The trio stopped outside the rundown façade of Number Sixty-Seven Wizard Way—Larry’s Dead Languages Translation Services—and took a collective deep breath. Marcia ran her hand down the edge of the door and Septimus and Beetle heard the rapid clicks of the line of locks unfastening themselves.
So did Larry.
Larry was up early, translating an obscure dialect spoken only by six people who lived beside an oasis in the Hot, Dry Deserts of the East. He was not in the best of moods, having had a disturbed night due to a crowd of what Larry called “yobs” banging on his door half the night. So when Marcia pushed open the door with a hefty shove, Larry was not at his best.
“Oi!” he yelled.
To Larry’s great irritation Marcia strode in, followed by his ex-employee, Beetle—who had snubbed him the previous day—and the know-it-all ExtraOrdinary Apprentice. Larry grabbed a chair—one of his favorite weapons—and was on his way to meet the intruders. “Out!” he ordered, jabbing the chair at them in the manner of a lion-tamer who was thoroughly sick of lions.
Marcia was not a fan of Larry. “Indeed, Mr. Morologus, that is exactly where you are going. Out.”
“How dare you?” Larry demanded, advancing with the chair.
Marcia’s answer quickly followed in a flash—a small purple one, to be precise. And when the flash disappeared, Larry was sitting on his chair outside his door, looking in.
“Rude man,” said Marcia and then, as Larry rattled the door handle, “Lock!”
The door obeyed. Marcia raised her voice above the furious banging of Larry’s fists on the door. “Now, Beetle, perhaps you would be so kind as to show us the way?”
Beetle led Marcia through the shop and along a maze of narrow corridors, lined with shelves stacked with chaotic mountains of papers. At last Beetle stopped by a cupboard whose door had fallen off, spilling its papers across the floor. He drew back a smelly old curtain, unbolted the collection of nailed planks that Larry called a door and gave it a hefty kick. The door creaked open to reveal a small, damp courtyard stuffed full of Wizards.
“Good morning, everyone,” Marcia said perkily.
“Morning, Madam Marcia,” came a gloomy chorus from the fourteen Wizards who had been on guard all night. Marcia surveyed the bedraggled group, clustered around a ramshackle wooden hut standing in the middle of the courtyard, typical of one of the old Castle outside lavatories—or privies, as they were known. The Wizards, sodden after the night’s rain, stood huddled together like a small herd of blue sheep lost on a lonely, windswept hill. The courtyard was pervaded by the dismal smell of wet wool.
“I take it there is nothing to report?” Marcia said briskly.
“No, Madam Marcia,” came the gloomy chorus.
“Can we go now?” came a brave voice from the back. “We’re perished.”
Others chimed in.
“Totally, utterly frozzled.”
“I think my toes have fallen off.”
Marcia sighed. Wizards were not what they used to be. She could see they would be no use at all in the state they were in. “Yes. You can go. Thank you all very much. I realize it hasn’t been the most interesting night’s work.”
To a background of mutterings—“You can say that again”; “I’ve had more fun having my teeth taken out”; “Bloomin’ waste of time”—the Ordinary Wizards climbed up the ladder they had fetched after Larry had refused to answer the door for them, and clambered over the wall. The soggy Wizards then trailed back to the Wizard Tower, their job done.
Beetle’s job of guiding Marcia through Larry’s warren of a house was also done, and there was somewhere else he very much wanted to be. “I think it would be a good idea,” he said, “if I went down to the Palace landing stage and met Jenna.”
“A very good idea,” said Marcia. “Bring her straight here.”
Beetle clambered up the ladder and over the wall. Then he was gone, hurrying down to the river, feeling more excited about meeting Jenna than he thought he should be.
Marcia rubbed her hands together in the early morning chill of the dark courtyard. “Right, Septimus, let’s have a look, shall we?” Gingerly, she opened the door of the rickety old hut and peered inside. “It’s clever,” she said, her voice muffled by the hut. “You wouldn’t think anything of it. Just an empty old privy with a wooden floor. But when you look closer you can see that the entire floor is a trapdoor.”
Marcia stepped back to let Septimus see.
“We should make sure it really does lead to Smugglers’ Bolt and isn’t just a hiding place for contraband,” she said. “There are a few of those around, apparently. I suggest you lift the trapdoor and have a look.”
Warily, Septimus unfastened the bolts and lifted the trapdoor up a few inches. A smell of damp and mold wafted out. Marcia kneeled down and got out her FlashLight. She shone it into the gap and saw a line of narrow steps leading down into darkness. Suddenly she switched off the FlashLight.
“Something’s coming,” she whispered. “I can feel it.”
Very carefully, Septimus let the trapdoor down. “That’s way too fast,” he said.
Marcia stood up, brushing the dirt from her robes. “Septimus, I am so sorry. This must mean that Ernold and Edmund have been . . .” She stopped, unable to bring herself to say anything more.
Septimus said it for her. “Consumed.”
TO THE CASTLE
“We must prepare ourselves,” Marcia said. “I doubt that Jenna will get here in time. We need to keep the you-know-who at bay until she arrives.”
“Encapsulate?” asked Septimus.
“Precisely. It must be done very carefully. We can’t risk any fissures forming.”
“So not too fast.”
“An even depth.”
“Precisely. About three inches all over.”
“There’s a lot of power to keep at bay, Septimus. We must be sure.”
“Okay. Shall I pace it out?”
“Yes.” Marcia got out her pocket sextant and quickly calculated the height of the hut. “Seven point five eight recurring,” she said.
“Circumference: thirteen exactly,” said Septimus.
“Right. Let’s get this as good as we can!” Marcia did some rapid calculations. “Okay. Now, Septimus, I’ll need you to—”
“Got you!” Larry’s angry face appeared at the top of the wall. “How dare you throw me out of my house, you interfering old witch!”
Larry was treading on dangerous ground, but he clearly did not care. “Get out of my yard!” he yelled. “Or do I have to come over and drag you out?” Larry—or possibly his ladder—wobbled with indignation.
“If you value your safety,” Marcia said icily, “I suggest you do no such thing.”
“Are you threatening me?” Larry demanded. “Because if you are I—”
There was a loud crack of splitting wood and Larry was gone.
“Never trust a ladder,” said Marcia. “Now, let’s get on. I dread to think how close they are.”
One hundred and eighty seconds later the old privy hut had taken on a very different appearance. It was covered with a glowing skin of purple light, which was slowly hardening, like a chrysalis. Septimus watched, enthralled—he had never seen a real Encapsulation. It was a tough piece of Magyk to get right. Septimus had practiced on a few small objects but the Capsules either collapsed like a burst balloon or ended up lumpy like an old potato. But Marcia’s was perfect. It covered the hut evenly and smoothly, and as it hardened it began to lose its purple sheen and turn a delicate blue. Soon the color would leave it and a transparent glasslike substance would cover the entire structure, forming a barrier so impenetrable that not even a ghost would be able to get through.
But until all color was gone, the Capsule could be breached. It was an anxious time. Just in case, Marcia stationed Septimus around the back of the little hut, and she watched the front.
Suddenly a gasp came from behind the hut. “There’s something . . . coming through . . .”
A flash of fear shot through Marcia. She raced around to Septimus in time to see a tall purple ghost pushing itself through the hardening Capsule.