"You do still have your Alchemie Keye?"
Septimus was surprised. "Yes, I do. But how did you know I had the Keye?"
"Everyone knew," Syrah said, her eyes lighting up as she remembered happier days.
"After you left, most people thought you had run away, but in the Wizard Tower it was said that Marcellus had given you his Keye in exchange for a secret pact. They talked of nothing else for weeks."
Septimus smiled. The Wizard Tower had not changed - it was still a hotbed of gossip.
"But, you know, Marcellus would never speak about it, not even to Julius, who was his closest friend. I think that upset Julius quite a lot." Syrah looked sad as she remembered her much-loved Julius Pike. "Would you show me the Keye, please?" she asked. "I would love to see it."
Septimus reached inside his tunic and took his Alchemie Keye from around his neck. He placed the heavy gold disc in his palm so that Syrah could see it. It lay glinting in the sunlight, its distinctive boss decorated with the Alchemical symbol for the sun - and gold - a dot in the center of a circle.
"It is beautiful," said Syrah.
"Yes, it is. So...what is it you want me to do?" asked Septimus, putting the Keye back around his neck.
"Come with me and I will explain. Your dragon - Spit Fyre - will sleep until we return."
Septimus gave Spit Fyre's nose a good-bye pat, and then he jumped down after Syrah onto the beach and followed her into the sand dunes. His fear for Spit Fyre had lifted - but now he began to fear for himself.
Chapter 32 MindScreen
Septimus walked with Syrah through the sand dunes and up onto the rock-strewn grass. He had a heavy feeling in the pit of his stomach, and he knew why. It wasn't the fact that he was headed off to an unknown danger - that he could handle. What he found harder to deal with was the fact that he no longer knew what Time he was in. Syrah set a fast pace over the rocky grass, heading toward the steep hill that rose up in the center of the island. Septimus had to almost trot to keep up with her. At the foot of the hill was a more defined path, which wound its way up through scattered rocks. It was wide enough for only one person, and Syrah went ahead, leaping up the path with the practiced ease of a mountain goat. Septimus followed more slowly. Halfway up the hill, Septimus stopped and turned around, hoping to see Spit Fyre, but the dragon was already hidden by the sand dunes. He caught his breath and then continued toward Syrah, who was sitting waiting for him, perched on a rock and as still as a rock herself.
Septimus walked on slowly, trying to figure things out - was Syrah in his Time or was he in her Time? He wondered if Syrah was a spirit; but she didn't look much like one - in fact she looked exactly how he would have expected someone who had been stranded on an island to appear - thin and sunburned, her clothes threadbare. As Septimus drew near, Syrah pushed her straggly brown hair back behind her ears and smiled at him just, he thought, like a real girl would. At her feet a spring bubbled from between some flat, mossy rocks, and Septimus got a sudden attack of goose bumps - this was the very spring he had so vividly imagined as he had flown over the islands. Syrah pulled a battered tin cup from between the rocks and allowed the water to trickle into it. She offered it to Septimus as he sat down on the rock beside her. He drank the water in one gulp. It was icy cool and tasted a hundred times better than the warm, slightly metallic stuff from the WaterGnome.
After three cups of water Septimus felt much more clearheaded. "When you Called me, you were sitting right here," he said.
Syrah nodded. "I was. It is my favorite place on the whole island. That morning I looked up, I saw your dragon and I Knew it was you. And I knew if it was you, you would - maybe - still have the Keye."
"But... how did you know it was me?" asked Septimus. Syrah looked surprised. "All Apprentices Know one another," she said. She looked at his Senior Apprentice stripes, which, after the ravages of the storm and Spit Fyre's tail operations, no longer looked new and shiny. "I am surprised Julius has not taught you this yet, but he will. He is such a good tutor, is he not?"
Septimus did not answer. He could not bear to think that he might have slipped back into Syrah's Time. He jumped up, desperately hoping to get a glimpse of Jenna and Beetle, telling himself that if he could see them, everything would be fine. But there was no sign of them, and an awful feeling of being alone on the island, marooned once again in a different Time, swept over him.
Syrah was gazing out to sea contentedly, unaware of Septimus's near panic. "I am never tired of this," she murmured. "I may be tired of everything else, but not this."
Septimus looked at the scene spread out below him. Four small islands of green, flecked with gray rocks and edged with delicate white slivers of beaches, were strewn carelessly through the sparkling green-blue sea. He knew from his flight over the islands that there were two more little islands on the other side of the hill, making seven islands in all. It was breathtakingly beautiful, but all he could think was, What Time is it?
Syrah stood up. Shading her eyes, she looked toward the CattRokk Light. "This morning they took the Light," she said. "And so I came to you. It is beginning."
Septimus did not reply. He was completely preoccupied trying to pinpoint a moment when he could have possibly slipped back into Syrah's Time. Was it before or after Jenna and Beetle left to go fishing? Were they in this Time with him or not? The more he thought about it the more his head spun.
"Syrah," he said.
"How did you get here?"
"On a dolphin."
"On a dolphin?"
"It is a long story. Let me give you some advice, Septimus. If you get Drawn to go on the Queste, escape while you can."
"Yes, I know. And that is what I did," Septimus replied quietly.
"It is also a long story," he replied in turn.
Syrah regarded Septimus with new respect; there was more to this young Apprentice than she had thought. She reached into a pocket in her tattered tunic and took out a small, water-stained book. The cover was made of faded blue cloth and was decorated with hand-drawn signs and symbols, most of which Septimus did not recognize. In large gold letters across the front was written:
"It was a ship's logbook," said Syrah. "I found it washed up on the shore. It has been my only true companion on this island, and in it I wrote my story, so that I could remember who I am - and who I was. It explains everything. Take it, please, and give it to Julius when you return. I wrote it for him, too.
Septimus looked at the names on the cover. "So...are you called Syrah or Syren?" he asked.
"Out here I am Syrah."
"Out here?" asked Septimus.
"Read it," said Syrah, "and you will understand. Later," she added as Septimus began to lift the fragile cover. "Now we must go."
The path widened after the spring, and Septimus walked beside Syrah toward the wooded crest of the hill. As they neared the top, Syrah turned to him and said, "What I am asking you to do is not for me, it is for the Castle. And I think that if you knew what it is, you would insist on doing it anyway." She looked at Septimus, her green eyes squinting against the sun shining behind him, giving his hair a fuzzy golden halo. She smiled. "Yes," she said. "I am sure you would."
"Well, if you're so sure, why don't you tell me?" asked Septimus.
Septimus began to feel annoyed. "Why not?" he said. "If you want me to do this dangerous thing, I think the least you could do is tell me what it is and not play games with me."
"Because if I tell you, you will know. And if you know, then the Syren will know - "
"The Syren?" asked Septimus. He glanced down at the name on the book: Syren - the name after Syrah's name. Syren - the name that had replaced Syrah's name. A chill ran down his spine; he was getting a bad feeling about the island. Septimus lowered his voice. "If you cannot tell me what I am to do, then at least I must know what I am dealing with. Who - or what - is Syren?"
They had now reached the edge of the trees at the top of the hill. "Very well," said Syrah. "But before I tell you about the Syren, I must know one thing: Can you do a MindScreen? If you cannot, then please believe me, it is better you do not know right now."