On the landing a thickly carpeted corridor led in two directions, each lined
with oil paintings. I was immediately interested in the right-hand passage, for half-
way along it was a spy. To human eyes it was a smoke alarm, but on the other
planes its true form was revealed: an upside-down toad with unpleasantly bulbous
eyes sitting on the ceiling. Every minute or so it hopped on the spot, rotating a lit-
tle. When the magician returned, it would relate to him anything that had hap-
I sent a small magic the toad's way. A thick oily vapor issued from the ceiling
and wrapped itself around the spy, obscuring its vision. As it hopped and croaked
in confusion, I flew rapidly past it down the passage to the door at the end. Alone
of the doors in the corridor, this did not have a keyhole; under its white paint, the
wood was reinforced with strips of metal. Two good reasons for trying this one
There was a minute crack under the door. It was too small for an insect, but I
was aching for a change anyway. The fly dissolved into a dribble of smoke, which
passed out of sight under the door just as the vapor screen around the toad melted
In the room I became a child.
If I had known that apprentice's name, I would have been malicious and taken
his form, just to give Simon Lovelace a head start when he began to piece the theft
together. But without his name I had no handle on him. So I became a boy I had
known once before, someone I had loved. His dust had long ago floated away along
the Nile, so my crime would not hurt him, and anyhow it pleased me to remember
him like this. He was brown skinned, bright eyed, dressed in a white loincloth. He
looked around in that way he had, his head slightly cocked to one side.
The room had no windows. There were several cabinets against the walls, filled
with magical paraphernalia. Most of it was quite useless, fit only for stage shows,
but there were a few intriguing items there.
 Oh, it was all impressive enough if you were a nonmagician. Let me see, there
were crystal orbs, scrying glasses, skulls from tombs, saints' knucklebones, spirit sticks that
had been looted from Siberian shamans, bottles filled with blood of doubtful provenance,
witch-doctor masks, stuffed crocodiles, novelty wands, racks of capes for different cere-
monies and many, many weighty books on magic that looked as if they had been bound in
human skin at the beginning of time, but had probably been mass-produced last week by
a factory in Catford. Magicians love this kind of thing; they love the hocus-pocus mystery
of it all (and half believe it, some of them) and they adore the awe-inspiring effect it has
on outsiders. Quite apart from anything else, all these knickknacks distract attention from
the real source of their power: us.
There was a summoning horn that I knew was genuine, because it made me
feel ill to look at it. One blast of that and anything in that magician's power would
be at his feet begging for mercy and pleading to do his bidding. It was a cruel in-
strument and very old and I couldn't go near it. In another cabinet was an eye made
out of clay. I had seen one of them before, in the head of a golem. I wondered if the
fool knew the potential of that eye. Almost certainly not—he'd have picked it up
as a quaint keepsake on some package holiday in central Europe. Magical tourism...
I ask you.
Well, with luck it might kill him some day.
 They were all at it—beetling off in coach parties (or, since many of them were
well-heeled, renting jets) to tour the great magical cities of the past. All cooing and ahhing
at the famous sights—the temples, the birthplaces of notable magicians, the places where
they came to horrible ends. And all ready to snatch bits of statuary or ransack the black-
market bazaars in the hope of getting knock-me-down sorcerous bargains. It's not the cul-
tural vandalism I object to. It's just so hopelessly vulgar.
And there was the Amulet of Samarkand. It sat in a small case all of its own,
protected by glass and its own reputation. I walked over to it, flicking through the
planes, seeking danger and finding—well, nothing explicit, but on the seventh plane
I had the distinct impression that something was stirring. Not here, but close by. I
had better be quick.
The Amulet was small, dull, and made of beaten gold. It hung from a short
gold chain. In its center was an oval piece of jade. The gold had been pressed with
simple notched designs depicting running steeds. Horses were the prize possessions
of the people from central Asia who had made the Amulet three thousand years
before and had later buried it in the tomb of one of their princesses. A Russian ar-
chaeologist had found it in the 1950s, and before long it had been stolen by magi-
cians who recognized its value. How Simon Lovelace had come by it—who exactly
he had murdered or swindled to get it—I had no idea.
I cocked my head again, listening. All was quiet in the house.
I raised my hand over the cabinet, smiling at my reflection as it clenched its
Then I brought my hand down and drove it through the glass.
A throb of magical energy resounded through all seven planes. I seized the
Amulet and hung it round my neck. I turned swiftly. The room was as before, but I
could sense something on the seventh plane, moving swiftly and coming closer.
The time for stealth was over.
As I ran for the door I noticed out of the corner of my eye a portal suddenly
open in midair. Inside the portal was a blackness that was immediately obscured as
something stepped out through it.
I charged at the door and hit it with my small boy's fist. The door smashed
open like a bent playing card. I ran past it without stopping.
In the corridor, the toad turned toward me and opened its mouth. A green
gobbet of slime issued forth, which suddenly accelerated down at me, aiming for
my head. I dodged and the slime splattered on the wall behind me, destroying a
painting and everything down to the bare bricks beneath it.
I threw a bolt of Compression at the toad. With a small croak of regret it im-
ploded into a dense blob of matter the size of a marble and dropped to the floor. I
didn't break stride. As I ran on down the corridor I placed a protective Shield
around my physical body in case of further missiles.
Which was a wise move as it happened, because the next instant a Detonation
struck the floor directly behind me. The impact was so great that I was sent flying
headlong at an angle down the corridor and half into the wall. Green flames licked
around me, leaving streaks on the decor like the fingers of a giant hand.
I struggled to my feet amid the confusion of shattered bricks and turned
Standing over the broken door at the end of the corridor was something that
had taken the form of a very tall man with bright red skin and the head of a jackal.
Another Detonation shot down the corridor. I somersaulted under it, aiming
for the stairs, and as the green explosion vaporized the corner of the wall, rolled
head over heels down the steps, through the banisters and six feet down onto the
black-and-white tiled floor, cracking it quite badly.
I got to my feet and took a look at the front door. Through the frosted glass be-
side it I could see the hulking yellow outline of one of the three sentinels. It was ly-
ing in wait, little realizing that it could be seen from inside. I decided to make my
exit elsewhere. Thus does superior intelligence win over brute strength any day of
Speaking of which, I had to get out fast. Noises from above indicated pursuit.
I ran through a couple of rooms—a library, a dining room—each time making a
break for the window and each time retreating when one or more of the yellow
creatures hove into view outside. Their foolishness in making themselves so obvi-
ous was only equaled by my caution in avoiding whatever magical weapons they
Behind me, my name was being called in a voice of fury. With growing frustra-
tion I opened the next door and found myself in the kitchen. There were no more
internal doors, but one led out to what looked like a lean-to greenhouse, filled with
herbs and greens. Beyond was the garden—and also the three sentinels, who came
motoring round the side of the house at surprising speed on their rotating legs. To
gain time, I put a Seal on the door behind me. Then I looked around me and saw
He was sitting far back in his chair with his shoes on the kitchen table, a fat,
jovial-looking man with a red face and a meat cleaver in his hand. He was studi-
ously paring his nails with the cleaver, flicking each fragment of nail expertly
through the air to land in the fireplace beside him. As he did so he watched me
continuously with his dark little eyes.
I felt unease. He didn't seem at all perturbed to see a small Egyptian boy come
running into his kitchen. I checked him out on the different planes. On one to six
he was exactly the same, a portly cook in a white apron. But on the seventh...
"How's it going?"
"Haven't seen you around."
"No, I guess not."
"Yes. Well... here I am."
"Here you are, indeed."
While this fascinating conversation was going on, the sounds of a sustained se-
ries of Detonations came from the other side of the door. My Seal held firm,
though. I smiled as urbanely as I could.
"Jabor seems as excitable as ever."
"Yes, he's just the same. Only I think perhaps slightly more hungry, Bartimaeus.
That's the only change I've noticed in him. He never seems satisfied, even when
he's been fed. And that happens all too rarely these days, as you can imagine."
" 'Treat 'em mean, keep 'em keen,' that's your master's watchword, is it? Still,
he must be fairly potent to be able to have you and Jabor as his slaves."
The cook gave a thin smile and with a flick of the knife sent a nail paring spin-
ning to the ceiling. It pierced the plaster and lodged there.
"Now, now, Bartimaeus, we don't use the s-word in civilized company, do we?
Jabor and I are playing the long game."
"Of course you are."
"Speaking of disparities in power, I notice that you choose to avoid addressing
me on the seventh plane. This seems a little impolite. Can it be that you are uneasy
with my true form?"
"Queasy, Faquarl, not uneasy."
 I'm no great looker myself, but Faquarl had too many tentacles for my liking.
"Well, this is all very pleasant. I admire your choice of form, by the way, Barti-
maeus. Very comely. But I see that you are somewhat weighed down by a certain
amulet. Perhaps you could be so good as to take it off and put it on the table. Then
if you care to tell me which magician you are working for, I might consider ways of
ending this meeting in a nonfatal manner."
"That's kind of you, but you know I can't do that."
 Not strictly correct. I could have given over the Amulet and thus failed in my
charge. But then, even if I had managed to escape from Faquarl, I would have had to re-
turn empty-handed to the pale-faced boy. My failure would have left me at his tender
mercy, doubly in his power, and somehow I knew this was not a good idea.
The cook prodded the edge of the table with the tip of his cleaver. "Let me be
frank. You can and will. It is nothing personal, of course; one day we may work to-
gether again. But for now I am bound just as you are. And I too have my charge to
fulfill. So it comes, as it always does, to a question of power. Correct me if I am
wrong, but I note that you do not have too much confidence in yourself today—
otherwise you would have left by the front door, quelling the triloids as you went,
rather than allowing them to shepherd you round the house to me."
"I was merely following a whim."
"Mmm. Perhaps you would stop edging toward the window, Bartimaeus. Such
a ploy would be pitifully obvious even to a human
and besides, the triloids wait
for you there. Hand over the Amulet or you will discover that your ramshackle de-
fense Shield will count for nothing."
He stood up and held out his hand. There was a pause. Behind my Seal, Jabor's
patient (if unimaginative) Detonations still sounded. The door itself must have long
since been turned to powder. In the garden the three sentinels hovered, all their
eyes trained on me. I looked around the room for inspiration.
"The Amulet, Bartimaeus."
I raised my hand, and with a heavy, rather theatrical sigh, took hold of the
Amulet. Then I leaped to my left. At the same time, I released the Seal on the door.
Faquarl gave a tut of annoyance and began a gesture. As he did so he was hit square
on by a particularly powerful Detonation that came shooting through the empty
gap where the Seal had been. It sent him backward into the fireplace and the
brickwork collapsed upon him.
I smashed my way into the greenhouse just as Jabor stepped through the gap
into the kitchen. As Faquarl emerged from the rubble, I was breaking out into the
garden. The three sentinels converged on me, eyes wide and legs rotating. Scything
claws appeared at the ends of their blobby feet. I cast an Illumination of the bright-
est kind. The whole garden was lit up as if by an exploding sun. The sentinels' eyes
were dazzled; they chittered with pain. I leaped over them and ran through the
garden, dodging bolts of magic that sprang from the house, incinerating trees.
At the far end of the garden, between a compost heap and a motorized lawn-
mower, I vaulted the wall. I tore through the blue latticework of magical nodes,
leaving a boy-shaped hole. Instantly alarm bells began ringing all over the grounds.
I hit the pavement outside, the Amulet bouncing and banging on my chest. On
the other side of the wall I heard the sound of galloping hooves. It was high time I
made a change.
Peregrine falcons are the fastest birds on record. They can attain a speed of two
hundred kilometers an hour in diving flight. Rarely has one achieved this horizon-
tally over the roofs of North London. Some would even doubt that this was possi-
ble, particularly while carrying a weighty amulet around its neck. Suffice it to say,
however, that when Faquarl and Jabor landed in the Hampstead backstreet, creat-
ing an invisible obstruction that was immediately hit by a speeding moving van, I
was nowhere to be seen. I was long gone.
"Above all," said his master, "there is one fact that we must drive into your
wretched little skull now so that you never afterward forget. Can you guess what
that fact is?"
"No, sir," the boy said.
"No?" The bristling eyebrows shot up in mock surprise. Mesmerized, the boy
watched them disappear under the hanging white thatch of hair. There, almost
coyly, they remained just out of sight for a moment, before suddenly descending
with a terrible finality and weight. "No. Well then..." The magician bent forward in
his chair. "I shall tell you."
With a slow, deliberate motion, he placed his hands together so that the finger-
tips formed a steepled arch, which he pointed at the boy.
"Remember this," he said in a soft voice. "Demons are very wicked. They will
hurt you if they can. Do you understand this?"
The boy was still watching the eyebrows. He could not wrench his gaze away
from them. Now they were furrowed sternly downward, two sharp arrowheads
meeting. They moved with a quite remarkable agility—up, down, tilting, arching,
sometimes together, sometimes singly. With their parody of independent life they
exerted a strange fascination on the boy. Besides, he found studying them infinitely
preferable to meeting his master's gaze.
The magician coughed dangerously. "Do you understand?"
"Well now, you say yes, and I am sure you mean yes—and yet..." One eyebrow
inched skyward musingly. "And yet I do not feel convinced that you really, truly
"Oh, yes, sir; yes, I do, sir. Demons are wicked and they are hurtful and they
will hurt you if you let them, sir." The boy fidgeted anxiously on his cushion. He
was eager to prove that he had been listening well. Outside, the summer sun was
beating on the grass and the hot pavement; an ice-cream van had passed merrily
under the window five minutes before. But only a bright rim of pure daylight
skirted the heavy red curtains of the magician's room; the air within was stuffy and
thick. The boy wished for the lesson to be over, to be allowed to go.
"I have listened very carefully, sir," he said.
His master nodded. "Have you ever seen a demon?" he asked.
"No, sir. I mean, only in books."
The boy stood quickly, one foot almost slipping on his cushion. He waited
awkwardly, hands at his sides. His master indicated a door behind him with a casual
finger. "You know what's through there?"
"Your study, sir."
"Good. Go down the steps and cross the room. At the far end you'll find my
desk. On the desk is a box. In the box is a pair of spectacles. Put them on and come
back to me. Got that?"
"Very well then. Off you go."
Under his master's watchful eye, the boy crossed to the door, which was made
of a dark, unpainted wood with many whorls and grains. He had to struggle to turn
the heavy brass knob, but the coolness of its touch pleased him. The door swung
open soundlessly on oiled hinges and the boy stepped through to find himself at the
top of a carpeted staircase. The walls were elegantly papered with a flowery pat-
tern. A small window halfway down let in a friendly stream of sunlight.
The boy descended carefully, one step at a time. The silence and sunlight reas-
sured him and quelled some of his fears. Never having been beyond this point be-
fore, he had nothing but nursery stories to furnish his ideas of what might be wait-
ing in his master's study. Terrible images of stuffed crocodiles and bottled eyeballs
sprang garishly into his mind. Furiously he drove them out again. He would not be
At the foot of the staircase was another door, similar to the first, but smaller
and decorated, in its center, with a five-sided star painted in red. The boy turned
the knob and pushed: the door opened reluctantly, sticking on the thick carpet.
When the gap was wide enough the boy passed through into the study.
Unconsciously he had held his breath as he entered; now he let it out again,
almost with a sense of disappointment. It was all so ordinary. A long room lined
with books on either side. At the far end a great wooden desk with a padded
leather chair set behind it. Pens on the table, a few papers, an old computer, a small
metal box. The window beyond looked out toward a horse chestnut tree adorned
with the full splendor of summer. The light in the room had a sweet greenish tint.
The boy made for the table.
Halfway there, he stopped and looked behind him.
Nothing. Yet he'd had the strangest feeling.... For some reason the slightly open
door, through which he had entered only a moment before, now gave him an un-
settled sensation. He wished that he had thought to close it after him.
He shook his head. No need. He was going back through it in a matter of sec-
Four hasty steps took him to the edge of the table. He looked round again.
Surely there had been a noise....
The room was empty. The boy listened as intently as a rabbit in a covert. No,
there was nothing to hear except faint sounds of distant traffic.
Wide-eyed, breathing hard, the boy turned to the table. The metal box glinted
in the sun. He reached for it across the leather surface of the desk. This was not
strictly necessary—he could have walked round to the other side of the desk and
picked the box up easily—but somehow he wanted to save time, grab what he'd
come for, and get out. He leaned over the table and stretched out his hand, but the
box remained obstinately just out of reach. The boy rocked forward, swung his fin-
gertips out wildly. They missed the box, but his flailing arm knocked over a small
pot of pens. The pens sprayed across the leather.
The boy felt a bead of sweat trickle under his arm. Frantically, he began to col-
lect up the pens and stuff them back into the pot.
There was a throaty chuckle, right behind him, in the room.
He wheeled round, stifling his yell. But there was nothing there.
For a moment the boy remained leaning with his back against the desk, para-
lyzed with fear. Then something reasserted itself in him. Forget the pens, it seemed
to say. The box is what you came for. Slowly, imperceptibly, he began to inch his
way around the side of the desk, his back to the window, his eyes on the room.
Something tapped the window, urgently, three times. He spun round. Nothing
there; only the horse chestnut beyond the garden, waving gently in the summer
At that moment one of the pens he had spilled rolled off the desk onto the
carpet. It made no sound, but he caught sight of it out of the corner of his eye. An-
other pen began to rock back and forth—first slowly, then faster and faster. Sud-
denly it spun away, bounced off the base of the computer, and dropped over the
edge onto the floor. Another did the same. Then another. Suddenly, all the pens
were rolling, in several directions at once, accelerating off the edges of the desk, col-
liding, falling, landing, lying still.
The boy watched. The last one fell.
He did not move.
Something laughed softly, right in his ear.
With a cry he lashed out with his left arm, but made no contact. The momen-
tum of his swing turned him around to face the desk. The box was directly in front
of him. He snatched it up and dropped it instantly—the metal had been sitting in
the sun and its heat seared his palm. The box struck the desktop and lost its lid. A
pair of horn-rimmed spectacles fell out. A moment later, he had them in his hand
and was running for the door.
Something came behind him. He heard it hopping at his back.
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