Leaving Windblowne this second time was very hard. “Goodbye,” he said, just in case.

He leapt up the crest, listening for the painful sound of the night winds blowing through the oaks on Lord Gilbert’s world. At first he feared he would not be able to find the subtle voices again.

No, he told himself. Pay attention to the world. Listen.

The anxious thoughts and fears slid away. Somewhere beneath the desperate urgency, Oliver listened.

And then came that keening wail of pain, the heartbreaking cry of the riven oak.

He closed his eyes as the other winds quieted.

He found the wind that led to that voice and strode confidently toward it.

He walked between worlds.

And then he was standing on the crest again. Not his home crest, he knew before he opened his eyes, but Lord Gilbert’s. He could feel the difference in the ground beneath him, smell it in the air around him, and hear it in the deep raging rumble of the winds. He could feel it in the terrible pain of the headache returning, as the winds blew through the riven oak. He pushed it softly away, and the headache faded.

He opened his eyes.

The night was burning.

Down the mountain, Lord Gilbert’s treehouse blazed like a torch, sending a beam of light into the night sky. The spiderweb network of wires blazed too, buzzing and crackling, draining the oaks in this world and all the others, focusing everything into Lord Gilbert’s machines. Sparks danced along the wires in circles around the oakline, surrounding the crest in a cage of lightning. The cage affected even the night winds, for as the lightning brightened, the winds diminished to a stiff gale.

He looked to the sky, hoping. His heart leapt as he saw that the crimson kite had not been captured. Seven hunters pursued the kite as it fought and dodged valiantly.

In fives and sixes, more hunters were rising to help the others. A buzzing sound from the wires filled the air. The hunters shrieked in pain. With the treehouse shining and the wires blazing, it was as though night had been eliminated; the stars were washed out by the glare.

Oliver realized that, after all his travels, he had found the hell-world at last.

And he had only seconds before the hunters spotted him. Now that Oliver had escaped his banishment, Lord Gilbert would surely order the hunters to attack.

He crouched and began unwrapping the bundle frantically, wishing he had not been forced to wrap it so securely, wondering what had made him think this mad plan would ever work—


Two was limping across the oakline underneath the lightning storm, the treehouse beam behind him casting a long shadow up the crest. Two tossed his green-and-black power kite upward into the gale and flew toward the peak. Oliver took in the other boy’s terrified face. He looked, if possible, worse than he had the last time Oliver had seen him. His hair had thinned, he’d lost more weight, and—

Two reached him, stumbled, and fell, gasping. His voice shook with fear and fury.

“I knew you’d be here.… He’s activated them all.… He has your great-uncle.… You have to get away.…”

Above them, sheer numbers had overwhelmed the crimson kite. Eight hunters had grasped it in their talons, yet still it fought, dragging them all across the sky. The rest of the hunters—dozens now—had spotted Oliver and were veering toward him.

Oliver calmly untied the final knot. “Get behind me,” he ordered Two.

“But you have to—”

“NOW!” shouted Oliver, rising.

Two crawled behind Oliver. “But there’s no way to stop the hunters,” he said, quaking.

“Yes,” said Oliver, “there is.”

The cloud of hunters wheeled and dove, shrieking.

Oliver threw open his bundle.

The kite-eater burst free from the blanket and shot into the sky.

The hunters veered, but it was too late. The kite-eater smashed into them, gnashing and twisting, exploding the cloud in a dozen different directions.

“The kite-eater!” shouted Two, stunned. “But—”

“Kites,” said Oliver, watching with arms folded as a pitched battle commenced in the skies overhead. One of his plans had worked, finally, exactly as he’d intended. “The hunters are just another kind of kite.”

“Yes,” coughed Two. “But won’t it eat the crimson kite?”

“No,” answered Oliver impatiently. The kite-eater was hurtling straight at the captive kite and the hunters holding it. Four of them broke away to face the new threat. “I told it I was going to rescue Great-uncle Gilbert, and that it better obey me if it wanted to save him.”

With deadly twists and sharp bites, the kite-eater chased off its foes and resumed its charge. The last four hunters were flying erratically now, as the crimson kite thrashed fiercely. With the kite-eater nearly on them, the hunters released the kite with furious shrieks and hurtled away, barely escaping the kite-eater’s snapping jaws.

The two kites circled each other warily. But the kite-eater had clearly taken Oliver’s orders seriously, and it turned to chase after a nearby hunter.

Oliver reached up, and from high above, his crimson kite dropped and settled into his grasp.

“Good kite,” said Oliver proudly. The kite fluttered its sails defiantly.

The Olivers watched as the hunters scattered all around the sky, pursued by the speedy kite-eater.

“It’s not going to hurt the hunters, is it?” asked Two anxiously.

“No,” said Oliver. He gave a piercing whistle, and high overhead the kite-eater paused. For a moment, Oliver feared that the kite-eater would not obey, but then it broke off its pursuit of the hunters and began flying broad, protective circles around the Olivers. The hunters flew back and forth in the distance, screeching, but came no closer.

“It listened to you!” said Two.

“I wasn’t sure that it would,” Oliver admitted.

Two tried to rise but fell back into a sitting position. Oliver looked at him, worried. “Are you going to be all right?”

Two shook his head. “Don’t worry about me. You have to take the kite and get out of here right now. Lord Gilbert has all kinds of machines and secret weapons you haven’t even seen yet. He can’t be stopped.”

Oliver stroked his kite, which fluttered firmly in response. “I have secret weapons now, too.”

He heard the winds blowing from the riven oak, a painful cry, but he knew he could not go to the oak, not yet. He had to stay on the crest, where he and the winds were strongest. He knew Lord Gilbert would come for them.

Lord Gilbert did not disappoint.

Down the mountain, the pillar of light brightened. The buzzing in the air—and the cry of pain in Oliver’s head—grew louder. Oliver could see sparks jumping along the wires.

“What’s he doing?” Oliver asked, beginning to worry. Despite what he had told Two, he had not counted on any secret weapons.

“It’s the disc,” said Two miserably, sinking again to his knees. “It …”

A dark blotch appeared in the pillar of light, rising from the oaktops. Oliver could see a silhouette growing larger—a man, perched on the mirror-like disc. The disc was rising smoothly along the metal shaft, and Lord Gilbert was riding it to the top.

The disc reached the very top of the shaft, and with hardly a pause, it detached and rose into the air.

Oliver gasped. The disc could fly.

Bolts of lightning flashed from the bottom of the disc as it drifted toward the crest, carrying Lord Gilbert majestically.

Oliver took a step back. He had not expected anything like this.

Two moaned with fear. “It’s too late,” he cried.

Oliver murmured to his kite, keeping his voice low in case Lord Gilbert had some means of listening. He

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