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By Eoin Colfer

Conor Broekhart used to be born to fly.

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Catherine unhooked herself from her husband’s arm. ‘A cotton-silk blend,’ she said, craning her head back to squint at the balloon. ‘And twin screws on the basket. A neat piece of work. ’ Vigny was surprised to hear such technical observations from a female, but he disguised his shock with a few rapid blinks, then smoothly delivered his answer. ‘Ten miles an hour. ’ Catherine peeled back a corner of leather, revealing the woven basket underneath. ‘Wicker and willow,’ she said. ’ Vigny was enchanted.

Defend the Wall. The flag was a crest bisected vertically into crimson and gold sections with a white blocked tower stamped in the centre. The door was slightly ajar. ‘It’s open,’ said Conor. ‘It’s open, hostage princess,’ Isabella reminded him. ‘Sorry, hostage princess. ’ ‘Pirate Captain Crow,’ said Conor, slipping through the gap in the door. As usual, Nicholas’s apartment was littered with the remains of a dozen experiments. There was a cannibalized dynamo on the hearthrug, copper-wiring strands protruding from its belly.

Steady. ’ ‘Talk to the Almighty,’ retorted Vigny. ’ They were in reasonably good order. The envelope was damaged, but holding her integrity. The Broekharts huddled on the floor, engrossed in the business of bringing life to the world. They would have made it. Vigny was already imagining the first sip of the champagne he planned to order the moment his feet touched solid ground, when the air was split with a brace of gunshots. Both bullets pierced the balloon, and this time their effect was more severe.

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