“Oh, those poor, poor men,” Marcia murmured.
“I . . . I can’t believe it. It’s so awful,” said Hildegarde. “And those women. Fancy just standing there, watching.”
Marcia shook her head. “People forget that Magyk is a dangerous thing.”
The quiet gloom of the Searching Room mirrored their somber mood as Marcia and Hildegarde stared at the image of two ten-foot-tall armored figures striding off down Wizard Way, their cloaks streaming behind them, trailing wisps of Darke Light. Wizard Way was, Marcia was relieved to see, deserted—the Alert was obviously working.
“Where are they going?” Marcia muttered anxiously. “Why aren’t they coming here for Jenna and Merrin?”
“But they don’t know Jenna and Merrin are here, do they?” Hildegarde said.
Marcia was finding Hildegarde irritatingly dense. She wondered if she had made a mistake in allowing her to move from sub-Wizard to a full Ordinary. “Hildegarde, of course they Know. These Ancient Beings have links to their past like . . .” Marcia sought for a way to explain. “Like fish.”
“On a line. A long line. Which you reel in.”
“So what are they reeling in now?” asked Hildegarde. “Haddock?”
Marcia glanced sharply at the new Wizard—was she being cheeky? But Hildegarde, who was a mistress of deadpan, looked utterly serious.
Marcia sighed. “Who knows?” she said. “Watch where they go. Keep me informed. Thank you, Hildegarde.”
Back in her rooms, the ghost of Jillie Djinn greeted Marcia in her own special way.
“A fine fish . . . a haddock is . . . reel it in . . . reel it in.”
Marcia gave a start. Jillie Djinn’s powers of speech had progressed a good deal and the ghost now had a disconcerting ability to know what she had just been talking about, which Marcia found extremely creepy. She rushed past and headed up to the Pyramid Library, where another almost equally annoying ghost greeted her.
“You will be pleased to know that we have found the Hotep-Ra Committal Template,” said Julius Pike.
“Here it is,” said Septimus. He pointed to a small square of yellowing vellum lying in the middle of the desk around which he, Rose, Beetle and Jenna—who was busy writing—were gathered. Marcia rushed over to inspect it. She took the delicate Template between finger and thumb and gazed reverentially at Hotep-Ra’s tiny, spidery writing, full of swirls and curlicues.
“This really is it. The Committal Template.” Marcia felt as though she had been given a reprieve. But something, she thought, did not make sense. She looked at Julius sharply. “So where was it?”
“In the Hidden Shelf in the Ancient Archives.”
Marcia was flummoxed. “But there is no Hidden Shelf in the Ancient Archives.”
Julius looked smug. “Clearly there is.”
“So why was this not recorded in the Hidden Index?”
The ghost did not reply. He looked, thought Septimus, decidedly shifty.
“It seems to me, Mr. Pike, that in your time as ExtraOrdinary Wizard you Hid a good many things without recording them,” Marcia observed tartly.
The ghost was evasive. “Like all ExtraOrdinary Wizards, I did what I considered best.”
“An ExtraOrdinary Wizard cannot take it upon themselves to decide what future ExtraOrdinaries will or will not need to know. Your behavior is worse than high-handed—it is downright dangerous. Your actions have put us all in great peril.”
There was an awkward silence—everyone knew that it was very rude of a current ExtraOrdinary Wizard to criticize previous incumbents—particularly to their face. Septimus decided to smooth things over. “Well, at least we have it now,” he said.
Jenna put down her pen and pushed a sheet of paper across to Marcia. “There—that’s what I said.”
“Thank you, Jenna.” Marcia took the paper. She placed it next to Hotep-Ra’s writing and compared the words on both. After some minutes she shook her head, puzzled.
“I don’t understand. Will you check them please, Septimus?” Painstakingly, Septimus compared what Jenna had written with Hotep-Ra’s Template—twice—and he, too, shook his head and passed it along to Beetle. Beetle did the same and passed it round to Rose.
“Well?” said Marcia.
“They’re the same,” all three said. “Identical.”
Marcia turned to Jenna, choosing her words with care. “Jenna, when you spoke the Committal you were in a terrifying situation. Maybe you didn’t say this exactly?”
Julius Pike chipped in impatiently. “Marcia, I assure you, the Princess said those very words. The problem is that the words were incomplete.” He stabbed a thin, ghostly finger at the vellum Template. “As is that. They are both missing the Keystone word.”
“Julius, don’t be ridiculous. How can Hotep-Ra’s very own Template be incomplete?”
Julius Pike spoke very slowly, clearly fighting to keep his temper. “I do not know. But it is. What is written there does not have a Keystone.”
“Not everything has a Keystone,” said Marcia, also trying to keep her temper.
“Everything that Hotep-Ra did had a Keystone. It is the ancient way.”
Marcia stared at the vellum. “Well, not in this one, Julius. Clearly.” She looked at Jenna. “I think you must have transposed or omitted a word.”
“But I didn’t.”
“Jenna, this is no reflection on you. But someone once said—someone I admire very much—that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. And it is impossible that Hotep-Ra has not written the Committal right.”
Jenna stood up angrily. “But this is what I said.”
Marcia adopted a soothing tone that really annoyed Jenna. “Jenna, you were incredibly brave. It cannot have been easy to remember—”
“There is no need to patronize me as well as disbelieve me, Marcia. Excuse me, everyone.” With that Jenna walked out of the library. They heard her rapid, angry footsteps clattering down the stone steps.
“Someone go after her, please,” said Marcia wearily. “Thank you, Beetle.”
Those left fell silent. Septimus was thinking. “Maybe,” he said, “there is more than one improbable truth. You see, when I spoke to Hotep-Ra—”
“When you what?” Julius Pike interrupted.
“Spoke to Hotep-Ra,” Septimus repeated.
The ghost gazed at him openmouthed.
From his pocket Septimus took a large blue-black pebble with a slight iridescent sheen to it. It nestled in his palm, showing a brilliant gold “Q” set into the stone. He put it on the desk in front of the ghost. “I went on the Queste.”
Julius Pike went virtually transparent. “The Queste?” he whispered.
“And you returned?”
Septimus could not resist. He grinned. “Here I am, so I guess I must have.”
“Septimus . . .” warned Marcia.
Julius Pike looked stunned. “You came back. Unlike two of my Apprentices. Oh, my poor, dear Syrah. . . .”
Marcia held her hand up to stop Septimus. She knew what he was going to tell Julius. “This is not the time,” she said.
“So you met the ghost of Hotep-Ra on the Queste?” asked Julius.
“No. I met Hotep-Ra himself.”
“But . . . how?”
“It’s a long story,” said Septimus. “I’ll write it down one day.” He turned to Marcia. “One of the things Hotep-Ra asked me about was damage to his Templates. He was afraid they might have been degraded by the Darke stuff that DomDaniel brought to the Tower—degraded just enough so that they still looked okay, but they no longer worked. Of course I didn’t know anything about them at the time. But I think this is what must have happened.”
“Well, that is an explanation,” Marcia conceded. “If the Template is changed, then all other forms change with it at the very same time—including the spoken form. Which was why Jenna’s was identical.” She sighed. “So it’s hopeless. The Committal is lost forever. Septimus, where are you going?”
Septimus was already halfway out of the door. “I’m going to see Hotep-Ra,” he said.