What Happened in the Darke Domai

VICTIMS OF THEDarke Domaine

Marcia's Great UnDoing came just in time - three days and three nights is the longest most people can survive in a Darke Trance. Most of the Castle children woke up feeling fine, but the majority of the adults did not feel so good. They woke with a thumping headache, a raging thirst and ached from head to toe. Many assumed they had been to an extremely lively party the night before and could remember nothing about it. There were, however, some who never woke from the Castle's worst party ever.

Those who fell into the Darke Trance while in the open air fared the worst. Many succumbed to the cold and it was feared - from bloodstains found on the more exposed areas of the Castle - that the Darke dragon had taken those who were missing. Some people had been overtaken by the Darke Domaine at a dangerous moment - one died when climbing a ladder, two while trying to escape from a high window and five people fell into a fire they were tending. Three could not be woken and were taken to the Wizard Tower sick bay for DisEnchanting.

Two names on the commemorative plaques placed around the Castle will be familiar:

Bertie Bott. Ordinary Wizard. Missing, presumed eaten.

Una Brakket. Housekeeper. Found frozen in Little Creep Cut.

MAIZIE SMALLS & BINKIE

Maizie Smalls was overtaken by the Darke Domaine in her mother's house just off Wizard Way. They were sitting down to their traditional Longest Night supper prior to going out to see the lights when their front door blew open and the Darke Fog came tumbling in. They both survived, although Maizie's mother was ill for some time afterward.

The first thing Maizie did on waking up - once she knew her mother had survived - was to rush to the Palace to try and find her cat, Binkie. Although Binkie was apparently fine, it did not take Maizie long to realize that there was something odd about the cat.

Binkie, like all the Castle cats, had been greatly affected by the Darke. The cats had acted like sponges, soaking up the stubborn pockets of Darke that lingered in dark corners and hidden places where cats liked to go. Binkie was no longer a house cat. He snarled, he spat and he scratched Maizie when she tried to stroke him. He would no longer eat the cat food that Maizie lovingly brought him - Binkie wanted blood: birds, baby rats and mice. And what Binkie wanted, Binkie got.

Five days after The Great UnDoing, Binkie left the Palace with Maizie as she set out to light the Wizard Way torches. Maizie was much encouraged by her cat's sudden desire for companionship as he followed her down the drive - but she never saw him again. Binkie stalked up Wizard Way, padded across the Castle drawbridge just before it was raised for the night and went to join the growing band of newly Darke Castle cats in the Forest. Within a few weeks there were - much to Stanley's delight - no cats at all left in the Castle.

STANLEY AND THE RATLETS

Stanley and his ratlets spent the rest of the Darke Domaine on the Outside Path. While Stanley fretted about Jenna, Flo, Mo, Bo and Jo had a great time racing up and down the path, playing Silly Statues. When the Darke dragon roared, the one who struck the silliest pose - and kept it for the duration of the roar - won.

Once the Darke Domaine ended, Stanley and the ratlets cleaned up the Rat Office - or rather, Stanley cleaned up while the ratlets had a broom fight and then went off to hang out with their friends. Stanley did not object; he was just pleased to have everything back to normal once more and his ratlets safe.

Stanley soon found that his worries about staffing the Message Rat Service were unfounded. As word got around the Port rat community that the Castle was a cat-free zone, Stanley found he had the pick of "quality staff," as he called them. The Message Rat Service began to thrive once more - and it even acquired new drains.

EPHANIAH GREBE

Ephaniah Grebe, Conservation, Preservation and Protection Scribe at the Manuscriptorium, very nearly did not survive the Darke Domaine. He locked himself in his Fume Cupboard but the Darke Fog seeped in and overpowered him. Ephaniah was weakened by his two previous encounters with the Darke: the permanent rat hex when he was fourteen and, more recently, being InHabited by a Thing.

The new Chief Hermetic Scribe found his missing Con-servation Scribe squashed into the Fume Cupboard, his little rat mouth open and his tongue lolling out. Beetle thought he was dead, but a sudden twitch of Ephaniah's rat tail told him otherwise. Ephaniah joined Syrah and three other victims of the Darke Domaine in the DisEnchanting Chamber.

Marcia hopes that careful reading of The Darke Index may find a way of speeding up the process of DisEnchantment - the DisEnchanting Chamber is getting a little crowded.

SYRAH SYARA

Syrah survived, but only just. The DisEnchanting Chamber was a closed environment and, like a freezer when the power goes off, it would have been fine for a few hours, providing no one opened the door. But it had a narrow escape. A Thing had just pushed open the first door of the antechamber when Marcia spoke the last words of The Great UnDoing. At once the Magyk reasserted itself and the Thing was hurled across the sick bay and smashed against the wall. The sick bay duty Wizard had to scrape it up and take it out in a wheelbarrow. Rose was excused from helping.

Septimus came to visit Syrah later that day, after he had got his Darke Week assessment from Marcia. The sick bay was busy preparing the new occupants for the DisEnchanting Chamber. Septimus squeezed in past Syrah's first new roommate - a young boy who had not yet come out of the Trance - and, remembering the last time he had visited her, suddenly felt amazingly happy and relieved that his Darke Week was over and everything was as it should be. When he told her he was safely back - with Alther - he thought he saw her eyelids flicker, just for a fraction of a second. Septimus was soon shooed out by Rose and the duty Wizards, who were bringing in another occupant. He didn't mind. Everything was all right. He walked out of the DisEnchanting Chamber with a spring in his step and went to see if anyone wanted a snowball fight.

SOPHIE BARLEY

On the opening day of the Traders' Market, Sophie Barley had just set up her stall when she found herself surrounded by five very odd customers swathed in black. One of them picked up a beautiful pendant - a winged heart with a seahorse hanging from it. She dangled it in front of Sophie's eyes and swung it back and forth . . . back and forth . . . back and forth. That was the last thing Sophie remembered.

Sophie awoke in the attic of Doom Dump, bound hand and foot, and there she languished while the witches took over her stall, waiting for their Princess to come along like a hunter waits beside his bait. Dorinda, who every evening fed Sophie her supper of stewed mice or coddled cockroaches, took a liking to her prisoner and began to creep away to talk to her. Sophie had just managed to get Dorinda to untie her when the Darke Domaine arrived. Unlike the witches, who reveled in the Darke, Sophie fell into a Darke Trance. She survived, and when she awoke she found Doom Dump empty. She took her chance and fled. After a reviving Springo Special Ale and a very large slab of Barley Cake at Sally Mullin's, Sophie caught the first Port barge and swore never to return to the Castle.

Jenna was worried about what had happened to Sophie. As soon as she could she went to the Port and found Sophie safe in her workshop beside the fishermen's quay. Jenna bought a beautiful pair of earrings for Sarah's birthday - and a seahorse pendant for herself.

MARISSA LANE

Marissa - along with Igor, Matt and Marcus - was trapped in Gothyk Grotto by the Darke Domaine. They retreated to Igor's own extremely secret - and embarrassingly small - SafeChamber. It was a horrible time for them all, but it did give Marissa a chance to reflect on her life. Talking to Igor made her realize what a dangerous and unpleasant path she was treading with the Port Witch Coven and she decided to Unravel her witch vows as soon as she could. After she had made her decision, Igor offered her a job as assistant in Gothyk Grotto - much to Matt and Marcus's delight. They both liked Marissa very much indeed. Igor, however, was unaware that he was storing up trouble . . .

YOUNG ARMY RECORDS

Because Septimus had already been reunited with his family he was refused access to the Young Army registers. But Beetle stepped in to help. Making use of his Access-All-Areas status in the Castle, Beetle went to the Young Army Records Office, which was housed in a small building near Terry Tarsal's shoe shop. Most of the records were available for anyone to see, but those relating to families were considered private and could be seen only by those still searching for their family - or those with AAA status.

Beetle asked for the Register of Expendable Boy Soldiers. Under the watchful eye of the records clerk (who considered him far too young to be Chief Hermetic Scribe), Beetle turned to the page headed Numbers 400 to 499 Inclusive. He ran his finger down the page until he came to these listings:

409 Mandy Marwick. Status: Forced Conscription. Traitor Family.410 Marcus Marwick. Status: Forced Conscription. Traitor Family.411 Matthew Marwick. Status: Forced Conscription. Traitor Family.412 Merrin Meredith. Status: Foundling. Mother denies child.The first three entries were what Beetle had suspected - Wolf Boy was one of triplets. He grinned. He hadn't suspected he'd be called Mandy, though.Beetle was, however, dismayed by the entry for 412, which he knew had been Septimus's Young Army number. Surely Sep wasn't really Merrin Meredith? And then he remembered what Septimus had told him one rainy afternoon in the back kitchen of the Manuscriptorium over a mug of FizzFroot . . ."I saw it, Beetle. Aunt Zelda was scrying in her pond and we saw moving pictures of what happened. It was weird - and really sad too. . . . The midwife snatched me away from Sarah - I mean Mum - when I was only a few hours old. She told Mum I was dead, but it was a plot. I was wanted by DomDaniel to be his Apprentice - because I am the seventh son of a seventh son. The midwife took me to the Young Army Nursery, where DomDaniel's Nurse was going to come and collect me. But when she arrived she was in a hurry and really flustered and she just grabbed the first baby she saw - the midwife's baby. I think because the midwife was cuddling him when the Nurse arrived. The midwife went crazy - really crazy - when the guard stopped her from chasing after her own baby."Serves her right," Beetle remembered saying."Yeah. I s'pose it does. But what a horrible thing to happen - to her baby, I mean. And of course the midwife would have told everyone that I was not her child but they wouldn't have listened. They never listened to anything. As far as they were concerned I was the midwife's baby who she had suddenly abandoned. And that is how I got taken into the Young Army. I suppose I am in the Young Army register under the name of the midwife's child, which is weird. But the weirdest thing is I now know that I've met the midwife again - she was the landlady of that horrible guesthouse that Jen took us to in the Port. Aunt Zelda found that out and told me."Beetle closed the register and handed it back to the clerk - along with the pair of white cotton gloves she had made him put on. So it was true, Merrin Meredith was Nurse Meredith's - Nursie's - son.Beetle walked slowly back to the Manuscriptorium, thinking of those few moments just over fourteen years ago that had affected so many people's lives. Now he understood Marcia's reply when he had questioned her about the wisdom of letting Merrin go free. "Everyone deserves a chance to be with his mother, Beetle," she had said. At the time Beetle had actually spent so long gathering the courage to ask Marcia the question - and was so amazed when she had actually answered him civilly - that he had not liked to ask what she meant. Now he understood.SNORRI AND ALFRUNSnorri and her mother, Alfrun, were away for the Longest Night and missed the Darke Domaine. They returned the morning of The Great Undoing.The previous year, Snorri had rescued her trader's barge - which actually belonged to her mother - from some boat thieves who had stolen it from Quarantine Dock. She had brought the Alfrun back to the Castle where Jannit Maarten's boatyard restored it.Snorri had become unhappy living in the Palace with the Heaps. She missed her home and, she was surprised to find, she missed her mother too. It seemed to Snorri that she and Nicko had spent enough time together. Five hundred years, she said to Nicko, was long enough for anyone. It was time for them to do something new with their lives. Nicko had not answered, which had annoyed Snorri. The arrival of Alfrun Snorrelssen had made Snorri's decision for her. It was time to go home.And so Snorri and her mother took the Alfrun out to sea for a test run. The barge performed perfectly and the decision was made - they would return home to the Land of the Long Nights. Snorri dreaded telling Nicko; she was sure he would not understand but to her surprise he did.Snorri, Ullr and Alfrun left the day after the MidWinter Feast. As they waved good-bye to the little group gathered on the Palace Landing Stage, Snorri was surprised at how tearful she felt seeing Nicko waving to her as they drew away from the Palace and headed for the fast waters in the middle of the river. Snorri waved until the Alfrun disappeared around Raven's Rock and she could see Nicko no more, then she went below into the beautiful cherrywood cabin that her father, Olaf, had built. As Snorri sat in the cabin, looking up through the hatch at her mother on the tiller, an unexpected feeling of happiness came over her. She was going home. All would be well. It was then she saw the ghost of Olaf Snorrelssen sitting on the bench in the shadows opposite, smiling at her.Snorri whispered, "Papa?"Olaf nodded happily. "Snorri," he said. He smiled. They were a family once more.On the Palace Landing Stage, Nicko stood gazing through the thickly falling snow at the departing Alfrun. And when, at last, the trading barge had disappeared from view, Nicko felt as if a weight was lifted from his shoulders. He was free.THE ROOM BEHIND THE BIG RED DOORSarah and Silas set up home once more in the room behind the Big Red Door. Sarah went over to the Palace every day to see Jenna, but the Palace was now Jenna's home - not hers. The room behind the Big Red Door soon regained its previous lived-in look, and sometimes Sarah found it hard to believe they had ever left.Thunder survived the Darke Domaine and took up residence in the stables at the back of a small house on Snake Slipway. Sarah cleaned the room from top to bottom until there was no clue that a horse had once spent a week there, although, in damp weather, Sarah still thought she could smell horse poo.Ethel was never quite right after the Darke Domaine. The duck had had a difficult start in life and now became so nervous that she would not let Sarah out of her sight. Sarah made a duck bag - with two holes for Ethel's legs to poke through - and she carried Ethel with her wherever she went. Silas harrumphed a lot about that daft duck bag but Sarah and Silas were far too happy being back home again to let a duck in a bag come between them.THE DRAGON TRAILDragon blood is indelible and the drips of blood from Spit Fyre's head wound left a track right across the Castle, from the South Gate to the Wizard Tower. While some drips fell onto roofs, most left a winding trail along tiny alleyways. The dragon blood track soon became a favorite trail for Castle children and visitors alike.Spit Fyre recovered well from his injuries and, now that he was truly an adult dragon, he began to calm down a little - but only a little.Darke Week: RESULTSSeptimus passed his Darke Week.Immediately below, for your interest, is part of a piece of paper found ripped to pieces in Marcia's wastepaper bin. Following that is Septimus's report sheet with Marcia's comments.WIZARD TOWER SAFETY COMMITTEEBasic Health and Safety Report for Apprentice projects. Must be completed by Wizard Tutor.APPRENTICE PROJECT: Darke WeekNAME OF APPRENTICE: Septimus HeapWIZARD TUTOR: Marcia OverstrandAREA OF OPERATION: the Darke HallsRisk-benefit analysis scaled 0 to 49 (where 49 is the greatest and 0 is the least).RISKS: 49++ What do you expect?BENEFITS: 49+++? Do you consider that the risk-benefit ratio was acceptable? Of course I do.? Would you undertake this assessment in the same manner again? Never again, thank you.? What sanitary facilities were provided? Oh, for goodness' sake . . .EXTRAORDINARY APPRENTICE DARKE WEEK ASSESSMENTTUTOR: Marcia Overstrand. ExtraOrdinary Wizard.APPRENTICE: Septimus Heap. Senior ExtraOrdinary Apprentice.Apprentice Assessment scaled 0 to 7 (where 7 is the greatest and 0 is the least).RELEVANCE OF CHOSEN DARKE TASK: 7.Highly relevant.METHOD OF ENTERING THE DARKE: 6. Septimus, I dock one mark due to your unauthorized use of the Darke Disguise. I do realize that without it you would not have survived, but even so, I feel the rules must be given some respect here.MAGYKAL SKILL: 7. Your Revoke of the Banish was word perfect first time. You used your past connection with the Flyte Charm to great effect (see me later about supervised access to this from now on). You also attained Synchronicity with a dragon. What more can I say?DECISION-MAKING AND INITIATIVE: 7. You used your initiative to decide where to enter the Darke and why. You used logic to reason your way through the Darke Halls. Excellent.GENERAL CONDUCT: 7. You were polite to the young ghost and showed great presence of mind when encountering Tertius Fume. Very good indeed.METHOD OF EXITING THE DARKE: 7. Very good.SUCCESS OF DARKE TASK: 7. Totally successful.TUTOR'S ASSESSMENT OF SUITABILITY OF CANDIDATE TO INCORPORATE A BALANCED AND RESPONSIBLE USE OF THE DARKE IN HIS OR HER FUTURE STUDIES: 8. I consider this candidate eminently suitable. I also reserve my right to give what mark I choose.TOTAL SCORE OUT OF 49: 49.DARKE WEEK RESULT: (strike through those that do not apply)FAIL:no retake permittedFAIL:retake permittedBORDERLINE Pass: retake theory onlyPASSPASS WITH MERITPASS WITH DISTINCTIONSigned: Marcia OverstrandAnd on behalf of: Alther Mella. Thank you, Septimus.THE END