Password? he mouthed at Beetle. Beetle spoke into the hidden speaking tube beside the door and the password whispered through the Front Office. Trembling, Foxy UnLocked the door and let his Chief in, along with a very disheveled Princess and an unfamiliar ExtraOrdinary Wizard ghost.

“Hi, Foxy,” said Jenna. And then, “Marissa. What are you doing here?”

Marissa shrugged. “Oh, you know. Stuff. Like waiting for Beetle.” She giggled. “Hello, Beetle.”

Jenna was pleased to see that Beetle did not look particularly thrilled to see Marissa.

“Hello, Marissa. Hey, Foxy, is everything okay?” Beetle asked anxiously.

Foxy didn’t think anything was okay at all, but he knew what his boss meant. “Um, yeah.”

“We missed an entrance,” said Beetle, striding past Marissa. “We have to find it right now.”

“But we Locked all the entrances that were in the book, honest,” said Foxy.

“It wasn’t in the book,” said Beetle. “I didn’t know about this one when I wrote the protocol.”

“Oops-ee,” said Marissa.

Beetle stopped at the door that led from the Front Office into the Manuscriptorium. “Okay, Jenna?” he said. “We better get straight down there.”

“Hey, can I come?” said Marissa.

“No,” said Beetle as he and Jenna hurried into the Manuscriptorium.

“Oh, after you,” said Foxy as Marissa pushed by him and barged after Beetle.

Beetle set off between the rows of tall desks, trailing Jenna, Marissa, Foxy and the increasingly anxious ghost of Julius Pike.

“Princess, Chief Scribe,” said the ghost. “You are putting yourselves in great danger. We must wait for the ExtraOrdinary.”

“I could go with Beetle instead,” said Marissa. “Then Jenna could go home. I could easily do the whatever-it-is. Couldn’t I, Beetle?”

“No,” Beetle and Jenna said together.

To everyone’s surprise, the agitated ghost suddenly took a turn to the right and began to Pass Through a row of desks. In Julius’s day the desks had been arranged differently and he was forced to tread the old aisles. “Princess,” he called as he veered rapidly away from them, “you must wait!”

Beetle, Jenna and Marissa reached the concealed door in the bookcase at the back of the Manuscriptorium and the ghost emerged spluttering from a nearby desk.

“Princess, hear me, I beg you. They gain strength with every second,” said Julius. “Septimus told me you survived one encounter—which was very fortunate—but do not assume you will survive another. This time they are unlikely to just stand there and politely listen to you.”

Beetle hesitated. He hadn’t thought of that. He looked at Jenna. “Perhaps we should wait for Marcia.”

“No!” said Jenna. “This is our only chance. If we hurry we can be waiting for them when they come out of the Bolt and we can surprise them. Anyway, I’ve got a Protection Charm.” Jenna opened her hand to show a small Shield Charm that Marcia had given her a while back. She smiled. “It’s worked so far.”

Julius Pike snorted derisively. “A speck of ice in a furnace.”

Jenna put on what she now thought of as her Queen voice. “Julius, I refuse to discuss this any more. It is my duty to do whatever I can to protect the Castle. Beetle; let’s go.”

“Yep. Foxo, go to the Front Office. Septimus went to fetch Marcia. When they arrive bring them down to the Vaults. Fast!”

“Okay, Chief.”

Marissa watched the concealed door in the bookshelves close with a quiet click behind Beetle, Jenna and the ghost. Grumpily, she followed Foxy back to the Front Office, plonked herself down in the big chair by the desk and began doodling rude words in the Day Book. Marissa was very annoyed. She had spent the most boring night ever with a load of geeks, only for Beetle to snub her. She hoped Jenna’s stupid Protection Charm was rubbish. It would serve her right.

Foxy, who was a little scared of Marissa, went to the front door and stared anxiously out into Wizard Way. A group of Printer’s Apprentices hurrying along to work saw Foxy’s long nose squashed against the glass in the door and made rude faces. Foxy returned the compliment. Everything outside seemed so normal, thought Foxy, and it was such a lovely morning. Surely, he thought, nothing could be really bad when the spring sun was shining so brightly.

But Julius Pike knew better. As Beetle led the way down the steeply sloping passageway that went to the Vaults, the rushlights flickering as he and Jenna ran past, Julius became increasingly upset—the Princess was heading toward certain death and it was all his fault. He should have gone back and informed the ExtraOrdinary Wizard of the missed main exit, not blurted it out to a couple of impulsive teenagers, which was what the Princess and the Chief Hermetic Scribe were. And now the reckless teens were hurtling down the tunnel to the Vaults with apparently no more concern than if they were late for lunch.

Julius did not give up. “Stop, stop!” he urged, rushing along the snaking twists and turns of the tunnel as it headed sharply downward. Jenna and Beetle took no notice. Sometimes, thought Julius, being a ghost was incredibly frustrating. He longed to race ahead, block the tunnel and tell them to act sensibly, but he could do nothing except beg them to stop.

Jenna and Beetle had now reached the long, steep flight of steps that went down to the Vaults. Julius’s hopes were raised when he saw that the Chief Scribe had stopped for a moment. Maybe he was, at last, seeing sense. But to Julius’s disgust, all he did was to reach out and take the Princess’s hand, and then lead her down the steps—to her doom, the ghost was convinced.

The ancient door to the Vaults, with its wide slabs of oak studded with nails, was at the foot of the steps and it was, to Julius’s relief, firmly closed. As Jenna and Beetle reached it, Julius made one last plea.

“Princess, leave now, I beg you!”

Jenna wheeled around angrily. The ghost was stopping her concentrating on the Committal. “Just shut up and go away,” she hissed.

Julius Pike looked aghast. The manners of the young were shocking. No Princess would have ever spoken to an ExtraOrdinary Wizard like that in his Time—especially not to a ghost. Ghosts were always treated with respect. No wonder the Castle was such a mess. He saw the Chief Scribe squeeze the Princess’s hand and give her an encouraging glance. Then Jenna pushed open the door to the Vaults.

And screamed.

Standing behind the door, as if waiting for her, were Ernold and Edmund Heap. Wretched, ragged, hollow-eyed, bruised and battered, they stood holding on to each other for support. Who knows what, if anything, the two Heaps were conscious of at that moment. They were now thirty-eight hours into their InHabitation and during that time had been forced to run to the Port and back through the most punishing terrain. The very few people who have been rescued from a Consuming InHabitation—one that is designed to end with the exhaustion of the body rather than mere continued use—have reported that there is a moment when the mind becomes aware that it is on the verge of total occupation and makes a last, desperate stand against its invader.

And it was this moment that had arrived for Edmund and Ernold. The sight of Jenna once again opening a door to them brought back memories of when they had first seen her at the Palace, and stirred a last-chance rebellion. Now, for a few desperate moments, they found the strength to fight the Ring Wizards.

The ghost of Julius Pike watched, amazed, as Jenna stood her ground in front of the two desperate-looking tramps. He realized now that they were identical twins—two wretched, exhausted men who were bravely surviving against the Darke Wizards. The ghost watched Jenna take the gold circlet from her head and offer it out in both hands to the men. Terrified, Julius waited for the Darke Wizards to pounce—surely they would not allow this opportunity to destroy the Princess to pass. But no, somehow their victims were still holding out. Julius saw the two men wrap their arms around each other’s shoulders and stare at the Princess as if willing her on.

And so, looking deep into the eyes of her uncles, Jenna began the Committal.

Julius was impressed; the words flowed easily and fluently, and as Jenna moved through the words, both the ghost and Beetle felt that time itself had slowed down. Neither dared move. They watched as Jenna held herself utterly still, all her concentration poured into the words she was speaking. The Heaps, too, were immobile, each trying to hold on to his mind as he struggled to keep the last glimpse of consciousness that would allow him to stand against the Ring Wizards for a few precious seconds more. But the stillness belied a huge tension of opposing forces, perfectly balanced for that moment, like a tug-of-war rope that is still only because the two teams are evenly matched.

Tags: Angie Sage Books Septimus Heap Series Books Fantasy Books