Chapter Forty-Four: The Battle of London

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The Gothic halls of Parliament sailed through the night, distorted and halfway transformed into a ship three-rugby-fields long from end to end, with its three main towers now lined up through the centre.

The shortest of those towers had stretched to become its tallest, bearing the ensign of a bountiful horn. The square tower at the farthest end was now the cabin of a man-of-war, while the famous clock tower that held my namesake, the bell Big Ben, now bore a gigantic figurehead of a wooden woman wreathed in vines. Her body was an oak that had sprouted out of the wall. The whole ship—the whole building—was walled-in by trees that formed a hull, all bound together with vines. The Forest Ship.

From where I stood on the mansard roof of one of the building's smaller towers, I could see the side of the figurehead and one of her giant arms sweeping back to cling to the tower. I couldn't see her face, but I was sure I'd seen it before. She resembled one of the figureheads bolted to the bookshelves in Tiana's attic.

My rooftop perch gave me a view of some of the other figureheads as the fleet came together above the city. Buckingham Palace, heavy with craggy stone, now bore the carved granite figure of a woman draped in jewels. The Naval College, wrapped in shimmering streams of rushing water, had an enormous straw doll at its fore with her hands cupped in front of her. The British Museum had an icy statue of a bearded man; and Horse Guards, decked in golden light, had a Spartan warrior seemingly cast in bronze.

I heard someone coming up the steel ladder behind me. Tiana stepped onto the roof and took off her gloves.

"What are you doing up here, Ben? He has excellent night vision, you know."

"I wanted to see," I said. "I wanted to see what Dad was warning me about."

Tiana sighed and almost leaned forward against the iron railing, and then thought better of it.

"It is rather beautiful," she said.

Alexandra Palace cut through the air at a racing clip, wreathed in lightning; the Globe Theatre drew my eye, consumed by incandescent flame; and the giant greenhouse from Kew Gardens glowed from its centre with the eerie light of distant stars.

"I've been to Kew Gardens," I said. "That greenhouse is mostly iron, isn't it? All these buildings must have some iron in them."

"This is world-bending magic, but it won't touch iron," said Tiana. "Whatever cannot be changed by magic can only resist until it triumphs or breaks."

The halls of Covent Garden Market, torn from the heart of the city, sailed alongside us, styled like a round-hulled ship wreathed in flags and flowers, with a figurehead of a maiden in white robes. Covent Garden Market was one of two buildings I hadn't identified as part of the fleet, but of course, I knew it well. Dad used to take me there for ice cream or Cornish pasties, or to buy toys or books for the journey home.

I searched the sky for the twelfth ship, and I found it.

The main hall of Waterloo Station was now the grand cabin of a barge made up of train carriages and platforms bound together in red drapes and black ferns. The emblem of a skull-shaped tree on the front of the main hall marked this as the new manifestation of the ship I'd almost crashed into on my flight into the city. Its figurehead was small; a woman only slightly larger than a human, wearing a cowl that covered her head.

Waterloo was the station that Dad and I travelled through every time we visited London.

If only Dad was alive, all of this would be different. Dad knew what was going on. He wanted to protect me from all of this, I was sure of it.

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