Archie Greene and the Magician's Secret (18 page)

B
arzak was almost seven feet tall and towered over the others as he took in his surroundings. The dark warlock clenched his claw-like hands. His black fingernails curled at the ends like talons.

Ripley’s voice was triumphant. ‘You see, Archie, when he was caught in the fire, Barzak did the only thing he could to survive – he gave his soul to
The Book of Souls
. But he needed a book whisperer to release him – and now he is free!’

The warlock clicked his fingers and
The Book of Souls
pulsed with blue light.

‘All is ready,’ Ripley said, indicating the Terrible Tomes in their cages. ‘The book whisperer is Obadiah Greene’s descendant. It was his power that released you.’

Barzak’s bloodless lips twisted into a thin smile. His black eyes turned hungrily on Archie.
His voice sounded like thunder.

‘So, boy, you have the gift. You can unlock the Terrible Tomes and release the dark magic.’

Archie turned away. ‘Never,’ he cried, defiantly.

Arthur Ripley laughed. ‘We have all the persuasion we need,’ he said, gesturing at Bramble and Thistle. ‘He will do anything to save his cousins.’

‘Then let it begin,’ Barzak said. The warlock closed his eyes in concentration. Archie heard voices inside the cages. ‘Release us from our prisons,’ the voices hissed. ‘Let us bring our dark magic to the world. Let the dark age begin!’

‘Patience my dark brothers and sisters,’ thundered Barzak. ‘Long have you waited for this moment – I am restored to you. Together we shall bring a reign of darkness that will last a thousand years.’

The warlock turned his gaze on Ripley.

‘Unlock the cages!’

Ripley fitted the first silver key into the lock of the first cage and turned it, moving down the line until he had unlocked all four of the cages containing the Terrible Tomes.

‘Are you ready to use your gift to release the Terrible Tomes?’ he asked.

‘Never!’ Archie cried again.

Ripley’s face twisted into a crooked smile. ‘Very well,’ he said.

He put one hand on Bramble’s shoulder and the other on Thistle’s and propelled them towards
The Book of Souls.

‘What a shame that your cousin is too foolish to save you,’ Ripley sneered.

‘Do you really think you’re going to get away with this?’ demanded Archie, trying to stall for time. He was desperately racking his brain to think of something. Anything.

‘Who’s going to stop me?’ laughed Ripley.

‘Gideon Hawke,’ said Archie, trying to sound more confident than he really was.

‘That idiot? Don’t make me laugh. No, Archie Greene, no knight in shining armour is coming to your rescue.’

Something clicked in Archie’s mind. A light went on. A knight in shining armour! That’s what he needed.

‘Funny you should say that!’ he said, reaching inside his bag and producing the glass phial.

‘Is that the best you can do?’ sneered Ripley. ‘Do you really think a popper stopper is of any use against the dark warlock? You are pathetic, Archie Greene.’

Archie ignored the taunts. He hurled the glass phial at the flagstone floor.

Ripley was still talking. ‘Enough. It is time to finish this. Say goodbye to your cousins, Archie Greene!’

There was a loud popping sound behind them. A horse whinnied.

Suddenly, a deep voice boomed from the shadows: ‘Unhand them you foul villain! For Archie Greene and the Museum of Magical Miscellany! Charge!’

With a thundering of hooves, Sir Bodwin careered towards the startled Arthur Ripley. Ripley stared in disbelief. Then he let go of Thistle and Bramble, and ran into the open cage prepared for
The Book of Souls
.

Sir Bodwin pulled on his reins and his horse reared up. Its front hooves pawed the air, closing the door to the cage. The knight turned his steed around and charged again, this time at Barzak.

‘In the name of magic, you shall not prevail this day you fiend!’ he roared. But Archie’s relief was short-lived. Barzak raised one clawed hand. Knight and horse ezaporated with another loud pop.

Barzak’s dark eyes flashed with rage. His voice echoed off the walls. ‘You dare to defy me, book whisperer? For that you will die! But you will serve your purpose first.’

Archie felt his hope fading. But in that moment he heard another voice. It was a quiet voice that whispered in his ear. It said, ‘Have courage. All is not lost. The Tomes are powerful but they rely on fear. The warlock needs your fear to give him power, too.’

Archie remembered
The Little Book of Blessings
. He knew that only he could hear her voice.

‘What about my cousins?’ he whispered back.

‘They must be brave, too. But I will help you. When the warlock tells you to release the magic from the Terrible Tomes, release me instead.’

Archie could hear the hissing voices inside the cages. The sound was deafening. He closed his eyes and tried to concentrate.

‘Release the Terrible Tomes!’ thundered Barzak. ‘Release my dark brothers and sisters, book whisperer – or your cousins will die!’

What was it that Gran had told him about courage? Real courage wasn’t when you felt brave; real courage was when you were frightened but acted anyway. For the first time in his life he really knew what she had meant. His legs felt like jelly and he was afraid they would fail him. Archie pulled
The Little Book of Blessings
from his pocket. ‘Stay with me,’ he whispered. ‘I need your magic.’

Then he screwed up all of his courage.

‘I release the magic that lies within

I believe in its power above all things.’

He directed his words not at the Terrible Tomes but at the little book in his hand.
The Little Book of Blessings
began to glow, giving off a warm
orange light that lit the dark cavern. Archie felt an outpouring of wisdom and courage. And most of all he felt a great surge of hope. The little book felt comforting in his hand, and he felt its magic giving him heart.

‘Archie Greene, you have the power to save magic. Believe in yourself,’ it whispered.

Barzak’s black eyes burned with hatred. The warlock raised his voice. ‘Fool! You think you can disobey me?’

And then suddenly Archie heard a new voice. It was a thin voice, and yet it did not waver.

‘I cast you back into the darkness. I command you return to where you came from,’ it cried. And in that moment Archie recognised his own voice. And as he did, the words became visible, written in fiery green letters that hung in the air. And Archie smelled the aroma of a star-lit night.

A look of shock and anger passed across Barzak’s face.

‘What is this?’ he thundered. ‘How dare you place this feeble magic before the Terrible Tomes? You will pay for this, book whisperer. You and your family are twice cursed.’

Barzak loomed over him, but Archie cried out again. ‘I cast you back into
The Book of Souls
.’

The Little Book of Blessings
gave one final pulse of light and Archie knew that it was the very last
of her magic. With a sound like thunder, Barzak was sucked back into
The Book of Souls
. Like some grotesque jack-in-the-box, the warlock writhed and twisted as he fought to keep the book open. His black talons ripped at the bindings and his dark eyes flashed with hatred.

And then with a scream like a dying animal, his dark robes folded into the pages of the book, and the wrinkled skin of his face and hands disappeared back into the cover. With a final flash of blue light,
The Book of Souls
snapped shut.

Archie heard running footsteps and saw Gideon Hawke and Morag Pandrama racing towards him. Morag Pandrama screamed a warning.

Archie whirled around and to his horror saw Barzak’s grotesque face appear in the cover of
The Book of Souls
as he made one final attempt to claw his way free of his prison.

‘Archie,’ cried Gideon Hawke. ‘The clasp!’

In a single movement, Archie picked up the silver clasp from the floor and fastened it. With a final exhalation of breath,
The Book of Souls
clicked shut.

A
n hour later, Archie, Bramble and Thistle were sitting in Quill’s sipping hot chocolate with extra cream and marshmallows.

‘Archie, are you sure you are all right?’ Gideon Hawke asked, his voice full of concern.

‘Yes,’ said Archie. The book of blessings lay limp and lifeless in his hand. He looked at Hawke. ‘She gave us courage when we needed it,’ he said.

‘Yes,’ breathed Hawke. ‘It was the last of her magic. You’re lucky to be alive. Now you need to rest.’

‘But there’s so much I want to know,’ Archie protested. ‘What was von Herring’s part in it all?’

‘He was working with Arthur Ripley all along. They kidnapped Geoffrey Screech on his way to work. That’s why the bookshop was unexpectedly closed the day you and Arabella were meant to bring your books. We found Screech safe and well at Ripley Hall. He’d been enchanted to keep him quiet but he will recover.’

‘And the almanac was a decoy?’ Archie asked.

‘Yes. It came from the Ripleys’ private library and was intended to throw us off the trail of the real Terrible Tome. And when that didn’t work, Barzak orchestrated the attacks on the museum, including the flarewolf. He could do that from inside
The Book of Souls
, but he needed a book whisperer to release him from the book.’

‘Did Arabella know about the plan?’

‘No, I think she was just a pawn in the game, like you. That girl has many faults but she probably saved Wolfus’s life after the flarewolf attacked him. I suspect Veronica Ripley knew.’

‘And Rusp … ?’ asked Archie.

‘Was working for me,’ said Hawke. ‘There was a lot at stake and I needed to know what was going on. It became even more important when you wouldn’t co-operate.’

‘I see,’ muttered Archie, ‘so it wasn’t him who dropped the imagining glass at the Aisle of White?’

‘No,’ said Hawke. ‘That was von Herring. He took it from the museum. He had a weakness for magical instruments. He would have taken Dee’s pendant as well. I imagine it was von Herring who released the flarewolf from the popper stopper to
cause a diversion while he kidnapped your cousins.’

‘And John Dee’s ghost?’ Archie asked.

Hawke smiled. ‘Dee’s spirit was finally released from its long vigil,’ he said. ‘He is at peace now.’

‘Good,’ said Archie. He liked the old man despite all the trouble he had caused for him. He looked up to see Loretta and Woodbine striding purposefully towards them.

‘My darling children!’ Loretta trilled. ‘We came as soon as we heard. Thank heavens you are safe!’

‘What ho, young ’uns,’ cried Woodbine, and his large hand gripped Archie’s in one of his
knuckle-crunching
handshakes.

‘It’s good to see everyone!’ Archie smiled. ‘Well, almost everyone. I wish Gran could be here.’

‘She’s having quite an adventure of her own,’ said Loretta. ‘She said she’ll tell us all about it when she gets home.’

At that moment, Pink arrived with a large jug of steaming hot chocolate and a plate of cakes.

‘Ready for a refill?’ she asked. ‘It’s on the house.’ Bramble and Thistle cheered loudly. Archie grinned.

*

Sixty miles away, at the London offices of Folly & Catchpole, Horace Catchpole shifted uncomfortably in his chair. Prudence Folly, the
firm’s senior partner, was seated opposite him across her desk.

‘So let me get this straight,’ Prudence said, regarding Horace as a falcon might watch a rabbit. ‘Not only did you forget to deliver the message with the package, you then decided to ignore the firm’s rules by opening the scroll and translating it.’

Horace nodded. His chin, already low, dropped a bit more.

‘Do you have anything to say in your defence?’

Horace took a deep breath. ‘The thing is,’ he said, ‘the scroll was written in a magical language. If I hadn’t opened it they wouldn’t have got the message at all.’

Prudence’s face softened. Her thin lips curled into an uncustomary smile. ‘I like it, Catchpole! It shows that our special services are still appreciated. Folly & Catchpole has been the Lore firm of choice for the magically minded for centuries! This proves that we still have a place in the world.’

Horace smiled brightly. Maybe there was still a chance he’d get a promotion in the spring after all. He hoped that what he was about to say wouldn’t ruin everything.

‘It was the least I could do,’ he said. ‘But there’s something I haven’t told you.’

Prudence sat forward in her chair. ‘Yes?’

‘There’s another package for Archie Greene …’

*

Inside the crypt in the Museum of Magical Miscellany, seven iron cages rested on their marble plinths. The fifth cage was still empty.
The Book of Souls
was finally at rest, but in a separate and very secure place, guarded by one of the bookend beasts. The other Terrible Tomes were shut tight.

Inside the glass dome in the Scriptorium,
The Book of Reckoning
was open. The hourglass in its spine gleamed in the light from the single lamp that lit the gloom. The grains of sand inside the hourglass were still. And the Bennu bird quill, poised above its open page, twitched and danced to the rhythm of life and death.

The other Book of Destiny was closed. But at that moment, inside
The Book of Prophecy
, a name was being erased … And another was being written … But that’s another story.

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