“I thought you might,” Jenna muttered crossly.
“I may,” said Jillie Djinn sternly, “be able to say when my calculations are done.”
“When will they be done?” asked Jenna anxiously, feeling that she could hardly wait another minute to see Septimus again and ask him what had happened.
“This time next year, if all goes well,” replied the Scribe.
“This time next year?”
“If all goes well.”
Jenna walked back into the front office in a bad mood. At the sight of the Princess, Beetle jumped up from his seat behind the desk. His ears suddenly turned bright red; he gave a hamster-style squeak and said, “Hey.”
“What?” snapped Jenna.
“Um. I wondered...”
“Um ... Sep okay?”
“No, he's not,” Jenna replied.
Beetle's black eyes looked worried. “I guessed not.”
Jenna shot Beetle a glance. “How did you know?”
Beetle shrugged. “His boots. He's only got one pair of boots. And you've got them.”
“Well, I'm going to give them back to him,” said Jenna, making for the door. “I don't know how I'm going to find him, but I will—and I'm not waiting a whole year to do it either.”
Beetle grinned. “Well, if that's all you need to do, it's easy.”
“Oh, ha-ha, Beetle.”
Beetle gulped. He didn't like making Jenna cross. “No, no, you don't understand. I'm not being funny. It's true. He's easy to find—now that he's Imprinted a dragon.”
Jenna stopped, hand on the doorknob, and stared at Beetle. “How do you mean?” she asked slowly, not daring to hope that Beetle might have the answer that his Chief Hermetic Scribe did not.
“I mean that a dragon can always find his Imprinter,” said Beetle. “All you have to do is a Seek and then, whizz bang, off he goes. Easy-peasy. You could go with him if you wanted, seeing as you're the Navigator. Just got to do a Locum Tenens, that's all. Problem solved.” Beetle folded his arms with an air of satisfaction.
“Beetle, could you ... um, could you say all that again? A bit slower this time, please?”
Beetle grinned at Jenna. “Wait a minute,” he said. Beetle hurled himself through the door and vanished into the back of the Manuscriptorium. Just as Jenna was wondering what could have possibly happened to him, the door burst open and Beetle was back, clutching a bright red and gold tin.
He held the tin out to Jenna. “Yours,” he said.
“Oh, well, thank you,” said Jenna. A silence ensued while she looked at the tin and read the words LOKKJAW TOFFEE COMPANY FINEST TREACLE TOFFEES, printed in thick black letters on the lid. “Would you like a toffee, Beetle?” asked Jenna, trying to pry open the tin.
“Not toffees,” said Beetle, coloring.
“Here, let me get the lid off for you.”
Jenna handed Beetle the tin. He struggled with it for a few seconds; then the lid popped off, and a flurry of what appeared to be bits of very thin leather, most of them either singed, crumpled or torn, tumbled to the floor. A strong smell of dragon filled the air. Flustered and hot, Beetle knelt to retrieve the pieces of sloughed dragon skin.
“Not toffees,” muttered Beetle as he collected them.
“No, they're not,” agreed Jenna.
“Navigator stuff,” Beetle elaborated. He picked out a long piece of green leather and held it up, saying, “ Seek.” Then he found a charred red scrap and said, “ Ignite.”
Lastly he found what he was looking for—a much-folded sheet of thin blue papery material—and said triumphantly, “ Locum Tenens!”
“Oh. Well, thank you, Beetle. That's really nice of you.”
Beetle went a deeper red. “It's okay. I mean ... um, you see, after you became Sep's Navigator on Spit Fyre, I collected all the stuff I could find about Navigators and put it in my toffee tin. The one that my auntie gave me for MidWinter Feast Day. I hope you don't mind,” he said a little sheepishly. “I mean, I hope you don't think I was being nosy or anything.”
“No, of course not. I always meant to find out about being a Navigator but I never did. I think Sep thought—I mean, thinks—that being a Navigator means cutting Spit Fyre's toenails and cleaning out the dragon kennel.”
Beetle laughed and then stopped as he remembered that something horrible had happened to Septimus. “So ... would you like me to show you the Locum?” he asked.
“The Locum Tenens. It will let you take over from Sep, and Spit Fyre will do everything you ask after that—or, well, he'll do everything that he would have done for Sep.”
“Not everything then.” Jenna smiled.
"No. But it's a start. Then you can do the Seek and off you go to find Sep.
Easy—well, it should be. Here it is.“ Beetle carefully took the thin blue piece of sloughed skin, unfolded it and flattened it out on the desk. ”It's a bit complicated, but I reckon it will work okay."
Jenna stared at a mass of confusing symbols, which were written in a tight spiral that wound its way up to a burned corner. Complicated was putting it mildly. She had no idea where to start.
“I can translate it if you like,” Beetle offered.
Jenna brightened. “Could you really?”
Beetle's ears went deep crimson again. “Yeah. Of course I could. No problem.” He took a large magnifying glass from the drawer and squinted at the skin. “It's quite simple, really. You just need something belonging to the Imprinter—” Beetle stopped and glanced at Septimus's boots. "Which ... um ... you've got. You lay it ...
them in front of the dragon, I mean Spit Fyre, and then you put your hand on the dragon's nose, look into his eyes and tell him—look, I'll write this down so you don't forget." Beetle reached into his pocket and pulled out a crumpled card, then, taking his pen from its inkstand, he wrote a long string of words with great concentration.
Grateful, Jenna took the card. “Thank you, Beetle,” she said. “Thank you so much.”
“ 'S all right,” said Beetle. “Anytime. Except. I mean. I hope there isn't any other time. I mean. I hope Sep's okay and ... if you need any help...”
“Thanks, Beetle,” said Jenna, a little tearfully. She ran for the door and wrenched it open. Wolf Boy was leaning up against the window, looking extremely bored.
“Come on, 409,” said Jenna, and she ran off toward the Great Arch at the end of Wizard Way. Soon she and Wolf Boy had disappeared into the blue shadows of the lapis lazuli archway.
Back at the Manuscriptorium, Beetle sat down and ran his hand over his forehead.
He felt hot, and he knew it was not just because he always went red whenever he saw Jenna. As Beetle leaned back in his seat, a cold sweat ran over him from top to toe and the office began to spin.
The scribes inside the Manuscriptorium heard the crash as Beetle fell off his chair.
Foxy, the son of the disgraced former Chief Hermetic Scribe, rushed out to find Beetle sprawled on the navigator tin the floor. The first thing that Foxy noticed was a single puncture mark, from which spread a brilliant red rash, in the gap of flesh between the top of Beetle's boots and his leggings.
“He's been bitten!” Foxy yelled to all the shocked scribes. “Now Beetle's got it!”
Marcellus Pye hated mornings. Not that you could easily tell when it was morning in the depths where he lurked. Night or day, a dim red light suffused the Old Way under the Castle. The light came from the globes of everlasting fire, which Marcellus now considered to be his greatest, and certainly most useful, achievement. The Old Way itself was lined with the large glass globes, which Marcellus had placed there some two hundred years ago when he had decided he could no longer live above the ground, among the mortals of the Castle, for it was far too noisy, fast and bright, and he no longer had any interest in it whatsoever. Now he sat damp and shivering by a globe at the foot of the Great Chimney, feeling sorry for himself.
Marcellus knew it was morning because he had been out the night before on one of his nighttime walks under the Moat. Nowadays, Marcellus only needed to breathe every ten minutes or so, and it did not particularly bother him if he did not take a breath for thirty minutes. He enjoyed the feeling of weightlessness under the water; it took away the terrible pain of his old fragile bones for a while. He liked to wander through the soft mud, picking up the odd gold coin that someone had thrown into the Moat for luck.