Marcellus looked shocked, but he quickly recovered himself. "You must leave the Code to its fate. You must go back to the Wizard Tower." His voice shook with urgency. "You must not lose that too."

"I shall lose neither." Marcia flared angrily. "Just watch me."

Marcellus and Marcia were now more than halfway down Wizard Way. Only a hundred yards or so in front of them, the wall of Darke Fog rolled slowly toward them. At the base of the Fog a line of Things stretched out, shifting and blending in with the Darke, loping slowly forward, pulling the Darke Domaine with them.

Merrin was heading erratically for the Fog. Spinning around to check that Marcia and Marcellus were still watching him, flashing rude signs, screaming obscenities, he drew ever closer to his Darke Domaine.

Marcia focused hard on Merrin, gauging the distance. Muttering the words for a Fast Freeze, she raised her arm and a streak of ice-blue light left her hand and arced into the air. It landed with a brilliant white flash in the middle of Merrin's back. He staggered forward and gave a loud cry.

"Good shot," muttered Marcellus.

Marcia grimaced. She had never before performed Magyk behind someone's back. It was considered the lowest form of Magyk, but now was not the time for such refinements. She had held back from Freezing Merrin, assuming she would get him to the Wizard Tower and deal with things there. Freezing someone was dangerous and not to be undertaken lightly. But now, with the lives of everyone in the Castle at stake, Merrin's safety was no longer a consideration.

Slowly Merrin turned around. Outlined in a blue-white crackle of the Freeze trying to take, he shivered and shook as though caught in an icy blast - but he did not Freeze. He stared at Marcia for some seconds, as though his brain had slowed and he was trying to work out what had happened. Marcia returned the stare, waiting impatiently for the Magyk to take effect. In the frost of the spell, Merrin shone out against the Darke Fog, but slowly he began to shine a little less. Horrified, Marcia saw the icy brilliance fade and Merrin shake himself, throwing off the Freeze like a dog throwing off water.

Marcia's Magyk had failed. It was then that she really understood what she was up against.

Marcellus stepped up beside her. "You must go now," he said quietly.

"Yes. I know," Marcia said, but she did not move.

Merrin was ecstatic - he had defeated the ExtraOrdinary Wizard. High on success, he turned to the line of Things and yelled, "Get her!"

Marcellus saw three Things step forward as one. He saw them take another step and that was all he waited to see. He grabbed Marcia's hand and ran, dragging her up Wizard Way, not daring to look behind. Breathless, they reached the Manuscriptorium, where Jillie Djinn was patiently, vacantly, waiting.

Marcia recovered her senses. She wheeled around to see how far away the Things were and saw to her great relief that they had barely moved. An encroaching Darke Domaine takes a lot of energy, and the Things were slow and ponderous. Knowing that it could do no more than cause a brief delay, Marcia threw an emergency Barrier across Wizard Way, then with the Chief Hermetic Scribe sleepwalking between them, she and Marcellus set off toward the Wizard Tower.

At the Great Arch an extremely anxious Hildegarde was hovering, waiting for Marcia's return.

"Madam Marcia! Oh, thank goodness you are here!"

Marcia wasted no time. "Is Septimus back?" she asked.

"No." Hildegarde sounded worried. "We thought he was with you."

"I feared as much." Marcia turned to Marcellus and laid her hand on his arm. "Marcellus. Please, will you find Septimus for me? And keep him safe?"

"Marcia, that is why I came to the Manuscriptorium. I am looking for him. I will not stop until I find him - I promise you."

Marcia gave Marcellus a strained smile. "Thank you. You know I trust you, don't you?"

"Well, I never thought I'd hear you say that," said Marcellus. "Things must be bad."

"They are," said Marcia. "Marcellus, if . . . if anything happens, I give you guardianship of my Apprentice. Farewell." With that she turned away abruptly and walked quickly into the dark blue shadows of the Great Arch, the tippy-tappy sound of her shoes echoing as she went.

Marcellus stood for a moment and watched something that he had only seen once before, in his first life as the Castle's greatest Alchemist. He saw the Barricade - a thick slab of ancient pitted metal - silently slice down through the center of the Great Arch, closing the main entrance into the Wizard Tower courtyard. It was, Marcellus knew, the first of many shields that would be sliding into place, readying the Tower for its strongest and most ancient Magyk of defense.

Next came the beginnings of a four-sided Living SafetyShield (this was the strongest SafetyShield possible; it was known as Living because it required the energy of many living presences within it to keep it active. It could also, in extremis, act independently). Like the Barricade, a Living SafetyShield was extremely rare. Marcellus watched it rise slowly from the walls surrounding the Wizard Tower courtyard, a blue shimmering skin that cast its eerie light into Wizard Way.

Satisfied that the Tower would be protected - for a while, at least - Marcellus slipped away, leaving Wizard Way to its fate. With his cloak blending into the shadows, the old Alchemist disappeared into the very narrowest of gaps between two ancient houses. Marcellus walked quickly through what, in his Time, had been known as the Canyons - formed in the earliest days of the Castle when the houses that lay between Wizard Way and the Moat were built. To protect against the spread of fire, houses had been built in blocks of two or three, with a tiny gap left between the blocks - a gap so small that Bertie Bott would not have been able to squeeze in. But Marcellus Pye moved fast through the Canyons like a snake down a pipe, heading for what he guessed was his last chance to find Septimus before the Darkenesse fell.

Chapter 30 In the Dragon House

Jenna walked slowly back along the jetty to the overgrown path at the river's edge. She saw the purple glow of the Safety Curtain lighting up the sky and guessed it was some kind of Magyk isolating the Palace - and her mother inside it. She stuffed her hands deep into her pockets and the smooth brass of the key that Silas had given her met her hand. Jenna sighed. She did not want to spend the night alone in her old home. She wanted to be with Septimus, but if Septimus was not around, the next best thing was his dragon. She set off along the path beside the river, wading through the long, frosty grass until she reached a tall gate at the end. Nailed onto the gate was a rough, and somewhat charred, wooden sign. It read:


Jenna could not help but smile. The sign actually was singed, so Billy's spelling was unusually accurate. She opened the gate and stepped inside. On the far side of the field she could see the long, low shape of the Dragon House silhouetted against the purple light. Carefully weaving her way around several suspiciously smelly heaps in the grass, she headed toward the Dragon House. Sometimes talking to a dragon was the only thing that made sense.

Now that Spit Fyre was no longer an unwelcome squatter in the Wizard Tower courtyard but master of his very own field, his Dragon House was left open all night. When Sarah Heap had queried this, Billy Pot had indignantly told her that, "Mr. Spit Fyre is a gentleman, Mistress Heap, and gentlemen are not locked up at night." The more pressing reason, which Billy had omitted to mention, was that on his very first night in the Dragon House, Spit Fyre had eaten the doors.

And so, as Jenna carefully crossed the field, she saw the dark outline of Spit Fyre's blunt snout resting on the edge of the ramp that led up to the shed. Jenna drew her witch's cloak around her and pulled the hood down low on her face, enjoying the feeling it gave her of blending in with her surroundings. Silently she approached the Dragon House, planning to creep into the warm straw and curl up beside Spit Fyre's comforting bulk.

The Dragon House was a dark and smelly place. It was also noisy. Dragons as a rule do not sleep quietly and Spit Fyre was no exception. He snuffled, he grunted, he snorted, he sniffed. His fire stomach rumbled and his ordinary stomach gurgled. Every now and then an enormous snore would shake the roof of the Dragon House and send Billy Pot's rack of dragon-poo shovels rattling.

Deep inside the Dragon House, Septimus was leaning against the warmth of Spit Fyre's fire stomach. He had made a decision - it was time to go back to the Wizard Tower. Time to face Marcia and explain why he had missed the most important Magyk in the Castle in many years. Slowly he got to his feet and - what was that? A rustle in the straw like a rat . . . but bigger than a rat . . . much bigger . . . moving stealthily . . . purposefully . . . with a subtle taint of Darke about it. It was coming toward him. Muscles tensed, Septimus did not move. Spit Fyre, he noticed, continued sleeping, which was odd. He peered into the dark, straining his eyes to see. The rustling was getting nearer.