"Of course they will," replied Nicko. "They're our brothers, aren't they? Brothers stick together. Except for Simon, of course."
Septimus was anxious about meeting his brothers. He had been reunited with most of his family for a year and a half, but in all that time Sam, Edd, Erik and Jo-Jo had been living wild in the Forest. Silas had promised to take Septimus to visit them but somehow it had never happened. Marcia was either too busy to let him go or Silas got the date confused and turned up on the wrong day.
"What are they like?" Septimus asked Nicko.
"Well, Sam is an amazing fisherman. Can catch anything he wants. I did wonder if we might see him on the beach, as it's one of his fishing places. Edd and Erik are just a laugh. Always playing jokes on everyone and switching places. They still look so alike that I can't always tell the difference. And Jo-Jo is quiet but really clever. He likes herbs an' stuffa bit like Mum, I suppose."
"Oh," said Septimus, trying to picture them but without much success. He still could not get used to being part of such a large family, after spending the first ten years of his life with no family at all.
"But," said Nicko, "like I said, the one we've really come to see is the tracker, Wolf Boy."
"The one they found in the Forest?"
"Yeah. He lives with them now. They think he'd been living with the wolverines for a while, but the wolverines probably chucked him out when he got too big and stopped smelling like a cub. He was wild when the boys first came across him. He bit Sam on the leg and scratched Erik quite badly. His fingernails were horribleall yellow and long and they were curved like claws. But he got tamer in the last Big Freeze when Edd and Erik gave him food and now he's not too bad. Still a bit smelly though, but then they all are. You get used to it after a bit. But Wolf Boy is the best tracker ever. He'll lead us straight to Jenna, that's for sure."
"Does he have big teeth and fur?" asked Septimus warily.
"Yeah, huge yellow fangs and hairy hands."
Nicko turned around and gave Septimus a big grin. "Gotcha!"
After a while they reached a small clearing in the Forest, and Nicko suggested they stop for a few minutes to look at the map. Septimus took off his backpack and immediately felt so light that he thought he might float up through the trees. "Want a mint?" he asked, offering the purple tube of Mint Blasts to Nicko.
Nicko looked at the tube suspiciously. "What do they do?" he asked warily. Nicko knew all about Septimus's weird taste in sweets and had never quite gotten over eating a self-renewing banana chew that had kept Reappearing in his mouth no matter how many times he had spat it out.
"Nothing," said Septimus. "They're just mints."
"All right then."
"Hold out your hand." Septimus put a few tiny green balls into Nicko's hand. Nicko tipped his head back and shoved the Mint Blasts into his mouth as if he were taking a gulp of medicine.
"Not" warned Septimus.
"all at once."
"Aargh. They went up my nose." Nicko spluttered. Three small Mint Blasts shot out of his nose.
"Oh, they sometimes do that. The trick is to just hold them in your mouth and let them explode. They really wake you up, don't they?"
"I think my eyes are going to pop out."
"Well I like them." Septimus took a few for himself and put the tube in his backpack. "Want some Wiz Bix then?" he asked.
"You must be joking," said Nicko, his eyes streaming.
Nicko wiped his eyes, unfolded Sam's map and peered at it. Then he looked around the clearing. "Can you see a standing stone anywhere?" he asked Septimus. "There should be one over there." Nicko pointed vaguely to a cluster of trees. "It looks a bit like a bird."
"No," said Septimus, who had had his doubts about Sam's map since he'd seen it. "Nicko, are we lost?"
"No, 'course not," said Nicko.
"Well, where are we then?"
"Not quite sure," mumbled Nicko. "Better go on until we find somewhere I recognize."
As Septimus followed Nicko deeper into the Forest he felt more and more uneasy. The trees were getting even closer together; some of them had huge trunks and felt very ancient. Septimus sensed the atmosphere around them changethe trees became strange. Each one seemed different to him; some were benevolent presences and others were not. Once or twice Septimus thought he felt a tree shift slightly as they passed by, and he imagined it turning and staring at them as they walked on. The sunlight had completely disappeared and had been replaced by a dim green light, which filtered through the tightly knit branches above their heads. It was easier to walk now that the undergrowth had grown less tangled and wild in the dimmer light, and for much of the time they were walking over a thick bed of fallen leaves. Every now and then Septimus heard a scuffling or rustling sound as a small creature ran away. Septimus didn't mind those sounds; he knew they were just tree rats or Forest weasels, but once or twice he heard the snapping of branches as something quite large crashed away from themor was it toward them?
Septimus began to feel very uneasy. They had been in the Forest for what seemed like hours, and he was sure that the daylightsuch as it waswas fading into twilight. As he followed Nicko he could see no sign of a track, and he began to wonder if they were lost. But still Nicko doggedly pushed on through the ferns and bracken and Septimus dutifully followed him, until they reached a small clearing.
Septimus stoppednow he knew they were lost. "Nicko," he said, "we've been here before. An hour ago. Look, I recognize that hollow tree with the puffballs all around it."
Nicko stopped and looked at Sam's map. "We can't be lost," he said. "Look, here we are." Septimus looked where Nicko's stubby finger was pointing.
"On that squashed ant, you mean?"
"What squashed ant?" Nicko squinted at the map, which was hard to see now in the fading light. After a few seconds of staring at the scruffy piece of paper, Nicko said, "Oh, that squashed ant."
"We're lost, aren't we?" said Septimus.
"Oh, no, I don't think so. Look, I agree that may be an ant but we're still on that track here. And if we follow it along ... there ... see, we come to the camp. Honestly, Sep, we're almost there."
They set off again with Septimus reluctantly following. After a while he said, "We've been here before too, Nik. We're just going around in circles."
Nicko stopped and wearily leaned against a tree. "I know, Sep. I'm sorry. We're lost."
Chapter 13 Lost
Night fell fast in the Forest once the sun had set. Septimus and Nicko were sitting gloomily on a fallen tree. Septimus was holding his compass in the palm of his hand, trying to see which way the quivering needle was pointing. The light was nearly gone, and the Dragon ring was beginning to glow, but it didn't help that Septimus's hand was shaking. A familiar sense of dread was stealing over him, which always came with the approach of night in the Forest.
"It's the Forest twilight now, Nik," whispered Septimus. "We ought to keep still for a while. It's not a good time to be movingnot while things are shifting."
Far away in the Castle, Silas and Sarah watched the sun set from the Palace roof and realized at last that Simon was not going to bring Jenna home. In a state of panic, they set off for the Wizard Tower to see Marcia. They met her on Wizard Way as she was heading to see Weasal Van Klampff.
Deep in the Forest, at its very center, Septimus and Nicko sat silently together. Septimus felt the sun drop behind the hills, the air grow chill and the shift between day and night begin. The Forest was changing into a nighttime creature as the darkness closed in, and, with a sense of foreboding, Septimus recognized the strange feeling of thickness in the atmosphere that the Forest night brought with it.
"I'm really sorry, Sep," Nicko mumbled desolately.
"Shh," Septimus whispered. "Don't speak unless you have to."
Nicko sat quietly, trying to keep calm. He didn't like the Forest much even in the daylight. He hated the feeling it gave him of not being able to escape quickly, of being trapped in the middle of the endless tangle of tree trunks and branchesalthough as long as he kept moving and could see where he was going, Nicko could just about stand it. But not now. Now that a thick blanket of blackness was beginning to surround them, he felt a panic rising inside him, which made him want to scream out loud. Nicko had only felt like that once before in his life, when he had been trapped in the Castle rubbish chute, but that time he had been with Marcia and she had quickly freed them. This time he was on his own.