"But, boss, you know there's a safe limit. Magicians often have protective sen-
sors; you know, even this guy—"
Nathaniel's face felt sore and puffy under the strain. He was past caution. "Do
it. You won't want me to ask again."
The imp did not answer. Underwood's face reappeared, so close it almost filled
the center of the disc. The hairs tufting from his nostrils were rendered in loving
three-dimensional detail. The magician was nodding. "I agree. I suppose I should be
flattered... Yes, looking at it that way, the boy is a testimony to my hard graft and
inspiration. Now, my old master—"
He broke off, with a wince and a shudder, as if something cold had brushed
against him. "Sorry, Grigori. It was just, I felt—" Nathaniel saw the eyes narrow, the
familiar brows beetle sharply. At this the image on the disc suddenly broadened
out, as if the imp were retreating hurriedly across the room. Underwood uttered a
loud syllable; the imp's voice tried to copy it, but cut out midway, as if turned off
like a radio. The image remained, quivering strangely.
Nathaniel couldn't suppress a catch in his voice. "Imp, what's happening?"
Nothing. Silence from the imp.
"I order you to leave the study and return to me."
The image in the disc was not reassuring. Shaky though it was, Nathaniel could
see Underwood putting down the telephone, then slowly rising and coming round
to the front of his desk, all the while peering hard—up, down, in every direction—
as if hunting for something he knew was there. The image shook still harder: the
imp seemed to be redoubling its efforts to escape, but to no avail. In mounting
panic, Nathaniel applied a few frantic Shocks to the disc in vain. The imp was fro-
zen, unable to speak or move.
Underwood crossed to a cupboard at the back of the study, rummaged within
it, and returned, carrying a metal cylinder. He shook it: from four small holes at its
top, a white powder was emitted, which quickly spread out to fill the room. What-
ever the powder did, the effect was immediate. Underwood gave a start and stared
upward—directly at Nathaniel. It was as if the disc was a window and he was look-
ing directly through it. For a moment, Nathaniel thought his master could actually
see him, then he realized it was simply the suspended imp that hung revealed.
Horror-stricken, Nathaniel watched his master bend down to the carpet and
pull at a loop of ribbon. A great square section of carpet peeled up and fell away to
one side. Below were two painted pentacles. His master stepped inside the smaller,
never for one moment taking his eyes away from the frozen imp. He began to
speak, and within seconds a tall misty apparition appeared within the larger circle.
Underwood uttered a command. The apparition bowed and vanished. To Nathan-
iel's amazement, Underwood's body seemed to shimmer and slide away from itself.
His master still stood within the pentacle, but another version of his master, ghost-
like and see-through, stood alongside it.
The ghostly form lifted into the air, kicked its heels and began to float for-
ward—straight to where the helpless imp was still relaying the view from the
study. Nathaniel screamed commands and shook the disc in fury, but could do
nothing to stop his master's slow approach. Closer, closer... The spectral eyebrows
were lowered, the glinting eyes never looked away. Now Underwood's form
swelled to fill the disc—it seemed as if it would break right through....
Then nothing. The disc showed the study again, with Underwood's physical
body still standing motionless in the pentacle.
Despite his panic, Nathaniel knew all too well what was happening. Having lo-
cated the spy and safely frozen it in position, Underwood had decided to follow the
imp's astral cord back to its source to learn the identity of the enemy magician.
Such sources might be many miles away; perhaps his master was expecting a long
journey in his djinni-controlled form. If so, he was about to get a surprise.
Too late, Nathaniel realized what he had to do. The window! If he could
throw the disc out into the street, perhaps his master would not guess....
He had only taken two strides in the direction of the skylight when, without a
sound, the translucent head of Arthur Underwood welled up through the floor-
boards. It was see-through and glowing with a greenish phosphorescence; the tip of
the dilapidated beard extended into the floor. Slowly, slowly, the head revolved
through ninety degrees, until at last it caught sight of Nathaniel standing above it,
holding the scrying glass in his hands.
At this, an expression appeared on his master's face that Nathaniel had never
seen before. It was not the familiar look of impatient disdain that had long charac-
terized Underwood's tutelage. It was not even the fury he had witnessed that
morning, following the discovery in his room. Instead, it was first a look of extreme
shock, and then a sudden explosion of such malice that Nathaniel's knees gave way.
The disc fell from his hands; he slumped against the wall; he tried to speak, but
The ghostly head stared at him from the center of the floor. Nathaniel stared
back; unable to tear his eyes away. Then—very muffled and distant, perhaps be-
cause it was uttered by the physical body in the study far below—Underwood's
voice came sounding from inside the upturned disc.
Nathaniel's mouth opened, but let forth only a strangled croak.
The voice spoke again. "Traitor! You have betrayed me. I shall discover who is
guiding you to spy on me."
"No one—there's no one...." Nathaniel could only manage the barest whisper.
"Prepare yourself! I shall come for you."
The voice faded. Underwood's head descended, spiraling into the floor. The
phosphorescent glow vanished with it from the room. With trembling fingers, Na-
thaniel picked up the disc and peered into it. After a few seconds the view of the
study grew misty as his master's spirit form passed back through the imp; it drifted
away across the carpet to where the body waited. Coming alongside, it adopted the
exact same posture and merged in with itself. A moment later, Underwood was
himself again and the shadowy apparition had reappeared in the other circle. With
a clap of the hands, Underwood dismissed the djinni; it bowed and vanished. He
stepped out of the pentacle, eyes blazing, and strode out of shot toward his study
At this, the spell on the imp was lifted and the baby's face returned to fill the
disc. It blew out its cheeks with relief.
"Whoof! I don't mind telling you, that was bad for my system," it said. "Having
that horrible old geezer drifting straight through me and right up my cord... it gives
me the willies just to think about it, it really does!"
"Shut up! Shut up!" Beside himself with terror, Nathaniel was trying to think.
"Look, do us a favor," the imp said. "You haven't got much time left. Couldn't
you just free me now, before you die? Life gets so dreary in this disc; you don't
know how lonely it gets. Go on, boss. I'd really appreciate it." The baby's attempt at
a winning smile was interrupted as the disc was hurled against the wall. "Ow! Well,
I hope you enjoy what's coming to you, then!"
Nathaniel ran to the attic door and rattled desperately at the handle. Some-
where below he heard his master's footsteps hastening up the stairs.
"He's really angry," the imp called. "Even his astral form practically pickled my
essence as it went by. I wish I wasn't facing the floor—I'd love to watch what hap-
pens when he gets in here."
Nathaniel sprang at the wardrobe, pushed at it frantically; he planned to push
it in front of the door, to block the way in. Too heavy, he hadn't the strength. His
breathing came in fits and gasps.
"What's the matter?" the imp asked. "You're a big magician now. Call some-
thing up to save your skin. An afrit maybe—that should do the job. Or what about
that Bartimaeus you're so obsessed with? Where's he when you need him?"
With a sob, Nathaniel stumbled back into the center of the room and turned
slowly to face the door.
"Nasty, ain't it?" The imp's voice dripped with satisfaction. "Being at someone
else's mercy. Now you know what it feels like. Face it, kid—you're on your own.
You've got no one there to help you."
Something tapped on the skylight window.
After an instant in which his heart nearly stopped, Nathaniel looked: a dishev-
eled pigeon was sitting beyond the glass, gesticulating urgently with both wings. In
doubt, Nathaniel stepped closer.
The pigeon rapped its beak several times against the pane. Nathaniel raised his
hand to undo the catch—
A key rattled in a lock. With a bang, the bedroom door burst open. Under-
wood stood there, his face pink with exertion and framed by a furious white mane
of hair and beard. Nathaniel's arm dropped to his side; he turned to his master. The
pigeon had vanished from the window.
It took Underwood a moment to regain his breath. "Miserable boy! Who is
controlling you? Which of my enemies?"
Nathaniel could feel his whole body trembling, but he forced himself to stand
stock-still and look his master in the eyes.
"No one, sir. I—"
"Is it Duvall? Or Mortensen? Or Lovelace?"
Nathaniel's lip curled at the last name. "None of those, sir."
"Who taught you to make the glass? Who told you to spy on me?"
Despite his fear, anger flared in Nathaniel's heart. He spoke with contempt.
"Will you not take my word? I have already said. There is no one."
"Even now you continue your lies! Very well! Take a last look at this room.
You will not be returning here. We will go to my study, where you will enjoy the
company of my imps until your tongue is loosened. Come!"
Nathaniel hesitated, but there was no help for it. His master's hand descended
on his shoulder and clamped it like a vise. Almost bodily, he was propelled out of
the door and down the attic stairs.
On the first landing, Mrs. Underwood met them, in haste and out of breath.
When she saw Nathaniel's hapless posture and the fury on her husband's face, her
eyes widened with distress, but she did not comment.
"Arthur," she panted, "there is a visitor to see you."
"I haven't time. This boy—"
"It's a matter of the greatest urgency, he says."
"Who? Who says?"
"Simon Lovelace, Arthur. He practically showed himself in."
Underwood's brows lowered. "Lovelace?" he growled. "What does he want?
Typical of him to turn up at the worst moment. Very well, I will see him. As for
you—stop your wriggling!" Nathaniel was making sudden feverish movements, as if
attempting to escape his grip. "You, boy, can wait in the box room until I'm ready
to deal with you."
"Not a word!" Underwood began to manhandle Nathaniel across the landing.
"Martha, put on the kettle for our visitor. I shall be down in a few minutes. I need
to tidy myself up."
"Sir—please listen! It's important! In the study—"
"Silence!" Underwood opened a narrow door and shoved Nathaniel through,
into a small, cold room filled with old files and stacks of government papers. With-
out a backward glance, his master shut the door and turned the key. Nathaniel
knocked on the wood and frantically called out after him.
"Sir! Sir!" No one answered. "Sir!"
"You're too kind." A large beetle with huge mandibles squeezed itself under
the door. "I actually find sir a bit formal for my taste, but it's better than 'recreant
"Bartimaeus!" Nathaniel stepped back in shock; before his eyes, the beetle
grew, distorted... the dark-skinned boy was standing in the room with him, hands
on hips and head slightly to one side. As always, the form was a perfect replica: its
hair shifted as it moved, the light glistened on the pores of its skin—it could not
have been singled out as false from among a thousand true humans. Yet something
about it—perhaps the soft, dark eyes that gazed at him—screamed out its alien
otherness. Nathaniel blinked; he struggled to control himself. He felt the same dis-
orientation he had experienced during their previous meeting.
The false boy surveyed the bare floorboards and piles of junk. "Who's been a
naughty little magician, then?" it said dryly. "Underwood's cottoned on to you at
last, I see. He took his time."
Nathaniel ignored him. "So it was you at the window," he began. "How did
"Down a chimney, how d'you think? And before you say it, I know you didn't
summon me, but things have been moving far too fast for me to wait. The Amu-
Nathaniel was struck by a sudden horrified realization. "You—you've brought
The boy seemed surprised. "What?"
"Don't lie to me, demon! You've betrayed me! You've led him here."
"Lovelace?" It looked genuinely taken aback. "Where is he?"
"Downstairs. He's just arrived."
"Nothing to do with me if he has. Have you been blabbing?"
"Me? It was you—"
"I've said nothing. I've got a tobacco tin to think of...." It frowned and appeared
to be thinking. "It is a slight coincidence, I must admit."
"Slight?" Nathaniel was practically hopping with agitation. "You've led him
here, you fool! Now, quickly—get the Amulet! Get it away from the study, before
Lovelace finds it!"
The boy laughed harshly. "Not a chance. If Lovelace is here, he'll have stationed
a dozen spheres outside. They'll home in on its aura and be on me the moment I
leave the building."
Nathaniel drew himself up. With his servant returned, he was not as helpless as
before. There was still a chance to avoid disaster, providing the demon did as it was
told. "I command you to obey!" he began. "Go to the study—"
"Oh, can it, Nat." The boy waved a weary and dismissive hand. "You're not in
the pentacle now. You can't force me to obey each new order. Running off with
the Amulet will be fatal, take it from me. How strong is Underwood?"
"What?" Nathaniel was nonplussed.
"How strong? What level? I assume from the size of that beard he's no great
shakes, but I might be wrong. How good is he? Could he beat Lovelace? That's the
"Oh. No. No, I don't think so...." Nathaniel had little actual evidence either
way, but his master's past display of servility to Lovelace left him in little doubt.
"Your one chance is that if Lovelace finds the Amulet, he might want to keep
the whole thing quiet. He may try to do a deal with Underwood. If he doesn't—"
Nathaniel went cold. "You don't think he'll—?"
"Whoops! In all this excitement I nearly forgot to tell you what I came for!"
The boy put on a deep and plangent voice: "Know ye that I have devotedly carried
out my charge. I have spied on Lovelace. I have sought the secrets of the Amulet. I
have risked all for you, O my master. And the results are"—here it adopted a more
normal, sardonic tone—"you're an idiot. You've no idea what you've done. The
Amulet is so powerful it's been in government keeping for decades—until Lovelace
had it stolen, that is. His assassin murdered a senior magician for it. In those circum-
stances, I don't think it's likely that he'll worry about killing Underwood to retrieve
it, do you?"
To Nathaniel, the room seemed to spin. He felt quite faint. This was worse
than anything he had imagined. "We can't just stand here," he stammered. "We've
got to do something—"
"True. I'll go and watch developments. Meanwhile, you'd better stay here like a
good little boy, and be ready for a quick exit if things get nasty."
"I'm not running anywhere." He said it in a small, small voice. His head was
reeling with the implications. "Mrs. Underwood..."
"I'll give you a tip born of long experience. Running's good if your skin needs
saving. Better get used to the idea, bud." The boy turned to the box room door and
set the palm of one hand against it. With a despairing crack, the door split around
the lock and swung open. "Go up to your room and wait. I'll tell you what happens
soon enough. And be prepared to move fast."
With that, the djinni was gone. When Nathaniel followed, the landing was al-
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