“‘At last my chance came one morning when there was a loud knock on the door. To my surprise a little man jumped out of the pillar beside where I was sitting and ran to the door. Waiting outside were a man and a woman. The DoorKeeper would not let them come in and as the door began to close I took my chance and ran out, much to their surprise.
“‘I was, I realize now, amazingly lucky. I do not know why my new mother and father went to the House of Foryx; they would never say. The next thing I remember was traveling across a great pit on a narrow bridge that swayed in the wind.
My new papa led the horse while I rode, sitting in front of my new mama. Later Mama told me she had closed her eyes in terror as we crossed, but I was wide-eyed with excitement. There was a full moon rising through the mists below us and we were so high that I felt as if we were flying among the stars. They brought me here to the Castle and were kindness itself. I grew to love them as much as I had loved my mother and father, but always at the back of my mind was the question, What happened to me?
“‘I did not realize that I was in another Time for many years, until a traveling storyteller told a tale about the House of Foryx and I knew she was telling no story but the truth. I found her and told her my own tale. She told me that the House of Foryx is a place where All Times Do Meet. You can only leave when someone arrives and then you must enter their own Time. So when I ran from the House of Foryx I ran into my new parents’ Time.
“‘I believe the only chance you have of returning to your own Time is to find the House of Foryx and pray that someone from your own Time comes to it. When I was a child I longed to return to my own Time, but when I finally understood what had happened I had already met my dear husband, my adoptive parents were old and frail and I did not wish to return. This is a good Time to live in—you could do much worse. But you are both young and I can see you are brave enough to try. May Odin and Skadi be your guides.’ And then Nik has written…I think this is what he says…‘House of Foryx—here we come.’”
“Sounds like Nik,” said Septimus.
“I wonder if they are still there?” said Jenna.
“Only one way to find out,” said Septimus.
No one found it easy to get to sleep that night.
The stove kept them warm and Septimus did a SafeShield
Spell for the hut, but it was hard to ignore the noises outside—and there was a fine assortment to choose from. It was strange, Septimus thought, that a forest so silent by day should be so noisy at night. As the moon rose higher, the wind rose too; it funneled down the valley and did not take kindly to finding the refuge hut in the way. It moaned and howled; it rattled the shutters and shook the door; it ganged up with the trees so that their branches banged and scraped on the little hut’s roof and its flimsy walls. There were other noises in the distance, sharp whooping cries and ululating howls that made Ullr’s fur stand on end. Beetle put his fingers in his ears and wished that he was back in his cozy bed in The Ramblings.
Beetle and Septimus fell asleep first. Jenna sat up on her bunk wrapped in her wolverine skin, listening to the wind howl. She watched the snow pile up against the windows, the fire in the stove die down and the hut gradually become cold and dark. Suddenly she heard scritch…scratch…scritch…something was scratching at the door. Ullr, who was lying across the door, got to his feet and growled. Her heart racing, Jenna climbed down to Septimus, who was asleep on the bunk below, and shook him awake. “Sep…listen!”
Septimus sprang awake, thinking for one awful moment that he was back in the Young Army. “Wheerrr—wassat?”
“Something’s trying to get in,” whispered Jenna.
“Oh. Oh, crumbs.” Ullr growled again. A gust of wind shook the hut and outside Septimus heard scritch…scratch…scritch… like long fingernails being dragged down the thin wooden door.
Wide awake now, Septimus sprang out of his bunk. He put both hands on the door, and muttered his SafeShield Spell once again. The scritch…scratch…scritch continued. Why wasn’t it working? Flustered, Septimus tried an Anti-Darke incantation. At that, the scratching stopped.
Jenna and Septimus listened, hardly daring to breathe. Outside, the trees tapped their branches like long, impatient fingers drumming on the roof of the hut, but there was no more scratching at the door. Beetle stirred and mumbled in his sleep something that sounded like “Wotcha, Foxy,” then with much creaking of his bunk he turned over and was quiet again. Ullr lay down once more and positioned himself across the doorway.
“It’s gone,” whispered Septimus.
“Thanks, Sep,” whispered Jenna. She burrowed down beneath the rough hut blankets and her wolverine skin and soon fell asleep.
But Septimus lay awake. It wasn’t the howl of the wind that kept him from sleeping, or the tapping of the branches on
the roof of the hut, or even wondering what Darke
creature had been outside. What kept Septimus from sleeping was the lapis lazuli stone with a golden Q inscribed into it.
Every time he tried to get comfortable, the wretched thing somehow managed to stick into him. Irritably, he delved deep into his tunic pocket and pulled out the Stone. It lay warm and heavy on his palm. It was odd, he thought, how the light from the lantern made the Stone
look so green—it didn’t do that to anything else. And then a horrible feeling of dread shot through him like a dagger. It wasn’t a trick of the light—it was the Stone itself. The Questing Stone had turned green.
Like a Transfixed rabbit Septimus stared at the Stone,
Alther’s hurried whispered words at the Gathering spinning around his head like a dreadful nursery rhyme: Blue to get ready,
Green to go.
Yellow to guide you
Through the snow.
Orange to warn you
That over you’ll go.
Then Red will be the final glow.
Now seek the Black; there’s no going back.
Green to go—that’s what it was. Green to go on the Queste. Septimus lay down and gazed, unfocused, at the rough planks only a few inches from his face, panicky thoughts whirling around his head.
The first thought was bad enough: he was on the Queste—he was on the Queste .
The second thought was even worse: If he was on the Queste, how were they going to find Nicko?
But the third was the worst of all: How was he going to tell Jenna?
M arcia was enjoying being back in charge of the Wizard Tower.
As soon as the last of the Gathering
had meandered off, somewhat confused at the sudden ending of their outing, Marcia had inspected the Wizard Tower from top to bottom, checking for any stragglers. She had had enough of ExtraOrdinary Wizard ghosts to last her quite a while and she had no wish to bump into one snoozing in a dark forgotten corner in a few days’ time. She found one asleep in an Ordinary Wizard’s larder and another wandering around the fifteenth floor corridor looking for her teeth. It was, Marcia reflected, as she checked the very last cupboard in the Hall, and flushed out a sleeping Catchpole, not unlike fumigating mice.
Having reestablished her authority in the Tower to her satisfaction—and having checked on the more elderly Ordinary Wizards—Marcia had decided to turn her attention to Finding Septimus. She assumed he had either gone into the Forest to be with his brothers or had made his way to Aunt Zelda’s on the Marram Marshes. Either way, she knew a Find Spell would do the trick and take her to him.
Marcia did not know that—at the very moment she had closed the purple door to her rooms and breathed a sigh of relief—Jenna, Septimus and Beetle were walking through an ancient Forest Way into a silent, frozen forest. With a huge sense of relief, she had climbed the narrow stone stairs up to the library, which was housed in the great golden pyramid on the top of the Tower, and sat down at her desk. Marcia breathed in the smell of old leather, decayed spells and paper dust (paper beetles were rampant in the library) and relaxed. All was well with the world once more.
Ten minutes later Marcia was not entirely sure that all was well with the world after all. Her Find would not work.
Aware that no Magyk is 100 percent reliable—although Marcia expected 99.9 percent recurring—she did the Find once more. Still it did not work.
Half an hour and three more attempts at the Find later, Marcia was worried. Septimus had apparently disappeared.