Meanwhile, Jenna clutched the sodden and increasingly heavy pink rabbit to her. She was beginning to wonder if all they had gone through to get the Committal was going to come to nothing.
A wave swashed over them, taking the water up to their knees. “Apprentice,” said Marcellus, “you could try the old-fashioned way of finding out who is on the other side. You could shout.”
Another wave, which washed water up to their waists, convinced Septimus that he had nothing to lose. “Marcia!” he called out, his voice echoing in the domed, watery space. “It’s me—Septimus!”
There was no reply.
On the other side of the Armed Seal, a whispered conference was in progress.
“It is a trick,” said Julius. “Your Apprentice cannot possibly be back yet.”
“It is not a trick,” said Marcia. “It is Septimus. I can Feel it.”
Milo joined Marcia. “You should go with what you feel,” he said.
“Feelings!” said Julius. “Huh! That old mumbo jumbo.”
A wave pushed the water up to their chests. Marcellus raised his arm to check how much headroom they had left. Enough for two more waves, he reckoned. That was all.
“Let your rabbit go,” he told Jenna. “You will need both hands soon.”
“But it’s got the pyramid in it,” said Jenna. And then, seeing Marcellus’s puzzled look, she said, “It has the Keye to the Committal in it—the words that will put the Wizards back in the ring.”
Marcellus remembered. “Then give it to me. I will not let go of it, I promise you.”
Jenna gave the heavy, sodden pink rabbit to Marcellus. He took it by the ears and very nearly dropped it in surprise at its weight. But Marcellus was no stranger to carrying lumps of gold and he quickly stuffed it into the large leather pouch that he wore hidden under his cloak, where Pookie the rabbit joined a collection of gold coins and nuggets.
Released from her burden, Jenna put all her energy into yelling, “Marcia! Let us in!”
On the other side of the Shield, Milo gasped. “I can hear Jenna!”
“So can I,” said Beetle.
“It’s an old Darke trick,” the ghost of Julius Pike told them. “You hear the people you long for. That’s how a Darke Domaine begins.”
Beetle hesitated. The ghost was right—he knew that well enough.
Marcia also faltered. She looked at Milo. “He’s right,” she said.
“No, he’s not,” said Milo. “That’s my Jenna out there. And your Septimus. Let them in.”
Another surge of water had left Marcellus the one only able to stand and keep his head above water. Septimus had regretfully let go of his sled and now both he and Jenna were clinging to Marcellus, their heads bumping up and down against the brick roof of the stairwell. They knew the next wave would be their last.
“Mar . . . ceeee . . . aaaaaah!” they yelled.
Jenna’s and Septimus’s cries echoed out of the little broom cupboard and into the Great Hall of the Wizard Tower. A crowd of concerned Wizards gathered at the cupboard door.
“Marcia’s not there,” said Septimus despairingly. “She would let us in if she was. It must be the Ring Wizards.”
Another—mercifully small—wave washed up to their mouths and set them coughing and spluttering.
“Marcia! Let us in, for pity’s sake!” yelled Marcellus. “We are drowning!”
“That settles it,” said Julius. “It is the Ring Wizards. They have Marcellus hostage.”
Jenna, Septimus and Marcellus clutched one another. In a moment they would be gone—washed down the Ice Tunnels to begin an endless circuit in the currents like three Ice Wraiths.
Jenna gave one last desperate scream. “Heeeeeelp!”
“Marcia,” said Milo. “That was Jenna. I know my child.”
“And I know mine,” said Marcia. “I mean—I know Septimus. Be quiet, Julius.” With that she UnSealed the door.
A great wave of freezing water swept through the Seal, bringing with it three half-drowned people and Septimus’s Wizard Tower sledge, which Passed Through the ghost of Julius Pike like a blade of cold steel. The wave surged out of the broom cupboard and deposited Jenna, Septimus and Marcellus like stranded fish on the floor of the Great Hall. On and on the water came, until the combined efforts of Marcia and as many Wizards who could fit into the broom cupboard managed to Stop it. Then, while the water lay gently swashing to and fro, a dripping wet Marcia rapidly repaired the Seal.
Shattered, Septimus, Jenna and Marcellus could do nothing more than collapse onto the padded bench outside the Stranger Chamber and watch the Wizards Sweep the water out from the Great Hall, sending it cascading down the marble steps into the Courtyard, where it slowly drained away.
Dripping wet, wringing her cloak out as she splashed across the Wizard Tower floor, Marcia came hurrying toward them, relief that they were safe written across her face. She kneeled down beside Jenna and Septimus and grasped their hands, shocked how icy cold they were. “You did your best,” she said, consolingly. “And that is all you can do.”
Septimus knew that Marcia thought they had never made it to Hotep-Ra, but neither he nor Jenna had the energy to explain. Septimus nudged Marcellus. “Rabbit,” he said.
Too exhausted to speak, Marcellus nodded. He pulled the dripping pink rabbit from his pouch and wordlessly he handed it to Marcia.
Dark columns of smoke were rising into the sky, each one a family’s home or livelihood going up in flames. In the very center stood the Alchemie Chimney with a massive plume of black smoke belching from it, like a Witch Mother on a midnight moot conducting her acolytes as they danced around her.
The breeze blowing at the top of the Wizard Tower brought with it the acrid smell of smoke but up there, Septimus had other things on his mind. With the Flyte Charm clutched tightly in one hand and the Reduced top of the pyramid in the other, he was lying facedown, hovering at arm’s length above the flat silver platform of the pyramid roof, on which the decoy hieroglyphs were incised. He must not—Hotep-Ra had impressed this upon him—make contact with the silver. If he did, the Keye would not work.
Hotep-Ra had told Septimus that he had stored his twenty-one Incantations inside the pyramid roof of the Wizard Tower. They were filed in order of use, with—he thought—the most recently used one at the top, so the Committal should be the very first one to Appear. If it didn’t, then that meant he had stored them back to front and it would be the very last to Appear. Septimus must then scroll through by lifting the little pyramid Keye off its indentation and replacing it. Every time he did this, another Incantation would Appear.
Very carefully, Septimus dropped the little gold pyramid into the Lock—the square indentation in the center of the hieroglyphs that had puzzled him and so many generations of Wizards and Apprentices before him. The little pyramid fitted the Lock exactly—just as a Keye should. Immediately, a symbol appeared on the blank silver square on top of the Keye, and Septimus felt heat rising from the silver platform. As he backed away, Septimus watched in awe as the meaningless hieroglyphs below began to dissolve and become words that he could understand: A Riddance for the Smell of Pig.
Septimus read the words and his heart sank—the Incantations were in reverse order. Pushing to one side the question as to why the first Incantation Hotep-Ra ever did in the Castle was for getting rid of pig smells, Septimus lifted up the pyramid Keye. The jumbled hieroglyphs returned and the top of the Keye became blank once more. He dropped the Keye back into the Lock and up came another symbol on its top and on the platform, the next Incantation: A Healing for the Young.
With the heat from the intense Magyk blazing in his face and the wind that always blew at the top of the Wizard Tower buffeting him to and fro, Septimus laboriously counted his way through the Incantations, dropping and picking up the Keye, until at last he reached the twenty-first. Holding his breath in suspense, Septimus dropped the Keye into the Lock for what he desperately hoped was the last time. A symbol appeared on top of the Keye that Septimus recognized: Hathor. And for the twenty-first time, the hieroglyphs dissolved into words. This time they read: A Committal to Gold.
“Yay!” yelled Septimus. Taking great care not to make contact with the silver platform (he could not bear the thought of having to scroll through everything again), Septimus took out his stylus and recording Tablet and meticulously wrote down the words to the Committal. He checked them three times—stopped himself from checking a fourth because he knew he had copied them right—took the Keye from the Lock and watched the words change into meaningless hieroglyphs once again.