Septimus looked at Marcellus aghast. “Yes. Of course she would look for me. I was due back for the Wizard Warming Supper.”
“Don’t look so concerned, Apprentice. It’s good that she came, surely? Without her we’d still be stuck.”
Septimus now matched Marcellus’s pallor. “Oh, Marcellus. Supposing . . . supposing what you said is really true. Literally true.”
“That without Marcia we would still be stuck.” Septimus put his head in his hands, trying to get the sound of the last thing that fell onto the chamber’s roof out of his head: heavy, yet soft.
Marcellus’s thoughts were on a different track. “Of course I would prefer that Marcia did not know about the moving chamber, Apprentice, but given the circumstances I—”
“Marcellus—the last thing that fell onto the roof . . . it wasn’t a brick, was it?”
“I can’t remember.”
“Well, it wasn’t a brick. It was heavy. But . . . kind of soft.”
“Yes. Soft. And up there at the top, you couldn’t see the drop, could you? You wouldn’t be expecting it, would you? It would just be dark. You’d probably think it was a tunnel. In fact, you’d probably think that was where we had gone . . . got lost maybe. So you’d step in and there would be nothing there. You’d grab hold of the bricks, they’d fall away in your hand and then . . . and then . . .”
Marcellus suddenly got it. “Oh, great Alchemie! No!”
Septimus felt sick. He had hoped Marcellus would have an explanation. “So you think so too?”
“I can’t think of anything else,” said Marcellus, clutching his head with a groan.
They sat in silence. “We have to get back to the Alchemie Quay,” said Septimus after a while. “We have to see what’s happened.”
“If something has happened, then we won’t see anything,” said Marcellus. “It’s a long climb, Apprentice. I suggest we get going. Follow me.” He went to get up, but Septimus stopped him.
“Marcellus, I am going to do a Transport to the Alchemie Quay. I have to know what’s happened—now.”
“A Transport. Yes, of course. I will follow you by more normal methods.”
Marcellus watched Septimus begin his Transport. He saw his Apprentice close his eyes, and watched a strange shimmering purplish light begin to run across him. Marcellus shivered. This was serious Magyk. The thought of moving a human being from one place to another—blood and bone through brick and stone—made Marcellus feel very odd. He was in the presence of something he did not understand. It was right, he thought, that Septimus returned to Marcia as her Apprentice; there was more Magyk to him than he had ever realized. At the thought of Marcia, Marcellus remembered the soft yet heavy thud of something falling and a stab of dread shot through him.
If Marcia was there to return to.
Septimus arrived in the middle of Alchemie Quay. As the blanketed feeling of the Transport wore off he was relieved to find he had judged it perfectly. Transports into confined spaces were difficult and dangerous; Septimus was not officially allowed to do them. But—unlike much Magyk, which required a clear head—a Transport was made more accurate by distress. And right then Septimus had that by the bucketful.
He stood still, allowing the last vestiges of Magyk to drift away. Septimus did not want to move. He wanted to stay right where he was and never, ever have to walk over to the right-hand arch and peer down into the depths. But he knew he must do it. He had to know what had happened.
Feeling as if he were wearing lead boots, Septimus walked slowly across the Quay to the right-hand archway. A terrifying feeling of vertigo came over him as he approached the black hole in the middle of the bricks—unlike Marcia, thought Septimus, he knew about the huge drop that lurked behind them.
Septimus inspected the jagged hole in the bricks. There was a large bite out of the bricks at about shoulder height, exactly at the place where he would have expected Marcia to grab hold of them. Very, very carefully, Septimus leaned forward.
“Marcia . . .” he called down into the darkness, tentatively. The sound fell into the blackness and died. “Marcia!” Septimus called more loudly. And then, “Marcia, Marcia, can you hear me?”
There was no response, just a heady sense of the emptiness below his feet. Septimus stepped back from the drop and leaned against the wall to steady himself. Of course there was no reply, he told himself; how could there be? Maybe, he thought, Marcia hasn’t been here at all. Maybe the mortar had suddenly given way and the bricks had fallen on their own. Maybe . . .
It was then that Septimus saw something he really did not want to see: a small jade button lying on the ground beside the Fyre Globe. He bent down to pick it up and cradled it in his hand. He knew what it was—a button from Marcia’s shoes. She had been complaining that Terry Tarsal had not sewn them on properly. A wave of despair washed over him. Recklessly, Septimus leaned into the darkness of the shaft.
“Marcia!” he yelled. “Mar . . . seeee . . . aaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!” As the sound died away, Septimus stumbled out from the archway and heard a very faint something that made him think his mind was playing cruel tricks.
“Septimus . . .”
He stopped. A shiver ran down his spine. It was Marcia’s voice. It was her ghost calling to him. Septimus stared at the gaping hole in the brickwork, half expecting to see Marcia’s ghost float out of it.
“Septimus . . .” There it was again. Behind him.
Septimus spun around. Nothing. The Quay was empty. Slowly, silently, he walked out of the arch, listening hard.
Tippy-tap, tippy-tap, tippy-tap-tap . . .
The lapis lazuli of the Labyrinth lit up, glowing a brilliant blue with its streaks of gold glistening. A figure in purple hurried out—and screamed.
“Septimus! Oh, Septimus!” Marcia hurled herself toward Septimus and enveloped him in her cloak. “You’re alive. I thought . . . I thought you were dead. I thought you’d fallen . . .”
“Me too,” said Septimus, holding on to Marcia. “Me too.”
Marcellus awoke, aching all over. He lay in his bed staring at the winter sunlight that shone through the window and he felt an odd feeling of happiness. He was not sure why. And then he remembered. The carpetbag—his soft carpetbag heavy with a crowbar and a lump hammer. It was the carpetbag that had fallen onto the roof of the moving chamber. Marcellus sank back into his pillow with a sigh of happiness. He remembered his long, slow, dismal climb through the tiny shafts that led up to Alchemie Quay. He remembered how as he had gotten nearer he had been convinced that Marcia had fallen to her death; and then he had been overcome with worry that Septimus, too, might have fallen while looking for her. By the time he had emerged onto the Quay, Marcellus was very nearly in a state of collapse. And at the sight of Marcia sitting on the edge of the Quay with her arm around Septimus, he had felt happier than he had could ever remember—which was odd, considering how annoying Marcia was. But it had been wonderful when Marcia had grabbed his hands and told him in response to all his questions that yes, it was her. Yes, she was real.
“Well, well, well,” muttered Marcellus, smiling to himself. He reached out for his timepiece on his bedside table and squinted at it. Nine o’clock. He had three more hours in bed before he was due to see his new Apprentice. The old Alchemist closed his eyes and soon the sound of snoring filled the room.
In the house on the other side of Snake Slipway, Lucy was excited. She had just found a note that had been pushed under the front door. She rushed into the kitchen. “Si, Si! Look, it’s from Marcellus.”
At the kitchen table, over a pot of coffee, Simon read out the note to Lucy.
“‘Dear Simon, my sincere apologies for breaking our appointment last night. I regret to say that I was detained by circumstances beyond my control and could not get a message to you. However, all is now resolved. Would it be convenient for you to renew our appointment for midday today?’”
“Yaay!” yelled Lucy, jumping up and punching the air. “Didn’t I tell you? Didn’t I say it would be all right?”
Simon grinned. “Yes, Lu, you did. You said it quite a lot, I seem to remember.”