Partridge knew that Jillie Djinn never could resist explaining the decimal point. And so, while Partridge stifled numerous yawns and Jillie Djinn began a tortuous explanation, accompanied by much nose blowing, Romilly Badger smuggled Beetle into the physik room.
The physik room was small and dingy, with a tiny slit of a window that looked out onto the Manuscriptorium backyard. Squashed into the room were a lumpy bed, two chairs and a table with a large red box on it. Romilly sat Beetle down on the edge of the bed and draped a blanket over his shoulders - Beetle was shivering with shock. Foxy came in, quietly closed the door behind him and stayed leaning against it.
"You look terrible," he told Beetle.
Beetle managed a smile. "Thanks, Foxo."
"Sorry, Beet. I thought it'd bring you back to the last place you had been safe - didn't think it would come back to the last place it had been. Stupid thing."
"Don't apologize, Foxo. That cupboard's a hundred times better than where I probably was headed. Just wish I'd figured it out earlier, that's all. I wouldn't have made such a racket." Beetle grinned sheepishly. He couldn't quite remember what he'd said. He had a feeling he'd yelled out "Mum" - or even worse, "Mummy" - but he hoped that maybe it had only been inside his head.
"Nah, you were okay," said Foxy with a smile. He turned to Romilly. "Are you all right?" he asked. "Where did you cut yourself?"
"I'm fine, Foxy," said Romilly patiently. "I didn't cut myself. The bandage was an excuse to get Beetle out of the way."
"Oh, I see. That's really clever."
Beetle and Foxy watched Romilly open the red box, take out a large bandage and wrap it around her thumb.
Foxy looked puzzled. "But I thought . . ."
"Corroboration," said Romilly mysteriously. "Okay, Beetle. I'll go and check if the coast is clear, then we can get you out without you-know-who seeing anything."
Foxy held the door open for Romilly, then he quietly closed it and resumed his position leaning against it. "She's clever," he said admiringly.
Beetle nodded. He still felt very odd, although he suspected that it was as much being back in his old place of work - a place that he had once loved - as anything Merrin had done.
"We still miss you," said Foxy suddenly.
"Yeah. Me too . . ." mumbled Beetle.
"It's horrible here now," said Foxy. "It's not been the same since you went. Actually, I'm thinking of leaving. And so are Partridge and Romilly."
"Leaving?" Beetle was shocked.
"Yeah." Foxy grinned. "D'you think Larry might want three more assistants?"
"I wish," said Beetle.
Neither said anything for a moment, and then Foxy spoke. "So, ah, what were you doing, Beet - I mean, why did you need a SafeCharm? And why did it bring you back? Things must have been really scary."
"They were. You know that Merrin Meredith kid who's been hanging around here?"
"Him!" spat Foxy.
"Well, he did a BeGone."
"No wonder you look so rough," said Foxy.
"Yeah. But that's not the worst of it. He's holed up in the Palace attic - "
" - and I think he's started a Darke Domaine."
Foxy stared at Beetle in disbelief. "No! No. How?"
"You know that ring he wears - that nasty Two-Faced thing? Well, I always thought it was a fake from Gothyk Grotto, but now I'm not so sure. I think it might be the real thing."
Foxy sat down on the chair beside Beetle. He looked worried. "It could be. It kind of makes sense if it is," he said in a low voice. "He's got some hold over Miss Djinn. She lets him do exactly what he likes - I think she's scared of him. The weird thing is, I know for a fact she's fired him at least three times, but he comes back just like nothing happened - and she never remembers. And recently she's started going really strange when he's here, kind of vacant, like she's not there anymore. It's scary."
"I'll bet," said Beetle.
"Yeah." Foxy looked down at his feet, and Beetle knew he was about to say something that he'd had to really think about. There was a silence while Beetle waited and Foxy got his words together. "The thing is, Beet," said Foxy eventually, "this has happened here before. Remember all the stuff with my dad?"
Beetle nodded. Foxy's father had been the Chief Hermetic Scribe before Jillie Djinn. He had left in disgrace after becoming involved in a plot with Simon Heap - in his Darke days - to kill Marcia Overstrand.
"I know no one will ever believe it," said Foxy, "but my dad never wanted to do all that bones stuff for Simon Heap. He had no idea what it was for - he really didn't. But he said the Darke just pulled him in. And once you're in, it ties you up in knots and you can't escape - however much you try."
"I went to see my dad last week," Foxy said tentatively.
Beetle was amazed. "You went to see him? But I thought Marcia banished him to the Far Countries."
Foxy looked awkward. "Yes, she did. But he got so homesick. He came back secretly. He's changed his name and he lives down in the Port now. It's not in a very nice part of the Port, but he doesn't mind. You won't tell anyone, will you?"
"Of course I won't."
"Thanks. I don't go and see him much, just in case anyone notices, but recently I've been really worried about stuff here and I wanted to talk to him about it. He says it sounds bad. That Meredith kid - he's got Jillie Djinn right there." Foxy pressed his thumb into his opposite palm. "Under his thumb. Just like Simon Heap had my dad."
"He's been trouble right from the start," agreed Beetle. "I remember the first day he turned up, he was wearing that ring."
Foxy glanced at the door. "You know, I don't think it's fake either," he muttered.
"But how did he get it, Foxy? The real one belonged to DomDaniel."
"Well, he's dead."
"But you know the ring will only come off the Other way? He can't have chopped DomDaniel's thumb off."
"Nothing would surprise me about that little tick," said Foxy.
"I reckon I should go to Gothyk Grotto and see if they do copies," said Beetle. "If they don't I'll go and ask Marcia what she thinks."
"Well, don't be surprised if a couple of Wizards randomly turn up at the Grot and ask you why you want one," warned Foxy. "I asked for a copy of a Darke Charm once - just to play a joke on old Partridge - and they got quite funny about it."
A quiet ratta-tippy-tap sounded on the door. Beetle jumped.
"'S okay," said Foxy. "Scribe code. All clear. Time to go."
A minute later Beetle had been bundled out of the Manuscriptorium and was standing on Wizard Way. It was surprisingly busy. The Traders' Market had closed at sunset and people were now flocking to Wizard Way to watch the lighting of the candle displays for the Longest Night. Beetle leaned against the Manuscriptorium torch post, trying to take in the events of the previous hour or so. He saw Maizie Smalls advancing purposefully toward him. The throng parted to let her through, their upturned faces illuminated as they watched her lean her ladder against the post and nimbly climb up, her flaming TorchLighter at the ready.
The little band of children who had followed Maizie all along the Way gathered around the blackened silver base of the torch post and cheered as the Manuscriptorium torch flared up into the deepening twilight. It was a happy moment, but Beetle was not there to enjoy it. The sight of Maizie had jogged his memory and taken away the last of the fuzziness in his head.
"Jenna!" he gasped.
He set off at a run down the Way, dodging between the oncoming pedestrians, heading for the Palace.
Chapter 13 Gothyk Grotto
Halfway down Wizard Way, Beetle saw Jenna racing up the other side. With her long hair streaming out behind her, the light from the torchlights glinting off her gold circlet and her red cloak flying, she sent oncoming pedestrians jumping out of her way and left them staring after her. Above her a small, invisible lovebird desperately tried to follow the glinting circlet through the crowds as it zigzagged toward the Wizard Tower.
Beetle walked quickly across the wide thoroughfare of the Way. He still found it hard to shake off one of the rules of the Manuscriptorium that all scribes signed up for: no running, shouting, swearing, singing or dancing in Wizard Way. It was a rule that, during his time at the Manuscriptorium, was taken very seriously, and up until now Beetle had not broken it. But as Jenna disappeared fast toward the Great Arch that led into the Wizard Tower courtyard, he broke two of its tenets at once. He set off at a run and yelled, "Jenna! Jenna!" And then, as people stopped and stared at him, he felt that maybe he was being disrespectful, so he yelled, "Hey, Princess Jenna. Stop!"