him alive.
"He can do it," I said loud enough for the warriors to hear. "I tell you, he can do it. You don't need to hurt him. He just needs time."
The first of the warriors climbed stiffly over the railing at the side of the exhibition area, then the next, and the next, like a ripple around the dome. They stood inside the railing now.
"You have to help him, not hurt him," Maria yelled. "Can't you see that?"
The glow from the thirteenth stone pulsed across the ground, throwing the ring of warriors into scarlet and black.
I dropped to my knees beside Luke. "I can't do it for you," I told him. "I'm sorry, but I can't. This is up to you. I have to let go, have to let you be yourself, because that's what you have to do."
His eyes were wide and afraid. Could he hear me, even? I don't know. Even now, I don't know. He was muttering meaningless numbers, his face was sheened in sweat, the shadow across it shimmered and pulsed like the standing stone. The numbers stopped. The warriors took another step towards us, the circle closing, swords at the ready. Luke's jaw trembled as he tried to force out the next number in the sequence. He threw his head back, and roared out a single word.
I gasped, then let out a sob. Was this it? Had he gone? I could see Clyde looking down from the walkway, anxiety etched across his face as clearly as the shadow on Luke's.
"Ravage!" Luke yelled again. Then: "Get out of me, Ravage!"
"Luke!" I exclaimed in relief. "Luke, you're still there. Come on, Luke, you can do it."
Another step forward, swords raised. Another pulse of light from the thirteenth stone. Another painful cry from Luke.
"I am Luke Smith!" He had his hands to his head and was shaking back and forth.
"No!" gasped a different, deeper voice. "I am Ravage. This body is mine. You cannot expel my mind from it. I would die!"
Swords glinted in the blood-red light.
"I won't let you!" Luke's voice gasped.
"You can't stop me," the other voice replied, shadow talking to face, face opposing the darkness.
"I am Luke. I have my own life, my own mind."
"Not yet. It is inchoate. Unformed mind for the taking."
Luke shook his head. "Go back to your stone," he gasped.
"I cannot return. I would die if I attempted it, my mind scattered and lost. So I shall have your body. It will be mine."
"Help me!" Luke pleaded.
"I can't," I told him. I was on my knees beside him, holding him tight as he rocked back and forth. "I'm so sorry, but I can't. I'm here, I'll always be here, but you have to do this yourself. You have to be yourself. I'm sorry," I told him. "This is my fault." I held his cold hand tight in mine.
"Don't be stupid," Maria hissed. "How can this be your fault?"
"If I'd let him grow up faster, if I'd given him more independence, if I'd trusted him instead ..."
"Instead of what?" Maria said sharply. "Instead of loving him?"
I pressed Luke's hand to my face. "You do have your own life," I said, "your own mind. Use it. Use it now."
"My ... life," Luke struggled to say. "My ... mind?" Did he sound more confident, more assured, more himself? I dared to hope so.
"That's right. Be yourself."
"Myself." He blinked rapidly. The shadow rippled like oil on his face. The warriors were almost on us now - they couldn't wait much longer. The pulse of light from the stone was more rapid, but was it desperate or triumphant?
"Yourself." The voice was Luke's and not Luke's. "You don't know who that is."
"I do. I am ... Luke ... Smith." His voice was shaking, but it was controlled. He pulled away from my grasp and got unsteadily to his feet. His whole body shimmered with dark oily shadows as he turned a full circle, watching the warriors that stared back at him through glowing red eyes. "I am Luke," he said, sounding calmer now, more in control. "I know who I am. You can't take that away from me. I have my own life." He was facing Maria. He reached out and gently stroked her cheek. "My own friends." He turned until he was facing me. "My mother," he said, and the shadow slipped away. The pulsing orange and yellow light from the stone stopped. It didn't fade or flash, it just stopped, as the last remnant of Ravage's mind was scattered and lost forever. All around us the warriors slowly bowed their heads. They lowered their swords, they knelt on one knee as if paying homage to Luke, to the boy who had finally defeated Ravage.
Clyde stepped down from the walkway. "He's dead," he whispered, but his voice carried easily to us in the silence. "Stone. That's gone out. Is Luke ...?"
"He's ..." I started to say, but it was Luke who cut me off.
"I'm fine, thanks. Just tired."
"I'm not surprised," I said.
"Are you okay?" Maria asked Clyde.
He grinned. "You know me."
"That's why I have to ask."
Luke was looking round at the kneeling warriors. "Look," he said. "They're turning back into stone."
"They were always stone." I said.
"He means turning back into stones," Maria realised.
It was most obvious on their faces. They seemed to swell and lose their shape, but it was happening to their whole bodies. They were crusting over, becoming rough and lumpy, turning back into standing stones. The dark thunder-clouds were swirling and clearing high above the skylight. The main lights flickered on, as I was suddenly aware of the hum of air conditioning. We were standing there - Clyde, Maria, Luke and I - laughing and crying, and hugging each other, in the middle of a stone circle.
Which must have seemed a strange sight for Professor Lawton as she emerged from the computer room, though her mind was obviously on other things. "The data is fine," she announced. "Thank Heavens for that." Then she saw us all in the middle of a circle of stones, that looked very unlike the semi-circle of stones she must have been expecting. She stood and stared, mouth open, then she heaved an almighty sigh, turned and stomped back into the computer room.
"She might have some new data to analyse," Luke said.
"We all might," I said quietly.
The main doors were swinging open, and I could see Professor Riley and Mr Bradbury edging warily inside. They too stood gaping on the walkway.
"Ah!" Mr Bradbury said, looking down at us. "Yes."
"It was ..." Riley began. "That is ..." He shook his head. "Through the windows in the doors we thought we saw ..." He dabbed at his forehead with a well-used handkerchief. "Oh, dear oh me," he said quietly. "Are you all right?"
"We're fine, thanks boss," Clyde said.
"Shadows," I told them. "Flickering lights. Your imagination can play strange tricks on you."
"It was just a power cut," Maria explained.
"Ah yes, you must have had quite an ordeal," Mr Bradbury told us, "but all sorted now, it seems."
"It was nothing," Luke said. He was leaning against me, still weak from his mental battle with Ravage. "And anyway, we had Mum to look after us." He squeezed my arm.
"As you can see," I said quickly, talking fast before my emotions could take over, "there's nothing out of the ordinary. Though the thirteenth stone has lost its inexplicable glow."
Professor Riley was looking at me like that was the least of his worries.
"Oh," I said, "and I suppose you'll have to put these stones back where they were."
Riley was shaking his head. "But - I don't understand. How could they?"
"Freak magnetic pulse from the thunderclouds coupled with the power surge," I said.
"That doesn't make sense," Luke told me. I nudged him to keep quiet.
"It's called a ... Ravage storm, named after the place. It happens all the time, in Ravage, Alabama."
"That's right," Maria said quickly. "There was this thing on the telly about it. Big stones just - you know - all over the place."
"Ravage storm?" Riley was shaking his head. "I - I've never heard of such a phenomenon."
"Well, one thing's for sure," Clyde told him. "They didn't move on their own."
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