"No," Septimus said as another shudder ran through the ship. "But then, what is?"
Chapter 44 Jinn
The low, slanting rays from the rising sun shone straight down through the stern hatch, half-blinding Septimus, Beetle and Wolf Boy as they ran up the steps to the open doors. They emerged, blinking in the daylight, and were met with a scene of chaos. Milo and his battered crew were desperately piling spars, sails, barrels and anything heavy they could drag on top of the doors to the cargo hold. Lucy and Snorri were throwing on a heavy coil of rope and Ullr, fur on end, was following Snorri like an anxious orange shadow. Nicko and the bosun were nailing a large plank across the doors, but each stroke of their hammers was met with an answering thud from below and a corresponding upward movement.
From the edge of the scrimmage, Jenna spotted Septimus, Beetle and Wolf Boy making their way forward. She left the barrel she was helping to drag across the doors and ran to join them.
"Where were you?" she gasped. "There's something really big down there - bigger than those three you chucked in. It - it's trying to get out. And Milo...oh, I know he makes a fuss about stuff, but this time it's for real. Look at him!"
Milo looked desperate. Velvet slippers abandoned, his nightgown as grubby as any deckhand's, he and Nicko were frantically dragging another plank across the doors.
"Get a move on!" he was yelling to the bosun.
The bosun shouted something back.
"You won't have a ship to leave if you don't nail these doors shut right now!" Milo bellowed.
Wolf Boy rushed forward to help. Beetle and Septimus went to follow, but Jenna stopped them. "Wait. Sep, there's something I meant to tell you," she said. "And Beetle should know too."
"Well, while you were at that pigeon place, Milo had something put in the cargo hold."
"Milo was always having something put in the cargo hold," said Septimus.
"Yes, I know. But he told me not to tell you about this. I was going to anyway, as I don't see what right he has to go around telling me what to do or what not to do. It was a massive chest, and he said we had to go to the Manuscriptorium about it when we got home."
"The Manuscriptorium?" asked Beetle. "Why?"
"I don't know. He started on about something else, so I didn't ask. You know what he's like."
"Did you see inside the chest?" asked Septimus.
"There wasn't much to see. Just tons of little lead tubes lined up in trays."
"Lead tubes?" asked Beetle. "How many exactly?"
"I don't know," said Jenna impatiently.
"You must have some idea. Ten, fifty, a hundred, a thousand - how many?"
"Well...thousands, I suppose. Gosh, Beetle, you're worse than Jillie Djinn."
"Yes, thousands. Look, what does it matter how many?" Jenna sounded exasperated.
"Surely, what matters is what was hiding underneath the tubes."
"I think," said Beetle slowly, "that what matters is what was hiding in the tubes - don't you, Sep?"
"Yes," replied Septimus, "I think that matters quite a bit."
"In the tubes?" Jenna asked.
"What do you mean, how could anything - ohmygoshwhat's that!"
Another tremendous thud shook the ship - but this time it was accompanied by a loud splintering noise from the cargo-hold doors. Nicko and the bosun's plank were tossed aside like matchsticks. Someone screamed - and it wasn't Lucy Gringe. And then it began - slowly, steadily, relentlessly, the two doors rose from the deck, sending everything piled on top of them tumbling - spars falling, barrels rolling and people flying like ninepins.
Milo was thrown into a tangle of ropes hanging from a broken spar and pinned there by the plank. Wolf Boy was sent flying by a barrel of tar, and Snorri and Ullr narrowly missed being squashed by one of the lifeboats.
The hatch doors had now reached a point of no return. They wavered for a moment, and then suddenly, with a thunderous crash, they smashed down onto the deck, shattering the debris into smithereens and leaving the cargo hold wide open. Everyone scattered, but the sight that came next stopped all in their tracks.
As if on an invisible moving platform, Theodophilus Fortitude Fry and the Crowe twins were rising from the cargo hold. Some of the more superstitious crew members threw themselves to the ground, thinking that Fry and his henchmen were miraculously flying, but others who looked more closely could see that they were balancing on something more solid than air. Once again Jenna was reminded of the traveling circus at the Spring Equinox Fair. This time it was the acrobatic clowns who had formed a human pyramid and then fallen over spectacularly. But the sight that followed swept all thoughts of acrobatic clowns from Jenna's mind. Fry and the Crowes were standing - wobbling would be a more accurate description - not on the shoulders of clowns but on the raised shields of four armored warriors.
"Warrior jinn," said Beetle. "Thought it might be."
"What do you mean?" asked Jenna.
"The lead tubes you saw are classic jinn multiple storage units."
"They've got jinn in them," Beetle simplified.
"What - one in each tube?" Jenna's math was not great, but even she could work out that that was an awful lot of jinn.
"Yeah. They don't usually share."
"Twin jinn are extremely rare."
"Oh, so that's just fine then. Oh, my gosh, look at them. They...they're scary."
Everyone on deck had fallen silent, mesmerized by the sight of the warrior jinn rising through the hatch, their shields held straight-armed above their helmeted heads, bearing their cargo of Fry and the Crowes. Leaving it a little late, the cargo half jumped, half fell onto the deck. The four jinn rose higher until they, in turn, sprang off another line of rising shields. They landed on the deck with a synchronized thud, and the entire ship's company gasped.
The hair on the back of Wolf Boy's neck stood on end. There was something inhuman, almost mechanical, about the warriors. They stood at least seven feet tall and were clad from head to toe in ancient leather armor, dull black apart from their silver-winged helmets, which caught the rays of the rising sun and glinted as though struck by fire. The jinn stood poised at the ready, short swords drawn, eyes staring blankly forward. And if they were not frightening enough, behind them another two ranks of four were already rising from the hold.
From the safety of his impressive armed guard, Theodophilus Fortitude Fry surveyed the dumbstruck gathering on deck.
"Well, well," he said. "So someone let you out, did they? I suppose it was these pesky kids." He stared pointedly at Wolf Boy and Lucy. "Yer brought yer little friends along, have yer?" Skipper Fry eyeballed Septimus, Jenna and Beetle. "If any of yer the ones that pushed us in, yer did us a favor. We was goin' down there anyway. And now we got what we came for and there ain't nothin' yer can do about it. Enjoy the show, kiddywinks. Have fun and" - he stared pointedly at Jim Knee - "wear all the silly hats yer can while yer got the chance, because if yer plannin' on goin' back to the Castle, yer won't find it much fun there." He laughed. "We know who y'are and we don't ever forget a face - do we?"
"No, Skip," chorused the Crowes, "we don't."
But Skipper Fry's speech did not have the effect he had hoped - no one, apart from Jim Knee, who did not like being insulted, was really listening. They were transfixed by what was going on behind him. A set of eight warrior jinn had now stepped on deck and every minute even more were appearing - three ranks of four now, filling the entire area of the open hold. As they too stepped on deck, the next line of twelve shields could be seen below.
"Beetle," whispered Septimus as he watched the jinn step onto the deck, "this is Manuscriptorium stuff. Is there any way of stopping them?"
"Not unless you know the Awake."
"Milo!" said Septimus. "He must know it. You don't acquire a whole ton of jinn without knowing how to Awaken them, do you?"
"Well, you wouldn't," said Jenna.
"Oh, surely even Milo's not that stupid."
"I'll go ask him," said Septimus.
"Be careful, Sep," said Jenna anxiously.
"Yep." Septimus quickly did a SafeShield UnSeen and disappeared into the crush of debris and crew.