"Men?" Jenna objected.
"You can be a man too, Jen."
"Oh, great. Thank you so much, Sep." Jenna made a face at Beetle, who grimaced in return.
"But - " Beetle began.
"No, you listen to me, Sep," said Beetle. "This is important. If you're so convinced that the Possession Wraith is going to come out and find you, I think you've forgotten something. All it has to do is follow our footprints and then later, when we are all asleep in our hideout..."
Jenna shuddered. "Beetle - don't."
"Sorry." Beetle looked abashed.
"There aren't any footprints to follow," said Septimus. "That's why I'm going last. To scruffle them."
"To what?" asked Beetle and Jenna.
"Scruffle - a technical term?" said Beetle, half laughing. But Septimus was deadly serious. "It's a Young Army thing."
"Thought it might be," muttered Beetle.
"It's the way you move your feet in the sand. Look, like this - " Septimus demonstrated his crablike shuffle. "See, you scruffle them. If you do it properly, it makes it impossible for anyone to pick out your footsteps, but only in soft sand. It doesn't work in firmer sand, obviously."
Jenna and Beetle set off into the dunes with Septimus behind them. He directed them to a path that was deep and narrow, like a miniature canyon. It was fringed at the top with the coarse grass of the dunes, which arched protectively above their heads and formed a secluded tunnel. Sheltered from the brightness of the Light, Septimus's Dragon Ring began to glow, and he pulled his purple-banded sleeves down to hide it. Septimus was pleased with his choice. The path took them parallel to their beach, and led to a spot just before the hideout. By the time they emerged, the sky was sprinkled with stars and the high tide was on the turn. They headed straight for Spit Fyre. The dragon was sleeping a healthy, gently snoring, dragon sleep. Jenna patted his soft, warm nose and Beetle commented favorably on the bucket. Then, a little fearfully, everyone went to look at his tail. At once they knew it was all right; the tail no longer stuck straight out like a felled tree but now curved gently in its usual way - and it smelled fine. A faint scent of peppermint still hung in the air, which reminded Septimus of Syrah. A feeling of sadness swept over him at the thought of her.
"I'll just sit with Spit Fyre a while," he said to Jenna and Beetle. "Okay?"
Beetle nodded. "We'll go and fix some WizDri," he said. "You come down when you're ready."
Septimus sat down wearily against Spit Fyre's neck, which was still warm from the sun. He reached into his pocket and took out the little water-stained book that Syrah had given him and he began to read. It didn't make him feel any better. While Beetle tended an improbable combination of WizDri in a pan on the FlickFyre stove, Jenna sat and watched the tide creep slowly out. Her thoughts drifted to Nicko. She wondered if the Cerys had set sail. She imagined Nicko at the massive mahogany wheel, in charge of the beautiful ship, and a little twinge of regret crept into her mind. She would like to be standing on deck with Nicko, spending time with him as her big brother once more, just like it used to be, and then going below to sleep in her beautiful, comfortable, sand-free cabin. Jenna remembered the tiny gold crown that Milo had painted on her cabin door and smiled. The crown had embarrassed her at the time, but now she saw that Milo had done it because he was proud of her. Jenna sighed. She felt badly about the way she had behaved...maybe she shouldn't have left like she did. Beetle heard the sigh. "Missing Nicko?" he asked.
Jenna was surprised that Beetle had guessed her thoughts.
Septimus appeared. "Quiet, Beetle," he said. "This is a silent camp."
Beetle looked up. "A what?" he said.
"Silent camp. No noise. No talking. Hand signals only. Got that?"
"It's gone to your head, Sep. You want to be careful."
"What's gone to my head?"
"Your Chief Cadet thing. It's not real, you know."
"Beetle, this is not a picnic," hissed Septimus.
"Oh, give us a break, Sep," Beetle snapped. "You're making mountains out of molehills. You meet a spirit on the beach who can do Magyk and you come back with the weirdest story anyone's ever heard. If you ask me, she Enchanted you and put it all into your head. Or you fell asleep and dreamed it."
"Oh, really?" Septimus reached into his pocket and drew out Syrah's journal. "You read that and then tell me I dreamed it."
Chapter 37 The Book of Syrah
"Why has she changed her name and crossed stuff out?" asked Jenna.
"Read it and you'll see," said Septimus.
Jenna opened the book. She and Beetle began to read.
Dear, dear Julius, I am writing this book for you. I trust that we will read it together sitting by the fire in your big room at the top of the Wizard Tower. But the events of the last week have taught me not to expect things to go as I plan, and so I know that it is possible that one day you may read this alone - or maybe you will never read it? But however, and whenever, this little book returns to the Castle (as I know it will), I wish to set down what happened to your faithful Apprentice,
Syren, after she Drew the Questing Stone.
Here follows an account of my troubles:
I never expected to Draw the Questing Stone. It had not been Drawn for so long that I did not believe it really existed. Even when I did Draw the Stone, I still did not believe it. I thought you were playing one of your jokes. But when I saw your face I knew you were not. When the Questing Guards took me away, that was the worst moment of my life. I fought all the way to the Questing Boat, but there were seven Magykal Guards against me. There was nothing I could do. The Questing Boat took away my Magyk and left me powerless. I believe the boat itself was Magykal, but not the kind of Magyk that you or I have ever used. It sailed down the river so fast that it seemed we reached the Port barely a few minutes after we had left the Castle. We swept straight past the Port and out to sea. In a matter of minutes I had lost all sight of land, and I knew I was doomed. As we sped across the waves, the Questing Guards unsheathed their knives and circled me like vultures, but they dared not strike while I looked them in the eye. Night fell and I knew that if I slept for even a moment, I would never wake. I stayed awake through the first night, and all through the next day, but as night fell for the second time, I doubted I could fight sleep much longer. Midnight was long gone and the dawn could not have been far away when my eyelids began to droop, and I saw the flash of a blade coming toward me. I was awake in an instant and I leaped from the boat.
Oh, Julius, how cold the water was - and how deep. I sank like a stone until my robes ballooned out, and slowly I began to rise toward the surface. I remember seeing the moon above as I floated up, and as I broke the surface I saw that the Questing Boat was no more. I was alone in an empty sea, and I knew in a few minutes I would be sinking through the deep for the last time. Then, to my joy, I felt my Magyk returning. I Called a dolphin, and she took me to a lighthouse with - you will not believe this, Julius - ears at the top like a cat and eyes through which its brilliant light shone like the sun. The lighthouse was a strange place. There were two creatures there, more like cats than men, who looked after the Magykal Sphere that provided the light. I left a message with them for you in case a passing ship should call - I wonder if you will receive it before I return? I was of a mind to wait for a passing ship myself, but that night, as I slept on a hard bed in a bunkhouse, I heard someone calling my name so sweetly. I could not resist. I tiptoed out of the lighthouse and Called my dolphin. She took me to the Island.
My dolphin took me to a rocky shore where there was deep water. Not far away I found some sand dunes, where I fell asleep. I awoke the next morning to the sound of the gentle wash of the waves and the soft song of my name being whispered across the sand. As the sun rose over the sea, I walked along the beach and thought myself in paradise.
"She added the last sentence later," said Beetle, who had an eye for handwriting. "It is much more shaky."
"And it's been crossed out," said Jenna.
"By someone else," said Beetle. "You can tell because the pen is held differently."
Jenna turned the page and the book continued as a diary.