One by one, the candles in the Observatory burned down but Merrin slept on until the dying splutters of the last candle jolted him awake. He woke in a panic. Night had fallen; it was pitch-dark and he couldn’t remember where he was. He jumped out of bed and collided with the doorpost. As he reeled back, Merrin saw the white dish of the Camera Obscura illuminated by a thin shaft of moonlight that had found its way through a gap in the blinds. Panic subsiding, he took out his tinderbox and began lighting new candles. Soon the Observatory glowed with warm candlelight and felt almost cozy—but what Merrin had planned was about as far removed from cozy as it was possible to get.

Merrin picked The Darke Index off the floor and opened it to the last page, the title of which was: Darkening the Destiny of Another or The Ruination of Thine Enemy by Use of the

Two-Faced Ring

A Tried and Tested Formula Used with Great

Success by the Author

Merrin knew that part by heart, but he had read no further because of the next line, which said: Read no Further until thou art Ready to Do,

Else shall be the worse for You

Merrin gulped. Now he was Ready to Do. His mouth felt dry and he licked his lips. They tasted of old pie—not nice.

Merrin fetched a glass of water, gulped it down and wondered whether it might be better to put the whole thing off until the next night. But the thought of another bleak day in the Observatory on his own, plus the possibility that Simon and Lucy might return at any time, was not good. He had to do this now. And so, with a scared feeling in the pit of his stomach, Merrin read on:

First You Summon your Servant Thing

Merrin’s heart thumped; this was scary. Summoning a Thing was something that even Simon had not dared to do. But now that he had started, Merrin dared not stop. Warily, as if he were pulling a particularly vicious spider out of its lair, Merrin drew the Summoning Charm from its pocket at the bottom of the page. The Charm—a wafer-thin black diamond—felt as cold as ice. As instructed, Merrin held the diamond against his heart and, with the cold of the stone boring deep into his chest, he recited the Summons. Nothing happened. No gust of wind, no disturbance in the air, no fleeting shadows—nothing. The candles burned steadily on and the Observatory felt as empty as ever. Merrin tried again. Nothing.

A horrible feeling crept up on Merrin—it was true, he really was stupid. Once again he read the words, saying them slowly. Yet again nothing happened. Over and over Merrin repeated the words, convinced that he must be missing something obvious—something that anyone else with half a brain would have immediately noticed. But no Thing appeared, no Thing at all. Getting angry now, Merrin shouted the Summons—nothing. Then he whispered it, he pleaded, cajoled—and in desperation he yelled it out backward, all to no avail. Exhausted, Merrin sank to the floor in despair. He had tried everything he could think of, and he had failed—as usual.

What Merrin did not realize was that his Summons—every single one—had worked. The Observatory was now actually seething with Things. The problem was he could not see them.

Things were generally not possible to see, which was fortunate, as they were not a pleasant sight. Most Things were some kind of human figure, although not obviously male or female. They were usually tall, thin to the point of being skeletal and extremely decrepit, their clothes no more than a collection of dark rags. They wore miserable, sometimes desperate expressions mixed with underlying malevolence that left sensitive people who were unfortunate enough to meet their gaze feeling desperate for weeks afterward. Merrin—although he did not know it—had an aunt Edna who fit that description pretty exactly, but even he would have been able to tell the difference between his aunt Edna and a Thing—because a Thing looked dead.

It was then that Merrin read the second part of the instructions: Now Address the Thing,

Demand to See.

Remove its Invisibility.

“Aaargh!” yelled Merrin, suddenly realizing to his horror what had happened. Angrily, he hurled the book at the wall.

How was he supposed to know the Things were invisible? Why hadn’t the book said so before?

Half an hour later, Merrin had calmed down. Knowing that he had no choice but to continue, he picked up the book, found the crumpled page and began to follow the instructions. He recited the See, closed his eyes and counted to thirteen. Then, with a feeling of dread, he opened his eyes—and screamed.

Merrin was surrounded by Things. Twenty-six aggrieved, nose-out-of-joint, why-didn’t-he-just-choose-me-aren’t-I-good-enough-for-him Things were staring at him, their lips moving, mumbling and moaning but making no sound. They towered above him and stared at him so intently that even Merrin, who was not known for his sensitivity, felt a deep gloom rising inside him. It was, he thought, all going horribly wrong. Simon was right; everyone was right; he was stupid. But now he was stuck. He had to continue or else it would, as the book had said, be the worse for him. With a nasty feeling in the pit of his stomach, Merrin read the next instruction: Now Take with you your Servant Thing

To Find and Fetch the Two-Faced Ring

Merrin’s heart sank when he read the words: the Two-Faced Ring. He still had nightmares about it.

A few months ago Simon had been grumpily cleaning up the Observatory, complaining loudly about Merrin’s untidiness. Merrin, meanwhile, had hidden in the larder. He had been surreptitiously eating his way through a secret stash of cold sausages when he had heard Simon scream. Merrin had very nearly choked—Simon usually did not scream. Gasping and coughing, he had staggered out to see a truly terrible sight: a foul collection of rubbery-looking bones glistening with black slime was slowly stalking Simon across the Observatory. Clutching his garbage sack to him as though it were some kind of shield Simon was backing away with a look of utter terror on his face.

Merrin knew at once to whom the bones belonged—his old master, DomDaniel. It was the ring that gave it away. The thick gold and jade Two-Faced Ring that DomDaniel had always worn on his thumb shone out against the black sheen of the bones. “This ring,” DomDaniel had once told Merrin, “is indestructible. He who wears it is indestructible. I wear it, therefore I am indestructible. Remember that, boy!” He had laughed and waggled his fat pink thumb in Merrin’s face.

Merrin had watched the bones corner the terrified Simon. He had listened while, from somewhere deep within the bones, came a Darke

hollow chant of destruction aimed directly at Simon. It had made Merrin want to curl up into a little ball, though he didn’t know why. Luckily for him, he did not remember the time in the Marram Marshes when DomDaniel had directed the very same chant at him.

As the chant had progressed relentlessly toward its end—when Simon would be Consumed—Merrin saw Simon Heap change. But not in the way DomDaniel had planned. The fear in Simon’s eyes was suddenly replaced by a wild anger.

Merrin had seen that look before and he knew it meant trouble.

It did.

In one swift action—like a butterfly hunter after a prize specimen—Simon had brought his garbage sack down over the bones, yelling a Darke

imprecation of his own. The bones had collapsed and some escaped across the floor, but the chant did not stop.

Panicking now, Simon had scrabbled for the stray bones, throwing them into the sack just as he had been throwing the garbage a few minutes earlier. Muffled by the sack, still the Darke chant had continued.

Frantically, Simon had hurled the last bone into the sack. Then, as if his life depended on it—which it did—he had raced across the Observatory, pulled open the door to the Endless Cupboard, hurled the sack inside and slammed and Barred the door. Then, to Merrin’s amusement, Simon’s legs had given way beneath him and he had collapsed onto the floor like a wet rag. Merrin had taken advantage of the moment to finish off the sausages.

But now Merrin was going to have to see those awful bones once more. And, worse, take the ring from them. But even worse, he was going to have to go into the Endless Cupboard to find them, which really scared him. The Endless Cupboard had been built by DomDaniel himself. It was a place to dump Darke things that were no longer wanted and were impossible to DeActivate. The cupboard snaked deep into the rock and, although it wasn’t actually endless, it went on for miles.

Merrin swallowed hard. He knew he had to do it—there was no going back now. Trembling, he muttered the UnBar, grasped the innocent-looking brass cupboard doorknob and pulled. The door opened. Merrin reeled. Ice-cold air laced with the foulest smell—wet dog and rotting meat with a hint of burned rubber—hit him. He retched and spat in disgust.

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