Septimus nodded, anxious to start.

Marcia and Beetle looked out apprehensively. "Ready?" asked Marcia.

Septimus made a thumbs-up sign.

"Go!" yelled Marcia. "Go! Come on, Beetle, push!"

Together, Marcia and Beetle gave the dragon a hefty shove. Unfortunately, they had no effect whatsoeverSpit Fyre still sat firmly on the launch pad.

"Oh, for goodness' sake!" spluttered Marcia, giving the dragon another push. "Get going, you lazy lump!"

Like a high per who is regretting his decision to climb to the topmost board, and knows there is only one way down, Spit Fyre shuffled forward and curled his toes around the edge of the launch pad. Hesitantly, the dragon peered out over the precipitous drop and gazed at the courtyard far, far below. Septimus closed his eyes and clung on tight. Behind her Jenna felt the fledgling wings twitch, but nothing happened.

"Look, you daft dragon, don't think you can come shuffling back in here, because you most certainly cannot!" Marcia shouted. "And if you know what's good for you, you'll get going right now!" Using all their strength, Marcia and Beetle heaved the rest of the dragon's tail onto the launch pad.

Spit Fyre's look of uncertainty changed to panic. Marcia may not have been a real dragon mother but she had many of the qualities that dragon mothers were renowned for, and Spit Fyre was finding it hard to tell the difference.

"Do as you're told and fly!" Marcia yelled, and slammed the window closed.

Spit Fyre did as he was told. He threw himself off the launch padand dropped like a stone. Down, down, down, past the nineteenth, eighteenth, seventeenth floors. Past the sixteenth, fifteenth, fourteenth they plummeted. At the thirteenth floor Spit Fyre realized what he had to do. At the twelfth he worked out how to do it. At the eleventh his wings were stuck. At the eighth floor he finally unfurled them and at the heart-stopping seventh floor Spit Fyre spread his wings into a huge green canopy, caught the air and glided up in a beautiful curve until he was once again level with the top of the Wizard Tower. Peering out from the Tower, Marcia's white face broke into a wide smile and Beetle whooped a cheer.

"Oh, thank goodness," muttered Alther, almost transparent with fear, swooping up to join the dragon and his shocked passengers. "All right?" Alther yelled, keeping pace with some difficultynow that Spit Fyre had found his wings the dragon was reveling in the sensation of flying, and he was fast.

Septimus nodded.

"Once around the Tower, and land him in the courtyard," Alther shouted.

Septimus shook his head. In the distance he could see the uncoordinated black shape that was Simon Heap. Simon had just cleared the rooftops of the line of houses that abutted the boatyard wall and was dropping down to the other side.

"Go, Spit Fyre. Go get him," shouted Septimus.

Chapter 40 Last Flyte

Down in Jannit's boatyard, work was beginning on the Dragon Boat. Jannit had towed her out of the Dragon House, turned her around and was about to reverse her back in so that she could face out onto the world. It was something that Jenna had asked Nicko to do the previous night, telling him that the dragon herself had requested it. Nicko, who still had trouble with the idea that the Dragon Boat was also a living creature, did not see why it mattered which way the boat faced, but Jenna had been insistent.

From her small tugboat, Jannit surveyed the Dragon Boat with a critical eye. She and Nicko carefully splinted the broken wing and fixed it to the hull, but the wing was badly smashed and a strange green fluid was oozing from it and dripping into the water. The dragon herself did not look well. Her scales were dull, her eyes were heavy and her head and tail drooped feebly. "She doesn't look good," Jannit called up to Rupert Gringe who, with Nicko, was on the deck of the Dragon Boat, directing operations.

Rupert nodded. "Don't see what we can do," he grunted. "If you ask me what she needs is some hocus-pocus rubbish."

Three Wizards, chosen by Jannit as the least bothersome from the thirteen that Marcia had sent to guard the boat, made disapproving noises. Hocus-pocus indeed.

Nicko said nothing. He didn't like the way Rupert had said it, but he thought he was probably right. What could an ordinary boatyard hope to do for a living/breathing Dragon Boat?

"What the" Rupert suddenly exclaimed, catching sight of a movement far above him. "Some idiot's thrown himself off a roof. No he hasn'tBusted Barnacles, hehe's flying!"

With a sinking feeling, Nicko looked up. "Simon," he muttered. "It's Simon."

"Whatyour Simon?"

"He's not my Simon," said Nicko indignantly. "Quick, Ruperthe's dangerous. Get the Dragon Boat back inside." But Rupert Gringe seemed mesmerized by the black figure that had dropped down over the Castle walls and was flapping about like a wounded crow, flying slowly toward them.

"It is. It's Simon blasted Heap." Rupert shook his fist and yelled up into the air. "Get out of here, Heap. Or do I have to come and make you?"

"Rupert," hissed Nicko. "Don't upset him."

"Upset hm? I'll upset him all right. " Rupert raised his voice in Simon's direction. "Heap! Stop prancing about up there like a girl at the MidWinter Feast. Come down here and fight like a man."

"Rupert, don't," pleaded Nicko. "Just get out of the way. He's got a Thunderflash."

"Oh, yes, and my aunt Gertie's the Queen of Sheba. Good, he's coming over. Come on then, Heap. Don't be shy. Ha!"

Simon Heap was having a good deal of trouble with the Flyte Charm. It was only once he was airborne and on his way to the Wizard Tower that Simon had realized that the Chief Hermetic Scribe had done nothing whatsoever to sort out the Charm. He had not dared turn back and insist that Hugh Fox repair it, for he could not possibly be late for his appointment with DomDaniel and the beginning of his new Apprenticeship. Little did Simon know that even if he had returned, Hugh Fox would not have been able to fix the Flyte Charmfor all the codes and encryptions had been in The Book, The Undoing of the Darkenesse.

Simon had only just made it over the Castle walls and he was using all his willpower to stay airborne. The Dragon Boat was in his sight and this time Simon knew that he would not missthird time lucky, he muttered to himself, or third time unlucky if you happened to be a mutant mix of a boat and a dragon. As Simon flew awkwardly across the boatyard he took his very last remaining Thunderflash from his belt. He had had a recent run on Thunderflashes and Merrin had been worse than useless at preparing the new onesbut that didn't matter. The boat was a sitting duck; this time there was no way he could miss. That would teach the oaf Rupert to yell at him. He'd get two birds with one stoneeven better.

Simon primed the Thunderflash.

A yell followed by two loud splashes rang through the air. Nicko had pushed Rupert Gringe into the Moat and jumped in after him. Cursing the fact that he had lost his chance to get even with Rupert Gringe, Simon hurled the Thunderflash.

It flew off with a roar, rumbling and rolling through the air. With a surprising turn of speed, the three Wizards also hurled themselves into the Moat.

The Thunderflash hit the Dragon Boat square on the stern, passed through the golden wood of the hull like a knife through butter and came to rest on the bottom of the Moat where it exploded, sending a spout of water shooting into the sky. In a seething mass of bubbles and steam, the Dragon Boat slowly disappeared under the water and sank to the bed of the Moat.

Jannit Maarten stood open-mouthed on the tugboat, horrified at what had happened. No one, but no one, messed with any of the boats under Jannit's care. She picked up the nearest weapon that came to hand, a large hammer, and hurled it up at Simon. Jannit had a powerful swing to her arm and the hammer flew through the air, only narrowly missing Simon. It flew on, curving upward, and an oncoming dragon on its FirstFlyte just managed to avoid its first airborne missile (but not its last), thanks to a timely shout from its Navigator.

Simon had just caught sight of Spit Fyre. He could not believe his eyesor rather his eye, as Simon was still wearing his eyepatch after Wolf Boy's direct hit. What was it about this imposter brother of his? Why did he always turn up like a bad penny, just when he least wanted to see him? And what was he doing on a dragon?

Simon's success with the Dragon Boat had made him cocky. Even with no Thunderflashes left and a dodgy Flyte Charm to contend with, Simon felt invincible. It was easy; he'd push one off the dragon, then he'd push the other one off the dragon and that would be that. Good-bye upstart Apprentice and little Miss Princess.

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