The Vitruvian Wizard: Part Four
"Well?" was the single word the Judge uttered when Professor Bungle entered his office.
Somehow, he managed to convey the weight of a ten minute stern telling off in less than a second. Bungle was ready to wilt before the conversation had even begun. The Techo spared a brief, deathly scowl towards Manzazuu and Rasputin.
"I assume, of course, there is a good reason why, mere hours after I told you to focus all of your department's efforts onto solving the problem of the Gap, two of your wizards attempt a heist at the National Neopian Bank," the Judge added, tapping his desk impatiently.
"Almost certainly," Bungle replied with the trademark hesitation of a man making something up on the spot. "They are searching for Viktor Sartre."
"And they thought they would find him in a sealed bank vault?" the Judge asked.
"He is a talking skull," Bungle clarified. "The last remains of the oldest wizard in the department – he went missing, you see? As a particularly old wizard he is perhaps... the best suited to finding some ancient magic to undo the problem of the Gap. Yes, that's it."
The Judge gave bungle the look of a man who has not believed a word he has just heard, but is willing to let it slide because he has bigger problems.
"Technically we can't arrest your ghost as he's dead," the Judge explained. "Even if we did we would have no way to keep him."
"I'm not his ghost," Rasputin said. "I am an autonomous being!"
"As for your wizard," the Judge added with a glance to Manzazuu. "I'm willing to let him off with a reprimand given the situation. But any more trouble, Professor, and I will not be in such a generous mood. Clear?"
"Most clear," Bungle almost squeaked.
He quickly gestured to Manzazuu and Rasputin to follow him out. As soon as the Judge's door was closed, the old Techo rounded on them.
"What do you think you are playing at!?"
"Like you said, we were looking for Viktor," Manzazuu replied.
"I told you to focus on the Gap!" Bungle hissed. "We don't have time to be looking for skulls!"
"He is a museum employee!" Manzazuu protested.
"And so were the fifty wizards that went up with the Twelve Ways!" Bungle shouted with sudden force. "Fifty people died, because of our mistake, Friedrich! What part of that haven't you grasped yet? We owe it to them to fix this before it gets any worse. Before any more people are killed. We can't afford to be running about after Viktor!"
Bungle gave an exasperated little cry and hobbled off down the corridor, leaving the necromancers alone.
Manzazuu leaned on the wall.
"He's right, you know? It is our fault," he admitted. "But how can I fix it?"
"What do you mean?" Rasputin asked.
"Oh come on!" Manzazuu said. "Everyone knows you only get sent to the necromancy office if you are dangerous or incompetent. I think we all know which one I am."
"Or dead," Rasputin chimed in. "I had a promising future ahead of me before I died and got reassigned."
"Thanks for the moral support," Manzazuu replied bitterly. "You could have tried cheering me up, you know?"
Rasputin shrugged, "I don't recall anyone ever doing that when I died. This seems a bit small fry in comparison. Anyway, we know where Viktor is now, so we might as well pick him up and head back to the Museum. You never know, the Professor's lie might have been right, Viktor might know how to fix this. You still have his rib?"
Manzazuu nodded, he had the foresight to pocket it before the Defenders arrested him. No one wanted to check the pockets of a necromancer, it seemed.
"To the hospital, then."
The Royal Qasalan Expellibox Office was a building dedicated largely to clerical work, set near the trench which marked the Expellibox locals used to magically teleport scarabs out of the city. In the years since it had opened, people from all over the planet had begun to send other things through the machine, and it had become the principle transmission method for Neovision and long range communications such as Neomail.
Septimus had been initially disheartened to learn that the office itself didn't house any additional equipment, until Henry Dorchester had offered to give them the 'VIP' tour.
The Ogrin led him down a staircase into what at first appeared to be the office's cellar, though Septimus soon found out otherwise. Henry opened the door to reveal what looked like the remains of a large tomb, but any trace of sarcophagi or mummies had been removed. Instead, a host of Qasalan wizards rushed about between magical apparatus and glass tubes that seemed to enter through the ceiling and disappeared into walls or in some cases into thin air. Scarabs were steadily tumbling through the tubes – this was the heart of the Expellibox.
Henry walked over to the nearest wall and gestured to a panel a wizard was tending to. At first glance it appeared to be a mounted tablet of hieroglyphs, but as one of the symbols rotated and changed colour as a scarab passed overhead, Septimus realised it was something altogether different.
"This, as I'm sure you can see, is our problem," Henry explained, gesturing to the tablet. "The symbols represent where any given scarab is heading to in the global network of pipes. It's possible, with application of magic, to change the orientation and colour of the symbols, and thereby change the destination the scarab is heading to."
Septimus nodded, that much was clear to him.
"Unfortunately, the symbols, and the way in which you change them, don't seem to precisely relate to anything," Henry added. "The Expellibox operates in so many different dimensions, some of which we're not even sure are there, that at the moment it's impossible to determine the exit point. We're slowly putting the pieces together – we can narrow it down to a continent, or thereabouts, but without the operating manual that Thornpipe died without writing... well, it'll be years, perhaps even decades before we understand what exactly is happening."
Septimus nodded again. "Is it true he was a seventh son?"
"A what?" Henry asked.
"A seventh son of a seventh son," Septimus added.
"Possibly, I don't know," Henry replied. "Genealogy isn't my department."
Henry clearly hadn't been lying when he had mentioned he wasn't a wizard. He had no knowledge of the peculiar magical aptitude that seventh sons had. Septimus, of course, was only asking out of conversation. He already knew that Thornpipe had been a seventh son. He'd been following his work for years. Now, as he looked at the inner workings of the Expellibox it was clear as day. Only someone with such a gift for magic could produce something as complex and... brilliant as this.
But there was something missing...
"There must be some sort of loading device, to sort the scarabs into the correct tubes?"
Henry gave an odd smile. "Yes, you're right. You're a quick one, I'll give you that. Follow me."
Henry led Septimus across the converted tomb to the far end, where a set of stair led further down into the room that would once have held the mummified remains of the tomb's creator. Now they had been cleared out, and a single tube installed into the ceiling which dropped the scarabs from the ground level public Expellibox down into the magic machine. They fell, towards a boulder-like black rock that was slowly rotating in the centre of the room, and seemed to vaporise as they touched it. They would then reappear at a different location on the boulder and shoot off down one of the hundreds, if not thousands of exit tubes lining the walls and floor of the room.
"Loadstone," Septimus said.
Again, Henry gave the curious look of someone who had expected to have to explain this.
"This is how the Expellibox is powered, at the end of the day. Scarabs become magically charged up there in the ceiling, before falling towards this, the loadstone. The natural magnetism of the loadstone coupled with the rotation applied to it determines which tube they head off down. If we knew how to operate it correctly, changing the symbols out there in the hole would change the orientation and rotation of the loadstone, and allow us to launch the scarab down a specific tube."
"I've never seen a piece of loadstone this big," Septimus remarked. "Normally they are just small magnetic rocks. They say it can only be created from lightning striking magnetite... but to make a sample of loadstone this big... the electrical discharge that created this must have been breathtaking."
"It was quite a mystery how Thornpipe located it," Henry agreed. "Sent a team to a small islet off the coast of Altador to recover it. They said nothing was growing for miles around, like a great battle had scarred the place beyond repair. I find, when it comes to questions about great battles in far off lands, it's best not to ask them."
"So," Henry added, brightening slightly. "I think we'll get you set up in a hostel in the city for tonight, and tomorrow we can assign you to shadow one of the repair wizards, yes?"
"For your exchange project," Henry added.
"Oh yes!" Septimus replied, a little nudge in his backpack reminding him of their real reason for the visit. "Don't worry about accommodation – I know someone in the city I can lodge with. But you know, I've always been a fan of Professor Thornpipe's work. I understand he is buried not far from the city. Would it be possible to visit his tomb?"
Henry chuckled a little. "I wouldn't advise going inside to see the sarcophagus itself. An insane wizard can devise equally insane traps. But certainly, I can have people guide you to the outside of the tomb if you'd like to see the architecture."
To be continued...