"What is it, Uncle Alther?" Jenna asked.
"I think, Princess, that this is a Placement. It's obviously an incomplete Placement, but what I'd like to know is exactly how incomplete it is."
"I suppose we could count the bones," said Jenna. "And then, if we knew how many there are in a skeleton, we'd know."
"But we don't know how many there are in a skeleton," said Septimus. "Well, I don't know, that's for sure."
"Neither do I," said Jenna.
"Two hundred and six," said Beetle.
"Beetleyou're amazing. Are you sure?" asked Septimus.
"Yep. I counted them once. It was part of the test that I had to take to get the job at the Manuscriptorium. I had one minute to look at the skeleton in the cupboard. Then they muddled it up and I had to put it back togetherand count the bones. I counted two hundred, and Old Foxy told me to add six to that because there are three tiny bones in each ear that you can't see. So it's two hundred and six."
"Well, you ought to be doing this then, Beetle," said Jenna. "You'd be much better at it than me."
"Eurgh, no thanks." Beetle shuddered. "Don't like bones. They set my teeth on edge."
Jenna looked so disappointed that Beetle immediately relented. "Well, all right then," he offered. "I'll count them if you really want me to." Beetle started his gruesome count. Five counts later he sat back on his heels and said with relief, "Finished. That comes out the same as the last one. All the bones are there. Except for the skull, of course."
"Which will complete the Placement," said Alther.
"But why a Placement with a human skeleton?" asked Septimus. "Aren't they usually done with rats' or snakes skeletons?"
"Usually," agreed Alther. "But this looks horribly like a Personal Placementand those are lethal."
"'Scuse me," mumbled Beetle. "But what is a Placement?"
"I'm glad you asked that, Beetle," said Jenna. "Because I have no idea either." Beetle blushed.
"It's a Darke device," muttered Alther, floating above the skeleton, examining it closely. "A Placement is a way of gaining access to somewhere that would be impossible to get into any other way. The Wizardand it usually is a Wizard, as these things can be dangerouswill, by some devious means, get the bones of a creature taken over the threshold of the place he wishes to enter. The person who you wish to Affect must carry them in willinglyyou can't just chuck them in through the window. They must be taken in piecemeal, and when the last bone, always the skull, crosses the threshold, the creature reassembles itself and then does whatever task it has been sent to do. It is virtually unstoppable. But a Personal Placementwhich has to be human bonesis one of the nastiest Darke devices of all. One touch from the Placement and the Intended is deadand worse than that, they then spend a year and a day in Turmoil. At least when I became a ghost all I had to do was sit in that ghastly Throne Room for a year and a day ... but to be in Turmoil for so long ... that's terrible ... terrible." Alther shook his head.
Septimus felt sick. "The Intended is Marcia, isn't it, Alther?" he whispered.
"I would say so, Apprentice. You know, I just don't understand how Weasal could do this"
"Do what, Alther?" The purple door suddenly swung open and to everyone's surprise, Marcia breezed in, her Shadow slipping in behind her. Marcia was carrying what looked like a large hatbox. "Aagh!" she yelled. "That wretched, wretched dragon. Oh, I don't believe it."
"Marcia," Alther said very calmly, "you have a Placement in here. I need to know what is in that box."
"What are you going on about, Alther? Septimus, take that pest of a dragon down to the courtyard. He's not staying inside a moment longer!"
But Septimus did not reply. He ran at Marcia, pushing her back toward the door. "Get out, Marcia. You've got to get out of here."
"Septimus, what are you doing?" said Marcia, pushing Septimus away. Septimus gave Marcia a violent shove and the final piece of the ShadowSafethe large round Stopperfell to the floor and smashed. Everyone stared in horror as a white skull bounced from the shards and rolled toward the bones lying on the floor. It took no more than a few seconds for the head to be reunited with the body.
The Placement was Complete.
Chapter 38 Identify
The skeleton stood up uncertainly, swaying slightly as if it were trying to get its balancethen suddenly, like a ghastly puppet, it lurched forward and headed straight for Marcia.
Marcia was pale but composed. Slowly she backed away from the skeleton, thinking fast.
Alther watched the Shadow follow Marcia, and he didn't like what he saw one bit. The Shadow was no longer the hunched and formless creature that Alther had watched follow Marcia around her rooms for the past year. It was now an almost solid beingit stood up straight and tall, its dim yellow eyes shining with excitement as it hovered by Marcia's shoulder. Waiting.
"Ellis Crackle!" gasped Alther. The Shadow looked up at the mention of its name.
"Are you trying to be funny, Alther?" snapped Marcia.
"Your Shadow, Marcia. It's Ellis Crackle."
"Right now, Alther, I don't care who that Shadow is." Marcia stepped back over a shredded cushion; her movement was mirrored by the advancing skeleton, which made an unpleasant clicking noise with each step toward her. Marcia took another step back. The skeleton took another step forward.
"For heaven's sake, Alther, this is serious," said Marcia. There was an undercurrent of panic in her voice.
"I know," said Alther quietly. "There is only one way out of this."
Marcia stepped back again. The skeleton stepped forward.
"You have to Identify," said Alther, floating a few feet off the floor and keeping pace with Marcia.
"Alther, I can't. I don't know who it is."
But Jenna knew who it was. All the time she had been piecing the skeleton together, she had been thinking things through. "It's DomDaniel," she said. "It has to be."
Marcia glanced at Jenna, taking her eyes off the advancing bones for a moment. "Jennawhat do you mean?" she asked.
Jenna looked steadfastly at Marcia and not at the bonesshe could hardly bear to look at the same grinning skull and the empty eyes that had followed her around the Observatory. "I meanI mean it's DomDaniel. Simon had his skull but not his bones. But he told me he had found all of the bones on the Marsh. I wondered where they were..."
"Are you sure, Princess?" asked Alther quietly.
"Yes," said Jenna. "Yes, yes. I'm sure."
Marcia was dithering, muttering to herself. "But then it might not be him ... it might be a bluff ... in fact I'll bet it is a bluff ... that's the sort of thing he'd do, Place some poor sailor from that ghastly ship ... but then maybe it's a double bluff and it really is him ... it's the kind of thing he'd love to do himself ... Oh, Alther."
"You must trust Jenna. Identify it, Marcia. Now," said Alther in a low, careful voice, instructing Marcia as though she were still his Apprentice.
The skeleton was almost within reach of Marcia, and it began to raise its right arm toward her. All color drained from her face. Marcia whispered, "If the Identify is wrong, Alther, thenthen II'm finished."
"Marcia, you have nothing to lose. If it touches you, you're finished."
The bones took a big step forward.
Marcia took a corresponding step back and could go no farther; she had reached the door. She snapped her fingers and there was a loud clunktwo silver bars slid out of the wall and Barred the door. A quiet whirring noise followed, as the thick purple door SafetyLocked itself. Marcia smiled grimly; at least the rest of the Wizard Tower was protected from the havoc a successful Placement would wreak. She leaned against the door for support and began what she had to do. A purple haze of powerful Magyk began to flicker around the ExtraOrdinary Wizard, lighting up her deep-green eyes and shimmering across her long purple cloak.
Suddenly the skeleton lunged toward herMarcia raised her hand and shouted, "I Identify!"
The skeleton stopped in its tracks. It regarded Marcia with as much of a taunting stare as an empty skull could manage, folded its arms and stood tapping its foot impatiently. Go on, it seemed to be saying, surprise me, why don't you?
Marcia was nonplussed. "Alther, it knows what I'm going to say and it's not even bothered," she said urgently. "Jenna must be wrong."