"Someone call my name?" Simon's voice echoed eerily in the tunnel. "Who are you?"

"Beetleget us out of here!" came Septimus's urgent whisper.

There was nothing Beetle wanted to do more. He slewed the sled around and skidded away in a spray of ice.

"Hey!" came Simon's shout as, with a feeling of incomprehension, he recognized the hated green tunic of Marcia's Apprentice. "What are you doing down here, brat?"

"He's after us, Beetle!" yelled Septimus, looking over his shoulder as Simon, an expert ice-skater, picked up speed and hurtled after them in pursuit.

"We'll outrun him, Sep," said Beetle confidently, steering the sled around another corner and straight through the two ghosts he had avoided earlier.

"Excuse me ... the way out, please ... could you tell us ... the way out the way out the way out...?" echoed through the tunnel.

"We lose him yet?" Beetle yelled.

"No!" Septimus yelled back.

"Right then, here we go!" Beetle shot off down a smaller tunnel, slammed the sled to a halt and jumped off. In a moment he had shoved Septimus and the sled through an open door in the ice wall and pushed it shut. Breathing hard, Beetle slithered to the icy floor. "Service hatch." He grinned. "He won't have a clue."

Septimus rolled off the sled and lay on the ground, staring up at the ceiling of what was a small space carved out of solid ice. The door was also a block of ice and now that it was closed Septimus could see no sign of it. He guessed that it was the same on the other side. "Beetle," he said, "you're amazing."

"Think nothing of it, Sep. Want a SizzleStik?"

"A what?"

"They're nice and hot. I keep some here just in case I get really cold." Beetle fished out a small box from behind a couple of shovels and a blanket. He opened it and looked in. "There's banana and haddock and ... er ... beetroot flavor. Sorry, Sep, I seem to have eaten all the good ones."

"Beetroot flavor what, Beetle?"

"Chewy thing. Which d'you want?"

"Banana, please."

"You mean the banana and haddock?"

"Oh, yes, please. Aunt Zelda used to do a great banana and haddock pie. Lovely."

"Really? You can have all of them if you like, Sep."

Ten minutes later, Beetle cautiously pulled open the ice door and peered out. The only sign of Simon was two sets of ice-skate tracksone set going down the tunnel past the service hatch,the other returning, but to Beetle's relief there was no sign of Simon having stopped and investigated the hideaway. Soon Beetle and Septimus were on the sled, retracing their tracks back to the main tunnel.

"Tell you what, Sep," said Beetle. "We'll take the quick way to the Wizard Tower. Wasn't going to go that way as it's a bit up and down, but I reckon the sooner we're out of here, the better. Okay?"

"You bet, Beetle."

A few minutes and numerous turns later, Beetle stopped the sled and pointed out a sign carved into the ice. Picked out in black ice were the words TO THE WIZARD TOWER, written in an old-fashioned script, and an ornate arrow pointing down a much smaller and narrower ice tunnel that disappeared into blackness.

"Right," said Beetle. "You're gonna have to hold on tight now, Sep. This is where it gets hairy."

The sled took the tight turn into the Wizard Tower tunnel. It waited for a moment as though gathering its courage, and then, to Septimus's horror, the ice below seemed to fall away and they dropped like a stone.

"Woo-hooooo!" Beetle's excited shout streamed out behind him as the sled plummeted down an almost vertical slope, hit the ice at the bottom, flew up an equally steep incline, then shot off the top and landed with a jarring bump as the slope leveled off. Septimus was just getting his breath back when Beetle took a tight corner to the left and immediately slammed the sled through an even tighter bend to the rightat which point Septimus and the sled parted company. Beetle skidded to a halt in a shower of ice, spun the sled around in a 180-degree turn and came back slowly to find Septimus.

"Pretty good, huh?" Beetle grinned. "You should see my triple turnsthey're the best."

"Not just now, thanks, Beetle," said Septimus, painfully hauling himself up off the ice.

"Yeah. Okay. Well, we're here anyway. Taxi service to your door, Sep. Not bad, eh?" Beetle pointed to a tall arch, which was, of course, solid ice. Above the arch two ornate letters were carved into the iceW.T.

"There y'are. That's it," said Beetle.

"Oh..." said Septimus, eyeing the arch doubtfully. He picked up The Undoing of the Darkenesse. "Come on then, Beetle."

"Whatme?" Beetle sounded surprised.

"Well, you can't go back, can you? What are you going to tell Foxy?"

"Oh, bother. I hadn't thought of that." Beetle got off the sled and tied it up to a silver ring set into the ice. "You have to tie 'em up, otherwise they wander off," Beetle explained, seeing Septimus's surprised glance at the ring. "Everyone had their own sled in the old days, Sepand the Wizard Tower sled was something special, so they say. But seeing as this is the last Charmed sled, I don't want it disappearing."

"No," agreed Septimus. "You coming then, Beetle?"

Reluctantly, Beetle followed Septimus through the ice arch.

Sitting at the bottom of a flight of ice steps was an almost transparent figure wearing the purple robes of an ExtraOrdinary Wizard. He was fast asleep.

Septimus stopped short and Beetle slid into him, sending Septimus skidding into the ghost.

"Oo ... aargh..." moaned the ghost, waking up with a start. "Who goes there?"

"It'sit's me," stuttered Septimus. "I'm the Apprentice."

"Apprentice? Which one?" asked the ghost suspiciously.

"Apprentice to the ExtraOrdinary Wizard," Septimus told him.

"No, you're not. You're nothing like my Apprentice."

Septimus wondered how to break the news to the old Wizard on the steps. "Look, I'm sorry to have to tell you this," he said gently, "but you're not the ExtraOrdinary Wizard anymore. You're a ghost. You'rewell, you're dead."

"Hee hee. Got you there, boy. Of course I'm dead. Wouldn't be sitting here bored out of my mind if I were alive. What's your name, sonny?"

"Septimus Heap."

"Really? Well, well, well. You'd better go on up."

"And my friend too?"

"May as well. Off you both go. Turn left at the top and say the password. You'll find yourself in the broom cupboard just off the Great Hall."

"Thank you very much." Septimus smiled.

The old ExtraOrdinary Wizard settled himself down and closed his eyes. "My pleasure," he said, "and good luck, son. You're going to need it."

Chapter 36 Beetle in the Tower

Septimus pushed open the broom cupboard door and warily peered out. He waited until a small group of Ordinary Wizards discussing the weather had wandered past, and then he and Beetle crept out. As Marcia's Apprentice, Septimus knew that he had every right to be in the Wizard Tower broom cupboard if he wanted to be, but he didn't want a gaggle of curious Wizards discussing endless reasons why the ExtraOrdinary Wizard's Apprentice might choose to be there.

"Come on, Beetle," said Septimus.

Beetle did not reply. He was rooted to the spot, staring at the multicolored floor. "It wrote my name!" His voice slid from its usual gruff tones into an excited high-pitched squeak. "The floor wrote my nameit said, WELCOME, BEETLE. That is so weird."

"Oh, it always does that," said Septimus airily, forgetting how amazed he had been when it had first happened to him.

"And now it says, WELCOME, PRINCESS. Is she coming here, Sep? Is she really?" Beetle had often seen Jenna walking along Wizard Way but he never dreamed of actually meeting her.

"Who, Jenna? I shouldn't think so, Beetle. She only just went home."

The Tower's silver doors had begun to swing open and to Beetle's astonishment there stood Jenna, silhouetted against the bright sunlight. For a moment Septimus was surprised too, not to see Jennawho now had the password to the Tower and could come and go as she pleasedbut at the hot summer day outside. He had forgotten that outside the Ice Tunnels, the sky was blue and the sun was shining.

"Hello, Sep," said Jenna. "Can you go and see Mum? I told her you were back safely but she says she wants to see you with her own eyes."

Tags: Angie Sage Septimus Heap Fantasy
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