Archie Greene and the Magician's Secret (15 page)

W
hen Archie opened his eyes he was in a moonlit courtyard. The air was warm and smelt of the aromatic plants of the Mediterranean. In front of him was a magnificent stone building. Archie knew it was the Great Library of Alexandria.

A tall, dark figure was moving stealthily across the courtyard. Glancing furtively over his shoulder he ducked into a concealed entrance. Archie was about to follow when he suddenly found himself inside the building. As he watched from behind a pillar, the same tall figure passed him. He was close enough now for Archie to see that he was a very tall man indeed, with a hooked nose and dull black eyes like a bird of prey. His dark eyes flashed in the shadows as if he could sense another presence, but he stared straight through Archie without seeing him.

The man lit a torch and hurried along a stone passageway. Archie followed him until they reached a heavy iron door. The man unlocked the door with a silver key. Archie just managed to slip through the door before the tall figure closed it behind him.

They were in a large, low-ceilinged room lined with books and scrolls. Seven books were chained to the wall at one end. The tall man opened the first of them. His lips moved as he read under his breath and the room felt suddenly cold. Black shapes started to form in the shadows.

Suddenly, the door flew open and another man, dressed in a white robe, stood in the doorway. The two men locked eyes.

‘You dare to open the Terrible Tomes?’ cried the man in white.

‘Dare!’ roared the other. ‘I wrote the greatest of them!’

‘You know it is forbidden, Barzak! If you close the book now then perhaps no great harm will come of it.’

The dark-eyed man laughed aloud. ‘You are a bigger fool than I thought, Obadiah, if you think this is the first time I have opened the dark books!’

The man in white looked shocked. ‘It is you who is the fool,’ he cried, ‘if you think you can resist the Terrible Tomes.’

‘Why should I resist them?’ cried Barzak. ‘In just a few more minutes they will be at my command!’

‘I cannot allow that,’ said the man in white, his voice quiet now. ‘The beasts that guard the Library have been woken. They will be here any moment. This is your last chance to give yourself up.’

‘Never,’ cried Barzak, and he hurled his flaming torch. A pile of tinder-dry scrolls exploded in flames and the fire spread to one of the bookcases.

‘You will destroy the Library!’ cried the man in white.

‘The Terrible Tomes will not burn!’ sneered Barzak. ‘You know that they are beyond flames.’

‘But the others … ?’

‘Why should I care about the others?’ roared Barzak. And as he did, a second bookcase erupted into flames.

By now the room was on fire and Archie could barely see for the smoke. He couldn’t breathe and with a rising sense of panic he realised that although no one could see him he was trapped in the burning room.

The smoke stung his eyes and the heat burned his lungs. Archie sank to his knees.

He had almost given up hope when he felt something hook his belt and give a sharp tug.
The next thing he knew he was back in the Scriptorium. Gideon Hawke was standing over him, holding one end of the book hook – the other end, with the hook, was still attached to Archie’s belt.

‘That was close,’ Hawke said, frowning. ‘Another few seconds and I wouldn’t have been able to reach you. It’s just a good job that no one closed the book – and that your cousin had the sense to come and get me. Are you all right, you young fool?’

Archie was still spluttering and wheezing from the smoke, but he managed to nod.

‘And now Archie Greene it is time for some straight talking. I have been very patient with you, but my patience is at an end.’ Hawke’s eyes flashed with anger. ‘You have something for me? If you hand it over now then I am prepared to take a lenient view. This, though, is your last chance so I suggest you take it. The museum is already in great danger and I cannot allow you to jeopardise it further. Enough of this foolishness – where is the book?’

‘It’s in my bag,’ Archie spluttered.

‘Give it to me. Now!’

*

Half an hour later, Archie and Bramble were sitting in the Lost Books Department. Gideon Hawke was pacing up and down, his brow furrowed. Wolfus Bone was sitting in an armchair by the fire.

‘This book you have been harbouring is a very dangerous book indeed.’

Archie looked sheepish. ‘I should have given it to you before. I thought I was protecting it. But now …’

Hawke’s eyebrows twitched. ‘Yes?’

Archie raised his head. ‘Now I think it is responsible for the attacks on the museum!’ he blurted out.

Hawke glowered at him. ‘Let’s hope it’s not too late to stop it. Now, go back to the beginning,’ he said, clearing himself a seat and sitting down. ‘I want you to tell me everything.’

Archie told Hawke everything he could remember from when Horace Catchpole had delivered the package until the moment Gideon Hawke had pulled him from
The Book of Yore
. The only information he held back was about him being a book whisperer. It seemed such an outrageous claim and he didn’t want to get into any more trouble than he was already in. When he had finished, he stared at his feet awkwardly.

Hawke nodded. ‘Good,’ he said, ‘now that’s out of the way, perhaps we can be friends.’

‘The book,’ Archie said. ‘What is it?’

‘I believe it is Barzak’s
Book of Souls
.’

Bramble gasped.

‘But how is that possible?’ cried Archie. ‘I mean, it is written in Enochian Script, the language of angels. Isn’t that only used to write good magic?’

Hawke looked solemn. ‘Not quite,’ he said. ‘It is true that many of the great books of magic were written in the language of angels. But is was also used to write one of the Terrible Tomes. It was the script favoured by the ancient magic writers. And that is exactly why Barzak chose it to write
The Book of Souls
. He wanted to disguise the book’s true purpose.’

‘Well it certainly fooled us!’ exclaimed Bramble.

‘But if you knew that I had it, why didn’t you say anything?’ asked Archie.

Hawke met his eye. ‘I could have forced you to surrender the book. But I believed that there was a reason it was sent to you. So I decided to wait and see what developed.’ He shook his head. ‘Besides, even I did not imagine for a second that it was Barzak’s book!’

‘Why is
The Book of Souls
so dangerous?’ Archie asked.

Hawke did not reply at first. His brow was heavy and he seemed lost in his own thoughts. The fire had died down. He picked up a log and placed
it on the grate. The tinder-dry wood immediately caught, with bright orange tongues of fire snaking out from the embers, licking its underside, curling and writhing in their hunger to consume the wood.

Hawke watched the flames for a moment.

‘As you know, Alexander the Great entrusted his magical collection to the Flame Keepers. When Alexander died, they continued their work. Time passed.

‘Three hundred years later, Barzak began to write dark magic, using Enochian Script to hide what he was doing. When the chief librarian realised what Barzak was up to, he banished him. But by then it was too late – Barzak had already written
The Book of Souls
, a book of the darkest magic imaginable,’ said Hawke. ‘A magic so dark that it could bring down the heavens and destroy the earth!’

‘And we thought it must be good because it was in the language of angels!’ said Bramble, lamely.

Hawke winced. ‘Others have made the same mistake, including John Dee. It is what Barzak intended. But the Terrible Tomes corrupt all who seek to use their power.

‘Barzak thought he could control the dark magic he had created, but he had already fallen under its spell. The chief librarian locked away his
book with the other Terrible Tomes. But Barzak couldn’t keep away. He crept back into the Library of Alexandria and opened the room where the Tomes were kept. I am sure his intention was to release the magic and make himself its master. But the chief librarian discovered him. In the struggle, Barzak started a fire and the Great Library of Alexandria was burned down.

‘And Barzak? What happened to him?’ Archie asked.

‘He was consumed by the flames, but before he was, he swore he would have his revenge. He cursed the library and he cursed the chief librarian and all his descendants.’

Hawke paused. ‘The chief librarian’s name was Obadiah Greene. Yes Archie, your ancestor.’

Archie’s mouth fell open.

‘What a strange coincidence,’ said Bramble, ‘that the book should come to Archie when it was his ancestor who destroyed its author.’

‘If it was a concidence,’ said Hawke, darkly.

‘But how does John Dee fit into any of this?’ said Archie. ‘He came much later.’

‘That’s right. John Dee was a collector as well as a magician,’ explained Hawke. ‘He spent half his life trying to track down the lost books from Alexandria. This book was his greatest discovery. Or so he thought.

‘But Dee mistook the purpose of
The Book of Souls
. He thought it would allow him to speak to angels.’

‘We think it was Dee who sent me the riddle,’ Archie said. ‘It had his symbol on it – do you think it’s important?’

‘We shouldn’t discount it,’ said Gideon. ‘I’ll have the elders look into it.’

At that moment there was a commotion in the hall outside Hawke’s study and Vincent von Herring strode into the room.

‘Gideon, Wolfus. What’s all this I hear about one of the Terrible Tomes being found?’

‘We believe we have recovered
The Book of Souls
,’ said Gideon Hawke.

‘Barzak’s book?’ cried von Herring. ‘Good heavens! How long have you known about this?’

Archie glanced nervously at Hawke. He wondered if he was about to get into a lot of trouble.

‘We’ve had our eye on it for some time,’ answered Hawke, ‘thanks to Archie here.’

‘Good work, Gideon,’ said von Herring. ‘I don’t normally approve of apprentices getting involved with dangerous books, but well done Archie.’ His eye alighted on the book on Hawke’s desk. ‘Is that it?’ he said.

Hawke nodded. ‘Yes, we believe so. But it will
have to go through the proper procedures to be certain. I have sent for Morag.’

‘There’s no time for that, Gideon!’ exclaimed von Herring. ‘If it is
The Book of Souls
, then we cannot afford to take any chances. I will put it in the crypt immediately.’

‘But we should wait until Morag has researched the book in the archive,’ cried Wolfus Bone.

Von Herring looked at him. ‘Whatever is the matter, Wolfus?’

‘I need more time to study it. To be absolutely certain.’

Von Herring gave him a sharp look. ‘Do you think that’s wise, Wolfus? Surely you and Gideon know better than anyone that the Terrible Tomes have a corrupting influence?’

‘But there are procedures that must be followed, particularly with a book of this power,’ Bone protested. ‘I need more time.’

‘We don’t have more time,’ said von Herring. ‘The museum is under attack. We can’t leave it to chance. If it is one of the seven then it must be locked in the crypt. As the head of Dangerous Books I absolutely insist on it. I will take it there myself. Immediately.’

Before anyone could stop him, von Herring had picked up the book and marched out of Gideon Hawke’s study.

W
ord had spread among the apprentices that one of the Terrible Tomes had been recovered. Their relief was tempered by the knowledge that the museum was still on maximum alert because the elders feared that an attack by Greaders was imminent. Some apprentices had not come back to work although most had decided to stay. Archie and Bramble were among them.

Old Zeb remained wary. ‘Now that
The Book of Souls
is locked away in the crypt, let’s hope that’s the last of it,’ the old bookbinder said. ‘But I can’t believe that you kept it a secret from me for so long, Archie.’

‘Sorry,’ said Archie, feeling embarrassed. ‘I didn’t realise how dangerous it was. But at least it explains what the Greaders were after.’

‘Hmmm,’ muttered the old man. ‘I suppose so, but Gideon Hawke says the danger is not past yet. He believes the Greaders are still plotting to attack the museum.’

‘Attack? How?’ asked Archie.

‘I don’t know,’ said Old Zeb. ‘But Gideon says we must remain on our guard. He suggested that the apprentices brush up on their knowledge of dark magic just in case. Now, take these popper phials to the museum. We don’t want any magic going astray with Greaders at large.’

‘Did he mention the riddle?’

‘No,’ said Old Zeb. ‘But you can leave it to the elders now. We are meeting later today to discuss plans to defend the museum.’

Archie was still thinking about the riddle when he arrived at the museum.

Most of the apprentices were in the Great Gallery. Archie spotted Rupert Trevallan and asked him what to do with the glass phials.

‘A mammoth, you say?’ said Rupert. ‘I’ll take that one to the menagerie. But Sir Bodwin will have to go to central phialling. Ask Enid about that. She’s in charge of magical remnants now.’

Archie thanked him. He’d give the other phial to Enid when he saw her. Archie sat at a desk and opened
A Survivor’s Guide to Black-hearted Beasts & Beings
. He looked up flarewolf.

Flarewolf:
Distantly related to werewolves, flarewolves are part wolf and part dragon. In common with other dark beasts, a flarewolf can only be destroyed with a magical weapon (for more on magical weapons see
The Compendium of Magical Instruments
).

Archie scanned the bookshelves until he found
The Compendium of Magical Instruments
. What was the name of the black dagger he had seen in Gideon Hawke’s study? Hawke had called it a shadow blade. He thumbed through the book until he found the entry.

Shadow Blade:
A shadow blade is a magical weapon that has captured the reflection of pure light in the night sky – usually a moonbeam or starlight – and retains its power. Because they can penetrate any darkness, shadow blades are useful to destroy dark spirits (for more on dark spirits see
Black-hearted Beasts & Beings, Vol. I
). Most shadow blades are made from obsidian, the black glass forged in the heat of a volcano, or other materials that do not reflect light, such as ebony and jet.

He was about to close the book when he realised that a page had been neatly folded over at the corner.

Imagining Glass:
Sometimes mistaken for an ordinary magnifying glass, an imagining glass is a magical instrument that magnifies the imagination of the person who looks through it. The word imagination comes from the same source as magic, and many leading authorities (including Gideon Hawke from the Museum of Magical Miscellany in Oxford) argue that human imagination represents the last vestige of the magical power we all once possessed.

Archie read the entry again. He had never realised that reference books could be so interesting.

He was rereading the description of the blade when he heard a hissing sound, like air leaking. He shrugged and carried on with his work. But the sound persisted.

It was coming from the Scriptorium. Archie eased the door open and the torches instantly flared into life. The hissing sound was coming from the glass dome, but now it sounded more like water running.

Archie crossed the room and climbed the wooden steps up onto the viewing platform. As he peered through the glass the colour drained from his face. He raced off to get help.

Gideon Hawke, Wolfus Bone and Morag Pandrama came immediately. The other heads of
department joined them.


The Book of Reckoning
!’ shrieked Morag Pandrama. Sand was pouring through the crystal hourglass.

‘But that’s impossible!’ Wolfus Bone gasped.

Gideon Hawke stared at the book. ‘No,’ he whispered, ‘not impossible, but very unfortunate. It is as I feared – the books are preparing to release their magic.’

‘How long do you think we have, Gideon?’ Bone asked.

Hawke stared at the hourglass. ‘A few hours at most.’

*

When he met Thistle in front of Quill’s a few minutes later, Archie told him about
The Book of Reckoning
. Thistle’s face turned pale.

‘That’s not good!’ Thistle exclaimed.

‘No,’ agreed Archie. ‘The museum elders are meeting right now to decide what to do.’

‘That explains why I saw all the apprentices coming out early,’ said Thistle. ‘Where’s Bram?’

‘She’s just behind me. She stopped to talk to Rupert.’

‘The elders will think of something,’ said Thistle, trying to sound confident.

‘Maybe,’ mused Archie. ‘But I can’t help thinking John Dee’s riddle is important in all this. I’m sure it must mean something.’

Just then Bramble caught up with them. ‘I know what’s behind the blue door!’ she announced, breathlessly. ‘And you won’t believe it when you hear! I asked Rupert if he’d ever heard of a creature with amber eyes. He said he’d do some digging around for me, and he just gave me this.’ She showed them a note. ‘It’s taken from an entry in
Encyclopaedia Animalia Rarus.

‘The creature Archie saw is a bookend beast! And there are two of them. They are made of stone and guard treasure and other precious objects. They are found on ancient tombs and that sort of thing.’

‘But the creature I saw wasn’t made of stone, it was very much alive,’ said Archie.

‘Yes, bookend beasts can come to life if what they are guarding is threatened. And when they do their eyes glow amber. And another thing, the last known pair of bookend beasts protected the magic books at the Great Library in Alexandria – and they were in the form of gryphons.’

‘Which means they have the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle!’ Archie said. ‘Bram, are you thinking what I’m thinking? About the riddle?’

‘Now the two of you are talking in riddles!’ complained Thistle. ‘What are you on about?’

‘The riddle,’ breathed Bramble, excitedly.

‘Buried deep in caverns cold

A secret that remains untold

Two ancient sentries guard the prize

With lion heart and eagle eyes.’

‘Now I get it,’ Thistle exclaimed. ‘It’s referring to the bookend beasts!’

Bramble smiled. ‘Yes, and there’s something else about them. They can talk! Several people have reported holding conversations with them. They must be guarding something enormously powerful. That’s what they do. But what?’

Archie grabbed his bag. ‘Like you always say, Bram, there’s only one way to find out!’

‘Hold on a minute,’ said Thistle. ‘I thought we agreed to let Gideon Hawke handle it from here? It could be really dangerous.’

‘Hawke’s in the meeting of the museum elders,’ Archie said. ‘Von Herring says they aren’t to be disturbed under any circumstances. So it’s up to us!’

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