Beetle suddenly remembered his earplugs and pulled them out with a faint pop. “Sorry,” he said, raising his voice above the Alarm, which chose that very moment to stop.
“No need to shout,” said Marcia.
“No. Er, sorry,” Beetle stammered. “Can I help you, Madam Marcia? I’m, um, in charge until Miss Djinn gets back.”
“Oh, good.” Marcia smiled as if relieved, which surprised Beetle.
“Been a bit of a morning,” he said. He tried unsuccessfully to smooth down his thick black hair, which always stuck out at odd angles when he got flustered.
“So I see,” said Marcia. “Well, it happens to us all.”
“Does it?” said Beetle, surprised.
“All the time.” Marcia sighed. “Now, Beetle, unfortunately I need to go down to the Vaults.”
Feeling tremendously relieved that Marcia was taking things so well, Beetle led the ExtraOrdinary Wizard into the Manuscriptorium. As they stepped through the door there was a flash of green light. A huddle of scribes leaped back with a shout and then craned forward to see the results of their Erase Spell. A loud shriek came from the middle of the huddle. “Argh, my feet! Look at my feet!”
A collection of gasps rose from the group.
“I told you that spell was moldy but you wouldn’t listen.”
“Hey, those are big toadstools!”
“Now your feet look like they smell, Partridge.”
A loud laugh come from the group; then one of the scribes noticed Marcia standing behind them. He nudged the scribe next to him and seconds later an embarrassed silence fell.
“Good morning, Scribes,” said Marcia.
“Good morning, Madam Overstrand,” the scribes chorused like good schoolchildren.
“Having trouble?” asked Marcia with a smile.
The scribes nodded sheepishly.
Beetle was amazed at Marcia’s good temper. He did not realize that Marcia was particularly fond of him ever since he had helped her with a difficult episode in her life not long before, which had involved an aggressive bunch of bones.
Beetle watched admiringly as Marcia, with a flick of her fingers and a flash of Magykal purple light, wiped out the impressive crop of toadstools that had sprung up from Partridge’s feet and burst through his boots in a spectacular array of red, orange and lurid yellow. Leaving Partridge gazing at his boots, which now had a random selection of holes dotted over them, Marcia Erased the spilled ink, ReFilled the ink bottles and Restored Jillie Djinn’s calculations.
Amid the chorus of grateful “thank-yous” from the scribes—particularly from Partridge—Marcia stepped over the recumbent form of Foxy. Beetle showed her through a concealed door in the bookshelves that lined the Manuscriptorium, then he followed Marcia into a candle-lit, winding passage. The passage was long and sloped steeply downward until it came to a flight of stone steps. At the foot of these was a huge studded iron door—and the belligerent Ghost of the Vaults.
The Ghost of the Vaults was one of the Ancients—ghosts over five hundred years old—who inhabited the older parts of the Castle. But unlike all the other Ancients, he was not particularly faded and his voice was still strong. He had a hectoring manner and was one of the most unpleasant ghosts in the Castle. The Ghost of the Vaults refused to tell anyone his name, although his old-fashioned Chief Hermetic Scribe robes were somewhat of a giveaway. Marcia was well aware who he was and Beetle had figured it out too—the ghost was the very first Chief Scribe ever to hold office, Tertius Fume. But although Beetle had searched for information about Tertius Fume, he had found nothing—except a snippet hidden in a damp old tome that he had rescued from propping up the rotten end of a bookshelf in a Manuscriptorium storeroom. The book, which Beetle guessed was part of an old series for children, was called: One Hundred and One Questions
You Have Always Wanted to Ask About: HOTEP-RA!
(Our Castle’s very first ExtraOrdinary Wizard)
Deluxe edition with answers
Although the last few pages of answers were eaten away by mold, Beetle had found out a lot of things he hadn’t known.
One of the questions was: Did Hotep-Ra have a best friend?
The answer intrigued Beetle: Yes, he did!! (The book was much given to exclamation marks.) But, boys and girls, he was not a good friend. He was an old friend who came to visit from far away, and his name was Tertius Fume. At first Hotep-Ra was pleased to see him. They had lots of fun! Hotep-Ra gave his best friend a house to live in on Wizard Way.
Tertius Fume was very clever and soon his house became the Manuscriptorium! But although Hotep-Ra’s best friend was clever, he was not nice! (Remember, boys and girls, that it is much better to be nice than clever.) Soon Tertius Fume was doing bad things that Hotep-Ra did not know about and so he came to a Bad End!
That was the only place Beetle had seen Tertius Fume’s name actually written down—apart from heading the list of all the Chief Hermetic Scribes inscribed on the honor board in the front office. It was as if everything about him had been expunged.
Tertius Fume glared at Marcia and Beetle as they came down the steps. He was not a pleasant-looking ghost. His deep black eyes were narrow slits in his pale face, which sported a long gray goatee. The ghost’s thin white lips were drawn back into a mocking snarl and moved, Beetle realized, even when he was not talking. It looked as if he were chewing the cud.
“Password…” said Tertius Fume. His deep, hollow-sounding voice echoed off the damp stone walls and made the hairs on the back of Beetle’s neck stand up. The ghost gave him the creeps.
Marcia sighed as if expecting trouble. “Tentacle,” she said.
“Stop messing around,” said Marcia. “Of course it is.”
“Why?” Tertius Fume leaned back against the door, folded his arms and regarded Marcia with a superior air. Beetle, who was not a violent boy, felt like giving him a good kick.
“I have not the faintest idea why,” said Marcia irritably, “but that is not the point. One doesn’t have to know why; a password just is. Now let us through. Tentacle. Tent-a-cle.”
“No. I’ve changed it.”
“You can’t change a password without clearing it first with the Password Committee, of which I am Chairwoman. And you haven’t. Tentacle it was and Tentacle it remains.”
But the great iron door to the Vaults stayed firmly closed. Tertius Fume looked at Marcia with an amused expression and started examining his ghostly fingernails as if Marcia was no longer of any consequence at all. Beetle began to think that there was some truth in the old story that Tertius Fume had been assassinated by a group of disaffected scribes.
“Very well,” said Marcia. “You leave me no choice but to OverRide the password. Stand back, Beetle.”
“Ah. Just testing,” said Tertius Fume a little hurriedly. “You’ve passed. In you go now, and don’t mess anything up.”
“Idiot,” said Marcia under her breath.
Beetle took a couple of lamps from the rack outside the door and lit them. Marcia gave the door a bad-tempered shove.
It creaked open and the smell of damp earth and musty paper wafted into the stairwell. Inside the Vaults, Marcia locked the door and did an Alarm on it. If Tertius Fume was going to sidle up and eavesdrop she wanted some warning.
Marcia was still seething about the ghost. “He doesn’t like women, that’s his trouble,” she told Beetle. “He never did that with Alther, but ever since I took over he’s done that every time. Every time. It drives me crazy.”
“We just call him Old Goat-Face,” said Beetle.
“Do you?” Marcia laughed. “Well, I don’t suppose he would like that. Now, Beetle, I would like The Live Plan of What Lies Beneath, please.”
“Oh, right.” Beetle sounded surprised. “Um, let me get you a seat.” Beetle placed the lamps on a great lump of a table that looked as though it was carved out of stone, and rubbed the dust off the seat of the old chair beside it with the end of his sleeve. Marcia sneezed. She sat down and wrapped her purple cloak tightly around her against the damp air of the Vaults. “Oh, and Beetle—could you bring the most recent ExtraOrdinary Apprentice Urn?”
“No problem. I’ll be back in a sec.”