Archie Greene and the Magician's Secret (6 page)

rchie found himself in a large room that he hadn’t noticed before. From this side it was obvious that Quill’s had two distinct parts to it. At the front it looked like an ordinary café, but at the back there was a much larger space that was invisible from the other side. Separating the two was the shaft of light.

From where he was now, Archie could see into the front of the shop as if it was on the other side of a window. The effect was like a one-way mirror. He could see the people at the front of the shop, but could not be seen by them.

‘That’s weird,’ he said to Bramble. ‘When you first come in you wouldn’t know this side was here at all.’

‘Exactly,’ smiled Bramble. ‘Anyone can walk in off the street but only the Flame Keepers can pass
through the door ray to this side. We call it front of house and back of house.’

‘But how’s that possible?’ he said. ‘What stops other people doing what we just did?’

‘It’s enchanted – a permission wall. Only someone with the firemark can pass through.’

Archie reached out his hand to touch the invisible wall that separated the two halves of the room. His fingers met no resistance, but Bramble grabbed his hand.

‘Don’t do that,’ she said. ‘The people on the other side will be alarmed if they see a hand appear from nowhere!’

Archie gazed around him at the large, comfortable armchairs and sofas covered in scuffed leather. He took an instant liking to Quill’s. It had a wonderful lived-in feeling. For someone who didn’t like old things, Archie surprised himself.

At that moment, he spotted the auburn-haired girl who had come in at the same time as them. She hadn’t vanished into thin air – she had just passed through the door ray. On this side of the room there were lots of teenagers seated at tables. But there were some older people, too. The room buzzed with conversations.

‘So is everyone in here an apprentice at the museum?’ asked Archie.

‘Yes, or they work there.’

The wooden bar extended from the front of Quill’s through the permission wall and into the back of the house. Pink moved along the bar, passing effortlessly between the two sides. As she did, Archie noticed that her hair changed colour from black to pink.

Pink smiled. ‘So, first time in the museum, eh Arch? Better get you there in style then. The box seats?’

Bramble smiled. ‘Yes, good idea.’

‘And what can I get you to drink?’

‘How about a shot in the dark? It’s one of my favourites,’ said Bramble, ‘with extra zing, please. He’ll have the same,’ she added, gesturing towards Archie.

Pink turned to a wooden cabinet. The shelves were full of old-fashioned medicine bottles with stoppers. Pink took down a red bottle and dripped two drops of a thick, crimson fluid into a glass. Next, she took down a blue bottle and drizzled in a small amount of a clear liquid. Finally, she took down a black bottle and added the tiniest drip. The concoction made a cackling sound and began to throw off a thick white vapour.

‘Fruit shot or a choc-tail?’ Pink asked.

‘Fruit shots,’ said Bramble.

Pink held the smoking glass under one of the taps and pulled down on the porcelain handle,
releasing a red liquid with a fragrant raspberry aroma.

‘What’s that?’ Archie asked Bramble.

‘It’s a motion potion. This one is called a shot in the dark, but there are lots of different types.’

She saw the quizzical look on Archie’s face.

‘You need a motion potion to enter Mothballs.’

Archie was about to ask why when Bramble held up her finger to silence him.

‘You’ll see.’

She handed Archie his glass and waited while Pink made another for her, then she led the way through to a small snug. At one end a plush red and gold curtain was pulled across another smaller alcove. The room was busy but Archie spotted two empty seats at a table. He sat down.

‘I wouldn’t sit there if I were you,’ cautioned Bramble. ‘I mean, unless you want to go to the lost books section. These are the seats of learning. Different seats take you to different parts of Mothballs.’

‘Oh,’ said Archie. ‘How can you tell which ones go where?’

‘Well, you can’t really unless you know, so it’s best not to sit down at first. The seats of learning are a bit unpredictable at the best of times.’

They stepped back into the middle of the room where they had a good view. ‘See that girl over
there?’ Bramble whispered, indicating the girl with auburn hair.

‘That’s Meredith Merrydance. She works in the mortal magic department with me. She came in just before us, so she will be going any second.’

As Archie watched, Meredith sat down in a
monk’s chair at the far end of the room.

‘She’s sitting in the Warlock’s Rest, which will take her to the mortal magic department.’

‘Yes,’ said Archie. ‘But I still don’t see how that is going to get her into …’

‘Shhhh! Just watch and learn,’ hissed Bramble.

‘She’s drinking her motion potion,’ whispered Bramble. ‘Now watch what happens next.’

As Archie watched, the monk’s chair that Meredith was sitting in suddenly tipped backwards and disappeared into the wall. One minute it was there. The next it was gone – and Meredith with it. Archie stared in disbelief.

‘How … ? What… ? Who… ?’

Bramble grinned. ‘I told you it was good. Now keep watching.’

Archie was still getting over his initial shock when suddenly the monk’s chair reappeared. Or at least an identical chair appeared in its place. But this one was empty.

Archie rubbed his eyes. ‘That’s incredible!’ he exclaimed.

Bramble grinned. ‘Pretty cool, eh? Now, I think it’s our turn, so we’d better sit down.’

Archie glanced across at the bar and saw Pink looking over in their direction. Bramble pulled back the plush curtains. ‘These are the box seats,’ she said, indicating a row of seats concealed there.

‘Quickly,’ she urged, stepping inside and gesturing for Archie to follow.

They were now in what resembled a box at the theatre, with a row of faded velvet seats in a line. She closed the curtain and they were engulfed in darkness. Archie heard Bramble’s voice in his ear.

‘Now, when I count to three you must drain the glass. Every last drop, mind, or the motion potion won’t work. Oh, and you’d better fasten your seat belt!’

Archie found a buckle in the arm of the chair and fastened it with a click. He sniffed the liquid in his glass. It smelled of bubblegum. He was just trying to work out what the other flavours were when he heard …

‘One, two, three!’

Something chinked against his glass.

‘Bottoms up!’

Archie tipped the contents of the glass down his throat. It tasted of wild berries and a hint of citrus. As the liquid slipped down, he felt a warm glow
spreading down his arms and legs. His fingers and toes tingled pleasantly.

He was just thinking that he wouldn’t mind another glass, when the floor suddenly disappeared and he felt himself falling.

The chair, with him still on it, was plunging through the floor at an alarming speed. He was thrown sideways and taken forward with a jerking motion. He clung to the chair and closed his eyes, feeling dizzy. When he opened them again he was rushing along a tunnel. Huge wooden shaft props held up the ceiling and lanterns hanging from the roof lit the way. When he looked down he was surprised to see that the chair was flying.

Just ahead, he could see Bramble’s chair, skittering around and throwing up sparks into the gloom every time it touched the side of the tunnel. She was swinging her long legs and raising her hat in the air and whooping with delight every time they went round a sharp bend. Just as Archie was beginning to relax, the tunnel ended abruptly and, still in their seats, he and Bramble hurtled through a huge cavernous space. A whooshing sound filled Archie’s ears.

So I’m flying through an underground cavern in an old theatre seat
, he thought to himself.

The walls around him were lined with bookcases – row after row of them crammed with scrolls and
the spines of old books. They reached high above him and all the way to the ground far below.

The box seats spiralled down and around like a corkscrew, jolting Archie from side to side. He guessed they must be a long way underground by now. Below him he could see what looked like a flock of birds, swooping in a big arc towards him. He ducked as one of them missed him by inches.

A light shone ahead in the gloom. The box seats flew towards it and squeezed through a narrow space before coming to a halt in a very long corridor.

‘Where are we?’ asked Archie.

‘The Happy Landing of course,’ cried Bramble. ‘It’s the main entrance to the museum. Now, hop out quick, or you’ll be flying back to Quill’s.’

The first box seat was already moving again, rising into the air and spiralling up in the opposite direction back towards where they’d come from. Archie undid his seat belt and climbed unsteadily to his feet. His chair immediately gave a lurch and whooshed up into the air again.

At the end of the passageway was a stone arch with an oak door almost ten feet tall. The symbol of a flame was etched into the burnished wood in gold. Bramble heaved the door open.

‘Welcome to the Museum of Magical Miscellany!’

ramble took a lit torch from a bracket by the door and held it aloft. As if in answer, the other torches began to burn brighter and Archie got his first sight of the Museum of Magical Miscellany.

Bramble beamed at him proudly. ‘This is the Great Gallery,’ she said, gesturing at the magnificent high-ceilinged room. The floor was covered with a huge mosaic with the design of a flame in the centre.

On each side, sweeping wooden staircases led up to smaller galleries. The walls were packed with bookcases that reached from the floor to the ceiling.

The museum was a hive of activity. Everywhere Archie looked there were apprentices at work in the galleries. Some were seated at little tables examining books, while others were balanced on
ladders with wheels that enabled them to reach the highest shelves. Others were pushing small carts piled high with books, or carrying books in their arms.

Something flapped overhead and then landed with a thump on a table next to Archie. With a shock he realised it wasn’t a bird at all – it was a book! The book rested for a second and then, opening its cover like wings, it flew up onto a nearby bookshelf and nuzzled its way into a row.

‘Did you see that?’ he asked Bramble.

Bramble chuckled. ‘Yes, there’s an enchantment on the museum that allows some of the books to move around. It saves a lot of unnecessary work for the apprentices.’

So that was what he had seen earlier – not birds, but flying books.

‘But I thought no one was allowed to practise magic any more?’

‘It’s against the Lore to practise magic
of Mothballs and a few other magical premises but it is permitted inside. Mind you, it’s only the books that have been here a long time that are allowed to file themselves. They have a special stamp that lets them fly.’

As Bramble was talking, a large white book swooped out of the air and landed on her head. ‘Hello, my beauty,’ she said to the book, which
flapped its cover a few times and then was still. Bramble took it off her head. ‘An old friend,’ she said. ‘I filed her the first day of my apprenticeship and she still remembers.’

She placed the white book back on the table. ‘There!’ she smiled. Then turning to Archie, she said, ‘Now let me show you something.’

As Bramble led him through the Great Gallery, Archie’s eyes were out on stalks, looking out for magic.

On one side of the room there was a long table covered in a thick black velvet cloth. Several strange objects were laid out carefully on the table in a glass case. They looked like old-fashioned scientific instruments.

‘Wow!’ Archie hissed excitedly.

‘Astroscopes,’ smiled Bramble. ‘Magical instruments. They were part of Alexander’s collection – made in the Golden Age of Magic.’

Archie’s eye was drawn to a magnifying glass with a silver handle. It had the most exquisite motif of a tree etched into it and the lens was tinted pink. Bramble saw him looking at it.

‘That’s an imagining glass. It magnifies your imagination,’ Bramble explained. ‘They are very rare indeed. An imagining glass helps you get a different perspective on whatever you look at – very useful for solving problems.

‘Now come along,’ she said, practically dragging Archie away from the table. ‘There’s something else I want to show you.’

They crossed the main gallery and climbed a marble staircase. Bramble strode on until they reached a large and very ornate set of double doors with a golden quill set into the wood in fine marquetry.

Bramble pushed open the doors. ‘The Scriptorium,’ she declared.

The air smelt musty, as if the room had not been opened for a long time. As Archie stepped over the threshold, torches in brackets on the wall suddenly ignited in a blaze of light.

In the centre of the room were rows of high desks, each shrouded in a white dustsheet. Archie sensed that he was trespassing on the stillness of the Scriptorium.

‘No one has used it in centuries, of course,’ said Bramble. ‘But everything is ready.’

‘Ready for what?’ Archie asked.

‘For the magic writers. The Flame Keepers believe that one day they will return to rewrite all the magic. When Barzak set fire to the Great Library of Alexandria and corrupted the magical books, there was nothing our ancestors could do except try to preserve them until they can be rewritten and restored to their former glory.’

‘But what’s stopping the museum rewriting the magic books now?’ Archie asked.

Bramble laughed. ‘There haven’t been any great magic writers for hundreds of years. Some people are still born with magical gifts – there are some at the museum like Gideon Hawke in Lost Books – but they aren’t a patch on the old ones. They certainly aren’t good enough to rewrite the magic themselves. All they can do is identify magic books and understand spells.

‘When the magic writers return there’ll be another golden age. Until that day, the Scriptorium gathers dust.’

Archie gazed around the room. Against one wall he noticed a large book with a brown leather cover. He felt himself drawn to it.

The Book of Yore
,’ said Bramble. ‘It contains the history of magic. But it’s best not to disturb the past.

‘This is what I wanted to show you,’ she said, pointing to the far end of the Scriptorium where a huge glass dome stood surrounded by a wooden frame. ‘Come up here so you can see better.’

She led Archie up a short flight of stairs to a raised wooden platform that offered a better view. They were standing now above the dome looking down on it.

Bramble’s eyes sparkled in the torchlight.
‘Behold, the Books of Destiny!’ she whispered.

As Archie gazed down through the glass, he could see there were two marble plinths. On each plinth a book was displayed at an angle of forty-five degrees. One of the books was closed, but the other, which was as big as a small table, was open.

‘The Books of Destiny are different to the other magic books,’ explained Bramble. ‘They foretell the future. The closed book is
The Book of Prophecy
. It contains predictions about the future.’

‘What’s the other book?’ asked Archie, indicating the open book. From where they stood he could see it had a sombre black cover. Suspended on the inside of its spine so that it was clearly visible was a strange silver hourglass. But strangest of all, a blue quill floated in the air just above its open leaves. He watched in wonder as the quill danced in the air scribbling entries.

‘That is
The Book of Reckoning
,’ whispered Bramble. ‘It keeps the tally between life and death. Each and every one of us will pass through its pages.’

Archie could see that the blue quill was moving in a smooth and controlled way, as new names appeared on one side of the ledger.

The Book of Reckoning
contains the entry of every birth and death in the history of the world,’
Bramble continued. ‘The magic quill is from a Bennu bird and it is constantly updating itself.’

Archie gazed at the huge book in awe. ‘That’s amazing!’ he breathed.

‘Yes,’ nodded Bramble, ‘that is remarkable enough, but
The Book of Reckoning
also has another purpose. It foretells the time when all of the magic books will release their magic. According to legend, that day will either mark the beginning of a new golden age of magic or the start of another dark age!

‘See the hourglass in its spine?’ Bramble said, pointing at the silver phial Archie had noticed earlier. ‘It keeps a tally of the time that is left until the final reckoning.’

Bramble saw the concerned look on Archie’s face. ‘Don’t worry,’ she chuckled, ‘the hourglass hasn’t moved for more than a thousand years.’

‘And what does that mean exactly?’ asked Archie.

‘It means that we can all sleep easy in our beds,’ said Bramble. ‘Now, come on, or you’ll be late for Old Zeb. See you this afternoon.’

They turned to go, and as they did neither of them saw the single grain of sand that fell from the upper chamber of the hourglass.

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