His master—he had tried his best for him. But Mrs. Underwood—he should
have warned her, got her out of the house before it happened. Instead of which,
He had to think. This was no time to... He had to think what to do, or he was
For half the night, he had run like a madman through the gardens and back-
streets of north London, eyes vacant, mouth agape. He remembered it only as a se-
ries of rushes in the dark, of scrambles over walls and dashes under street lamps, of
whispered commands that he had automatically obeyed. He had a sensation of
pressing up against cold brick walls, then squeezing through hedges, cut and bruised
and soaked to the skin. Once, before the all-clear was given, he had hidden for what
seemed like hours at the base of a compost heap, his face pressed against the mold-
ering slime. It seemed no more real than a dream.
Throughout this flight, he had been replaying Underwood's face of terror, see-
ing a jackal head rising from the flames. Unreal also. Dreams within a dream.
He had no memory of the pursuit, though at times it had been close and press-
ing. The hum of a search sphere, a strange chemical scent carried on the wind: that
was all he knew of it, until, shortly before dawn, they had stumbled down into an
area of narrow, redbrick houses and back alleys, and found the boarded-up building.
Here, for the moment, he was safe. He had time to think, work out what to
But Mrs. Underwood was—
"Cold, isn't it?" said a voice.
Nathaniel turned away from the window. A little way off across the ruined
room, the boy that was not a boy was watching him with shiny eyes. It had given
itself the semblance of thick winter gear—a down jacket, new blue jeans, strong
brown boots, a woolly hat. It looked very warm.
"You're shivering," said the boy. "But then you're hardly dressed for a winter's
expedition. What have you got under that jersey? Just a shirt, I expect. And look at
those flimsy shoes. They must be soaked right through."
Nathaniel hardly heard him. His mind was far away.
"This isn't the place to be half naked," the boy went on. "Look at it! Cracks in
the walls, a hole in the ceiling... We're open to the elements here. Brrrrrr! Chilly."
They were on the upper floor of what had evidently been a public building.
The room was cavernous, bare and empty, with whitewashed walls stained yellow
and green with mold. All along each wall stretched row upon row of empty
shelves, covered in dust, dirt, and bird droppings. Disconsolate piles of wood that
might once have been tables or chairs were tucked into a couple of corners. Tall
windows looked out over the street and wide marbled steps led downstairs. The
place smelled of damp and decay.
"Do you want me to help you with the cold?" the boy said, looking sideways at
him. "You have only to ask."
Nathaniel did not respond. His breath frosted in front of his face.
The djinni came a bit closer. "I could make a fire," it said. "A nice hot one. I've
got plenty of control over that element. Look!" A tiny flame flickered in the center
of its palm. "All this wood in here, going to waste... What was this place, do you
think? A library? I think so. Don't suppose the commoners are allowed to read
much anymore, are they? That's usually the way it goes." The flame grew a little.
"You have only to ask, O my master. I'd do it as a favor. That's what friends are
Nathaniel's teeth were chattering in his head. More than anything else—more
even than the hunger that was gnawing in his belly like a dog—he needed warmth.
The little flame danced and spun.
"Yes," he said huskily. "Make me a fire."
The flame instantly died out. The boy's brow furrowed. "Now that wasn't very
Nathaniel closed his eyes and heaved a sigh. "Please."
"Much better." A small spark leaped and ignited a pile of wood nearby. Na-
thaniel shuffled over and huddled beside it, his hands inches from the flames.
For a few minutes the djinni remained silent, pacing here and there about the
room. The feeling slowly returned to Nathaniel's fingers, though his face stayed
numb. At length he became aware that the djinni had come close again, and was
sitting on its haunches, idly stirring a long sliver of wood in the fire.
"How does that feel?" it asked. "Melting nicely, I hope." It waited politely for
an answer, but Nathaniel said nothing. "I'll tell you one thing," the djinni went on,
in a conversational tone, "you're an interesting specimen. I've known a fair few ma-
gicians in my time, and there aren't many who are quite as suicidal as you. Most
would think that popping in to tell a powerful enemy you'd pinched his treasure
wasn't a terribly bright idea. Especially when you're utterly defenseless. But you?
All in a day's work."
"I had to," Nathaniel said shortly. He did not want to talk.
"Mmm. No doubt you had a brilliant plan, which I—and Lovelace, for that
matter—completely missed. Mind telling me what it was?"
The djinni wrinkled its nose. "That was your plan? It's a simple one, I'll say that
much. Still, don't forget it was my life you were risking too back there, acting out
your strange convulsion of conscience." It reached into the fire suddenly and re-
moved a burning ember, which it held musingly between finger and thumb. "I had
another master like you once. He had the same mulish obstinacy, seldom acted in
his own best interests. Didn't live long." It sighed, tossed the ember back into the
flames. "Never mind—all's well that ends well."
Nathaniel looked at the djinni for the first time. "All's well?"
"You're alive. Does that count as good?"
For an instant, Nathaniel saw Mrs. Underwood's face watching him from the
fire. He rubbed his eyes.
"I hate to say this," the djinni said, "but Lovelace was right. You were totally
out of your depth last night. Magicians don't act the way you do. It was a good
thing I was there to rescue you. So—where are you going now? Prague?"
"Well, Lovelace knows you've escaped. He'll be looking out for you—and
you've seen what he'll do to keep you quiet. Your only hope is to vanish from the
scene and leave London for good. Abroad will be safest. Prague."
"Why should I go to Prague?"
"Magicians there might help you. Nice beer, too, I'm told."
Nathaniel's lip curled. "I'm no traitor."
The boy shrugged. "If that's no good, then you're left with getting a quiet new
life here. There are plenty of possibilities. Let's see... looking at you, I'd say heavy
lifting's out—you're too spindly. That rules out being a laborer."
Nathaniel frowned with indignation. "I have no intention—"
The djinni ignored him. "But you could turn your runtlike size to your advan-
tage. Yes! A sweep's lad, that's the answer. They always need fresh urchins to climb
"Wait! I'm not—"
"Or you could become apprentice to a sewer rat. You get a bristle brush, a
hook and a rubber plunger, then wriggle up the tightest tunnels looking for block-
"There's a world of opportunities out there! And all of them better than being
a dead magician."
"Shut up!" The effort of raising his voice made Nathaniel feel his head was
about to split in two. "I don't need your suggestions!" He stumbled to his feet, eyes
blazing with anger. The djinni's jibes had cut through his weariness and grief to ig-
nite a pent-up fury that suddenly consumed him. It rose up from his guilt, his
shock, and his mortal anguish and used them for its fuel. Lovelace had said that
there was no such thing as honor, that every magician acted only for himself. Very
well. Nathaniel would take him at his word. He would not make such a mistake
But Lovelace had made an error of his own. He had underestimated his enemy.
He had called Nathaniel weak, then tried to kill him. And Nathaniel had survived.
"You want me to slink away?" he cried. "I cannot! Lovelace has murdered the
only person who ever cared for me—" He halted: there was a catch in his voice, but
still his eyes were dry.
"Underwood? You must be joking! He loathed you! He was a man of sense!"
"His wife, I mean. I want justice for her. Vengeance for what he has done."
The effect of these ringing words was slightly spoiled by the djinni's blowing a
loud raspberry. It rose, shaking its head sadly, as if weighed down by great wisdom.
"It isn't justice you're after, boy. It's oblivion. Everything you had went up in flames
last night. So now you've got nothing to lose. I can read your thoughts as if they
were my own: you want to go out in a blaze of glory against Lovelace."
"No. I want justice."
The djinni laughed. "It'll be so easy, following your master and his wife into the
darkness—so much easier than starting life afresh. Your pride is ruling your head,
leading you to your death. Didn't last night teach you anything? You're no match
for him, Nat. Give it up."
"It's not even as if you're really a magician any more." It gestured at the crum-
bling walls. "Look around you. Where are we? This isn't some cushy townhouse,
filled with books and papers. Where are the candles? Where's all the incense?
Where's the comfort? Like it or not, Nathaniel, you've lost everything a magician
needs. Wealth, security, self-respect, a master... Let's face it, you've got nothing."
"I have my scrying glass," Nathaniel said. "And I have you." Hurriedly, he sat
himself back beside the fire. The cold of the room still pierced him through.
"Ah yes, I was coming to that." The djinni began clearing a space among the
debris of the floor with the side of its boot. "When you've calmed down a bit, I
shall bring you some chalk. Then you can draw me a circle here and set me free."
Nathaniel stared at him.
"I've completed my charge," the boy continued. "And more, much more. I
spied on Lovelace for you. I found out about the Amulet. I saved your life."
Nathaniel's head felt oddly light and woozy, as if it were stuffed with cloth.
"Please! Don't rush to thank me!" the boy went on. "I'll only get embarrassed.
All I want is to see you drawing that pentacle. That's all I need."
"No," Nathaniel said. "Not yet."
"Sorry?" the boy replied. "My hearing must be going, on account of that dra-
matic rescue I pulled off last night. I thought you just said no."
"I did. I'm not setting you free. Not yet."
A heavy silence fell. As Nathaniel watched, his little fire began to dwindle, as if
it were being sucked down through the floor. It vanished altogether. With little
cracking noises, ice began to crust onto the scraps of wood that a moment before
had been burning nicely. Cold blistered his skin. His breath became harsh and pain-
He staggered upright. "Stop that!" he gasped. "Bring back the fire."
The djinni's eyes glittered. "It's for your own good," it said. "I've just realized
how inconsiderate I was being. You don't want to see another fire—not after the
one you caused last night. Your conscience would hurt you too much."
Flickering images rose before Nathaniel's eyes: flames erupting from the ruined
kitchen. "I didn't start the fire," he whispered. "It wasn't my fault."
"No? You hid the Amulet. You framed Underwood."
"No! I didn't intend Lovelace to come. It was for security—"
The boy sneered. "Sure it was—your security."
"If Underwood had been any good he'd have survived! He'd have fought Love-
lace off—raised the alarm!"
"You don't believe that. Let's face it, you killed them both."
Nathaniel's face twisted in fury. "I was going to expose Lovelace! I was going to
trap him with the Amulet—show the authorities!"
"Who cares? You were too late. You failed."
"Thanks to you, demon! If you hadn't led them to the house none of this
would have happened!" Nathaniel seized on this idea like a drowning man. "It's all
your fault and I'm going to pay you back! Think you're ever going to be freed?
Think again! You're staying permanently. It's Perpetual Confinement for you!"
"Is that so? In that case—" the counterfeit boy stepped forward and was sud-
denly very close—"I might as well kill you myself right now. What have I got to
lose? I'll be in the tin either way, but I'll have the satisfaction of breaking your neck
first." Its hand descended gently on Nathaniel's shoulder.
Nathaniel's skin crawled. He resisted the overpowering temptation to shy away
and run, and instead stared back into the dark, blank eyes.
For a long moment, neither said anything.
At last Nathaniel licked his dry lips. "That won't be necessary," he said thickly.
"I'll free you before the month is up."
The djinni pulled him closer. "Free me now!"
"No." Nathaniel swallowed. "We have work to do first."
"Work?" It frowned; its hand stroked his shoulder. "What work? What is there
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Nathaniel forced himself to remain quite still. "My master and his wife are
dead. I must avenge them. Lovelace must pay for what he did."
The whispering mouth was very near now, but Nathaniel could feel no breath
against his face. "But I've told you. Lovelace is too powerful. You haven't a hope of
besting him. Forget the matter, as I do. Release me and forget your troubles."
"I—I owe it to my master. He was a good man—"
"No, he wasn't. That's not the reason at all." The djinni whispered directly into
his ear. "It isn't justice or honor that drives you now, boy, but guilt. You can't take
the consequences of your actions. You seek to drown out what you've done to your
master and his wife. Well, if that's the way you humans choose to suffer, so be it.
But leave me out of the equation."
Nathaniel spoke with a firmness he did not feel. "Until your month is up you'll
obey me if you ever want your freedom."
"Going after Lovelace practically amounts to suicide in any case—yours and
mine." The boy smiled nastily. "That being so, I still don't see why I shouldn't kill
"There will be ways to expose him!" Nathaniel could not help himself; he was
speaking far too fast. "We just need to think it through carefully. I'll make a bargain
with you. Help me avenge myself on Lovelace and I'll set you free immediately af-
terward. Then there can be no doubt about our positions. It's in both our interests
The djinni's eyes glittered. "As always, a laudably fair arrangement, dictated
from a one-sided position of power. Very well. I have no choice. But if at any time
you place either of us at undue risk, be warned—I shall get my revenge first."
The boy stepped back and released Nathaniel's shoulder. Nathaniel retreated,
eyes wide, breathing hard. Humming gently, the djinni wandered to the window,
reigniting the fire casually as it passed. Nathaniel struggled to calm himself, to re-
gain control. Another wave of misery washed through him, but he did not suc-
cumb. No time for that. He must appear strong in front of his slave.
"Well then, master," the djinni said. "Enlighten me. Tell me what we do."
Nathaniel kept his voice as level as he could. "First, I need food, and perhaps
new clothes. Then we must pool our information on Lovelace and the Amulet. We
also need to know what the authorities think about... about what happened last
"That last one's easy," Bartimaeus said, pointing out of the window. "Look out
"Times! Morning edition!"
The newspaper boy wheeled his handcart slowly along the pavement, stopping
whenever passersby thrust coins in his direction. The crowd was thick and the
boy's progress was slow. He had barely made it as far as the baker's by the time Na-
thaniel and Bartimaeus sidled out from the alley beside the derelict library and
crossed the road to meet him.
Nathaniel still had in his pocket the remnants of the money he had stolen from
Mrs. Underwood's jar a few days before. He glanced at the cart: it was piled high
with copies of The Times—the Government's official paper. The newspaper boy
himself wore a large, checked cloth cap, fingerless gloves, and a long dark coat that
reached almost to his ankles. The tips of his fingers were mauve with cold. Every
now and then he roared out the same hoarse call: "Times! Morning edition!"
Nathaniel had little experience of dealing with commoners. He hailed the boy
in his deepest, most assertive voice. "The Times. How much is it?"
"Forty pence, kid." Coldly, Nathaniel handed over the change and received the
newspaper in return. The paperboy glanced at him, first incuriously, and then with
what seemed a sudden intense interest. Nathaniel made to pass on, but the boy ad-
"You look rough, chum," he said cheerily. "Been out all night?"
"No." Nathaniel adopted a stern expression, which he hoped would discourage
It didn't work. "Course you ain't, course you ain't," the paperboy said. "And I
wouldn't blame you for not admitting it if you had. But you ought to be careful
with the curfew on. The police are sniffing about more than usual."
"What curfew's this?" the djinni asked.
The paperboy's eyes widened. "Where've you been, mate? After that disgrace-
ful attack on Parliament, there's an eight o'clock curfew each night this week. It
won't do nothing, but the search spheres are out, and the Night Police too, so you'll
want to hole up somewhere before they find you and eat you. Looks to me like you
struck lucky so far. Tell you what—I could find you a good place to shelter tonight,
if you need it. It's safe, and the spot to go"—he paused, looked up and down the
street, and lowered his voice—"if you've got anything you might want to sell."
Nathaniel looked at him blankly. "Thank you. I haven't."
The boy scratched the back of his head. "Suit yourself. Well, can't hang about
chatting. Some of us have got work to do. I'm off." He took up the poles of his
handcart and moved away, but Nathaniel noticed him look back at them over his
shoulder more than once.
"Strange," Bartimaeus said. "What was that about?"
Nathaniel shrugged. He had already dismissed it from his mind. "Go and get me
some food and warmer clothes. I'll go back to the library and read this."
"Very well. Do try to keep out of trouble while I'm gone." The djinni turned
and headed off into the crowd.
The article was on page two, sandwiched between the Employment Ministry's
monthly request for new apprentices and a short report from the Italian campaign.
It was three columns in length. It noted with regret the deaths in a severe house fire
of the Internal Affairs Minister Arthur Underwood and his wife, Martha. The blaze
had started at approximately 10:15 P.M. and had only been fully extinguished by
fire crews and emergency service magicians three hours later, by which time the
whole building had been gutted. Two neighboring houses had been badly affected,
and their occupants evacuated to safety. The cause of the fire was unknown, but
police were keen to interview Mr. Underwood's apprentice, John Mandrake, aged
twelve, whose body had not been recovered. Some confused reports had him being
observed running from the scene. Mandrake was rumored to be of an unstable dis-
position; he was known to have assaulted several prominent magicians the year be-
fore and the public was told to approach him with caution. Mr. Underwood's
death, the article concluded, was a sad loss to the Government; he had served his
ministry ably all his life and made many significant contributions, none of which
the paper had space to describe.
Sitting below the windows, Nathaniel let the paper drop. His head sank against
his chest; he closed his eyes. Seeing in cold, clear print the confirmation of what he
already knew struck him like a fresh blow. He reeled with it, willing the tears to
come, but his grief remained pent up, elusive. It was no good. He was too tired for
anything. All he wanted was to sleep....
A boot nudged him, not softly. He started and awoke.
The djinni stood over him, grinning. It carried a paper bag from which steam
curled promisingly. Raw hunger overcame Nathaniel's dignity—he snatched the
bag, almost spilling the polystyrene cup of coffee on his lap. To his relief, beneath
the cup were two neatly wrapped greaseproof paper parcels, each containing a hot
steak sandwich. It seemed to Nathaniel that he had never eaten anything half as
good in his entire life. In two straight minutes, both sandwiches were gone and he
sat nursing the coffee in his chilblained fingers, breathing heavily.
"What an exhibition," the djinni said.
Nathaniel slurped the coffee. "How did you get this?"
"Stole it. Got a delicatessen man to make it all up, then ran off with it while he
was at the cash register. Nothing fancy. The police were summoned."
Nathaniel groaned. "That's all we need."
"Don't worry. They'll be looking for a tall blond woman in a fur coat. Speaking
of which"—it pointed to a small mound amid the debris of the floor—"you'll find
some better clothing there. Coat, trousers, hat, and gloves. I hope they'll fit you. I
picked the scrawniest sizes I could find."
A few minutes later, Nathaniel was better fed, better clothed, and partially re-
vived. He sat beside the fire and warmed himself. The djinni crouched nearby, star-
ing into the flames.
"They think I did it." Nathaniel indicated the newspaper.
"Well, what do you expect? Lovelace isn't going to come clean, is he? What
magician would do a stupid thing like that?" Bartimaeus eyed him meaningfully.
"The whole point of starting the fire was to hide all trace of his visit. And since he
couldn't kill you, he's set you up to take the rap."
"The police are after me."
"Yep. The police on one side, Lovelace on the other. He'll have his scouts out
trying to track you down. A nice little pincer movement. That's what he wants—to
keep you on the run, isolated, out of his hair."
Nathaniel ground his teeth. "We'll see about that. What if I go to the police
myself? They could raid Lovelace's house—find the Amulet...."
"Think they'll listen to you? You're a wanted man. I use man in the broadest
possible sense there, obviously. Even if you weren't, I'd be cautious about contact-
ing the authorities. Lovelace isn't acting alone. There's his old master, Schyler—"
"Schyler?" Of course—the wizened red-faced old man. "Schyler is his master?
Yes... I know him. I overheard them discussing the Amulet at Parliament. There's
another one, too, called Lime."
The djinni nodded. "That may just be the tip of the iceberg. A great many
search spheres chased me when I stole the Amulet that first night—they were the
work of several magicians. If it is a wide conspiracy, and you go to the authorities,
you can't trust anyone in a position of power not to tip him off and kill you instead.
For example, Sholto Pinn, the artifact merchant, may be in on it. He is one of Love-
lace's closest friends, and in fact was having lunch with him only yesterday. I dis-
covered that shortly before I was unavoidably detained at Pinn's shop."
Nathaniel's anger flared. "You were far too reckless! I asked you to investigate
Lovelace, not endanger me!"
"Temper, temper. That's precisely what I was doing. It was at Pinn's that I
found out about the Amulet. Lovelace had it taken from a government magician
named Beecham, whose throat was cut by the thief. The Government badly wants
it back. I would have learned more, but an afrit came calling and took me to the
"But you escaped. How?"
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