"The greatest virtue of man is perhaps curiosity."
Nathaniel was six years old when Arthur first brought up the idea to instill fear of demons into the young boy. His reasoning was sound. Every magician needed a healthy dose of fear for the demons they controlled. A magician should never get too comfortable with a demon nor trust it in any way. As soon as they did, the fiend would turn on them in an instant. It was fear and logic that kept them from making such a mistake. It was fear that kept them alive.
As his apprentice, the boy needed to learn that fear early.
However, a child wouldn't listen to mere warnings. When told not to touch the oven, their immediate reaction was to touch the oven. A child learned from experience.
So, Arthur believed a demonstration would be necessary to instill that fear.
In other words, he would put the boy's hand on the hot oven to make him heed Arthurs warnings.
It was what his own master had done to him when he was an apprentice.
"No, Arthur!" She clutched to damp rag she had been cleaning the counters with to her chest, her face twisted in horror. "You can't do that to the poor boy! He's only 6."
Arthur tried to explain that it was common practice among magicians and their apprentices, but his wife would hear none of it.
"No, no, no. Arthur, I won't allow it." She tutted and fretted over the rag for a moment before turning away in a huff. "If you do that to that poor boy you'll be sleeping on the couch for a week! No, a month!"
Really, that was a bit too much in Arthurs opinion. It was a common ritual, but he complied. It was easier than having to deal with an irate, overprotective wife on a warpath. He dealt with enough troublesome people at work. No need to cause more stress for himself at home as well. So, he merely warned the boy verbally about the dangers of demons and relayed some particularly nasty incidents where a magician got a little too comfortable with their demons and was subsequently ripped to pieces. When the boy looked suitably ill, he called it a day.
When he began truly teaching the boy the ways of the magician at age nine, he had almost forgotten about it.
He thought nothing of it when he started allowing the boy to watch him summon various demons. After the first incident where the stupid boy tried to leave the circle, he remained dutifully in place throughout the summoning process. He heeded all of Arthurs warnings and nodded solemnly whenever he recounted the dangers of messing up or stepping out of the protective pentacles.
He was a good student. Sharp and willing to learn.
In that way, he was the perfect apprentice.
It eased his mind. Arthur never wanted an apprentice. He thought them to be a necessary evil in the life of a magician. He had dreaded having to teach one, but the boy made it easy.
Within the months since he had begun training and the weeks he had started allowing the boy to watch the summoning process, Arthur believed himself to be successful in instilling caution and fear in the boy despite not going through with the usual apprenticeship ritual when the boy was six.
"Why don't you talk to them?"
Both his two eyes and the demons eight shifted to the boy at the sudden question. The boy bit his lip at the attention, though he could not see the demon. Arthur almost hoped his expression of utter disgust was enough to quell the boy, but apparently, it was not. Instead of lapsing into silence and allowing Arthur to dismiss the demon and begin lecturing, the boy opened his mouth once more. Blue eyes burning.
"Some of them are thousands of years old. They don't just learn about history from books and dug up artifacts, they've experienced it! Kings, queens, magicians, ancient cultures that have been lost to time. They know all about it. They've seen the rise and fall of empires." He took a breath and barrel onward before Arthur could get a word in. "So, why do you insist on not talking, not listening? Why just give orders for silly tasks when you could ask for advice or learn more about the world, both ours…and, maybe, theirs too…"
A clatter of claws and the flutter of wings drew his attention away from the boy for a moment. The demon was at the edge of the pentacle peering intently at the boy. The fifteen tiny wings producing from its back were flapping wildly and there were eleven eyes now. All focused on his apprentice.
With a sneer, he spoke the Words of Dismissal before turning sharply towards the boy and hauling him into his office roughly. He spent the next two hours lecturing the boy, once more, on the nature of demons and the stupidity of the boy's questions. However, while the boy hung his head throughout the lecture, Arthur still caught the occasional glimpse of those bright eyes.
He sent the boy to bed without supper in disgust and resolved to not allow the boy to watch any more summons for the next month.
This was truly a disappointing situation.
He was right all along.
Apprentices were troublesome.
"If you cannot even grasp the basics of becoming a magician then you do not deserve to continue your lessons as one. Lessons will continue once you have properly apologized."
"I don't know what happened to get him in such a foul mood but should apologize Nathaniel dear."
"Mr. Underwood is probably right, Nathaniel. He has more experience than you do. Just apologize and you will be able to continue your lessons."
Master, Mrs. Underwood, Mrs. Lutyens.
Nathaniel glared up at the rafters above him.
None of them understood.
He rolled over and turned his glare on the book he had been reading. It was one of the new ones that master had put on his shelf after the incident two and a half weeks ago. Like the other two, it contained various gruesome accounts of magicians who perished in horrible ways at the hands of the djinn they summoned.
He knew, that demons were dangerous. He knew that they lied and enticed magicians into a false sense of security in order to kill them.
He wasn't stupid.
But, he was curious.
Since he started reading through the bookshelf Master provided, he had learned about all kinds of magicians throughout history, but there was little to no information on the demons at their sides. Master told him that demons were the key to a magician's power. So, why was there so little about them?
He shoved roughly at the stack of books on his bed sending them toppling over the edge with a clatter.
Classifications, ranks, abilities.
He had devoured every crumb of information that he could get his hands on, but it still didn't tell him what he wanted to know.
Were demons capable of conversation? Did they remember every magician they had served under? Did they have the capacity for emotions or were they emotionless beasts like his master and so many of the books claimed? What was this Other Place the demons were from? What was it like? How did it come to be? How did human's magicians come in contact with it?
There was so much he wanted to know.
But, master wouldn't even let him ask.
Master just wanted him to stand in his circle and watch as the man summon demons and dismiss them.
He heaved himself up into a sitting position and swung his legs over the side of the bed.
Well, he'd find out himself then.
Nathaniel glanced over at the circle he had painstakingly drawn. It looked exactly like his master's summoning circle. He had gone over it several times now, to make sure everything was in place and his lines were correct. Everything was in place. Ready for him to light the candles and begin the summoning.
Now, all he was waiting on was master and Mrs. Underwood to leave for their party.
He wasn't allowed to go, because master was still mad at him, but Nathaniel didn't mind much. The party gave him the opportunity he needed.
"Nathaniel dear, we're leaving!"
He heard Mrs. Underwood faint call and smiled.
Nathaniel waited for half an hour after their leaving before he crept downstairs. His heart was beating wildly. Everything hinged on whether or not the spectacles were guarded. His master's office door was locked, but careful monitoring over the past week had told him where the spare key was that Mrs. Underwood used when she went around the house in her weekly cleaning spree.
Nothing jumped out at him when he opened the door, nor when he crept in the room and cautiously made his way to the desk. He kept his eyes and ears peeled for any sign of there being another, invisible presence in the room. As much as it tried his patience the time spent watching his master summon demons without the glasses did teach him how to observe the smallest detail of an empty room.
When he finally laid his shaky hands on the spectacles he shoved them onto his face. Several drawers and bookcases glowed brightly, likely due to some sort of security measures, but he was alone in the room.
With that weight off his shoulders, he replaced the box carefully and skipped back up to his room spectacles in tow.
There was a thrill in the summoning process.
The rhythm of the words on his tongue, the scent of incense, the flicker of candles, and the hum of magic in the air.
He could feel it building, and building until it was hard to breathe.
The demon appeared with a flash and flair that was completely different from the ones his master summoned. The sweat that had built up on his forehead from the stress of trying to get every word correct and then the flash of magic turned to ice as the temperature dropped.
Nathaniel shivered as he looked upon his first successful summon.
Through his spectacles he could see the sulfuric cloud bellowing and swirling ominously, testing the boundaries Nathaniel had drawn. Its eerie yellow eyes bore into him with the weight of power and knowledge.
His teeth were chattering, and his hands trembled, but he managed to say his first command. A simple confirmation of its name.
"I am Bartimaeus! I am Sakhr al-Jinni, N'gorso the Mighty, and the Serpent of Silver Plumes! I have rebuilt the walls of Uruk, Karnak, and Prague. I have spoken with Solomon. I have run with the buffalo fathers of the plains. I have watched over Old Zimbabwe till the stones fell and the jackals fed on its people. I am Bartimaeus! I recognize no master. So I charge you in your turn, boy. Who are you to summon me?"
There was fear. Yes, there was a lot of fear. It made his entire body tremble and shake like he was a leaf in a maelstrom.
But, more than that, there was that burning curiosity and the elation of success.
"Tell me." The words poured out of his mouth, free of his previous nervous stutter. "Tell me about it. About Uruk, Karnak, Old Zimbabwe and Prague. What were they like? How did they fall? How did you get those different names and titles? What was Solomon like? Please! There is so much I want to know!"
Master wouldn't answer. The books held no information. There was so much this demon, this djinni could tell him. So much he could learn.
His first discovery was that djinni could be shocked to silence.
(He would learn later, that was a very rare thing for Bartimaeus. In fact, there were many who would kill for such a skill.)
This is one of my favorite series and every time I read it I always wonder, what if? What could have been? What might have been? If things were a little different. And thus, this fic was born. I ranted about it a little on tumblr (as xejisss) and people seemed to like the idea, so here it is.
I don't have a clear plot for this yet, (I need to re-read the books, honestly and I currently only have the first) but its definitely something I want to continue in the future. I also have a couple of other ideas for fics in the fandom, but both of those are crossovers and they tend to take a bit more time as I tinker with the worlds.
Anyway, tell me what you think!