- Author: Bella Forrest
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The Secret of Spellshadow Manor 4: The Keep
Copyright © 2017 by Bella Forrest
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Alex stared in shock as Professor Lintz emerged from the hallway, stepping into the light of the courtyard. The professor grinned as he caught sight of his former students, his moustache twitching upward. It was strange to see him out of his usual professor’s robes; he was now clad in muted, gray attire that looked oddly formal, like a uniform of some sort, with shiny brass buttons and a high, stiff collar. An emblem resembling a small castle was emblazoned on the pocket.
Alex wondered how it was that the professor had come to be here. They had thought him dead, and seeing him alive and kicking was a much-needed dose of positivity. Still, Alex couldn’t get one thought out of his mind: If Lintz was here, then what did that mean for the state of Spellshadow Manor? He was about to ask, when Lintz cut in.
“Welcome, my dear creatures, to Kingstone Keep!” the professor boomed, moving toward the group. He reached out to shake Alex’s hand. “Good to see you, boy! Glad you could finally make it. It’s such a pleasure to see you all!”
As happy as Lintz seemed, Alex detected a hint of agitation in the old man’s eyes. In between welcoming the others and doling out firm handshakes, his gaze flickered toward the moss-covered wall, where the portal to Stillwater had just disappeared.
It seemed the professor shared Alex’s anxiety where Alypia was concerned. The portal was gone, but for how long, Alex had no idea; he could only hope the damage done by the golden beasts, forged from the life essence of his pilfered bottles, was enough to keep the vengeful Headmistress at bay—at least for a short while.
“Professor, how can you be here?” Alex asked.
“We thought we lost you!” Natalie added.
“Not lost at all, my dears, simply displaced. With the Head back in charge, it was stay and die or run and live… It is a treat to my old eyes to see you all in one piece, and I will tell you all you want to know in good time, I promise. But, for now, we must be on our way,” Lintz insisted, checking an invisible watch on his wrist. “The prisoners will be waking up soon, and I’d like you to have as little contact with them as possible.” He urged them away from the courtyard, with its tall, imposing walls, and pushed them toward the shadows of the hallway he had emerged from moments before.
Alex paused in alarm as another figure appeared in the corridor, blocking their way. Then his lips curved into a smile as he realized who it was. Master Demeter.
“Alex! Well, well, you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it swim,” Demeter chortled. The others looked toward Alex in bemusement, but Alex had no clue how to describe the unique nature of Master Demeter; he was a person to be experienced, not explained. “It’s so lovely to meet you all. I’ve heard so much—all of it good, worry not.”
The auburn-haired man seemed anxious, as if waiting for instruction from Lintz. When Lintz nodded insistently, Demeter gestured toward the corridor with a flamboyant wave of his arms.
“Follow me. You’re very welcome at Kingstone Keep, but make sure you wipe your feet. Wouldn’t want you traipsing any dirt in,” Demeter smirked as he led the others into the keep itself, which looked less than pristine, with its grimy walls and slick floor.
Alex noticed that Demeter was dressed in the same gray uniform that Lintz wore, and wondered about its significance. Demeter’s presence here filled Alex with a multitude of questions.
Glancing back, Alex spotted Lintz flitting about the courtyard. From a battered leather bag, Lintz pulled two large, beetle-like clockwork objects and affixed them to the wall. He pressed his palms to the sleek metallic carapaces of the beetles and began to layer his glimmering magic into them. The beetles sparked to life with a ripple of golden light and scuttled along the damp masonry, their clockwork legs moving swiftly. They were beautifully crafted, as all of Lintz’s clockwork was, but Alex wasn’t sure of their purpose. Every so often, the beetles would stop, their glinting silver antennae twitching, before moving on again in an apparently random fashion. Alex had stalled, mesmerized.
“Alex! You’re dopey today,” Demeter called. “Hurry up!”
“Sorry,” Alex muttered as he ducked into the corridor and joined the others. They were looking at him with a mixture of amusement and confusion.
“Demeter’s quite the joker,” whispered Jari.
“He is,” Alex replied quietly, “though his jokes don’t always land.”
“Understatement of the century,” Jari breathed.
“How do you two know each other?” asked Natalie, gesturing to Demeter.
“He was the teacher I was telling you about. The only one I had at Stillwater,” Alex explained, raising his voice.
Demeter nodded. “Indeed, Alex is the first student I’ve had in a long time. Like a sponge, this one, soaking everything up. Knowledge is next to godliness, after all,” he enthused, with an ill-executed wink that looked more like a slow, uncoordinated blink. It made Alex and the others smile in spite of themselves. It was hard not to warm to Demeter.
“Come on! We need to hurry,” said Lintz, his chest heaving as he caught up with them, despite the short distance.
His manner definitely more agitated now, Lintz led the group through a series of grim hallways barely