“Marcia. I am coming with Jen,” said Septimus. “Whatever you say.”
“We are all coming,” said Marcellus. “We cannot leave you to do this alone.”
Jenna remembered what her grandmother had said one evening as they had sat watching the water. “Sometimes, dear, you just have to be what I call Queeny. It may seem strange at first but it always works.”
And so that is what Jenna did. “I am doing the Committal; I shall choose. The fewer people who are in danger, the better. Marcia and I will go. No one else.” She looked at Marcia. “And I shall go first.”
Marcia bowed her head. “Very well,” she said.
From her ExtraOrdinary Wizard belt, Marcia drew out what remained of the Two-Faced Ring and handed it to Jenna. Jenna noticed that Marcia’s hand was shaking—and Marcia noticed the Jenna’s hand was shaking. Neither said a word while Jenna looked down at the twisted band of gold, which lay in her palm so lightly that she could hardly feel it. It was time to go—but before she went, there was something Jenna wanted to say.
“Beetle,” she said.
“Yes.” Beetle gulped.
“I just wanted to say that I am really sorry that when you were in the Sealed Hermetic Chamber . . . you know . . . after the Darke Domaine . . . that I didn’t stay to see if you were all right. Well, not properly all right. I so wish I had. I did really care about how you were, even though I know it didn’t look like it.”
It took Beetle some seconds to reply. “Oh. Gosh. Well, thank you.” He reached out for Jenna’s hand and took it. “Be careful up there, hey?”
Jenna nodded and held Beetle’s hand tightly.
“Time to go,” said Marcia briskly.
Marcia and Jenna walked toward the foot of the steps, Marcia spoke urgently in a low voice. “Jenna. Remember I will be right behind you all the time. When we near the top I will put a SafeShield around us. When we are close enough to”—she glanced upward—“them . . . and you are ready, tell me. I will let the Shield go. You must then begin the Committal at once. I will protect you. You must not concern yourself about anything else. Concentrate only on the words of the Committal. When you say the Keystone word, there will be a flash of light. Throw the ring into the light but do not stop speaking. Be sure to finish.”
Jenna and Marcia reached the steps. They glanced upward at the flimsy metal lattice that would its way up around the black belly of the Cauldron into the searing light far above, and exchanged nervous smiles. Then Jenna put her foot on the first step and Marcia followed. Slowly, stealthily, they began the long and lonely climb up out of the protection of the shadows and into the glare and heat of the fire.
As they disappeared from sight, Milo put his arm around Beetle’s shoulders. “All right?” he asked.
“No. Not really,” said Beetle.
“Me neither,” said Milo.
Jenna and Marcia headed up toward the heat and the roar of the fire. As they neared the top of the steps Marcia tapped Jenna on the shoulder. Shield now, she mouthed. Jenna nodded. An opalescent blanket of Magyk fell around Jenna and Marcia, cutting the roar of the fire to a distant murmur, turning the scorching heat down to merely hot and making the Ring Wizards—who were so very near—feel oddly distant. With the sensation of walking underwater Jenna stepped up onto the Viewing Station. Despite the raging fire in front of her, the loudest sound she heard was the tip-tap of pointy python shoes as Marcia followed her.
Inside the Shield Marcia’s voice rang clear. “They are on the Inspection Circle going counterclockwise. I can see the Darkenesse behind the flames. To give us the advantage of surprise, I suggest we creep up from behind. If we get onto the Circle now, they won’t even see us.”
Jenna had planned very carefully what to do, but no amount of planning could prepare her for how scared she now felt. “Okay,” she said, “let’s go.” She stepped down onto the surprisingly shaky walkway and felt Marcia follow. They set off in a counterclockwise direction. Unnerved by not being able to grab hold of the handrails because of the Shield, but insulated from the horror of the wall of fire on her left and the dizzying drop to her right, Jenna moved along the Inspection Circle as carefully as any FootFollowing witch.
There was a sudden intake of breath from Marcia, and Jenna stopped dead. Two figures, too tall to be human, clothed in Darke light, their long, straggly hair streaming in the rush of air that was swirling in to fuel the flames, were no more than a few feet in front of them.
“That’s them,” said Marcia—rather unnecessarily, Jenna thought. “Tell me when you’re ready.”
All Jenna wanted was to get it over with. “Now,” she said.
“Yes. I’m sure. Take the Shield away.”
Marcia let go of the Shield. “We’re out!” It was like stepping into an oven where a thunderstorm was raging. The Ring Wizards swung around and at once Marcia threw on a Restrain, but not before the red rays of light from their eyes had seared across Jenna’s cloak, sending up wisps of smoke.
Clutching the ring in her hand, Jenna began to speak the Committal. “By our Power, at this hour, we do you . . .”
The Wizards sprang forward, their hands like the claws of a pouncing tiger, their long curved nails heading for Jenna’s neck, pushing with all their strength against the Restrain. But Jenna remembered what Hotep-Ra had told her. Stand firm. Look them in the eye. Say the words.
And so she did.
Steadily, Jenna made her way through the Committal, determined not to rush and to speak each word clearly. As she stood defiantly on the walkway, the almost unbearable heat from the fire scorching her cloak, Jenna was unaware that behind her Marcia was struggling. Marcia didn’t know if it was the terrible heat, or the combined power of the Wizards, but the Restrain kept slipping and every time it did, the Ring Wizards moved a little closer.
But Jenna did not flinch.
Desperately, Marcia listened for the Keystone. She watched, powerless, as the ten-foot-tall beings pushed against her Magyk, inching toward Jenna. And then, at last, there came a soft word, almost drowned by the roar of the flames: Hathor. There was a flash of dazzling purple light, and Jenna threw the ring into it. There was a scream and the Ring Wizards began to melt like candlewax. Concentrating hard, Jenna moved smoothly through the last seven words, and at the final word, “Commit,” darkness fell.
Within the Chamber of Fyre, Time was suspended.
Now, from deep inside the void of Time, the Ring Wizards finally understood what their fate was to be. Two blood-chilling howls of fury and despair filled the Chamber of Fyre and set everyone’s hairs on the back of their necks tingling. Seven timeless seconds passed while the Ring Wizards were Subsumed into the gold of the ring and as Time kicked back in, a vortex of wind swirled through the Chamber of Fyre, throwing everyone to the ground.
Jenna and Marcia clung to the guardrail of the Inspection Circle as the whirlwind spun above the Cauldron, taking the flames with it, spiraling them up through the Alchemie Chimney and sending them bursting out into the evening sky.
A shocked silence fell in the Chamber of Fyre. No one moved. All that could be heard was the soft fuff-fuff-fuff of the tiny blue flames of the Alchemical Fyre and a cling as a gold ring with two screaming green faces imprisoned in it hit the lattice walkway and dropped through one of the holes.
“The ring!” yelled Marcia. “Get the ring!”
Milo caught it.
Marcellus was smiling from ear to ear as he slowly lowered the Two-Faced Ring, suspended on a golden chain, toward the beautiful, blue Alchemical Fyre. Marcia very nearly told him to get a move on. But she didn’t. Marcellus was, she thought, allowed to savor the moment. He deserved it.
Marcellus was as happy as he could remember being for a very long time. He was back in his Fyre Chamber by right and about to DeNature the very thing that had destroyed his life so very long ago. He watched the faces of those he had gathered around him for this moment, transfixed by the ring as it dangled above the tiny blue flames that flickered gently across the top of the Fyre Cauldron. Here were people that Marcellus had grown to care about—the ExtraOrdinary Wizard, the Chief Hermetic Scribe and the Queen-to-be, not to mention his old Apprentice, Septimus, and his new Apprentice, Simon, who had come along with the accomplished chimney architect, Lucy Heap. There was Alther Mella, and also the very first ExtraOrdinary Wizard, Hotep-Ra, of whom Marcellus was quite in awe. And as the ghost of Julius Pike, escorted by Duglius Drummin, joined them, Marcellus felt rather outnumbered by ExtraOrdinary Wizards.