'Dad! … It's me, Charlie! … Are you still asleep? You must remember me. I've never stopped thinking of you. Never. Please try and remember. Please say something. Please…' ~ Charlie Bone and the Hidden King, pg 309
Paton Yewbeam fumbled with the batteries of his flashlight. With a grunt, he jammed the battery back into its slot, and shined the torch. The light fell upon an old man on a wheelchair. The centurion was a frightening image in the dark corridor, with his liver-spotted skull of a face, and a few strands of wispy white hair flopped to one side. There was something mad about him; his eyes were bloodshot and wide, almost popping out of its sockets, and his mouth was set in an insane grin, his dry lips drooping on one side so that drool slobbered down his chin.
Emma put a hand over her mouth, and stepped closer to Charlie.
"Ezekiel Bloor," Paton said, in a mixture of repulsion and surprise. "Rumor has it you've finally died quite a long time ago."
"You would like that, Yewbeam," cackled Ezekiel. From his wheelchair, he peered behind Paton. He flicked out his tongue as he recognized the students. "Smuggling children now, eh?"
"Slight change of plans, children," Paton said, raising his voice. He was still staring at Ezekiel. "It'd be safer to go back to the office now; the others would have been gone already. I'll deal with this."
Gabriel looked anxiously from Paton to Ezekiel. "But –" he began, not wanting to leave Paton alone with the frightening old man.
"Come on," Lysander said quietly, backing away. The African boy could see that something was very wrong with Ezekiel Bloor, as if he was finally losing grasp of his mental faculties. Paton Yewbeam had faced Yolanda Yewbeam and lived to tell the tale; surely an unendowed old man would not pose much of a challenge comparatively. Besides, there were Charlie and Emma, both younger than either he or Gabriel.
At his example, the other children slowly followed him, with Charlie lingering behind for a second. For a moment, his dark eyes met Ezekiel Bloor's unsettling ones. Ezekiel's grin widened, and even more drool dribbled. Charlie tore his gaze away first, and followed Lysander out.
The sound of footsteps soon died away. Ezekiel could not see the passage, for he was sitting around a corner, but he could still see the sliver of light that came and went.
"You're probably wondering how to escape," Ezekiel sneered, and started to turn his wheelchair. He used his frail arms to propel the wheelchair forward. The effort he used caused his whole body, swathed in blankets, to tremble, but Paton would sooner think to throw away a precious book than to lift a finger to help Ezekiel Bloor. "You could join the skeletons in the dungeons."
He set off in another round of high-pitched giggles. He passed the corridor that led to Cook's quarters. Paton followed behind cautiously, and stopped at the corridor.
"But you know, I'm going to let you off today." Ezekiel turned around abruptly. "Get out, Yewbeam, and don't come into the line of my sight again."
Paton frowned. As much as he needed the change of events, he was highly suspicious. Ezekiel never let his prisoners go. "Why?"
It was less of a question, and more of a statement. It was a word that many had uttered when Ezekiel Bloor launched into another malevolent plan. It was a weary statement of fact, that something was happening, or was going to happen, that would inevitably and painfully hurt many.
Ezekiel's screech of happiness echoed eerily in the corridor as he wheeled himself away.
"Payback will come soon. I have the ultimate weapon."
Somewhere in the castle, Ray Venesco sneezed.
Dr. Saltweather was not in his office when the children returned. Neither was Tancred, nor Ray. A swift glance to the wall clock told them that they had missed lunch, and were going to be late for their next lesson. They scattered in different directions from the office, with an unspoken agreement between them not to talk of the recent events. Emma cast Charlie a worried look before walking steadily to the art room.
The afternoon slowed to a crawl. Emma absent-mindedly answered her classmates' questions about her whereabouts during lunch with a vague, "Teacher's meeting". Eventually, they lost interest in her and went back to their work, which were the costumes for the spring musical.
Emma was thinking of Ray mostly. She did not really think of Ray as a 'bad guy'. Emma had been hypnotized by Manfred before, and knew that it would be futile to resist his hypnotism. As Emma bent her head over the piece of lace she was embroidering on a dress, the only rational plan she had was to somehow get Ray unhypnotised and hide her away from the Bloor's influences.
The Tolly Twelve Bells, even if they found it after all those years, would not work, as there was only a slim chance there were cathedral bells during her hypnotism. The Red King's Tears may work, but the Bloors had doubled up the security around the castle grounds, and something told her that the Red King would object to being used again, like an everyday pick-me-up.
"So did Charlie's uncle get away?" Tancred said, putting his head under his chin, as he watched Lysander sketch his portrait for art class. The two had teamed up immediately, ignoring their classmates, and were quietly working in the corner of the classroom. They filled each other in on the details after Dr. Bloor had tried to force entry into Dr. Saltweather's office.
Lysander frowned. "That's the thing. I don't know. I don't know why Ezekiel Bloor was there either, or what to do with the Venesco girl. Or Charlie. Did you see his face, before he left?"
Tancred nodded. "As if the last Harry Potter book had been sold from the shelves on its opening day."
Lysander's pencil skirted across the paper. "What?"
Tancred raised his hands in defense. "Sorry. I think Potter is cool, okay? The lightning-shaped scar? That should be my motif, man."
He reached for an abandoned eraser on the table, and handed it to Lysander, before continuing, "Seriously though, Charlie did look desperate."
"Thanks. For the eraser, I mean." Lysander looked critically at his sketch. There was a zig-zag line at the top of the paper, about where he had drawn Tancred's forehead. "Hmm." Choosing to keep that piece of information to himself, he quickly erased the pencil marks. "Charlie's always been our initiator of plans. I think our job isn't to solve Venesco's problem; not now at least. We need to get Charlie's head back in the game first."
"Get your head back into the game?" Tancred said, grinning. "Quoting High School Musical, Sander? You always did have a thing for Zac Efron –"
The look of shock on Lysander's face was priceless. "Tanc! What's gotten into you?"
"Sorry," Tancred said for the second time. He rubbed his eyes, and Lysander suddenly noticed how tired his best friend looked. Inwardly, he berated himself. Of course Tancred was bound to be tired; he had just been knocked unconscious that morning after all. "I get distracted when I'm tired."
Tancred saw the look of understanding pass on Lysander's face. Both teenagers fell quiet for several minutes as Tancred finally assumed a position, resting his head on his arms. Lysander produced a fresh sheet of paper and began sketching him again.
"You know," Tancred said after a while, startling Lysander. "Charlie always said that the reason why he succeeded in getting his father back was because he had never forgotten him. Even when the Enchanter bewitched Mrs. Bone years ago, he stubbornly refused to forget his dad."
Lysander's pencil moved slower. "That's true," he said thoughtfully, tapping the pencil against his chin. "What your point though?"
"It's unlikely Charlie's going to rouse himself out of a depression like that. He's been through hell to get Mr. Bone back after all. Maybe we need to remind him why his father is worth saving… again."
Both boys fell silent.
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