“I have never seen one of these before,” said the doorman suspiciously.

“You won’t have,” said Septimus. “This is the only one.”

“Weally? You will have to show it to the Guardian.” The little man looked at Nicko. “I suppose you want to come in too,” he said, sounding annoyed.

“No way,” Nicko replied.

The shortsighted doorman peered at Nicko more closely and a flicker of recognition passed over his face. Suddenly his little wiry arm shot out and grasped Nicko around the wrist. “I wecognise you! You have Time to serve!” And with a strength unnatural for his size, he pulled Nicko across the threshold.

In the Dragon Boat, Jenna watched, horrified, as Nicko disappeared into the shadows of the House of Foryx. She saw Septimus dive in after him and the door slam. They were gone.

Jenna knew she had to get Nicko out. “Aunt Zelda,” she said, “I’m going after them.”

“Be careful, dear,” said Aunt Zelda. “It doesn’t look very nice in there.”

“It’s not. Now, Aunt Zelda, this is really, really important. If I get pulled in too you have to come and ring the bell. But you must not come inside. Just keep ringing the bell until we come out. Okay?”

Aunt Zelda looked confused. “All right, dear. But why don’t I go in?”

“It’s dangerous, Aunt Zelda. You mustn’t.”

“It doesn’t seem right, dear, me staying outside when it’s dangerous in there. You might need help.”

“No, we won’t need help—well, not like that. The only help we need is for you to stay outside. Here. In this Time.”

Aunt Zelda frowned, trying to work it out. “All right, dear, I’ll wait. This time.”

With a horrible feeling she had made Aunt Zelda even more confused, Jenna climbed out of the Dragon Boat, walked across the expanse of white and went up the steps to the door. Then she took a deep breath and tugged on the bellpull.

The door opened.

To her great relief, there stood Nicko with Septimus, holding out his Questing Stone with a big smile. “See, it worked, Jen. It will always bring me out in my own Time. And it set Nicko free too.”

Nicko grimaced. The Questing Stone had indeed set him free, but not before he had been imprisoned—for how long he did not know. He quickly stepped into his own Time and enveloped Jenna in a hug.

Jenna was so shocked by Nicko’s haunted look that she did not notice the tall old man who stood in the shadows behind him. But when he stepped out of the House of Foryx—for the first time in many thousands of years—and Jenna saw the ancient ExtraOrdinary Wizard robes embroidered with Magykal symbols and the formal ExtraOrdinary Wizard headband around his long white hair, she knew who he was.

“Hotep-Ra!”

“Princess,” he replied in a surprisingly deep voice—and a very odd accent—and bowed his head. A few snowflakes drifted down and settled on his white hair; Hotep-Ra looked up, as if surprised by the touch of the snow. It was then that he saw the Dragon Boat waiting for him. He caught his breath and then set off across the white marble terrace, his long purple staff clicking as he went.

Jenna, Nicko and Septimus followed at a respectful distance.

“Been waiting long?” Nicko asked Jenna nonchalantly, as though she had been hanging around for the Port barge.

“Five minutes maybe,” said Jenna.

Septimus and Nicko exchanged glances. “See,” said Septimus. “I told you so.”

They stood quietly by, not wishing to disturb the reunion. They saw the dragon turn to look at her old Master and arch her neck down to greet him. They saw Hotep-Ra put his hand on the dragon’s velvety nose and a silver streak ran down from the dragon’s eye. It dropped onto the ground and rolled toward Jenna. She picked it up and held it in the palm of her hand: a dragon tear of pure silver.

There was something that Septimus knew he must do. He took off his Dragon Ring and offered it to Hotep-Ra. “This belongs to you,” he said.

Solemnly, Hotep-Ra took the Dragon Ring. “Thank you,” he said. “But it shall be yours again before very long, I promise you.” Septimus felt strange as he watched Hotep-Ra place the ring on his right index finger and he saw the emerald eye of the ring dragon glow and the ring adjust itself to fit its old Master’s finger.

Hotep-Ra climbed aboard and fussed about—as someone who has not been aboard their boat for a few thousand years will do. He invited Aunt Zelda to sit beside him at the tiller and called to Jenna.

“Princess, I believe we have a Committal to look at.”

Jenna climbed aboard. She took out her tattered copy of The Queen Rules and passed it to Hotep-Ra, open at the page where she had written the Committal.

Hotep-Ra looked shocked. “This book was beautiful once,” he said.

Jenna felt responsible. “I’m really sorry.”

Hotep-Ra got out his Enlarging Glass and peered at Jenna’s handwriting. “The Keystone is missing,” he said. “This can never work.”

Jenna got her best pen out of her pocket. “If you tell me the Keystone, I’ll write it down,” she said.

“Princess,” said Hotep-Ra, “let me explain. I was not one of those lazy Wizards who always used the same Keystone. I had a different one for every one of my twenty-one major Incantations.” He sighed. “Unfortunately it is a long, long time ago and I cannot remember which one I used.”

Jenna was aghast. “Don’t you have it written down?”

“Apprentice, please explain,” Hotep-Ra said to Septimus. “We must go.”

While Hotep-Ra took the Dragon Boat up into the sky, Septimus told Jenna, “You see, Jen, Hotep-Ra inscribed his Incantations into the pyramid on top of the Wizard Tower. He wanted them to last forever and it was a way of making them incorruptible.”

“But Sep, you told me that those hieroglyphs are—what was it? Gobbledygook, you said.”

“They are,” said Septimus. “That is the whole point—they are a blind. To call up the real ones we need to use the Keye.”

“What key?”

“Well . . .”

Jenna sighed. “I suppose we don’t have that, either.”

“Um, not right now, no. The Keye is actually the very tip of the pyramid. When your ancestor was busy shooting those Ring Wizards, they got so mad that they sliced off the top of the pyramid and Shrank it.”

“Why would they do that?” asked Jenna, thinking that sometimes she did not understand Wizard behavior at all.

“Well, actually it was meant to happen to Hotep-Ra but he outwitted them.”

“So where is this top bit key-thingy?”

“Hotep-Ra gave it to the Queen.”

“So, what did she do with it?”

Septimus looked to Hotep-Ra for help.

“She said she would put it somewhere safe,” said Hotep-Ra.

“Oh, no.” Jenna groaned. Whenever Sarah lost anything it was always when she had put it “somewhere safe.”

“Princess,” said Hotep-Ra. “You must go back to the Palace and find the Keye.”

“But I’ve never even seen it.”

“Well, it must be somewhere,” said Hotep-Ra.

Jenna had heard that from Sarah too. It did not inspire confidence.

“For speed, I suggest you take the direct route back. Hold tight.” With that, Hotep-Ra wheeled his Dragon Boat around and dived into the abyss.

43

ROCKY TIMES

Marcellus opened his eyes and saw nothing. He tried to sit up and hit his head. Marcellus groaned. Where was he?

And then he remembered. He remembered the Ring Wizards down in his precious Fyre Chamber, trying to destroy his delicate, beautiful Fyre. He remembered his long, painful climb up through the escape burrow, and he remembered that he had to get to Marcia and warn her what was happening. But most of all he remembered how angry he was—and why. Spurred on by his fury, Marcellus attacked the rockfall that was blocking his way. His hands found a gap and methodically he began removing each stone and sending it rolling down the burrow behind him.

Down in the Chamber of Fyre, with a wall of flames roaring above and the dizzying drop below, Duglius Drummin was drumming the narrow rim of the Cauldron and keeping an anxious watch. The brilliant orange flames from the coal were shooting high into the air, dancing and whirling as they were sucked up into the Vents, feeding on the gases that were drawn up with them. Duglius wore a grim smile. He did not like to see the flames, but he knew that they were a necessary evil. As long as the coal burned on top, the delicate blue flame of the Alchemie Fyre below was protected. And in the vast hoppers inside the cavern roof, Duglius knew there was still a large store of coal left.

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