With a feeling of doom, Merrin peered into the darkness. The cupboard appeared empty, but he knew it wasn’t. The Endless Cupboard shifted things about, taking the Darkest

deep into the rock. He dreaded to think how far it had taken the bones.

Lifting the candle above his head, Merrin stepped inside. The cupboard snaked deep into the rock like a tendril. As Merrin walked in, the air became cold. After about a dozen steps his candle flame began to gutter in the foul atmosphere, but he pressed on, deeper into the cupboard. Now the flame was growing smaller. It began to glow a dull red, and Merrin became alarmed. If there was not enough air for the flame then surely that meant that there was not enough air for him? Feeling light-headed now, with a high-pitched buzzing in his ears, Merrin took a few more steps and suddenly the candle flame died, leaving for a brief moment the red glow at the end of the wick, and then complete darkness.

Merrin’s chest felt tight. He opened his mouth wide to try to breathe more air, but nothing was there. He knew he had to get out of the cupboard—fast. Gasping, he turned back, only to run straight into an immoveable Thing. In a blind panic, he pushed past the Thing, only to find another in his way, then another. Horrified, Merrin realized that he was trapped—that the long, thin cupboard was stuffed full of Things, and that they were probably still trying to get in, which indeed they were. Outside, an agitated crowd of Things

jostled, pushing, scratching and fighting to be the next one inside. A wave of fear engulfed Merrin; then the cupboard floor did something very strange. It rushed up to meet him and hit him on the head.

When Merrin came to he was back in the Observatory, lying on the cold slate floor.

Blearily he looked up, and twenty-six Things stared back. Usually the gaze of twenty-six Things would be enough to send someone into despair forever, but Merrin’s eyes would not focus. All he saw was a wavy blur surrounding him, like a large, prickly hedge.

Slowly, Merrin became aware of something on the floor beside him. He turned his head—which hurt—and came face to face with a grubby canvas sack. A garbage sack. Inside, like a litter of kittens, something was moving.

Suddenly wide awake, Merrin leaped to his feet, grabbed the sack and upended it. A tangle of soft, slimy bones slid out across the floor, the small fat bone wearing the ring skittering across the floor with a metallic clink. Merrin stared at it blankly—what was he meant to do now? A bone by his foot twitched. Merrin screamed. Like blind worms, the bones were beginning to move, each one searching for its neighbor—they were ReAssembling.

A bony finger poked his ribs and Merrin screamed. DomDaniel was poking him. He was going to dieeeeeee! The Darke Index was thrust in front of his face and Merrin realized with relief that the bony finger belonged to a Thing. Obediently he read the passage that the Thing’s finger was pointing to:

Take the Two-Faced Ring

From the Thumb

Of the One

Who wears It.

Remove the Ring the Other Way:

Your Possession now Holds Sway.

Merrin went over to the small slimy black stick that wore the Two-Faced Ring and looked down at it with revulsion. He steeled himself to pick it up. One, two, three—no, he couldn’t do it. Yes, he could—he had to do it.

One…two…three—eurgh! He had it. The thumb bone was soft—like gristle. It was revolting. He was going to be sick.

Some seconds later, with a nasty taste in his mouth, Merrin grasped the Two-Faced Ring, knowing he had to pull it over the base of the bone—the Other

way. He pulled. It stuck on the wider part of the bone where the joint had been. Merrin fought off panic. It wouldn’t come off. Soon DomDaniel would ReAssemble

and he’d be cat food. Desperation gave Merrin a kind of courage. He pulled out his pocket knife, put the thumb bone on the floor and sawed the end off the bone. Thick, black liquid oozed from the bone, and the Two-Faced Ring fell free.

Horribly fascinated, Merrin picked up the ring and stared at the broad, twisted band of gold with the opposite facing, evil-looking heads carved in jade. With shaking hands, he consulted The Darke Index: On your left hand

Upon the thumb

You place the band—

The Two-Faced One.

Trembling, Merrin slid the ring onto his own thumb, pushing away the thought that one day someone might try to take it off his thumb the Other

way. At first the ring sat loose on Merrin’s thin, grubby thumb with its bitten nail and big knuckle, but not for long. He felt the gold become warmer and warmer until it was almost unpleasantly hot—and then the ring began to tighten. Soon it fit perfectly, but it did not stop there. Getting even hotter, the ring continued to tighten. His thumb began to throb.

Merrin panicked. He leaped up and down, shaking his thumb, yelling and stamping his feet with the pain. Tighter and tighter the ring swelled, turning the end of his thumb first red, then purple and finally a dark, deep blue. At that point, Merrin stopped shouting and stared at it in horror; he just knew that the end of his thumb was about to explode. Would it go pop, he wondered, or would it be a squelchy kind of splat? Merrin didn’t want to know. He closed his eyes. And the moment he closed his eyes, the ring loosened its grip, the blood flowed back and Merrin’s thumb deflated. The Two-Faced Ring now fit, although it felt tight—just tight enough to remind him of its presence. Merrin knew that it was his for life—or at least the life of his left thumb.

Merrin was beginning to realize that Darke Magyk

was not necessarily on the side of those who practiced it. But he could not stop now. He was trapped, and now he must embark upon the last part of the Enchantment—Darkening the Destiny of AnOther . And that must be done in the Castle, for that was where the Other lived, at the top of the Wizard Tower, as he had once done. Using the same name that Merrin himself once had: Septimus Heap.

4

OUT OF THE BADLANDS

J ust before dawn, Merrin roused

himself from his bed and staggered out, half asleep, into the gloomy Observatory, and headed for the Glo Grub tub.

Blearily, he scooped out a fresh tube of Glo Grubs ready for his journey and it was only when he was jamming the lid back onto the tub that Merrin opened his eyes properly—and screamed. He had forgotten about the Things. A good dozen of them were clustered around the Glo Grub tub watching his every move. The rest were wandering aimlessly about as though blown by an invisible breeze. Aware now that his every movement was being watched by the Things, Merrin padded into Simon’s sparsely furnished room, unlocked a cupboard and took out a small black box on which was written: Sleuth.

Merrin elbowed his way back through his faithful cluster of Things and put Sleuth’s box into a backpack along with a few other treasures. Then he shouldered the pack and took a deep breath. He knew it was time to go, but right then even the cold, creepy, damp and lonely Observatory stuffed full of Things felt a whole lot more inviting than the journey he had in front of him. It would be a steep climb down hundreds of dark, slippery steps cut into the rock, creeping past the old Magogs’ chamber and then out along a long, slimy Wurm Burrow. But Merrin knew he had no choice; he had to go.

Any hopes Merrin might have had that the Things

had finished their task and would stay behind in the Observatory were dashed when, after he had gone down the first few steps into the darkness, he turned and saw a line of Things. They shuffled forward, all elbows and knees, jabbing and kicking at one another, trying to get onto the steps behind him. Great, thought Merrin, just great.

Half an hour later, Merrin was at the entrance of the disused Wurm Burrow, but he was not alone. He knew that there were twenty-six Things

right behind him; he could feel them staring at him. They made the back of his neck feel prickly and icy cold. Nervously tapping his grubby fingers on the Wurm-slimed wall of the Burrow, Merrin shivered in the damp air. He stared intently at the dark skyline along the top of the cliffs on the far side of the ravine.

As much as Merrin longed to leave the Wurm Burrow, he was waiting for the first yellow streaks of dawn to show in the sky. Nighttime was a dangerous time to be out in the Slate Quarries of the Badlands. He had been told enough gory tales over the years to know that the most dangerous time of all was twilight. That was when the Land Wurms are on the move—in the evening breaking their day-long fast, or in the morning returning to their Burrows and looking out for one last tasty morsel to see them through the long day, which they would spend curled up deep inside the frosty slate cliffs.

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