Finally read Ptolemy's Gate, which of course was awesome. I got attached to Ptolemy, which I kind of expected. And I decided that I wanted to write another long drabble thing with him and Barty (and in almost the exact same structure too, I realize. Oh well). It also helped me with some writer's block on my other stories. I feel like this is kind of a shot in the dark, but once I got the idea it kept nagging me. Bartimaeus almost always recalls wars and things with hints of regret, and I wanted to embellish on that a little. I just hope I didn't get too off-track on it. So I kind of went on the theory Bartimaeus mentioned, on how a spirit's character is influenced by his experiences on earth.
Forget Me Not
There was one thing about Ptolemy that drove me nuts. Actually, there were several things, but one thing in particular. And it was this: once he got an idea, pounced on it and picked at it and didn't leave it alone until everyone around him (as in me) went mad.
"Rekhyt, wasn't there a magician in Crete who talked about Perfect Circles?"
I glanced away from the window, ears twitching, little pink nose beginning to wrinkle. "Pardon?"
"There was a magician in Crete who talked about the Perfect Circles method. I thought it might be important. Was there one?"
I shrugged fluidly, sending my tail flicking like a black ribbon in the breeze. "There might have at some point."
Ptolemy turned away from his work to look at me. "Well, don't you know?"
I licked a paw lazily as I replied, "I might."
He turned all the way around now. "You said you worked in Crete for a while. Do you know or not?" He sighed. "Please don't riddle with me; it's been such a long day."
I stopped licking. "Who said I was riddling? There might have been a magician like the one you speak of. Just because I worked in Crete doesn't necessarily mean I know every mad-cap magician there."
"But didn't you hear anything about him? You said your kind's circles of talk spread wide. You inform each other of what's going on, who to watch out for."
"I might have at some point. Who's to say? I can't remember everything."
He took a breath as if to say something, but seemed to think better of it and let it go. He took a new breath and nodded. "I suppose you are right. I am sorry."
"Of course I'm right," I turned back to the window's view and added breezily, "Don't worry about it."
I probably shouldn't have said that. It was probably telling him not to worry about it that got him so worried.
"Rekhyt, do you ever reflect on your old masters?"
I blinked. I recognized this. Every discussion I'd ever had with him had started out like this. Always it started with the simplest, most innocent question, and before you knew what was happening it was fleshing out into a psycho-analytic, question of the millennia, if-we-don't-figure-this-out-the-world-is-doomed brain match. This evening was going to be long.
"Of course not," I finally sneered. "There's slim to nothing to reflect on."
He cocked his head, gazing at me with sincere surprise. "Isn't there?"
"Nothing but old men and their greed for power and women. They're all the same, and they all die eventually."
Ptolemy considered this for a moment before slowly replying, "I rather thought it would be fascinating, actually. To really see them, and to truly know how the world was. I've read about them, of course, but it would be so much better to actually be there. Seeing it play out before you. I rather thought---well," he cut himself off, smiling slightly. "I suppose it's not much to you. But to me…ah, yes. That would be fascinating."
I huffed. "Fah. You'd be bored by your third century. I'm telling you, there's nothing much to think about. Anything that is there just runs together into one big blur. You wouldn't even miss it."
He cocked his head to the side, questioningly, coyly. "Everything? Is that true?"
I hated it when he looked at me like that. "Yes. "Nothing special."
"So what do you think about, then, if you've no memories?"
"That's rather personal."
"Yes, excuse me. But I am working on a book here, if you could trouble yourself to remember," He smiled patronizingly. "I want to understand you better. All of you. So this is necessary."
"Understanding one of us isn't going to---"
"You said that when you go back to your…your place, I guess we'll call it, you meld with your fellows into one great entity---"
"Mass is what I said."
"Oh, so you remember that? All right then. Excuse me. One great mass, and memories and all become one."
I scoffed. "They do not."
"No. Because we don't think about memories there. We don't want them, and we don't need them. We just…exist. There's no need to go further into it."
"I suppose. So, since I was completely wrong on that limb---"
"The shared memories theorem. And I'd appreciate it if you'd start letting me finish my sentences, it's hard to keep up a train of thought when you throw me off like that."
I shrugged. "Sorry. I'm only stopping you from going off on a bad limb."
He smiled like I'd given him a handful of his favorite sweets. "And I appreciate it, truly. But I'd really prefer finishing on my own. Anyway…so…you don't think about your past masters."
"Yes, we've identified that."
"Alright, then…how about the future?" He tried earnestly. "Don't you wonder what will happen? What it will be like?"
"Ha! Not in the slightest!"
He looked offended at that point. "Don't you?"
"I just said, "Not in the slightest!". Didn't you hear me?"
"My hearing is intact, thank you. But really. You can't honestly say you don't wonder."
"Well, listen to this: I don't wonder. I don't need to wonder. I already know."
He crossed his arms and mock-glared at me. "So now you're trying to tell me that you're a prophet? I could have used that knowledge a little sooner, Rekhyt."
"I don't need to be a prophet to know how things are going to go. One of these days, this empire will fall, like the others did, and a new one will rise from its rubble. There will be more magicians, more ego-tripping, more greed, lust, malicious intentions, murder, intrigue, the whole drama, and eventually, that will fall too like the one before it, and then, gasp! Shock! Surprise! Like a bad coin, a new empire will show up. And that's the grand future to your race, Ptolemy. Are we done now?"
It was a heated little speech, and I hoped maybe he'd recognize that and leave the subject alone, but:
"How about the present? Do you even glance at it? Does it mean anything?"
"Of course it does. The present is what I'm stuck in, and I try my damnedest---" Whoops. Didn't mean for that to slip out. But I was really getting out of sorts there. "---not to think about it."
"So you don't think about what you're doing?" He didn't mention the language-thing, as always, but I still felt bad. The kid's ears were delicate.
I tried a gentler approach, honest but with tact. "Well, it's impossible to not think about the present. But once it's over with…I don't think about it."
He narrowed his eyes. "No one can forget such things so quickly."
I drew myself up a little. "You forget who you're talking to. Who's to say what I can and can't forget?"
"What you choose to forget?"
I didn't understand what he meant. He read my hesitation as a breakthrough.
"Am I right then?" He tried again. "You just block it out, and pretty soon it's gone?"
I finally recovered. "No!" I snapped. "I can only remember so much! You try memorizing every fraction of your life, see how easy it is!"
"I am not saying you have to remember every fraction of your life," He amended softly. "But what about the bigger parts? You can't really, truly, honestly say that it just runs together in a blur? Something must stick out."
"Not really. I deal with it here, and once I get back to my own…was place what we decided? Alright, place. Once I get back to my place I stop bothering with it."
"And you forget."
"But while you're here---"
"Yes, yes, while I'm here I retain all those!"
"Retain? You just said you forgot everything. And that's what's confusing me. If you have no memories, and you don't think about the future or the present, what do you think about?"
"There's no need to think about anything!"
"So during the night while I'm asleep, or right now even! You're diligently sitting on my windowsill and there's absolutely no activity at work in your mind? You're just…sitting there? Staring at nothing?"
"Now that's a load of---" I cut myself off just before a choice word slipped out. Two slip-ups in one sitting weren't in my day plan. "I mean, it's not fair for you to say that. I'm concentrating on my job. Protecting you, remember? Keeping you alive so you can work on your book that's going to awe the masses for generations to come? Isn't that important?"
"If you'll take the time to remember, I also need you to help me with the book itself. Frankly, I think that's more important, though obviously we don't see eye to eye on value." He sighed, running a hand through his hair. "You must think about something."
"You're right, I do. I think about going home." It was almost the only thing I thought about. Home, painless oblivion, my sanctuary. I ached for it.
"But you forget---"
"Ptolemy, we've assessed that now!"
The look on his face…you'd think I'd just wiped out a village or laid siege to an innocent, peaceable fortress. His eyes were wider than saucers, hollow as bowls.
"What do you---?"
He shook his head, slowly but solidly, eyes fixed on me liked I'd broken out in boils (and I hadn't. I checked.). "That's the most horrible thing I've ever heard. Rekhyt…"
I held back a comment so biting it would have chomped his nose off. It wasn't worth putting us both off badly; especially since we were both fallen so far in already. He shook his head again and turned back to his work. I snorted and turned back to my window.
The evening continued in an uncomfortable silence. He worked on, and sometimes broke the quiet with a careful question. I answered smoothly, politely, and as shortly as I could manage. Besides that, we barely spoke. When he skipped dinner, I considered bothering him about it in my usual cheery fashion, but I didn't think either of us was really in the mood, so I kept my mouth shut. Finally, he bid me a fond enough good night, considering, and went to bed.
I didn't move. I didn't need to. There was nowhere to go, and Ptolemy was old enough to tuck himself in without me standing by. It wasn't like he could strangle himself with the sheets; the fall from his bed to the floor wouldn't kill him. He was fine. He didn't need me.
And I didn't particularly need him. He was fine without me. I'd be fine without him. One day he'd call up other entities and I would get a break; one day he'd be gone and I'd have new, boring masters.
And I'd forget.
How? Most of my experiences on earth were all around worthless; there was nothing here to benefit me. Nothing here was of importance to the greatest importance: home.
So what? Nothing depended on my memory. Ptolemy could go find his own Perfect Circles and whatnot, he was clever. Some head-banger from Crete didn't matter much in the long run, did he?
Why? Forgetting was a benefit in itself. A some-what fresh start for each go, a sort of clean slate with each magician. I was allowed unbiased opinions of that which I bothered to form opinions of; the experiences stayed new. I didn't have to make allowances for any one or thing, I didn't have to loathe anything for very long. I didn't have to question, I didn't have to ponder, I didn't have to dread, I didn't have to regret…
I didn't have to hurt…
But hurting was too.
Our conversation hurt as well. I didn't know why, and I didn't want to figure it out.
If I could just forget the look on his face…
But. Ah, but. Forgetting is an art. It takes practice, you see. You don't just clap your hands and make the bad dreams go away. You have to work at it. You have to block it---no, let it go from your thoughts with every granule of your being. Let it go. If I phrased that wrong in my own head it would prove him right. But whether you choose to obtain the oblivion through meditation or by counting the stones in the wall, it didn't matter so long as you didn't stop until you can't remember why you were doing what you were doing in the first place. And as you sit there, trying to remember, you realize it's gone for good…or so you hope.
Forgetting is hard.
Is remembering hard too?
Remembering couldn't be even half as hard as forgetting was. Could it?
Ptolemy's head-banger from Crete…if I tried to remember him and succeeded, I'd remember him for good. That might be alright; it would help Ptolemy, and maybe even patch up any hard feelings from the evening before. But if I remembered the head-banger, something else might come up too, something less pleasant…
…and I'd be stuck remembering it for good. Somehow, I was sure of that. If I forced myself to remember something bad, I'd probably never be able to make the memory leave my mind again. I'd be stuck with it.
Ptolemy, I decided, was on the wrong limb. He'd just have to deal with it.
With that decided, I stretched, sorting out several stiff kinks in my back. That was that, then. I settled back against the edge of his window to perform my nightly vigil for intruders.
But that head-banger from Crete…
Damien. From Crete. I'd known him, hadn't I? Damien from Crete, the drunkard…yes, I definitely remembered that part. He'd drink himself sick every night, and I'd have to drag him home, both of us swearing all the way…why did he drink? Who cared anyway? Damien couldn't have been Ptolemy's head-banger; irresponsible, uncouth, cultured, worldly drunk Damien couldn't have created Perfect Circles…
…unless he stumbled on it. At five in the afternoon, already drinking, Damien could have stumbled on it. In summer. The windiest day for many years, whipping up skirts, cloth-wares, beast's fur, dust, pushing the clouds out of the sky and the suns rays closer to the Cretians' necks. Yes, dust, swirling in ribbons and cyclones, and Damien had looked at them with his glazed, bloodshot eyes and called them perfect.
Why the hell had I forgotten that?
Drunkards and dusty cyclones…um, wow. I forgot that? Nothing much to forget, really…booze and dirt. Had I tried to forget that, or did it just slip? It must have slipped. There's no way I could have actually, acutely tried to forget something as stupid as that. What's so bad about dust and wind and alcohol and bottles?
Shards of clay, stained with wine. Shards of clay wine jugs scattered on the ground, soaking in wine…
And skull fragments and soggy bits of---
Oh. That might have something to do with it.
Damien had loved wine a lot. Loved it like he should have loved women. Loved it enough to choose it as the cause of his death. I'd listened while he ranted and roared about doing it, how Perfect Circles were messing with his head, and then when he did it I just stared.
That was the first suicide I ever witnessed. The stuff they write tragedies about.
Just like I predicted. Remembering Damien was well enough in itself, but then you remembered more and more…
I really, really think I could have survived without that mental image.
Maybe I can forget it anyway. If I just don't think about it again…block---I mean, let it go. How often did I think about wine and dust swirls and smashed-in heads? How many magicians had I worked for had bashed their own heads in?
No, never mind. I didn't want to risk thinking about that too. So, so many mental images I could live well enough without.
I wonder what mental images I could live with?
I was still sitting at that window when Ptolemy woke.
"How was the night?" He asked cheerily. Maybe he'd forgotten about the night before. Maybe he was choosing to ignore our heated discussion, probably one of the closest we'd ever had to an argument.
Maybe I was too phased out to really care.
"Rekhyt? Are you all right?" He wrinkled his nose. "Can djinn contract diseases?"
"No," I replied automatically. "It's nothing." Good think I didn't tell him not to worry about it. That might have gotten him concerned about the great nonexistent diseases circulating the Other Place.
He raised his eyebrows. I raised my eyebrows back. His nose twitched. Mine twitched in answer. He grinned.
"You've been thinking?"
"Oh, is that what you think," I snapped halfheartedly, wishing he'd wipe the triumph off his face.
Ptolemy shrugged, still grinning like a fool. "I was only wondering," He practically skipped to his table. "I never did figure out anything about Perfect Circles," He added offhandedly.
He glanced over his shoulder, eyebrows furrowed with worry. "I didn't mean anything by---"
"I know. That's not what I meant. Just don't bother with Perfect Circles. Won't bring you anything good." I stopped at that. I didn't know how to embellish without saying too much. There wasn't much else to say. What was I supposed to tell him, that I was worried that he'd take a wine jug and bash his head in once he understood the technique?
He stared at me for a second, and then nodded slowly. "I'll take your word for it. I trust your word, you know."
"I know. Thank you."
"I was getting far with Perfect Circles anyway," He continued, chipper as ever. "You know, I found another technique that I think will work better anyway. It's from further east, in Asia…" He trailed off, eyeing me hopefully. "Do you know anything about the magicians in Asia?"
I thought for a second. Then smirked. "Yes. I remember Asia very well now."
"…the great magician Damien, the creator of Perfect Circles. Of the island Crete, died of mysterious circumstances. Some speculate the cause had to do with the mishandling of a demon---oh, excuse me," Nathaniel added nastily, patronizingly from his desk. "Djinn. Of course."
"Of course," I agreed. I could let a little innocent slip of the tongue slide. I was far more preoccupied with trying to figure out why he was reading this information to me as though I had no idea what he was talking about. I knew plenty. I could have even told him…ah, but he wasn't worthy. Few are.
He sighed, disgusted. "Of course, you don't care." Couldn't be truer. "But magicians like him were great. Important."
"Like Gladstone," I snickered, plumping up his futon pillow for the umpteenth time. And to think I had been wondering why he'd been cracking his vertebrae so loudly the past few days. The cushion gave absolutely no neck support. "Very glamorous."
"Not like Gladstone," He snapped prissily. I pictured Gladstone in my mind, and put in Nathaniel as his slobbering foot boy. Now that might have made the war in Prague worthwhile, just to see that and have the disgusting satisfaction. But not quite.
"Not quite like Gladstone," Nathaniel's voice broke through my daydream. "But close," He amended.
I tried to picture Damien standing next to Gladstone. I couldn't.
Magicians, I decided, were very, very stupid beasts. I'd have to remember that.