Chapter 32 The Dark Pool

A strange silence fell over Warehouse Number Nine. Even Spit Fyre stopped his excited snorting and became unusually still. Everyone stepped a little closer, gingerly peered into the black ebony chest and shivered. It had a ghastly coffinlike look to it. The Glass lay like a dead body within, held secure and cushioned from the world for the past five hundred years in dark red padded velvet, which was shaped perfectly to every little swirl and twirl of its gold frame. Silently, four people, one ghost, a dragon and a thin orange cat gazed into the depths of the chest, trying to see into the dark pool of Glass, over which a dim white mist hung suspended as though it lay over still water on a fall morning.

The Glass was horribly enthralling. Spit Fyre stared into it, his tail slowly swishing from side to side, clearing the way through the debris of ten dozen smashed novelty gnomes and a hundred pounds of crushed wax fruit like a great windshield wiper. Nicko wanted to jump in and see how deep it was, and Snorri wondered if she could See her great-aunt Ells. Alice wanted to see exactly what it was she had bought in the job lot of Warehouse Number Nine - for the Glass belonged to her now and she felt responsible for it.

Alther was fascinated to see the very thing that he had read about in Marcellus Pye's letters, written all those long years ago. It looked exactly as he had imagined it would. As Alther stared deep into its depths, he had the sensation of gazing into a bottomless pit, a pit into which he would love to lose himself forever. Stop it, you old fool, Alther told himself sternly. With some difficulty, he shook himself out of his reverie.

"Funny you didn't notice that you were sitting on the Glass all that time, Alther," said Alice.

"Not particularly funny, Alice," said Alther huffily, "since the chest is lined with solid gold. Soaks up most stuff, does gold. No wonder Marcellus was complaining to Broda about the weight of the Glass - what on earth did he expect?"

Jenna stared at the Glass, gathering her courage. If Alther was right, then here was the way to Septimus. Here was her chance to make amends for the harm she had done to him; all she had to do was jump into the Glass and find him, wherever he may be. She had no choice. Taking them all by surprise, Jenna scrambled onto the edge of the chest.

"Get back!" Alther shouted. Jenna jumped at the sound of alarm in the ghost's voice, lost her balance and fell toward the Glass.

Nicko was there in an instant. "Jen!" he yelled, but he was too late. Jenna tumbled forward, awkwardly, arms outstretched like those of a per who has misjudged her pe, and plunged through the liquid blackness of the Glass. All that was left were a few ripples, which soon subsided, leaving the surface undisturbed as before.

A horrified silence was broken by Nicko yelling, "Jen, Jen!"

He threw himself into the chest, but was hauled out, just as his boot touched the Glass, by a hefty heave from Alice Nettles.

"No, Nicko, it's too dangerous," puffed Alice, keeping a tight hold on his arm.

"I don't care," said Nicko fiercely, unable to take his eyes off the thing that had just swallowed his little sister. "Let go of me. Jen's in there on her own. Let me go!" Alice hung on like a ferret with a rabbit, but Nicko was very nearly as tall as she was, and three months' hard work in Jannit Maarten's boatyard had made him strong. With a desperate twist he wrenched himself away, and before Alice could do anything, Nicko threw himself forward once more. This time he succeeded.

It was cold going through the Glass. Nicko felt as though he was falling through liquid ice. The surface of the Glass passed over him like a tight, frozen band and let him go, as if it was no longer concerned with what happened to him. And then Nicko was in free fall, tumbling, twisting and turning like an autumn leaf on the still night air, until he was pulled into another sheet of coldness, which ran over him and let him go, leaving him to drop into a pile of old coats. Nicko got up, hit his head on something and was sent flying by the advent of a small orange cat with a black-tipped tail hurtling into his back.

"Ullr ... Snorri?" asked Nicko, rubbing his head. He was sitting half in and half out of a large green cupboard, which was full of dusty old coats. As he twisted around .to see where Ullr had come from, he saw Snorri tumble from an old looking glass - just like the one he had just jumped through - which was propped up at the back of the cupboard.

"Hello, Nicko." Snorri stepped out of the UnderCooks' coat cupboard - no longer used due to the UnderCooks having taken over the second footmen's coatroom after a bitter power struggle. Snorri looked at Nicko uncertainly. What would Nicko think of her following him like that? Her mother had always told her that a girl must never chase a boy ... Snorri shook her head to get rid of the thought of her mother. Well, she told herself, her mother never said anything about not jumping through a Glass after a boy. Never.

The UnderCooks' coat cupboard was in a deep recess at the junction of two passageways. Warily, Snorri and Nicko crept out and looked around. The place was pervaded with a strong smell of roasting meat, which immediately made Nicko feel hungry, but there was no sign of Jenna. None. The place was deserted. Nicko suddenly realized how stupid he had been. Jenna could be anywhere. Who was to know where the Glass would have taken her?

Something lying on the passage floor caught Snorri's eye. She bent down and picked up a delicate gold pin in the shape of a J. Nicko went pale. "That's Jen's," he said. "I gave it to her for her birthday."

"She was with this pin until a few minutes past," said Snorri. "I feel it. I know it."

Nicko smiled and held out his hand. "Come on, Snorri," he said. "Let's go find her. She can't be far."

Back in Warehouse Number Nine, Alice Nettles was readying herself to follow Jenna, Nicko and Snorri through the Glass. They could not, she told Alther, be left to face the dangers alone. Whatever might happen, she was determined to go.

Alther shook his head, horrified at the turn that events had taken. He had lost Jenna, Nicko and Snorri through the Glass, and now he was about to lose his beloved Alice. Alther held out very little hope of seeing any of them again. He would have given anything to be able to go with Alice, but he knew that as a ghost, he could not go.

Wretched, Alther watched Alice gingerly step into the chest. He saw her stand delicately on the frame of the Glass, gathering her courage for the plunge and resisting a strong urge to hold her nose, which Alice always did when she jumped into water. As Alther tried to fix the last sight of Alice in his mind, a sight that would have to last him forever, Spit Fyre finally located the Seek.

Spit Fyre, whose dragon nerve endings had yet to catch up with his growth spurts, had no idea what size gap he might or might not fit through. He flung himself at the Glass, expecting to go through, just as he had seen Jenna, Nicko and Snorri do. Alice Nettles was thrown back out of the chest and fell beside Alther, where she lay winded, unable to stop the dragon from smashing the Glass into a thousand dark, glittering fragments of nothingness.

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