The Vitruvian Wizard: Part Three
The desert sands were harsh on Septimus's face, and the heat was doing him no favours either. For a man born and bred in Neopia Central, and having spent much of his adult life in the dark and dank cellars of the Museum, the desert was a shock to his system.
The overnight carriage hardly helped the situation. It had been built for speed and not comfort, so when they finally arrived at their destination, the Nimmo was hot, bothered, and aching.
The Lost Desert though was an impressive sight to behold, even to his tired eyes. Vast dunes of golden sands spread out in all directions, monuments and Gebmids poked out of the landscape like icebergs in a yellow sea. The carriage had dropped him between the walled cities of Sakhmet and Qasala, on the eastern edge of the desert, and from that vantage point he could take in the splendour of both. Sakhmet was a grand city, obviously brimming with both wealth and power. A steady stream of travellers were heading across the dunes to the tents pitched outside its walls, while more still disappeared within the city reaches.
Septimus was a little disappointed to be heading to the other city, Qasala. It, unlike its neighbour, was not a glorious walled city, though Septimus understood it had once been a vast Empire in the ancient history of the place. Instead, it was built into a desert valley, steep natural walls echoing those built by the hands of Neopets in Sakhmet. The city itself was much smaller, but the architecture was no less grand. The Qasalan people had taken great pride in reconstructing their home, and it showed.
An Ogrin who seemed to be more comprised of white robes and bangles than flesh and bone was approaching Septimus from the direction of Qasala. He held out an enthusiastic hand when he was close enough.
"Septimus Crossthatch?" the Ogrin asked. "Henry Dorchester, head of the Expellibox, I got your Neomail. I must say, we don't often get requests for study from Neopia Central, but it is a capital idea! I'll show you around the place."
Septimus heard a whisper from Viktor, stashed away in his backpack.
"See? I told you they'd believe it!"
They had sent an advance Neomail to the Expellibox office, the only collection of wizards in the Lost Desert that either Septimus or Viktor knew of. It had been the skull's idea to tell them they were visiting exchange wizards, rather than the exiles they now were.
Viktor's line of thinking was that the desert was a big place, and finding Thornpipe's tomb was going to be harder than finding a needle in a haystack without help. If anyone knew where Thornpipe was buried, it would be those working in the Expellibox office – after all, Thornpipe had built the thing not long before he died.
"So, what are you studying, exactly, Mr. Crossthatch?" Henry asked as they walked. "Not that it will mean much to me – I'm a pencil pusher, not a wizard. Still, it's nice to know about people."
Septimus smiled, this couldn't be working any more perfectly.
"I'm researching on the effects of thermodynamics on the properties of hyper-dense space time portals," Septimus lied.
They were hollow words, without any scientific meaning. But Henry had said himself that he was no wizard, so he nodded and smiled regardless.
"That sounds fascinating," Henry lied. "It's still early, if you like I can give you a quick tour of the Expellibox before you settle in for the evening?"
Viktor gave a brief nudge in the small of Septimus's back to indicate that they should skip the tour in favour of locating Thornpipe's tomb, but Septimus couldn't help himself. The Expellibox was a magical contraption that had long fascinated him.
"That would be wonderful," Septimus answered.
"So," Judge Hog replied with a sigh. "You are telling me you have no way to solve this problem?"
Across the desk, Professor Bungle withered slightly under the Moehog's steely gaze.
"That's about the sum of it, yes," he replied weakly. "I mean, given time we may stumble upon a solution, but the longer the thing stays active, the more problems we are going to have."
"We already have problems, Professor," the Judge informed him. "I sent teams into the Catacombs a few days ago to survey the damage Khan the Unstoppable did to them during his breakout. It seems like many tunnels have caved in, making them somewhat inaccessible for the foreseeable future. It's a good thing most of the former inhabitants have chosen to relocate to Roo Island because you'll never guess what the teams reported back with."
Bungle inclined his head.
"The magic is seeping through the rocks, Professor," the Judge explained. "They estimate that there's a three mile radius around the Gap where the foundations of any buildings might have become magically charged. It's only a matter of time until something sparks the magic into doing something volatile. This city does not have time to wait until you stumble upon a solution, Professor. We need a solution now."
"I will of course redouble our efforts," Bungle supplied hastily.
"Try tripling them," the Judge suggested. "Invent any kind of number you like to multiply your efforts by, just find me a way to fix this."
The Judge returned to his mountain of paperwork, and Bungle excused himself. He had thought, originally, that the absence of Mr. Jennings from the meeting had been a good thing. But with the strain of rebuilding the city falling largely on the Judge's shoulders, he had been in no mood for pleasantries either.
It was a rough time to be a wizard in Neopia Central. If Bungle didn't fix the problem soon, things would soon get rougher.
Manzazuu had majored in typographic demonology, not espionage. As such, his idea of a cunning disguise was a slightly fancier cape.
Regardless, he swept into the National Neopian Bank like an aristocrat who owned the place. But perhaps that was because, as a necromancer, he had made a career out of sweeping into places.
He rang the bell for the attendant at the safety deposit box desk.
"Roginald," Manzazuu announced. "Derek Roginald. Show me to my box, if you please."
The elderly green Tonu who worked there frowned slightly.
"Lord Roginald's son?" he asked, squinting through his thick glasses. "I thought your entire family went to Meridell with the rest of the Hills contingent during the... troubles."
"I... came back," Manzazuu faltered, having accidentally given the wrong first name and identified himself as a person fifty years his junior. "To retrieve something from the box. You will show me."
The Tonu gave another little squint but relented.
"You have the key?" he asked.
Manzazuu brandished a special enchanted skeleton key. The magical detection systems within the bank were allegedly world class, and Manzazuu hoped his lesser known incantations would not set off alarms when it was used. Regardless, they would only have a matter of minutes to complete the crime.
The old Wocky followed the Tonu down the hallways of the National Neopian, past countless rows of vaults.
The Roginalds were an old Neopia Central family, and their vault undoubtedly contained untold riches. They weren't looking for that, though. Viktor's rib had been converted into a particularly inelegant pen – the skull had lectured Manzazuu about it in detail – which had been passed down through the Roginald family line and was now held in the bank's vault as a prized treasure.
At last the Tonu came to a stop outside one of the vaults. Manzazuu saw with some dismay that it was not one of the ancient vault doors he had hoped for. The Roginalds had upgraded to the more modern vault system – protected not just by a vault key, but also an electronic keypad. Manzazuu hadn't come prepared for such measures. He would have to resort to some form of magic to open the vault which would surely set off the bank's alarms.
It was time for plan B.
The old Tonu took Manzazuu's skeleton key and place it in the lock without question. It clicked in a satisfying fashion, and no alarms went off.
"Now if you'd care to enter your pass code," the Tonu gestured towards the keypad.
"Yes, certainly," Manzazuu answered, fishing about in the pocket of his shirt.
He found the small packet he was looking for and thrust it out, throwing the powdered contents over the Tonu. He slumped back, asleep.
A mild magical sedative, enough to knock him out for around an hour. Next, Manzazuu pointed his hand at the keypad. No fancy tricks there, he simply blew it up with a quick blast of purple magic. The vault unlocked, and the door swung silently open, revealing a wealth of gold inside.
A moment later, alarms began to blare up and down the corridor.
Rasputin was waiting inside the fault, the ghost Zafara floating atop the mountain of Neopoints.
"Plan B, I take it?" he asked.
Manzazuu nodded, stepping over the sleeping Tonu.
"I don't understand why this place doesn't have ghost sensors," Rasputin commented. "I've been floating here for almost half an hour and nothing."
"Because, although you can walk through walls, you can't actually take anything with you," Manzazuu snapped. "Now, in case you've forgotten, there will be armed members of the Defenders of Neopia here very soon. We don't have time to suggest improvements in security. Where is the bone?"
Rasputin sighed and pointed over to the corner of the vault, where an antique writing desk stood. The bone was placed atop it, and Manzazuu had to agree, it did make a rather unsightly pen.
Even so, he grasped it as one would a relic.
"Now how are you going to get out of here?" Rasputin asked.
"We'll get to that in a moment," Manzazuu said. "First, we find out where Viktor is."
He took a map out from the depths of his cape and unrolled it on the floor. A street map of the city greeted them, and Manzazuu held the bone-pen gently above it. He whispered some brief incantations that were drowned out by the noise of the alarms in the hallway, and let go of the pen.
It dropped with more force than expected, as if being drawn down by something more than gravity, and pierced the map.
"Where is he?" Rasputin asked, craning to see over Manzazuu.
Manzazuu traced the street names.
"Bracegirdle Yard," he said.
"The hospital?" Rasputin asked. "What's he doing there? Or whoever stole him, for that matter?"
"Maybe he bit them during the escape," Manzazuu answered darkly. "I doubt he'd go quietly. Now, that's the easy part over with. Now we have to get out of here."
"By we, you mean you," Rasputin said. "I can float through walls, remember?"
"Thanks for the offer of assistance," Manzazuu replied. "Right, judging by how far we travelled, the back wall of the bank should be about three corridors over. I should be able to blast a hole in that."
Manzazuu stood up purposefully, but at that moment the alarms blaring in the corridor stopped abruptly. The Wocky exchanged a slightly nonplussed look with his ghost conspirator, before a voice spoke loudly in the corridor.
"Defenders of Neopia! Come out with your hands up!"
Rasputin gave Manzazuu a withered look.
"Got a plan C?"
A smoke grenade was thrown through the open vault door and exploded, filling the room with a thick acrid smoke that made it impossible to see.
"Yes, as a matter of fact I do," Manzazuu answered weakly to the blurry form of Rasputin.
"We surrender!" he shouted out into the corridor. "Take me to your leader!"
To be continued...