They were now working their way through the Almanac and as they approached the page for the date of his capture, Septimus grew nervous, although he tried his best to hide it. He desperately wanted to get a message to Marcia and to try to make contact with his own Time. Septimus had resigned himself to the fact that it was probably impossible for Marcia to help, for—and this is where his brain always turned to mush—if she could retrieve him from this Time, surely she would have already done so and he wouldn't still be here, over five months later ... would he? But whatever Marcia could or couldn't do, Septimus wanted to tell her what had happened.

Suddenly Septimus realized that the next sheet of paper was the day. With shaking hands, he pushed it into the middle of a group of eight other sheets—slightly out of sequence, but that could not be helped—and then he passed it to the nearest free scribe for sewing. As soon as the scribe had finished sewing, Septimus took the folded sheets and slipped his note inside. Guiltily, he glanced around him, afraid that all eyes would be upon him, but the steady work of putting the book together continued. The Bookbinder took the sheets from him with a bored expression and added them to his stack of parchment. No one had noticed.

Trembling, Septimus sat down and promptly knocked over an inkwell.

Marcellus frowned and snapped his fingers at one of the scribes. “Go, thee, fetch a rag. I will not have this Work delayed.”

At 1:21 the Bookbinder finished binding the I, Marcellus. He handed it to Marcellus Pye, accompanied by a few low whistles from the scribes, for it was a beautiful book. It was covered in soft leather, the title was tooled in gold leaf and surrounded by various Alchemical symbols, which Septimus now understood, and wished he didn't. The Bookbinder had edged the pages with Marcellus Pye's very own gold leaf and had laid the book on a thick red silk ribbon.

At 1:25 Marcellus heated a small copper pot of black sealing wax over a candle flame.

At 1:31 Septimus held the book while Marcellus Pye poured black sealing wax onto the two ends of the ribbon to tie them together.

At 1:33 Marcellus Pye pressed his signet ring into the sealing wax. The I, Marcellus was Sealed and the whole Chamber breathed a sigh of relief.

“The Great Work be done,” said Marcellus, reverentially holding the book in his hands, almost lost for words.

“My stomach rumbleth.” The Bookbinder's petulant voice broke into Marcellus Pye's dreams of greatness. "For 'tis well past the time to break Bread. I shall tarry no more.

I bid you Good day, Your Excellency." The Bookbinder bowed and left the Chamber. The scribes exchanged glances. Their stomachs were not entirely silent either, but they dared not say anything. They waited while the Last Alchemist, lost in dreams of greatness, cradled his Great Work in his arms, gazing at the book as if at a newborn baby.

However, despite Marcellus Pye's great hopes, no one ever looked at his book again.

It was Sealed away after the Great Alchemie disaster and never again opened—until Marcia Overstrand ripped the Seal off on the day her Apprentice was snatched from his Time.

26

The Wizard Tower

The scribes had gone to lunch, leaving Septimus behind. Marcellus approached his Apprentice with an anxious look.

“A moment of thy time, Apprentice,” he said, sitting down on the stool beside Septimus, which was normally occupied by Septimus's personal scribe. "For surely the Tincture neareth completion and doth require thy attention." Marcellus nodded toward a glass cabinet that stood on a golden plinth on one of the ebony tables at the edge of the Chamber. Inside the cabinet, on a delicate three-legged stand of gold, was a small phial filled with a thick blue fluid. Although Septimus was tired from his morning's work he did not mind the chance to work with Marcellus on some real Physik. He nodded and got up.

Next to the glass cabinet was a new oak chest with gold-covered corners, bound with two thick gold bands. This was Septimus's personal Physik Chest and he was very proud of it. Marcellus had given it to him at the start of their work on modifying the Tincture for Everlasting Life. It was the only possession that Septimus had in that Time, and it contained his carefully written notes on Mixtures, Linctuses, Remedies and Cures. Most precious of all, it contained his copy of Marcellus's Antidote to the Sickenesse, carefully folded at the bottom. His Physik Chest was the only thing he would regret leaving behind if he ever got a chance to try his escape plan—and if it actually worked.

But though the chest belonged to him, Septimus did not hold the Keye. Like all things in the Great Chamber of Alchemie and Physik, it was opened by only one key—the Keye that hung around Marcellus's neck on a thick gold chain, securely fastened inside his tunic by a large gold pin. Keeping a wary eye on Septimus, Marcellus unpinned the Keye and pulled out the chain, the same thick gold disc embossed with seven stars surrounding a circle with a dot in the middle that the old Marcellus had worn. Septimus eyed the disc longingly, knowing it opened the Great Doors of Time and was the key to his freedom. But short of ambushing Marcellus and grabbing it—which was impossible given their difference in size—he could see no way of getting it. Marcellus placed the gold disc in a round indentation on the front of the chest and the lid swung open as if lifted by ghostly fingers.

Septimus selected a thin glass rod from the chest, his divining rod, which when dipped into a substance would tell him whether it was what Marcellus called Entire.

Then he opened the door to the glass cabinet and took out the Tincture. He removed the cork, dipped the rod into the contents, turned it seven times and then held it up to a nearby candle flame.

“What thinkest thou, Apprentice?” Marcellus asked Septimus anxiously. “Are we yet ready for the venom?”

Septimus shook his head.

“When thinkest thou it may be so?” Marcellus asked anxiously.

Septimus said nothing. Although he had become used to the oddly circuitous way of speaking that Marcellus and indeed everyone in this Time used, he found it hard to speak like that himself. If he did say anything, people would look puzzled; if they thought about it for a few moments, they understood what he had said, but they knew there was something very odd in the way he had said it. Septimus had lost count of the number of times people had asked where he came from. It was a question he did not know how to answer and one that he did not wish to think about. The worst thing was that now, at the rare times he spoke, his accent and intonation sounded odd even to him, as if he no longer knew who he was anymore.

Normally Marcellus did not mind having such a silent Apprentice—particularly as the only subject that Septimus seemed willing to talk about was Marcellus's future decrepitude—but there were times when it could become irritating. This was one of them. “Oh Prithee, Apprentice, speak,” he said.

The truth was, the Tincture had been ready almost immediately, but at the time Septimus had not had the skills to recognize it. But then, as is the way with complex tinctures and potions, it had quickly become unstable, and Septimus had spent the next few months patiently coaxing it back to being Entire, for he knew that Marcellus believed that his future depended on this.

Try as he might, Septimus could not dislike Marcellus Pye. Even though Marcellus had taken him from his own Time and was keeping him against his will, the Alchemist had always been kind to him and, more important, had taught him everything Septimus had asked about Physik—and more.

“Thou knowest how this is a matter of Life and Death to me, Apprentice,” said Marcellus quietly.

Septimus nodded.

“Thou knowest also that this small amount of Tincture is all I have left. There is no more and none can be made, for the Planetary Conjunction will not come again.”

Septimus nodded again.

“Then I Pray you think hard on this and answer me, for this is my only hope to Change my Terrible Fate. If I can drink of the Tincture which thou hast made I hope that I may not grow Old and Foul as I have seen.”

Septimus didn't see how Marcellus could change things. He had already seen him as an old, decaying man and that was how it would be, but Marcellus was determined to cling to this one hope. “So Pray tell me when we may add the venom, Apprentice,”

said Marcellus urgently. “For I fear the Tincture will decay ere long.”

Septimus spoke. Briefly, it is true, but he spoke.

“Soon.”

“Soon? How soon? Tomorrow morn? Tomorrow eve?”

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