Jenna and Nicko watched Silas slowly sinking into the Ooze with horror. Why didn’t the Boggart do something? Now, before Silas disappeared forever. Suddenly Jenna could stand it no longer and sprang up again from the canoe, and Nicko went to follow her. Boy 412, who had heard all about Marshfire from the only survivor of a platoon of Young Army boys who had gotten lost in the Quake Ooze a few years earlier, grabbed hold of Jenna and tried to pull her back into the canoe. Angrily, she pushed him away.
The sudden movement caught the Boggart’s attention. “Stay there, miss,” he said urgently. Boy 412 gave another hefty tug on Jenna’s sheepskin jacket, and she sat down in the canoe with a bump. Maxie whined.
The Boggart’s bright black eyes were worried. He knew exactly who the knotting, twisting fingers belonged to, and he knew they were trouble.
“Blinkin’ Brownies!” said the Boggart. “Nasty little articles. Try a taste of Boggart Breath, you spiteful creatures.” The Boggart leaned over Silas, took a very deep breath and breathed out over the tugging fingers. From deep inside the bog Silas heard a teeth-shattering screech as though someone was scraping fingernails down a blackboard, then the snarling fingers slipped from his hair, and the bog moved as he felt the creatures below shift away.
Silas was free.
The Boggart helped him sit up and rubbed the mud from his eyes.
“I told you Marshfire will lead you to the Quake Ooze. An’ it did, didunt it?” remonstrated the Boggart.
Silas said nothing. He was quite overcome by the pungent smell of Boggart Breath still in his hair.
“Yer all right now, sir,” the Boggart told him. “But it were close. I don’t mind telling you that. Haven’t had to breathe on a Brownie since they ransacked the cottage. Ah, Boggart Breath is a wonderful thing. Some may not like it much, but I always says to ’em, ‘You’d think different if you was got by the Quake Ooze Brownies.’”
“Oh. Ah. Quite. Thank you, Boggart. Thank you very much,” mumbled Silas, still dazed.
The Boggart carefully led him back to the canoe.
“You’d best go in the front, Yer Majesty,” the Boggart said to Marcia. “He’s in no fit state ter drive one a these things.”
Marcia helped the Boggart get Silas into the canoe, and then the Boggart slipped into the water.
“I’ll take you to Miss Zelda’s, but mind you keep that animal out me way,” he said, glaring at Maxie. “Brought me out in a nasty rash that growlin’ did. I is covered in lumps now. Here feel this.” The Boggart offered his large round tummy for Marcia to feel.
“It’s very kind of you, but no thank you, not just now,” said Marcia faintly.
“Another time, then.”
“Right, then.” The Boggart swam toward a small channel that no one had even noticed before.
“Now, you followin’?” he asked, not for the last time.
While the Boggart and the canoes were winding their long and complicated way through the marshes, Alther was following the route his old boat, Molly, used to take back to the Castle.
Alther was flying the way he loved to fly, low and very fast, and it was not long before he overtook the bullet boat. It was a sorry sight. Ten oarsmen were wearily pulling on the oars as the boat crept slowly back up the river. Sitting in the stern of the boat was the Hunter, hunched, shivering and silently pondering his fate, while in the prow the Apprentice, to the Hunter’s extreme irritation, fidgeted about, occasionally kicking the side of the boat out of boredom and in an effort to get some feeling back into his toes.
Alther flew unseen over the boat, for he Appeared only to those he chose, and continued his journey. Above him the clear sky was clouding over with heavy snow clouds, and the moon had disappeared, plunging the bright snow-covered riverbanks into darkness. As Alther drew nearer to the Castle, fat snowflakes began to drift lazily down from the sky, and as he approached the final bend in the river that would take him around Raven’s Rock, the air became suddenly thick with snow.
Alther slowed right down, for even a ghost can find it hard to see where he’s going in a blizzard, and carefully flew on toward the Castle. Soon, through the white wall of snow, Alther could see the glowing red embers that were all that remained of Sally Mullin’s Tea and Ale House. The snow sizzled and spat as it landed on the charred pontoon, and as Alther lingered for a moment over the remains of Sally’s pride and joy, he hoped that somewhere on the cold river the Hunter was enjoying the blizzard.
Alther flew up the rubbish dump, past the discarded rat door and made a steep ascent over the Castle wall. He was surprised how peaceful and quiet the Castle was. He had somehow expected the upheavals of the evening to show, but it was past midnight by now and a fresh blanket of snow covered the deserted courtyards and old stone buildings. Alther skirted around the Palace and headed along the broad avenue known as Wizard Way that led to the Wizard Tower. He began to feel nervous. What would he find?
Drifting up the outside of the Tower, he soon spotted the small arched window at the top that he had been looking for. He melted himself through the window and found himself standing outside Marcia’s front door, or so it had been a few hours earlier. Alther did the ghost equivalent of taking a deep breath and composed himself. Then he carefully Discomposed himself just enough to pass through the solid purple planks and thick silver hinges of the door and expertly Rearranged himself on the other side. Perfect. He was back in Marcia’s rooms.
And so was the Darke Wizard, the Necromancer, DomDaniel.
DomDaniel was asleep on Marcia’s sofa. He lay on his back with his black robes wrapped around him and his short, black, cylindrical hat pulled down over his eyes while his head rested on Boy 412’s pillows. DomDaniel’s mouth was wide open and he was snoring loudly. It was not a pretty sight.
Alther stared at DomDaniel, finding it strange to see his old Master again in the very same place where they had spent so many years together. Alther did not remember those years with any fondness even though he had learned all, and much more than he had wanted to know, about Magyk. DomDaniel had been an arrogant and unpleasant ExtraOrdinary Wizard, completely uninterested in the Castle and the people there who needed his help, pursuing only his desire for extreme power and eternal youth. Or rather, since DomDaniel had taken a while to work it out, eternal middle age.
The DomDaniel who lay snoring in front of Alther looked, at first glance, much the same as he had remembered him from all those years ago, but as Alther scrutinized him more closely he saw that all was not unchanged. There was a gray tinge to the Necromancer’s skin that spoke of years spent underground in the company of Shades and Shadows. An aura of the Other side still clung to him and filled the room with the smell of overripe mold and damp earth. As Alther watched, a thin line of dribble slowly made its way out of the corner of DomDaniel’s mouth and wandered down his chin, where it dripped onto his black cloak.
To the accompaniment of DomDaniel’s snores, Alther surveyed the room. It looked remarkably unchanged, as though Marcia was likely to walk in at any moment, sit down and tell him about her day, as she always did. But then Alther noticed the large scorch mark where the Thunderflash had struck down the Assassin. A charred black Assassin-shaped hole was burned into Marcia’s treasured silk carpet.
So it really had happened, thought Alther.
The ghost wafted over to the hatch on the rubbish chute, which was still gaping open, and peered into the chill blackness. He shivered and reflected on the terrifying journey they all must have had. And then, because Alther wanted to do something, however small it might be, he stepped over the boundary between the ghostly and the living world. He Caused something to happen.
He slammed the hatch closed.
DomDaniel woke up with a start. He sat bolt upright and stared around him, momentarily wondering where he was. Soon, with a little sigh of satisfaction, he remembered. He was back where he belonged. Back in the rooms of the ExtraOrdinary Wizard. Back at the top of the Tower. Back with a vengeance. DomDaniel looked about him, expecting to see his Apprentice, who should have returned hours ago with the news at last of the end of the Princess and that awful woman, Marcia Overstrand, not to mention a couple of the Heaps thrown into the bargain. The fewer of them remaining the better, thought DomDaniel. He shivered in the chill air of the night and clicked his fingers impatiently to rekindle the fire in the grate. It flared up and, pouf! Alther blew it out. Then he wafted the smoke out from the chimney and set DomDaniel coughing.