To the Darke Wizards, Hotep-Ra looks like a wounded animal at bay. They sense victory and begin a favorite Destruction. They fly around the top of the pyramid, encircling Hotep-Ra in a blistering circle of Fyre. This, however, suits Hotep-Ra very well. He begins to chant a long and complex Illusion Incantation, the sound of which the roaring of the flames conveniently drowns.
But the circle of Fyre draws ever closer and the two Darke Wizards hover, waiting for the moment it will meet and finally Hex Hotep-Ra. Then they will have a little fun with their enemy—with the help of a spider or two.
Hotep-Ra is reaching the end of his Incantation. The heat of the Fyre is blistering; he can smell the wool of his robes singeing and he can wait no longer. To the shock of the Darke Wizards, Hotep-Ra shoots up through the circle of Fyre, trailing flames behind him. He shouts the last words of the Illusion Incantation and becomes Invisible.
The Illusion works perfectly. Shamandrigger Saarn and Dramindonnor Naarn stare at each other in horror—in place of his friend, each sees Hotep-Ra and draws the conclusion that Hotep-Ra has killed him. From within his Invisibilty, Hotep-Ra watches as, maddened with fury and grief, the Darke Wizards chase each other across the rooftops and head out from the Castle.
Hotep-Ra would like to leave them to their fate, but he knows he must make sure they do not return. As he flies off after the Wizards, Hotep-Ra hears a tremendous crash. He looks down to see the top of the golden pyramid buried point down in the Wizard Tower Courtyard below—the circle of Fyre has cut through it like a wire through butter.
Hotep-Ra tails the Warrior Wizards to Bleak Creek, where he watches them battle for a day and a night—so evenly matched that neither can gain any advantage. Finally, in a frenzy, they circle each other faster and faster, swooping low over the water until they create a deep, dark whirlpool just outside the mouth of the creek. The force of the whirlpool is so great that it drags the Wizards down with it, shrieking with rage as they go.
Hotep-Ra follows. Using the Darke Art of Suspension Under Water (Hotep-Ra is a Master of many Darke arts, although he usually chooses not to use them) he dives in after the Wizards to make an end of them. But at the bottom of the whirlpool he finds that the vortex has broken through the riverbed and entered a cavern in the Darke Halls, which is an ancient refuge for all things evil. Hotep-Ra drags the Wizards from the entrance to the Darke Halls; the Wizards fight him all the way but desperation lends Hotep-Ra strength. With his last remnants of energy he hauls the Wizards up to the surface and, like a cork from a bottle, he emerges from the depths, dragging the Darke Wizards with him.
The Queen’s barge is waiting for him. She has followed him to Bleak Creek, and now the barge’s rowers are circling while the Queen stands at the prow, anxiously staring at the vortex: she knows that Hotep-Ra is somewhere beneath the water. But when he surfaces, the Queen is horrified—all she can see are the two Darke Wizards.
Hotep-Ra is now too weak to sustain his Magyk. First his Illusion and then his Invisibility slip away. Shamandrigger Saarn and Dramindonnor Naarn see each other for the first time in twenty-four hours—and then they see Hotep-Ra floundering beside them. For a few long seconds all three Wizards stare at one another, shocked. Clutching the Flyte Charm, Hotep-Ra rises up from the water. Saarn and Naarn grab on to his robes and a tangle of Wizards lands on the Queen’s barge.
The Queen knows that Hotep-Ra is too weak to win the fight. She takes off the Magykal gold ring he has given her to protect her from her enemies—a ring that may only be destroyed in pure Alchemical Fyre. “Commit them,” she says, handing him the ring. “Quick!”
“It is your ring,” Hotep-Ra whispers, handing the ring back to her. “You must say the Committal. You do remember?”
The Queen nods—of course she remembers. How could she forget something made especially for her? (It is, in fact, the only Magyk that the Queen does remember.)
The Queen begins to chant the Committal. The words roll over the Darke Wizards like the shadow of an eclipse; they struggle but they are too weak to fight back. Hotep-Ra listens anxiously to each word but he does not need to worry—when a Queen wishes to remember something, she remembers it. At last the Queen reaches the Keystone word, “Hathor.” There is a blinding flash of purple light and the Queen throws the ring into it. Darkness falls. The Queen speaks the last seven words of her Incantation and at the last word, “Commit,” Time itself is suspended. For seven long seconds the world stands still.
From within the blackness come two roars of anguish, like the sound of wounded beasts. A great howl of a hurricane descends on them, the screeching of the wind drowning out the screams of the Ring Wizards, and hurls the Queen and Hotep-Ra to the deck. The wind circles three times and then it is gone, leaving the Queen’s barge in tatters, the rowers prostrate with terror, and an unearthly silence, which is broken by a delicate plink. A gold ring with two green faces imprisoned in it tumbles to the deck and rolls into a pool of dirty water.
When Hotep-Ra returns to the Wizard Tower his old Apprentice, Talmar Ray Bell, tells him that the fallen top of the pyramid has shrunk. She does not know why.
But Hotep-Ra knows why. He knows he has narrowly escaped a most dreaded Darke Hex. A Hex that does not kill an opponent right away but reduces his size so that he becomes prey to the most terrifying creatures of all: insects. It is an ancient Darke pastime, to place a victim of such a Hex into a spider’s web and watch the result through an Enlarging Glass. Hotep-Ra shudders. He has a fear of spiders.
The tiny top of the golden pyramid lies on the bottom of a large pyramid-shaped crater—a sparkle of gold on the red Castle earth, still shrinking. An anxious group of Wizards are guarding it. (The reputation of the Wizard Tower has spread and it now houses thirteen Ordinary Wizards.) Talmar Ray Bell clambers down into the crater, picks up the miniature golden pyramid and gives it to Hotep-Ra.
Hotep-Ra puts a Stop on the Hex. The little pyramid sits heavy in his hand, a fiery gold, glinting in the sun. Hotep-Ra smiles. “You will be the Keye,” he tells the pyramid.
Once again Hotep-Ra is on the Palace landing stage, saying a sad farewell to the Queen. This time he is not alone. Talmar Ray Bell has insisted on coming with him—Hotep-Ra is so weakened by his fight with the Darke Wizards that Talmar fears he will not be able to make the journey on his own.
Hotep-Ra gives the Queen a farewell gift. It is a little book called The Queen Rules. It is bound in soft red leather with gold corners and an intricate clasp, and on it is embossed a drawing of the Dragon Boat. It is not his fault that a thousand or so years later the binding falls to pieces, the pages drop out and the Committal is lost. No bookbinder, not even a Magykal one, can make a book last forever. But memories will last, if they are handed down through the generations.
Hotep-Ra takes the Queen’s barge to the Port. There, a ship is waiting for him and they set sail. The sea is calm and the sun shines. Hotep-Ra spends most of his time on deck, storing up memories of the open air and sea breezes to tide him over the long enclosed times ahead in his final resting place—the House of Foryx.
Night falls and the ship approaches the Enchanted—and much feared—Isles of Syren. Hotep-Ra sees the Lights shining from the four cat-shaped lighthouses that surround the Isles. He waits until the ship is safely past and all but he have gone below to sleep. Then, by the light of the full moon, Hotep-Ra drops the Two-Faced Ring into the ocean. As it tumbles down through the water, moonlight glints on the gold and an ugly cowfish snaps it up.
And there begins the long journey of the Two-Faced Ring back to the Wizard Tower. Where it now lies. Waiting.
WHAT LIES BENEATH
In the Vaults of the Manuscriptorium, The Live Plan of What Lies Beneath was unrolled on a large table. Lit by a bright lantern that hung above the table, the large and fragile sheet of opalescent Magykal paper lay weighted down by standard Manuscriptorium paperweights—squares of lead backed with blue felt. The Live Plan of What Lies Beneath was a map of all the Ice Tunnels that ran below the Castle—apart from the section that traveled out to the Isles of Syren. As its name suggested, the Live Plan was a little more than just a plan. Magykally, it showed what was happening in the Ice Tunnels at that very moment.
Gathered around it were the new Chief Hermetic Scribe, O. Beetle Beetle; Romilly Badger, the Inspection Clerk; and Partridge, the new Scribe of Maps. If you had walked into the Vaults at that moment it would not have been clear who actually was the Chief Hermetic Scribe. Beetle’s long blue-and-gold coat of office had been banished to a nearby hook because its gold-banded sleeves scratched the delicate Live Plan and he was wearing his comfortable old Admiral’s jacket, which kept out the chill of the Vaults. With his dark hair flopping forward over his eyes, Beetle looked very much at home as he leaned over the Live Plan, concentrating hard.