Nathaniel let out a groan. Something immensity heavy was pressing down upon his chest. He blinked. His vision was blurred and there was a sharp throbbing in his head. It took him minutes realize that the terrible weight squeezing down upon his chest was a large metal bar was pinning him to the ground. He could only see earth and sky because his head was had been pressed down on his cheek. He seemed to have twisted under the bar, and when he tried to move his hip a stinging pain wracked through him. Thus, he looked out at the world twixt bar and ground. How had he come to be here? He tried to clear the fog that was drifting before his eyes and within his mind. In a flash he remembered everything. Kitty, the Staff, Nouda, Bartimaeus. Nathaniel let out a sigh which, moments later, sent a sharp pain tingling though him. He could not look down but he could feel the rent in his side. His head was light with the loss of blood. Nathaniel tried to move the bar off of himself but his body – beaten as it was – merely collapsed.
Now that he thought about it…why was he alive at all? Why hadn't the Staff over powered him and blasted him to smithereens? Why hadn't more of the Glass Place fallen on top of him and crushed him? Why, despite all laws of nature, was he alive?
The blast from the Staff must have thrown me back so that only the edge of the Glass Place's foundation fell on me. Still…the odds which were on my side…I ought to be dead. Incinerated. Squashed.
Nathaniel tried once again to pull free of the beam, with just as little successes as before. His hands shook as he braced them against his iron keeper. He cursed his weakness. It was more evident now than ever, when only a short while before the djinn had made his veins pulse with energy. There was no one nearby to ask for help. The aria seemed to have been evacuated.
Nathaniel lifted his head a little to try and get a view of his surroundings, only to let it fall back onto the ground. He looked up at the sky above, obscured as it was by smoke of the still smoldering Palace. He was going to die here. After all he'd lived through he was going to die stuck under a useless piece of scrap metal. Nathaniel though of his drawing teacher – Ms. Lutyens. Would she ever think of him with anything but contempt? Of Bartimaeus. Despite their constant bickering he had almost come to regard the demon as a friend. And Kitty. Kitty… Nathaniel's eyes widened, and a pang of fear went through him.
Had she escaped? Bartimaeus had said she would, but was the Amulet strong enough? Or had she, like himself, been knocked over and pinned down by some piece of metal? Had the glass from the millions of windowpanes cut her to shreds? Nathaniel's brain whirled with panic and loss of blood. With a last heave he tried to budge the colossal weight off of himself. Perhaps it had been the sudden torrent of panic that had flooded him; perhaps some of Bartimaeus's power of physical strength had remand within his body. Whatever it was, only one thing was fact. The beam had moved.
Nathaniel worked ceaselessly for the rest of the day. He was like a mad man, fueled by indescribable strength. There was so much to get done. There were so many people he had yet to confront. He figures, now covered with blood and mud, pried into the iron that held him against the ground. Kitty… As the sun was setting over the destroyed rooftops in the west Nathaniel gave a small sigh of victory and scraped the last strip of his pant leg out from under his iron prison.
He allowed himself to collapse on the ground again, staring blearily at the bar which he had escaped. Hunger was clawing at his stomach and his head was dizzy from loss of blood. He was also over come by a new waive of exhausting for the sudden burst of energy he had had. Also, the Place foundations hadn't left him completely sound. Nathaniel felt pain searing in his knee and in his rib cage. Possible breakings.
After lying where he was for maybe another hour Nathaniel felt a minimal amount of his energy return to him. But what he really needed was food. Heaven only knew how long he had been unconscious, and how much longer then he had been imprisoned by the confusticated beam.
He looked up at the molten, twisted mound of scrap metal which, not long before, had been the Glass Palace. Nathaniel had been right in guessing that he had been thrown back to its perimeter. He was sure that some of the fast food stalls, which had stood within the Place, had been full up on food. But he was not about to go crawling about with serious injuries in twisted metal, which was still steaming from the magical blast it had received who knew how many days ago.
Nathaniel rasped for air. His head pulsed. He looked about for some sort of a walking stick, something which he could use to lean his weight on while he tried to reach civilization – if there was any left in London. As he cast his gaze about, a long piece of knobbed wood caught his eye. He could not believe it. It was the Staff. With a great deal of difficulty Nathaniel dragged himself over to where it lay. Sure as could be, there lay Gladstone's Staff. Powerless now. But Nathaniel reached out one hand to grab it. He ran his fingers along its gnarled surface and he couldn't help feeling the relief of familiarity wash over him.
The moment he tried to stand up pain wracked though him again. He, however, clenched his teeth and eased the Staff under his arm like a crutch. His insides were positively screaming with pain. Once he was certain that he would not collapse under his first step – a task, which in itself took no less than twenty minutes – Nathaniel made his first step. He found himself no longer at the Palaces sight at all. He looked down at his feet, and saw the seven league boots.
He grinned. Within another two steps Nathaniel had reached the barricades which blocked the dead zone. With a sigh of relief Nathaniel pushed one out of the way with a shaky hand and slipped through. Finally, civilization.
Where should he go first? He looked around himself. The street was deserted. The pain in his body was now coming in sharp pulses. His house. He had to get to his house.
Nathaniel turned in the direction he needed and, after another three steps, arrived at his front door. The pain in his side was burning into him. Very few of the windows were lit. But to his surprise Nathaniel saw, in one of the windows, two forms behind the curtain.
Nathaniel did not want to crash into his own wall upon his next step, so, groaning with pain, he relived himself of the boots. With great difficulty Nathaniel managed it up the steps leading to his door. The door, also to his surprise, was open. The second Nathaniel entered the foyer he heard angry voices from his study. Staff under arm, boots in hand, his face set against the pain, Nathaniel made his way to his work room.
"Listen to me commoner! There is much suspicion that Mr. Mandrake had great desire to overtake England itself! His last act with the Staff was the act of a mad megalomaniac! His possessions must be searched. And the Amulet, which he stole from the government, returned!"
"And I tell you Nathaniel was not a traitor! He gave his life to save England! And now when I look at stuck up, prissy, and totally ignorant magicians like you I can't understand his reasons for doing as much! As for the Amulet, he gave it to me and I plan to keep it! Take it from me if you can but if Nathaniel were here he'd –"
"–Ask everyone to stop shouting. This is an office! Not your commoner football stadium!" Before the wolf who had met him at the door could introduce him, Nathaniel had hobbled into the room as best he could.
Both Ms. Farrar and Kitty looked as if they'd seen a ghost. But Nathaniel did not give too much for their goggling. His knees were about to give way again, "Look, could someone please help me into my chair?" he said, his teath gritted and his face set into a grimace.
Without a word Kitty walked across the room to him in three brisk steps. She took the arm which was not supported by the Staff and, with a swift and strong motion, pulled it around her shoulder. The room was silent accept for the 'clunking' of Gladstone's Staff as Kitty helped Nathaniel to his executive chair. It was still positioned behind his large, oak desk, as if it were waiting for him. With a sigh, Nathaniel collapsed into it and set his boots down next to him. "Now then, what's all this about searching my possessions? And more importantly, how long has it been?" His voice came out in a coke, but it still held the arrogance and authority it had when he had been John Mandrake.
Both women seemed tongue tied. Ms. Farrar finally found words to speak, her eyes gleaming with hatred and shock, "Three days Mandrake. Where have you been in that time? The country in the middle of a crisis and you vanish at the heart of it! Explain yourself."
Nathaniel sighed, all too aware of Kitty's gaze boring into him. He put his hand up and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "In the last three days since the demon attack I have been trapped under one of the iron beams which were the body of the Glass Palace."
Kitty flinched and then, for the first time, spoke to him. Her voice was shaking, "B–but I was only there yesterday. I'd have seen you."
Nathaniel shook his head, "The beam had covered most of my body. No more than an arm and a leg were protruding from under it. Unless subjected to very close inspection, I would have remained completely unnoticed…" His head gave a particularly painful throb. He felt dizzy from exhortation and loss of blood. At least Kitty was safe… "Now, if you two ladies wouldn't mind, I haven't eaten since the morning of the play, my body is in a condition I never believed possible to drive it to. All in all, if anyone could please escort me to a hospital I'd be–" He was cut short by Kitty hurrying to stand next to him, calling for his secretary and the two of them taking him under the arms and half walking, have dragging him to my car.
As Nathaniel passed Ms. Farrar on his way out of the office their eyes met, "Well Mandrake, you really have sunken in society. From demons to commoners. Will you be taking in farms animals as life long companions next?"
"I'd prefer to live the rest of my life with a dog rather than in the company of you or your wolves," Nathaniel spat back. He wasn't prone to such sharp remarks but he couldn't have restrained himself then even if he'd had the energy to try. Ms. Farrar had insulted the few things that were of importance to him right to his face.
Four more days after he'd gotten to the hospital – a weak since the demon attack – Nathaniel lay in a comfortable hospital bed. He had a brace around his chest due to his four broken ribs; a cast on his leg because of the shattered kneecap and countless bandaging on his side, which had been partly blown off because of the detonator.
So, when Kitty was finally allowed to visit him that morning he was thoroughly ashamed of his appearance – a feeling which did not improve with the mixed look of shock and horror on her face when she saw him.
There was an awkward pause, then, "So…you came back," not once did she take her eyes off of him. Nathaniel noticed they were red. Had she been crying?
With some difficulty, he nodded, "As I promised."
She was silent for a moment, "As you promised," she echoed.
"Look um…" Nathaniel looked away from her, his eyes searching for something with which to change the subject and break the odd silence that had settled in upon them. "Would you like some of these sweets? My secretary sent them to me but to be honest I don't like sweets." He wrinkled his nose a little. Candy. He had started a conversation about candy.
"No thanks," she attempted a smile, "I'm getting my hair dyed next week," Kitty tossed a graying lock out of her face.
Nathaniel could only nod numbly, "That's nice." Again, silence, "How's everyone taking my reincarnation," he smiled ruefully.
Kitty shook her head, "Not very well I'm afraid. That cow, Farrar's, just screaming that you're a look alike. I was coming a bit close to slapping her but Mr. Buttons stopped me," she scowled.
Nathaniel smirked, "I'm sure Bartimaeus would have approved."
Kitty's face fell a little. "Er…speaking of which, is he, I mean did he…?"
"I dismissed him moments before the Staff was released," Nathaniel answered wearily. "He was a bungler and I wanted all to be done properly… It was nothing personal," he added sharply, seeing the grin that was fast spreading across Kitty's face.
"Sure it wasn't," she smirked and came to sit down by his bed. The two talked for a while longer. Nathaniel allowed his head to sink into his pillow, his muscles relaxed. When was the last time had had done this? Had a normal conversation with no strings attached?
But at one point Kitty checked her watch. "Well, I have to go. But I'll be back again this evening," and then she did something she had never done before. She leaned over Nathaniel, bent down, and kissed him on the cheek.
It had maybe been another ten minutes – by which time Kitty had left – that the blush began to subside.