The name was familiar too. But from where?
"You don't remember me, do you?" asked the girl.
"I think I do, but..."
"The Wizard Tower?" the girl prompted.
That was it! Septimus remembered the pictures he had seen on the walls of the Wizard Tower just before he escaped the Siege - especially the one of the girl aiming a punch at Tertius Fume. He shook his head in disbelief. Surely this could not be her - that had happened hundreds of years ago.
"I said hello to you," said the girl.
"You said hello?" Now Septimus was completely lost.
"Yes. That is why I know who you are. You are...the Alchemie Apprentice, the one who mysteriously disappeared. But I congratulate you. You came back, I suppose, and have taken my place with Julius."
"Julius?" asked Septimus, puzzled.
"Julius Pike, now your ExtraOrdinary Wizard." Syrah sighed wistfully. "Oh, what I would give to see dear Julius once more."
Septimus felt his whole world shift. What was this girl Syrah saying - that he was back in that Time again? Septimus forced himself to remain calm. He told himself that nothing had happened to even suggest that they had gone back in Time once more, unless...unless the storm had something to do with it...or perhaps the weird lighthouse they had nearly crashed into...or maybe even the lightning bolt? Maybe - maybe once you had been in a Time you could somehow get dragged back there without even knowing? No, he told himself, that was not possible. The only explanation was that Syrah was a ghost. A very solid-looking one, it is true, but island life was obviously good for ghosts.
"You have a dragon," said Syrah.
"Yes," said Septimus.
"I have a confession to make. I have been watching you and your dragon."
"I know you have. Why didn't you just come and say hello?"
Syrah did not answer. "Your dragon has its head stuck in a bucket," she said. "You should take the bucket off."
"No way," said Septimus. "It was hard enough to put it on."
"You put the bucket on? That is most cruel."
Septimus sighed. "My dragon has a badly injured tail. The bucket is to stop him from biting the bandages."
"Oh. I see. I had a cat once and - "
"Really?" said Septimus, somewhat abruptly. He wanted Syrah to go. Ghost or not, her talk about Marcellus and Julius Pike unsettled him. He scanned the distant rocks, hoping to see Jenna and Beetle to bring him back to reality - where were they?
But Syrah showed no inclination to go. She seemed fascinated by Spit Fyre. She climbed onto the rocks and walked slowly around him. Septimus felt annoyed.
"He needs to rest," he told her. "He shouldn't be disturbed."
Syrah stopped and looked at Septimus. "Your dragon is dying," she said.
"What?" Septimus gasped.
"His tail smells of the stinking black slush."
"I thought the smell was the seaweed."
Syrah shook her head. "No, it is the slush. That will be the reason he has been trying to bite it off. A dragon knows such things."
"No..." But Septimus knew that Syrah was right.
Syrah put her hand on Septimus's arm. Her touch was warm and friendly and it horrified Septimus - she was alive. And if Syrah was alive, what Time were they in now?
He was so shaken that he did not at first take in what she was saying to him. "Septimus,"
she said, "I can save your dragon's life."
"You can? Oh, thank you, thank you." A great feeling of hope washed over Septimus.
"But there is a condition."
"Ah," said Septimus, his spirits sinking once more.
"There is something I want you to do in return. And I should tell you, it is a dangerous thing."
"What is it?"
"I cannot tell you."
Septimus met Syrah's steady stare. He didn't know what to make of this strange girl who was looking at him with the same mixture of hope and desperation that he himself felt.
"And if I don't agree to do this whatever-it-is, will you still save Spit Fyre?"
Syrah took a deep breath. "No," she said.
Septimus gazed at Spit Fyre - his big, messy, contrary, galumphing dragon, who he had seen hatch from his egg, an egg that Jenna had given him. His daft, greedy, irritable dragon who had eaten most of the cloaks of the Ordinary Wizards in the Wizard Tower, the dragon who had saved Marcia from her Shadow and done unspeakable things to her carpet - his beautiful dragon was dying. Deep down he knew that he had known it all morning, ever since Spit Fyre had refused to drink. Septimus swallowed hard. He couldn't let Spit Fyre die, he couldn't. If there was the slightest chance that Syrah could save his dragon he would have to take it. He had no choice.
"I will do whatever you want," he said, "if you will save Spit Fyre. I don't care what it is, I will do it. Just make Spit Fyre live. Please."
Syrah was brisk and professional. She unwrapped the bandages, and as the last scrap of tattered HeatCloak fell away, Septimus reeled back. The smell of rotting meat was overpowering. The wound was swimming with slime. The bones showed as glimpses of dull yellow islands in a greenish-black sea of slush, and previously healthy scales were peeling back like dead leaves, revealing yet more ominous soft black flesh underneath. Apart from his shock at the state of Spit Fyre's tail, Septimus was mortified at the failure of his Physik skills.
Syrah read his expression. "I know Marcellus taught you some Physik, and I am sure you did your best, but you mustn't blame yourself," she said. "The stinking black slush comes, as they say, like a wolf in the night and steals people away from even the finest physicians."
"So what can you do?" asked Septimus.
"I shall combine Magyk and Physik. Julius - dear Julius - taught me this. It is powerful stuff; Julius and Marcellus worked it out together. The effect of Magyk and Physik used together is more potent than you would expect the combination to be. It was the very last thing I learned. Julius showed me how to combine them on the very day before the Draw...." Syrah's voice trailed off for a moment as she became lost in her memories.
Ten minutes later Spit Fyre was surrounded by a Magykal cocoon. Septimus had watched as Syrah made the stinking black slush evaporate in a stream of foul-smelling black vapor, the stench of which had lingered in the air until Syrah was almost finished. He had watched Syrah work like a skilled surgeon, handing her a variety of knives, forks and spoons from Marcia's Young Army Officer Cadet Hostile Territory Survival Pack, which she used to scoop out all kinds of unmentionable stuff (Septimus made a mental note not to use the utensils for supper). Then he had watched as Syrah sprinkled a few drops of green oil from a tiny silver phial onto the wound and then Engendered a Magykal purple haze tinged with green. The haze spread over the injured tail and covered it with a glimmering, transparent gel - something that Septimus had never seen before. When the gel was set, Syrah showed him how the scales were already turning back to green and, even as he watched, the flesh was beginning to grow over the bones. A clean, fresh smell of peppermint now hung in the air.
"Take this." Syrah handed him the silver phial. "It has an essence that speeds healing. I can see that his wings are torn in places. When he is stronger take him somewhere he can spread his wings and drip one drop of oil over each tear - they will knit together. But for now let him sleep while his tail mends." She smiled. "Do not worry, Septimus. He will live."
"Oh. I...well, thank you." Suddenly overcome, Septimus rushed off to find the WaterGnome.
This time Spit Fyre drank. He drank until Septimus's arm ached with holding the unwieldy gnome, but Septimus did not care. Spit Fyre was going to live and that was all that mattered.
Syrah watched Spit Fyre drinking. When at last Septimus put down the WaterGnome she said, "Marcellus gave Julius one of those on MidWinter Feast Day, but it wasn't quite like that, it was rather..."
"Rude?" asked Septimus.
"Yes." Syrah smiled for the first time.
Septimus shook his head. All his certainties were tumbling down like autumn leaves. Marcellus had given a rude WaterGnome as a gift - if that was possible, anything was.
"I have done as I promised," said Syrah. "Now will you do as you promised?"
"Yes," said Septimus. "I will. What is it you want?"