“Apprentice! I will never be your Apprentice. I am already Apprenticed. To the ExtraOrdinary Wizard. And she'll be here soon to get me back,” said Septimus, sounding more certain than he felt.

“I doubt that very much,” Marcellus replied. “Now, it's time you came down.”

“I'm not going anywhere,” Septimus said.

“Don't be foolish. You'll be cold and hungry after a few days up here and you'll be begging to come down. Either that or you'll fall off and be smashed to pieces. Not nice, believe me. Now, come, won't you?” Marcellus's voice took on a wheedling tone.

“No,” said Septimus flatly. “Never.”

For the second time that morning Marcellus's claw flashed out and grabbed hold of Septimus's tunic and pulled him. The strength of the old man surprised Septimus and caught him off guard. He lost his balance and toppled toward the ledge. “Careful!”

shouted Marcellus, suddenly afraid that his prize might be short-lived.

But Septimus had learned from his dream. In his left hand he now clutched the Flyte Charm. Holding it between finger and thumb, he pointed the ancient golden arrow down the chimney, and taking a deep breath, he hurled himself into the darkness.

As Marcellus Pye watched in horror as his potential Apprentice plummeted down, he saw the golden glint of something he remembered well. It was something that he himself had once possessed and indeed loved almost more than anything else in the world, apart from his dear wife, Broda. “The Charm!” he yelled. “You have my Charm!”

But Septimus was gone, deep into the depths of the Chimney.

It was not an easy Flyte. Although Septimus had practiced regularly with Alther, it had always been in open spaces. The cramped conditions in the Chimney were much more difficult—and frightening. But Septimus soon discovered that the secret to controlling his Flyte was to drop through the air as slowly as possible. Several minutes later, Septimus landed lightly at the foot of the Chimney.

Septimus took a few deep breaths and looked around. Behind him was the solid brick wall of the Chimney, but in front of him stretched what Septimus knew must be an ancient tunnel. The Castle had many layers of tunnels built at different times, but the brick-lined ones were the oldest. Septimus had a map of known tunnels on his bedroom wall, but this one was not on it. This was another one to add to the map when he got back—if he got back.

The flames in the lines of globes on either side of the passageway gave a dull red glow and cast flickering shadows across the walls. Septimus whistled under his breath. This must be the Everlasting Fyre of the Alchemists that he had read about but had never believed was possible. One of these globes was at Septimus's feet and he could not resist having a closer look at it. He knelt and touched the globe. The thick green glass was cool, even when the flame came up to meet his hand and danced before it, like a small excitable dog wanting attention.

Septimus was shaken from his fascination by the rattle of the ladder, as far above him, Marcellus Pye heaved himself onto it and began the long climb down. With each step Marcellus took, the ladder shook.

Septimus panicked. He ran, his thick woolen socks slipping and sliding along the smooth limestone floor of the Old Way, and as he ran he scanned the featureless walls for any sign of a doorway or tunnel that might hold out some chance of escape.

But there was nothing, no escape and nowhere to hide once the old man finally reached the ground—as Septimus knew he surely must soon.

The Old Way meandered along, roughly following the route of the ancient Alchemic Way far above it. Soon Septimus had rounded the first bend and was, to his great relief, out of sight of the Chimney. Breathless, Septimus slowed his pace and took more care to look around him. It was not long before he was rewarded with the welcome sight of a small archway set a few feet up the wall. Quickly Septimus scrambled up into the archway and found himself at the foot of a flight of shallow, twisting lapis lazuli steps.

Feeling hopeful at last, Septimus rushed up the steps. They twisted and turned, snaking ever upward. After some minutes Septimus slowed down to catch his breath.

He listened for the sound of pursuing footsteps but, to his relief, he heard nothing.

Taking the steps more slowly now, Septimus headed on, his dragon ring lighting the lapis lazuli, which stretched in front of him and behind with no end in sight.

Septimus was just beginning to get the feeling that the steps went on forever when he rounded the last shallow bend and found himself face to face with another Glass. It stood dark and mysterious at the top of the steps. Septimus saw a dim reflection of himself, wide-eyed and scared, staring back. He took a deep breath and told himself to calm down.

Praying that the surface would sink beneath his fingertips as the last one had, Septimus pushed his hand against the Glass. It was as he had feared—the old man had told the truth. The Glass would not let him pass. It was as solid as a rock.

Desperately, Septimus threw himself against it, pushing with all his strength. But it held firm, as unyielding as ever. Knowing that it would do no good, but unable to stop himself, Septimus hammered on the Glass with his fists, until his hands were bruised and his arms were sore. On the other side of the Glass, Jillie Djinn looked up from her notes and smiled. It was always satisfying when one's calculations worked out. She placed her pens in a neat row, folded her papers and briskly set off for the Palace.

Septimus aimed one last, despairing kick at the Glass and stubbed his toe. Feeling horribly close to tears, he raced back down the steps. The descent was easier, and soon Septimus saw the little archway ahead and the red glow of the globes of everlasting fire beyond. He jumped down from the arch only to hear,“Well met, Apprentice.” The old man's quavering voice echoed along the tunnel as he shuffled doggedly toward him. “We are nearly at our destination.”

The confidence in the old man's voice told Septimus that he was already trapped, but there was one last thing Septimus could do that would keep him out of the old man's clutches for just a little longer. Septimus reached into his Apprentice belt for his Flyte Charm. It wasn't there.

Septimus raced off. “There is nowhere to run,” his slow but relentless pursuer called out, and as Septimus rounded the last bend in the tunnel he knew the old man was telling the truth. He had reached the end. In front of him, the Way was barred by two tall golden doors. Two huge globes of Everlasting Fyre, almost as big as himself, were placed on either side of the doors. Septimus sat down between them and watched the flames dance toward him as though meeting an old friend. He could go no farther. All that was left for him was to listen to the halting footsteps, steadily shuffling closer.

“Ah, Apprentice,” puffed the old man, smiling his tombstone-toothed smile. “I believe this was yours.” He waved the Flyte Charm tantalizingly at Septimus. “One must be ever vigilant to keep the Flyte Charm, for it is a flighty thing and delights in eluding those who think they possess it. But now, once again, it appears to be mine.”

“The Flyte Charm belongs to no one,” said Septimus sulkily.

The old man chuckled. “A good answer, Apprentice, and a true one. I can see we will work well together. My congratulations—for you have passed your entrance examination. You have found the entrance ... ha-ha. 'Tis my little joke. Ah, now where did I put my key?”

Septimus panicked and turned to run, but Marcellus's practiced hand reached out, his bony claws wrapped around Septimus's Apprentice belt and hauled him back.

Breathing laboriously with the effort, the old man pulled out his gold disc and placed it in a circular indentation in the center of the golden doors. Then he dragged Septimus away, saying, “Step back, Apprentice, this is dangerous work we do today.”

The doors slowly opened to show a deep, mirrored blackness beyond. Septimus stared before him, unable to understand what he was seeing. Suspended within the blackness, gazing out at Marcellus Pye and Septimus, stood a young man with dark curly hair wearing black and red robes embroidered with a golden circle rather like the disc that the old man held in his hand. The expression on the young man's face was an odd mixture of shock and expectation.

With a look of infinite longing, for Marcellus knew he was face to face with something he could never be again—himself as a young man of thirty years—the old man gave Septimus a powerful shove and sent him sprawling into the icy blackness.

Silently the great doors closed behind him and Septimus was gone.

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