Feeling as though he were walking underwater in lead boots, Simon struggled up Wizard Way, heading for the telltale red light of the of the Wizard Tower's failing SafeShield. As he waded past the Manuscriptorium he saw dim shadows of Things emerging and heading for the Great Arch, where they were gathering, waiting for the moment when the Barricade would fail. In a nightmare of slow motion Simon crossed to the other side of the Way and pushed on down the narrow lane that ran around the Wizard Tower courtyard wall. He was heading for the ExtraOrdinary Wizard's Hidden side gate, which was not visible from the outside and so, he hoped, would not attract the attention of any Things.
When Simon arrived at the lintel that marked the presence of the Hidden gate his head was spinning and he felt as though the Fog was inside his brain. He longed to rest his heavy limbs, to lie down for a moment, just a moment . . . he leaned against the wall and felt not stones but wood and a latch beneath him. Slowly his eyes closed and he began to slide to the ground.
Strange things happen in the dying phases of a Living SafeShield. The separate components begin to make their own decisions. So when Simon slid down the Hidden gate it Knew it needed to let him in. It swung open and he half rolled in. The gate did a nifty flick, pushed him inside and closed as fast as it could. A few tendrils of Fog curled in with him but stopped when the gate became one with the wall once more.
The clear air inside the Wizard Tower courtyard soon woke Simon up. He got shakily to his feet and took a deep breath. He looked up at the Tower rearing high above him, almost dark now - the only light the red of the dying SafeShield - and he felt quite overawed. Shakily he headed across to the wide marble steps that led up to the silver doors that guarded the Tower.
Once again the Living SafeShield recognized help when it saw it. The tall silver doors opened noiselessly and Simon, heart beating fast, stepped into the Great Hall. As the doors swung closed, Simon took stock. He could hardly believe that he was actually inside Wizard Tower. For so long he had dreamed that one day he would set foot in the Tower and rescue it from danger, and now that that was exactly what he was doing, it did not seem real.
But things in the Wizard Tower had changed. Simon had not been in the Great Hall since he was a boy. He remembered it as a bright, joyful place buzzing with Magyk, with beautiful pictures flitting across the walls and a fascinating floor that wrote your name when you stepped on it. He had loved the mysterious smell of the Magyk and the sharpness of the air, and the purposeful hum of the gently turning silver spiral stairs. And now it was all very nearly gone.
The lights were low and dull, the walls dark, the floor blank and the silver spiral stairs were Stopped. Every-thing was winding down. Shadowy figures of Wizards and Apprentices were scattered about the Great Hall, the younger ones wandering anxiously to and fro, the older ones slumped with exhaustion as they concentrated on the uphill struggle of adding their tiny piece of Magykal energy to the SafeShield.
Hildegarde stepped out of the shadows. Pale and drawn, with dark circles under her eyes, she watched Simon walk to the stairs. She did not stop or question him. It was a waste of energy. If the Tower had let him in, he was here for a reason. She just hoped it was a good one.
Simon ran up the Stopped stairs. Up through the darkened floors he occasionally heard a weary murmuring of a Magykal chant, but mostly he found nothing but silence. Outside he could see the red light fading fast and he knew that once it had gone, the Darke Domaine would enter the Wizard Tower. Simon did not know how long that would take but he guessed it was minutes rather than hours.
On the twentieth floor he jumped off the stairs, ran along the broad corridor that led to the ExtraOrdinary Wizard's purple door and threw himself against it.
Inside the study Marcia was dictating the symbols that the lines on the Manuscriptorium Code had picked out. She had decided that the only thing to do was to begin with each one in turn. There were forty-nine matches. This meant there were forty-nine words in The Great UnDoing - and forty-nine possible beginnings, of which there was no way of telling which was the right one. As The Great UnDoing was an ancient incantation, Marcia knew that it would not necessarily make any sense, so there would be no clue as to what might be the first word. It was a huge risk, but she had no alternative. It was just possible they might find the correct order right away. It was the only chance they had and Marcia knew she had to take it.
And so she was rapidly dictating. "Zero, star, three, Magyk, labyrinth, gold, Ankh, square, duck - yes, I did say duck - two, twin, seven, bridge - oh!" Marcia looked up suddenly.
"My door . . . it's let someone in," she whispered. "There's Darke on them. From outside."
There was a sharp intake of breath. "I'll go and check it out," said Silas, heading for the study door.
"Silas, wait." Alther got up from his perch. "I'll go. Bar the door when I've gone."
"Thank you, Alther," said Marcia as the ghost quickly DisComposed himself and walked through the door. "Now, where were we? Oh, drat, I don't know. Septimus, I'll start again. Zero, star, three, Magyk, labyrinth, gold, Ankh, square, duck, two, twin, seven, bridge, spiral, four, ellipse, plus, tower - Alther, is that you?"
"Yes. UnBar the door please, Marcia. Quickly. I have someone to see you."
Everyone exchanged questioning glances. Who could it be?
Alther ushered in Simon to a stunned silence. "Before you say anything, Marcia, this young man has some important information. He knows where to begin."
"He does?" Marcia frowned. "Alther, there are other Invocations on this Code - and some are downright dangerous. How can I be sure he will tell me where to begin the correct one?"
Septimus, Nicko and Jenna looked at each other. Other invocations? So Marcia was gambling that they would reach the right one first. Things were even worse than they had thought.
"I've known him since he was born," said Alther. "I believe you can trust him."
"You can trust me. I promise," said Simon quietly.
Marcia looked at Simon. He was soaking wet, trembling with cold, and there was desperation in his eyes - a desperation that mirrored exactly what she was feeling that very moment. She made her decision.
"Very well, Simon," she said. "Would you show us where The Great UnDoing begins?"
And so Simon found himself somewhere he had never thought possible. At the top of the Wizard Tower, sitting at the desk of the ExtraOrdinary Wizard, surrounded by fabled Magykal books and objects - including, he noticed, his very own Sleuth. And now, watched by his father and his youngest brother, he was about to tell the ExtraOrdinary Wizard something that would save the Castle.
"The starting point is given in the index of The Darke Index," he said.
With trembling hands Simon picked up the book. For a moment it felt like an old friend, until he remembered that, in truth, it was an old enemy. The countless cold, lonely, and sometimes terrifying nights he had spent reading it came back to him and he remembered the last time he had held it when, in an early attempt to give up the Darke, he had stuffed it into the back of a cupboard and locked the door. He had never dreamed that the next time he held it he would be in the Wizard Tower.
Gingerly he opened The Darke Index at the inside of the back cover. Muttering a short incantation, he ran his finger across the well-worn endpaper and, as he did so, letters began to appear beneath his fingers.
An irritated tut came from Marcia. A simple Reveal - why hadn't she thought of that?
Beneath Simon's moving finger an alphabetical list began to Reveal itself. His finger slowed at G and everyone waited, but The Great UnDoing was not listed. Simon's finger slowed at the T but The Great UnDoing was not there. A palpable lack of confidence began to fill the little room and when Simon reached the letter U his hand began to shake. Suddenly "UnDoing. Great. The." appeared. Smiling with relief, Simon handed the Revealed index to Marcia.
"'UnDoing. Great. The. Begin with Magyk, end with Fyre,'" she read aloud. "Thank you, Simon."
Simon nodded. He did not trust himself to speak.
Marcia sat down. She put her spectacles on and opened The Darke Index. "Now, Septimus, read the symbols out to me again, beginning with Magyk. Slowly, please."
And so Septimus went through the list. At each symbol he paused while Marcia quickly leafed through the pages, grubby and grease-stained from Merrin's sticky hands. Each page had one of the symbols at the beginning of the text. At the foot of the page - looking to the casual observer like page numbers - were two numbers. Marcia noted down the numbers, then said briskly, "Next." It seemed to take forever but it was only a matter of minutes before Marcia had a column of forty-nine pairs of numbers.