This is a oneshot that - as the title suggests - takes place after Ptolemy's Gate, so don't read this if you haven't finished it already. Also, some characters may be OOC, but for a good reason...
Ptolemy's Gate - Epilogue
As usual, I tried to resist. I used my now-formidable energies, restored by countless years of rest in the Other Place to try and escape the pull of those snaring syllables. For a minute it seemed like I would win. But just as countless times before, my essence was compressed and forcibly ejected out of the peace of the Other Place and into the world.
I materialized instantly. What should I be this time? The summons had been stronger than any other I'd received before - there was no doubt that my new master was powerful (1). Flicking through memories I'd harbored over the thousands of years I'd been called into service, I settled upon my previous master, Nathaniel (2). I began to materialize, shaping my new form slowly but carefully as a howling wind picked up around the room. The form I was taking now was not Nathaniel I'd known - no, this Nathaniel was tall and broad-shouldered as he might have been had he matured, his fair skin unmarked as he held the now-crackling Gladstone's Staff . His face (3) radiated confidence, while his dark hair was mussed, as if he'd just stepped off the battlefield. Satisfied with my depiction, I fully materialized and looked menacingly out at the room.
Except it was empty.
"Is that really how you see me, Bartimaeus?" came an amused and somewhat amazed voice from the corner. The howling wind died away and the Staff in my hand de-materialized as I whirled around to see Nathaniel leaning casually against the wall. I blinked, stunned, and let the nose and cheeks droop a little. (4)
"You!" I cried. "How -?" (5)
Nathaniel raised an eyebrow. "How...? You're going to have to be a bit more specific than that."
"You're supposed to be dead!" I said, more out of shock than disappointment, and waved my arms to emphasize the point. He seemed older now, a few lines etched across his face, but that was beside the point - to all intents and purposes, he was still alive. And he'd be lording this little guise over me for the rest of his puny little life. Really, if you walked in on your own funeral to find someone you disliked praising your every characteristic, what would you do?
"There was a failsafe on the Staff," said Nat, as if that explained everything.
"I don't care if Gladstone appeared before you and did a jig when Nouda died -" I stopped mid-sentence and did a double take. Nathaniel was leaning against the wall without a pentacle, fiddling with something on his hand. I looked down to see my own form free of the intricate chalk lines that usually held me in place. "Trusting, aren't you?"
Nathaniel shrugged. "Times change."
"Speaking of -" I reverted to Ptolemy's form and sat cross-legged on the floor. "How long has it been?" (6)
Nat sat on the floor as well. His clothes weren't exactly up to magician snuff - unless blue collared shirts and jeans had been labeled "in style," that is. (7) "Ten years since the Nouda incident."
Ah. Well, that explained the lines, at least. "So how did you live through the whole glass-and-iron-collapsing-over-you-thing? I was under the impression people, you know, died from that?"
The magician sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "Gladstone's failsafe kicked in," he replied. "He must have known that someone would eventually have to break the staff, and set up a spell to get that person to safety."
I blinked and mentally let out a sigh. Of course. (8) "Remind me to thank Gladstone for prolonging this little master/servant business," I muttered, and looked up at the magician. "Right. Good to hear. Anything else?" I waited until he'd opened his mouth before continuing. "Good. So you can dismiss me and leave me be from now on, right?"
Nat fiddled with the something on his hand again, and began hesitantly, "Well, you see, Bartimaeus -"
"I knew it," I said, irritated, and shook my head. "Look, Nathaniel, enough's enough. I'm done. Whatever inane task you have for me, get some other djinni to do it."
"At least hear me out." There was an odd note in his voice, but I shook my head and folded my arms across my chest. "Nope."
"Then hear me out," came a muffled voice. Much to my surprise, a woman with dark hair streaked with strands of gray stepped out from the cabinet. (9) Her face, too, had lines across it, but much more than Nat's, and had it not been for the fact that her aura was nearly blinding me it would have been nearly impossible for me to recognize Kitty Jones.
I raised an eyebrow at Nathaniel. "Keeping women in your closet, eh, Nat? And Kitty, no less! What other things do you have hidden here?" I proceeded to inspected the desk next to the cabinet with gusto.
"Bartimaeus," said Kitty meaningfully, and with a sigh I looked over my shoulder at her. (10)
"Can you be serious for a moment and listen to me?"
Done ransacking Nat's desk, (11) I plopped down on a chair. "Very well, Ms. Jones -"
Kitty made a face, and it was then that I noticed the diamond ring on her hand. I let out a low whistle. "So it's Mrs. now, huh? Who's the lucky guy? Or unlucky?"
The woman looked over at Nathaniel, who stopped fiddling with the something on his hand and lifted it up to reveal a gold band around one of his fingers. I gawked at him while my jaw dropped of its own accord. Closing it, I turned back to Kitty. "You married him? Mandrake?!"
But Nathaniel was shaking his head. "No. John Mandrake died at the Glass Palace. Nathaniel Burrough, though, was born the day he died."
Curiosity piqued, I asked, "Really? And where did this Nathaniel come from?"
Kitty giggled. "My bathroom."
Whatever response I'd been expecting, this wasn't it. "Eh?"
The magician scratched the back of his head, his cheeks red with embarrassment. The man - and I use the term 'man' loosely here - could have passed for a strawberry right about now.
"Remember Gladstone's failsafe?" Nat waited until I nodded before going on. "It had a set location to take its wielder to. I imagine the spot was some sort of safehouse before, but right now... well, it was Kitty's old apartment. And, well, I, uh..."
"Popped up in my bathroom," finished Kitty, picking up the narrative from what looked to be a grateful Nathaniel. Any longer and I think he might have fainted, poor thing.
"I managed to get him to the hospital," continued Mrs. Burrough, "and the doctors managed to close his wound. He spent several months in the hospital, but... he turned out all right, don't you think?"
I rolled my eyes. "Yeah, if you want to be married to someone as ugly and tyrannical as Nat here is, well, that's your problem."
"Hey!" The magician seemed on the verge of jumping up and down as he had done in his earlier years before trying to inflict the Stimulating Compass or the Stipples on me. Not like any of them had worked, but hey, the kid got points for trying.
"Nathaniel, calm down," said Kitty, placing her hand on his arm. Still grumbling, Nathaniel sat on the floor while Kitty turned to me, her hands on her hips.
"He's changed, you know."
I let out a disbelieving snort. "Right, and I'm a marid! Who do you think you're kidding?"
"It's true!" she insisted. "Nathaniel? Now would be a good time."
The magician made a face. "All right." He cleared his throat.
"What, making a speech? This should be good." The magician ignored the words and closed his eyes, as if concentrating. I yawned and leaned back in my chair. "Hey, Nat, any longer and you might grow a few gray hairs to match Kitty's."
She shot me a death glare that made me wince. (12)
At last Nathaniel opened his eyes and began to speak. "While I lay in bed, Bartimaeus, I thought back over what I'd done with my life. I lied and deceived just like any other magician, and I treated my slaves just as they did - without respect." Well, no surprise so far. "Especially you, Bartimaeus. And... well, I realized..." Here he took a deep breath. "I was wrong."
I nearly toppled over as my arms pinwheeled frantically to keep the chair balanced. I was sure I hadn't heard him right. "Er... come again? I didn't quite catch that."
"I was wrong," repeated Nathaniel with conviction. "I made mistakes, and I vowed to be Nathaniel again, not John Mandrake. I asked Kitty if she'd watch me, to make sure that I didn't stray down that path again, and she said yes."
"It was harder than you think," added Kitty. "You have no idea how many times I've had to hit Nathaniel over the head." (13)
"That's all well and good," I interrupted. "But can we stay on track here? I'd like to be dismissed sometime before the world ends."
Kitty fixed those glittering eyes of hers on me. "I'll get to the point, then, Bartimaeus." She paused. "Nathaniel and I want to finish Ptolemy's Apocrypha."
I idly scratched a toe. "Good for you."
Now Nathaniel spoke. "Listen, Bartimaeus. I apologize for the way I've treated you before, and I want you to know that Kitty and I trust you." To emphasize the point, the magician waved his arm across the ground, indicating the lack of a restraining pentacle. "Whether you want to help us is entirely up to you. We hope you will, but... if you still want me to dismiss you, I will."
"And before you answer," said Kitty, "what would Ptolemy have wanted you to do?"
Inwardly, I sighed. The woman had again - wisely, I might add - appealed to me in Ptolemy's name. That was my weak spot, something I just couldn't refuse. The Apocrypha was Ptolemy's work, the one he'd given his life for in the hope that djinn and humans could co-exist in peace. I'd thought his ideals had died along with him. But now, looking at the couple standing before me, I knew otherwise. So how could I say no?
"Fine," I said quietly, after a long, dramatic pause. "On one condition."
"Name it," said Nathaniel.
"My terms of stay are the same as they were with Ptolemy: free roam on earth periodically and the right to return to the Other Place to rest when my essence is sore."
"Deal," replied Nat, and looked at his left hand before extending it out to me. (14) Kitty gave me an enthusiastic hug before snatching a pen and a piece of paper off the desk, a familiar, determined gleam in her eyes.
"Let's get started, shall we?"
Are you happy, Ptolemy? I wondered, and heard what might have been his answer echoing in my thoughts.
Yes, dear Rekhyt, I believe I am.
1: Not to mention experienced. Which meant frightening him as a roaring, 9 tentacled beast was out of the question, sadly.
2: Don't get me wrong. I still disliked Nathaniel - to a fault, that is. But, hey, the kid had saved my life, and I figured this was the only way to thank him. Not like he'd ever receive the thanks.
3: It might amuse the reader to note that I'd made his face much more attractive than the kid had ever hoped to be. Seriously, one look at him would have sent women screaming in the opposite direction.
4: After all, there was no point in making Nat seem better than he was if he was alive, now was there?
5: I should put in a word here - there were a million questions in my head, and each was tripping over the other to get out of my mouth. So it's not surprising that my witty remarks had failed me.
6: Don't think I'd forgotten what he'd put me through - I haven't. But revenge could wait until I could find out what had happened since Nouda's death.
7: Really - the kid has no fashion sense. He's a lost cause, I tell you.
8: You're wondering what's going on, right? Well, I'll tell you: in addition to the myriad of attack spells (Inferno, Detonation, and the like), there are a few that can transport humans anywhere instantaneously. They require a colossal amount of power and can only be performed by afrits and marids. Not like I couldn't use them if I wanted to, though.
9: The woman, mind you. I'd seen the cabinet there.
10: Something about her still commanded your attention. Maybe it was her aura; maybe it was the (grudging) respect I now had for her. She, like Ptolemy, had dared to place her trust in me and visit the Other Place. But you already knew that.
11: Nothing of interest. Some chalk, a few papers, a paperclip, a stapler, and some pens. No girls.
12: Touchy subject, I take it.
13: I have to admit, the image Kitty walloping Nathaniel with a book made me grin.
14: He needn't have gone so slow. It wasn't as if I was going to bite it off or anything.