A/N: I would just like to sincerely apologise for my severe lack of updating. Here is a slightly longer chapter to make up for it, and now that I am on holiday for three months, they should be coming a lot quicker! Thanks for being faithful and sticking with me thus far.
"Dr Bloor… what a – pleasant surprise," said Mr Onimous (he was the first to recover from the shock). "I promised to show these youngsters the cathedral one day – used to play the organ here myself – gives the tour a more personal touch, don't you think?"
"I see…" said Dr Bloor. He looked suspiciously at the crowd of children in front of him, who were smiling and nodding their heads as if that wasn't the first time they'd heard that story.
Emory was desperately searching for a place to hide; Olivia nudged her towards the back of the organ, where there was a sizeable gap. Emory nodded and squeezed through as Olivia stepped in front to shield her from view.
"Yes, well, the Chaplain was just explaining the history of this area to me – it seems he found something important that was of relevance to the school in the vaults below."
"Oh? What was that?" asked Charlie before he could stop himself.
"None of your business!" snapped Dr Bloor. "Well… good day, Mr Onimous." Giving a curt nod, he turned on his heel and marched back into the darkness of the magnificent building. The exit light towards the back of the main room showed his silhouette leave. Everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief.
"Phew, glad that's over," said Fidelio. "Even so…"
"We're on it," said Tancred and Lysander together, cottoning on to the same thought pattern. The two of them spread out around the cathedral, to check they were really alone.
When the all clear was sounded, Olivia stepped aside to let Emory out, who was brushing away dirt and cobwebs and even removing the odd spider or two off her clothes.
Mr Onimous beckoned the group further on into the cathedral where there was a smaller room he wanted to use – the vestry – as this one echoed far too much. Fidelio fell into step beside Emory, who was still patting herself down.
"Here, you missed one," he said gently, and reached across to lift a spider away from her hair. Emory blushed deeply and smiled.
"No problem." He grinned back.
Once everyone was settled into the side-room, Mr Onimous reached into a pocket inside his jacket and pulled out a very old piece of paper; so old, it appeared to be parchment.
"This here is of the utmost importance!" he began in a hushed voice. "Mrs Onimous came into possession of it some years ago, and had no need of it – until now."
"What is it?" asked Emma sombrely.
"A prophecy," he replied simply. "Foretelling the arrival of someone with a most unusual but powerful endowment… and how they could be stopped. It seems that person has arrived."
As if she were a magnet, all eyes in the room seemed to gravitate towards Emory.
"What? It's not me… is it?"
"No, no. It's not you. Stop looking at her!" Everyone grinned and turned back to the café owner. "This prophecy was made a very long time ago, by an ancestor of our very own Lysander here. And it reads,
Wrapped in sylver, it must bee,
To stoppe this monster, finde the key,
A foode source, nutt and pea,
The preventer of endowments, his ende shall bee.
"What is that supposed to mean?" Tancred was the first to break the silence.
"Let me see it," said Olivia, and reached for the parchment.
"Careful, it's very old," said Mr Onimous, before gently handing it over.
"Well, whoever wrote this clearly didn't know how to spell," she muttered while glancing over the words.
Gabriel Silk leaned over her shoulder. "The only obvious-sounding part of the riddle is the third line. 'A foode source, nutt and pea'. Surely that's meant to be a peanut, right?"
"Sounds good to me," said Mr Onimous. "That's what I thought myself when I first read it. So this so-called 'monster''s downfall seems to be a peanut."
"But who's the poem referring to, if not Emory?" asked Fidelio.
"I've been doing some research," said Mr Onimous, sitting down and taking a bunch of papers from his pocket. Peering closely at them, he continued, "and it seems to be that the person this riddle refers to is someone from a branch of the Red King called 'Wilde'*. Is there anyone new at school that this could be?"
Everyone looked at each other and frowned, shaking their heads. No one at school had the surname of "Wilde".
Mr Onimous sighed. "Ah well. Maybe the cats were wrong."
Charlie frowned. "But the cats are never wrong." One or two others chimed in with this sentiment.
"I know. That's what makes this business all rather unsettling." Mr Onimous shook his head as if to clear his thoughts, before clearing his throat loudly. "Well, this is distracting us from our true aim. Charlie – we're going to rescue your uncle tonight, and this is how we're going to do it…"
"Emma, are you ready?" whispered Tancred as the two of them crouched behind a hedge near the wall surrounding Bloors Academy.
Emma nodded. "Now turn your back! I can't do it when people are looking!"
Tancred grinned at her, before doing as she asked. He only turned around when he heard a flutter of feathers and a small hoot. In front of him, the blonde-haired girl had been replaced by a small, light brown and white-speckled owl, specifically a Northern Saw-whet owl. Tancred peered up and over the wall by placing a foot in a small gap in the wall, before dropping back down and muttering, "Coast's clear. Good luck."
Giving Tancred a small hoot of gratitude, Emma (for that was who the bird was) took off into the night. She soared higher and higher, circling the school, until she saw what she was looking for. A small, arched window, etched into the school near the attics. She perched on the edge, making a spectacle of preening herself, whilst peering inside.
"—and if you complain about the food one more time, that's all you'll be getting for a week!" The silhouette of Manfred Bloor stood out in sharp relief in the doorway of the room, before he slammed the door shut and the room was plunged into darkness. Emma heard someone sigh, and knew then that she had the right room. She gave a loud hoot, hoping to the high heavens that the others had heard her, before floating down into the room and landing in a corner.
The bird was now no longer there, and in its place stood Emma Tolly in human form once again. She peered through the darkness and managed to locate the inky black figure of a thin, crouching man.
"Mr Yewbeam?" she asked tentatively.
The figure jerked upright. "Who's there?" he asked hoarsely.
"It's me, Emma Tolly. I'm here to get you out."
"You shouldn't have come! But," he added as Emma bent down to inspect the chains, "I'm glad you did." Emma gave him a brief smile before sighing in frustration.
"Eugh, they need a key. Listen, Mr Yewbeam, I'll be back soon." She walked back into the corner to change.
"Are the others with you? Charlie? What are they going to do?"
"Oh, you'll see," Emory said, smiling into the darkness. "Or rather, you'll hear, soon enough."
In seconds, an owl flew up to the window and back out into the night. Paton grinned to himself. "You'd better outdo yourself this time, Charlie. I'm counting on you."
"Are you sure you've got this, Olivia?"
"Yes, Lysander, thank you!"
"Mr Onimous, remind me why we can't actually set the school on fire again?"
Mr Onimous gave him a wry smile. "I think the answer to that is rather obvious, don't you, Mr Sage?"
"Will you be quiet back there? I can't concentrate with you lot nattering back there!"
"Yeah, you will be in a minute –"
"Hey, it's Emma!" Emory pointed to the emerging girl. "Well, how is he?"
"Not good. I came back 'cos we're going to need some keys. Those chains don't look that breakable."
"Well, shouldn't be too hard. We'll just nip into Dr Bloor's office, ask him nicely for the key, and head right on up."
"Ha ha, very funny Tancred."
"Look, you all know how dangerous this is," cut in Mr Onimous, trying to break up the banter before it turned into a full scale row. "But Charlie's uncle needs rescuing, and we're the only ones who can do it. Now let's focus, shall we?" Everyone nodded meekly. "Good. Now, when the school's been evacuated, Emma, you go with Emory to Dr Bloor's office and see if you can find those keys. Lysander, you'd better go with them just in case we have some unwanted guests."
"Sure thing, Mr O."
"Tancred, Olivia, are you ready?" Both nodded. "Good. The let's begin."
A distant rumble of thunder echoed across the sky. A flash of lightning streaked across the sky. As the storm got closer to the school, Tancred's clothing flapped and whipped around him more and more ferociously. After only a few minutes, the storm was right overhead. The windows reflected the frequent lightning flashes zipping down outside. Then, from the ground floor, barely visible in the dark, small curls of smoke seemed to billow and swell within the dining hall. This was made more visible by the pulsating orange glow now starting to appear in those same windows. Emory looked at the two responsible for these images and couldn't help but marvel at their control and skill in handling their endowments.
Then, inevitably, after only watching this scene for ten minutes, the fire alarm rang. A few lights flickered on higher up the school: the Bloors were up.
"I'm on it."
A sudden bolt of lightning struck the school's weather vane; the lights went out.
Without warning, the front doors opened and a few small dots of light that could only be torches flooded out along with their owners into the grounds.
"Now." Emory, Emma and Lysander nodded at each other before slipping through the school gates. They dodged the small crowd of evacuees to reach the school doors, only just overhearing Dr Bloor say to Weedon, "I believe that's everyone. Have you contacted the fire department?"
Before they could find out whether Weedon had called the fire department, the trio crept through the (imaginary) smoke now pouring out through the doors unseen. Once inside, they sped up the main staircase on their way to Dr Bloor's office. Emory felt a lot better about their mission now that Dr Bloor was guaranteed to not be in there.
On reaching the office, they were delighted to discover it had not been locked, as Dr Bloor had left in a rush. Suddenly, a thought occurred to Emory that doused her like a bucket of cold water.
"Guys," she hissed, "what if the keys are on Dr Bloor's person?" The other two stopped dead momentarily.
"Let's just pray they're not," whispered Lysander in reply, and the three of them split up to search the office.
The searching proved fruitless until Emma peered around the back of the door and found a few keys hanging on a hook there. "Found them!" she cried, and ran to get them. Several looked quite new, but there was one that looked rusty and blackened, as well as being much larger than the others.
"Is that the one?" asked Emory, and Emma nodded.
"Has to be, doesn't it?"
"Right, Lysander, you go with Emma and get Mr Yewbeam out. I'll head back down the staircase."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, your job is much more important. I'll be fine. Good luck."
"Okay, good luck to you too."
Lysander and Emma left with the key. Emory made sure they were gone, and then turned back into the office and rifled through the drawers. After two minutes, she found what she was looking for; several documents stating the heading: Temporary Legal Guardianship. On them were her name, and they were all signed by Dr Bloor. "Gotcha," she whispered.
Just as she was about to leave, she caught sight of a small, silver chest on the desk – and a thought jumped into her mind… Wrapped in silver, it must be…
Curiosity grabbed her by the collar and she walked over to the desk. The chest was intricately decorated with swirls, patterns and runes she didn't understand. A small bronze clasp held the lid down; she flicked it up and it opened, to reveal…
She frowned. Who'd keep peanuts in a silver chest? She knew the Bloors were rich, but to go this far…
Then it hit her like a ton of bricks – peanuts, in silver – the riddle! This, if she was not mistaken, was the magical ingredient that would stop that guy – Wilde. Thinking quickly, she grabbed the box and was about to head out of the door when she heard footsteps. Several swear words bounced around her head as she scanned the room for a place to hide, finally deciding to dive underneath the desk.
Just in time too; as she put her head to the floor she noticed a pair of shoes that were definitely not Lysander or Emma's. She heard the person rummage around on the desk for a bit before making a swift exit back through the office door and closing it behind them.
Heaving a sigh of relief, Emory crept out from under the desk, took one last sweeping glance around the room, and opened the door. The corridor outside was empty, and taking care not to walk too quickly (lest she catch up with whoever was in the office before), she headed back towards the outside.
The fire bells had long stopped by now, but the smoke was still fogging up the entrance hall, and she could hear flames crackling and spitting in protest at the arrival of the fire brigade. She hurried out into the night, and swung round the corner back towards the gate. She hoped that Lysander and Emma managed to escape…
On approaching the gate, whispers of relief and congratulations reached her ears and she was pulled back through to be hugged by some of the group.
"Where are Emma and Lysander? Did they get out?"
"Yes," said Tancred (the storm had died down now; only Olivia remained to keep up the deception). "They got here just a few minutes before you; Charlie and the other two took him home."
"Oh, good. Oh, yes!" Emory reached into her pocket and pulled out the silver chest. "Look what I found!"
Mr Onimous peered at it, before opening the clasp. He gasped. "The riddle! This is the answer! So that means the cats were right! Oh, they're going to shun me a while for not believing them… Right, thank you Emory. I'll keep a hold of this, and you and the others get back to bed. Emory, I suggest you stay away from the Bloors tonight. Can any of you take her in?" he asked, turning to the rest of the group.
"I can," offered Gabriel.
"Very good. That's settled. But watch your back even more carefully now. You know what they're capable of, and you don't want to end up like poor Mr Yewbeam did."
"Oh, I won't. I'm quite sure of that…"
And with that, the group dispersed. Olivia let the fire die down as the firemen put it out, to keep up the pretence, but afterwards she couldn't stop giggling. As she confided to Fidelio, "I wonder what the Bloors will think when the dining hall is soaked, but with no sign of any fire damage…"
A/N: Reviews please! (They make me write faster too :D)