Syrah had told the truth.

Chapter 36 Chief Cadet

Septimus raced away from the Peepe, wondering how long it would take the Wraith of the Syren to swirl up the escape stairs and come after him. He dived into the cover of the trees and immediately began a basic SafeShield - something that did not need too much concentration.

He topped it up with a Silent UnSeen and set off through the copse, hoping that the Syren did not have the ability to See the telltale signs of Magyk - as some Entities did. When he emerged on the other side of the trees, Septimus took a shorter, steeper path down the side of the hill that led to the cover of the dunes below. As he half ran, half slid down the side of the hill, Septimus could not get the image of Syrah sprawled in the water out of his head. It took him right back to the time he had seen a Young Army boy left for dead in the shallows of the river, and memories of Young Army exercises in the Night Forest began to haunt him. Besieged by his thoughts, Septimus made his way through the dunes and was startled when he stumbled into Jenna and Beetle - but not half as startled as they were.

"Argh!" shouted Jenna, swiping the air. "Beetle, help! There's something here! Get it, get it - oh! Sep, it's you. What are you doing?"

Septimus had very rapidly removed his UnSeen, but not before Beetle landed a swipe on his arm. "Ouch!" he yelped.

"Sep!" gasped Beetle. Then, seeing Septimus's expression, he asked with concern,

"Hey, what's up - it''s not Spit Fyre, is it?"

Septimus shook his head. At least that was one thing he did not have to worry about, thanks to Syrah.

Sitting in the sand dunes, watching the orange ball of the sun sink behind a strip of clouds on the horizon, outlining it with brilliant pinks and purples, Septimus told them what had happened.

At the end of his story there was silence. Then Jenna said, "That was a crazy thing to do, Sep, going into a creepy tower with that Syrah girl - or whatever she was. Some kind of island spirit, I suppose."

"Syrah's not an island spirit," said Septimus. "She is a real person."

"So why didn't she come and say hello to us like a real person would?" asked Jenna.

"Syrah is real," Septimus insisted. "You don't understand because you haven't met her."

"Well, I hope I don't," said Jenna with a shiver. "She sounds weird."

"She is not weird."

"Okay, no need to get cranky, Sep. I'm just so glad you got out of there, that's all. You were lucky."

"She wasn't," muttered Septimus, staring at his feet. Jenna shot Beetle a glance as if to say, What do you think? Beetle shook his head imperceptibly. He really didn't know what to make of Septimus's story - and in particular the description of the Ice Tunnel hatch. Beetle cast his mind back to the previous week in the Manuscriptorium Vaults, when Marcia had allowed him to see the Live Plan of the Ice Tunnels - or had she? He knew he hadn't seen an Ice Tunnel going out under the sea - he would have remembered that. But Beetle also knew that the fact that he hadn't seen it did not mean anything; Marcia could easily have Obscured some of the information. Everyone in the Manuscriptorium knew that the ExtraOrdinary Wizard only showed you what she wanted you to see. But, even so, he found it hard to believe.

"You sure it was an Ice Tunnel hatch, Sep?" he asked. "They're not usually that big."

"I know that, Beetle," Septimus snapped. "And I also know an Ice Tunnel hatch when I see one."

"But an Ice Tunnel out's an awful long way from the Castle," said Jenna. "It would have to come all the way under the sea."

"Yes, I have thought of that," said Septimus. "I'm not making this up, you know."

"No, of course you're not," said Beetle hastily. "But things aren't always what they seem."

"Especially on an island," added Jenna.

Septimus had had enough. He stood up, brushed the sand off his tunic and said, "I'm going back to see Spit Fyre. He's been on his own all afternoon."

Jenna and Beetle got up. "We'll come too," they said together, and then grinned at each other, much to Septimus's irritation.

A movement out at the Pinnacle suddenly caught their attention. They ducked into the dunes once more and peered out. The Marauder was on the move. They lay in the sand and watched it go, but the boat did not, as they hoped, head safely out to sea. Instead it turned to the right and took a course along the island, heading around the rocks that ran from Spit Fyre's hideout. The Marauder was a fine-looking boat, despite those who sailed her, and she made a lyrical picture silhouetted against the darkening sky lit with the first few stars.

"This island is such a beautiful place," said Beetle with a sigh as he watched the Marauder finally disappear behind the rocks. "It's so difficult to believe that anything bad could happen here."

"There's a Young Army saying," said Septimus. "'Beauty Lures the Stranger More Easily into Danger.'"

Night had fallen and the Light shone like a tiny, brilliant moon. As Septimus, Jenna and Beetle emerged from their hiding place and began their walk along the beach, they did not see a new arrival at the base of the Pinnacle. A long red capsule rose from the water, flipped open a hatch and disgorged three bedraggled figures. The smaller figure swarmed up the Pinnacle like a large bat and settled itself beside the Sphere of Light. If anyone had turned back and looked, he or she might have seen the tiny black shape of Miarr outlined against the glowing white ball, but no one did. The Light was something they all instinctively avoided looking at. It was achingly bright.

It was tough going on the beach. Septimus insisted that they walk in the soft sand under the cover of the sand dunes, and he also insisted that Jenna and Beetle go first.

"Can't we walk on the sand farther down?" asked Jenna. "It would be so much easier."

"Too exposed," said Septimus.

"But it's getting dark now. No one can see us."

"They could on the beach. Figures stand out on a beach. It's an empty space."

"I suppose there's a Young Army saying for that too."

"'A Lone Tree Is Easy to See.'"

"There were some really bad poets in the Young Army."

"There's no need to be so critical, Jen."

Jenna and Beetle stumbled on, followed by Septimus, who, Beetle noticed whenever he glanced back, seemed to be walking in an oddly crablike way. "You all right?" asked Beetle.

"Fine," Septimus replied.

They drew near to the rocks that bordered what they thought of as their bay. Jenna was about to jump onto them when Septimus stopped her.

"No," he said. "The Syren - she'll see us."

Jenna was tired and snappy. "How can she, Sep? We can't see the tower thingy from here, so she can't see us."

"Besides, with a Dwelling Possession Wraith, it's not a problem," said Beetle.

"Unless we're crazy enough to go into the tower."

"She said she'd come and find me, Beetle," said Septimus. "You weren't there."

"I know, but...well, think about it, Sep. I figure it - and it is an 'it,' not a 'she' - I figure it meant it would come and get you in the tower. It thought you were trapped there - right? It didn't know you knew how to get out. So it's probably zooming around right now looking for you. Or maybe it's given up and gone back to - "

"Just shut up, Beetle. Okay?" Septimus snapped. He couldn't bear to think of the Syren going back to Syrah.

"Yeah, okay, Sep. It's been a tough day, I can see that."

Septimus knew that what Beetle said made sense, but he could not get rid of a growing sense of threat. The fact remained that he had failed to do what Syrah had asked of him. The Ice Tunnel was still UnSealed, and something told him that Syrah's talk of the threat to the Castle meant more than just an UnSealed Ice Tunnel hatch. But he didn't see how he could make Jenna and Beetle understand. So all he said was, "I don't care. We are not going over the rocks - it is too exposed. We go into the dunes single file under battle silence - "

"Battle silence?" Beetle sounded incredulous.

"Shh! This is serious - as serious as any Do-or-Die exercise in the Forest. Okay?"

"No, but I don't suppose it matters. It looks like you've pretty much decided to be Chief Cadet," Beetle observed.

"Someone has to be," Septimus replied. He had never admitted it to himself while he was in the Young Army, but he had always harbored a sneaking ambition to make it to Chief Cadet. "You go first, men," he said, getting into role.