Foxy had a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach. He didn’t like storms.

27

MYSTERY READING

Up in the Pyramid Library a crisis meeting was in progress. Although it was only early afternoon, the windows were shuttered and the Library was dark except for a single candle that burned on a large desk in the center of the room. Gathered around the desk were Marcia Overstrand and the two people—Septimus and Beetle—and the one ghost in the Castle whom she trusted implicitly. There were also two other people she trusted less implicitly but had been persuaded to include by Alther.

“We have a problem,” she said. “And it could be a big one.”

The candle flame flickered in the air currents that circulated around the Library, wafting in through tiny vents in its golden roof. Marcia’s green eyes, sparkling in the light, were worried. “Two things I don’t understand: First, how did those idiot Heaps break the Seal? Second, they were on Seal Watch at half past midnight, so what happened between then and when I discovered them? And why can’t we find them? Search and Rescue should have easily tracked them down by now. I just don’t get it.”

“That’s three things, Marcia,” Alther pointed out.

“What?”

“Nothing. Sorry, just being pedantic.”

“Alther, can’t you at least try to be helpful?” Marcia was still annoyed with Alther for insisting they include Marcellus and Simon.

Alther floated around the end of the desk and settled himself onto an empty shelf. “I’ve been going to the Mystery Readings recently—you know, in the Little Theater in the Ramblings. They read a mystery story every week.”

Marcia looked confused. If Alther had still been alive she would have suspected that he was going a little peculiar, but that could not happen to a ghost. A ghost remained as sane—or crazy—as he or she was on the day they entered ghosthood. And Alther had been absolutely fine on that day.

Marcia impatiently tapped the end of her pencil on the desk. “Well, Alther, I’m glad you are getting out and about. Now, please, we must get on.”

“Yes, quite. So you see, every Mystery Reading begins with the audience being told a mystery—”

“Alther, enough!”

“Marcia, be patient. I am trying to explain. The person on stage tells us the mystery. Then two more people appear. One is clever, and the other is . . . well, not so clever, shall we say. The not-so-clever person is involved in the mystery in some way but they don’t understand the significance of what they know or have seen. So the clever person makes the not-so-clever person tell them every little detail that happened. And then the clever person works out the solution purely from what the not-so-clever person has told them. Or even gets the not-so-clever person to work it out for themselves. It’s very interesting.”

Marcia looked displeased. “I think I know where this is going.”

Alther had a distinct feeling that he had not explained things as well as he could have, but he plowed on. “So, Marcia, if you tell us everything that happened today, no matter how insignificant it may have seemed to you—”

“As the not-so-clever person.”

“No! Goodness, Marcia, I don’t mean that at all.”

“Well, I seem to be fitting the part rather nicely. Which makes you, Alther, the clever person, who will soon be able to tell us where the Two-Faced Ring is. Right?”

“Not necessarily. But it might help us think. Besides, Beetle needs to hear everything that happened. As do Marcellus and Simon.”

“You could have just said that in the first place, Alther. It would have saved you a lot of trouble. I am quite happy to go over everything for Beetle.”

“Jolly good, Marcia. I suggest you begin at the beginning. When you woke up this morning.”

Marcia took a deep breath. The morning felt a very long time ago. “I woke up late. I’d had my usual bad dream over and over again and I hadn’t slept at all well.”

“Describe your dream,” said Alther.

“No, Alther. That’s witchy stuff. Dreams are not important.”

“Everything is important,” Alter insisted.

“Oh, very well. It’s the usual horrible dream. I’ve been having it since we discovered those puddles. There is some kind of fire under the Castle.”

Septimus gave a start of surprise and Marcellus flashed him a warning glance.

Marcia, lost in her dream, did not notice. “I keep trying to put the fire out, but just as I think I have, I see flames coming up through the floor of the Wizard Tower. It gets hotter and hotter and then I wake up.” Marcia shuddered. “It doesn’t sound like much, but it is not nice.”

“And then?” prompted the clever one.

“Well, I was not happy about waking up so late. I went straight downstairs and into the kitchen. Septimus had just come down from doing the hieroglyphs and he asked if I wanted some porridge but I wasn’t hungry. I couldn’t shake off the dream. I knew it was silly, but I had to go down to the Great Hall to check there were no flames coming up through the floor.” Marcia laughed, embarrassed. “And of course there weren’t. But I still felt something was not quite right so I decided to go and check on the Seal before I went back upstairs. As soon as I went into the lobby, I knew something was wrong—Edmund and Ernold were on Seal Watch.”

“What was wrong with that?” asked the clever one.

“Plenty. First, they were not on the rota for that morning. Second, Silas was not supervising, as he was meant to do. Third, they looked . . . weird.”

“They always look weird,” said Septimus, who had not taken to his uncles.

“But it wasn’t their usual weird,” said Marcia, who knew exactly what Septimus meant. “There was a greenish light all around them and they kind of glowed. I asked them what they were doing, and where was the Wizard on Seal Watch. They laughed and said that there would be no need for Seal Watch anymore. And you know what was really horrible? They both spoke in unison. Like some kind of . . .” Marcia searched for the words. “Twin machine.

“I was actually quite scared and I decided to get help. I backed out of the lobby, intending to Lock the door on them. But I didn’t get that far. They turned around and they looked so dangerous that instinctively I threw up a Shield.” Marcia’s voice caught in her throat. “I felt something hit me. Twice. Like being punched. Here.” She put her hand over her stomach. “I couldn’t get my breath . . . it felt like forever. All I could do was watch them. They came toward me, moving in a really weird way, like those automatons that Ephaniah makes, and Threw something else at me. It shook the Shield and knocked me back against the wall. They walked by, laughing—I think they thought I was dead. As they went past I felt there was something absolutely, utterly terrifying about them.”

Silence fell. Everyone, including Alther, looked shocked. Septimus glanced uneasily at the door, as if expecting his uncles to burst in at any moment.

“Where did they go?” asked Beetle.

“Out of the Wizard Tower—they knew the password, of course. Some Wizards chased after them but they had vanished. I got the Search and Rescue onto them right away. They were last seen outside Larry’s Dead Languages and after that nothing—nothing at all.”

“Is Hildegarde in Search and Rescue?” asked Alther.

“Yes, I insisted on it.”

“So when did you discover the Two-Faced Ring was gone?” asked Alther.

Marcia sighed. “I knew it was gone. They had it when they went by. That was what I could feel. It has a presence, does it not, Septimus?”

“Yes. It does.”

“But you did check?” asked Marcellus anxiously.

“Of course I checked. They had left a false Seal on the door so that it looked okay, but when I put my hand on it there was nothing there. I did an Override Command to the door to let go of the false Seal and it took three goes for the Override to work. I guess I was a bit shaken up. And then, of course, I saw the truth. The door was open and beyond it I could see the tunnel snaking away. With the false Seal gone, the Magyk began to drain and the door started to bang to and fro. I left some guard Wizards at the entrance and I walked down to the Sealed Cell. I knew what I would find and I did. The door to the Sealed Cell was open; there was a hole in the Bound Box. The ring was gone.”

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