Septimus put his Tablet safely into his secure pocket, stood up and stretched out his aching arms. He looked down to where Rose was watching anxiously from the little library hatch below and his happy wave told Rose all she needed to know.
“Hooray!” she called up. And then, “Are you coming down now?”
There was nothing Septimus wanted to do more. Even with the security of the Flyte Charm, heights still made him feel hollow inside. With the Keye safely joining the Tablet in his pocket, he slowly descended through the smoky air.
In the Wizard Tower below, Marcellus Pye saw the ghostly figure of Julius Pike sidling toward the spiral stairs. Marcellus thought he was seeing things. He closed his eyes but when he opened them, Julius was still there.
“Can you see that ExtraOrdinary Wizard ghost?” Marcellus whispered to Jenna.
“Yes,” said Jenna. “He’s a pain in the neck.”
“So it is him.” Marcellus got to his feet and wobbled.
“Marcellus, sit down,” said Marcia sternly. “You ought to be in the Sick Bay.”
“Huh!” said Marcellus. “Excuse me, Marcia, Princess, there is something I have to do.” He gave an old-fashioned bow and headed off unsteadily.
The ghost of Julius Pike watched Marcellus approaching with dismay. The Alchemist—hair plastered to his head, a livid bruise spreading around his right eye, his robes tattered and torn—looked as though he had been in a fight and was wanting another.
Marcellus stepped in front of the ghost. “Julius.”
“Marcellus,” said Julius, sounding somewhat unenthusiastic. “Um, how are you?”
Marcellus smiled. “Alive,” he said tersely.
A group of nearby Wizards who were cleaning up gasped at Marcellus’s rudeness. It was extremely bad manners to draw attention to one’s Living status when talking to a ghost. However, right then, manners were the last thing on Marcellus’s mind.
“Julius, you snake. It has taken me nearly five hundred years to figure this out, but now at last I know what caused the Great Alchemie Disaster.”
“Jolly good,” said Julius somewhat impatiently.
“Indeed, I know not only what caused it, but who—you!”
“Me?” Julius sounded shocked.
“Yes, you, you lying toad. You arrogant old f—”
“Marcellus!” Marcia had hurried over to intervene. “I realize you have had a severe blow to the head, but I must ask you to abide by the Wizard Tower code of conduct. ExtraOrdinary Wizard ghosts are our guests and are to be treated with courtesy and respect.”
“I am sorry, Marcia,” said Marcellus, seething. “But I must have my say. I have waited long enough.”
“You may have your say, Marcellus, but you may not insult our guest.”
“Thank you, ExtraOrdinary,” said Julius. “I must be off now.”
“Not so fast, Julius!” said Marcellus. “Perhaps you will do me the courtesy of hearing what I have to say.”
“It is late, Marcellus. Some other time. Excuse me.”
“I will not excuse you. And neither would Marcia if she knew the truth about what you did.”
“Marcellus, what is this about?” asked Marcia.
Marcellus spoke slowly, all the while looking Julius Pike in the eye. “This is about how a man—who for years I counted as my best friend and my confidant—how he destroyed my life’s work, and the work of all the Alchemists who went before me. And, as if that were not enough for him, how he then deliberately destroyed my reputation.”
“How so, Marcellus?” asked Marcia.
“How so? I will tell you how so. This”—Marcellus made a huge effort to control himself—“person here, in order to impress some tin-pot Wizard from I-don’t-know-where, not only invaded my Chamber of Fyre—yes, Marcia, as you have already guessed, it does exist and I apologize for keeping it from you—he then deceitfully, deviously and recklessly threw the most dangerous thing possible into the Fyre Cauldron—the Two-Faced Ring!”
Marcia looked confused. “What is wrong with that? Surely, that is what we are going to do after the Committal.”
Julius Pike sensed an ally. “Quite, ExtraOrdinary. This is purely a fuss about protocol. I admit I did not ask your permission, Marcellus, for which I apologize. But this has nothing to do with the Great Alchemie Disaster, which happened weeks later.”
“Julius, it had everything to do with it. If you want to DeNature something in the Fyre you don’t just chuck it in like an old candy wrapper. The Fyre Cauldron is not a dustbin. DeNaturing by Fyre is a delicate task. You must keep the object suspended in the very center of the Fyre for many days and whatever you do, you must not let it touch the side of the Cauldron.”
Julius Pike began to Disappear. This did not go down well with Marcia.
“Mr. Pike. Pray do us the courtesy of remaining visible.”
“Thank you, Marcia,” said Marcellus. “So, Julius, when you threw the Two-Faced Ring into the Fyre it sank down through the Fyre rods and sat on the bottom of the Cauldron where, over the next three weeks, it Migrated. And the moment it made the hole, the Cauldron cracked, the water rushed out and the Fyre rods began to heat up, which they do when they lose water suddenly. My Drummins contained the Fyre by dousing it with our special cannel coal, as they are doing at this very moment—do not interrupt, Julius; this is the Alchemie Way and it works. But you, Julius, would not trust us to do our job. You would not listen to me when I explained. You panicked. You shut off our water. You shut off our air and just to make sure, you forced me to ice up our beautiful cooling system that kept the whole Castle warm in the winter. It was you, Julius, who caused the Great Alchemie Disaster.”
“Rubbish!” spluttered the ghost.
“Julius, it is the truth. I know this because after you Sealed my Fyre Chamber, my Drummins found the Two-Faced Ring on the ground. They knew what it was and they threw it into the drainage system to get rid of it. But they could not tell me, because by then you had dragged me away, and had left my faithful Drummins—more loyal to me than you ever were—to die.”
“Drummins?” asked Marcia.
“False creations,” said Julius Pike. “Alchemical abominations.”
“They are living, breathing, sentient beings, however they may have been created,” retorted Marcellus. “But leaving the Drummins to die was not enough for you. You had to make sure that Alchemie died too.”
“For the good of the Castle, Marcellus,” Julius protested. “Which Alchemie had so very nearly destroyed.”
“No, Julius. Which you had so very nearly destroyed, by your deceit. And it did not stop there, did it? You falsified records, you obliterated ancient knowledge and you instilled a deep suspicion of Alchemie into all Wizards, so much so that to this day all new Wizards swear to ‘abjure all things Alchemical,’ do they not? And yet in the past, Wizards and Alchemists did great things together. They worked as one. And in order to finally rid ourselves of this ring, we shall have to do so again. There is no other way.”
Marcellus became aware that a large crowd of Ordinary Wizards had gathered and were listening in shocked silence. When they realized that he had finally finished all he had to say, a few began to clap in approval. The ripple spread and soon the Great Hall was ringing with the sound of applause.
Rose and Septimus were spinning down through the floors on Emergency setting when they heard the sound of the ovation rising to meet them.
“They know you’ve done it, Septimus,” said Rose. They jumped off the stairs to find it was not they who were the center of attention but Marcia and Marcellus, arm in arm.
“Crumbs,” Rose whispered to Septimus. “It looks like they’re going to get married or something.”
“No way!” said Septimus.
Marcia caught sight of Septimus. She saw the horrified expression on his face and her heart sank. “It didn’t work, did it?”
“Yes, it did. Perfectly. I’ve got the Committal here.”
A huge smile spread across Marcia’s weary features and her green eyes sparkled for the first time in days. “Septimus, that is wonderful. I should have known it would be you who would finally DeCypher the top of the Pyramid. Congratulations! I think I can safely say that you have passed your DeCyphering module with distinction. And then some.”