“He’s not there,” Simon said forlornly, as he wandered into their tiny front room. Lucy was inspecting her curtains with approval—she particularly liked the holes where she had dropped the occasional stitch. “Don’t worry, Si,” she said. “He’ll be back soon.”
Simon took the I, Marcellus out of his pocket and looked at it. “I thought it was too good to be true,” he said gloomily.
“Don’t be silly, Si. If Marcellus didn’t want you to be his Apprentice, he wouldn’t have given you his precious book, would he? We’ll sit and wait for him to come back.”
Simon made a pot of herb tea and set it down on the table next to a small, battered box that bore the label SLEUTH. He opened the box, took out his old and worn Tracker Ball and began gently throwing it from one hand to the other as he always did when he felt unsettled. Lucy poured the tea and together they sat at the window, watching for the return of the Alchemist.
Night began to fall and candles were placed in the windows of the houses on either side of Marcellus’s, but his remained dark. Suddenly Lucy saw a cloaked figure stride quickly down the slipway and walk up to his front door.
“There he is!” she said. Simon threw Sleuth into its box and was heading out of the room when Lucy said, “Oh. It’s Marcia.”
The sound of the angry rapping of Marcellus’s doorknocker carried across the snowy slipway. They watched Marcia wait and then step back and peruse the dark windows, just as Simon had. Then they saw the ExtraOrdinary Wizard spin around and head across the slipway toward their door. Simon rushed into the hall, leaping over a rolled-up rug, a potted plant and a box of books. He opened the door just as Marcia was about to knock.
“Oh!” she said, surprised.
“Sorry,” said Simon. “It falls off its hinges if you knock hard.”
Marcia did not waste words. “Have you seen Marcellus?” she asked.
“No, I haven’t.”
“It’s too bad, Simon. It’s Septimus’s last day and I’m expecting him back for a Wizard Warming Supper. We have two new Ordinaries to welcome.”
“Right.” People becoming Wizards were still a sore spot for Simon.
“I’d be very grateful if as soon as they come back you would kindly tell Septimus to get straight over to the Wizard Tower?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Thank you, Simon.” With that Marcia turned and strode away up Snake Slipway. Simon closed the door.
“What was that about?” asked Lucy.
“I’m being a messenger for my little brother, that’s all,” said Simon glumly. “And it looks like that’s all I’m ever going to be.”
“Oh, don’t be silly, Si. Just because Marcellus is late home it doesn’t mean he’s changed his mind about making you his Alchemie Apprentice, does it? We’ll watch for him to come back and as soon as he does you can go and see him.”
“All these new Wizards, Lu. It’s not fair.”
“You don’t want to be a boring old Wizard,” said Lucy. “Alchemie is much more exciting.”
“I guess so.”
“Besides,” Lucy said with a smile, “you look really good in black.”
But Marcellus did not come back. Simon watched all evening from the front-room window and, much to Lucy’s annoyance, would not let her draw her new curtains. Lucy wanted to see the effect of the moonlight through the holes, but Simon was adamant—he had to watch for Marcellus. By the time midnight was drawing on, Simon was worried.
“I’m going to the Wizard Tower, Lu,” he said. “Something’s not right.”
Simon had not even reached the end of Snake Slipway when he saw the unmistakable figure of Marcia striding toward him.
“Simon! Oh, good, I see you are on your way to tell me. Thank goodness they’re back. Whatever was Marcellus thinking of? It really is too bad. Septimus must be exhausted and—”
Simon interrupted as soon as he could. “No, Marcia—they’re not back.”
Marcia stopped. She looked shocked. “Not back?”
“Simon, are you sure?”
“Yes. I’ve been watching all evening. The house is still in darkness. That’s what I was coming to tell you.”
Even in the moonlight, Simon could see that Marcia had gone pale. “Something’s happened,” she muttered. “Something in that awful underground pit has gone wrong.” She shook her head. “I should never have agreed to this. Never.”
Sixty seconds later Simon was standing alone on the Snake Slipway ice, feeling very odd. He had just witnessed Marcia’s Transport to the Great Chamber of Alchemie and he’d forgotten how exciting Magyk could be. With the feeling of Magyk still buzzing in his head, Simon walked slowly back to the only house with a lighted downstairs window and went inside. Lucy met him anxiously.
“What’s going on, Si?” she asked.
Simon shook his head. “I dunno, Lu. But it doesn’t look good.”
Marcia’s fizzing purple Magyk was the first light the Great Chamber of Alchemie had seen all day. She waited for the last vestiges of the Transport to wear off, then she pulled a FlashLight from her pocket and swung its beam around to check if anyone was there—perhaps they were lying overcome by noxious fumes or victim of a bizarre Alchemical accident. Marcia wasn’t quite sure what an Alchemical accident would look like but she figured she would know one if she saw one. However, it was soon clear that nothing untoward had occurred and that the place was deserted. She headed out of the Chamber and into the Labyrinth, walking quickly, the tippy-tapping of her python shoes echoing through its deep blue coils.
Although Marcia knew that there were tunnels running off the Labyrinth she had never actually been along them and she decided to explore what she knew first. Marcia knew all about the planning of Labyrinths—it had been a hobby of hers when she was a girl—so finding the way to Alchemie Quay was no problem. She emerged through the left-hand tunnel and stood a moment surveying the deserted Quay. Marcia was beginning to think that maybe Marcellus and Septimus had done something completely stupid like running away, when she saw a flash of color and movement against the stone of the Quay—the gently bobbing pink paddleboat.
Marcia rushed over and looked down at the paddleboat—its chubby, childish shape and its vibrant pink sitting incongruously on the deep, dark waters of the UnderFlow Pool.
“So they are here,” she muttered to herself. The worm of worry that had been niggling Marcia since Septimus’s nonarrival at the Wizard Warming Supper turned into a fat snake of fear. Something was wrong. She knew it. She peered into the inscrutable black waters below her and a horrible conviction came over her. Septimus was somewhere below—somewhere deep. Marcia gave a gasp and sat down on the steps, trembling.
They had fallen in and drowned. It explained everything.
No doubt it was Marcellus in those ridiculous shoes who had lost his footing and dear, darling, brave Septimus had dived in to save Marcellus—who had surely grabbed on to him with those long bony fingers and pulled him down with him. Marcia stifled a sob and sat staring into the water for some minutes.
When she’d calmed down a little, Marcia—who was a naturally optimistic person—began to wonder if there might be another explanation. She got to her feet and paced the Quay, trying to empty her mind of panic. There were, she told herself, other possibilities: they could be trapped somewhere, or even lost in one of the old tunnels off the labyrinth. The most sensible thing was to go back to the Wizard Tower and do a Search from the Search and Rescue Center. Marcia walked quietly along the edge of the Quay, her purple pythons no longer tippy-tapping in their usual exuberant way. She was loath to leave, which was odd, she thought, as the Alchemie Quay gave her the creeps. And then Marcia realized why she didn’t want to go; it was because she Felt that Septimus was still here. And that meant that he was still alive. Close by.
The art of Feeling that someone you love is near (and it only works if you really do love them) is easy to learn with a good teacher, and Marcia had been taught by one of the best—Alther Mella. But it was what he had called a Fugitive Art, which meant that the more you thought about it, the less certain you were. So as soon as Marcia realized she Felt that Septimus was close by, she no longer Felt it. And then she began to wonder if she ever had.