Beetle suspected he would too.

"Also Beetle, although the Chief Hermetic Scribe is obliged to let all Indentured Scribes go on a Call Out, she herself does not have to attend. And frankly I would prefer it if she didn't. Understood?"

Beetle nodded. He totally understood.

Marcia raised her voice and addressed the assembled Wizards and Apprentices. "Now, please leave the Tower with Mr. Beetle in an orderly fashion."

"But Septimus hasn't come down yet," said Beetle.

"No, indeed Septimus hasn't." Marcia sounded annoyed. "At the very moment when I should be relying on my Senior Apprentice, he has chosen to absent himself and go listening to some ridiculous twaddle peddled by Marcellus Pye. I shall be sending a Wizard to get him." And, thought Marcia, to tell him that he will most certainly not be beginning his Darke Week that night.

Now Beetle understood why he was Emissary - once again, he was Septimus's replacement. It took the shine off it a little. But only a little.

And so, while Marcia embarked on the more time-consuming Castle Call Out, Beetle led the Wizards and Apprentices out of the Wizard Tower. Like a gooseherd with a gaggle of disorderly geese, he took them down the wide, white marble steps, across the cobbles of the courtyard, shining and slippery with watery sleet, and through the lapis lazuli-lined Great Arch into Wizard Way.

Beetle's entourage created quite a stir amongst the Longest Night promenaders. Even the brightest window display could not compete with the impressive sight of a Wizard Tower Call Out. The gold braid on his Admiral's jacket glinting in the torchlight, Beetle walked proudly along Wizard Way at the head of a sea of blue flecked with green, and the crowds parted respectfully to let them through. It was a wonderful moment but all he could think about was - where was Jenna?

On the nineteenth floor of the Wizard Tower, Hildegarde was sitting at the huge Searching Glass, scanning the Castle. The three portly and somewhat self-important Search and Rescue Wizards were annoyed at not being asked to conduct the Search themselves, especially as Hildegarde was only a mere sub-Wizard, but as she had been sent by the ExtraOrdinary Wizard, there was nothing they could do but proffer patronizing advice and hover irritatingly close by.

Hildegarde studiously paid them no attention. She focused all her energy on the Searching Glass, bringing her slowly growing Magykal powers to guide it. But all the Glass did was insist on focusing on Doom Dump, which was where Hildegarde knew that Beetle had last seen Jenna. She wasn't very good at this, she thought gloomily. Jenna was sure to be far away by now.

Chapter 17 Witch Princess

While Hildegarde was peering through the Searching Glass at the decrepit roof of Doom Dump, deep inside the house itself Linda was skulking in the shadows outside the scullery where Marissa had taken Jenna.

Linda needed a few minutes to get her spell ready for the upstart Marissa - a spell that would make Dorinda's elephant ears look like a party trick. And as she went over the spell in her mind for the last time, strengthening it, making it just that little bit nastier (more warts), Linda heard the same scream from the scullery that the Witch Mother had heard. Preoccupied with her spell, Linda was not thinking straight. She too assumed the scream came from Jenna, so she waited a few seconds more so that Marissa could finish whatever she was doing. But as the sound of choking came through the door, Linda began to get worried. It wouldn't do to have their Princess throttled just yet - not until they had thoroughly defeated the Wendron Witches. She threw open the scullery door and stopped in amazement. Linda was impressed. She couldn't have done better herself.

Jenna had Marissa in a headlock - and it was a good one too, Linda noticed. In her younger days Linda had been a big fan of headlocks, although now she let her spells do the work for her.

Marissa's face was an interesting shade of purple. "Lemme go!" she was gasping. "Lemme . . . aaah . . . go!"

Jenna looked up and saw Linda. Marissa was in no position to look up, but she knew from the pointy boots with the dragon spikes up the back who it was.

"Get her . . . off me," Marissa gasped in a hoarse whisper.

You touch her and you'll regret it, Jenna mouthed Silently at Linda.

Linda looked amused. She liked fights, and one between a witch and a Princess was pretty much top of her fight wish list. Unfortunately however, there was business to attend to and she needed to get on with it before the Witch Mother came tottering along to see what was happening.

"Well done," Linda told Jenna. "Very impressive. You continue like this and I might just change my mind about Princesses. Possibly. Now just keep holding her right there. Perfect."

Jenna saw that Linda was eyeing Marissa like a snake working out where to strike. Something was about to happen and she could see it wasn't going to be good - particularly for Marissa.

Linda raised her hands up to her face and then pointed both index fingers at Marissa's head, squinting down them like a marksman. It reminded Jenna horribly of how the Hunter had once lined her up in the sights of his pistol.

"Keep her still," Linda instructed Jenna. "Hold her right there."

Marissa whimpered.

Jenna did not like the turn events had taken. Suddenly she was Linda's accomplice. She knew that Linda was about to do something very bad to Marissa and she did not want to be part of it, but she dared not let go. If she did, Marissa would immediately turn on her - as would Linda. She was stuck.

Slowly Linda lowered her pointing fingers and, as she did so, two thin beams of brilliant blue light streamed from her eyes and rested on Marissa's face. Then the witch began to chant:

"Heart and brainFlame and painBlood and boneRattle and moanLung and liverShriek and shiver . . ."

Marissa let out a terrified wail. She knew that this was the beginning of the dreaded Exit spell, the spell that takes away human form and replaces it with another - forever. It was, like most of Linda's nastiest spells, Permanent.

"No!" yelled Marissa. "Please, nooooooooo!"

Linda's yellow incisors slipped over her bottom lip as they always did when she was concentrating. The Exit was long and complicated. It required a great concentration of energy, but it was already off to a good start. Linda was very pleased with the way the Princess was helping; it was so much easier with an assistant. Excited, Linda now moved into the main body of the spell, where all Human parts of Marissa were one by one reassigned to Toad. Her voice descended to a low monotone so that the words became blurred into one long, singsong chant.

From Marissa's terror, Jenna was beginning to realize that if she kept Marissa in her headlock she would be party to something truly awful. She had to do something - but what?

Linda's menacing chant continued, the witch's voice rising ever higher. The gloom in the scullery deepened and the thin beams of light from Linda's blue-black eyes cut through the dark like needles, joining the witch with her victim.

"Princess Jenna. Please. Let me go," Marissa whispered desperately. "I'll do anything, anything you want. I promise."

Jenna didn't believe Marissa's promises. She had to get what she wanted while she still had the witch in her grasp - but how could she? She was Silenced. Very slightly she loosened the headlock. Marissa looked up, tears welling in her eyes.

"Princess Jenna. I'm sorry. I'm really sorry. Please help me. Please, oh please."

Jenna pointed to her mouth and Marissa understood. She muttered a few words and whispered, "Okay. It's gone."

Linda's voice suddenly regained its normal pitch, the chant slowed down and once more the words became gruesomely clear:

"Pinprick bones andPoison glands,Warty skinAnd creeping hands . . ."

Marissa screamed. She knew the end was coming very, very soon. "Please let me go," she gasped.

Jenna tested her voice. "Fix the feet thing," she hissed.

Marissa gabbled something under her breath and hissed, "It's gone, it's gone. Now, please, please, please."

Jenna cautiously tried a small step back, taking Marissa with her - she was free. She released the headlock.

Chaos ensued.

Marissa sprang up and Jenna raced off past Linda, heading for the door. Mouth open, Linda stopped mid chant. Marissa hurled herself at Linda, biting, kicking and screaming, Linda fell backward under the onslaught and hit her head with a craaack on the stone flagged floor.

Jenna had just got out of the door and was running down the corridor when, through the gloom, she saw the large bulk of the Witch Mother teetering on her tall, spiked shoes, blocking the far end of it.

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