It was late afternoon when Marcellus, Septimus and Simon stood once more on the dizzyingly high platform at the top of the Fyre Chamber. Above them was the huge oval opening to the Alchemie Chimney, which would take up the heat and the fumes and provide a much-needed airflow through the Chamber. But it was not the unobtrusive opening in the roof that claimed their attention—it was, of course, the perfect circle of the eye of Fyre far below, brilliant red brushed with its delicate blue flame, that returned their gaze. Underneath the blue they could see the dark twinkling of the graphite rods, each one a perfect five-pointed star, silently powering the Fyre around it. Marcellus smiled. All was well. They climbed up the pole to the lower Fyre hatch, sweaty, tired and longing for fresh air once more. But there was one more thing to do.
An hour later, the decoy fire in the furnace of the Great Chamber of Alchemie and Physik was lit and burning well. Marcellus lowered the conical fireguard over it so that the flames were safely contained. “Good,” he said. “That will produce enough smoke to satisfy everyone. Time to go.”
They headed wearily up the long incline back to the lock-up. Septimus had been so impressed with Marcellus’s insistence on safety that—even though he knew Marcellus did not like to talk about it—he said, “I just don’t understand how the Great Alchemie Disaster ever happened.”
Marcellus sighed. “That, Septimus, makes two of us. I don’t understand either. It makes no more sense to me now than it did all those hundreds of years ago. But what I do know is that if the ExtraOrdinary Wizard had not intervened in such a high-handed manner—excuse me, Septimus, it rankles to this day—and closed down the Fyre, then many lives would have been saved. And my house in Snake Slipway would not be so perishing cold every Big Freeze.” Marcellus smiled at Septimus’s bemused expression. “The Ice Tunnels were not just the old communication tunnels between the ancient Castle buildings; many of them were also part of the Castle heating system. As you know, they run beneath every old house. The hot water from the Fyre kept us all warm. People loved the Fyre in those days.”
“Ah,” said Septimus, thinking that that made a lot of sense.
Evening was falling when they emerged from the lock-up. They hurried off to Alchemie Circus, where Lucy had been anxiously awaiting the first plume of smoke to appear from the chimney. She ran excitedly toward them.
“It’s working—look!” Lucy pointed up to the thin wraith of white smoke that was climbing lazily up into the evening sky.
“Well done, Lu,” said Simon. “It’s a brilliant chimney.”
“Thanks, Si,” said Lucy.
“Yes,” said Marcellus. “It’s very nice. Very nice indeed.”
People had been hanging around Alchemie Circus all day, waiting for the first breath of smoke to emerge from the chimney, but with the onset of dusk, most had drifted away. But although the Living had got bored and gone home for supper, Alchemie Circus was, in fact, still packed—with ghosts. They had come to see what many considered to be the very heart of the Castle come alive once more. Most approved, but there were some who did not. These were the ghosts who had been present at the Great Alchemie Disaster. Indeed there were some there who had entered ghosthood because of the disaster. Some had been burnt to death by the hundreds of subsidiary fires that had swept through the Venting system and burst, unannounced, up through the floors of houses. Others—like Eldred and Alfred Stone—had been frozen into the Ice Tunnels during the panic to Freeze them. But those who had lived before the disaster had good memories of the Fyre. It had been the beating heart of the Castle, and those who had known life with it considered the present-day, Fyre-free Castle to be a poorer place.
But nothing stayed secret in the Castle for long and word soon spread that the Fyre was lit. Later that evening, after Septimus had gone back to the Palace for Sarah’s last-night-of-the-holiday supper, Marcellus, Simon and Lucy joined the edgy crowd at the foot of the chimney, many of whom were clutching the recently reissued All You Need To Know About The Great Alchemie Disaster pamphlet.
“Oi!” someone called out. “It’s the Alchemist fellow.”
A young woman carrying a toddler waved the pamphlet angrily. “Have you read this?” she demanded.
“Madam, I wrote it,” said Marcellus.
“Rubbish!” yelled a bookish, elderly man wearing a fine pair of gold-rimmed glasses.
“Well, I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy it. I did my best.”
“I meant there is no way you wrote this. You Alchemists!” the man spat out the word in disgust. He waved his copy of the pamphlet under Marcellus’s nose. Marcellus caught a waft of old paper—it was one of the original ones. “You Alchemists always covered everything up. And you, Mr. Pye, were one of the worst offenders.”
Marcellus held his hand up in protest. “I am sorry,” he said. “Please believe me, the Great Alchemie Disaster was not of our making.”
“So whose fault was it, then?” demanded a teenage boy. “The tooth fairy’s?” The crowd giggled.
Marcellus had known that the return of the Fyre to the Castle would not be popular. He had given the problem a lot of thought and he hoped he had a solution. He raised his voice above the murmurings of discontent. “To prove to you that we have nothing to hide, we will be starting guided tours of the Great Chamber of Alchemie.”
There was a stunned silence.
“All will be welcome and it will be my pleasure to meet you at the UnderFlow Quay and show you around personally. You may book the tours with Rupert Gringe at the Boathouse. I look forward to seeing you all again shortly.” With that Marcellus bowed and strode away.
Lucy ran after him. “Guided tours?” she asked. “Are you sure?”
“Just to the Great Chamber. It will make them feel involved. We show them the furnace and all the gold. They’ll love the gold. Give out a few souvenirs, that kind of thing. Simon can talk to the young women. They’ll love that.”
“Huh,” said Lucy.
“People need to know that there are no secrets in the Great Chamber of Alchemie and Physik,” said Marcellus.
“Aren’t there?” asked Lucy.
“Of course not,” said Marcellus. “Whatever gave you that idea?”
Lucy wasn’t sure. All she knew was that something about the Fyre did not make sense. And that Simon said suspiciously little about what he did at work all day.
“Well, thank you, Lucy,” said Marcellus. “You have done a wonderful job on the chimney. I really don’t know what I would have done without you.”
Lucy suddenly realized that her work was done. “Oh,” she said. “Right.”
“And to show my appreciation at this historic moment I would like to offer you . . .” Marcellus paused.
“Yes?” said Lucy, wondering if Marcellus was about to overcome the legendary stinginess of Alchemists and actually pay her.
“The chance to accompany me to the Wizard Tower tomorrow to collect the Two-Faced Ring. It is an historic occasion.”
“Thanks but no thanks,” snapped Lucy. “I have better things to do. Like knitting curtains.”
Marcellus watched Lucy stride off down Alchemie Way, plaits flying. She looked annoyed, he thought. But he wasn’t sure why.
NOT A GOOD MORNING
The next morning at the Palace, Septimus was up at dawn. He put on his new Apprentice robes—which Marcia had sent to him a few days earlier—checked through his Apprentice belt to make sure all was in order, and grabbed a quick breakfast. Yesterday’s misty drizzle had given way to a beautiful morning, crisp and clear. As Septimus walked quickly up Wizard Way, he saw the Wizard Tower rearing up into the blue sky, gleaming pale silver in the early morning sun. Septimus felt excited to be going back to work at last and was even looking forward to his practical DeCyphering. It was a perfect morning to take the Flyte Charm up to the top of the Golden Pyramid and make a new rubbing of the hieroglyphs.
Hovering in the bright, still air above the hammered silver platform, Septimus managed to produce a very good rubbing using a thin but strong sheet of Magykal tracing paper and a large block of black wax. The hieroglyphs came up crisp and clear, but they still made no sense—particularly the strange blank square in the center. Undaunted, Septimus took the huge piece of paper back down to the Library, where he and Rose settled down to the prospect of a happy morning puzzling.