Chapter 12: Relating Chiefly to the Portentous Sign of the Beast

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The silence that followed was broken only by the dry, inexorable movement of the tempus on the bureau. A corona of lamplight enclosed the map and the four people leaning over it. They cast long, strange shadows. The room was languorously warm, and smelled of boot polish and old paper and the dust burning on the lamp's surface. 

"What's a university?" Nick said.

Ward shrugged.

Nick looked up from the ancient map to the modern one on the wall. "Jacob said he was trapped in a lab. Do you know what that is?"

Ward shook his head. In his language lab meant pumpkin. Somehow he didn't think Jacob was trapped inside a pumpkin. "Nick, what was the name of the street that he...?"

"Royal Parade."

"It's here. It all fits. The cemetery, the road, the university – but if nobody's found this lab thing in so long -"

Nick turned to Carmen. "Can I see it now?" he said.

"You have to promise to give it back."

"Don't you trust me?"

"The most wanted criminal in Bareheep? Why wouldn't I?"

Nick laughed out loud. It was such a natural, easy laugh that Ward smiled despite himself.

"Okay," Nick said. He looked up at the ceiling and recited: "I promise I will return it to you after I have inspected it. There."

Carmen took the flute from her satchel and laid it on the desk. Nick frowned at it.

Ward knew what he was thinking. How could this be the Oliphant? "Snapper said there're lots of fakes," he said. It felt like an apology for the flute.

Nick nodded without taking his eyes from the flute. He picked it up and examined it from end to end. Finally, he squinted down inside the open end, turning it this way and that in the lamplight. Then he put it back down on the desk. Still he said nothing. He opened another drawer and took out an object Ward didn't recognise.

"Enlarging glass," Nick said as he held the flute up to the lamplight. He bent over it with the enlarging glass. He twisted the flute a little and his breath caught.

"What?" Mildew said.

"Take a look yourself."

She came around the desk.

"I'll hold the flute and you hold the glass," Nick said. "Don't block the light. Good. Do you see it?"

"I don't see nothing – oh wait. What is that?"

"Ward, perhaps you'll recognise it."

Ward peered down through the enlarging glass into the flute's bore. He saw a black symbol etched on the inside, but it meant nothing to him. He shook his head and handed the glass and flute to Carmen, who looked into it while Nick turned to the shelf behind his desk and ran his fingers along the spines of the books there, pulling down a dumpy volume with a gold clasp around it. Only Ward saw Carmen pull suddenly away from the enlarging glass and quickly put the flute and glass back on the desk.


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Trapped inside a pumpkin?


Eat your way out!

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