Jenna read the words with a feeling of apprehension, not wanting to think about who may cause her harm, and then felt inside the thick paper pocket that held the Charms. Inside the pocket were what felt like a lot of smooth, flat counters. Jenna’s fingers closed around one of the counters and drew out a small oval piece of polished ebony.
“Very nice,” said Marcia approvingly. “Black as the night. Just right. Can you see the words on the Charm?”
Jenna screwed up her eyes in an effort to see what was written on the sliver of ebony. The words were tiny, written in an old-fashioned script in a faded golden ink. Marcia fished a large flat magnifying glass from her belt, which she unfolded and passed to Jenna.
“See if that helps,” she said.
Jenna slowly passed the glass over the golden letters, and as they jumped into view she read them out:
Let me Fade into the Aire
Let all against me know not Where
Let them that Seeke me pass me by
Let Harme not reach me from their Eye.
“Nice and simple,” said Marcia. “Not too hard to remember if things get a bit tricky. Some spells are all well and good, but try and remember them in a crisis and it’s not so easy. Now you need to Imprint the spell.”
“Do what?” asked Jenna.
“Hold the Charm close to you and say the words of the spell as you hold it. You need to remember the exact words. And as you say the words you have to imagine the spell actually happening—that’s the really important part.”
It wasn’t as easy as Jenna expected, particularly with Nicko and Boy 412 watching her. If she remembered the words right, she forgot to imagine the Fade into the Aire bit, and if she thought too much about Fade into the Aire, she forgot the words.
“Have another go,” Marcia encouraged her after Jenna had, to her exasperation, got everything right except one little word. “Everyone thinks spells are easy, but they’re not. But you’re nearly there.”
Jenna took a deep breath. “Stop looking at me,” she told Nicko and Boy 412.
They grinned and pointedly stared at Bert instead. Bert shifted uncomfortably in her sleep. She always knew when someone was looking at her.
So Nicko and Boy 412 missed Jenna’s first Disappearance.
Marcia clapped her hands. “You did it!” she said.
“Did I? Have I?” Jenna’s voice came from out of the air.
“Hey, Jen, where are you?” asked Nicko, laughing.
Marcia looked at her timepiece. “Now don’t forget, the first time you do a spell it doesn’t last very long. You’ll Reappear in a minute or so. After that it should last as long as you want it to.”
Boy 412 watched Jenna’s blurred shape slowly Materialize out of the flickering shadows cast by Aunt Zelda’s candles. He stared openmouthed. He wanted to do that.
“Nicko,” said Marcia, “your turn.”
Boy 412 felt cross with himself. What had made him think Marcia would ask him? Of course she wouldn’t. He didn’t belong. He was just a Young Army Expendable.
“I’ve got my own Disappear, thanks,” said Nicko. “Don’t want to get it muddled up with this one.”
Nicko had a workmanlike approach to Magyk. He had no intention of becoming a Wizard, even though he was from a Magykal family and had been taught Basyk Magyk. Nicko didn’t see why he needed more than one of each kind of spell. Why clog your brain up with all that stuff? He reckoned he already had all the spells in his head that he would ever need. He’d rather use his brain space for useful things like tide times and sail rigging.
“Very well,” said Marcia, who knew better than to try and make Nicko do anything he wasn’t interested in, “but just remember that only those within the same Unseen can see each other. If you have a different one, Nicko, you will not be visible to anyone who has a different spell, even if they too are Unseen. All right?”
Nicko nodded vaguely. He didn’t really see why it mattered.
“Now, then”—Marcia turned to Boy 412—“it’s your turn.”
Boy 412 went pink. He stared at his feet. She had asked him. More than anything he wanted to try the spell, but he hated the way everyone was looking at him, and he was sure he was going to look stupid if he tried it.
“You really should have a go,” said Marcia. “I want you all to be able to do this.”
Boy 412 looked up, surprised. Did Marcia mean he was just as important as the two other kids? The two who belonged?
Aunt Zelda’s voice came from the other end of the room. “Of course he’ll have a go.”
Boy 412 stood up awkwardly. Marcia fished out another Charm from the book and gave it to him. “Now you Imprint it,” she told him.
Boy 412 held the Charm in his hand. Jenna and Nicko looked at him, curious to see what he would do now that it was his turn.
“Say the words,” Marcia prompted gently. Boy 412 said nothing, but the words to the spell whizzed around his brain and filled his head with a strange buzzing sensation. Underneath his red beanie hat, the stubbly hairs on the back of his head stood up. He could feel the Magyk tingling through his hand.
“He’s gone!” gasped Jenna.
Nicko gave a low whistle of admiration. “He doesn’t hang about, does he?”
Boy 412 felt cross. There was no need to make fun of him. And why was Marcia giving him such a weird look? Had he done something wrong?
“Come back now,” Marcia said very quietly. Something in Marcia’s voice made Boy 412 a little scared. What had happened?
Then an amazing thought crossed Boy 412’s mind. Very quietly he stepped over Bert, slipped past Jenna without touching her and wandered into the middle of the room. No one watched him go. They were all still staring at the space where he had just been standing.
A thrill of excitement ran through Boy 412. He could do it. He could do Magyk. He could Fade into the Aire! No one could see him. He was free!
Boy 412 gave a small hop of excitement. No one noticed. He put his arms in the air and waved them above his head. No one noticed. He put his thumbs in his ears and waggled his fingers. No one noticed. Then, silently, he skipped over to blow out a storm candle, caught his foot under a rug and crashed to the floor.
“There you are,” said Marcia crossly.
And there he was, sitting on the floor nursing a bruised knee and slowly Appearing to his impressed audience.
“You’re good,” said Jenna. “How did you do that so easily?”
Boy 412 shook his head. He had no idea how he had done it. It had just happened. But it felt great.
Marcia was in a strange mood. Boy 412 thought she would be pleased with him, but she seemed to be anything but.
“You shouldn’t Imprint a spell so fast. It can be dangerous. You might not have been able to come back properly.”
What Marcia didn’t say to Boy 412 was that she had never seen a first-timer master a spell so quickly. It unsettled her. And she felt even more unsettled when Boy 412 gave her back the Charm and she felt a buzz of Magyk, like a small click of static electricity, jump from his hand.
“No,” she said, giving it back to him, “you keep the Charm. And Jenna too. It’s best for beginners to keep the Charms for spells they might want to use.”
Boy 412 put the Charm in his trouser pocket. He felt confused. His head still swam with the excitement of the Magyk, and he knew he had done the spell perfectly. So why was Marcia cross? What had he done wrong? Maybe the Young Army was right. Maybe the ExtraOrdinary Wizard really was crazy—what was it they used to chant every morning in the Young Army before they went off to guard the Wizard Tower and spy on the comings and goings of all the Wizards, particularly the ExtraOrdinary Wizard?
Crazy as a cuttlefish,
Nasty as a RAT,
Put her in a pie dish,
Give her to the CAT!
But the rhyme didn’t make Boy 412 laugh anymore, and it didn’t seem to have much to do with Marcia at all. In fact, the more he thought about the Young Army, the more Boy 412 realized the truth.
The Young Army was crazy.
Marcia was Magyk.
That night the easterly wind blew up into a gale. It rattled the shutters, shook the doors and unsettled the whole cottage. Every now and then a great gust of wind howled around the cottage, blowing the smoke back down the chimney and leaving the three occupants of the fireside quilts choking and spluttering.