But Septimus could indeed do a MindScreen.
He well remembered the day that Marcia had taught him. From the moment he had emerged from tidying the Pyramid Library the day had taken on a surreal quality. Everything he said or did, Marcia had anticipated. She had finished his sentences for him, answered his unasked questions, fetched a book for him that he was about to go and find and had played countless other little tricks. By the end of the morning Septimus had felt as if he were going crazy - how did Marcia know what he was thinking and what he intended to do?
Marcia then insisted they eat lunch together, rather than Septimus going down to the Wizard Tower canteen as he usually did. Septimus had sat in the little kitchen and eaten in silence, refusing to be drawn into conversation. He had concentrated hard on everything on the table and had focused totally on every morsel of the rather good Wizard Tower Hotpot-of-the-Day that Marcia had had sent up. When he saw Marcia looking at him with a faintly amused smile, he did not look away but tried to put up a mental screen between his eyes and hers, thinking only of mundane things. By the end of dessert - Wizard Tower Chocolate Pie with Sparkles - Marcia was beaming. She put down her spoon and clapped her hands. "Well done, Septimus," she had said. "I used all my powers of Reading, and not only did you work out what I was doing, but you also worked out how to Screen me. Very good! You have mastered MindScreen Stage One all on your own. We will spend the afternoon on Stage Two - making your MindScreen undetectable. If you manage that we will do Stage Three - allowing you to use decoy thoughts, which will always give you the upper hand." She had smiled. "Then you will be protected against any nosy Being or Wizard - including me." The afternoon had progressed well and Septimus had reached Stage Three, although at times his decoy thoughts had made his Stage Two break down, which Marcia had said was always a problem with a beginner but would improve with practice.
"Yes." Septimus smiled. "I can do a MindScreen."
"Good," said Syrah, then like an animal diving into its burrow, she plunged into the trees and disappeared. Septimus followed and found himself momentarily blinded by the shadows after the bright sunlight. He set off after Syrah with some difficulty. Despite being windblown and stunted, the little trees grew close together and were covered with tiny, tough, fleshy leaves that snagged and cut at him as he pushed through. The trees grew in twisted corkscrew shapes, which reached out in unexpected directions as though to deliberately trip him up, but Syrah deftly zigzagged through, dappled shadows falling on her threadbare green tunic. She seemed to Septimus like a small woodland deer, jumping here, leaping there as she followed a path that only she knew. Syrah stopped at the far edge of the copse and waited for Septimus to catch up. As she stood silhouetted against the bright sunlight, Septimus noticed how extremely thin she was. Her threadbare tunic hung from her like a rag on a scarecrow, and her thin brown wrists and ankles emerged from the ragged hems like knobby sticks. She reminded him of the Young Army boys who would not eat - there had always been one or two in each platoon, and they had never lasted long. What, he wondered, had Syrah's life been like on this island?
Septimus joined Syrah at the edge of the trees. In front of them in the bright sunlight was a wide, open cliff top jutting out to sea like the prow of a ship. A great panorama of sea was stretched beyond, interrupted only by a squat, round brick tower that had a ring of tiny windows right at the very top. Syrah put her arm out to prevent Septimus from stepping out of the cover of the trees. She pointed to the tower and whispered, "This is the Peepe. It is the Dwelling Place of the Syren." Syrah paused. She took a deep breath and said, "The Syren is a Possessive spirit. I am Possessed by her."
At once Septimus understood the cover of the book. Guiltily he felt a surge of happiness wash over him - he was still in his own Time. He remembered the words from Dan Forrest's Basyk Treatise on Possession: "The curse of the Possessed is to exist for many hundreds of lifetimes without the knowing of it. It is a form of immortality that none desire."
Instinctively Septimus stepped away from Syrah - Marcia had always said that it was not good to be close to someone who was Possessed.
Syrah looked upset. "It is all right," she said. "You can't catch anything. I am only Possessed inside the Peepe. As I said, outside I am Syrah."
"So why go into the Peepe at all?"
Syrah shook her head. "When the Syren Calls me, I must come. Besides..." She yawned. "Oh, excuse me, I am so tired. I stay awake outside for as long as I can, but the only place I may sleep is inside the Peepe."
Now Septimus remembered something that Dan Forrest's Basyk Treatise had not covered - something that he had found in a crumpled scroll at the back of the drawer in the Pyramid Library desk. It was written by a young ExtraOrdinary Wizard who had become Possessed by a malevolent spirit Dwelling in a cottage alongside Bleak Creek. The Wizard had made it back to the Wizard Tower and had been writing his will, at the beginning of which were the words: "It has been four long days since I walked away from my Possessor. I choose not to return, and I know I must soon face the final Sleep."
There followed a description of what had happened to him, along with detailed instructions to his successor, a list of bequests and a last message to someone he described as "his one true love," which ended in a long trail of ink where the pen had fallen from his hand as he had finally given way to sleep. Upset, Septimus had shown the scroll to Marcia. She had explained that if someone who is Possessed by a Dwelling spirit falls asleep outside the Dwelling Place, they fall asleep forever.
"But how can people sleep forever?" Septimus had asked, puzzled.
"Well, actually, Septimus," Marcia had said, "they die. Generally about three minutes into their sleep."
That, thought Septimus, explained the dark hollows from which Syrah's eyes shone like feverish beacons. "Oh, Syrah," he said. "I am so sorry."
Syrah looked surprised. Sympathy was not something she had expected from Septimus. Suddenly, she was overcome by the enormity of what she had forced him to agree to do. She stepped over to him and placed her hand on his arm, noticing gratefully that he did not flinch. "I am sorry that I said I would only save your dragon in return for...this. That was not right. I release you from your promise."
"Oh!" Septimus smiled with relief - things were looking better and better. Then he remembered something. "But you said that if I knew what it was, I would insist on doing it anyway?"
"I believe you would. The Castle is in grave danger."
"In danger? How?"
Syrah did not answer. "If you give me the Keye, I will try to do what needs to be done."
Septimus saw the frown lines etched deep in Syrah's face and her green eyes clouded with worry. Her thin hands were clasped together, her knuckles white with tension. If anyone needed his help, she did. "No," he said. "Whatever it is, I will do it."
"Thank you," said Syrah. "Thank you. We will do it together."
Chapter 33 The Pinnacle
While Septimus was walking into the unknown with Syrah, far below the sea Wolf Boy and Lucy were deep in their own unknown. Breathing in stale air that smelled of leather, the cold of the sea numbing their feet, they sat behind Miarr as the Red Tube purred through the depths. Each stared out of a thick glass window, seeing a strange combination of their wide-eyed, pale reflections and the darkness of the sea beyond. Far above them - so far that it made them feel a weird inverse vertigo - they could see the Light moving slowly across the surface of the water, like the moon sailing across a starless sky.
"Mr. Miarr," said Lucy. "Mr. Miarr."
Miarr's neat head appeared around the edge of his tall seat, his yellow eyes glinting in the red glow.
"Yes, Lucy Gringe?" His oddly crackly voice gave Lucy goose bumps.
"Why is your voice funny?" asked Lucy. "It's weird."
Miarr pointed to a circlet of wire around his neck. "This makes it so. It is what the pilot must wear. It is to make it easy to speak to many people in the Tube after a rescue. If it is necessary to be heard in a storm and to inform ships of the danger of the Isles, it will also carry sound to the outside. My voice is not strong, but with this it is." Miarr's head disappeared back behind his seat.