"I guess we're...trapped," whispered Beetle.
"Yeah," said Septimus, trying to keep his voice steady, while concentrating on holding the Keye still. A skin of ice began to snake out from the Keye and encircle the lozenge-shaped hatch. "But at least they can't get to the Castle now."
"The Castle...oh, my gosh - why didn't I think of it before?" said Beetle. "Sep, you got your whistle for the Wizard Tower sled?"
"Yes - why?" Septimus was watching the slow progress of the ice, willing it to move faster.
"Brilliant! Sep, stop right there. UnSeal it!"
"Beetle, are you crazy?"
"No. We'll get into the tunnel and Seal it from inside. Then you whistle for the Wizard Tower sled and we go home - simple!"
Septimus heard the marching footsteps coming nearer - and suddenly he realized something. Unless he did an UnSeen, Tertius Fume would simply get the jinn to take the Keye off him and UnSeal the hatch. Beetle clearly could not manage another UnSeen, so if Septimus did do one, Beetle would be with the jinn - alone. It was a terrible thought.
"Okay!" Septimus slammed the Keye reverse-side down onto the Sealing Plate and the narrow band of ice melted.
Beetle pulled opened the ice hatch. Below him was the widest, deepest - and surely the darkest - Ice Tunnel he had ever seen. A blast of freezing air met him. The sound of footsteps rang on the steps outside.
"Halt!" Tertius Fume's bellow came through the door. "Open the door." A metallic clang sounded. Nothing happened. Septimus smiled - one of the drawbacks of having weapons for hands was that it was much harder to open palm-press doors. Beetle swung over the edge of the open hatch and lowered himself into the darkness, his feet searching for a foothold. He grinned. "Rungs," he said, and disappeared. Septimus followed fast. He found the rungs and tugged the ice hatch closed. Slowly, slowly - horribly slowly - the hatch moved down to its Seal. The door to the ice chamber swish ed open, and Septimus caught a brief glimpse of Tertius Fume's ghostly blue robes and knobby sandaled feet before the hatch settled onto its Seal. Inside the tunnel everything went black. For a moment Septimus could see nothing - where was the Sealing Plate? On the other side of the hatch, as Tertius Fume bellowed at the first two jinn to raise the hatch, Septimus's Dragon Ring began to glow, its yellow light reflecting off the gold Sealing Plate.
Septimus slammed the Keye onto the plate and, in the ice chamber, Tertius Fume stared in astonishment as a diamond-hard ring of Sealing ice encircled the hatch. His furious bellow penetrated the hatch.
"Glad we're down here," said Septimus.
"Yeah," said Beetle.
His hands already chilled, Septimus brought out a tiny silver whistle and blew hard. As always, no sound came out.
"Do you think it worked?" he said.
"Yeah," said Beetle. "Of course it did."
Beetle was right. Far away, in a lonely Ice Tunnel underneath Beetle's old hut in the backyard of the Manuscriptorium, the Wizard Tower sled Awoke to the happy sound of its Magykal whistle. It curled its carelessly flung purple rope into a neat coil, and in seconds its fine golden runners were cutting crisply along the frost, setting off for unknown territory and pristine ice.
Septimus and Beetle took stock. They could not see much by the light of the Dragon Ring, but what they could see was enough to tell them that this was no ordinary Ice Tunnel. It was, as Beetle put it, the Grandmother of all Ice Tunnels. It was also, he pointed out, wide enough for a ten-sled race and as high as the tallest Manuscriptorium bookshelf. And it was cold. Beetle shivered. The cold in the Ice Tunnel seemed much worse than he remembered.
From far above came Tertius Fume's angry shout - muffled but clear enough.
"Axmen, smash the hatch!"
There was a tremendous crash and a shower of ice rained down. Beetle leaped out of the way.
"They can't break it open, can they?" said Septimus, glancing up anxiously.
"Well...I dunno." Beetle looked worried. "I suppose if they go on long enough they might."
"But I thought ice hatches were indestructible," said Septimus.
"I d-don't think they've been tested against warrior j-jinn," said Beetle, his teeth beginning to chatter with cold. "At least, it didn't say so in the official handbook. Wild elephants, yes. They b-borrowed some from a traveling fair, apparently. Battering rams, yes - but no one tried four th-thousand warrior jinn. Per-probably couldn't get hold of any."
A series of blows rained down on the hatch, followed by a further shower of ice. A shout of excitement came from Tertius Fume. "Mace men to the front! Smash the hatch!
Smash it! I want to see Marcia Overstrand's expression tomorrow when she wakes to see the Wizard Tower surrounded!" A series of massive blows to the hatch followed. A large chunk of ice landed in front of them, breaking into millions of crystals.
"Let's get out of here," said Septimus. "We can go meet the sled."
"N-no, Sep," said Beetle. "Rule one - once you've C-Called the s-sled, stay where you are. How else is it going to f-find you?"
"I can Call it again."
"It will still go to where you f-first Called it. Then you've just wasted more t-time."
"Well, I'll stop it on its way. We'll see it coming."
"You can't just flag it down like a d-donkey cart."
Another series of blows shook the hatch and dislodged a flurry of ice.
"I...I don't think the sled's going to get here in time, Beetle," said Septimus. "The Castle must be miles away."
"But we have to warn Marcia," said Septimus, "we have to. Hey, Beetle... Beetle, are you okay?"
Beetle nodded, but he was shivering badly.
Another crash came from above, and a huge lump of ice smashed down. Septimus dragged Beetle out of the way and discovered that his fingers didn't seem to be working properly. He waited, huddled with Beetle, for the sound of the ice hatch opening - which must surely come soon. A spray of ice dampened his face and Septimus closed his eyes. Something nudged him. It was the Wizard Tower sled.
The smashing of the Ice Tunnel hatch sent a loud boom along the tunnel, followed by a great crash as the hatch hit the ice below.
"Faster, faster," Septimus urged the Wizard Tower sled, which swish ed through the tunnel, its narrow silver runners cutting through the hoar frost on the ice. It was the most frightening sled ride Septimus had ever taken - and, as someone who had been a passenger of Beetle's, that was saying something. It was not only the speed; they were also traveling in complete darkness. Septimus had Instructed the sled to douse its light. A fine spray of ice flew into the air as they went, and Septimus, with his hands clasping Beetle's waist, was aware that Beetle was getting dangerously cold. He realized he should have sat Beetle behind him to protect him from the icy blast as they traveled, but he did not dare stop now. He told himself that as soon as they reached the nearest hatch in the Castle, he would get Beetle aboveground and into the warmth of the sun. Then he would Transport himself to Marcia - he was pretty good at Transports within the Castle now - and together they would Seal off all tunnels into the Castle. It would be a close-run thing. He figured he needed to be at least two hours ahead of the warrior jinn. But at the breathtaking speed the sled was going, Septimus thought he'd easily manage it. As the sled sped down the long, straight tunnel, Septimus risked a backward glance. He saw a strange sight - a line of tiny pinpricks of light was moving down from the hatch: the silver wings of the warrior jinn were lighting up in the dark. Septimus shivered at the thought of the jinn pouring into the Ice Tunnel, with nothing now but a long, freezing march between them and the Castle. Not that the cold would bother the jinn, or their ghostly leader. The thought of the long journey ahead through the ice began to worry Septimus, and he decided that as soon as the jinn were out of sight he would stop for a moment and swap places with Beetle. He'd try a Heat Spell for himself and hope that it warmed up Beetle a little.
Septimus's plans were interrupted by Tertius Fume's bellow echoing along the tunnel: "To the Castle!" This was followed by the synchronized crunch of marching feet on ice. The warrior jinn were on their way.
To Septimus's consternation, the Wizard Tower sled had chosen that very moment to slow down. It was now crawling along at a snail's pace that Beetle, had he not been shivering uncontrollably, would have derided.