"Marissa, is that you?" the Witch Mother's suspicious voice called out of the dark. "What's going on down there?"
Trapped, Jenna hurtled back to the scullery, slammed the door and leaned against it, holding it shut. Marissa was sitting on Linda and, as far as Jenna could make out, trying to strangle her. At Jenna's return she looked up in surprise.
"She's coming," gasped Jenna.
Marissa stared at her, uncomprehending. "Who's coming?"
"Her. The Witch Mother."
Marissa went pale. She had assumed that when Linda had tried to Exit her, she had been acting on the Witch Mother's instructions. She leaped up from Linda - who gave a small moan, but did not move - and pointed at the door that Jenna was leaning against. Jenna squared up for a fight, but a fight was the last thing on Marissa's mind. "Lock, Stop and Bar!" she shouted. A small but definite click came from the door.
"It won't last long," said Marissa, "not against her. We've got to get out of here." She headed for the only window in the dingy scullery, which was set high above a table heaped with a pile of black cloth. Marissa leaped up onto the table and pushed the window open. "It's the only way out. There's a bit of a drop but it's a soft landing. Here, put this on." Marissa picked up the pile of black cloth and threw it at Jenna, who ducked. It landed on the floor beside her.
Marissa looked annoyed. "Do you want to get out or not?" she demanded.
"Of course I do."
"Well, those are your witch robes. You've got to put them on."
Marissa sighed impatiently. "Because you won't get out if you don't. The window's Barred to all Cowan."
"Yeah. Cowan. Non-witches. Like you, dumbo."
The door handle rattled. "Marissa?" came the Witch Mother's voice. "What's going on in there?"
"Nothing, Witch Mother. It's fine. Nearly done," Marissa called out. "Put them on - quick," she hissed to Jenna. "There's enough witch stuff in them to fool a stupid window. Hurry!"
Jenna picked up the robes as though she were picking up a shovel of cat poo.
The door handle rattled again, louder. "Marissa, why is the door Locked?" The Witch Mother sounded suspicious.
"She got out, Witch Mother. But it's okay. I've got her. Nearly done!" Marissa trilled out cheerfully. To Jenna she whispered, "Are you going to put them on or not? Because I'm going right now."
"All right, all right," whispered Jenna. They were only clothes, she reasoned. Wearing witches' robes didn't actually mean anything. She threw the musty black cloak over her head, pulled it down over her own red robe and quickly did up the buttons.
"Suits you," said Marissa with a grin. "Come on," she beckoned Jenna up onto the table, and Jenna scrambled up. Marissa opened the window and the cold, sleety night air blew in. "Put your arm out," she said.
Jenna went to put her arm out but her hand came up against something solid, which felt like congealed slime. "Yuck!" she gasped, and snatched it back.
The Witch Mother had surprisingly good hearing. "Marissa?" came her voice suspiciously through the door. "Is there someone else in there with you?"
"Just the Princess, Witch Mother," Marissa called out and then whispered to Jenna, "Rats - the robes aren't enough."
Jenna looked down at her black witch cloak, which enveloped her like the night and made her feel very peculiar. It seemed quite enough to her. "What do you mean?" she asked.
"If you want to get out, I'm going to have to do something else."
Jenna didn't like the sound of that. "Like what exactly?"
The door handle rattled once again. "Marissa, I can hear voices," the Witch Mother shouted. "What are you doing?"
"Nothing, Witch Mother! She's got her robes on. We'll be out soon," Marissa called. And then to Jenna, "Like I'm going to have to make you a witch."
"Marissa!" The door handle rattled angrily. "I heard the Princess. She's not Silent anymore. What's going on in there?"
"Nothing. Honestly. It was me, Witch Mother."
"Don't lie to me, Marissa. Let me in!" The Witch Mother rattled the door handle so violently that it fell off, bounced its way across the floor and hit Linda on the head.
"Aargh . . ." Linda groaned.
"What was that? If you don't let me in right now, I shall Smash the door and then there'll be trouble," the Witch Mother yelled.
Marissa looked panic-stricken. "I'm going," she told Jenna. "You can stay here and good luck to you. Don't say I didn't try. See ya!" And with that she pulled herself up to the window. She was halfway through when a loud craaaaaack came from the door and a long split ran through the wood from top to bottom.
"Marissa. Wait!" yelled Jenna. "Do the something else - whatever it is."
Marissa's head appeared at the window. "Okay. This is a bit yucky," she said, "but it's got to be done." She poked her head back through the window and kissed Jenna. Jenna leaped back in surprise. "Told you it was yucky." Marissa grinned. "But you're a witch now. You don't belong to the Coven yet, you'd have to kiss them all for that."
"No thanks." Jenna grimaced.
The sound of splintering wood heralded the metal tip of the Witch Mother's boot appearing through the door.
"Time to go, Witch," said Marissa.
Jenna scrambled through the window and leaped into the dark. She landed on an old compost heap.
"Run!" hissed Marissa.
With brambles tearing at them, Jenna and Marissa raced through the overgrown garden, scrambled over the wall and dropped down into the back alley. Behind them the Witch Mother - her large bulk stuck in the tiny window - screamed in fury and Sent curses after them. The curses skittered around the garden, bounced off the walls and ReBounded on the Witch Mother.
The two witches tore up the dark back alley, heading toward the welcoming lights of Gothyk Grotto. As Jenna slammed the door shut behind her to the accompaniment of the door monster, she grinned. Suddenly Gothyk Grotto looked so normal.
Marcus approached, unfazed by the sight of two witches in the shop. It was not unusual for people to dress up on the Longest Night festivities - he had just sold all their remaining skeleton suits to the staff of Wizard Sandwiches.
"Need any help?" he asked.
Jenna threw back her voluminous witch's hood.
Marcus gasped. "Princess Jenna, you're safe. Your friend, wotsisname . . . Earwig - he was looking for you."
The mention of earwigs made Jenna feel sick. "Beetle! Is he here?"
"Nah. He'll be pleased you're safe; he was going nuts. But there's someone here from the Wizard Tower for you." Marcus winked at Jenna. "Good luck."
The door monster roared again and Hildegarde rushed in. She skidded to a halt and stared at Jenna and Marissa.
"It is you!" she gasped. The Searching Glass had told her that the fleeing witch was Jenna, but she had not believed it. Catching her breath, Hildegarde said, "Princess Jenna, you do know those robes are the real thing, don't you?"
"Of course I do," said Jenna stonily.
Hildegarde looked disapprovingly at Jenna and the company she was keeping.
"Madam Marcia has asked me to take you straight to the Palace at once. She will be meeting you there. Witches' robes are not appropriate attire and I suggest you take them off right away."
Hildegarde's attitude annoyed Jenna. "No," she said. "These robes are mine and I'm wearing them."
Marissa grinned. She could get to like Jenna.
Chapter 18 The Emissary
The tide of Ordinary Wizards flowed to a halt outside a small, dimly lit storefront about a hundred yards down Wizard Way, on the right-hand side. A sign above the shop announced it to be NUMBER THIRTEEN, MAGYKAL MANUSCRIPTO-RIUM AND SPELL CHECKERS INCORPORATED.
Beetle stepped out of the protective pool of Wizards and looked up at his old, once loved, workplace. The windows were misted with the breath of twenty-one scribes toiling away inside, and through the strip of cloudy glass above the teetering piles of books and manuscripts he could see a yellow glow of light. But it was a gloomy window for the Longest Night - no wasteful candle displays were allowed under Jillie Djinn's regime.
Beetle felt sorry for the scribes working while Wizard Way was abuzz, but he was pleased they were still there. He had been worried that they might have left early that night, as they always had done in his time as Front Office Clerk and General Dogsbody. But Jillie Djinn's grip on the Manuscriptorium had tightened since Beetle left. She did not believe in leaving early - especially to have fun.