Unable to bear the ghost of Jillie Djinn, who had taken to shouting “Fire, fire!” every few seconds, Marcia had set up her headquarters in the Great Hall. A large round table had been taken from the canteen, which Marcia had Primed and then Projected onto it a permanent map of the Castle. The watchers in the LookOuts were sending down messengers every fifteen minutes with reports on the spread of the fires, which were now springing up all over the Castle. It was Rose’s job to indicate these on the table by placing a Fire Tablet where the reported fire was. If it hadn’t been for what the Fire Tablets represented, Rose would have really enjoyed her work. She had a leather bag of thick red discs that, when pressed down onto the Primed table, burst into flame and kept burning until Quenched. So far Marcia had not Quenched any and, after a message from the West LookOut, Rose had just placed a line of four more Fire Tablets in a particularly old part of the Castle. The fires were now spreading from house to house.
On a separate table safely away from the Fire Tablets lay The Live Plan of What Lies Beneath, which Simon—with a heavily bandaged foot propped up on a chair—was watching intently, reporting on a strange shadow that he had first picked up hovering above the Chamber of Fyre. Simon had then tracked it to the Palace, where it had stopped for some time. Both he and Marcia were convinced that this was the Ring Wizards. The shadow was now moving through the tunnels toward the Wizard Tower and causing Marcia some concern.
The doors to the Wizard Tower swung open and Beetle hurried in. One glance at his expression told Marcia it was yet more bad news.
“The Ice Tunnels are in flood,” said Beetle.
A collective gasp came from everyone in the Hall. Marcia stared at Beetle in disbelief. “They can’t be,” she said.
“They are. The tunnel below the Manuscriptorium is a torrent of water. How Romilly got out I do not know.”
“Romilly was down there?”
“She was monitoring the melt,” said Beetle. “She was quite a way into the system when she noticed that it was suddenly speeding up—chunks of ice were falling from the roof and the runners of the sled were hitting brick. She headed back but as she got to the long straight below the Manuscriptorium she heard a roar. Poor Romilly, she knew exactly what it was. A wall of water picked the sled up and she was carried along—she only escaped by grabbing on to the rung just below the Ice Hatch.”
“But she’s all right?” asked Marcia.
“Shocked. Bruised. But okay.”
Julius Pike wafted over from the table where he had been staring at the fires. “ExtraOrdinary, you must act now. You cannot allow the Fyre to rage out of control.”
“Thank you, Julius,” Marcia snapped. “However, I am not prepared to risk anyone’s life until we have a chance of success. We shall wait for the Committal.”
“I hope you will not wait in vain,” said the ghost.
“I have faith in my Apprentice,” said Marcia.
“Marcia!” Simon called out. “The shadow—it’s just turned into the Tower tunnel. The Ring Wizards—they’re heading this way!”
The Tube was indeed heading that way—although with some difficulty. Jenna and Septimus had just fought to stop it from sweeping off down a wide tunnel that Septimus knew led to Beetle’s once-favorite sledding slope and they were now careering down the tunnel that led to the Wizard Tower. The Tube pitched from side to side as it rocketed along, banging against the walls. The dark, swirling water came almost to the top of the thick green glass of the cockpit window, and what was left of the window was spattered with spray. Septimus peered through, wondering how they were going to be able to see the little archway that led to the Wizard Tower.
“Coming up!” Jenna yelled.
In the light of the headlamp Septimus saw the rapidly approaching sign: TO THE WIZARD TOWER.
“Stop!” shouted Jenna.
“It won’t!” yelled Septimus. “The brake doesn’t work in water!”
“Anchor out!” Jenna yelled.
“There!” Jenna pressed a red button on Septimus’s side of the cockpit. They felt something shoot out from beneath the Tube and it slewed to a jarring halt. The nose of the Tube banged violently against the wall and sent them sprawling.
“Phew,” Septimus breathed. “That was close.”
“Very close,” said Jenna. “Right by the steps, in fact.”
The Purple Tube had stopped beside the small archway that led to the Wizard Tower steps. Septimus opened the hatches and looked out. The roar from the water shocked him and a rush of spray hit him in the face and splashed down through the open hatches.
“Aargh!” came a yell from Jenna, inside. “Cold!”
The steps leading up to the Wizard Tower were above water, but between the Tube and the safety of the bottom step rushed a narrow but turbulent stream of water. “We’re going to have to jump for it!” Septimus shouted.
“Marcellus, time to get out,” said Jenna.
Getting out seemed like a very good idea to Marcellus. With Septimus and Jenna’s help, he pulled himself up through the hatch, slithered down the side of the Tube and made a remarkably agile leap across the flood onto the step.
“Pookie!” yelled Septimus.
“Like I’d forget!” Jenna shouted, grabbing the pink rabbit from the seat and clutching it firmly around its middle. Inside she could feel the sharp corners of the pyramid digging through the fabric.
The ice-cold spray and the roar of the water had brought Marcellus to his senses. He held out his hands to Jenna and Septimus and they leaped over the gap and grasped hold. Marcellus pulled them up and together they hurried up the steps to a shining purple door on the left-hand side at the top.
Septimus stared at the purple in dismay. “It’s Sealed,” he said.
“But you can UnSeal it, can’t you, Sep?”
Septimus shook his head. “Not from this side. It is Sealed against us.”
On the other side of the Seal, Marcia said to Beetle, “I’ve Armed the Seal.” She sighed. “I’ve never done that before. It’s unethical, in my opinion. But needs must.”
“Unethical—why?” Beetle asked.
“The Arming can kill anyone who touches it, but there is no apparent difference to the layperson from a normal Seal. Most Wizards will notice it, of course, although there are some that probably wouldn’t.” She sighed. “But it should keep the most powerful of Darke Wizards at bay for a while. Let’s hope it lasts until Jenna gets back.”
Beetle did not reply. The thought of Jenna at the House of Foryx upset him; he wished now that he had gone with her when she had asked him.
Only a few inches away from Beetle, Jenna put out her hand to touch the Seal. Septimus grabbed her hand and pulled it away. “Don’t touch!” he whispered. “It’s Armed.”
“Shh. Yes, can you hear it buzzing?”
“Why are you whispering?” hissed Jenna.
“Because Marcia doesn’t use Armed Seals. She thinks they are wrong.”
Jenna looked at Septimus, scared. “You don’t think the Ring Wizards are . . . in there, do you?”
“I can guarantee they are not,” Marcellus said. “Duglius would not allow it.”
“Duglius?” Jenna and Septimus exchanged worried glances. Marcellus’s mind was clearly wandering.
“My head Drummin,” said Marcellus.
“I’m not surprised your head hurts, Marcellus,” said Jenna soothingly. “You have a huge lump on it.” A wave splashed up and she looked down to see that the water was now covering the lower two steps. “Sep,” she whispered, “the water’s rising.”
As Jenna was speaking, a huge surge of water ran through the tunnel, sending the Purple Tube bucking like a frightened horse. The anchor broke free and the Tube was dragged into the current—and then it was gone, merrily bouncing and banging along the roof of the tunnel.
Jenna, Septimus and Marcellus watched the light from the headlamp rapidly fade, plunging them into darkness. Septimus waited for his Dragon Ring to begin to glow, until he remembered that it was now back on Hotep-Ra’s finger.
They were on their own.
They stood in the dark, feeling the chill of the water lapping around their ankles. Something bumped up against Septimus’s boot and he looked down. It was his beautiful Wizard Tower sledge that he had left tied there after his last run through the Ice Tunnels with Beetle to celebrate him becoming Chief Hermetic Scribe. Septimus untied the sled’s azure-blue rope and, feeling as though he had found a friend, held on to it tightly.