Bartimaeus

41

Ok, so I could tell that it hadn't been such a short time since I'd last been summoned, but by the ache in my essence it hadn't been particularly long ether. It's odd, but as I was wisped away from the Other Place I felt a slight pang of guilt and annoyance within me. Nathaniel was dead. Dead as a door nail. And what happens? What does Bartimaeus do? He goes off to serve another master. This was my curse. And with Nathaniel dead, I felt as if Ptolemy's dream had died again.

As I made my way to my new master – whoever he was to be, or she – a thought struck me. It would be my way of honoring Nathaniel. Despite what a brat he'd been he had dismissed me to save my life, and died.

So, as I began to materialize in the pentacle I decided on what form to wear. His. Now, Nathaniel's form alone would not have struck fear in the most pathetic of imps. But as my form began to appear a howling wind picked up. Blue electric bolts shot along the floor. A dark shape could be distinguished in the fog, his black cloak billowing in the wind, his hair – I'd made it a bit longer than his army cru cut had been, just for the effect – was tossing about as the torrent of whirling air circled around him. If Nathaniel could only have seen himself – or rather me – now… it would make his ego sky rocket to the next dimension. The idea that I, Bartimaeus, Sakhr al-Jinni, N'gorso the Mightly and the Serpent of Silver Plumes, was honoring him, a human, in such a way was beyond imaginable! In his hands the cloaked figure held the dreaded, the all powerful, the great Gladstone's St –

"Is that really how you imagine me?" a voice with amusement and amazement mixed together leaked through the howling wind. I had kept my head lowered, planning to snap it up and give my new master such piercing a glaze that it would knock him straight out of his pentacle. Instead of the dramatic effect I had desired, the wind made a sound as if it were being sucked out of the room by a vacuum, the hair which had been going up like static came down to flop in front of my eyes and obscure my vision, and the Staff in my hand lost a few of it's knobbles, almost as if it were deflating.

I swept the strands of hair away, in too much shock to believe what I was seeing. "YOU!" I gagged, looking across the room to the figure lying on the couch. "You're supposed to be dead!" I couldn't believe it. Did nothing kill him? Sure, he looked a bit scratched up: A cast here, a brace there, a lot of bandages there again, a crutch. But really! There he was. Nathaniel. To all intents and purposes he was very much alive.

"It seems you're as shocked as I was," a small smirk was sitting on my old master's face. "So tell me, is that really how you imagine me?"

I growled. He'd really gotten me this time. That brat would be smirking about this for the rest of his life. And lets face it. If I had walked in on my funeral just as he was delivering a speech about my greatness of character, by boldness of temperament, and all the other things which he came to learn about through our overly long acquaintance, I would have probably eaten him in my glee.

"Not quite, I got the proportions wrong." Within seconds, I went from the great magician I'd appeared as[1] into a less handsome figure. I'd stretched out his nose, lengthened his hair to just how long it had been when he was fourteen, and gave him a nice pot belly. "There we g–" I stopped in mid-sentence. For the first time I'd noticed that Nathaniel was not in a pentacle, he was just lying on a couch. Nathaniel had no protection.

"So…you really do trust me then don't you?" the overly long nose shortened a bit. I looked him up and down – or rather, seeing as he was lying down – left to right. "You're a mess. I mean, you never were much to look at but now you look perfectly horrible. I shudder to think what Kitty thought when she first saw you again!"

Defiantly not my imagination. The boy had gone red on the cheek bones. I gave him a sly grin, "Ooh! Pray tell! What has been going on in my absence?" In an instant I was by the couch, "Budge up there, make room." I lifted his feet up rather unceremoniously, to which he let out a loud groan. What a baby he really was.

"Do you mind?! I'm in pain here!"

"Ya, ya, ya. Deal. Incidentally, how did you live though that?" I sat down at the other end of the couch and dumped his feet onto the floor.

He grimaced. "The staff blasted me back so that only a part of the Palace fell in me."

"I see...well, glad I wasn't there!"[2]

He glared at me, "Well, if it comes down to that, so am I! You would have messed everything up! It would have been catastrophic!"

"You're acting as if I'm the one who always messes things up! When we were back in Prague, who walked strait into that little square where the ambush was waiting? Who walked right up to Loveless and told him about who'd really stolen the Amulet? Who–"

"Will you ever shut up!?" Nathaniel wasn't looking to good. He was using up too much of his strength to yell at me. Typical of him.

"I'll punch you in another minute," I said lazily. I didn't think swallowing him would be very fare, seeing as he was down and all. Besides, a punch would be a nice inauguration of our reacquaintance. At least, that was my thought.

"Go ahead! Hit me while I'm down! I wouldn't put it past you!" Now this was going a bit far.

I grabbed Nathaniel by the front of his shirt and dragged him up to my eye level. He turned even greener. Anyone coming into the room at this moment would have seen one rather fat and disfigured Nathaniel – yours truly – facing a very green, much to skinny, impudent, cripple, useless Nathaniel. "Say that again," I hissed, inches away from his face.

"You two are impossible!" said a voice – poring with exasperation, anger, and dare I say, perhaps a touch of amusement in it – from the door. I turned around dragging Nathaniel with me.

"Hello Kitty, long time no see."

"Put him down Bartimaeus. On the couch. Without injury."

"Is that a request or a command?"

"It's a command, and would be if it was Nathaniel choking you instead of vise versa."

I turned back to my former master and, none to gently mind, pushed him back onto the couch. That last remark had stung a bit. But I knew how to get right back at him. Ooh, this was going to be fun!

Turning to Kitty I said, "Oh, by the way, did he tell you that in what were to be his dieing moments he thought of nothing but you?" I'd done it. Nathaniel's face went as red as a cherry. In a whoosh of air my pot belly vanished. I was dressed in the dress clothes Nathaniel had attended the opera in. I was dirty, bloodily and, indeed, the spitting image of how Nathaniel had looked the night of the attack. Holding my Gladstone Staff up against an imaginary enemy I adopted his voice, "Say hi to Kitty for me." With that I twirled the Staff in my hand like a bottom and it vanished into thin air. I myself then changed – my – Nat's clothes into jeans and a t-shirt, and I lengthened his hair a little.[3]

"It was actually quite touching. I mean, there we were, the enemy bearing down upon us. Death moments away, but did my master waver? Never! His thoughts of you drove him on!" Ah, she was starting to blush too now. I was pleased. With a smug grin on my face I got up from the couch and sat myself down in an arm chair across the room. We were in Nathaniel's office.

"How long's it been since your death?" I asked, but only when the very awkward silence had fully sunken in.

"Er…three weeks," Nathaniel muttered faintly, not looking up at Kitty. She, on the other hand, couldn't tare her eyes away from him. I'd done well.

"And?" I asked pointedly, slumping in the arm chair a little and putting my arms behind my head. "Why'd you summon me back. My essence isn't doing to well you know."

Nathaniel took a deep breath. It was odd, but for a moment the bugger seemed as if he really didn't know what to do with himself. It was a queer situation to see him in. I mean, here he was, the great John Mandrake, alive and – relatively – well, and looking thoroughly wrong footed.

"I need to get out of here," he finally said wearily.

In all honesty, this statement took a few minutes to sink in. "Waaaait a second," extending my legs forward to make myself more comfortable. "You don't mean…I mean…You're not talking about…" I quirked an eyebrow at him. "England?"

I have to say that the guy looked as if the death sentence had been proclaimed upon him. "Too many people know my name here. I have to flee."

My jaw dropped a little. "But Nat… what about…ya know…the lot of it." I waived my hand around the room vaguely. Everything he had ever fought for. Everything that had ever fueled him.

"None existent," Nathaniel replied curtly. "You forget demon, when the wizard supremacy fell, I fell with them. I intend to go to the continent. Kitty…" the blush had not entirely left his face, "She will stay on. Then," here he smirked at me. I knew that smirk it was the: I've-got-a-really-bad-plan-that-involves-you-risking-your-essence look and the same one which he always tried to pass off as the I'm-so-brilliant-and-great-and-out-of-this-world-look. Ya, I knew it well enough. "If I can, I might retune under a new identity. My days of full government have passed. But I believe that I might still be of some service from the sidelines."

"Once a politician, always a politician, eh? Natt."

Nathaniel ignored my comment about his name. But then again, what was the point of fretting over it now if what he said was true. "Will you help me get out? Disguise myself? And return?"

It took me a few blinks of the human eye to figure out what he had said. He was asking me if I wanted to help? What was this? April Fools Day? But when I looked up at him I could see that he was being quite honest. I suppose that it was a bit of an oxymoron to see honesty coming from him. But then, he had changed beyond recognition. For one thing he had almost become bearable to be around. I smirked, and hoisted myself out of the chair. Extending a hand for him to shake I said in the most solemn voice I could – just to give it that extra spice. You know, so that I could look back like at a really good soap opera – "Be glad to Nat." We – the two Nathaniels – clasped hands, and it was almost as if our minds were still one.

...

[1] Note that I took quite a bit or poetic license with my Nathaniel. For one thing, I made him look handsome.

[2] This wasn't entirely true. It had been one of those rare occasions – the second one in my life as a mater of fact – that I'd ever wanted to stand and fight to the death.

[3] Note that I say 'a little.' I don't go to extremes as he does. It's either 'long-and-greasy,' for him or 'army cru cut.' The kid just has no idea what to do with himself. He's a lost cause.