Septimus had enjoyed his time off far more than he had expected. He had spent the first few days at the Wizard Tower pottering about the Library with Rose and dutifully visiting Syrah—who still did not recognize him—in the Sick Bay, until Marcia had shooed him off and told him to take a break, Septimus. So he had come to stay at the Palace, much to Sarah’s delight. Soon he was hanging out with his brothers around their campfire on the riverbank, helping Silas to file his Magyk pamphlets, and spending time with Sarah in the herb garden. He had stayed over with Beetle and gone out with a bunch of scribes to the Little Theater in the Ramblings and had even ventured back to the Pyramid Library to visit Rose a few times. It was the very first time in his life that Septimus had been free to do what he pleased day after day, and he was sorry to think it was very nearly over.
Septimus got out of bed and padded across the threadbare rugs to the window. He drew back the moth-eaten curtains and looked out of the window onto a dismal scene. Overnight it had rained, turning everything soggy and miserable, and now a watery mist hung in the air. Along Wizard Way piles of dirty snow and gritty, gray ice were heaped up; the only color was the Wizard Tower at the far end, which shone with its indigo morning Magyk lights flickering gently through the misty gloom.
The Wizard Tower now had a strange twin: the Alchemie Chimney at the end of Alchemie Way. It sat in the middle of a large circular space, which people had begun calling by its old name, Alchemie Circus. The chimney was covered with a blue tarpaulin, which glistened with water and shone with its own, more basic lights—the lanterns that Lucy Gringe had had set up inside it to enable building work to continue all night. There were always a few onlookers but today Septimus saw that a fairly substantial crowd was gathered. Suddenly he heard the sound of Lucy Gringe yelling through a megaphone, “Stand back! Stand back! Will you all get out of the way!” There was a noise like thousands of flapping sheets, and the tarpaulin fell to the ground.
This was greeted by cheers evenly balanced with boos. Now revealed, the Alchemie Chimney stood tall and oddly out of place. It looked to Septimus like a stranded lighthouse.
Five minutes later, Septimus hurriedly looked into Sarah’s sitting room. Sarah and Sally were giggling by the fire. “I’m off, see you later,” he said.
“Bye, love,” said Sarah. “Don’t forget, I’m cooking a special supper for your last night.”
“I won’t. Bye, Mum, bye, Sally.”
“Lovely lad,” said Sally, as Septimus closed the door.
Septimus ran out of the Palace and headed up Alchemie Way, pleased that the mist—and Jo-Jo’s old Forest tunic that he had taken to wearing—meant that people would be unlikely to recognize him. Something told him that Marcia would not be happy about where he was heading. As Septimus reached Alchemie Circus, he caught sight of Lucy’s distinctive multicolored dress fluttering like a bright butterfly against the granite-gray stones of the base of the chimney. He weaved his way through the onlookers to get a closer look. The sound of Lucy making the scaffolders refold the tarpaulin reached him. “That’s rubbish. Do it again—and do it right this time!”
Septimus was glad Lucy Gringe was not his boss—she made Marcia look like a softy.
“Hey, little bro!” Lucy called out. “Beautiful, isn’t it?”
Septimus looked up at the chimney. Below the tracery of scaffolding, he saw stone cut so precisely that you could scarcely see the joints and above the stone, the neat circles of frostproof, heatproof and pretty-much-everything-proof brick began. The bricks were graded by size, getting smaller as they delicately traveled upward, each circle subtly different. “Brilliant!” Septimus called back.
Lucy beamed with delight.
Some lettering carved into the great granite slabs at the base of the chimney caught Septimus’s eye. There was the date, followed by:
MARCELLUS PYE: LAST AND FIRST ALCHEMIST.
SIMON HEAP: ALCHEMIE APPRENTICE.
LUCY HEAP: ARCHITECT.
HEATHER, ELIZABETH AND SAMSON SNARP: STONEMASONS AND LIGHTHOUSE BUILDERS.
Septimus looked at the names for a few minutes, taking them in. There it was, set in stone—he was no longer anything to do with Marcellus. Or Alchemie. Or the Fyre. Where his name could have been, there was Simon’s.
Lucy was so busy supervising the dismantling of the scaffolding that she did not notice Septimus wandering away disconsolately and disappearing into the shadows of Gold Button Drop. The mist in the Drop was thicker than in Alchemie Way. It settled around him like a blanket; it muffled the sound of his boots and set his Dragon Ring glowing in the dull light. The conical shape of the lock-up solidified out of the mist, flat at first like a cardboard cutout; then details came into view: the rough stone blocks, the dark arch of the door. And then he saw the door open and a black-and-red-cloaked figure emerge.
“Ah, Septimus. Well, well, what a coincidence. I was on my way to find you.”
Septimus brightened. “Really?”
“Indeed. The chimney is complete and we are about to bring the Fyre up to its operating level. I would like you to see this, so that when you become ExtraOrdinary Wizard—”
“ExtraOrdinary Wizard?” said Septimus. “Me?”
Marcellus smiled. “Yes, you. Do you not expect to be?”
Shaken by seeing Simon’s name carved into the chimney, Septimus was full of regrets for Alchemie. He shook his head. “No. Oh—I don’t know.”
“Well, just in case it turns out that way. I want the Fyre to be as much part of your life as it is part of mine or, indeed, Simon’s. I want you to trust it and understand it, so that never again does an ExtraOrdinary Wizard even think of killing the Fyre.”
“I would never do that. Never,” said Septimus. “The Fyre is amazing. It makes everything, even the Wizard Tower, feel dull.”
“Ah. But you have made your decision, Septimus.”
“I know,” Septimus sighed. “And it’s set in stone.”
Marcellus and Septimus took the climbing shaft and tunnel down to Alchemie Quay and then transferred to a much narrower and steeply sloping tunnel that wound its way in a spiral, down between the web of Ice Tunnels that radiated off from below the Chamber of Alchemie. It was over half an hour later that they reached the end of the tunnel where the upper Fyre hatch, illuminated by a Fyre Globe, lay.
“This is but a short climb down, Apprentice,” said Marcellus. “But we must make it a fast one. This is the one point where we can be seen on the Live Plan. And I do not wish to be seen just yet. You do understand?”
“Yes,” said Septimus a little guiltily.
Marcellus placed his Alchemie Keye into the central indentation of the hatch and it sprang open. A waft of heat came up to meet them. Septimus waited while Marcellus swung himself into the shaft, then he quickly followed and pulled the hatch shut. He clambered down the metal ladder and waited while Marcellus opened the lower Fyre hatch, then dropped down after Marcellus onto the flimsy metal platform.
Simon, in his black-and-gold Alchemie robes, was waiting for them.
“Hello, Simon,” said Septimus, not entirely pleased to see him.
Simon, however, looked happy to see his little brother. “Hello, Sep,” he said. “What a place. Isn’t it beautiful?” He pointed to the Fyre below.
“Yes, it is. It’s amazing,” said Septimus, thawing a little at Simon’s enthusiasm.
“Apprentices,” said Marcellus. “It is not safe for the secrets of the Fyre to be known by only one person. Or even two. By the end of today, I hope that there will be three of us who will understand all there is to know about the Fyre. ‘Safety in numbers’ is the expression, I believe. And safety is what we want.”
And so, they became a team. Patiently, Marcellus took Simon and Septimus through all the stages of bringing the Fyre to its full power, which, now that the chimney was completed, it was safe to do. They worked through the day, methodically running through Marcellus’s long checklist. They regulated the water flow through the Cauldron, cold when it entered, hot when it left to find its way out through the giant emergency drain into the river. They drummed the Cauldron, they measured the height of the Fyre rods, they checked the levers that operated the huge hoppers of coal buried in the cavern walls—the Fyre blanket, Marcellus called it—and a hundred other small things that Marcellus insisted upon. “For safety,” as he said countless times that day.