The new scribe sounded taken aback. “Oh. Well, I don’t really like knives,” he mumbled.
“Ah, you prefer others to do your work for you, do you? Employ a little subterfuge, a little deceit, hey? I’ve seen your kind before. You prefer to be the puppet master pulling the strings. But, be warned, when you dabble with the Darke you may find that you become the puppet.”
“Oh…” The boy’s voice faltered and if Beetle had dared to take another look he would have seen him nervously fingering the ring on his left thumb. “But I thought that…well, as you wrote this book—and I think it’s a really, really good book, the best I’ve ever read in fact and—”
“Don’t waste your breath trying to flatter me, boy. I couldn’t give a tinker’s monkey whether you like my book or not,”
Tertius Fume snapped. “Just tell me what you want from me. Come on, out with it.”
“I would like you to help me make the Darkening work. Big time.”
“And why should I help you, boy? What’s in it for me?”
“I could help you, too. We could work together.”
Tertius Fume gave a loud snort. “Me—work with you? Me, the very first Chief Hermetic Scribe, me work with a jumped-up little pinchbrain—just give me one reason why on earth I would want to do that?”
There was a silence and then Jenna and Beetle heard the words, clear as a bell, “Because I am alive and you are dead.”
Beetle raised his eyebrows at Jenna. That Daniel Hunter kid had nerve.
“Careful, boy,” Tertius Fume growled. “That state of affairs is easily remedied.”
“Oh. But I didn’t mean to…” The boy’s voice sounded thin and scared.
Tertius Fume ignored him and carried on. “However, it is true that I do miss some of the powers of the Living—and though I would not trust a lettuce leaf like you to do my bidding, I would trust your interesting companion here.”
Beetle raised his eyebrows at Jenna as if to say What interesting companion? He risked a quick glance but could see only the ghost and the dark-haired boy in the shadows—no one else.
“You can have him.” The boy sounded relieved. “He gives me the creeps, following me everywhere.”
“Very well, Transfer his allegiance to me and I will make the Darkening work.”
“And then—then will you help me?”
“I am a man of my word, whatever others may say,” said Tertius Fume. “The Other whose destiny is to be Darkened will find himself cast onto the Precipice of Peril. How does that sound?”
“Great!” said the new scribe. “Really great. That
will show him. That stuck-up, goody-goody Septimus Heap kid will wish he never stole my name.”
Jenna and Beetle looked at each other. “Sep!” they both gasped, then clapped their hands over their mouths. But it was too late.
“What was that?” Tertius Fume’s suspicious growl echoed up the steps.
“What was what?”
“I thought I heard…a rat. Or rats. Lurking at the top of the steps. Go and see, boy. Go on. Now.”
Horrified, Beetle grabbed Jenna’s hand and ran.
“There was no one there,” said Merrin, returning to his place at Tertius Fume’s feet.
“Very well,” said the ghost. “So now we have a Contract to complete, do we not?”
Merrin nodded warily. Suddenly he felt very scared.
Tertius Fume fixed his dark eyes on Merrin and said, “Look at me, boy. Look…at…me.”
Unable to resist, Merrin met the ghost’s stare. “The Contract,” said Tertius Fume, “is this: you will Transfer the allegiance of your servant Thing
to me in Perpetuity throughout the Universe and into the Great Beyond. In return I will make effective your pathetic attempt to Darken the Destiny of one Septimus Heap. Do you accept?”
Merrin managed a feeble croak. “How?”
“You just say yes, boy. It’s not complicated,” snapped Tertius Fume.
“But, um, how will you Darken his Destiny?”
“You dare to question me?” Wide-eyed with terror, Merrin shook his head. “If you question a Contract it must be answered, however stupid the question,” Tertius Fume said. Merrin squirmed at being called stupid yet again. “I shall Darken the Heap boy’s Destiny by sending him upon the Queste. No one returns from the Queste—no one. Do not look at me like an idiot, boy.” The ghost sighed; the boy had seemed promising at first but was turning out to be a big disappointment. In the interest of making sure the Contract was valid, he continued his explanation. “To work its best, Darke Magyk
must not be suspected. We must not give those who may wish to countermand it a chance to.” Ignoring Merrin’s puzzled look he carried on, “No one will suspect that the Queste is a Darkening, for over the centuries some twenty other Apprentices have also been dispatched. Has that answered your pre-Contract Inquiry?”
“Um…” Merrin mumbled.
“Oh, give me patience. Do you want to Darken the Heap boy’s Destiny or not? Yes or no?”
“Very well.” The ghost rubbed his hands in anticipation. “Now, to make the Contract binding you will need to give your servant Thing something precious from you in thanks for its services, something that it will wear as a symbol of the Contract. Though ’tis but a poor copy of the real thing, that ring on your thumb will do.”
“But it is
the—” Merrin stopped and thought the better of what he had been about to say. “It won’t come off,” he said lamely.
Tertius Fume smiled malevolently. “If I could still wield a knife it would.”
Merrin went pale.
“So find something else, boy, before I am tempted to try.”
In a panic, Merrin went through his pockets and was about to hand over Sleuth when he found his very last licorice snake. “This!” he said, pulling out the snake in triumph.
Beetle and Jenna were nearly at the end of the long, winding passage back up to the Manuscriptorium when Jenna realized something was missing. “Nicko’s pin!” she said with a gasp, her hand flying to her cloak. “It’s gone!”
Beetle stopped. In the candlelight he could see Jenna’s tears welling. “What’s it like?” he asked.
“It’s a gold ‘J.’ Nicko brought it back from the Port. I always wear it in my cloak…always, and now it’s not there.”
“You had it down by the Vaults. I remember.”
“I’m sure you did.” Beetle had noticed how Jenna kept checking the pin and had wondered who had given it to her.
“Wait here. I’ll go get it.”
“But that ghost—”
“I’ll be really quiet. He won’t know a thing. Be back in a sec.”
Jenna leaned against the cold brick wall of the passageway and listened to the sound of Beetle’s footsteps padding back to the Vaults. Without the reassuring presence of Beetle, the candlelit passage with its flickering shadows unnerved Jenna and she held Ullr tightly for comfort. Ullr mewed irritably and Jenna felt a tremor pass through the cat. Suddenly Ullr twisted out of her grasp and landed heavily in front of her. For a brief moment Jenna had an awful feeling that he was about to chase after Beetle and give them away—and then she realized what was happening. The sun had set. Ullr was Transforming.
Although Jenna had seen Ullr Transform
many times now, it still fascinated her. She watched almost in awe as the black tip on the little orange cat’s tail began to grow. She saw the fur rippling as the muscles below the skin grew thick and strong. Now the little cat grew fast, the black from his tail spreading across his body like the shadow of an eclipse running over the land, turning the scraggy mottled orange fur to a sleek shiny black and, finally, his blue eyes to a glittering green. Within the space of forty-nine seconds, the DayUllr had become the NightUllr and Jenna had a panther—with an orange-tipped tail—for company in the passageway.
Beetle found Jenna’s pin in the alcove. Feeling very pleased, he picked it up. As he was about to rush back to Jenna, Tertius Fume’s menacing laugh echoed up the steps. Beetle froze.
“You share the taste I once had for licorice, I see,” he heard the ghost say.