Jenna did stop, not for Beetle but to push through the crowd that had gathered around Maizie Smalls, who had crossed the Way to light the very last torch. As Jenna tried to dodge around Beetle - just another body in her way - he put his arm out to stop her.
Jenna looked up, eyes blazing in anger. "Get out of my way - oh Beetle, it's you, it's you!" She threw her arms around him.
"Ooh," said someone in the crowd. "Ooh, look! It's the Princess and that boy who was the - "
"Let's get out of here," said Beetle, reluctantly disengaging himself. He took hold of Jenna's arm and walked her briskly away.
"Beetle - what happened? You didn't come back! I was so scared. How did you get here? Hey, where are we going?" Jenna demanded in rapid fire while Beetle steered her across the Way and into the shadows of The Skinny Bones' Bob - an extremely narrow opening that led off Wizard Way and would take them into Ramblings Alley.
"We are going to Gothyk Grotto," said Beetle.
"Why?" Like a stubborn pony, Jenna stopped in her tracks and shook her head. Beetle halted - when a pony stops in The Skinny Bones' Bob, everyone stops. Jenna regarded Beetle with one of her finest Princess stares. "Beetle," she informed him, "I am not going another step until you tell me what is going on."
"I'll tell you on the way, okay?" he said.
"What, to Gothyk Grotto - that dump where all the weirdos hang out?"
"Yes. Please, Jenna, can we get going? It smells horrible here."
Jenna gave up. "Okay. But this had better be good."
* * *
Jenna was entirely accurate in her description of Gothyk Grotto. It was a run-down, dark and dingy shop at the end of Little Creep Cut, somewhere in the middle of the scruffiest part of the Ramblings. As Beetle pushed open the door, the sound of a theatrical monster-style roar blared out above their heads and made Jenna - and the UnSeen bird - jump. The bird recovered itself and flew in just as the door banged closed.
Beetle and Jenna stood for a moment, trying to make sense of the place. At first it seemed to be in total darkness, but soon they noticed a few flickering candles, which were moving slowly, randomly appearing and disappearing. The unearthly sound of a nose flute drifted out from some distant place, and the stuffy air was filled with the smell of particularly pungent incense, which set Jenna sneezing. As their eyes became accustomed to the dark, Jenna and Beetle could see dim shapes of figures holding the candles as they wandered between towering stacks and teetering shelves.
Suddenly a flame flared in the gloom and they saw a tall boy lighting two candles nearby. The boy walked over and handed the candles to Jenna and Beetle with the words, "Welcome to Gothyk Grotto."
"Wolf Boy!" gasped Jenna. "What are you doing here?"
"Huh?" said what sounded like Wolf Boy's voice.
Jenna raised her candle and looked at the boy. It wasn't Wolf Boy, but there was something about him that reminded her of him. The boy was about the same height and build as Wolf Boy, but his hair was short and spiky and even in the dark, Jenna could see it was black, unlike Wolf Boy's light brown.
"Sorry," said Jenna. "I thought you were someone else."
"Yeah. Well, sorry I'm not Wolf Boy, whoever he is. Cool name."
"It's odd, you sound just like him. Don't you think, Beetle?"
"Just like," agreed Beetle.
"Beetle's a cool name too. Yeah. Hey. Wow. Man, you're the Princess. Wow. What're you doing here?"
"We've come to see if you sell copies of the Two-Faced Ring," said Jenna.
"We want to know," said Beetle very clearly and slowly, "if you sell - or have ever sold - copies of the Darke Two-Faced Ring?"
"The Darke Two-Faced Ring," Beetle repeated.
"Jeez," said the boy.
"So . . . do you sell them? Have you ever sold them?"
"You really want to know?" The boy seemed flummoxed.
"Yes, please," said Beetle, trying to be patient. "Have you? Ever sold them? To anyone?"
"You'd better come this way," said the boy. "Follow me, please."
With a distinct feeling that they had done something wrong, Beetle and Jenna set off after him. Following the boy was no easy task. He wore a long black robe, which swept the ground and blended into the background, and he obviously knew his way around well enough not to need a candle as he weaved quickly between the shelves and stacks, which were set out as a double labyrinth. Jenna went first, and the only way she kept up with the boy was by following the swish of his gown over the rough wooden floorboards. They wound their way through the seemingly endless canyons of merchandise (the labyrinth was planned to lead customers past everything twice), trying to keep up with the boy at the same time as not tripping over assorted plaster bones, cheap black cloaks and tunics, false Gragull teeth (a Gragull being a mythical bloodsucking human), bottles of fake blood, buckets of heavy jewelry embellished with skulls, Charms, bits of dead hamster (the latest craze), stacks of books of popular spells, piles of board games, glow-in-the-dark paint, jelly insects in jars, spiderwebs, wolverine eyes and a thousand other examples of what was known in the Castle as "Gothyk Grot."
At last they emerged from the labyrinth into the back of the shop - a dusty space piled high with unopened boxes and lit by a few tall, black candles. The eerie sound of the nose flute was louder here and came from behind a small door (painted black, naturally) that was set deep into an ornate gothic arch. The boy beckoned them to follow him and headed for the door. Jenna hurried after him, tripped over a pile of cardboard skulls, and steadied herself against the arch. It wobbled alarmingly.
The boy knocked on the door. The sound of the nose flute ceased - much to their relief - and a voice called out, "Yes?"
"It's me, Matt. I've got a nine-nine-nine here. It's the Princess and the ex-Manuscriptorium Clerk."
"Very funny, Marcus. Get me a cup of tea, will you?"
"No, really, I have. And it's the Princess, Mr. Igor. Honest."
The voice on the other side of the door sounded irritated. "Marcus, I've told you about telling stories before. Now go and get me my cup of tea. Okay?"
The boy turned around to Jenna and Beetle and shrugged. "Sorry," he said. "He gets funny at twilight. I'll go and get him a cup of tea. He'll see you after that."
"But we don't need to see him," said Beetle, exasperated. "We only want to know if you have ever had any fake Two-Faced Rings."
"Exactly. So you have to see him. It's the rules. Sorry." The boy grinned apologetically and disappeared back into the labyrinth.
"This is stupid," said Jenna, "I'm not waiting here all night." She rapped loudly on the little black door and then, without waiting for a reply, she went in. Beetle followed.
A man with a long, extremely white face ending in a wispy, pointy beard was sitting at a small desk playing a solitary card game. He did not look up but murmured, "That was quick, Marcus. Just put it down here, will you?" When no cup of tea appeared in his line of sight the man looked up. His jaw dropped. "Good ghouls!" he gasped. He leaped to his feet, scattering the cards, and bowed awkwardly. "Princess Jenna! It is you. I am so sorry. I had no idea . . ." He looked around. "Where's Marcus gone? Why didn't he say you were here?"
"Well, Matt said I was here," said Jenna, confused.
"Matt, Marcus, same thing," said the man obscurely. "Oh, please, please sit down, Princess. And you, scribe Beetle." He waved his hand to stop Beetle from explaining. "No, don't say anything. I know what happened. But once a scribe always a scribe, eh? Now to what do I owe the pleasure of this visit? What can I do for you, eh?"
Jenna got to the point. "We need to know if you have ever sold copies of the Two-Faced Ring."
Igor went a shade whiter. "So it is a nine-nine-nine. Oh dear, how very embarrassing. I do apologize. But it's part of the terms of our licence, eh?" Igor reached below the desk and pressed a large red button. Then he looked up and smiled awkwardly. "Purely a formality of course," he said. "Do please sit down." He indicated two unsteady wooden chairs that were pushed up against the wall. Igor watched them gingerly sit down, not taking his eyes off them for a moment. "Well, your Grace - "